Thanks so much for the wonderful comments on Monday’s post, everyone. I’m really grateful.
In staying with the NEDA theme for the week, I have a new Green Recovery post for you today! This one is from fellow blogger (and longtime CR reader/commenter) Rose, who submitted it to me saying, “I have read and benefited from every single one of your posts, and I mean it when I say this: Choosing Raw was instrumental in my ED recovery.” I’m happy to share Rose’s recovery story with you all today. I am particularly excited because Rose addresses binge eating disorder, which is more prevalent than classic anorexia or bulimia, but is often under-discussed in ED/recovery circles. I’ve asked for Green Recovery stories that address binge eating a few times via social media, and it’s great to finally be seeing some submissions. I hope you’ll all appreciate Rose’s candor, energy, and empathy as much as I do.
Hey CR readers! I’m Rose, author of Rosie Glow Wellness, beatnik preacher of blooming health, self-imposed euphoria and incessant dreaming. Today, I (usually) succeed in living my life as an artsy fartsy sparkle fairy of light, love and wellness; but in truth, it took nearly a decade of struggle to find and occupy the utopian mental space I now call home. The following is my Green Recovery Story, and I promise it has a happy ending.
For now, the beginning: given my ferocious imagination and inherent longing to be different (yup, still afflicted), I latched onto the false superiority of skinniness at a really young age. I didn’t want to be thin because the teenybopper magazines I devoured extolled thinness; I wanted to be weightless and pixie-like and I wanted my small stature to be yet another feather in my outrageously dramatic cap. Perhaps even more damaging than that notion was an idea that I picked up from all of the great literature I was reading (mind you, I grew up in the heyday of Babysitter’s Club): the diva supreme I wanted to be – the woman who every other girl was jealous of – could eat her weight in pizza and chocolate cake and never gain an ounce. Simply put, I wanted to be a freak of nature.
So at the age of nine or ten, I became a young lady of extremes. I loved fruits and veggies, but I also thought it perfectly acceptable to stuff myself stupid with junk food as long as I maintained my willowy build. It filled me with maniacal glee when my family members would exclaim “Where does she put it?!” and when they dubbed me Bottomless Pit… boy oh boy, I felt like a queen. All this to say, I wouldn’t classify myself as having had an eating disorder at this age, but it’s now obvious to me that I was setting myself up for disordered behavior.
I started restricting my sophomore year of high school, which, to this day, I identify as the most stressful year of my young life. I was a 15 year old snarl of hormones and adolescent girl histrionics, and my combatant to a world of inner turmoil was to eat under 1,200 calories a day. Ever inclined to theatrics, this backfired into binging by the time I graduated high school; and in college, especially when alcohol was introduced to the equation, my eating benders became even more overblown. It didn’t help that I was utterly SURROUNDED by brilliant, beautiful girlfriends who had EDs of their own (after college, readers, you can reflect on how confused and scared and desperate everybody really was), so no one really questioned it when I would come home after a night out, rip through a whole bag of pita chips and a tub of hummus and then think… “Screw it! I’ve already messed up… might as well eat everything in the kitchen and then go out for Burger King!” In these instances, I was on a mission to self-destruct; and I would spend the entire next day skipping classes due to “illness,” lying in bed sipping tea or some icky calorie free soda, refusing food, and avoiding friends and my boyfriend because my whole. body. hurt. The skin under my chin, the sides of my abdomen… they just ached. I’d have a day or two to “detox” like this (ill-advised) and then try to eat healthily for a few days. But because I wasn’t up on my nutrition facts and because I was predisposed to eating extremes; healthy eating equated to not eating enough. And then this cycle would start up again… every single week.
I had a turning point the summer before my senior year of college. Essentially, I hit rock bottom. I was enjoying a staycation with my mom, with whom I had always had an incredibly loving relationship, but had never, until this point, been honest with about my struggles. We had planned out a week of fun in our own city, and after one particular day of museums and shopping and an expensive dinner out… I proceeded to come home and eat the contents of my mom’s pantry. I mean, it was an epic binge. I felt too sick the next morning to participate in anything that we’d intended to do, and it was then that I finally came out to my mom. I’d never before uttered the words “I think I have an eating disorder” and all of a sudden, I felt free of the shame I’d been burdened with for years. I’d been ashamed, I think, of what my need to be different had manifested into. I had so carefully crafted the person I wanted to become, but I hadn’t planned on developing an eating disorder. What hurt most was that I had done this to myself. I went back to school as a senior in the fall with a new ally: my mom; and a new enemy: my eating disorder. I was determined to kick its theoretical ass.
Ok, y’all – I know I just deluged you with my ED history and a public psychoanalysis of my inner artiste, but here’s where the green recovery comes in. When I got back to school, I was desperate to be healthy. I was tired of being under my ED’s thumb and I wanted to take control of my health and my life. I distinctly remember being handed some crazy hippie-pamphlet about cow-butt induced methane gasses destroying the universe, and because I wanted to do good and eat in a way that didn’t cause me shame, I interpreted that pamphlet as a sign. So pretty much right then and there, I decided to go vegan. Soon after I bid adieu to animal products, I found healthy living blogs like Gena’s that advocated finding what works for your body. Plus they shed light on nutrient dense foods I had never previously considered eating (nut butters, avocado…) which then became staples of my diet. Eating suddenly became a great experiment – a way to see how my body reacted to certain food combinations and when it felt its best. Readers, I was so gosh darn proud that feeling good was my goal at that point. The fact that I would put a few caloric tablespoons of almond butter in my oatmeal or eat a heavy raw dessert speaks volumes, because those foods supported my health but did not support my inclinations toward being rail thin. Truth: I was still counting calories at this point (something I’d trained myself to do early on), but as I found my groove and learned what a satisfying but not overly filling meal meant to me (all macronutrients fully represented/ sh*t ton of greens), I gradually stopped counting. I was exercising regularly, too, and began consciously snacking for the first time in my life to make up for calories burned. And everything I was eating was good for me! Everything I eat now is good for me, for the most part. I know there’s a lot of talk in recovery communities about there being no such thing as good and bad foods, but I think women who suffer from binge eating disorders need a new mantra. I don’t know about you, girlfriends, but it’s apparent that I don’t do moderation. I’m a volume eater through and through, and I’d rather eat a salad bowl full of fresh fruit then a single cookie. Ok, scratch that – I cannot, physically, eat a single cookie. When I do eat flat-out desserts, I make sure they’re made with wholesome ingredients so I still feel as though I’ve made a positive choice. You need to find what style of healthy eating works for you.
Now that I’ve freaked you all out by writing my first novel (above) some quick tips that really saved me:
Try to eliminate the word “binge” from your vocabulary and from the forefront of your brain. If young, pre-ED you was at a family party and happened to eat an entire bowl of M&Ms in one sitting, would she freak out that she’d binged and then proceed to eat everything else on the table? Heck no! She would have acknowledged that she’d probably get a tummy ache, c’est la vie… and then blame the incident on her cousin. Or take this example: I’ve never had a boyfriend call me crying about how he ate an entire pizza… but I’ve had boyfriends call me, post-eating an entire pizza, to ask if I could bring over another case of beer and some dessert. They didn’t identify overeating with any sort of disorder… they just moved on. This idea really helped me accept that… just because I ate 5 cookies… doesn’t mean that I have to say “F it!” and eat all 2 dozen cookies… you know what I’m sayin’? Don’t think of yourself as a binge eater. Think of yourself as a human who occasionally eats too much, like the rest of us humans.
Be selfish: with your time; with your energy. You need to carve out space in your life for healing. When I’m exhausted and burnt out, I’m a lot less apt to make healthy choices.
Don’t try to be anything you’re not. I’m going to hugely overgeneralize here, but most of the women I’ve met who’ve struggled with binge eating are both perfectionists AND messy, creative types. We all want to be organized, put together, and structured in our diet and exercise habits… but it’s not going to happen. Choose where you want structure – I AM pretty darn disciplined about exercise and very picky about what I eat, but my house is a mess and sometimes my hair is blue – and forget that girl you’ll never be. She sounds hella lame. Choose a new you to become!
Quit being so thoughtful. Can I overgeneralize again? A lot of women who struggle or struggled with EDs have this deep desire to know every bit of themselves and understand exactly what their relationship with food says about them. Try to simplify your relationship for the time being and come back to it when you feel whole again (and you will! You really will!) For now – food is fuel. It can be delicious and fun to make. That is all.
Choose healthy over skinny. Really and truly make that your priority… don’t just use “healthy” as a cover up when you’re trying to explain your eating behaviors. Embrace it. Make sure you’re always eating enough – real meals, friend. I think a lot of those of us who’ve had food issues have always wanted to be healthy and happy, but things got seriously messed up along the way. Really own it now and treat yourself with the utmost care and respect.
Finally, and most importantly, see a therapist. Healing is hard work and you want an expert on your side.
A lot of words, huh? But I seriously believe in all of us! It’s really difficult to break old habits and I’ve definitely had instances where I’ve been nervous that I’m falling back into old patterns. But a whole lot of self lovin’ has led me to realize that those are one off instances and I’m not “a binge eater” anymore. I’m just an imperfect person, and I’m cool with me
Own yourself, love yourself, and you’ll get to your happy place!!!
XOXO times ten thousand,
Thank you, Rose!
I’m sure that many of you can relate to many points in this story, but a few stood out to me in particular. First, I smiled in recognition with Rose’s description of her early desire to stand out by being impossibly thin: “I wanted to be weightless and pixie-like and I wanted my small stature to be yet another feather in my outrageously dramatic cap. Perhaps even more damaging than that notion was an idea that I picked up from all of the great literature I was reading (mind you, I grew up in the heyday of Babysitter’s Club): the diva supreme I wanted to be – the woman who every other girl was jealous of – could eat her weight in pizza and chocolate cake and never gain an ounce. Simply put, I wanted to be a freak of nature.”
When people email me their ED stories, I’m often struck by how many of them refer longingly to a time in their lives when they could “eat whatever they wanted” and were still “tiny.” Perhaps longing for this moment—which, for most of us, characterizes the growth spurts before adolescence—is part of the lure of disordered eating. And perhaps it’s why the onset of puberty is the age when so many of us try to shut our developing bodies down through deprivation and self-abuse. We want to keep that contrast alive—the contrast between unfettered appetite and a body so ethereal that it appears not to demand sustenance at all. It is a potent desire, and it often persists straight through recovery. I cannot tell you how often I’m asked, via email, how someone might recovery from his/her ED without gaining any weight. My answer, of course, is that, while weight gain is not the only, or (in my opinion) even the most important part of recovery, the desire to recover while also aspiring to have a pixie’s body is almost definitely a contradiction in terms.
I also really appreciate that Rose is capable both of acknowledging that EDs demand serious consideration, treatment, and support (in the form of therapy) while also not pathologizing them to a degree that is crippling. This point came up yesterday in my comments; how much does talking about EDs through the prism of mental illness stigmatize them, and possibly hold people back from recovering? I think it’s crucial to acknowledge that EDs are mental illnesses, rather than extreme diets or expressions of narcissism/vanity, but I also realize that a certain amount of focus/fixation on one’s ED can become its own form of obsession. I like that Rose encourages us both to recognize the problem, and also not to allow it to oppress us.
And that, friends, is that. I hope you’ll enjoy this post, and speak up if it spoke to you. As always, thank you for reading.