Whenever I write about my experience of eating disorders, I make a point of saying that the healing process isn’t linear. It’s full of odd, surprising twists and turns, realizations and moments that take one by surprise.
Still, it’s natural to hope that a linear trend will emerge. After all, it’s the promise of change, of transformation, that keeps us going when the process is at its ugliest. When recovery was at its worst for me—when I was feeling the most robbed of my identity, the most enraged, the most at odds with my body—I got through it by assuring myself that it wouldn’t always be like this; one day, I thought, it would almost never feel like this anymore.
That wasn’t an empty promise. It’s exactly how things turned out, albeit with lots of ups and downs.
When I wrote this post in May, I was as strong and solid in recovery as I ever have been. In the last few weeks, body dysmorphia has reared its nasty head again, and my experience of it is nothing like it was five months ago. Then, I was able to feel the old triggers, talk about them, note their appearance with some humor and self-awareness. It all felt very grown up, very reasonable.
My experience in the last week has been completely different. The dysmorphia itself has felt different: not like a poke or a prod or a nudge, the way it was in May, but more like the dysmorphia I remember from years ago: hot and angry. Loud. Distracting.
I’m feeling things I haven’t felt in years: waking up in the morning with the sensation that I’m trapped in my skin, wanting to claw my way out. Avoiding my own reflection in mirrors. Certainty that my body is a mistake, something that went wrong a long time ago and will always feel wrong. I’m handling it, but it’s unnerving. I’d started to believe that all of this was behind me.
Why now? I’m not sure, but I have some guesses: a new schedule, loss of my routines, being tested and evaluated and sized up by authority figures more regularly than I have since my post-bacc years. Change, nerves, shame, worry—in other words, the familiar triggers.
I’ve tried to let the discomfort of the last few days give me insight into how I respond now, versus how I did in the past. What have I learned? How much deeper is my capacity for self-compassion? The answer is that it’s a lot deeper, and the evidence is the fact that I haven’t restricted food at all since this began or let it enter into my eating habits.
But recognizing my more mature capacity for self-care isn’t actually making this experience less painful. Right now, my primary feeling is resentment that I can’t access my old recourses. Even if there was any part of me that wanted to eat less now, I couldn’t. Food is too important to me. The difference between now and then, I realize, is that I want food much more badly than I want control. This is growth, but it can feel like failure.
On Friday, I found myself at my mom’s place, telling her all of this, probably in greater detail and with more honesty than I’ve ever been able to share with her. “But honey,” she said, “I know you don’t want to go back to where you were. You need your strength.”
How to explain to her—to anyone—that the old ways so often felt like strength—more strength than I’ve ever had? That I do want to turn back the clock sometimes, even if I can’t and won’t? “You don’t understand,” I blubbered. “Back then was probably the only time I’ve ever really felt right in my body.”
I don’t think that’s true. But it felt true in the moment. I’m glad I said it and let it go.
In some ways, the timing of all of this has been unfortunate. I’m on my feet more than usual with my new work, which means I’m hungrier than usual and eating more than usual. It wouldn’t feel like a big deal were I not at odds with my body, but I am, so it does. In my class on Thursday night we practiced the nutrition focused physical exam. It wasn’t an ideal time to have my triceps pinched and belly prodded.
As usual, though, what feels like inopportune or unfair timing may actually be the opposite. Each day at work, I cross paths with people who have experienced dramatic shifts in their capacity to eat. Some have dysphagia, others have lost their appetites from illness or medication. Some are tube fed, and may never take in food by mouth again.
What must this be like? I can’t begin to know or understand, because my only experience of decreased food intake has been a result of my disorder, not a question of necessity. I know that it has never been a choice, but I can recognize the difference and give thanks—the deepest kind of thanks—that eating hasn’t always been easy for me, but it has always been possible.
On Friday, my mom admitted surprise at hearing how badly I felt. “You’ve just come so far,” she said. I know I have. I know that I’ve worked hard to create and protect my recovery. I know that everything is different now. I know that I’ve transmuted a lot of struggle into a relationship with food that’s beautiful, creative, and special.
But that relationship isn’t only beautiful, creative, and special. It’s also messy and complicated. It might always be messy and complicated. There may always be weeks like this, when my relationship with food feels more like a burden than a gift. It’s difficult to accept this paradox. I want to be either a success story, or I want to feel like I used to feel: powerful and in control, even if I wasn’t. But a major part of my recovery has been developing a capacity to handle ambiguity and complexity, to acknowledge realities that can’t be neatly categorized. The very fact of my struggling this week is one of those.
Before I left her place, my mom gave me the sweetest and gentlest word of encouragement that she’s ever given me about body stuff. “Eat your delicious food, Gena,” she said. “Make your recipes.”
Today, I woke up. I made a good breakfast, and later on a good lunch. I’m doing all of the usual batch cooking, so that I have sensible and nourishing things to eat this week. I’ll keep talking about this spell of dysmorphia in therapy, doing the work, sitting with my feelings, being honest. I may hide myself under a few extra layers or baggy garments while I’m at it, but if that’s as far as old behaviors go, that’s pretty good. Another dimension of recovery—one I’m only just getting acquainted with—is to struggle while continuing to put one foot in front of the other, calmly and without discouragement.
In the spirit of making recipes, some of my favorites from the past week. And some good articles, too.
My vegan sandwich crush of the week: Gina’s awesome, plant-based pea pesto grilled cheese.
I know what bread-y thing will be a part of my Thanksgiving this year! Eva’s beautifully fluffy, whole wheat dinner rolls.
Deryn and I are on the same page, since I’ve been working on a new hash recipe. I’m loving her easy vegan breakfast skillet and will definitely make it with Field Roast, my favorite vegan sausage.
If vegan chicken parm isn’t comforting enough, here it is served over a beautiful bowl of penne 🙂 A comfort food fest from Plant Power Couple.
Finally, more comfort: Erin’s creamy, dreamy vegan broccoli cheese soup.
1. A fascinating look at why the phytonutrients in plants are beneficial for us, while growing research suggests that antioxidant supplementation may not be.
2. Heartache isn’t only a manner of speech: more research is emerging on the link between emotional distress and heart disease.
3. Another look at the health ramifications of stress, this time focusing on mitochondrial DNA and telomere shortening.
4. More evidence that plant meats are a sustainable as well as compassionate choice. (I still need to try the Beyond Burger!)
5. An important, informative article on enhancing diversity within the dietetics profession. It gave me a lot to think about—including a helpful reminder to always check, acknowledge, and address my own biases.
It’s the start of a new week, and I’m entering it with an open mind and optimistic heart. Wishing you lightness, too. I’ll be back with a tasty new slow cooker recipe in a couple days.
As I write this post the wind is howling furiously outside my window, and my apartment, which usually manages to stay pretty warm no matter what’s going on outside, is decidedly drafty and chilly. It’s a true winter’s day in New York City. Because of that, because of recurring sinus stuff that won’t quite quit me, and because tomorrow is the very first morning of my new DI rotation, I’ve barely stepped outside today.
Years ago, a day like this—sedentary, indoors, very sleepy—would have felt threatening at best, intolerable at worst. I’d have forced myself to move more, and if I couldn’t do that, I’d have forced myself to do more. My ego would be challenged by the lack of doing, my ED by the lack of movement, the terrible feeling that I had to earn my right to eat.
Most of the time, I find that growth and evolution happen so gradually and in such small ways that I can only take stock of them when I gaze back over a lot of personal history. Lying on my sofa today, I realize how different a person I am (in many ways—certainly not in others!) than the person who started blogging nearly ten years ago. That I can give my body permission simply to be—especially when being looks like hours of lying down, sitting still, eating what I want, ignoring work I don’t have energy for—is, when I think about it, pretty enormous.
This perspective is all the more poignant to me in the wake of Mary Oliver’s death. I, along with so many people, have been feeling grateful for her poems and her legacy. “Wild Geese” has a special place in my heart, because for many years it was an ED recovery anthem of sorts for me. If you don’t know it, here it is:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
When I first read this poem, I was so intertwined with my disorder that the very word “soft” was triggering for me—let alone “soft animal,” which had the additional, threatening implications of instinct and hunger. (“Full” used to be a trigger word, too, which is part of the reason I reclaimed it in my blog title.)
I said a prayer that time, faith, and many re-readings of the poem would give the word new meaning, and they have. Nowadays I love the words “soft” and “softness”; I especially love to think of them as an approach to living. “Wild Geese” gave me a much needed push to recognize and respect the wisdom and necessity of my body’s wants when I was in recovery. It continues to teach me a lot about allowing myself to go with the flow of things, to ease into life’s greater rhythm rather than conforming to a frantic, self-created one.
Challenging as the hours and schedule of the DI have been so far, they’ve tested my capacity for self-care. I’ve been surprised at how well I’ve passed this test (OK, maybe not the best metaphor) with lots of lovingkindness and self-compassion. I’ve managed to take as much rest as I can in the moments when I can, reserving my energies for the work that needs to get done. I’m cutting corners that can be cut. I’m skipping what doesn’t need doing. I’m getting better at knowing when to call it a day.
This may sound very obvious—shouldn’t self-care be second-nature? But I guess the point is that for me, taking care of my body hasn’t felt like instinct until recently, and I’m still learning how to do it. I’m thankful for the artists, poets, songwriters, fellow bloggers, and other creative spirits who have guided me along the way.
In the spirit of wise self-preservation, I’m publishing this post in spite of the fact that I was too busy resting yesterday and today to hunt for articles and links. You might be unsurprised to learn that I was not too busy to look at food photos and recipes 🙂
Here they are.
There is nothing I love more than a good, old-fashioned vegan bowl with lots of hippie vibes. Hannah’s got a recipe for a great one: the Mother Earth Bowl from the restaurant Flower Child.
With the DI recommencing, I’m thinking once again about good, homemade snack ideas. I love Kiersten’s caramel nut granola bars!
Exactly the comfort food I wish I had on this freezing cold night (I’ve got this soup, which is pretty good but not as good): Jess’ buffalo cauliflower mac n’ cheese.
New Year’s celebrations are over, but I always love a bean and collard dish, and right now I’m all about Traci’s Hoppin John stew.
Finally, a perfect, earthy grain dish for winter (starring farro, which is a personal favorite of mine!), courtesy of the lovely Erin.
And in lieu of the regular reads, a link to Rachel Syme’s tribute to Mary Oliver in The New Yorker. It resonated with me; whether or not you’re a fan of her work, perhaps it’ll resonate with you, too.
Happy Sunday, friends, and take good care. I’ve got an easy rice-and-lentil dish to share with you this week.
This whole business of self-compassion is most definitely a practice, which (for me, anyway) means days that come easily and days that don’t. Yesterday was a difficult day. I forgot something relatively important, which I should have remembered (and had set numerous reminders to myself about), which set off a spiral of anxiety about feeling unproductive, disorganized, etc.
This is a typical cycle for me: giving myself a break, often because I’ve gotten sick, and then undoing a lot of the gentleness with a subsequent panic about what hasn’t gotten done. The inconsistency in my productivity and motivation, the cycles of procrastination and doing, is something I’m still working on—and I know that burnout has plenty to do with it. But enhanced insight has yet to lessen the worry that I feel when it seems as though I’ve fallen behind. And the DI creates more deadlines, paperwork, and logistics than usual.
I do think I’m becoming more adept at breaking the familiar cycle once it starts. At the heart of this is the fact that I don’t want to waste any more time than I already have with the exhausting business of self-blame. In the past, I suspect that negative self-talk and self-censure was so much a part of my way of being that I was attached to it, whether I knew it or not. I feel very differently these days—aware that we’re all our worst critics sometimes, conscious of the fact that all behaviors take a while to change, but very ready to change this one.
Yesterday I spent my afternoon feeling especially rotten about myself. It didn’t take me long to realize how much I didn’t want the remainder of my Saturday to follow suit. I downloaded Kristen Neff’s book, which had been on my wish list for a while. I spent some time with it, and with Sharon Salzberg’s introduction. Then I met up with a friend for dinner before attending a kirtan at my yoga studio.
In spite of the fact that I’ve never been much of a singer—not for karaoke, not even in the shower—I love kirtan. I can’t think of too many life experiences that give me more joy than mantra and song with my spiritual community, and last night was no exception.
My friend and I were running late (as always), so the music had already began when we arrived. I found a blanket and joined in the song with something that felt a lot like glee—I haven’t been able to practice yoga with regularity this fall, and I’ve missed my home studio more than I realized. I didn’t know how much I was craving the company of my fellow yogis until last night, nor did I understand how starved I’ve felt of a sense of devotion to something bigger than me.
I spent the next two hours singing, clapping, snapping, and occasionally jiggling a tambourine in celebration. Celebration of what? I don’t know—the kirtan had a new year’s theme, but I wasn’t really thinking about the transition from last year to this one. If anything, I was celebrating the practice of new beginnings, which is personal and unattached to the calendar. I was celebrating the fact that my day could have felt a certain way, and a mere four hours later feel so differently. I’ve been ruminating lately on the power of starting fresh with each breath, each new moment, and last night felt like an embodiment of that possibility.
Most of all, though, it was a celebration of shared voice and song. And it reminded me that, while my practice of self-care often looks like taking it easy, resting, giving myself the gift of solitude, cancelling plans to take it easy, etc., that isn’t always what’s needed. Sometimes the best medicine is for me to step outside and choose to be with my community. I sometimes forget what a gift it is that it’s there. We’re all stumbling and celebrating, on our own and sometimes, if we’re really lucky, together.
I’m starting this new week with a sense of lightness and gratitude—and lots of video clips of last night’s music on my phone, which I’ll watch whenever I need to be transported back to the feelings I felt at the kirtan in the days ahead.
I wish you some inner or outer music of your own. Here are some recipes and reads.
I think I’ve met my next vegan breakfast taco!
A very cozy, very easy, wintery potato goulash.
I love the looks of Steven’s protein-rich Southwestern vegan posole.
Another simple meal: Aysegul’s one-pan Mexican quinoa.
Finally, Sarah has created one of the most beautiful whole roasted cauliflowers I’ve ever seen!
1. On the topic of burnout, a few readers have sent me the link to this Buzzfeed article now. I’ve found it to be, just as they did, incredibly relatable.
The article identifies a constellation of struggles, but especially a difficulty in managing everyday tasks and errands, that I’ve had a hard time owning up to. Why? Because the whole issue feels incredibly embarrassing (why should so-called adulting be so hard for me?), and because until now I understood it solely as a symptom of my depression, when I could admit to it at all. I may be much less alone than I think I am.
I don’t want to say too much, as the article’s worth reading in its entirety, but I did especially love this quotation (underscored to me by a reader and friend who was compelled by it as I was):
But for the first time, I’m seeing myself, the parameters of my labor, and the causes of my burnout clearly. And it doesn’t feel like the abyss. It doesn’t feel hopeless. It’s not a problem I can solve, but it’s a reality I can acknowledge, a paradigm through which I can understand my actions.
2. A fascinating look at alpha-gal allergy—which makes people allergic to animal meat and anything derived from an animal or its excretions—and its link to tick bites.
3. This interesting article reports on biomusic, an interface that allows for detection of anxiety or other emotions via physiological signals. It holds special promise for researchers and caregivers working with patients who can’t communicate through motion or words.
4. This New York Times article describes early research on the power of expectation or belief to impact satiety and the capacity to exercise. It’s one intriguing experiment only, and the results—which point to belief/expectation as vying with genetics in mediating the food/exercise-related measures—don’t mean that genetics are unimportant.
Still, I paid attention when I read this, as it’s long been my observation that strong beliefs and outcome expectations (for example, the idea that one’s relationship with food is incurably damaged) can reinforce struggle with eating and fitness.
5. It’s taken me years—and a lot of failed baking experiments—to figure out this critical distinction.
Speaking of Taste, the magazine has helped to make possible an awesome ebook promotion of Power Plates! For the next week, the Kindle version of the book is only $2.99, which makes it a great deal. If you’ve thought about getting the book but have been deterred by the price point, if you’d like to explore the recipes before or without investing in the hard copy, or if you’re a fan of cooking from your Kindle in general, you can check the promotion out here 🙂
Happy Sunday, friends. I’ve got an awesome, healthful cookie recipe coming your way in just a day or two!
A week-long head cold wasn’t how I planned to begin 2019, but the nice thing about having some time off from the DI is that I’ve been able to absolutely nothing in the last few days, aside from drinking tea, answering emails from my phone, and catching up on television.
In the past, I’ve been great at talking about the importance of rest and slowing down, very bad at actually doing those things without an overlay of guilt or nervousness about what isn’t getting done. It’s amazing how fully and happily I’ve embraced staying put this week. I’m so grateful I feel that I can actually let things slow to a halt and give my body a chance to recharge.
In the spirit of not filling up my time any more than I need to, I’m keeping the weekend reading intro short today—with the sincere hope that, even amidst the hustle and energy of a new year, you can all find small pockets of rest and restoration this week, too.
Enjoy the reads and recipes, everyone!
First, I’m loving Sue’s bright, crisp, and colorful black-eyed pea salad for the new year.
I make a lot of tofu scrambles, but I haven’t made one with different spice blends or global flavors in quite a long time. I’m getting inspiration from this vibrant curry tofu scramble, via Gastroplant.
Vegan comfort food perfection: a creamy baked gnocchi dish with lemon zest.
I never say no to a dish with pearl couscous! This seasonal salad also has pumpkin and pomegranate arils, and it’s easy to veganize by using maple syrup in the dressing.
Christmas may be over, but I’ve never been more excited to bake. These chewy vegan ginger almond cookies look fantastic, and they’re now at the top of my list.
1. Amanda Mull has some critical, humorous, and compelling thoughts on cosumerism and the culture of New Year’s resolutions. I especially liked this:
Accepting the fundamental fact of myself has allowed me to take stock of the things I do and to change the things within my control that I dislike. None of that has involved buying something on sale.
“Accepting the fundamental fact of myself”—sounds so simple, yet what a challenge it is, and how freeing when it actually happens.
2. I had a very difficult time reading this New York Times piece on wildlife electrocution, but it’s an important topic and worth sharing.
3. An interesting new approach to treating addiction by modulating memory.
4. I couldn’t believe how science writer Josie Glausiusz has often been told to make her articles digestible: by writing “[s]tories that pass the “Aunt Myrtle” test—would your hypothetical elderly aunt be able to appreciate our work?”
Along with many other science journalists, I have encountered this stereotype time and again. We are advised to ask scientists to explain their research to “your granny,” “to your mother or a ninth-grader,” to “Aunt Gladys.” As Einstein supposedly said in innumerably repeated memes, “You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.” (The quote is “probably not by Einstein,” according to the Ultimate Quotable Einstein, published by Princeton University Press.)…
The well-worn formula is a prime example of the subtle ways in which sexism pervades science in a manner so entrenched that it is difficult to recognize. We are never asked to explain science to “your dad” or “your granddad.”
Kudos to the writer for sounding off about this kind of sexism and ageism in science journalism!
5. And while we’re on the topic of women and science, an awesomely comprehensive reading list.
Wishing you a great start to the second week of 2019, friends. Be back this week with an easy slow cooker recipe, which can transition perfectly into plenty of not-quite-a-recipe recipes.
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