Eating Disorders

Final Post: We’ve Come a Long Way, Kid

Look at where we are

There may be one person in the world who’s surprised I’m quoting Hamilton here. That one person probably isn’t you.

Yes, this will be my last post on The Body Pacifist.

If you hadn’t guessed this was coming from the title of this blog, the almost literal years I have been going between posts probably tipped you off.

But I’m making a concerted effort to shoot for closure where it’s possible, and so I wanted to put up one last blog before ghosting off into the sunset.

I started The Body Pacifist in February of 2013. I was a junior in college, I was in the first few months of serious eating disorder recovery, and man, I was scared. Everything was scary. That’s what I remember most from those days, and what jumps out at me most reading posts from the first year.

Although I try not to read those posts too often anymore, really. It’s not a past that’s particularly comfortable for me to look back on. Those blog posts were valuable in that stage in my life, though, and so I leave them up for others who might be in that stage too.

When I started blogging here, I don’t think I ever expected anyone to read anything I wrote. The point wasn’t to gather followers or to make millions in ad revenue.

(Which is good, because you know how many dollars in ad revenue I’ve made four years later? Zero dollars.)

Writing was a way to get my thoughts out of my head and onto a screen where I could look at them. Analyze them from a distance. Figure out where I was, and where I needed to go next.

And the fact that so many of you joined me for that ride, and that so many of you found my close-reading of my own thoughts to be helpful, has been a never-ending and incredibly gratifying surprise.

Fast-forward to January 12, 2017, and let’s take a quick look around before I vamoose.

The last time I weighed myself was in February of 2016, at a doctor’s appointment. Just a twinge of anxiety, and then I went along with my day.

I’ll probably get weighed at my appointment next month, but I am genuinely—and I mean it—not worried. My clothes fit, I feel healthy, and I know I’m probably in the ballpark of where I was last year. Read some posts from back in the archives, and you’ll see I seriously doubted whether reaching a static weight was even possible. Well, I’m here to tell you it is, and I’m at mine, and man is it nice to have one less thing to worry about.

Once I finish writing this post, I’m going to go have dinner. I have leftover Indian food that I cooked last night in the fridge, and I’m going to go heat it up, and I’m going to eat it while streaming season seven of Mad Men.

Stress level thinking about that: Zero.

I still deal with anxiety and depression on occasion, although whether it would still be diagnosable or not at this stage is anyone’s guess. (Well, actually, I guess a therapist could make a pretty educated guess, but that’s a decision for another day.) But food is not a source of angst for me anymore. It’s not a source of anxiety.

It’s just…


For the past two Thanksgivings, I’ve had seconds, hung out with family, and watched my football team lose spectacularly with a beer after the meal. Two years in a row, I’ve forgotten that I have a reason to be anxious.

I genuinely do not have a reason to be anxious.

Writing that sentence is strange. I never thought I would do it. But here I am, writing it, and it rings true.

I haven’t thought about my eating disorder in months.

I assume I will, now and again. I’m not setting myself up for a “perfect recovery,” because the only thing you can do with perfection is disappoint your expectations of it.

But in terms of my eating disorder, this place I’m at right now feels pretty damn close to perfect.

I won’t be writing for The Body Pacifist anymore, and I’m also no longer working for Adios Barbie, although not quite for the same reason. But this isn’t the end of my writing life. I’m focusing more and more on my fiction writing, and slowly but surely I’m starting to get a handful of things published in a handful of places. Check me out on Twitter @AllisonEpstein2 to see what’s new—including more shameless plugs just like this one. And if you’d like to get in touch with me personally, still feel free to do that in the usual ways.

But whether you’re stumbling across this blog now or you’ve been with me for a while, there’s one message I want you to take away from the four-year journey recorded in this blog.

I want you to write this message on a beautiful piece of paper and tape it to your bathroom mirror, and every morning when you wake up, I want you to look at it and read it out loud.

I want you to believe this, because it is the truth, and I am living it.

Recovery is possible. And you can do it.

I believe in you.

Now get out there and keep going, one step at a time, one day at a time.




4 Small but Powerful Benefits of Eating Disorder Recovery

If there are two things I know I love in the world, they are:

  1. Recovery from an eating disorder, and
  2. Numbered lists.

And when you do a quick Google search of “signs of recovery from a restrictive eating disorder,” your search results will list the main, clinical diagnosis points: weight stabilization, less rumination and disordered thoughts, etc.

But recovery doesn’t always work in broad strokes.

Sometimes it’s the little things you didn’t realize were messed up — until, all of a sudden, they’re not.

These are just four awesome items on my list of recovery benefits, but they’re ones I didn’t really think about until much later. They weren’t the reasons I chose recovery, but hey, I’m sure as hell happy they’re here.

As always, these reflect my personal experience: Your personal mileage may vary.

But if you’re wondering what life in late-stage recovery actually means in concrete terms…

And if you, like me, have an ever-abiding passion for lists…

Well, this one’s for you, my friend.

1. Better Sleep Patterns

In the midst of my disorder, my sleep schedule was whacked all to hell. I’d sleep maybe 45 minutes a night — but would spend a full nine hours in bed, tossing and turning.

This wasn’t because I was ruminating about what I had or hadn’t eaten that day, although I certainly had nights when that was the case.

I was just laying there, staring at the ceiling, exhausted, but totally unable to fall asleep.

Why? Because my ED had screwed up my body’s internal workings so much that it didn’t know when to sleep, or for how long. I’d trained it not to listen to its innate signals, and as far as I can tell, it extrapolated the pattern all the way to sleeping.

I don’t have the science to back this up — scientific method is not exactly my forte — but I do know that after a few years of recovery, nine out of 10 times I’m sleeping about thirty minutes after my head hits the pillow.

As someone who loves sleep like Pitbull likes listing city names, this is no small benefit.

2. Functional Digestive System

TMI warning: I’m gonna talk about poop real quick.

My ED really did a number on my digestive system. I never used laxatives (for obvious reasons, my support team shot that option down), but the effects of not using them went on for weeks at a time, which was kind of awful.

Now, keeping my system regular really isn’t so hard.

And for y’all who are wondering how awesome it is to have a digestive tract that actually digests things the right way, let me just say this:

It’s fucking glorious.

//end poop talk.

3. Enhanced Creativity

I didn’t really think about this one until recently. I was a creative writing major in college, and when I was working on cranking out a short story a week, it seemed to me like my creative juices were flowing pretty regularly.

But I flip through old notebooks from time to time (a dangerous endeavor, not to be attempted by the faint of heart), and I can see the difference.

My characters are more developed now. They’re more confident. More interesting.

And my scribblings in the margins of my school and work notepads reflect a mind considering more than food.

My college notebooks boast wordless scribbles, black squares, mindless doodlings, the occasional frustrated outburst on a bad day.

The notepad on my phone now features marginalia like:

Did Renaissance Jews wear hats?

Villain’s personality: Artful Dodger + Ursula + Loki 

Cross-pollinating a hangover with an exorcism

What does the early modern tradition think about the bottom of the ocean?

Now, maybe these examples say more about the nonsense that goes on in my mind than any rise in functional creativity. But I think the point stands.

And in case you were wondering, yes. Renaissance Jews did generally wear hats.

4. Fearless Media Consumption

I went through this phase — OK, it was like two years — when I read almost every piece of fiction about eating disorders I could find. I would pour through books looking for mentions of people with anorexia, and then reread the passages over and over, without really knowing why I was doing it.

I wrote eating disorder fiction myself, and for all the wrong reasons. I’m not proud of it, but it is what it is.

There are plenty of theories about why people dealing with EDs fall into these patterns, but whatever the cause, I fell hard.

In early recovery, I veered in the opposite direction. Nothing that mentioned eating disorders made its way into my purview…

Or dieting.

Or weight.

Or bodies.

Or food.

I just wasn’t equipped to handle it, and it was easier to push it to the side.

Now, I can flip on the TV and see a preview for a Biggest Loser–style show or new diet pill without feeling the need to hop on the treadmill, or to turn off the set and engage in a healthy coping mechanism.

With every day my recovery grows, it’s easier to watch and read content that used to trigger the living shit out of me.

And it makes it easier to work in an office where diet talk is practically a daily thing, too.

Sure, big-picture recovery is the end goal. But sometimes it’s worth it to celebrate small victories — however they show up for you.

So, fellow recovery warriors, what are some of the small but kickass benefits of recovery you’ve noticed in your own journeys? Let me know in the comments!

Thoughts on Vulnerability

SCULPTURE & ART (1)“Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength.”

At least according to professional pseudoscientist Sigmund Freud, who is maybe not the best person to turn to for proverbial wisdom.

Freud, I call bullshit.

Just as I call bullshit on your theory of hysteria and your theory of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex as a scientific case study, though the whole field of modern psychology is more or less behind me on those.

On this one, I feel like I stand more alone.

We work hard to transform vulnerability into a virtue. Knowing your feelings. Being open. Letting others know the real you. Having honest, two-way relationships with people who know you and care about you.

That’s one thing, but it’s not the kind of vulnerability I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the vulnerability of sitting alone at your kitchen table late on a Sunday night, wondering whether you should take a shower or let yourself have a 45-minute cry, because both of those things need to get done before you go to sleep.

It’s not a question of “if,” but “which first.”

This openness wins you no friends. It gains you no applause in therapy or treatment programs. Dr. Phil does not celebrate sitting alone in your bedroom admitting to yourself that the reason you still haven’t done your dinner dishes yet is that the thought of standing up and turning on the sink just makes you crushingly sad.

I mean, true, if Dr. Phil celebrates something, that’s one of the best reasons in the world you can find for doing exactly the opposite. But I digress.

Sitting with this openness to feeling, I do not sense strength.

Out of my vulnerability comes fear.

The kind of fear takes one misstep and magnifies it into a colossal moral failing.

That looks at a week’s worth of thoughts and actions and reactions and levels a stringent, damning judgment.

That transforms a bag of candy corn purchased at the grocery store into Original Sin itself.

That spends the day dreaming about returning to bed, because at least the world cannot point out my failures from beneath the covers.

Sitting with my feelings means I ruminate about the worst events of the day — not Greek tragedies by any stretch of the imagination, but in this state, too much. I sit and reminisce about a botched customer service phone call, a terse rejection letter, catching someone talking about me behind my back. I mix these memories well, shake them into a highball glass, and nurse a sharp cocktail of self-doubt until morning.

I write in metaphors because that is easier than writing the honest truth.

Playing with words is easier than admitting the dull pressure-pain over my ribs is not because I am getting over a cold. It is because I am afraid of never being a better person than I am tonight, and spending the day being disappointed in the person I am.

That kind of vulnerability does not feel strong. It feels like saying that of course there are happy people in the world, this is the kind of world that requires happiness, but I will never be one of those people.

I can tell myself hundreds of times that I don’t believe this.

I’m not always sure that I don’t believe it.

Some nights, I cannot believe anything else.

Do I feel stronger, having admitted my vulnerability? Honestly, no. But sometimes pouring the words onto the screen gets them out of my head. I can look at them, move commas around, delete passive construction, dissect them under a microscope until they present the distilled version of the pain in my chest.

Like a scientist examining a virus, I may not know the cure, but I know the arrangement of the proteins, the reproductive strategies.

(Do viruses have proteins? A question from your friendly neighborhood English major.)

And like a scientist, I cling to whatever knowledge I grasp, hoping someday to find a use for it.

Maybe from vulnerability comes knowledge. And knowledge is strength, or so a slightly twisted proverb tells me.

As far as proverbs go, I will take what I can get.

Good Days, Bad Days

Sometimes I think I’m over it.

That it doesn’t matter how I look, or what size I wear, or what I grabbed to go from Chipotle on my way home from work because I’ve been pulling 13-hour days a few too many times this month, and sometimes you don’t even care that guac is a dollar more.

But sometimes I feel like I’ve been lying to myself all that time.

It can be any number of things that set the feeling off.

A glance down when toweling off after a shower, which even after all this time I studiously refuse to do, because the wave of sadness I get from looking at my new Buddha belly hurts more than I usually feel comfortable admitting.

Another goddamn rejection letter, when for some reason I really thought we were going to get somewhere this time.

Another lunch break sacrificed to a meeting or a project I don’t feel like I understand, or that I’m good enough to do. Hello, impostor syndrome, my old friend.

Whatever it is, it usually ends the same. Lying flat on my living room floor, staring at my bookshelf without any intention of picking up a book, wondering why my current lifestyle refuses to let me lose weight.

Yes. Yes. I know.

I know that diet culture is a cruel cocktail mixed by capitalism and the patriarchy.

I know that before I chose recovery I was no happier, in fact much less happy.

I know that I still reap the benefits of thin privilege in about a million different ways, and that my health is not in any way connected to the way my body looks.

I can rationalize my way through that. Most of the time I do. I can hit you with a Health at Every Size–based rant at the drop of a hat, literally or figuratively. Like, if you actually throw a hat at me, I will catch it and say “$20 billion annual profits of the US weight loss industry” in the same breath.

But some nights I don’t want to.

Some nights I want to wallow a little in the self-pity I try not to allow myself too often.

I want to acknowledge the weight of a small creature perched on my chest, pressing the breath from me and keeping me here on the floor, this small creature that does not feel exactly the same as my eating disorder did, but is close.


More subtle.

It is the whisper in the back of my mind that says “You failed at being thin. Just exactly the way you fail at everything else.”

I wish I weren’t writing about this. I realize that it isn’t helpful. But maybe the admission that I don’t always have it all together, that I’m not always here to be helpful, maybe that’s worth something. I don’t know. I’m not convinced my thoughts make sense, and I think it might be important to admit that, and edit a little less. Radical honesty does not always make for lucid prose.

But that’s all theoretical. What matters is tonight.

Tonight, I will let these feelings hang there, for the amount of time it takes to write this blog post. Because they are real, and they matter.

And then, also tonight, I will stand up, close my computer, and go do something else. I don’t know what. Sing along loudly to the Sweeney Todd  original cast recording, or finally start the latest Toni Morrison novel, or watch the rest of Season Two of Orphan Black. Anything else.

Because my residual ED feelings are part of my life, but so are all these things.

And they are real.

And they matter, too.

The Art of Not Thinking About It


Ask me three years ago what recovery looked like, and I’d have painted you a fairy tale story that would have made the Brothers Grimm shake their heads and mutter about “suspension of disbelief.”

I simultaneously wanted a world where food was delicious and abundant and unrestrained, yet in control and socially acceptable and restrained and guilt-free.

I wanted a life where my body and my fears didn’t hold me back, and yet I never wanted to let go “too much.”

If you’d offered me a bag of magic beans to go along with it, God knows I’d have taken you up on that offer.

Well, here I am now, summer of 2015. Out of college, full-time employed in corporate America, wielding my English degree like a weapon. Suddenly I’m worrying more about figuring out health insurance than the homoromantic subtext of Twelfth Night. (Although let’s be clear here: I still think about that a lot. Sebastian and Antonio are a love story for the ages. I just also need new glasses.)

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about my recovery, it’s that 98% of the journey is an exercise in “not thinking about it.”

Yes, I still wish Starbucks would stop posting calorie counts on their menus so I could get a damn latte in peace. And I wish I could learn the art of short runs, instead of waking up far too early before my 8 a.m. shift starts so I can get my workout in on its designated days.

But those moments used to dominate my long- and short-term planning. Now, they’re occasional nuisances.

No, not quite that. They’re like a fan you turn on before you go to sleep. The longer you lay there, the more used to the sound you get, until eventually you forget it’s there at all — except for those weird moments you jolt awake at 3 a.m. and snarl at the wall, “Has that fan always been so goddamned loud?”

But gradually — gradually — you start to notice you’re sleeping through the night.

That one of your best friends comes up to visit and you’re in the living room eating gelato out of the container while watching Voyage of the Mimiand you genuinely aren’t nervous.

That you go for a walk not because you’re anxious about burning calories, but because your legs got antsy after sitting at a desk for hours, and going for a walk is a great chance to listen to the latest episode of Sparks Nevada: Marshal on Mars.

That you sit down in front of your computer and start to write, not about your eating disorder, but about what would happen if the Fates started accidentally bringing people back to life instead of killing them, and how Zeus would feel about that. (This is a half-apology for my less-than-stellar posting schedule, for those playing along at home.)

That those painful, infuriating, scream-inducing moments drift back at the worst possible times, and while it hurts like a mother in the moment, you know it’ll be better in the morning, or in a couple mornings, because you’ve felt this before, and it does get better.

That you’re genuinely angry sometimes about the years you spent studiously avoiding broccoli cheddar soup, because broccoli cheddar soup, guys. There is no way I’d have made through this frozen hellscape of a winter without broccoli cheddar soup.

That you still feel the nagging urge to ask family members, when they visit, “Do I look different to you than I did at Christmas?” but you catch yourself, sometimes, most times, because what would the answer matter anyway?

That I’m reading articles submitted to us over at Adios Barbie, my Internet home-away-from-home, and I no longer have to pass ED-related pieces to my co-editor every time, because I will not always be triggered.

And that I know and trust myself enough to ask for help when the opposite is true.

This is not a one-size-fits-all recovery blueprint. Your mileage and experience will vary.

I can’t pretend to be an expert on anything but my own life, and even that feels like a poorly dubbed foreign film nine times out of 10.

But I’m gradually getting better at the art of not thinking about it.

And for what it’s worth, most of the time “not thinking about it” is a pretty comfortable place to be.

Why I Hate It When You Call My Eating Disorder Recovery A “Battle”

Eating disorder recovery can be a tricky thing for support systems and loved ones to talk about. Finding words can be tough. I realize that. And I have so much respect for people that try that I almost don’t care what words you use. So long as you’re offering support, acceptance, and unconditional love, who the hell cares how you phrase things.

That said.

Every time I hear people dragging the good old war metaphors into eating disorder recovery discussions, I get the same sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as when people use the phrase “binge-watch” to talk about Netflix. It just … it just feels gross. And while the reasoning for the latter should seem obvious (by the old gods and the new, folks, just say “marathon-watch”), I’ve spent a couple of months now trying to figure out why I feel nauseous when people reference my “battle” or my “fight.”

It’s not exactly an uncommon metaphor. So I feel a little weird calling it out. For some people, it’s empowering. Because here’s what it does: It externalizes the eating disorder. It makes it something you can see and touch and tackle to the ground in a no-holds barred gladiator match to the death. And in a battle, there’s only one possible outcome. Someone will win, and someone will lose.

In defense of the metaphor, we know that eating disorders are a formidable foe. They have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Our “battlefield,” if you want to put it that way, is haunted by the ghosts who have come before us, and those who will still follow. It’s sobering. It’s powerful. I see why people use those words.

But I hate it. I hate it so much.

For me, I often hear the metaphor replacing the noun when it comes to recovery. That formulation looks a little like this:

We know you’ve been battling this a long time.

If you need help with your battle, just give me a call.

Every day you keep battling, you’re doing a great job.

I just want to stand on something and shout at everyone to call it what it is. I am recovering from an eating disorder, dammit. It’s not a curse word. It’s not something I’m ashamed of anymore. I don’t need you dancing around the issue, afraid to call it what it is. What you’re demonstrating, to me, when you do this is that my mental illness is something that needs a euphemism — that I should be ashamed of it, because you are.

I know this isn’t what people mean, when they say this. They’re trying to help. And I appreciate the sentiment. I really do. I try to accept the message as it’s meant. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still feel a twinge when I hear it.

But that’s a personal issue. That’s an issue with wording. That’s something that can easily be addressed. My issues with war metaphors stem deeper than that, down to the actual substance.

Because in my mind, it just doesn’t fit what I’m trying to accomplish.

I am not trying to stab my eating disorder on the steps of the Roman Senate. I am not meeting my eating disorder in the Coliseum, watching it bare its lion-sharp teeth at my throat, and demanding of my support system, “Are you not entertained?” (I am not trying to only use Roman metaphors, but if the shoe fits …)

The end of my story is not a winner-takes-all match where I kill my eating disorder, or my eating disorder kills me.

I’m just trying to live here.

I just want to be able to go about my life without worrying about (not) eating and (not) exercising — at least, a reasonable percentage of the time. I want to hang out with friends at a restaurant and eat an entire bowl of saag paneer because it is delicious, and not worry about what that says about me as a person. I want to go for a run because it makes my legs feel good to move and it clears my head from a long day at the office.

I’m not in it for guts or glory.

I’m not a goddamn warrior. I don’t want a medal for what I’m trying to do.

And I don’t expect to stab my eating disorder through the throat and watch it squirm, never to rise again. That’s not how this is going to work out. I know that.

The metaphor of “war” and “battle” demands a conclusion. It asks for a winner. It wants everything to be clear and easy and tied up in a bow at the end. Who won the American Revolution? Obviously. Who’s winning my eating disorder recovery? Hell if I know.

When you call me a “fighter,” it means you demand that I win. Because that’s what fighters do — they defeat their enemies, every time, every day, and the day they slip up, they die. That’s not what recovery looks like. There are good days and bad days and days that defy categorization. There are days where you just look around at your emotional state and go “Well, that doesn’t make a damn bit of sense at all.

But you keep going. Because it’s all a part of your life, the ups and the downs and the turns. And setbacks aren’t “losses” when you think about it this way. They’re just experiences. You learn from them. You embrace them. And you keep living.

I’m not trying to strip the power of metaphor from anyone it helps. Plenty of people like the feeling of “recovery warriors.” It makes them feel in control of their trajectory. It’s a powerful way of sticking it to your eating disorder, telling it to go fuck itself because your body is Sparta and there’s only room for one Leonidas here.

But that doesn’t mean I have to use it for myself.

So next time you want to ask me how I’m holding up in my recovery fight, I’d really appreciate it if you could just not.

Just ask me how I’m doing.

Because that’s all I’m trying to accomplish here.

Can I stop fighting for a bit?

Can I just live?