You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘anorexia’ tag.

IMG_0027

The picture album in my mind is full of food. It leaves room for little else. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner—dissected and cataloged. It would seem all I ever do is eat. Or not eat.

My 15-year-old Birthday. I’m told there was a sleepover. A group of friends from school gossiping about boys and teachers. I see a picture my mom took; a friend is dressed up in a mermaid costume and everyone is laughing. I am noticeably absent. Perhaps I was staring down the sugar-free, fat free ice cream cake my mom had special-ordered from TCBY. Because that’s all I can remember from that day.

A family vacation to Disney World. I’m trying hard, I swear I am. My sister and I run, carefree through the park, laughing at inside jokes. We watch a parade as it rolls down the street. Fireworks light up the night sky, casting shadows across the ground. This is what I tell people when they ask me about my trip. But if I’m telling the truth, all I remember is the fight I had with my dad over whether I would eat another bite of chicken.

The first day of college, standing in front of the salad bar, I have a panic attack when I realize they don’t have fat free dressing. I don’t remember what my dorm mates looked like or the classes I took. But I remember that fucking dressing.

My wedding day. Everyone tells me to stop a moment and take it all in—you only get married once they say. I look through my wedding album, am amnesiac patient sifting through the ruins of her life. The hair, the nose, the awkward rolls of fat where I wish there were none. That girl in the pictures is clearly me. I flip through and see a picture of a towering cake, laced with delicate, pink fondant flowers. 400 calories a slice easily. And now I remember. While everyone else was dancing and drinking and being merry, I was worried about how much cake my husband had shoved in my mouth.

This is what my memory has become. Moments defined by my relationship to food. A life defined not by what I achieved, where I’ve been, or whom I loved. Only by what I ate.

If I could I’d erase all these images. Hope to make room for something else. But there in their too deep, and I am tired of fighting.

Can anyone relate? Please share your stories in the comments.

One year ago today I wrote a blog called 27 Reasons in celebration of my 27th Birthday. It listed 27 reasons how overcoming anorexia changed my life. Reason #26 on that list was: “I can become a mom (this is a big one and has not always been a reality).” One day after writing this I found out I was pregnant with my now 15 week old son, Oliver. So this year on my Birthday, in keeping with tradition, I give you reasons #28. I am the mom to a beautiful baby boy.

 

While motherhood has had it’s fair share of struggles, when I think of everything I’ve already overcome to have him, I wouldn’t trade in my sleepless nights and spit-up stained shirts for anything.

But oh how easy it is to lose perspective in the moment. When Oliver is red-faced and screaming in my ear and my relief is hours away from coming home from work I find myself wondering if I’m really capable of being a mom. Am I strong enough? Compassionate enough? Patient enough? Do I have the fortitude to see this through? When I start to have my doubts all I have to do is think back on my past struggles. Overcoming anorexia required all those attributes that I am now calling into question. If I possessed them then, if I could do the seemingly impossible, what makes now different.

Most of us are capable of more than we think and it just takes a little reflection to realize it. Isn’t that what past trials are all about anyway? Building up a memory bank of successes and of exceeded expectations. What if I started to view motherhood in that way? Undoubtably there will be a day in the not so distant future when I find myself facing another challenge. With my back against the wall and my reserves almost on empty I will question if I am enough. And then I will think back to these past 15 weeks. I will remember that I survived and came out a stronger woman, and I will smile and move on.

 

I’m minding my own business at the gym the other day, happily meandering around the weight room when one of the “fitness consultants” approaches.

(How bad-ass I imagine I look) Source

“Hey, you’ve been working out here for awhile now, but I don’t think I’ve ever learned your name,” he says casually. Hmmmm, I think to myself, it’s probably because I have no desire for you to know my name. My antisocial, just leave me alone and let me work out in peace attitude starts to surface.

“I’m Dana,” I politely respond stifling my inner bitchiness.

“Hi Dana, I’m Jeff**.” He extends his hand. You really want to shake my hand right now? Can you not see how sweaty I am? I politely shake his hand, intending to end our little exchange and get back to lifting. But Jeff persists, “I can’t help but notice you look like you’re losing some of the definition in your stomach. If you want to set up a session with me I can show you a great workout to tighten that area up.”

I glare at Jeff with my “I can’t believe you just said that, I’m ready to go all psycho on you and rip your head off” eyes. He doesn’t seem phased. I muster up the gumption to interject but Jeff continues.

“A lot of women notice that has they get older (excuse me, when has 27 ever been classified as old?) it’s easier to accumulate fat around the midsection. But if we go over your diet and exercise plan I’m guessing there are some simple changes we can make to keep that from happening.”

Can your diet and exercise plan remove this baby from my midsection? I’m sure that would tighten things up quite a bit you ass. I almost say this out loud, but I decide to let him continue knowing that once I do reveal I am pregnant, not just the fatty he is implying I am, he will feel like an even bigger ass. Sometimes I can be a little evil.

Jeff continues on about the importance of high intensity interval training for fat burning and avoiding sugar because it turns to fat. “Do you want to go downstairs with me for a consultation?” he asks. “We can get some baseline measurements for weight and waist size. Give me four sessions and I’ll bet we can knock a whole inch off your waist and 5lbs off the scale.” Do these aggressive, make you feel like shit tactics really work on most women?

Source

I finally decide to spare Jeff any further humiliation, plus he set himself with that last statement. “Well Jeff,” I say “I don’t think my doctor would approve of me losing 5lbs right now, but if you want to wait until mid July, I’d be more than happy to drop say 6-8lbs all in one day and you can take full credit, although my husband might not like that.” I’m relishing in the confused look on his face. I wait long enough for there be that cinematic, dramatic pause. “Yea, I’m 19 weeks pregnant.”

A flash of understanding crosses his eyes, and I’m expecting him to apologize and wander off to find some other girl with an expanding midsection to torture. But instead Jeff surprises me. “Oh, you didn’t really look pregnant.” He laughs a little too confidently. “In that case, definitely look me up later in the summer and I can help you get off all that baby weight.” I cannot believe this guy. Oh Jeff, yes of course the first thing my former anorexic midsection wants to do after giving birth is come find you to be ridiculed and shamed. It would be the start of such a beautiful relationship.

I desperately search for something snarky to say, but in the end all I can think of is “no thanks,” and I walk away.

The world is full of people like Jeff: well intended but clueless. They make comments that lead you to question your self-worth, your beliefs, and your inherent goodness and beauty. They’re ready with a snap judgment or inappropriate remark that can bring you down even when you’re feeling on top of the world. You can’t avoid them because they’re everywhere. And unfortunately, despite my desire to mark this Jeff with a big, flashing neon sign that read Unintentional Jerk, they don’t come with any warning label or exterior sign of inner thoughtlessness.

The best remedy for a Jeff is to educate and move on. If you’re feeling brazen enough (which I was not at the time) tell him or her that, while you’re too confident to be brought down by their comment, other people not as tough as yourself might find it hurtful. Your advice might register with them, but since I don’t call them “clueless” without reason, it probably won’t. In that case, just walk away. Everyone views the world and the people in it through a unique lens. The way one person sees you does not truthfully reflect who you are as a person. It only reflects who you are through the personal experiences and biases of the person looking. Work on creating the most favorable, forgiving, and loving lens through which to view yourself. In the end, that’s the only perspective that really matters.

In the meantime, if anyone does come up with a good “jerk tagging” system, please let me know. I’ll spearhead the campaign!

**Name has been changed to protect the identity of said fitness consultant (you’ll see why he needs protection in a moment).

The shirt I contemplated buying but decided it wasn’t worth spending $20 to flaunt my insecurity:

Source

“Expect to gain 25-30 lbs over the next 30 weeks,” the doctor said. “Really,” she paused to chuckle “after week 20 it’s going to be hard not to gain a pound a week.”

Those words sound eerily familiar. Almost eleven years ago, I was sitting inside another doctor’s office, albeit one filled with a plush “tell me all your problems” couch and a box of tissues instead of an exam table and lubricating gel, but the message was the same. “Our goal is for you to gain about 30 lbs over the next 3 months, say about 2 pounds a week.” My reaction eleven years ago: I burst into tears, hide my face in an oversized sweatshirt, and silently promise to myself that I will do no such thing. My reaction one week ago: the most nonchalant “okay, sounds good” you can imagine. My how far I’ve come.

Before my husband and I even discussed children, long before I even knew if I wanted kids at all, I was convinced I could not have them. With the slightest mention of babies or grandkids, I would ardently declare, much to mother’s dismay, “I’m never having children…EVER!” Even though I knew it was something I wanted, my fear that I would not be able to have them overtook any optimism and faith I could muster. After years of damaging my body and depriving it of the essentials it needed to develop, how would it have the energy or vitality to create another life? I viewed myself as damaged goods, as irreparable. I labeled my body as defective, and decided I deserved whatever was coming to me. My mind was ready to accept defeat; my body on the other hand, was not.

When I begrudgingly took the first home pregnancy test, I thought I was being paranoid. When the test came back positive I assumed it was defective. When the second came back positive, I believed the whole box to be defective. When, two months later, I looked at the ultrasound monitor and saw our baby for the first time, I was still in disbelief. I was convinced that the image on the screen would display an empty nothingness, but instead, I saw wiggling arms and legs, a defined head, a body, and a heart that was beating despite all my fears and doubts.

Now, I feel like the ambassador, like the protector of this new life growing inside me. I can’t officially claim the title of “mother” yet, but my maternal instincts have kicked into high gear. “What’s that ghost of an eating disorder? You don’t like the idea of gaining weight, of putting someone else’s health and well being above your desire to restrict, to binge, to purge? Well guess what, I don’t care.” It’s interesting how easy it is now to shut off the voices in my head that belittle and try to convince me my worth is only skin-deep. It was so difficult when I was only standing up for myself, but now I’m standing up for two, and like the saying goes, strength comes in numbers.

I’m not going to lie; I am terrified of becoming a mom. I’m terrified of the power I will soon wield over another person’s life. I’m terrified of the responsibility to nurture, strengthen, inspire, teach, motivate, and love and on the flip-side, the potential to destroy, letdown, scar, and demoralize. I instantly want to protect this baby from every future hardship, from scraped knees to broken hearts, but I know that those are the trials I can’t control once he or she enters the world. But right now, while he’s still just a small fig-sized** baby inside me, I do have the power to protect him. And protecting him from the backlash of my neglected, kicked-to-the-curb eating disorder voice is the least I can do.

Today, at eleven weeks 2 days pregnant, when I look at the small image of the baby hanging on our refrigerator, I’m truly amazed. My body has done what my mind perceived to be impossible: it has healed.

**Thank you babycenter.com for all your fruit and vegetable references. Although, I had to wait until week 11 to post this because normal people don’t know what your week 10 fruit, a kumquat, looks like.

I’ve officially been a “Mrs.” For 6 months, 8 days, 19 hours, 29 minutes, and 24, 25, 26 seconds. On May 28th in front of family, friends, and, thanks to our parents’ extensive guest lists, about 60 other people I barely knew (but was glad they were there), our carefully crafted ceremony ended with the quote, “Love each other and you will be happy. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.”

After hours of scrimmaging through online databases of quotes on marriage, love and friendship I happened upon this decidedly simple yet very poignant message.  To me, it says three things. First, loving someone, oneself included, is an active process. It is a choice we make, and it requires our conscious decision to do so. Second, despite the simplicity of the statement, choosing to love someone, choosing to accept that person wholly with all his or her faults can be effortful. Third, love can lead to happiness.

As much as that quote applies to married life, I chose it because it is also highly applicable to the relationship people have with themselves. In our complicated adult world filled with anger, disappointment, fear, and shame, making the choice to love ourselves can be difficult. More than any other person in our lives, we see all the shortcomings, all the faults, and all the bad decisions, and we dissect and analyze them to the point that they define us. It’s often easier to believe that we are unworthy of love, and that we are deserving of all the bad things that happen to us. It’s often easier to ward off disappointment by viewing oneself as a failure, but this way of thinking does not lead to happiness.

To choose to love oneself is perhaps the greatest gift we can give ourselves. To do so is to say, “I believe in my own worth.” When we overlook our flaws, and forgive our indiscretions, when we seek out our strengths and focus on all that we have to offer the world, we put ourselves in a position where choosing to love ourselves is easy. Too often in life, we are taught to set low expectations to ward off disappointment. ‘You’ll be happily surprised if things turn out better than you thought,’ we are told. But if we repeatedly expect disappointment in our lives, if we are repeatedly choose to believe we are inferior and don’t think we are worthy or loveable, we create an environment ready to confirm our deepest fears.

When I was younger I remember someone telling me “You have to learn to love yourself before anyone else can love you.” While I don’t think this is entirely true, I do believe that people who love themselves and are at peace with themselves are more open to accepting love from others. If I have a hard time finding redeeming qualities about me it’s going to be difficult allowing people into my life who do. Likewise, when you love yourself, you exude an air of confidence and pride that others pick up on. Tell someone you possess a certain quality, whether it’s true or not, and others are likely to see that quality in you. Love yourself, and others will follow suit.

The best thing about learning to love oneself is that it often leads us to act in ways that confirm our worthiness. Think about this. Imagine the last time you were feeling down or even outright depressed. What did you do all day? If I am sad, I often lie around feeling lethargic, cry on and off (sometimes I don’t even know about what), and put off completing things on my to-do list or reconnecting with friends. At the end of the day, when I look back and think about what I’ve accomplished, I come up with a big, fat zero. My behavior throughout the day only serves to make me more depressed and the depression only leads me to behave in more counterproductive ways. It’s quite the vicious cycle. Now imagine this same process occurring but on a day when you feel great about life and about yourself.

In a way, by controlling our actions, we have a lot of power over how we see ourselves. By choosing to act in ways that reinforce our worthiness, we build up a store of positive feelings that lead us to behave in more life-affirming ways. Remember what I said at the beginning about this process being effortful, well here is where that effort comes into play. Choosing to act in a manner consistent with loving oneself will be extremely difficult if you don’t already love yourself. Just like choosing to act happy is hard when you’re depressed, choosing to treat yourself with kindness will be hard if you don’t feel worthy of such kindness. But it’s something that must be done, one small step at a time.

During this holiday season, let’s work on extending the same good will toward ourselves that we so eagerly hand out to others. Love yourself and you will be happy; it’s as simple and as difficult as that.

Today, November 5, 2011, I turn 27. For me, Birthdays have always been a time for reflection. I like to look back over the last year, not to dissect my mistakes or contemplate the “what ifs” but to appreciate how much I’ve grown and changed. This year marks my 10th year in recovery from anorexia. In honor of my 27th Birthday, I came up with 27 reasons why recovery is worth it and why I never want to go back to that dark place.

1. I can look in the mirror and think I look fat, see the scale go up a pound, or feel my jeans getting tight and still manage to have a GREAT day.

2. I rarely look in the mirror and think I look fat, in fact, most days I feel beautiful.

3. The relationships I have with people are more important than my relationship with food; sadly this was not always the case.

4. I have 10x more free-time because I don’t spend hours counting calories or fretting over my next meal.

5. If I get an offer to go out with friends, I don’t have to consult my workout schedule first.

6. I respect the needs and desires my body has instead of trying to suppress them, and I focus on all the amazing things my body CAN do, like this…

Rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park

and this…

Snorkeling off the coast of Maui

and this…

At the top of Mt. Haleakala

7 I have constructive tools for dealing with problems instead of behaviors.

8 I no longer lie to the people I love, and as a result, I have earned the trust I never thought I deserved.

9. My behaviors no longer worry loved ones, and they don’t have to walk on eggshells around me, afraid I might break.

10. I define myself by my character and morals, not a number on the scale.

11. Shopping for new clothes is fun, no matter what size the label says.

12. When I go to the beach, I’m thinking about the beauty of the ocean, not the visibility of the cellulite on my ass.

 

 

 

13. I find serenity and peace in stillness instead of restlessness and anxiety, and I can enjoy yoga without thinking “I should be running right now.”

14. Running in the park is a form of relaxation, a way to connect with nature and feel alive, not a method for burning calories.

15. I can now spend my “me” time quietly reading a book or watching a movie instead of crying, trying to qualm my anxiety, or feeling alone and hopeless.

16. My body functions and feels better: my skin, hair, and nails are healthy; I have unlimited amounts of energy, and I’m not cold all the time.

17. Holidays are a time to have fun with family, relax, and eat good food…not an occasion to freak out over all the treats waiting to tempt me.

18. I am a better listener because my mind is not consumed with eating disorder thoughts.

19. I am a better friend because I can focus on other peoples’ problems instead of being consumed by my own.

20. I have the ability to do this at my wedding.

 

 

 

 

and eat this…

21. When in public I no longer think everyone is judging me, and when I run into an old friend I’m enjoying the reunion instead of fretting over whether they think I’ve gained weight.

22. I’m no longer ashamed of my naked body, allowing me to spend naked-time in more “amusing” ways than analyzing my butt in the mirror.

23. I can eat hotdogs at baseball games, cotton candy at amusement parks, and cake and ice cream on my Birthday without the lingering guilt.

24. Snuggling with my husband feels better when I’m not all skin and bones.

25. I can write this cooking blog with my husband just for fun and actually eat the food we make.

26. I can become a mom (this is a big one and has not always been a reality).

27. I am alive to see another year filled with opportunity and hope.

So Happy 27th Birthday to me! I’m looking forward to 28 when I’ll be able to add another reason to the list.

Sticking to a meal plan, whether recovering from an eating disorder or not, is challenging. Just like any other diet*, it can easily be thrown off course by unanticipated or emotionally triggering events. In fact, studies have shown that 95% of all dieters are back at their starting weight within 5 years of beginning a program. While this statistic commonly refers to those on a weight loss regimen, I believe there is a lot of crossover between the problems weight-loss-dieters and weight-gain-dieters encounter.

When I was just out of inpatient and diligently following my meal plan, I was surprised to find that what tripped me up the most wasn’t always the food or the impending weight gain. It was family and friends that didn’t quite understand what I was doing and why. I can’t count the times a well-intended friend pushed a batch of fresh baked brownies my way saying, “I thought you could eat this now.” Well, I would think to myself, I can eat brownies, just not those brownies. I need a brownie made with portion-controlled ingredients measured out with military precision that has been weighed on a digital scale to the exact gram. But since that was quite a mouthful and begged a dozen questions I wasn’t prepared to field, I tended to revert to the polite, “no thank you.”

While adhering to a meal plan often temporarily introduces a whole new slew of food rules, it affords the peace of mind that you are eating within allowable parameters. In a sense, the meal plan gives you a “ticket to eat,” or as my therapist referred to it, “a food prescription.” Initially, it is important to strictly follow the plan as you restore weight, normalize eating, and work through emotional baggage. Going off plan too early can be a slippery slope leading to relapse. Unfortunately, friends and family have the potential to confuse the new recovery-focused food rules for eating disorder behavior. If you combine that with the misunderstanding that recovery from an eating disorder is an overnight occurrence it’s easy to see why the unintentional sabotage occurs.

To help you stick to your meal plan when up against uninformed or unsupportive friends and family members I’ve assembled a list of tips that really helped me.

1) Get comfortable saying NO

You’re armed with the meal plan and you know what you need to eat. If someone offers you food that doesn’t fit in with your recovery plan, just say no. With food and emotions so closely intertwined perhaps saying no to grandma’s home-cooked lasagna or fresh-baked cookies will hurt her feelings, but right now that can’t be your top priority. Thank her for the offer, say no, offer an explanation if your feel comfortable, and then move on.

2) Educate others

Tell those closest to you about your meal plan. If they know what you are doing they will be able to offer support and encouragement instead of criticism or misplaced advice. This also makes you accountable to eat the food on your plan.

3) It’s all in the preparation

Don’t get thrown off because you had to work late, came home tired, and now your family is beckoning you to come eat the pizza they ordered. If you are at a point where you can do some quick mental math and substitute pizza for your planned meal, great! If not, make sure you have some quick back-ups in place, think supplemental drinks, frozen foods, or prepackaged snacks (or, thanks to your newfound raging metabolism, all three).

4) Offer to cook

Do you have a hard time getting your family to understand why you measure everything? Would you like to eat the same meal as everyone else but can’t get the cook to accommodate your needs? Cook a meal for everyone. When you are in the kitchen you can measure the ingredients in your meal to get an accurate count and, unless someone is watching you, they probably won’t be any wiser to what you are doing.

5) Ask for modifications

You never know how accommodating your family will be unless you ask. To this day when I am having a rough day with food I ask my husband to whip out the kitchen scale to make sure my meal is xxx calories. He understands the important role meal planning plays in recovery, and is always willing to oblige. But getting up the courage to ask him is the first step.

6) Get a wingman (or wingwoman)

A wingman comes in handy when your reserves are running low and you can’t bear the thought of explaining one more time why you brought your own food to (insert any family holiday or social gathering). A good wingman can deflect questions, support your decision, encourage you in the face of disapproval, and be your personal advocate in recovery.

7) Be resolute in your recovery

Following a meal plan 100% of the time is hard. If you don’t know why you’re doing it, then it becomes 100x harder. Work on getting to the root reasons for why you want recovery (making a list is helpful-as well as countless hours in therapy) and then work on understanding the important connection between meal planning and recovery.

So gather your measuring cups and spoons, the kitchen scale, and nutritional guides and commit yourself to meal planning. Because in the end, whether or not your family members and friends are on board, you are only accountable to yourself.

* I am referring to a way of eating, not calorie restriction.

Yesterday I sauntered into the kitchen and opened the cabinet containing all my husband’s snacks. Peering into the assortment of chips, crackers, and cookies I pulled out a bag of Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies, grabbed a couple, and walked back to the couch where I began eating. All of this transpired without a single thought about fat or calories, a single should I or shouldn’t I debate, or any plans to later compensate for my nutritional indiscretions. This might just be one of the greatest recovery moments I’ve had in awhile.

Mindless eating, or the act of making decisions about food based on unconscious psychological cues, has developed a bad reputation. For most people, the concept conjures up images of overweight people staring blankly at the television, one hand on the remote, the other robotically going in and out of a bag of Doritos. It’s associated with a lack of control or willpower and a disconnect from physical hunger or emotional cues that prompt us to eat. To use the famous Nike slogan, it’s the kind of eating where you “just do it.” Or more appropriately as Weird Al Yankovich’s song suggests, “just eat it.”

Advocates of intuitive eating promote bringing mindfulness to eating while breaking through the indoctrination created by years of following rigid food rules. They encourage people to get in touch with their bodies’ internal hunger cues, to savor each bite, to experience the smell, taste, and texture of food, and to respect fullness. All of these goals are noble, but for the recovered anorexic, intuitive eating can often lead to over-thinking eating. What was meant to be an endeavor at respecting the body and fully enjoying food can morph into analyzing the necessity and nutritional value of each and every bite and continually questioning one’s hunger or need for food.

Health magazines are filled with nutrition experts who urge readers to get in touch with their emotions surrounding food. “Why are you eating?” they all ask. Are you bored? Stressed? Feeling social pressure? Tired? Get to the bottom of the what, when, where, and why you eat and you’ll be on your way to better health, a thinner waistline, clearer skin, deeper sleep, and better sex. Even the proverbial fountain of youth can be yours by for the taking. For the recovering anorexic, a more appropriate question to ask might be, “why aren’t you eating?” Instead of emotions prompting overindulgence, unsettling emotions lead to restricting behaviors or obsessive thoughts about food. One of the tools to overcoming emotional hurdles in recovery is to separate what the mind thinks from what the body needs to do. While getting in touch with emotions is crucial in long-term recovery, in the here-and-now of deciding whether to eat the next meal, disconnecting from emotions is critical.

Thus, learning to eat mindlessly is a major undertaking for someone with a history of anorexia. Okay let me rephrase that. Eating, mindlessly or not, is a major undertaking for someone with a history of anorexia. In treatment patients are taught distraction techniques for getting through a meal or snack. Focus attention of conversation, a book, or favorite television program. Do mental exercises, say redesign your room or plan a dream vacation, to keep your thoughts busy. The initial aim is not to enjoy the food, but simply, survive the food. It hasn’t been too long since I was religiously counting every calorie and fat gram that passed my lips. Every meal used to be a negotiation. You can have the cheese on your sandwich if you swap out the mayo for mustard and run an extra mile at the gym. Or you can binge on that cake but then you’re not eating tomorrow. With food always on the brain, I couldn’t conceive of the day when I would be able to just eat something.

But that’s exactly what I did yesterday. I mindlessly ate those cookies, and only after they were half-way to my stomach as I licked melted chocolate off my fingers did I realize it. I needed this win. I needed to be reminded that it is possible to remain in recovery from an eating disorder, even when you encounter unexpected road bumps (see Broken Bones and Broken Dreams). I’m not going to question why I did it or what might have been unconsciously going on in my head. Nor am I going to work on becoming more mindful in the future. I’m just going to sit in the present and enjoy feeling like the superhero that I am.

I spent the last hour trying to concoct the perfect opening to my blog on how exhausting perfectionism can be. Ironic, I know.  So before I’m forced to don my pajamas and take a nap on the couch after writing the grueling 42 words you see above, I’ve decided to settle for good enough, and thus you see the sentences before you.

There was a time not too long ago when writing this blog would have been agonizing. I could spend hours debating whether or not the selected words captured the exact sentiment I was trying to convey (impart? communicate? divulge? express?). Let’s just stick with convey. I would become extremely unhappy if, when finished, I still thought ‘I can do better than this.’ And as a perfectionist, ‘I can do better’ is a phrase that’s as clichéd as it gets. Over the years I’ve wasted a lot of time trying to be perfect and to do everything perfectly. It’s time that could have been spent actually improving myself. As a perfectionist, I believed that everything I did could be done better, and as much as I sought perfection, I never felt like I attained it. If only I could have seen how the more I sought perfection the farther from perfect I became.

Perfectionism also robbed me of my ability to easily adapt and change in novel situations. It’s odd that something so critical to our survival as a species, adaptation, is such a foreign concept to a perfectionist. It’s like somewhere along the way the evolutionary umbilical cord was cut and in its place a conglomeration of rigid rules and standards arose. Adaptation requires an acute connection with reality. It requires an honest assessment of the situation so that the necessary, survival focused change can occur. This is the perfectionist’s first problem. Perfectionism traps people in rigid black and white, good or bad thinking. It blinds them, turning facts into fiction and fiction into facts. People suffering from an eating disorder tend to fall victim to these illusions. For them, there is only one right, one perfect way to eat, to exercise, to look, and to behave. I must only eat xxx calories; I must only weigh xxx pounds; only then will I be perfect. When the goals set are found to be impossible, instead of embracing flexibility and moderation, the perfectionist barrels forward, often on a path to self-destruction, depression, and extreme self-loathing. Perfectionists fails to recognize the limitations within the environment. Instead they only see the limitations within themselves.

Perfectionism ultimately deprives people of the ability to learn and grow. Making mistakes is often the first step to learning. Trudging through the trial and error of decision making, embarking down the wrong path and being forced to blaze a new, and picking the wrong door to walk through or curtain to look behind (I’ve clearly watched too many game shows in the 80s), all of these are necessary steps to gaining new insights. But a perfectionist does not like to make mistakes. A perfectionist does not like to be wrong or to admit error. Instead of joining in the race and risking the potential of taking a wrong turn or, goodness forbid, finishing last, the perfectionist would rather sit on the sidelines observing. I have all too often adopted the attitude of ‘if I can’t be the best I might as well not even try.’ This ultimately translates to, ‘my whole identity is wrapped up in how well I perform and if I’m not the best, I don’t know who I am.’ Missing out on the opportunities for growth that go along with making mistakes is unfortunately a price many pay when identity is on the line.

Are there benefits to pursuing perfectionism? Of course. When a perfectionist finds a skill set at which he or she excels, the ‘nothing but the best’ mentality tends to produce superior results. Psychology research suggests that when people are extremely prepared, knowledgeable, or skilled at a task, high expectations, in this case perfection, sets the person up for a superior performance. However, on the flip side, expecting perfection in an area where one does not possess superior skills, as opposed to holding more moderate expectations, often leads to poorer performances and higher levels of anxiety. Since most of us aren’t true Renaissance men and women, are the benefits of expecting perfection in every area of our lives all the time really worth it?

Perfectionism is elusive and fleeting. In the face of continually changing standards and subjective ideals, one must admit that attaining perfection is not really the attainment of reaching an external maxim. It’s more about living up to the ridiculously high internal standards we set, some which have no basis in reality at all. Having recently come to the conclusion that my life is far from perfect, both personally and professionally, I’ve had to let go of the notion that only perfect things can be good. I’ve had to let go of the belief that there is a right way and that there is a wrong way. Because in the end, the only way I can do anything, perfect or not, is my way, and that will have to be good enough for me.

This is how I feel with every attempt (or lack of an attempt) I make at freelance writing.

I broke my foot exactly 1 month ago, and with it, all my dreams of losing too much weight, overdoing it at the gym, and once again reclaiming my eating disorder glory. Let me explain.

About 2 months ago, I stumbled upon the website sparkpeople.com. Much like diet and exercise trackers I’ve used in the past, it allows you to set a goal weight and a day at which you would like to achieve said goal weight and POOF…. it pumps out a daily calorie allowance and suggested exercise program.

The fact that I searched out this website to begin with says something about my general mental well-being. I’ve been struggling a lot lately with grieving the end, or death if you want to sound more poetic, of my anorexia. I’ve been struggling to fill the void it’s absence has created. At one point in my life eating disordered behaviors could be the answer to almost any question or problem. Feeling bored? Turn to ED. Feeling stressed? Turn to ED. Feeling overwhelmed? Turn to ED. Feeling angry? Turn to ED. You get the idea. Lately, I’ve had to admit to myself that anorexia is no longer my coping method of choice. I’ve had to admit that even if I wished to develop anorexia again, I don’t think I could. Just as much as I didn’t control its onset the first time around, I can’t magically will it into being now. And all that makes me sad.

I liked having an “easy” answer to all life’s problems. I don’t like having to deal with issues in a mature, adult way. I don’t like having to look for alternative coping mechanisms, or what most often happens, not cope at all. Over the past year I have fallen into quite a depressed state, and without my fixation on weight loss, or the sense of accomplishment I get from sticking to a diet, I’ve been hanging out at the bottom of this dark hole for quite some time.

Enter sparkpeople.com. I became hooked on its community based approach to weight loss and point system very quickly. I loved entering my food for the day and seeing the ticker land right between my designated calorie allowance. I loved watching the calories burned bar far surpass the calories consumed bar. I especially loved watching the slope of the line graph indicating weight steadily become steeper and steeper.

In about 1 month’s time I had lost 7 pounds. The depression was starting to lift, and I was feeling on top of the world. I was feeling like a somebody instead of a nobody. And then in a seemingly innocuous fall while playing tennis I broke the base of my 5th metatarsal (aka: a Jones fracture for all you medically minded people). The moment I heard the doctor say it was broken I knew my weight loss plans were over. The tides had been turned and I was bearing straight toward a sea of home alone binges, uncontrollable crying sessions and irrational, nearly suicidal thoughts.

It’s always been that way with me. The moment my plans are disrupted I can no longer stay on course. In effect, I do a complete 180. It’s my all or nothing mentality at its finest. And sitting on that cold, paper-lined hospital table I knew it all too well. I started to cry, not because my foot was broken, but because I knew that meant I was heading into a period of compulsive overeating, purging, and depression. And despite having complete awareness over what was happening, I had no control.

It’s been one month since that accident, my foot is still cast bound, and my follow-up appointment isn’t until September 6. I’ve completely abandoned my sparkpeople account, except for the rare occasion when I wake up committed to track for the day and make it through lunch. Those half days only make me feel bad when I look back over them…reminders of my failure. I’ve tried telling myself that this broken foot was a relapse intervention; it was some higher power’s way of telling me to cut it out. Or it could have been the universe’s way of showing me just how ill equipped I am at overcoming obstacles, how little drive and perseverance I have.

Despite the cast, I still make it to the gym 3-4 times a week, my weight is “only” up about 2 pounds, and I’m managing to eat a more balanced diet than I normally would were I in a typical binge and purge period. I’m hoping once the cast comes off and I get the go ahead to apply weight I can flip the switch again and get back into tracking and out of this funk. I know I should hope for a future that isn’t centered around any extreme eating and exercise behavior, but frankly, I have a hard time imagining what that would look like.

Because it is the thing that makes me most miserable that I also need to find any joy at all.

October 2011 Update: I am completely managing all eating disorder behaviors and have taken this incident as an opportunity to deal with some of the latent emotions I have surrounding the “death” of my eating disorder.

July 2017
M T W T F S S
« Dec    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31  

Archives

What are you looking for?