dieting

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!

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6 Deadly Sins of Body Policing and Negativity

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Sometimes, society is exhausting.

The constant pressure placed on our bodies day in and day out can make you never want to leave your bed, where at least your pillow understands that your body is nobody’s business but your own.

But much as I’d like to, I can’t stay in bed for my entire life and listen to body negativity pitter-patter against the roof like a particularly noxious rainstorm. So forgive this somewhat-ranty list of the top six things that irritate me about the way body politics appear in the world and the media today.

If I miss something that really grinds your gears, let me know in the comments! This list could go on forever, but I only have so much emotional energy to expend at one time.

1. The phrase “plus size.”

Plus what? Plus society’s preconceived notion of what size is acceptable for a woman? Here’s my general thought on the matter: “plus” means positive, as in “not a negative number.” We are all plus-sizes if we take up any space at all in the world. So please stop dividing clothing into “acceptable” and “plus-acceptable.” If you have to make clothing sized by numbers, go ahead and do that. Just keep your value judgments out of it.

2. Diet supplement and weight-loss ads everywhere.

facebookadspic1I’ve made a game of it every time an ad telling me I can LOSE SEVEN INCHES IN TWO WEEKS WITH THIS ONE EASY PILL, NO DIET OR EXERCISE REQUIRED!! (For some reason or other, they do seem to enjoy caps lock…) I like to block them, and then when Facebook politely asks me why, explain that they are “against my beliefs.” Which they are. I’d just like to see the article my friend posted on my wall about the French kids who took a llama on the tram. I don’t want to be bombarded with the multi-billion-dollar diet industry. Facebook doesn’t know my body. And quite frankly, it’s none of its business.

(For those who are interested, the llama on the tram is real. Click here.)

3. Tabloids like these:

mary-kate-olsen-119waity1originalFirst off, tabloid reporters have zero way of knowing whether or not one of these celebrities is or is not struggling with an eating disorder. That’s not something that you can tell by picking them out on the street. Eating disorders are mental illnesses (I’ve discussed this before…), not diet plans. And making it something you have to continuously deny only adds to the shame. The last thing we need is celebrities having to repeatedly assert “I’M NOT ANOREXIC!”, as this only heightens the stigma on an already dangerous disease.

And let’s not even talk about those little arrows on the left image, pointing out Mary-Kate’s “stick thin legs!” Because that’s so helpful, Star.

4. Tabloids like these:

originalenq012207vh41 xkim-kardashian-in-touch-cover.jpg.pagespeed.ic.gEmlI1yY_5No. No no no no no no. Other people’s bodies are literally none of your business. Cellulite is not like Sugar Ray Leonard, and you cannot “lose a fight with it.” Cher “packs on 26 pounds,” and that’s entirely her business. Please stop making other people’s body size news.

You want to show me “eight pages of shocking new photos”? How about some pictures of the cleanup efforts around Hurricane Sandy, or the continuing conflict in Syria. Not Britney Spears’ thighs. The only person to whom Britney Spears’ thighs are important is Britney Spears. And I doubt she’s reading this magazine to find out what they look like.

5. Fat-Shaming Week

I didn’t make this up. This is actually a thing. October 7-11 was apparently hailed by some self-absorbed douche canoes on Twitter as Fat Shaming Week, otherwise known as five days of the year when people with nothing better to do provide unsolicited, ineffective, rude, and cruel advice to anonymous strangers whose weight they determined was unsatisfactory. Here is part of their actual mission statement:

Mocking someone for lazy and slothful behavior is one of the best ways to motivate them to change and appear more pleasing before our presence… Hurting people’s feelings is the quickest way to get them to change… We have decided as a group that fat shaming is essential in creating a society of thin, beautiful women who are ashamed for being ugly. Let the fat shaming begin!

I’m actually so angry about this that I want to throw my computer across the room and let out a war cry. I won’t do that, because 1. my laptop is very expensive, and I’m unemployed, and 2. I’m in a public library and that would be frowned upon. But seriously? This is the world I live in?

I don’t think I actually need to say what’s wrong with this, but let’s do it briefly anyway.

First: THEY ARE WRONG. Fat-shaming isn’t even effective. Studies have shown this. (Yes, there were studies on this. I’m linking only a few sources that confirm it. Tiger Beatdown puts it best, I think: “Guess What? Shaming People for Being Fat Doesn’t Magically Make them Thin!)

Second: Some people still seem to be laboring under the delusion that women are here to “appear more pleasing before men’s presence.” Excuse me while I laugh so hard that I actually vomit up a lung.

Third: “Lazy and slothful behavior” are not direct causes for someone’s body type. Fat does not equal unhealthy. Thin does not equal healthy. Neither of these equal beautiful. Besides failing basic human decency, it appears that someone also failed science.

Moving on, before I actually get so angry that I break something expensive…

6. Photoshop.

If you haven’t seen the 37-second video that explains why Photoshop gives us an unrealistic view of what the actual human body is supposed to look like, I recommend you click on this link and check it out. You can spare 37 seconds to see in glittering detail how fashion magazines and advertisements are airbrushing us out of existence.

If you want to sell us clothing and accessories, please show us how it would really look on an actual human’s body, not on some computer-generated cyborg that you whipped up in your laboratory. I don’t want to see what pants will look like on someone made of toothpicks and papier-mâché, I want to know what they would look like on me. Because unless I’m very much mistaken, the average consumer is, in fact, human.

The only plus side of Photoshop in the fashion and advertising industry? The fails. Photoshop fails make my day.

imagesimages-1Unknown

I could go on for days and days and days, but as I mentioned earlier, that would only result in me breaking things. Is it possible to live in a society where women’s bodies aren’t placed on the dissecting table and picked apart by strangers and CEO’s? Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. But I live in eternal hope that someday I will turn on my computer, switch on the TV, and flip through a magazine without once feeling the need to flip a table.

Until then…

Excuses, Excuses – Maria Kang and Body Positivity

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What’s my excuse? Didn’t know I needed one.

Over the last few days, the above image has circulated around the Internet with the fervor usually reserved for cats on robot vacuums or whatever Miley Cyrus is up to now. Featuring a thin and toned mother of three posing in a sports bra and matching panties around her three children, aged 8 months to 3 years, this picture of Maria Kang has apparently succeeded in pitting half the virtual world against the other.

On one side, we have the supporters: “Good for you! This inspires me to lose the baby weight and get in the best shape of my life! Don’t let the haters get you down!”

And then the other side. Mine.

Now, let’s be clear. I support Ms. Kang’s right to take care of herself in whatever way she sees fit. (No pun intended.) If her lifestyle involves regular workout sessions, “clean” eating, and rigorous self-discipline, and that makes her healthy and feel good both physically and mentally, then more power to her. No body positive movement that I support will shame people for any reason, whether they are slim, full-figured, athletic, prefer a marathon of Breaking Bad to a workout, or any combination of the four.

Moreover, I do not and will not support body shaming of this woman. My body positive movement will not stand for the shame and criticism of this woman’s body shape for any reason. And neither should yours. No calling her out for being “a bad mother” or “self-obsessed” or any of those things. Positivity is part of the movement for a reason.

That said, though.

The message conveyed through this picture is not one of supporting a healthy lifestyle through a balanced diet and regular exercise. The message here is work hard enough, and you can look like this.

If Ms. Kang provided a picture of her three kids sitting down with her to a balanced meal full of healthy whole grains and vegetables, or the three of them partaking in mommy-and-me aerobics or whatever her workout routine actually is, I would be completely behind this message. You absolutely can take good care of your body regardless of your family size (though for some it might be more difficult because of economic circumstances, work schedules, physical disability, etc). Advocating health for everybody is totally in line with body positivity. Hey, if we want to love our bodies, shouldn’t we take care of them?

Kang’s apology, though, doesn’t address the real problem that I think should be mentioned about this image: it equates health with body size and sexual attractiveness, which is simply not true.

You can be thin and fit, just as you can be fat and fit. The Health at Every Size (HAES) movement has been trying to spread this message, but apparently it has not caught on as well as it should. Looking good in a sports bra (and hey, who’s to say that her way of looking good is the only way?) does not mean that you can run a marathon, or that you are getting an adequate amount of nutrients, or that all your muscles and organs are in tip-top working order. They can do that just as well at a higher weight, or a different body shape.

If Maria Kang is healthy and happy in her current body, more power to her. But I don’t need an “excuse” not to look like she does. Why? Because even though I look different, even though my abs will never do whatever thing hers are doing and my thighs have some more give to them, I am perfectly capable of being healthy in this body. Just as you’re perfectly capable of being healthy in yours.

Now, I’m all for free speech and first amendment rights. I’m not saying that Kang should take the image down, or that she should stop anything she’s doing. I’m just asking that we think critically about the social movements that lead us to believe that health equals thinness and “conventional attractiveness.” (The only way I can express my disdain for this concept is through quotation marks, because I don’t know how to punctuate an eye-roll.) Consider that athletes, and all women for that matter, come in different shapes and sizes, and one shouldn’t be more valued than another.

What’s my excuse for not looking like Maria Kang?

I look like me.

Get Your Judgment Out Of My French Fries

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Note: this post appeared this morning on the fabulous blog The Outlier Collective, which invites two bloggers weekly to engage in often controversial topics from various perspectives. You should definitely check that blog out (the editors are lovely, lovely people), and the post can be found in its original context here. And thanks again to MadameWeebles for inviting me to write a guest post – you should all definitely check out her site as well!

“Where are you putting all that?”

My  hand stopped halfway to my mouth, the thick, crispy, delicious french fry left hovering halfway between me and my plate. My friends around the pub table continued eating, and I sighed. Here we go again.

That’s the trouble trying to have a social life while in recovery from an eating disorder: sometimes you forget just how much of our culture revolves around food. We bond by going out to eat, out for drinks, out for ice cream, out for popcorn at the movies. What I’m noticing, though, is that as women, we’re encouraged to bond around not eating.

I’m not talking about pro-ana groups specifically, though I’ll argue with my last breath that they’re a more dramatic manifestation of the same impulse. All I’m saying is that it’s easy to bond over shared problems, and the common denominator of personal malaise for the modern woman tends to be the size of our bodies.

Diet culture is not only a cash cow for mail-order food programs, it’s a great way to build community. Think about all those throwaway phrases you and I have used while out with friends.

“God, sometimes I just can’t stop eating.”

“I know I shouldn’t have the pasta, so I’ll have to hit the gym extra hard tomorrow.”

“Ugh, I can feel my food baby after that sandwich.”

Maybe you have that friend who looks at you when you decide to order that white chocolate cheesecake and jokingly sneers, “All right then, fatty.”

Speaking in huge, broad generalizations, we are bonding over an association between food and feelings of shame and self-loathing.

As if there were something morally heinous about ordering the giant beef burrito you’ve been daydreaming about for days.

As if an ice cream sundae had the power to transform you into the Antichrist.

As if the food you put into our body says anything about the quality of the character you carry around in it.

Eating can be a source of pleasure and enjoyment, but in the end it’s the shame as shoveling coal into a steam ship. Everybody does it. It keeps us moving, and when we stop doing it, or don’t do it often enough, we sink. Simple as that. And if sometimes you can make your coal-shoveling a little more exciting, and do it around a table with friends and ambient lighting, why on Earth wouldn’t you?

The reasons for why we wouldn’t are endless. Pop culture and the media telling us we need to be waif-thin and order salads with dressing on the side, otherwise we’re worthless and unlovable. Doctors and the American Medical Association telling us that obesity is a disease, and it’s contagious by simply looking at a plate of churros (I exaggerate, but only slightly). Well-meaning family members and friends looking us up and down, commenting on our bodies like we’re public property, and if we don’t look a certain way we’re on the fast track to death or old-maid-hood or some other horrific fate like being left on the side of the ballroom while Mr. Darcy dances with someone else.

Or simply the voices in our head, telling us that if we eat what we really want, if we don’t behave like the perfect mental construct of what a woman should be, we are in some way less than, imperfect, failures.

Those voices are more difficult to ignore than any of us like to admit. Time was, the question around my nearly-eaten french fry would never have been asked, because you couldn’t have gotten me near a plate of fried, salty potatoes with a ten-foot pole.

Which is a shame, because this was one of the most delicious meals I have ever eaten. It was a dinner of salty delicious chips, a pint of Guinness, and a bowl of soup that may or may not have included octopus tentacles. And you know why? Because while I still have moments where I hem and haw and panic over the moral consequences of a plate of pasta, in the end, I’m starting to relearn that food is food. And if I only end up in this pub once in my whole life, am I going to be proud of myself for bypassing the chips and the octopus for a chicken Caesar salad, dressing on the side, while staring longingly at my friends’ meals?

I doubt it.

“Where am I putting all this?” I repeated, looking down at the fry. “In my mouth. And it’s delicious.”

Serenity, Peace, and Cake: A Recovery Story

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Some of you who have been with me for a little while are pretty well acquainted with my recovery process. You’ve listened to me rant about the uselessness of doctors, therapists, and nutritionists, you’ve listened to me bang my head against the wall as the number on my scale continued to defy logic and science, you’ve listened to me work my way through triggering situations and try to wrap my head around the recovery process. Sometimes, when you put all these moments together, it seems like recovery is more trouble than it’s worth. But I can tell you this:

RECOVERY IS WORTH EVERY MOMENT YOU SPEND ON IT.

There’s so much negativity wrapped up in anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, orthorexia, body dysmorphia, EDNOS, and all other disordered eating behaviors in between, that it gets difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. When I began trolling the Internet for resources for people in my stage of recovery (not that kind of trolling. I’m not one of those people), everything I could find was, mood-wise, on par with a re-reading of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. Thought-provoking and important, but not helpful when you’re looking for somebody to lift you up.

Well, I’m here to tell you today, I feel myself lifted. It does get better.

I am in recovery. And I’m farther along than you might think.

The event sparking this dramatic pronouncement is a pretty banal one, one that pretty much everybody experiences a few times a year barring those with severe gluten allergies, religious restrictions, or relatives who don’t like to bake: the birthday cake. June 6 was my dad’s 53rd birthday. And I baked him a cake.

That’s not particularly noteworthy in and of itself, if I’m being honest. Since last summer, I consider myself an improvisational baker. I enjoy pulling out the bags of flour and sugar and the adorable little jars of vanilla extract and whipping up something strange and delicious for my family while I’m at home for the summer. I quickly volunteer to provide things for the bake sales my student organizations at college put on every few weeks. Let’s be totally honest about my previous baking experience, however: I bake things. I don’t eat them.

Apparently this practice is not as uncommon or strange in those with eating disorders as I’d thought. I wish I’d read this article about linkage between cooking and eating disorders earlier: it pretty much describes my descent into foodie-ism to a T. I felt like a crazy person setting myself up for terrible failure: my “trigger foods” almost all involve sugar and/or chocolate, and here I am filling the house with things I’m not allowed to eat? But my family would tell me how delicious things were, and I would feel good that I could pull off something as grown-up and professional as cooking. It was great that, even if I couldn’t indulge in these heavy, non-safe foods, at least I could vicariously enjoy them by seeing my family praise them.

Plus, I was notorious about taking pictures of my concoctions. One of my largest Facebook albums contains nothing but pictures of food, usually centered on a contrastingly colored plate and under ambient lighting. I’m a terrible hipster that way.

When baking something I planned on eating myself, pre-recovery me would go to websites like Cooking Light, Eating Well or Weight Watchers and paw through recipes for that ideal 100-calorie-a-serving air-and-egg-whites dessert that I would pretend was exactly what I was craving. It wasn’t, by the way: I could have eaten a whole pan of peanut butter fudge with a spoon, but I decided that strawberry cheesecake cool whip trifle was really what I wanted.

Fun fact for all those who don’t believe that processed, sugar-heavy foods have any place in a balanced, healthy diet: the longer I went without my peanut butter fudge, the more I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I would waste hours daydreaming about that Reese’s Cup Blizzard from Dairy Queen while eating a sugar-free Jello chocolate pudding. If that’s your idea of a healthy lifestyle, count me out. Everything in moderation, including moderation.

But back to tonight. Because my house is in a bit of an uproar at the moment (my dad’s in crunch time at work, my sister’s been sick for a week and my brother’s open house celebrating his high school graduation is this weekend), I ended up suggesting to my mother that I bake my dad’s birthday cake. And not only was I going to bake a cake, I was going to do it right. I dug into the recipe box and pulled out my grandmother’s recipe for chocolate-frosted banana cake.

In all its fabulous glory.

In all its fabulous glory.

Now, for those of you who aren’t blessed with the recipes of a Jewish grandmother, let me sum them up in two ways. 1) They are delicious. 2) They would stop the heart of each and every employee at Cooking Light. They pan out somewhere between ordinary food (“Hmm, this cake needs some sugar!”) and Paula Deen (“Add ALL THE BUTTER!”). Which is what make them so good. But for years, I would have made this cake for my dad and then quietly eaten my no-sugar-added trade-in dessert in the corner, basking in the praise of family and friends.

But not tonight.

No. Tonight I ate the cake. And I didn’t even feel bad about it.

You know why? Because chocolate-frosted banana cake is DELICIOUS.

Om nom nom nom.

Om nom nom nom.

Not only is it delicious, but it was a lot of work. You ever tried whipping up egg whites to a “soft peaks” consistency while simultaneously sifting flour and baking powder and mashing up five ripe bananas? You need more than two hands is all I’m saying.

Plus, it was my dad’s birthday, and I’ve been so incredibly lucky to have a family that means more to me than just about anything. They’re my serenity. They’re my stability. They’re the only people I can make Lord of the Rings jokes to at unexpected times and expect them to follow along. If I can’t enjoy celebrating with them, who can I celebrate with?

The cake politely chilled in my stomach as sustenance and a fond memory throughout the evening, and while during recovery I’ve eaten my fair share of decadent desserts, this was one of the few that I’ve had that I neither dreaded nor was consumed with guilt over. It was a piece of cake. Life goes on.

And life has gone on. Many of you have read my Freshly Pressed post where I discussed the problems with recovery weight gain that seems to go on in blatant disregard for the laws of physics. You want to know something fantastic? For the past month going on five weeks now, my weight has been in a stable, healthy, relatively unmoving zone.

Not to say I don’t still get fluctuations up and down, but they’re small, manageable, and don’t freak me out anymore. The scary part doesn’t last forever.

Recovery is a roller coaster ride without lap bars or seat belts. It flips you upside down and you’re hanging on by your fingernails and a prayer, wondering how long the ground is going to insist on being the sky. You think you can’t go on any longer. And then, all of a sudden, everrything flips the right way around again, and you’re just flying.

And there’s a delicious slice of chocolate-frosted banana cake waiting for you when you get off the ride.

What Will You Gain? Not What Special K Thinks

“What will you gain when you lose?”

The breakfast-cereal-turned-diet-plan-and-weight-loss-behemoth Special K took this cute, clever phrase as their motto sometime in the past few years, and ever since I get an uncomfortable feeling whenever I pick up a box of Special K Oats and Honey at the grocery store.

Full disclosure: I do still buy it, though. It’s one of the few foods that have more or less successfully bridged the gap between my disordered eating and my much more normalized eating of the moment. It fills two requirements that were important for my food choices both then and now: it’s low in calories, and it tastes delicious.

I might be the only person alive who thinks Special K actually tastes really good, since everyone I’ve asked tells me it tastes like cardboard. To each his own.

Still, the idea of Special K as a lifestyle, a diet plan, and a means of measuring one’s worth isn’t something I’m embracing along with the taste of Vanilla Almond or Cinnamon Pecan. The commercials advertising cereal as the be-all, end-all way to finally lose weight, get in shape, and have a meaningful life are so against everything I believe as a body image activist that I want to bang my head against a brick wall every time I see one.

Special-K-Challenge2Women are seen stepping on scales that, instead of a number, proudly display motivational adjectives like “pride,” “satisfaction,” “confidence,” “joy,” “excitement,” or “sass.” If we replace our ordinary meals with Special K cereal, meal bars, protein shakes, or tasteless chips that are allegedly supposed to taste like popcorn (I like the cereal, but the popcorn chips were beyond disappointing), suddenly we’re supposed to evolve into the beautiful butterflies we’ve always been meant to become.

Let me put this advertising schema into a complete sentence, to better demonstrate my problem with it. “If I could just restrict my food intake to these specific, safe products, I would lose those extra couple of pounds, and then I could finally be happy with myself. Just a few pounds more. And even if it takes a little longer for the weight to come off eating like this, at least if I’m only eating these safe foods I will at the very least maintain my weight.”

If I were to write down the mantra for my six-round fight with anorexia, it would look exactly like that.

What will you gain when you lose? Well, looking at it this way, a highly skewed sense of what makes you valuable as a person, a super-honed sense of what you weigh at any given moment of any given day, and an unjustified taste for cardboard pretending to be popcorn.

Not, most likely, any of these things:

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Weight loss can be healthy for some people who are trying to make positive lifestyle changes, but there is a big difference between somebody making changes for their health and those making changes so they’ll look at themselves in pictures, wear a bikini on the beach, or get their husband to look at them again.

And trust me, as a person in stable recovery from an eating disorder, you can actually lose way more when you lose, if you go about it in the way that Special K seems to support.

Saying that you can gain sass and confidence and joy by losing weight implies not-so-subtly that you weren’t sassy or confident or joyful before. Check out the subliminal messaging in this Special K ad from 2008. Sure, the wordplay on “loser” as a weight loss “success story” is obvious, but I don’t think it’s as tongue-in-cheek as they’re trying to pretend.

Also, do you want to know the secret to any success that anyone has ever had taking the Special K challenge?

Hint: it has nothing to do with the brand. If you eat only one bowl of cereal or one meal-replacement shake for two meals every day, no matter what cereal it is, you’re cutting your calories like crazy. Also, you’re missing out on valuable nutrients like Vitamin C, protein, Vitamin A, and iron. Just saying. I don’t recommend it. It will also make you miserable.

Weight loss is almost always equated with positive consequences in advertising and the media. Lose the weight, live a happier, healthier, more attractive life. Weight gain, on the other hand, is painted negatively. Demonized, even. You gain weight, and you’ve failed. You have no self-control. You have no willpower. You’re out of shape, you’re the “before” picture that needs to be changed, you’ve done something wrong.

And for someone in recovery, getting beat over the head with the weight-loss-equals-self-worth equation can be exhausting and destructive.

So, maybe Special K is asking the wrong question. For those of us considering, working for, or struggling with recovery, there’s a much better one to be asking.

What will you gain when you gain?

For example, what have I gained?

  • I’m no longer cold in the summer, unless the weather actually warrants it.
  • When I want to go for a run, I don’t have to worry about people giving me sidelong looks at the gym or friends giving me that “is that really a good idea?” head-tilt.
  • My doctor’s appointments are much shorter now, which is lovely, because they will never be fun.
  • My sleep schedule has started to regulate itself. I can stay awake past 10pm again, and I’m not always waking up at 4 in the morning.
  • Sleep is much easier when you’re not lying awake wondering if you should get up and do sit-ups.
  • It’s also much easier when you’re not actually doing sit-ups.
  • I gained my period back. It’s really a magical, crazy process if you can think about it objectively. (Even though it sucks most of the time.) I could be making a baby in there!
  • I actually have some kind of curves now. Not strapless-dress curves, since I’m not coming from a well-endowed family, but I get mistaken for a boy much less often.
  • Because my metabolism is less skittish now, if I overdo it on dessert one day and then eat healthy the next, my body more or less knows how to take it in stride.
  • I don’t get freezing cold after I finish eating a meal. It’s been at least nine months since I last had to take a shower to warm up after dinner.
  • People make less rude and/or thoughtless comments about my weight. I realize that this represents my privilege as someone who was able to regain weight to a point society deems “socially acceptable,” and I also recognize that this is not my problem. Still, it’s a privilege that I appreciate because up until recently I didn’t have it, and it makes my day-to-day life a lot easier.
  • I can eat dessert every day because I have learned the value of moderation, satisfying desires, and giving your body what it actually wants. (Yes, that’s for real. I, in recovery from an eating disorder, eat dessert every single day. And it is delicious.)
  • I’m more emotionally stable now. Small problems don’t send me off the deep end any more. I can think about difficult situations rationally and objectively. Sometimes I can even blog about them.

What have I gained when I gained?

Energy.

Motivation.

Drive.

Self-acceptance.

Peace.

Strength.

Life.

What will you gain when you decide that Special K cannot better your life, and neither can your weight?