Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Body 'Checking'

You know what ‘body checking’ is…you are constantly feeling your stomach to see if it feels bigger….you may see if, and how many, fingers you can fit into the waistline of your jeans….or maybe you check multiple times during the day to see how your fingers fit around your wrist, or for me, my upper arm. This applies to mirror images also. Do you turn sideways every time you pass the mirror to make sure your stomach is still flat? Or when you pass by the shop windows along the street, do you stare at your image in horror, or do you look to make sure you appear ‘thin enough’?I can identify with all of these and many more. During my recovery, as I was trying to learn how to deal with the changes in my body and the weight I had gained, I had to come up with some form of ‘strategy’ in order to stay sane. I made the decision to stop all ‘body checking’. This meant that if I knew an article of clothing would cause me to worry and fret, I wouldn’t wear it. For a period of time, I covered the mirrors in my apartment, aside from a small area to apply make-up and do my hair, so that I would not focus on how my body looked. I made a point to avoid watching those shop windows. I stopped ‘checking’ to see the difference in my wrist or arm size. And, I stopped looking at the tags in my clothing. Some of them I cut out purposely to avoid dwelling on sizes.I didn’t have to do this forever, but it helped me tremendously ‘in the moment’, and later on, as I dealt with letting go of body image issues.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

How Did I Become Me?

Disclaimer: I do love my parents. I do love my family. I do not abide by the belief that parents/families can cause their child or family member to develop an eating disorder.
That said, I would like to share some thoughts pertaining to how the environment in which I was raised may have played into my difficulties as I approached puberty and adulthood.

I was asked a few days ago how I determined what I wanted for my life after being ill for so many years. This is a very pertinent question, because for anyone who had an eating disorder, letting go of the eating disordered identity is very frightening, but it's necessary for full recovery to be possible.
So I began to think. From a very young age, I was 'taught' who I should be. All around me I saw and heard the rules about what being 'good', 'right', and 'safe' were. I was constantly reminded of what was and was not acceptable, but I realize now that it was never explained to me why I had to be accepted. I am not referring to basic respect and practical kindness. I am referring to issues like racial prejudice, sexual orientation, political opinions, and some personal values. Even 45 years ago, criticisms about weight, mine and others, with a very derogatory tone, were frequent. I grew up terrified of what being an adult, and the responsibilities involved, looked like.
Upon finding myself at a place in recovery where I was stable physically, I realized that I was in total chaos in terms of knowing what I wanted for my life, or knowing who I really was. I didn't have to follow anyone else's 'rules' anymore, I didn't have to believe a certain way, avoid certain people or things, or strive for some unattainable ideal. I was lost.
Because I was literally beginning at 'ground level', divorced and having relocated to a city where I knew only those people I had met during recovery (and many had moved on), I was given what I can now see as a gift. The gift of freedom to define myself and decide for the first time in my life what I believed, sans what others wanted me to believe.
I have to admit that for a time, my journey of exploration was very sloppy and somewhat careless. I discovered many things that I DID NOT equate to who I am. For a while I frightened myself and others with my somewhat reckless impulsive decisions.
However, I discovered some things about myself that I really do love. I was relieved to find out that I don't have to hate others who are not 'like' me. What does that mean anyway?
I can now embrace the opportunity that my life offers, that allows me to be involved with a culturally diverse population. My world has grown from a very narrow, unhealthy, and frightening place, to a wide open space where I am free, healthy and not afraid of facing life and the world anymore.
Happiness is no longer something that indicates laziness. I am free to choose whether I WANT to clean my house or see a movie with a friend-or by myself. Each day continues to be an adventure for me in many ways. I continue to learn more about myself, what I believe, and what about life I missed for so long. In some ways I have come full circle. I have always been a loving and compassionate person, and I always will be. The difference? I now know it.
For as long as I live, I will continue to define who I am. The difference now is I base those definitions on MY values and choices. Without apology....

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hope an Essential Part of Recovery

HOPE. What part does it play in the process of recovery from an eating disorder?
For myself, I believe 'hope' was THE critical piece that I didn't have during my numerous 'failed' attempts at recovery. I am now able to see the picture clearly, and I know that for a number of reasons, I felt no hope, nor was I offered any hope for recovery, UNTIL going into my final, successful treatment. Recovery is a complex, defeating process, so hope is an essential ingredient, I believe, for anyone to find the strength to keep moving forward. At times, 'giving up' seems almost easier. Recovery requires some trust in the process. And for me, in order to trust the process, I truly needed a steady supply of hope, which was offered to me in various ways by the professionals who were treating me.
In time, I began to believe more in myself, which gave growth to more hope, and trust in myself as well as the process.
One very valuable form of hope that was offered to me was knowing that others believed that I could recover. I had never, during the entire previous 30 years of my illness, been told that recovery was possible, let alone that I could recover.
Hope for me involved the idea that I could actually escape from the personal prison of anorexia that I had known as my life for so many years. The potential for freedom generated feelings akin to euphoria, an energy that helped me to persevere through the very daunting process of recovery. For me the process involved some major grief work, a divorce (which held many negative meanings in my mind), complete relocation and sudden independence (which were both terrifying and liberating), and the continuing process of establishing a mature, healthy relationship with my adult son.
For everyone, recovery involves a myriad of issues that much be dealt with. The great thing is, once your physical health has been resolved, those issues are not nearly as daunting and terrifying as they seemed previously.
Hope can inspire, motivate and offer incentive to ask for help. The isolation that many times accompanies an eating disorder may stem from a lack of hope and the resolve that there is no point in trying.
Hope can often be about telling the truth, and ending the lies about the eating disorder.
In any illness, hope can be an essential element. Hope can improve the prognosis in a life threatening illness, while also greatly improving a person's quality of life.
If you think about your daily life, what motivates you? What 'feeds' your passions?
If the vision before you is dark and seemingly impossible, how much energy are you going to have to face tomorrow?
At some point, I believe we can be our own resource for hope. This can include choosing the people in our lives so that we are surrounded by encouragement that goes both ways. We give, and we receive. It's a simple, yet powerful dynamic.
Our words hold more power than we realize. The words we use to describe ourselves may actually be influential in how we live our lives and how we feel.
I practice a few simple methods on a daily basis that help me continue to build up my hope and to keep a positive attitude.
  • I look for hope in every situation. It's like looking at the glass 'half-full'.
  • I have developed a large social support system. I am involved with community groups and activities that have allowed me to form relationships with some very positive people.
  • I remember that I am a survivor.
  • I practice gratitude, and I make an effort to make sure that the people in my life know that they are important to me.
  • Breathe. Inhale the hope. Exhale the despair. INSPIRATION!!

Without apology....

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Set Point: How Your Body Tries to Protect You

What does 'set point' really mean? If you consider that our metabolism automatically adjusts to either excess or insufficient available energy (calories), you can begin to understand how carefully our bodies are 'tuned' to protect a certain weight.Genetics and eating habits determine body size. If an adult does not try to manipulate their body weight by dieting or excessive eating, their weight will be remarkably stable over time.'Set point' can be described as a reference point around which the body tries to keep a stable weight.Body temperature is another example of a type of 'set point'. There are a variety of physical mechanisms that 'kick in' if a person's temperature goes above or below 37 degrees Celcius, in an effort to maintain a normal body temperature.'Set point' is individual to each person. If a slight amount of weight is gained, most people will experience an increase in their metabolic rate so that the excess energy (calories) are wasted. This allows the body to return to that previous set point relatively easily.However, in the case of weight loss, the metabolism will slow down as less food is eaten or exercise is increased. This leads to a protective decrease in energy burned, which will result in weight gain on fewer calories than before. This is your body's attempt to protect that genetic 'set point'.This concept explains why very few people are able to maintain a weight loss after being on a diet.Your 'set point', unlike a media-brainwashed mind, does not care about current 'fashion' or contributing to the massive diet industry. Your 'genes' are what dictate your body shape and size.Set point cannot be randomly determined or measured.It is estimated that if you have been eating 'normally' and not obsessively exercising for about a year, you are likely at your 'set point'. This is speaking for adults, and cannot be applied before a person's growth is complete.Predisposition to be a certain size 'runs in the family'.Certain factors can alter set point, but there are still more questions than answers regarding this issue. Pregnancy may temporarily alter set point for some women, and for others, it may result in a permanent higher 'natural' weight. The conclusions about this are disimilar.What does this mean? This concept implies that the farther you are from your natural set-point (either way), the more difficult it is to maintain, and your body will work to revert back to your 'natural' weight. Accepting and remaining at a stable weight, YOUR set point, is healthier that the yo-yo dieting cycle.As much as it seems to go against all we see and hear around us today, you need to consider weight as you consider height. It's all based on our genetic predisposition.The dangerous and exasperating attempts and time spent on trying to change your weight can be much better spent on fulfilling your life-long dreams, desires and happiness.Unfortunately, we live in a culture that values thinness in women, to a degree that causes illness and eating disorders, now world-wide.Isn't life more about accepting ourselves AND others at a natural heatlthy weight, and challenging the false notion that thin people are necessarily happier, smarter or more virtuous?
Without apology.....

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What Do You Really 'Give Up' in Recovery?

Recovering from an eating disorder of any type is complex, difficult and not a quick process. Recovery is not linear, nor does it move at a constant pace. There may be periods when a person feels 'stuck', and is confused as to why.One of the hardest parts of recovery for many people is actually letting go of their eating disorder. This is often because the eating disorder served some purpose in that person's life, which at the time seemed useful.'Giving up' an eating disorder can feel very much like a loss, which can cause increased fear of what being without the eating disorder will really mean.
Some of the 'functions' that an eating disorder may serve in a person's life include:
-Praise or attention from others
-Diversion from family or relationship issues
-Delays adult responsibilities-Avoidance of sexuality
-Avoidance of memories or feelings
-Maintains a sense of control
-Creates an identity: sense of self
What purpose has an eating disorder had in your life? Do you know?
The important thing in recovery is to begin to pursue other means of getting these needs met, or facing the issues that have been avoided.
Some ways to move forward can include:
-Practice ways of relaxation or self-soothing
-Direct communication to get your needs met
-Don't rush recovery. Set a realistic pace
-Separate sexuality from recovery (if applies)
-Work on 'sitting' with feelings
-Look for ways to define and feel good about YOU.
-Without apology-

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Year's Resolutions or Expectations?

Now, as we have said our good-byes to 2009, and have embarked on the first decade of the 21st Century, many of us may be reflecting on the past, and 'resolving' for the future.I'm personally not a big fan of New Year's Resolutions. I have seen this work far too often as a 'rule' to be broken, and the 'butt' of many jokes.
I'd rather see each day as a new opportunity to set goals for ourselves or to envision and move toward dreams we may have for our lives.For those of us who have suffered, or continue to work for recovery from an eating disorder, it's not uncommon for us to expect and pursue unrealistic things for ourselves. Perfection? I don't believe in it. Therefore we can not be imperfect either. I'm not saying that I don't believe strongly in the power that each of us possesses to pursue greater things for our lives, but I encourage you to stop and think if that pursuit is building you up or tearing you down.The expectations that we place on ourselves AND others oftentimes end up being the things that defeat us. This often parallels the need/desire for control in our lives and our environment. This isn't feasible. We cannot control those around us. And when we expect others in our lives to be a certain way or do a certain thing, often we are setting ourselves up for anger, frustration, resentment, or any mixture of emotions...which too often get stuffed down inside and may surface as self-harm (ED). Is it worth it? Do we really have a right to put our own expectations on others..especially if we are setting ourselves up in the process? I don't believe we do.
And as I have adopted this concept more and more into my own life (thanks to my husband :), I have felt a great burden taken off of me. My need to control and 'see all' very seldom surfaces anymore.I am not referring to our rights to be respected by others, or to be loved and cared for, but the 'expectations' that emerge from our own need for certainty and control.The flip side of this may be even more damaging for we who are or have been 'people pleasers'. The expectations (or perceived ones) that we face in our lives daily carry much more power to 'fuel' our eating disorders and the strive for perfection than almost any other factor. I'm referring to the 'extremes', not the reports we have due for school or work, etc. It's when we sacrifice ourselves (literally) in order to please others, be accepted, or to avoid criticism, when the harm is done. I was told from a very young age that I was 'so good'. Wow! That's a tough label to keep in place. I was told exactly what was the 'right' way to think, act, and grow up. These 'expectations' were very gender stereotypical, so my only option for adulthood was marriage and raising children. My response? I decided (subconsciously) not to grow up. This wasn't the only factor in the development of my eating disorder, but it was a strong one. Are you living your life to meet others' expectations? Are they realistic? Do they correlate with your own values and goals for your life? Are those expectations actually infringing on your free will and rights? Maybe now is the time to decide what YOUR beliefs, values and life goals are, outside of what others expect.
So, perhaps you can ask yourself as the time approaches to celebrate 2010, how can I prevent from 'setting myself up' for disappointment or defeat as I work my recovery? How can I relax what I expect from others so that I am better focused on meeting my own needs?May each of you be blessed with a safe, healthy and joyful New Year!!