body peace

Your Body Peace Bill of Rights


imagesSo, folks, it’s the Fourth of July again. I’ll leave aside the discussions of post-colonialism and cultural erasure and militarism and imperialism for the moment (though if you do a quick Google search with any of those words, you’ll find interesting reading for the rest of the summer). No, my topic for the day is FREEDOM.

Not the stars-and-stripes, writing-“MURICA”-across-a-cake-in-sparklers-and-frosting kind of freedom. If you know me IRL, that’s not exactly my bag. But freedom to exist in your own body.

Sometimes body hate and self-judgment feel like more than the status quo. It feels like the only quo. How could you stop feeling this way about yourself, if messages on every side (from the diet commercials to the media to your friends and family) are telling you it’s impossible to feel any other way?

Permit me to stretch for a moment, but do you think Alexander Hamilton would have accepted tyranny and over-taxed lightly caffeinated coffee alternatives because society told him there was no alternative? No! My favorite Founding Father (and the most dashing, because seriously he died in an honor duel to the deathwould have planted a flag in the ground and shouted, “No! There is another way!”

In that vein, I’ve set about drafting the Body Peace Bill of Rights. Body hate is not a predetermined conclusion. It is a practice. And as with any practice, it takes realizing that there’s an alternative to make a change. As you navigate the holiday weekend (or just the weekend, should you not be in the US), keep in mind these five inalienable rights of every person to feel secure, at peace, and unthreatened just as they are, right this moment.

1. Freedom from other people’s opinions and judgments

“One shall accept no opinions respecting the establishment of one’s body, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom to eat, or dress, or exist, or petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

(I’m leaving the ability to petition the government untouched, because I feel like that’s always been the less-hyped aspect of the first amendment. Let’s give government petitions some love, folks.)

Summer holidays, at least in the American Midwest where I currently knock about, often translate to barbecues, potlucks, and other gatherings centered on food. I don’t think of myself as a particularly social individual – friends are continually reminding me that there are ways to pass an evening that don’t involve Netflix or fourth-round novel revisions – and yet somehow I’ve been to four or five such food-based events this summer. It can be stressful. The fear that people are going to watch what you’re eating, that they’ll comment on it, that there’s an expectation for you to eat or not eat a certain amount… It’s everywhere.

And you don’t need to worry about it.

Your food intake is nobody’s business but your own. 99% of the time, no one at your social gathering is at all concerned with what you’re eating. I can almost guarantee that you’re the most worried about it by a mile. And if someone there does make inappropriate or uncalled-for comments about it, know that it’s not your problem what they’re saying.

You’re a fully independent person (*cue bald eagles screaming across a flag-draped sky, for ambiance*) and you are fully capable of feeding yourself. Anyone who wants to make you feel judged for what you eat is petty, probably self-conscious about their own food, and in need of a serious dose of body peace. Spread the zen from your side, as much as possible.

2. Freedom from food-related fear

“Adequate and tasty nutrition being necessary for good living, the right to eat what sounds good, is available, and will not make you feel ill shall not be infringed.”

Grab a plate of potato salad and a cheeseburger if that’s what you want. If you’d rather have a grilled veggie burger and fruit salad, grab that. Just make sure that it’s what you really want, and not what you think is “right” or what you think others expect you to have. See the first amendment for reassurance that, odds are, no one will notice either way.

It’s just food. Food is not the enemy. We need food to stay alive. Why not make it taste good at the same time?

3. Freedom to avoid destructive situations

“No one shall, at any time, be quartered in an environment where one is uncomfortable,  judged, or made to feel unwelcome.”

All too often, there’s an expectation to say “yes” to everything. Every invitation. Every party. Every request from friends, family members, and co-workers to bring your famous key lime pie to the next gathering or cookout. (Hey. Guys. I make a fantastic key lime pie. It’s understandable.)

But some situations are just not the best thing for your well-being. If you know that you’re entering into a situation that will only make you uncomfortable, sad, and possibly triggered, you reserve the right to (politely) say “no, thanks, not this time.”

Self-care is enormously important, and is not being “weak” or “giving in.” It’s knowing your body’s needs and your own needs for your mental health. So if you know something won’t be good for you, don’t do it. It’s the same as choosing not to eat a peanut butter sandwich if you’re wildly allergic to nuts. We all know what the outcome will be, so why put yourself in that situation?

This doesn’t have to be straight refusing invites, either. It can be as simple as choosing not to engage Great-Aunt Mary in a discussion on gay rights or politics, or politely shutting down a conversation from your grandfather about why you’re still unemployed. Take care of yourself, and the rest will follow.

4. Freedom from body-related limitations

“Fear of judgment or social norms shall not restrict one from free and enjoyable expression.”

For years, I would get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when the dreaded poolside dinner combo was introduced. As if eating food in front of people wasn’t hard enough, then there was the double whammy of having to eat in front of people while wearing a bathing suit. Please, just have me gnaw through my own leg while I’m at it.

I’m sure none of you are new to the two-step plan for getting a bikini body this summer, but I think it bears repeating:

  1. Go get a bikini.
  2. Put it on your body.

Voila. There we go.

I know this is easier said than done, and I’ll admit that I still have to gear myself up for the act of eating a cheeseburger in a bikini in front of others. But I’ll do it. My stomach’s not flat. My thighs touch. I’ve put on weight during college. I’m not going to look like I strolled out of the pages of Sports Illustrated. And you know what?

Look up at the sky. It’s still there. My burger-bearing bikini body has not caused the sky to crash to the ground, burying us all in the debris of my personal inability to look like a supermodel.

Ask a friend to talk you through it or go with you if you feel nervous. Find someone you can confide in. But don’t let outside pressures about appearance or socially constructed beauty stop you from doing what makes you happy. You deserve better than that.

5. Freedom to accept mistakes

“The right to struggle, slip up, or trip without giving up or inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on oneself shall be reserved, here and for all time.”

Newsflash: none of us are perfect. We can keep the principles of body love and self-acceptance and recovery high up there on our mental list, and sometimes we will still slide backward. We’ll allow that relative or that friend’s comment to throw us for a loop. We’ll interact with food in a way that we know is self-destructive or an unhealthy coping mechanism. We’ll make big plans and chicken out at the last minute.

Hey guys: that’s life.

But don’t let that slip become a landslide. Accept that mistakes and slip-ups are a part of everyone’s recovery, indeed everyone’s life, but they don’t have to define the future. A relapse can always be turned around. It’s never too late to choose to do something good for yourself.

Recovery isn’t linear. The path winds and dips and turns and sometimes takes you straight through a building and out the other side, but every step is exactly the step you need to take. Be gentle and kind to yourself if things are still difficult for you. Every step you take on the path to recovery is one step farther along than you were before you took it.

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What amendments would you add? What are your strategies for making it happy and at peace through the summer? Let me know in the comments! Personally, I’m heading out the door to a Fourth of July gathering right this minute – and who knows? Maybe it’ll involve bikini-clad cheeseburgers.

To clarify: I’d be wearing the bikini. Not the cheeseburger. That’d just be weird.

 

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Thanksgiving: You’re Not Alone!

UnknownIf you’re in the States and have any history at all of body image issues or disordered eating, you already know the massive ball of stress that we Americans refer to as Thanksgiving. A holiday based around traveling long distances (this year in the snow…) to meet up with family members we haven’t seen in months and gorge ourselves on (often panic-inducing) food until we descend into a carb-heavy coma and get to watch our relatives get increasingly drunk on white wine? For years and years, this was not exactly my idea of fun.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Thanksgiving. I love my family more than anything, and I’m all for any possible moment to get us all together in the same room, after we’ve gone our separate ways for university. It was my eating disorder that didn’t enjoy the holiday.

Almost 15 months into recovery, here I sit in my bed at home. Tis the night before Thanksgiving, and all through the house, I’m refrigerating things I’ve been baking all day with my mom. Cookies, pie, latkes (Thanksgivukkah for the win!), matzo ball soup… and that’s only the night before. My belly is full, my body is warm, I just ate about twelve pieces of Hanukkah gelt, and all in all?

Feeling pretty awesome.

No more panicked night-before-Thanksgiving pre-holiday preventative exercise binges. No more pawing through cookbooks looking for low-cal low-fat recipes I could make and eat on the side. No more fear. No more anxiety. I can’t wait for tomorrow.

This sounds like I’m bullshitting you, but I promise I’m not. I’m actually surprised about how relaxed I am about the whole thing. I thought that there would be at least some residual fear this year, like there was last Thanksgiving. I told myself I was totally good with the holiday. I schmoozed with my family and had second helpings of dessert because my cousin is an experimental baker and hot damn but that pie was fabulous. But the guilt was there. The nerves were there. And I was still afraid that somebody would, horror of horrors, say something about what I was eating.

You know, because my eating disorder’s ideal for the day was that no one would notice I was there. Ideally, I wouldn’t even exist.

This year? Forget about it. I’ll eat what I want. I won’t weigh myself for a few days afterwards, because it all comes out in the wash in the end and one day (or four) of indulging won’t kill me. If I get stressed out during the preparations (it’s being held at my parents’ house, and that means I’m sous chef number one, or as things evolve, chef chef number one), I’ll go for a walk, or take a few calming breaths in the bathroom, and then move on.

Because the real point of Thanksgiving is that I get to see my brother and my sister and my parents and my grandpa and my grandma from across the state, and my aunts and uncles and my adorable little elderly blind dachshund who I miss like no one’s business. Not the food on my plate. That’s just a bonus.

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Gratuitous dog shot! C’mon, look at that face.

I know that Thanksgiving can be a stress-filled time, but it doesn’t have to be that way forever. It’s so possible to love Thanksgiving again. Never give up hope. You can do this.

If you find that you’re feeling overwhelmed or scared or depressed on Thanksgiving because of body image or disordered eating urges, you’re not alone. There are people all across the country worrying about the same things. And there are people out there who want to help you.

Check out this campaign, spearheaded by the ever-amazing Melissa A. Fabello, who I used to work with a few months ago and whose awesomeness literally blows me away.

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#THX4SUPPORT: A Twitter-Based Recovery Support Event
Thanksgiving is coming. And while for many of us, that means the excitement of friends, family, and food, for many others, Thanksgiving comes with it a lot of stress, fear, and anxiety.

But you’re not alone.

And this Thanksgiving, we want to make sure that you get the support, resources, and community that you need.
 
This Thanksgiving, use the hash tag #thx4support on Twitter to:
  • Reach our team of eating disorder, recovery, and body image activists for one-on-one support or inspiration
  • Find awesome articles, videos, and resources being tweeted out by organizations and activists
  • Make new friends by finding people across the country struggling with the same issues. Start a support network!
The following people will be on hand to talk you through any feelings of negativity that you experience:
  • Melissa A Fabello, Body Image Activist: @fyeahmfabello
  • Wagatwe Wanjuki, Writer and Activist: @wagatewe
  • Arielle Lee Bair, Recovery Blogger: @arielleleebair
  • Kat Lazo, Media Literacy Advocate: @theekatsmeoww
  • Matt Wetsel, Survivor Turned Activist: @tiledsarenomore
  • Bevin Branlandingham, Body Liberation Activist: @queerfatfemme
Use the hash tag #thx4support or tweet us directly.
 
Are you an organization who wants in on the action?
  • Use #thx4support to tweet out related articles and resources!
  • Let your followers know that this support is available. Share this graphic!
  • If you have capacity, join in on giving support to people using the hash tag.

And what can individuals do?

  • Follow #thx4support and send inspiration to those in need!
  • Tweet out your favorite resources using #thx4support.
  • Let us know what kinds of ideas and questions you have by tweeting us!
Because we believe that recovery is possible. And we know that support can help.
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Struggling? The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) can help. Call toll-free 1.800.931.2237.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy Thanksgiving, in whatever way you choose to celebrate. Warm wishes, best hopes for the future, and a picture of a corgi dressed as a lobster for good measure.Unknown

Mythbusting: Eating Disorder Recovery Edition

Mythbusters and associated logos are under copyright by Beyond Entertainment and the Discovery Channel.

Mythbusters and associated logos are under copyright by Beyond Entertainment and the Discovery Channel.

This post was originally published for Adios Barbie and can be read in its original context here.

September 1st was my one-year anniversary.

Not a romantic anniversary with a candlelit dinner and diamond earrings. The one-year anniversary of my recovery from an eating disorder.

I don’t know if taking a day to celebrate the recovery process is common, but I wanted to commemorate the year I began taking care of myself. I’d thought I was taking care of myself before – avoiding weight gain, exercising, eliminating “bad” foods. In the name of getting healthy, I reached what looked to be the point of no return.

Operative words being “looked to be.”

Here I am, one year later, at or near my body’s set point (my body’s natural, comfortable weight). All my blood work comes back consistently normal. I can run up stairs without getting tired now, and I don’t wear hooded sweatshirts in 80-degree heat anymore. I think celebrating a different kind of health is worth it.

There are plenty of resources for people beginning recovery from any kind of eating disorder.NEDA provides an extensive list to get you started. Doctors, therapists, nutritionists, and well-meaning friends and family might be present at every turn, or they might not be. And yet, it’s still difficult to get a straight answer for the most pressing question on people’s minds.

What is recovery going to look like? Will it go on like this forever? Will I be strong enough to make it?

My experience was my own, and I can’t pretend that it will ring true to every person beginning a recovery journey. But I think this episode of “Mythbusters: Eating Disorder Edition,” if you will, is pretty universal. Take it from me: this article is not a magic spell. Recovery is hard. But it doesn’t need to be any harder than it has to be.

Myth One: You need to meet with a full treatment team three times a week, or you don’t really want to recover. And if you don’t want it, you’ll never get better.

Truth: You probably do need support, but what form that takes is up to you.

Recovering from an eating disorder isn’t easy. If it were, we wouldn’t need to talk about it. And as with any difficult life issue, it helps to have people on your side.

But support looks different for everybody.

If you don’t meet regularly with a physician, a therapist, a nutritionist, and a psychiatrist, that doesn’t mean that you don’t want to get better or that you’re not trying. It just means that your needs are different from other people’s needs.

Some people benefit from in-patient treatment centers. Others try out-patient programs at hospitals or other facilities. Some meet with a therapist a few times a week, go in for nutritional counseling, or try to go it on their own with family and friends on their side. I’m not suggesting that anyone should discount therapy or nutritional counseling. They’re valuable techniques that help many people sort out complicated problems. By all means, give them a go. But recovery and treatment are not one-size-fits-all.

Use your voice, not your eating disorder’s, to direct your life. Doing recovery your way (whatever way that is) means you’re beginning to take charge. For many, this comes with some kind of professional help or guidance from a trusted therapist. But the biggest change has to come from within. Find the help that works for you, and don’t give up.

Myth Two: Shifts in weight will happen at a rate of X pounds/week.

Truth: Honestly? Who the heck knows.

Not all eating disorders result in a drastic change in body weight. But some do. Whether you are hoping to lose weight after fighting with BED, gain weight after anorexia, or settle into your body’s set point and a regular pattern of eating after any eating disorder, your body is influenced by a number of factors. The duration of your disorder. Your height. Your family history and genetics. Your body type. Your metabolism. Your current level of stress. Heck, your sodium levels and how much you tend to sweat.

Your set point isn’t something that can be predicted. Bodies change with age and life circumstances, hormones and stress. I had a weight in mind I was comfortable with when I began recovery, but my body decided on a different one. All of this is scary, but it’s okay.

Medical professionals told me that my rapid weight shifts would stop after about six to eight weeks. I was also told a pound range that was normal to expect per week. Well, I gained about twice that per week, and it didn’t stop after eight weeks. It took me nine months. Disinterested strangers watching me might have mistaken me for a pregnant woman (Ah, recovery bloating). And that’s okay too. Your body is going to do what it needs, no matter how frightening that might seem.

The theory of a “set point”? I thought it sounded like the stupidest thing I’d ever heard. And then I found mine. It took longer than I wanted, but it does happen.

Every body is different. Just give yours time.

Myth Three: Relapsing means you failed at recovery.

Truth: Relapsing means you hit a setback. It’s how you deal with setbacks that matters.

A huge step in recovery is being able to step back after a moment of relapse and say, “Yes, I made a mistake,” or “I wish that had gone differently.” And then you continue on, planning to do better next time.

Relapses are not the end of the world. Of course, we try to avoid them at all costs, but sometimes learning what sparks a relapse can be important. What issues cause you to retreat back into destructive behaviors? What problems are still unresolved in your life? What is it about this situation that makes you want to wrench back control in this way?

Just because you have problems doesn’t mean that you can’t overcome them. You are strong and powerful and you can do it. You’ve proven that by deciding that you want recovery in the first place.

Need more reassurance? Watch this great video from Arielle Lee Bair on relapse in recovery. This inspiring poem by Portia Nelson captures the spirit of relapse and recovery—a comforting thing to keep in mind during hard times.

Beating yourself up over your mistakes is part of your disorder, not a viable way of ending it.

Myth Four: If you are underweight, you’ll feel way better as soon as you start gaining the weight back.

Truth: Weight restoration is hard.

Not necessarily because it’s hard to gain weight. It’s hard because it means looking your biggest irrational fear in the face and saying, “Come at me, bro.”

It’s hard. And it doesn’t always feel great, especially right away. In fact, weight gain can feel horrible (and terrifying) at first. Bloating, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, gas, night sweats, impossible clothes shopping… It’s not fun.

But it gets better.

It’s a gradual better. You might not even notice it while it’s happening because you’re caught up in all the problems. But when you take a step back and realize, “Hey, I’m not cold all the time anymore,” or “I just ate breakfast and I didn’t think about the calories,” that’s when you see it. And it makes the rest a lot easier to take.

Myth Five: Complete recovery from any eating disorder is impossible.

Truth: If you’ll pardon my French, bullshit.

Recovery is hard work. I’ve been working at it for a year, and I’m still not totally there. But every day, I get closer.

I fall in love with my former off-limits foods. (Looking at you, French fries. Delicious.)

I continue to re-evaluate my relationship with exercise.

I think critically about weight-loss tabloid articles and the latest fad diets.

I surround myself with body positivity, whether through online communities and articles or re-directing conversations with friends and family that turn to body-snarking.

I might not love my body 100% of the time, every time. But I respect it for what it does, and it’s forgiving me for what I’ve put it through previously.

Looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Confessions of a Reformed Yogi

yoga sunset

If yoga is supposed to be about getting in touch with yourself and developing inner peace, for years I was doing it wrong.

Some teachers say that there’s no “wrong” way to do yoga. Modifications and adaptations are all ways of listening to your body wants, and if you’re moving in a genuine expression of what you’re feeling, that’s no less valid than someone who can execute a perfect flying bakasana ten times out of ten. I agree with this. But these yogis weren’t talking about yoga practice the way I was doing it.

I began practicing yoga in the fall of 2011, through a reasonably priced and well-taught program at my university’s gym. I met with a fabulous teacher twice a week who put me through the paces of a vinyasa flow, starting gently and moving into longer sequences of postures. It felt great, especially as at this point I was trying to find a way to exercise while having been forbidden to run or do vigorous cardio. Yoga, it seemed, was the perfect solution to get a workout while leaving my running shoes at home.

Yes, I fell prey to the “yoga body fantasy.” If I spent enough time in downward-facing dog, if I did enough sun salutations, I would finally be able to get the slim, toned, perfect body I had spent so much time running trying to obtain. And even if the results weren’t immediate, at least it was a way of burning calories and toning my muscles instead of sitting on the couch and turning into a fat slob. Which, obviously, would happen within weeks, and would be irreversible. [*sarcasm abounds*]

My teacher told me that yoga was a mental, physical, and spiritual unity. My eating disorder told me it was a cardio workout.

I missed out on so much during these early practices. I focused only on the standing, high-intensity postures and loved the feeling of my leg muscles burning during warrior poses. I once did sun salutation after sun salutation not to get lost in the rhythm of mind-body movement but because it made me sweat and I couldn’t work up the motivation to go for a run. I scorned seated postures and worked every practice to the max. Come hell or high water, my inner perfectionist commanded, I would be the best damn yogi in that room.

Not exactly the best recipe for inner peace.

About a year ago, my recovery from my eating disorder actually took off, and my body began to undergo physical changes. In yoga, a practice so highly intertwined with an awareness of one’s body, where full-body scans are a normal practice, changes in body size create changes in the whole experience. And for me, these changes were almost traumatizing.

I hated the way my belly rested against my thigh when I moved into revolved side angle pose (put aside the fact that revolved side angle pose looks like this, and pretty much requires placing one’s belly on one’s thigh). Shoulder stand was agonizing as my shirt would slide up my chest, revealing the (so I saw) enormous fat rolls cascading towards my face. I’m sure the horrors of plow pose (with my newly-extant belly three inches from my face) need no elaboration. And let’s put aside that my yoga studio doubled as a ballet studio, and the two side walls were covered in floor-to-ceiling mirrors. It was, to put it lightly, not exactly a relaxing hour.

As my recovery progressed, against all reason and logic, I had to take a step back from yoga. I was treating it as a weight loss crutch, and I would leave practice more stressed-out than I entered it after seeing my stomach and thighs from every angle imaginable. For several months, I didn’t touch the mat. I missed the sound of yoga breathing in my lungs, I missed the zone I used to fall into while doing sun salutations. But I wasn’t sure if I could handle it.

Last weekend, I hit the mat again. And it was glorious.

My roommate and I visited a tiny, out-of-the-way yoga studio on the far side of town. Both of us stressed, tense, and stiff (hello, midterms, you lovely beasts, you), we decided a nice, easy, soothing practice would only be beneficial. And you know what? It was the best feeling ever. We spent most of the practice seated, practicing spinal twists and stretching, releasing tension in our muscles. Not a high-intensity vinyasa flow in sight. I didn’t come out of the practice sore and sweating.

My old self would have felt cheated and disappointed. My current self felt energized and relaxed. Stomach resting on my thigh and all.

Yoga does not have to be about obtaining the perfect body. It can be about getting in touch with the body you have now, and treating it well so that it can treat you well in the future. It can be about taking a step back from the difficulties of everyday life and remembering, if only for an hour, to breathe. Yoga is for everybody, not just the lithe models in LuluLemon ads. Even with our complicated relationship in mind, yoga can be for me again.

So body hate, you can kiss my asana.

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The Voice in the Mirror: Confronting Negative Self-Talk

Image via operationbeautiful.com

Image via operationbeautiful.com

I received a comment on one of my posts a few days ago that I can’t stop thinking about, and it made me want to address a topic that I’ve danced around a few times but have never gone into concretely.

What do you do when, even though you know that you are at a healthy weight, you can’t stop the voices from telling you otherwise? How do you take control of your own mind again?

I wish there were an easy answer to this.

The most insidious element of any eating disorder is that it takes place in your own head. One of the biggest misconceptions about EDs is that they’re about food: they’re not. They manifest themselves in our relationships with food, but they’re not caused by the piece of pizza sitting on the plate in front of you. They originate in our heads, and once they take root they’re incredibly difficult to get rid of. How many of you have heard that whispering voice in your head, when you least expect it?

You look horrible today. Take off those jeans, they make you look like a whale.

You can never be as skinny as she is, because you’re fat and you can’t stop eating.

Don’t you dare eat that. You don’t deserve it.

You’re a failure. Everything you try is a failure. Just stay in the house and don’t talk to anyone, they don’t like you anyway.

The most infuriating part about these voices? It’s almost like we’re all expected to have them. According to a semi-recent study by Glamour magazine (let’s not talk about how Glamour may or may not be perpetuating the problem and focus on the results…), a terrifying 97% of women have at least one negative thought about their body every day, with the average number of body-negative thoughts coming in at 13. That’s pretty much one negative thought for every waking hour. Oh, it’s 3:00. Time to hate my body again.

What are these negative thoughts doing for us? Only making it more difficult to live our lives to our full potential. If you’ve ever tried to drive with a nervous passenger, you know that constant judgment and critique makes you perform worse than you ordinarily would. And if you get stressed and inefficient in this basic situation, think about how much worse it becomes when you never get a break.

Ever.

Like I said, I wish there were an easy answer to reclaiming your inner thought-space. But even a year into active recovery, there are still more moments than I’d like to admit when the voices pop up again. I’m not that far off the average, let’s put it that way.

There is a difference, though, between hearing and listening.

Here are three tips for taking back control of your mental soundtrack:

1. Externalize the Demons

Remember when you were five or six years old, and your older brother would take your hand and smack it against your chest while taunting, “Why are you hitting yourself? Why are you hitting yourself?” (I hope I’m not the only one with this childhood trauma…)

Did you believe for a second that you were actually the one causing yourself pain? Of course not. It was the external force of the antagonist hurting you, not you. Negative self-talk is the same way.

You are not the voices in your head.

Can you think of moments when you distinctly heard your own voice? Maybe it was a reaction to a book or a TV show that you love. Maybe it was how you felt in a conversation with a loved one. Maybe it’s the gentle drift of consciousness you slip into while laying in the sun doing absolutely nothing. Get to know this voice. Recognize it when you hear it. And then recognize when you don’t.

Some people find it helpful to name their negative voices to see them as detached from themselves. Jenni Schaefer uses this strategy in her book Life Without Ed, to great success. It’s not you that’s insulting you, it’s the voice of your eating disorder, which Schaefer called “Ed” for the obvious reason. For most people, it’s easier to reject being insulted by someone else than to challenge your own cognitions.

Personally, I never found naming the voice helpful, though it does work for many. However, I do have an image of a person in my mind to whom I associate my negative thought-track. I know exactly what my eating disorder would look like, if it were a person. This might sound weird, and heaven forbid I ever meet someone who looks like this, but it’s helpful in creating distance between self-care and self-destruction.

You are not your eating disorder. Step one is learning to tell the difference.

2. Pay Attention

Remember when I said earlier that eating disorders are not about food, but food is a manifestation of a different psychological problem? Negative self-thought, likewise, is not caused by there being something actually wrong with your body. It’s a manifestation of emotions that takes itself out on your body. And that’s not fair.

Notice what you’re doing when your negative voices come into play. What else is going on in your life? Are you taking on a lot of new projects at work? Is there an illness or another stressful event going on with your friends or family? Are you nervous about work, family, responsibility, being judged by others? Are you sleeping enough? Are you physically feeling ill?

I used to reject this advice out of hand, because I thought it made me sound hysterical and irrational. Obviously it’s about my body, I would tell myself, I’m not making this up! I feel fat and out of control and horrible because I am fat and out of control and horrible.

But with a little distance and mindfulness, I’m starting to notice patterns. When is my negative self-talk the worst? During big transitional moments. Travel. Beginning of the university semester. Moving. Family illness. New responsibilities. Any time I think I’m not going to be able to measure up. And so I take that stress out in the easiest way I know how: body hatred.

That’s not fair. And it’s impossible to deal with an issue if you’re avoiding it.

Not that the solution is easy in any case, but it helps to be working on the right problem.

3. Learn to Say No

This can mean many things in recovery. Learning to say no to ED behaviors. Learning to say no to others who want to take advantage of you, and to take control of your own choices. But in this case, we need to learn to say no to the voices in our head.

Sometimes out loud, if necessary.

Often, when we get caught up in mental negativity, it’s almost impossible to find the off switch. The spiral of thoughts goes on and on, getting darker and darker, until soon you feel so terrible about yourself that you don’t even want to get out of bed. One thought builds on another, until they’ve formed an unbreakable chain of horrible things.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Negative thoughts are powerful, but they can be stopped.

Just say “no.”

No, I am not going to listen to you today.

No, you’re wrong, there is nothing wrong with me.

No, I do deserve to eat, because you have to eat to be alive.

No, I am beautiful.

It’s not always appropriate to say these things out loud (it might look weird at a dinner party, for instance), but it’s helpful to hear your own voice if at all possible. Your voice is the real one that you can hear with your ears. It exists. The voices in your head? Not real. Why would you listen to something that doesn’t really exist?

If you can’t vocally throw a wrench in the works of negative self-talk, try movement. When I’m eating out (still difficult sometimes) and get stuck in self-doubt, I like to shake my head quickly, just to myself. It can look like it’s part of a conversation, or just a little shiver, but I know what it means. It means no, I’m not going to listen to what I’m hearing. I don’t need to believe it. No. You’re wrong.

You are a human being with your own beliefs, opinions, and knowledge about the world. You are allowed to disagree with people who are saying things you know to be wrong. And that includes yourself.

Progress is slow, and it’s difficult, and often it’s two steps forward and one step back.

But hopefully someday, the only voices any of us will be hearing will be our own.

Recovery: A Process, Not A Destination

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Feminine stereotypes? Forget it. I cut my hair short three years ago and I’ve never looked back. I get more angry at the team playing against my college football boys than most of my male friends. And, as I’ve written about before, I hate shopping.

A lot.

That’s not strictly true, of course: I enjoy shopping for shoes and tee-shirts. Things you don’t need to try on. Things that always look good and come in a variety of colors and patterns. That’s fun.

But every time I decide I need a new pair of pants, everything gets unnecessarily complicated. And I remember that recovery is a process, not a destination.

Obviously, there was a small event that sparked the need to write a post about this, and that small event happens to be back-to-school shopping. I’ll be starting my last year of college in about two weeks, and it seemed like a good idea to take advantage of one of the last times my parents will be willing to take me to the mall and get me a few new things to wear. After all, my Ramen-noodles-and-Goodwill budget days are just on the horizon.

As far as I’ve come in recovery, there are still some things that are incredibly difficult for me. Going up a size or two in clothes is one of those.

Now, I can rationalize my way through my discomfort until the cows come home. I can say that sizes across stores are not consistent, that size isn’t important and it’s how much healthier I am now that matters. I can remember how much I liked that pair of jeans I tried on twenty minutes ago, and how comfortable I was in them. And yet, when I hit that moment that the jeans in the size I thought I was no longer go over my thighs, I still get that sinking feeling in my stomach.

Why is this my particular issue? I don’t know, but every time I have to go to the mall, I notice that my thoughts become more negative, and my behaviors inch closer and closer to what could be considered a relapse. I want to be able to fit into the clothes I used to wear, though I know that there’s nothing wrong with my body the way it is now.

There are plenty of things to be learned from this pattern, but I’m going to focus on two of them here that might be useful to people other than myself. Meaning I’ll let slide the fact that I should probably stop shopping at Forever 21 for the sake of my sanity.

First, the fashion industry is not designed to bolster positive self-esteem.

This is as depressing as it is readily apparent. The media has recently bedeviled stores like Abercrombie & Fitch and, more recently, LuluLemon, that deliberately exclude what they call “plus-size” women and what logic and rational thinking call “the average-sized American woman.” Runway models are being recruited at eating disorder clinics. Fashion magazine editors are airbrushing out hipbones and ribcages on their models, leaving us with impossibly thin women with the consequences of extreme thinness erased with Photoshop. Sizes across stores are not consistent, and so it’s almost a given that you will go up three sizes just by crossing to the other side of the mall.

All this is to say that it’s not surprising that shopping might make somebody feel bad about themselves.

It doesn’t justify the practice, nor does it mean that looking for jeans is invariably a death sentence to your self-esteem. For me, it sometimes helps to realize that the problems I’m having are not because I’m crazy, but because there’s something endemic, something inherently twisted about the system. I’m not giving myself a free pass to mope, but I don’t need to blame myself for it.

Second, and I’ve said this before, recovery is a process, not an end point.

Sorry for the cheesy Tumblr inspirational pictures. Sometimes they're what you're in the mood for.

Sorry for the cheesy Tumblr inspirational pictures. Sometimes they’re what you’re in the mood for.

It’s more frustrating than usual that shopping can still get under my skin like this, because I really thought that I was doing well in recovery. I am able to go several days without worrying about my weight or beating myself up, and while my weight is still not quite as stable as I might like, it’s certainly better than it used to be. But that doesn’t mean that everything is perfect.

It’s been a year since I actively began recovering from anorexia. I’ve marked September 1st on my calendar as my one-year anniversary, and I intend on celebrating in some random and exciting way. I’ve made a lot of progress. And while I do believe that full and total recovery from any eating disorder is 110% possible, it’s not the kind of thing that can be done by snapping your fingers and wishing it away.

Recovery takes work. It takes slip-ups. It takes realizing what pushes you over the edge and figuring out ways to face it head-on.

My head-space is still healing from yesterday, but I know that I need to find a way to look at shopping in a new light. I need to find a way to sit with the discomfort I have with my new body, and hopefully in time embrace the way I look and feel.

I still feel like I’m living through a real-life version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers at the moment. My mind has been moved into a body that I don’t know how to manipulate. It’s like puberty all over again, and heaven knows puberty was awkward enough the first time around.

Recovery isn’t hopeless, and mental doubt and difficulty is not a prison sentence.

It just means that the road is always more winding and complicated than we want it to be.

But every road has to end somewhere.