Thoughts on To the Bone: Unmasking the Myths and Misconceptions Surrounding Eating Disorders

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*Trigger Warning: The contents in the post may be triggering/bothersome for individuals who struggle with eating disorders/disordered eating, but that is not the intention of the post. This post is about raising awareness and education about a very difficult topic that hits close to home for so many. Read at your own discretion. The movie To the Bone is triggering, controversial, and in many ways dark, so it’s difficult to address it without addressing some of those issues. I wouldn’t recommend watching it if you struggle with body image, self-worth, excessive exercise, or disordered eating patterns. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) hotline for support at (800) 931-2237.

After recently watching To the Bone, I didn’t know how I felt about it. I’ve spent weeks trying to put into words how I even began processing the film. For those of you who don’t know, the Netflix original movie is about an adolescent girl who goes to inpatient treatment for severe anorexia. The film is beyond triggering to anyone who is tampering with disordered eating patterns or in the depths of a full blown eating disorder. How could it not be? The film was created to portray an illness that steals so much joy and life from those who suffer from it, and has so many psychological and physiological consequences associated with it. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses¹, so naturally the movie has some dark moments in it, similar to the Netflix original movie 13 Reasons Why

I don’t get triggered by being around those who have eating disorders or those who exhibit behaviors because I know the hell that they have to go through to look how they do. I know the pain that they experience each day. I know how hard it is. 

So I decided to watch. I want to be in this field. I want to work with individuals who have eating disorders one day, and I want to be informed about what information (or lack there of) that is out there for the public to access regarding a topic that is near and dear to my heart. 

First of all……….It made me cringe hearing that actress Lily Collins (who plays Ellen) purposely and intentionally lost weight for the role. She herself struggled with an eating disorder very recently, so it almost seemed cruel and inhumane to allow her to intentionally lose weight after walking through a journey of recovery. Nothing about me supports that decision. I don’t care if she was “monitored by professionals”. Anyone can say that or do that. Monitoring and intervention are two separate actions. For this reason alone, I was turned off by the movie. 

For the majority of the movie, I didn’t know what to think, because it was simply one angle of one person’s view of ED recovery and all that goes into that. Nothing more, nothing less. One person to represent an experience that is so different and unique for each person.

There were moments where the movie truly did hit home for me, when I could relate to Ellen and her recovery experiences. Is that sad? Yeah, but it was a quick reminder of how devastating it is to live a life under the influence of ED. 

I didn’t agree with the weight loss. I didn’t agree with the blatant reference to triggering behaviors. I didn’t agree with the way in-patient treatment was portrayed. I didn’t agree with the nutrition therapy philosophy/meal time portrayal (which, by the way, doesn’t happen in real life). I didn’t like that for most of the movie, Ellen was without hope and not making any progress whatsoever. 

If anything, the movie convinced me more of the importance of sharing my story, and having open dialogue about disordered eating and eating disorders. 

One of the most dangerous misconceptions about eating disorders is that you must be extremely underweight and malnourished to have an eating disorder. 

Let me say it again: There are many, many people who have clinically diagnosable eating disorders or disordered eating patterns that have not lost weight, or have even gained some.

There are people who are like Ellen, who just look like they have an eating disorder, who bounce in and out of treatment facilities, and who remain extremely underweight and unhealthy for long periods of time. This is a very real and very big problem. But it’s not the only issue and doesn’t represent the majority of people.  

I once believed that eating disorders were only for super skinny white girls that looked like skeletons. I never thought it would be me. Yet, here I am. A year and a half into recovery for an illness that I didn’t believe would ever affect me. All because I believed the lie that you have to be skinny to have an eating disorder. 

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This picture was taken in the beginning stages of my recovery from anorexia, when I was severely malnourished and on the brink of admission to an inpatient facility. Most people wouldn’t ever guess that because in this picture I look healthy. 

Many, many people who suffer from eating disorders have only lost a few pounds or have maintained their weight. 

Some people gain weight. 

Some people lose weight. 

Some people suffer from severe physical consequences, while others can seem to get by completely unnoticed. 

One thing is for certain: Everyone who has every walked through disordered eating or an eating disorder has experienced trauma and psychological distress. 

Someone who is obese can meet criteria for anorexia. 

Likewise, others who are “normal” in weight and size may suffer from binge eating disorder.

There is no rhyme or reason to it, which is why it can be so difficult to detect. 

This stigma makes those who aren’t “stick skinny” feel more guilt and shame for the behaviors they are engaging in and the things they are feeling. Why would you seek out expensive treatment if you had no noticeable lab changes and you were at a normal weight? Most people wouldn’t. They wouldn’t want to be judged. They wouldn’t want to be mocked. They wouldn’t want to look crazy. 

I was one of those people. 

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I had a couple of emotional breakdowns the week of my engagement pictures due to anxiety associated with my eating disorder and body dysmorphic disorder. I don’t think anyone would get that sort of vibe from this picture. Things aren’t always as they seem. 

I knew that I had a “weird” relationship with food, but I never thought that I would come close to developing an eating disorder, much less anorexia. 

As I gradually began losing weight, (for a number of reasons), I began to get so many compliments about how great I looked. It was only my family and husband that began to notice that I had lost a little too much weight. 

“Wow! This is the best I have ever seen you!” 

“You have some nice legs! Do you run?”

“What’s your secret?” 

“How much weight have you lost?!”

“Your so healthy!!” 

With the world that we live in, I shouldn’t have expected anything less. I knew that I had a problem, but my rigid diet regimen and exercise obsession didn’t seem to be enough to communicate that I was sick. People celebrate “clean eating”, obsessive exercising, dieting, and calorie counting more than any other generation before us. Disordered eating patterns (restricting food, rewarding ourselves after following our diets, labeling foods as “good and bad”, obsessively reading labels, etc.) has become the norm. 

It’s like you can’t escape it. 

The Fitbit challenges, food comments, “fat burning” workout routines…..we love it, and in many ways we live for it. I know I did.  

I had to lose more weight. I had to send a signal for help. It was the only way that I felt that I could be heard and communicate the psychological pain that was masked behind the eating disorder behaviors. 

Most days it was easy to hide. 

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This was taken 3 months into treatment. It took everything in me to not look up the calorie, fat, and sugar content in this ice-cream.
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In this picture I had just started weekly therapy sessions. The picture seems normal enough to me, but I know that in my heart and soul that I wasn’t healthy and that I wasn’t okay. 

Others, not so much. 

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I didn’t really notice the muscle deterioration in my legs and arms until a few years after taking this picture. Again, in this picture, I was still at a normal, healthy weight and BMI, but that weight and BMI wasn’t healthy for the way that God made me. 

 

 

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I never thought there would be a day where I could attain the oh so coveted “thigh gap”. I also didn’t realize how much it would cost me. This picture was taken the day after relapse. My mom was very intentional about spending time with me and getting me out of the house. 

I dove into a deep pit of hopelessness and despair, most of which could have been avoided if I had asked for help sooner.

The point of this post is not to bash Marti Noxon or Lily Collins for their work. I think their heart behind it was to spread awareness and spark conversation. Would I have done it the same way? Not necessarily. But then again, I am not really into the business of making movies and such…so I just blog instead. I just didn’t want anyone who did watch the movie to think that they are not sick enough to get help. There is no “sick enough”, only sick.

The purpose of this post is to show the world a real-life example of life with an eating disorder, one that wasn’t necessarily marked by pro-longed skinniness and years in treatment facilities. Those stories are out there, and they are real and painful and true. But there are many other stories out there that also are very real and painful and true, yet they don’t involve weight loss, or as least the appearance of it. I truly believe that the one of the only reason I became malnourished was because I didn’t seek help when I began to see warning signs and knew something was wrong. I don’t want that to happen to you. I don’t want that to happen to anyone. That’s why I share my story so readily, to prevent, educate, and provide hope. 

If your relationship with food disrupts your life in any way (physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, or spiritually), you should seek help. 

If you cannot go to a restaurant without having anxiety about what to order from the menu, you should seek help. 

If you can’t go a day without counting calories (even when it’s just in your head), you should seek help. 

If you get anxiety thinking about a day off from the gym, you should seek help. 

If you consistently and regularly rely on food (or lack there of) to coop with stress, you should seek help. 

If you can’t concentrate during work, school, church, etc. you should seek help. 

If food rules your life, you should seek help. 

Not because you are crazy, not because you have anything to be ashamed of, and not because you are weak. 

Because you deserve better. 

Because you want to have a family. 

Because you want to be present. 

Because you want to follow your dreams.

Because you want to have a career. 

Because you want the freedom to choose between the rice cake with nut butter and the chocolate chip cookie. 

Because you want the ability to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. 

Because you want your life to be about more than food and exercise. 

Life is too short, and it becomes even shorter when disordered eating comes into play. 

Reach out to a trusted friend or family member. If they are worthy of being in your life they will listen, empathize, understand, and help you take the next steps in order to heal. 

Vulnerability isn’t weak; to be vulnerable is to be brave. 

To seek help is to have courage.

Be brave today with me. 

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REFERENCES:

  1. Hamilton, G., & Elenback, R. (2015-2017). Anorexia Nervosa – Highest Mortality Rate of Any Mental Disorder: Why? Retrieved August 19, 2017, from Penn State State Hershey Medical Center Eating Disorder Program

 

Reaching Out to People Instead of your Eating Disorder

Because of my experience in eating disorder recovery, when I blog about mental illness, I focus primarily on the disorders that I have been most affected by: anxiety, depression, OCD, and my eating disorder. However, many of the things that I have learned in therapy are applicable for individuals who struggle with other mental illnesses, addictions, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. This topic is one of those things.

This concept of reaching out to other people instead of our unhealthy cooping mechanisms is one that is easy to comprehend, yet so hard to carry out.

Reaching out to other people requires effort, and lots of it.

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Identifying your recovery team

It first requires you to identify the people that you trust with your recovery. These are your “go-to” people when you are having a hard day or are on the verge of relapse. These people are “safe”. They may or may not have gone through what you are experiencing, but they are always willing to listen with compassion, show grace, and empathize without completely understanding. There may be people in your life who aren’t worthy of your recovery journey.

These people are “unsafe”. They often lack the maturity or experience that it takes to understand the type of pain associated with mental illness. They may care about you as a friend, but that don’t know how to empathize or how to respond on a hard day. You may still be able to trust them, but maybe not as an accountability partner in your recovery. They may not understand that talking about diet, exercise, and weight can be very triggering and unhelpful when it comes to your recovery.

You want to surround yourself with people who you love, trust, and can rely on to help you get better. One of the hardest parts is at the beginning of your journey, you may find that some people who you thought were “safe” for you, aren’t actually. That can be a tough pill to swallow. Simply put, you find out who your real friends are when you walk through a season of suffering. There have been some bumps in the road, but I have been able to identify the “safe” people in my life, and I am comfortable with the people that I have let in on my recovery journey.

Talking about support expectations

Once you have identified your “safe” people, it’s a good idea to ask them to be apart of your recovery/support team. When doing so, ask each person about personal boundaries and the type of support they can best provide. For example, my treatment team is always available via e-mail and will generally respond quickly when I have a question or need additional support. They also support me at our appointments. Their support looks different than the support from my mom, for example, who provides financial support, spiritual support, and emotional support around the clock. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to contact my recovery team at 10:00 PM, but I know that my mom wouldn’t mind answering a phone call if I needed her late at night. Likewise, I’m not going to wake my sister up at 5:00 AM. Some friends/family members supported me by simply spending time with me, playing games, watching a movie, or going shopping with me. Many people are more comfortable with that type of support, which is something that I desperately needed. Those people were apart of some the best days, where my eating disorder didn’t seem to be ruling and reigning over my life. Yet other friends poured into me their spiritual wisdom & encouragement, by praying for me and always pointing me back to the gospel.

Two important things to note before we move on:

  1. We must choose recovery for ourselves. We must make the choice to reach out when we don’t have enough strength to fight on our own. Recovery strips away our self-sufficiency and requires us to rely on other people, no matter how independent we may think we are. Our loved ones may do everything in their power to help us recover, but at the end of the day. It’s our choice. They can’t choose recovery for us.
  2. There are things that go on in our hearts and minds that only God can heal. No therapeutic technique. No perfect meal plan. No ideal weight. No person. Only God. Lean into him, wrestle with him, cry out to him, abide in him, spend time with him. It is only then when the deepest wounds in our hearts can be healed.

Reaching out to other people

In the moment, it’s so difficult. We know what we are supposed to do. We aren’t supposed to do the things that keep us sick. We aren’t supposed to numb out our feelings…it just seems so easy to do so at the time. There were many times that I didn’t choose to reach out to people, and instead chose my eating disorder. This always made the pain worse in the long run-physically and emotionally.

The pain that my eating disorder caused me pushed me to reach out to other people, and the life that I wanted without my eating disorder pulled me when the pain wasn’t enough.

I started seeing significant progress when I started to reach out to first God, and then my support team, in moments where the temptation seemed too much to bear. I would come to God open and honest with my feelings, asking him to give me the discernment and strength to choose the next right thing in that situation, whatever that may have been. God’s Holy Spirit consistently and actively spoke to me and showed me the path I needed to walk on, it was just a matter of if I was going to choose it that day or not.

One night at work I had a strong urge to skip dinner and go to the gym instead. I felt the hunger pains in my stomach and heard the growling as I began to serve meals to other people. I knew that my body needed food, yet psychologically it was the absolute last thing I wanted to do.

I called my husband (boyfriend at the time)…no answer.

I called my mom…no answer.

“Awesome,” I thought to myself. “This is just a sign that I am supposed to go workout and that I don’t need dinner anyways. They didn’t answer so I am home free.”

Almost immediately after that thought the Holy Spirit convicted me. God had given me so many amazing resources to help me get better, but that wasn’t going to happen if I didn’t choose to do so. I knew that the LAST thing that I needed was to skip dinner and go to the gym. I couldn’t do it alone. I needed to call someone else.

I decided to call my best friend, Megan.

Megan has such a sweet, sensitive, discerning, & nonjudgmental spirit. She helps me process through my recovery slowly, thoughtfully, and intentionally. With Meg, there is no room for guilt, shame, or condemnation, only grace, compassion, listening, and understanding.

I love Megan, but I didn’t really want to talk to her when I called her.

*Please don’t pick up, please don’t pick up….*

Meg: “Hello?”

Me: “Um………I hate doing this. I hate everything about this…..but I am really tempted to skip dinner and go workout but I know that I cannot do that if I want to be healthy. I just need someone to talk to.”

And then I burst into tears. Typical.

I didn’t workout that night. After I got off the phone with Megan, I went and brought my nana flowers and then went home and ate dinner with my dad. I went to bed feeling thankful, proud, & of course, a little exhausted.

At the time, that was one of the hardest things that I had done in my recovery. There was nothing about me that wanted to reach out to other people. I wanted immediate relief from my anxiety. I didn’t want to have to be vulnerable and share my deepest struggle with other people. I hated every minute of it, but I was so glad that I did it. That night became a turning point in my recovery, one where I started to open up even more to my recovery team and trust that they knew what was best for me.

What is one way that you can reach out to people, rather than your eating disorder today?

 

 

Will Recovery Ever Get Easier?

Recovering from an eating disorder is one of the most difficult things in the world.

If you have lived with an eating disorder (or even disordered eating patterns), your body has been through trauma-physically, psychologically, socially, and spiritually.

As most of you know, there is so much more to recovery than food, body image, and a scale.

Although eating disorders are first and foremost psychological disorders, eating disorders are very hard on the body, whether you struggle with anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, or otherwise specified feeding & eating disorder (OSFED).

Some of you, like me, have become physically ill because of your eating disorder, plagued by amenorrhea, an assortment of GI related issues, metabolic shifts, insomnia, weakened hunger and fullness cues, weight fluctuations, quick fatigue, compromised immunity, anxiety attacks, and an overall decrease in your quality of life.

Others experience fainting, refeeding syndrome, tooth decay, osteoporosis, dehydration, infertility, electrolyte imbalances, high blood pressure, peptic ulcers, pancreatitis, kidney failure, and even death.

Even still, there are those who don’t seem to have any physical consequences…yet. Don’t be mistaken, if you follow disordered eating patterns for a period of time your body will start to send you physiological signals indicating that something is wrong.

The only form of medicine that can help us escape this form of bondage is food. In recovery, food is your medicine, whether that be a grilled turkey burger or a slice of chocolate cake. Consistent, adequate nourishment is the only way to correct some of the things I talked about above.

If only it was as simple as “just eat.”

Many of you probably experience early satiety (premature fullness) because your bodies aren’t used to having a normal amount of food in them at one time. You are forced to eat when you aren’t hungry, or at least you think you’re aren’t. Not to be gross, but constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, and indigestion are all very real parts of getting back on a consistent food schedule. What makes it all worse is that there is no timeline as to how long it will take to actually feel better again. If you regularly restriction, binging, & purging tendencies, it will take even longer. Psychologically, many people who develop an eating disorder also struggle with a body image component, whether or not that was present when the disordered eating patterns first began. Body dysmorphia, the scale, fear of gaining weight, & societal pressures and emphasis on appearance can also be big barriers.

If all of this weren’t enough to make you quit, you also have to start dealing with the root of it all: the psychological and emotional issues that have been pushed aside and suppressed by your eating disorder. The physical trauma that your body has been through didn’t happen overnight; likewise, the psychological, emotional, and spiritual trauma also won’t heal overnight.

Learning how to acknowledge, observe (without judgement), interpret, and coop with unwanted emotions or feelings is a very difficult thing to do. Therapy is exhausting and pricey (as is every aspect of recovery), but the psychological and emotional healing is what will keep you practicing good recovery for a lifetime; food alone isn’t enough.

It’s hard.

It’s messy.

It’s slow.

It’s frustrating.

It’s lonely.

It’s misunderstood.

Coming from someone who has walked through it all: It will feel worse before it feels better, but it does get easier, it does get better, & if you stick with it, you will recover.

It’s painful…oh so painful, but it’s worth it. A part of the recovery process is learning to let go of control and trusting your friends, family, and recovery team to lean on during this really difficult process.

Every bite, meal, & moment you choose to practice good recovery is a step towards an easier tomorrow.

It’s becomes easier to eat (both physically and emotionally).

Your body will start to rejoice with every ounce of food that is used to restore your body and bring it back to life.

You will be able to eat a “normal” amount of food again.

Your metabolism and abnormal lab values will start moving back into place.

Your weight will stabilize and stay in the range that God designed for it to be.

You will be able to go out to eat with friends without looking up the menu beforehand and calculating your calorie intake for the day.

You will be able to say “yes” to the ice-cream served at a family gathering and “no” to the small voice that encourages you to binge on it after a long day.

 You will survive.

 You will be restored.

 You will be recovered.

Fully.

 Free from bondage.

 Free to live.

 Keep fighting friends, coming from someone who has won many battles with ED, it’s worth it.

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Pizza, Cookies, & Kiwi: A glimpse into intuitive eating

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When I first began recovery I couldn’t eat a meal without thinking about, calculating, & analyzing was in it.

How many calories?

Grams of Fat?

Carbs?

Protein?

Sodium?

Fiber?

Is this a “balanced” plate, with grains, fruit, veggies, & protein?

Is there too much fat?

Will this meal make me fat? 

My eating disorder didn’t allow me to eat freely or to listen to my body. My meals were determined by anything and everything but my own hunger signals. It got to the point where my hunger and fullness signals began to feel the same. I could eat one bite of a meal and feel “full”. In contrast, I could eat a hearty and sufficient meal with dessert and feel “hungry” a few minutes later. My metabolism was all messed up and I could no longer “just eat” for myself.

I started off with a meal plan that required me to meet “minimums” each day. I had to eat a certain number of complex carbs, proteins, fats, and “additional foods for enjoyment.”

The list terrified me. The thought of eating an entire bagel with strawberry jelly for “enjoyment” was frightening.

But I wanted to get better, so I ate.

With each meal my body began to heal & get stronger.

At first it hurt, a lot. Physically, psychologically, and emotionally.

But I knew I had to follow my meal plan and trust my recovery team before I could begin eating intuitively.

Intuitive eating is based on the premise that becoming more attuned to the body’s natural hunger signals is a more effective way to attain a healthy weight, rather than keeping track of the amounts of energy and fats in foods.

In theory, it sounds great, but for someone who has struggled with disordered eating patterns, it can be very difficult to move into this new concept.

It was only after months of hard work and practicing “good” (not perfect) recovery that I could start moving away from my meal plan and towards intuitive eating.

Intuitive, normal eating is imperfect, & that’s the beauty of it. My dietitian often refers to it as “structured chaos”.

Intuitive eating is going to a restaurant and ordering what you really want, whether that be the southwest chicken salad or the cheeseburger with french fries. No foods are bad and nothing is off limits!

Intuitive eating is eating what makes your body feel good (not uncomfortably full, but satisfied enough to sustain you until the next meal or snack time).

Intuitive eating is having a diet that is full of a variety of foods, from fruits and vegetables to steak and an ice cream cone.

Intuitive eating is based off of what your body needs physically, not emotionally.

Intuitive eating looks at food for what it is: just food.

Intuitive eating has no rules or restrictions.

Intuitive eating looks different for everyone.

Last night for dinner I had a few slices of Herb Chicken Mediterranean Pizza from Papa Murphy’s (highly recommend), 2 kiwis, & some almond milk and chips ahoy cookies for dessert.

Last summer I never would have imagined that I would be in a place where I felt comfortable eating a meal that seems like such an odd combination.

I never imagined eating pizza without salad.

I never imagined eating cookies without calculating the number of calories in each of them.

I never imagined a day where I could accept my body for how God made it, & eat food that would satisfy me nutritionally, physically, and psychologically.

I never imagined that I could make peace with food.

I never imagined that I could live in so much freedom.

But I do.

It isn’t perfect. I still have to fight off unhealthy thoughts and be intentional throughout the day. But I am in a place that I never in a million years thought I could be in.

You too can be in this place, whether you have struggled with disordered eating or are simply tired of dieting.

No more calorie counting.

No more food analyzing.

No more rules and restrictions.

Food is just food…it’s meant to give our bodies energy to live our lives and do what we love. When we understand this, it becomes easier to approach meals in the mindset of nourishing our bodies, rather than restricting or overindulging.

*If you are interested in beginning a journey towards intuitive eating, is best to work with a dietitian who understands and supports intuitive eating, rather than calorie counting and weight loss.

**If you struggle with an eating disorder/disordered eating patterns, you may not be able to read hunger/satiety cues very well. Individuals with disordered eating patterns require consistent nourishment without compensatory behaviors before he or she may be able to move into intuitive eating. Intuitive eating can only happen after physical + psychological stability, weight restoration, and cessation of restricting, binging, & purging behaviors. For this type of nutrition therapy, it is best to work with a registered dietitian who specializes in treating eating disorders. They will help you move into this place of healing and freedom.

Jesus, how long?

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“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? 

How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts, and day after day have sorrow in my heart?

How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.

Give light to my eyes or I will sleep in death,

and my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him.’

But I trust in your unfailing love, my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.”

-Psalm 13

Here we find David, a man after God’s own heart, crying out to for deliverance, freedom, and redemption, running to Jesus with his heart as it is; he didn’t try to cover up his thoughts or feelings. He let God have a piece of his mind and heart. 

He didn’t understand. 

He needed comfort. 

He needed reassurance. 

He needed to hear. 

He needed to see. 

He needed to feel. 

He needed to know that God hadn’t forgotten him. 

He needed to know that God wouldn’t hide his face from him. 

He needed to know that he would not always have to wrestle with unwanted thoughts. 

He needed to know that one day there would no longer be sorrow in his heart. 

He needed the eyes of his heart to be enlightened. 

He needed to know how long, how long it would be until he could make some sense of the broken pieces in his life. 

The worst part? 

God seemed to be silent– at least in that moment. 

Although David knew the Lord and loved him,

He felt forgotten.

He felt abandoned.

He felt hopeless.

He felt defeated.

David is desperate for relief; from what he needs relief we are not exactly sure.

It is safe for us to assume that he is agonizing over a few things: 

  • Abandonment v.1
  • Wresting with his sin v.2
  • Lack of Joy in his heart v.3
  • Lack of victory over his enemies v.3

Sound familiar?

How long, Jesus?

How long will I have to fight off lies from the enemy?

How long will my tears be my food day and night?

How long will my prayers go unanswered?

How long will I have to fight off anxiety?

How long will I be uncomfortable in my body?

How long will I feel like this?

How long will I wrestle with unhealthy thoughts?

How long will it take to break bad habits?

How long until I am a little less broken?

How long until I am free?

How long until my heart begins to believe what my mind is certain of?

How long until you will act on my behalf, & do what only you can do?

How long will I struggle with the temptation to turn back to my eating disorder?

How long will I be in recovery? 

How long until I am healed?

How long until I am no longer broken-hearted?

How long until I am completely free?

How long until you come back?

How long, Jesus? 

How long.

This is David’s ultimate cry. This is our heart’s cry: Jesus, when will you make this all right? When is it all going to make sense? When will you return?

David doesn’t try to minimize it or diminish it. He expresses his pain. He cries out in anguish. He brings his raw and real emotions before the creator of the universe. He is simply asking with an earnest heart, and he doesn’t immediately hear back from God, & so often we don’t either. 

In the time waiting, David shifts his focus and proclaims, “But I trust in your unfailing love, my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise for he has been good to me.” v. 5-6

In other words:

Even when it hurts, I will praise you.

Even when nothing makes sense, I will trust you. 

Even when I am sorrowful, I take heart in the joy of my salvation. 

Even when I face trials, I will praise your name. 

Even when I don’t immediately hear from you, I will choose to believe in your unfailing love. 

David didn’t know how long, & neither do we. 

But God didn’t abandoned David, & he doesn’t abandoned us. 

In his own timing, wisdom, understanding, & sovereign hand, God delivered David from his enemies. He forgave his sins. He brought forth joy in his heart. He walked in victory. 

Through his blood came the awaited messiah, our savior, redeemer, deliverer, and peace in the time waiting. 

It’s okay to ask how long. 

It’s natural. 

It’s healthy. 

It’s freeing.

Wrestling with the “how long” reminds us that this world isn’t our home. It’s a reminder of our desperate need for Jesus each day. It’s a reminder of how truly great the good news of the gospel is. The gospel that saves us from it all. Even with a broken heart, weary soul, anxious mind, and lacking ability, we can move into a place where we rejoice in our salvation and trust Jesus even when it doesn’t all make sense. We can move from “how long” to “this won’t last forever”.

We can freely say:

We trust you. 

We trust your promises.

We trust that you are good. 

We trust your ability to heal, to redeem, to show grace, to provide, to keep your promises, to be with us always, to deliver us, and to finish the good work that you have started in our lives, to make sense of our suffering; we trust in your timing & let go of the burdensome “how longs” that so often rule our minds. 

 

Fat Phobia

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Today I had a conversation with one of my campers that caught me off guard:

Some of my girls was listening in on a conversation that I was having with another counselor. We began to talk about the process of becoming a RDN, otherwise known as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. As I began to explain different career paths within my field, one of my little girls interrupted and said, “So you’re going to tell people what to eat so that they don’t get fat and chubby?!” The other girls giggled and began to talk about weight, body shape, and people they know who are “fat”.

I tried so hard….I really did…but I couldn’t hide the look of shock and disgust on my face.

Tell people what to eat so that they don’t “get fat?”

I don’t think so.

Why do my seven-year-old campers believe that the sole purpose of eating healthy is to avoid becoming fat and chubby?

Why are they more concerned with their bodies than playing in the creek with their friends?

Why do they think it’s bad to be “fat” or “chubby”?

They have been told….by their parents, friends, TV shows, the internet, and the media that fat is bad and skinny is good.

Today I wasn’t angry at my girls.

I was angry that the enemy’s lies about body image, weight, and dieting had already infiltrated their minds at such a young age.

Fat phobias are developed overtime.

Little girls are not born with an innate weight bias.

They are taught that skinny is good & fat it bad. They are conditioned to associate a skinny body with good health, wealth, love, acceptance, self-control, and happiness. On the flip side, they associate people who have a “fat” or “chubby” body with poor health, rejection, laziness, and a bad life.

Their mothers, sisters, aunts, and friends were all taught to fear fat and everything that comes along with it.

We learn to identify areas that contain what we identify as “too much fat” and do our best to hide, disguise, or change the parts of our bodies that we think need fixing.

We don’t like fat on our face, arms, or hips, & definitely not between our thighs.

Rule of thumb: Less fat is always better.

I’ve been on this earth for almost 22 years, and I am just now able to start the process of breaking free from weight bias and fat phobia.

A little over a year ago my fat phobia turned into an extreme lifestyle when I developed anorexia.

I have never been overweight.

I have never needed to lose weight for medical reasons.

I have never been hurt by my body fat.

Yet, I have always feared losing control of my body and moving into a place where I could have too much fat on my body.

I feared losing muscle.

I feared having any body fat at all.

I feared eating fat.

I feared being fat.

Why?

I too believed the lie that to be fat was to be lazy, out of control, unlovable, and even unhealthy. 

I feared fat so much that my metabolism slowed down and my heart rate began to drop exponentially. 

I feared fat so much that I avoided certain food groups entirely.

I feared fat so much that I exercised even if I was sick or if the weather was dangerous.

I feared fat more than anything, even though I didn’t truly understand why.

I feared fat so much that I pushed myself to lose as much weight as possible, to finally attain the skinny body that I never once had.

I feared fat so much that it took many, doctors visits, therapy sessions, and nutrition appointments to even begin changing the way that I viewed fat. 

It was extremely difficult, expensive, exhausting, and crippling at times.

After a few months in recovery, I began to realize that it wasn’t truly the fat that I feared, but rather, the idea of being unworthy of love and acceptance.

I had forgotten that my identity was not rooted in my weight or my body shape, but in Jesus alone.

My weight isn’t an indicator of my worth, and neither is my body fat.

To be thought about, cared for, protected, forgiven, adopted, chosen, and loved by the creator of the universe is so much greater than looking great or having a low amount of body fat.

I know these things, but there are days when I forget.

This is a reminder for myself, & the many little girls, teenagers, women, & even men who struggle with body image issues and fat phobias:

  • Our bodies need fat…it protects our organs, provides us warmth, regulates our hormones, provides us with energy, & hold together our cell membranes.
  • Eating fat doesn’t make us fat. Lipids (fancy word for fat) are essential macronutrients, meaning we need to consume them through our diet in order to reap the benefits of them. Certain fats, specifically omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can boost brain functioning, strengthen the immune system, and lower HDL cholesterol.
  • Some people are born with more fat and some people are born with less…genetics play a big role in weight and body composition.
  • Fat isn’t an indicator of work ethic.
  • Fat isn’t an indicator of worth.
  • Fat isn’t an indicator of health.
  • Skinny isn’t an indicator of health.
  • Skinny isn’t an indicator of happiness.
  • Fat isn’t good or bad.
  • Skinny isn’t good or bad.

 

For your daughter, sister, co-worker, friend, & neighbor…for yourself, fight to believe the  that worth isn’t tied to weight. It is only when we start to believe this truth that we can start changing the way we see ourselves & others for who we are and not what we look like. It is only when we start to live confidently in the bodies that the little girls around us will too.

Food Adventures

For people with eating disorders, situations surrounding food, restaurants, and eating with other people can cause a lot of distress.

Early on in my recovery I used to hear a lot of eating disorder chatter in my head around mealtimes. My eating disorder (ED) would encourage me to restrict my food intake & say things such as:

“You better not have much for dinner….you had ice cream as your afternoon snack; you should be ashamed of yourself. You cannot afford the extra calories.”

“Skip dinner & workout instead…that’s what your body really needs. You don’t need food.”

“I can’t believe you chose an item on the menu that is over 600 calories…who do you think you are?”

“You better not clean your plate….your friends will think you are a pig.”

“In order to eat out, you must look up all of your food options and the nutritional value of them so that you can identify a meal that is safe. You cannot afford any extra fat in your diet.”

“If you even consider getting a roll, no butter.”

“After that binge last night you don’t deserve to eat today.”

“You must workout if you are going out to eat…if there isn’t a way to workout, order a salad, light on the dressing.”

“Your friends and family can go hours without eating and you are starving a couple of hours after each meal…why can’t you just learn how to eat?”

ED doesn’t only use food restriction as a tactic. He also encouraged me to over-eat, eat when I wasn’t hungry, or binge-eat when I was tired, anxious, or bored. It’s all or nothing with ED. This “counter” ED would say things such as:

“You already had one cookie today you ruined the meal plan…might as well eat the whole box.”

“Binge. It doesn’t matter how hungry you are…..binge to numb yourself…binge because you want to…binge just to binge.”

“You don’t need one dessert…you need about 10 desserts. Treat yourself.”

“If you really want to recover you will just eat chocolate, sweets, and fast food each day. That’ll help you out a lot even if it makes your body feel bad.”

“You need chocolate or you won’t be able to make it through the night.”

“It doesn’t matter what your body might be trying to tell you…you need seconds, thirds, & even forths! Eat up while you can!”

“You can only have birthday cake once a year….on your birthday. Make sure you get the biggest piece you can cut so that you can make up for all of the other days that you cannot afford the extra calories.”

As you can imagine, restaurants, sleepovers, traveling, unplanned meals, changed plans, and new environments can be particularly triggering for people in recovery.

In my own recovery process, exposing myself to new or uncomfortable food situations was one of the most helpful strategies that I developed.

For example, even if it was the last thing I wanted to do, I would say “yes” to a dinner invitation from one of my friends. Then, I would go to the restaurant and do my best to order a meal that followed my meal plan + was something that I actually wanted to eat. I would try to ignore the calories on the side & listen to when my body was hungry & when my body was full.

Afterwards, I would reflect on the experience: How was the meal? Did I eat enough? Did I eat too much? Did I honor my hunger? Did I listen to my body? Did I enjoy conversation with the person I was with? Did I choose my order based off of my taste preferences and meal plan or off of the calories? Was the meal enjoyable? One of the hardest (but more important) things that I learned to do was to observe my actions without judging them. For example, if I overate at a restaurant, it was naturally for me to automatically judge my own actions:

“I’m so stupid why can’t I just listen to my body and eat like everyone else?”

“I cannot believe I ate that dish. I am going to get fat.”

“I’m not going to recover because I can’t even go to a restaurant without having anxiety and obsessing over the food I am getting.”

“I should be ashamed of myself for my eating disorder.”

“I have no self-control.”

“I honored my hunger too much. I should feel guilty.”

None of these thoughts are from my healthy self. They are from ED. In therapy, I have learned to step back and look at situations in an objective view, & then identify parts of the situation that could look a little different the next time:

“It was hard for me to read my hunger and fullness cues today, but that’s okay. I know it’s going to take some time. I did the best I could. Maybe next time I will eat my food a little slower and be intentional about not restricting food earlier in the day.”

“I ordered the pasta dish that I wanted. Pasta doesn’t make me fat. Pasta doesn’t make anyone fat. Pasta is pasta. Even if I ordered pasta the next time I went out, it still wouldn’t make me fat. My body needs food.”

“I have an eating disorder. It isn’t unusual for people with eating disorders to have anxiety around meal times. The restrictive and deprived brain starts obsessing over food when it doesn’t receive enough of it. When I keep properly nourishing my body I will stop obsessing over food.”

“My eating disorder isn’t my fault.”

“My body is in a starvation state….it is sending signals to my brain to get food & get it now…what seems like a lack of self-control is really my body protecting me.”

“There is no such thing as honoring my hunger too much. Honoring my hunger is good. The next time I go out to eat I want to honor my hunger again. ”

I can’t count the number of times I’ve had meals that were painful, awkward, uncomfortable, frustrating, and even upsetting. It’s all apart of the process. Exposing myself to situations where I felt uncomfortable enabled me to go through the growing pain that lead to transformation. The painful practice was necessary to move into intuitive, mindful, & even enjoyable eating.

Although I hear less ED chatter in my head each day, I still do have moments where ED tries to challenge what I have learned in recovery.

The resort that my Husband and I stayed in on our honeymoon was all-inclusive resort.

As much food as we wanted, however we wanted it, whenever we wanted it.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks, snacks, ice-cream, and room service were available from 6:00 AM until 2:00 AM each day.

A year ago, this situation would have been an absolute nightmare for me: too many decisions, too much food, too many calories, too many choices, too overwhelming.

As I walked into the all you can eat buffet, I took a deep breath and reminded myself that this experience was just another opportunity to practice good recovery skills. 

There were some times when I didn’t eat enough & had to go back and get a snack.

There some were times when I ate a little too much.

There were many times where I honored my hunger and ate until I was full and satisfied.

There were times when I ordered dessert & other times when I didn’t.

There were times that I ate 3 meals a day, & others when I ate 5.

There were times when I ate breakfast at 6:30 AM and others when I ate it at 9:00 AM.

It was a planned, yet spontaneous food adventure, & I loved every minute of it. Every bite I took was a step away from ED and another step towards full recovery. With another successful exposure therapy session under my belt, I am only stronger than I was before the trip. At this time last year I wouldn’t have eaten most of the food served at the resort. Here are some of the foods that my husband and I enjoyed on the trip, the food that ED convinced me to deny myself of for so long:

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If you’re in recovery for an eating disorder or disordered eating patterns, embrace new food adventures, show yourself grace, practice, practice, practice, & try to have some fun while you’re doing it.

The Story I Never Thought I Would Write

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I thought that eating disorders were for movie stars.

Or actresses.

Or ice skaters.

Or superficial white girls.

I knew that I had a problem, I just wasn’t quite sure how to give what I was feeling a voice. In the winter of 2016, I became one of the girls I never thought I would be.

I enjoyed food quite a bit as a child. No food was off limits, & I grew up enjoying most foods in moderation, freely eating snacks and desserts as I desired to. I was an intuitive eater. I ate when I was hungry, stopped when I was full, and food’s purpose in my life was to give me energy and enjoyment. There were no thoughts about how the food I ate was going to affect my physical appearance, & there was no reason to change anything about my diet. I was young, happy, & healthy.

I first became interested in dieting when I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome in high school. After a few years of irregular and unexplainable stomach discomfort, I was relieved to receive a diagnosis that I thought would be easy to treat. I was told to eat an adequate amount of fruits and vegetables, drink water, and manage my stress. I took this advice to heart, and tried to eat as healthy as possible at every meal in order to relieve my stomach pain. I desperately just wanted someone to tell me what to eat and to give me a perfect diet plan, as if there is such a thing. I tried every diet in the book: gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo, vegan, cleansing, and everything in between. These diets only exacerbated my IBS symptoms. My doctors and I didn’t realize that my stomach pain was directly related to my anxiety, & I ended up fearing and avoiding many foods that didn’t actually cause me to become ill. I ended up losing over 20% of my original body weight due to food restriction that was rooted in anxiety, perfectionism, depression, and obsessive compulsive tendencies. This was the beginning of my disordered eating. There isn’t a clear line when a person crosses over from disordered eating to an eating disorder, however I do know that I crossed that line at some point during my junior year of college. Many professionals within the ED community refer to this transition as the “perfect storm”, the point in a person’s life where all of his or her biological, psychological, and social factors come together to trigger an eating disorder. In addition to adhering to a very restrictive diet, I was also working early morning shifts at NHC Cookeville and worked out consistently throughout the week. Anxiety, depression, and addiction run in my family, in addition to stress-related GI disorders.

I lost interest in the things that mattered most to me, & as a result I began to fixate on the only thing that I could seem to control: my physical appearance. I became obsessed with counting calories, weighing myself, and working out. Although I wasn’t intentionally trying to lose weight, I told myself that if my physical health was declining that I might as well have been “skinny” while it was happening. I didn’t think there would ever be a point to where I was too skinny.

Skinny is celebrated.

Skinny is loved.

Skinny is healthy.

Skinny is good.

My genetic gun was loaded, & the trigger was pulled when my body could no longer handle the anxiety, chronic stress, & lack of nourishment. This was my perfect storm.

Anorexia took a hold on my life like nothing ever had before. Although eating disorders are psychological disorders at the root, malnourishment & medical complications are often consequences of eating disorders because of the nutritional component (or lack there of).

I didn’t have a menstrual cycle for almost 2 years.

My resting heart rate was set in the low 40s.

I began to experience insomnia at nights & lost the ability to sleep in peace.

I was unable to concentrate, feel, love, laugh, and function in daily life.

I wanted to eat but it was so painful, both physically and emotionally.

I started having mini-panic attacks before I had to eat & often experienced stomach pain when eating because my stomach wasn’t used to having a normal amount of food in it.

I knew that I wasn’t obese or even overweight, I didn’t think that a low body weight would affect me the way it did. I believed the lie that I would be happier and more loved if I weight a certain amount and looked a certain way. The diet industry doesn’t tell you that we all have a biological set point, the natural weight that our body prefers to be at when it is healthy, without restricting food or exercising. The actual range has little to no importance. Everyone is different, & that’s okay. When you are outside of this range, your body starts to send you signs that something is wrong.  Although I did lose weight & met criteria for anorexia, I can’t stress enough  that eating disorders have absolutely nothing to do with weight or size. They are psychological disorders with a food/nutritional component. Despite losing some weight, at my worst place in recovery I was still within a healthy BMI range for my height. BMI doesn’t take into account bioindividuality. It doesn’t know the difference between muscle and fat, & it’s not always a predictor of good health, as in my case. My BMI was healthy, but my body was slowly wasting away. I was outside of my set point weight & my body was desperately trying to tell me that something needed to change.

I barely made it through school that semester.

As I previously mentioned, I knew that I had a problem but I didn’t know how to give it a voice it… I thought I had an eating disorder but I wanted others to understand; I wanted them to know that I wasn’t looking for attention and that I wasn’t acting the way that I was on purpose. I didn’t understand what was wrong with me, and because I couldn’t understand, I didn’t think that anyone else would. I wanted help but I wanted it to be simple and easy. I didn’t want others to see my weakness. I didn’t want to be the latest topic of conversation. I didn’t want people to approach me about my weight or diet or exercise; doing that would force me to face my problems head on and not hide behind my eating disorder. I didn’t realize how complex and multi-layered that my eating disorder really was. After having a few emotional breakdowns each week, it didn’t take me too long to call my mom and tell her that I thought I had an eating disorder.

By the time I sought help, I was about 5 pounds & a couple emotional breakdowns away from being sent to an inpatient facility. The average individual takes 1-2 to 10 years to recover fully from their eating disorder… there really isn’t a “normal” recovery rate; everyone is different. Recovery is a very long, painful, & challenging process.

Recovery for me was often filled with emotional breakdowns, sleepless nights, stomach aches, anxiety, and loneliness. The weight restoration process was very difficult. It seemed like my stomach was always hurting, either from not eating enough that day, eating too much at one meal, binge-eating, or simply because my GI system was adjusting to all of the new changes that I was making. I often found myself caught in restriction/binge-eating cycles. I was forced to confront my anxiety and depression head on rather than by using eating disorder behaviors to numb myself to what I was feeling. A good majority of my friends had no idea what to say to me or how to help, so I ended up spending a lot of time alone or with my family. My friends would say, “you don’t look like you have an eating disorder” or they would talk about their diets or their need to lose weight even after I confided in them.

Recovery isn’t for the faint of heart.  There were many days when I thought I was fully recovered and many days when I thought I would never recover. Despite these things, recovery has also been one of the most beautiful journeys to walk through. There is freedom that comes with discovering who you are apart from your eating disorder. When you start to heal, you begin to appreciate life with humility and gratitude. I have learned healthy ways to cope with my emotions rather than acting in a way that hurts my body. It has been a hard journey, but it’s worth it…recovery always is.

Right now I am in a, much better place due to Jesus, my awesome recovery team, my husband, close family, & friends. They have been my rock this past year or so and I can’t thank them enough for what they have done for me. It’s not being too dramatic to say that they have all saved my life.

I really was going to wait to share this part of my story. I really didn’t think I would start to dive into this piece of my brokenness until I was “a little less broken”, until I was fully recovered. The Lord has laid it on my heart to share the darkest moments in my life in order that his light may shine through me. I could easily have waited until I had many years of recovery under my belt, but I don’t think God wanted me to wait. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Around half of these are due to physiological complications, & the other half are due to suicide…I can’t imagine suffering from an eating disorder and NOT knowing Jesus. The suicide rate really doesn’t surprise me because I know what it’s like to wake up and not want to live because life is too hard.

I couldn’t wait to share this part of my story because I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to speak life, hope, truth, & and healing into other people’s lives. The Lord has & will continue to deliver me from so much & I know that he can & will do that for anyone who surrenders their life to him.

 

If you are reading this today & feel like you have an unhealthy relationship with food, I encourage you to seek help. I am a strong believer in early intervention, and I truly believe if I had sought help from a treatment team during my early stages of disordered eating that I wouldn’t have made the transition into a clinically diagnosable eating disorder. Do not listen to the lie in your head that you aren’t sick enough to get help, or that you would be overreacting to seek help. Individuals of all weights, genders, ages, races, nationalities, and socioeconomic statuses suffer from eating disorders. Unfortunately, many individuals don’t seek help until they are at rock bottom, which is a much harder place to start recovery in.

If you are reading this today & you are currently going through the recovery process, my message is to not lose heart. I know what it is like to be in your position. I know how easy it is to feel trapped, enslaved, and often without hope. Although I am technically recovered from anorexia, I am still actively & intentionally working to develop a healthy relationship with food and my body. I still have to fight against my eating disorder every day. Don’t believe the lie that you won’t recover. A countless number of people have gone before you and I & recovered in a way that they are able to live their lives in peace. Recovery isn’t impossible, it’s just one of those things in life that takes a lot of patience, diligence, and perseverance to overcome. If I can do it, you can do it too.

Anorexia, Alcohol, and Addiction

I am not a big fan of alcohol- never have been, & probably never will be.   

With the way that my brain is wired, I think it would be hard for me to drink alcohol regularly and not form some sort of dependency. 

Alcoholism and addiction both run in my family, so I have been extra cautious to guard myself against anything that would put me down that path.

I’ve seen it put strain on relationships, ruin careers, and destroy bodies, minds, and souls. 

I don’t think alcohol is evil or from the devil, I just know that it has no place in my life.

I never want to be in a situation where I am not “alert & sober-minded”.¹ I never my consumption of alcohol to take away from my testimony of the grace & power of Jesus. I don’t want to others with an alcohol addiction/dependency to stumble & fall. I’ve had a few sips of wine with my family here & there, but nothing more. I don’t have a desire to “build up a tolerance”, & I never want to be in a situation where I am not in control of my mind or body & how I effect other people. 

These are my personal convictions, based-off of my temperament, family history, personal weaknesses, & God’s truth. 

This week I am on my honeymoon at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. 

Free room service.

Free aroma therapy. 

Free food. 

Free drinks. 

The drinking age in Mexico is 18, so drinking is approached pretty casually here. I have gotten some soft smiles & weird looks when I have ordered the virgin strawberry daiquiri with a banana mixed in…a.k.a. a strawberry banana slushy, but I’m okay with that. It really has become my go-to the past few days. 

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Yesterday was different.

 I decided to order a drink. 

A real drink.

I drink with (gasp) alcohol in it. 

 

I pressed my lips against a chilled glass & began to drink the alcohol that I have become so bitter towards.

The drink was fruity, chilled, & not too strong. 

I could have gone about my day with or without it & could have been completely at peace. 

The alcohol didn’t do anything to me, however, I know that for many people, alcohol is so much more than alcohol.  

For the woman struggling with depression, it is comfort. 

For the hard-working business man, it is relief & relaxation. 

For the one whose heart feels empty, it is love. 

For the discontent, it is satisfaction. 

For the weary, it is a break from reality. 

For the anxious, it is peace.

Yesterday, I came to the realization that alcohol isn’t the problem. Truly. I hate to admit that because I have spent so many years building up resentment towards what I would refer to as “liquid poison.” The first miracle Jesus performed was turning water into wine. Alcohol isn’t bad in itself. I know that. I don’t hate alcohol…

What I do hate is Satan himself & his tactics surrounding the things of this world.

His biggest desire is for us to crave anything & everything more than we do God.

What I truly hate, is how easy it is to fall into sin & exchange the truth & glory of God for a lie.²

Some substances are more addicting by nature.

Some are more socially acceptable than others.

Some had be easily hidden, while others cannot be missed.

Whether it be alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, sex, gambling, screen-time, porn, or anything else, addiction does two things:

  1. Addiction impairs our relationships with God & other people.   
  2. Addiction holds us bondage to the thing that we cannot seem to live without.  

There is no freedom in addiction.  

My experience with anorexia has given me a small glimpse into the life of an addict. 

My eating disorder was my “drug of choice”, if you will. 

My eating disorder was my comfort, relaxation, peace, love, & satisfaction, however it was also a major source of anxiety, depression, low-self esteem, & overall discontentment. 

The eating disorder promised me that it would do for me what I couldn’t do for myself, & as I mentioned above, it did work for a temporary amount of time. 

Excessive exercise gave me a way to clear my mind and relieve stress. 

Skipping meals was a good way to ease my anxiety. 

Eating only clean, organic food gave me a false sense of control. 

Binging was an easy way to numb myself to a wide variety of emotions: sadness, stress, boredom, anxiety, & everything in between. 

My eating disorder crippled me because I depended on it each day to survive. 

It isolated me from my friends & family.

It distanced me from God.

It held me captive in a cycle that I couldn’t seem to break.

I became very irritable & emotionally distraught if I couldn’t workout one day for some reason. 

I became anxious & concerned if I didn’t know that would be offered on the menu at a local restaurant. 

I became overly emotional & sensitive if I was’t able to use my disordered eating patterns or exercise to cope. 

My body literally started going through withdrawal symptoms if I couldn’t exercise or establish my usual daily routine.

My concentration flew out the window.

My body began to reject normal amounts of food & sent early signals to my brain when I had eaten the amount it was used to. 

My digestive system was completely out of wack & it was very painful to work back up to eating a normal amount of food. 

 

This was my addiction.

Although I do not fully support the belief of a food addiction (because we all need food to survive), I do believe that people can become addicted to behaviors surrounding dieting, food, & mealtime. I have experienced the consequences and neurological changes associated with chronic dieting, and I can see how some people make the connection between eating disorders & addiction. 

Furthermore, nearly 50% of individuals who are diagnosed with eating disorders also struggle with drug or alcohol abuse. 

I can’t say I know what it feels like to be addicted to alcohol, cigarettes, or heroine. I haven’t had to walk that journey. What I can say, is that I am thankful that God used my recovery to grow my heart in compassion and understanding for those who also need help. 

Addictions don’t make sense, & neither do eating disorders.

The person with the addiction (or an eating disorder, as in my case), is doing the best that he or she knows to do in the situation that they are in. They don’t know how to cope with their emotions in a healthy way, & the only thing that seems to get them through the day is their addiction, which perpetuates the illness. The illness then begins to act in place of the person’s true identity, & begins to take over every aspect of life. 

 

Addicts know what they need to do to get better, but the idea of taking the first few steps is absolutely terrifying.  

For example, I knew that logically skipping breakfast, going on a long run, & snacking on a chewy granola bar wasn’t going to cut it when it came to my health. I knew that it was bad for me, but I didn’t know what else to do.

I believed the lie that God wasn’t good enough to help me sort everything out, so instead of waiting on him, I put matters into my own hands. 

The alcoholic knows that heading out to the bar after a recent relapse isn’t the right thing to do, yet is it the only way that they are able to process the emotions of guilt and shame.

One thing to note is that addiction takes over the soul of a person.

People choose to engage in the addicting behavior, but most don’t go into it thinking that they will actually become addicted. By the time they realize it, it is often too late.

In recovery I have learned that there is healing power in choosing to hate the addiction rather than the addict. 

I am confident that my friends and family are able to look back and identify situations in which my eating disorder had taken over my heart, mind, & soul. 

Refusing to add butter to my baked potato? Working out twice a day? Waiting too long to eat between meals? Demanding what I wanted for dinner, how it needed to be cooked, & at what time we ate? Refusing to attend social events?

My eating disorder, my addiction.

Adding butter to my waffles to add flavor? Workout out when I feel like it, not when I feel like I have to? Eating 3 meals a day + snacks? Asking others what they want for dinner & when they would like to eat? 

My “healthy-self”, as some in the eating disorder community would say. 

In a spiritual sense, I would compare my eating disorder to a life dictated by the flesh, & a life dictated by the spirit of truth.

 

Treatment, rehab, & recovery are so often plagued with relapse & slip-ups before full sobriety because it takes a while for a healthy coping mechanism to feel better than an addictive behavior.

I wouldn’t recommend doing it alone, but I would recommend seeking help. 

Choosing to separate from an addiction is one of the most painful things in this world, but it is one of the strongest, bravest & most selfless things that a person can to. 

Whether you or a loved one struggles with an eating disorder, alcoholism, drug abuse, or any other sort of addiction, there is hope. 

Why?

God doesn’t like it when his children get ripped off or settle for anything less than the joy that salvation produces. He is a wise, discerning, powerful God who works perfect in our weaknesses. He refused to let me stay in a place of bondage & slavery…he wouldn’t allow. He warned me & tried to deter me from choices he knew would lead to my destruction, but it wasn’t until I hit rock bottom that my heart was softened to his Holy Spirit.

I couldn’t change without him.

I couldn’t make it through recovery without him. 

I couldn’t set myself free from prison.

I couldn’t do any of it.

But God could, & he can do it for you too. 

His power is perfect despite our sin. 

His power is perfect despite our addictions.

His power is perfect to set us free. 

God is too good of a father to allow us to follow a path of destruction…

So he convicts.

He corrects.

He warns. 

He challenges our thoughts. 

He speaks through his word. 

He questions our movies. 

He pursues out hearts. 

He chases after us. 

He buys us back. 

There is no power greater than the power purchased on the cross during the crucifixion of Jesus. 

No lifestyle.

No mistake. 

No addiction. 

Nothing. 

This is the hope that I cling to when I choose Jesus each day, because I know that he is the only one who will keep fighting for me when I don’t have the strength to. 

Anorexia has no power compared to the cross.

Alcoholism has no power compared to the cross.  

Addiction has no power compared to the cross. 

Fight from victory not for victory. 

References:

  1. 1 Peter 5:8-9
  2. Romans 1:25

Resources:

  1. National Eating Disorder Association
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse
  3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

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Feeling the Pain in the Healing Process

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Lately, there have been a lot of different emotions running through my heart + mind.
Excitement.

Anxiety.

Joy.

Loss.

Weariness.

Exhaustion.

Peace.

In the past my “go-to” for processing these emotions was to jump to my ED behaviors. I had been told that I am too emotional, so I have tried to do what I could to detach myself from situations that made me feel too “out-of-control” of my emotions. Instead of acknowledging my emotions without judgement, I would try to shut them down, numbing out the bad and the good in my life.

My ED gave me peace.

My ED satisfied me.

My ED helped me through stressful situations.

My ED seemed like the best solution to my unprocessed feelings.

The relief that my ED brought me was only temporary.

It left me feeling empty, disgusted, frustrated, confused, and worse off than I was before with my unprocessed emotions.

It numbed out the good in my life.

It was only through working with a therapist that I was able to realize that my emotions aren’t bad; it’s the way I judge them, perceive, and place expectations on them that gets me in trouble.
When I think of graduation, marriage, and a new career, I think joy, excitement, happiness, contentment, gratitude, and satisfaction. These are all great things, wonderful blessings from God.

When I think of graduation, marriage, and “adult life”, I do feel excited. Those things do bring me great joy, happiness, and contentment.

They also cause me to become a little anxious and fearful. They bring forth emotions of grieving & loss for the life I have known for so long. Sometimes I do feel discontent, unsatisfied, & just plain pissed-off, and that’s okay.

It’s okay to feel happy, sad, angry, frustrated, joyful, scared, and excited all at the same time. It’s understandable. It’s expected. It’s normal. We don’t have to feel guilty about what we feel and how we process.

As hard as it is, I know that the best way for me to process these feelings is to let myself feel them rather than running away from them. I journal, I pray, I talk to a friend, & I ask God to help me feel the feelings I need to feel without having them overtake me. I love this quote from my new favorite book, Uninvited, by Lysa TerKeurst:

“If we place our hope in the hands of our unchanging, unflinching God who never leaves us or forsakes us, we’ll find healing and freedom. We’ll be able to see something on the other side of all of the pain. Something good. Something we know will be so worth whatever it takes to get well. So instead of running from the pain, we embrace it as necessary. We must feel the pain to heal the pain. If we never allow ourselves to feel it, we won’t acknowledge it’s there.”

Acknowledging our pain is the only way to find true healing.

Maybe like me, you are going through a season of transition, change, & mixed-emotions. You have experienced loss, joy, anxiety, stress, and excitement all at once for the past few months.

Maybe, like me, you are trying to navigate your ED recovery journey.

What a journey filled with so many tears, feelings of frustration, and pain.

What a journey filled with so much growth, strength, rebuilding, and redemption.

In the recovery process, we have to allow ourselves to fear all of these emotions if we truly want to discover who we are, how our journey has brought us to this point, and how we are going to position ourselves in a place where we can feel our emotions, & coop in a healthy way that doesn’t harm us.

It isn’t easy. In fact, most of the time, sitting with our unwanted emotions without resorting to distractions or unhealthy behaviors will make us feel a lot worse in the beginning. When all of those pent-up emotions finally come up, it can be messy. It’s hard to process years of neglected emotions at what seems like all at once. It is only by processing this pain that beauty can be born. It is only when we allow ourselves to feel what our hears are crying out for that we are able to step back, process, and heal.

Feel your feelings, acknowledge the good & the bad, and take a step towards healing today.