Or, rather, how I overcame mine.
I was inspired by Waylon’s recent blog about an Oprah interview.
In it he makes the amazing point that people don’t want to be told more of what they should be doing; they want to learn how. So here’s how I went beyond being an eating-disordered girl to a self-loving woman.
1. See food as medicine. On your quest towards leaving your food-is-the-enemy mentality behind, see food as medicine. After all, food nourishes your body in a way that nothing else can; it is medicinal. As a foodie, I totally get that food is so much more than this; it nourishes so much more of us than just our bodies. Yet someone with a severe eating disorder is likely incapable, at least at first, of understanding this. Trying to get them to see food as love or anything spiritual or special is beyond the scope of reality. Hopefully this will come with time and healing, but focus first on not seeing food as something to fear.
2. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full. It’s not just the people with eating disorders who have stopped listening to their bodies. Our society as a whole does not prepare us for a life of eating when hungry and stopping when full. I’m not only talking about the clean plate club either. I’m talking about that one hour you have to eat lunch or that window of opportunity to give your kids breakfast before school. I’m talking about the no you can’t have that before dinner rule. Let me tell you, it took literally years to re-learn my body’s hunger queues, and at times I had to quite seriously fight my bosses to eat when I needed to (I won). This reconditioning takes patience and practice—and, trust me, it’s worth it.
3. Stop using the F-word! Fat. It’s become an ordinary part of our lexicon—and this sickens me. I don’t believe in saying never, but I will tell you that I will never call myself fat again—especially in front of my daughter. Please, even if you think it, stop saying it. Not only are you allowing the cycle to continue for your kids, you’re allowing it to continue for yourself. Ever heard the concept that thoughts become words and words become actions? There is something real in this. Sometimes we have to fake it to make it, so I’m begging you to stop using the f-word.
4. You always have the potential to become sick again. I was severely eating disordered for well over a decade, for definitely half of my life thus far. Yet I don’t see myself as eating disordered at all anymore. Ask anyone who knows and loves me; I love food and I eat extremely healthfully, yet I still eat what I want when I want (and I don’t over exercise anymore either). But you know what? Some of my absolute worst periods came after I had mentally declared myself eating disorder free. Then it dawned on me that I’m more like an alcoholic: I can be recovered, but I’ll always have an eating disorder. Maybe you don’t agree with this philosophy, and this might not be true for people that haven’t been severely ill with this disease, but I fully believe that seeing myself as having the potential for a relapse is what’s kept me well for the last decade. Sure, there’s some negativity behind this, but it’s the harsh reality for some.
5. Treat yourself like a beloved friend. In some cases this might not work, because some people don’t know how to treat other people with love and compassion. However, this step really helped me. I first read about this concept—talking to yourself like a dear friend—in a book during college. Would you say some of the things you say to yourself to someone you really loved, or would you treat them with more understanding and forgiveness? Being objective in this loving manner is a huge step towards the ultimate goal of health and self-love. (And this is true for everyone, not just people suffering from an eating disorder.) Remember that thoughts become words and words become actions—so start demanding that your inner voice speaks more gently.
6. Practice yoga. If you already practice yoga, great. If you don’t, start. Granted I had been practicing yoga for years—as a stretching routine after a run or weight lifting session. However, when I finally tuned into a daily yoga practice, I discovered so much health and ease and love for myself and for my body. Practicing yoga has helped me overcome a myriad of physical problems—from chronic low blood pressure to SI joint pain after childbirth—and you know what? I credit it for saving the real me that had to live inside a sick person. So thank you, yoga.
If these steps seem too easy to be true, it’s because they are. Just like anything else, you can be shown how to do something but it takes your own work and practice to be successful.
Recovering from an eating disorder is possible.
For many years, I defined myself as an eating disordered person first, who happened to have other qualities. Now it’s not even part of my vocabulary, much less my self-definition—and it took many years and many setbacks to achieve this.
So how do you overcome an eating disorder? One small step at a time.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta
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