food

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.

—————–

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.
—-
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

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.”

Implementing Self-Care Without Guilt

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Well, I’m sure you’ve all been wondering how I’ve been passing my time for the past week and a half or so. And if you haven’t, that’s fine; all I’m asking is for you to humor me. The answer, in any case: not so badly as you might have thought.

After a whirlwind trip through the city of London, I’ve settled down in my little Northern Irish town for the next month, to meet with professional poets and playwrights and pound out a novella of my own in time to present to an international conference of writers at the end of July. Talk about pressure. My jet-lagged brain isn’t even quite awake enough to process all of this.

Traveling abroad has been a wonderful experience. Should I just list for you the famous graves I’ve seen since last Friday? Henry V. Richard II. Elizabeth I. Charles Dickens. Mary, Queen of Scots. Sir Isaac Newton. Edward the Confessor. Brian Borù, allegedly. Tons of ancient Irish chieftains from the 1st century BC. HENRY THE FIFTH.

So yeah. This has been happening to me IN REAL LIFE.

So yeah. This has been happening to me IN REAL LIFE.

But traveling is by no means an easy deal. I’ve learned a lot about myself over the past few years, and that means that I’m starting to learn what exactly I need to do to take care of myself when the going gets stressful. And living in one room with four other girls for the next month, and having a deadline to write a whole novella in essentially three and a half weeks, and being social and friendly and cheerful with a group of fifteen other people that I’d never even heard of before June 28…

Well, the going’s gotten a bit stressful.

I’ve written about coping mechanisms before, but this is one of those days that I’m really beginning to put them in practice. Now that we’re staying at a hostel, I’m able to cook dinners for myself, which is incredibly refreshing. No more shelling out fifteen pounds for deep-fried fish and chips (which, I’ll admit, were glorious and salty and delicious) when I can stay in and make a bowl of whatever sounds good to me at the time.

I also know how much sometimes I need to pull away and take a few quiet hours when constantly making small-talk and being “on point” starts to get to me; in fact, I’m doing that now. Sometimes taking a mental health break and lying down on your bed with your laptop blogging about something extremely personal can be just the refreshing moment that you need.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the guilt of living does not entirely go away. I made a point, as I said earlier, of only packing my “travel-sized eating disorder,” and so far it’s only been big enough to pack into a carry-on. There was a brief hiccup when I had a late-night gelato run and then found myself in the ancient “voices in my head” runaround. There have been times when I’m absolutely convinced that my stomach has grown to twice its normal size, and then there have been days when I’m sure my brand-new pants fit looser than they used to.

But the point is, I have these moments, and then they’re gone.

Case in point: we had our welcome dinner for the writers’ program this evening at a pub downtown. The menu included an alcoholic beverage of our choosing, an entree, and a dessert. Now, dessert is ordinarily simultaneously the meaning and the bane of my existence. I could live solely off of frozen yogurt, chocolate bars, and scones, if it weren’t for the crippling guilt that yanks the rug out from under me whenever I indulge.

OHMYGOD SCONES

OHMYGOD SCONES

But I had dessert this evening. And an entree that involved fries (well, chips, if we’re being technical). And a small Guinness, because this is Northern Ireland, after all.

And you know what?

I’m a little uncomfortable about it.

Not everything is perfect. I didn’t expect everything to be perfect.

But I can deal with it. I can reassure myself that I get to cook whatever I want for dinner tomorrow, and that this is a special occasion. People are not frequently buying me cheesecake free of charge and paying for my beer, so I may as well enjoy this while I can.

Plus, I’m living on top of a giant steep hill for the next month. If hiking that multiple times a day isn’t exercise, then I don’t know what is.

I might wish I’d made “safer” choices for dinner this evening, but what would have been the fun in that? I wanted the garlic chips and the cheesecake, and I’ll put up with the feelings of guilt and the slight confused rumbling in my stomach for the evening.

And I might wish that I’d gone out this evening with the other members of my program and been happy and social and put on a false front of excessive cheerfulness. But I know that sometimes I just need to be alone and in bed, and I’ll be much better for it in the morning.

And knowing what I need and having the strength to act on it?

That sounds pretty perfect to me.

A Whole New World: Traveling in Recovery

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I’ve been feeling a little nostalgic lately.

Well, technically I’m not sure if it’s nostalgia or déjà vu, but I don’t really know how to turn “déjà vu” into an adjective, so let’s go with nostalgia.

About this time last year, I was preparing to leave the country for the very first time, on an eight-week study abroad program in France. (Actually, I had left the country before, but since I live in the northern US and my “abroad” experience was Canada, somehow it didn’t feel like it counted.) Amid the packing and calling the bank to remind them not to turn off my debit card, which would in effect leave me penniless and force me to turn into a quasi-Gavroche from Les Misérables, there was a whole different wave of nervousness I was trying to deal with.

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How was I supposed to eat abroad?

For someone worried about their intake, strategically restricting themselves to a handful of “safe” foods, throwing myself into the center of haute cuisine wasn’t stepping outside my comfort zone so much as taking my comfort zone, placing it in the middle of the Champs-Elysées, and letting after-work traffic drive all over it.

Don’t get me wrong, I adored France. I was insufferable after I returned home, starting far too many sentences with “When I was in Europe,” or “The French do this so much better.” This Buzzfeed article? Story of my life. Not proud of it, but at least I’m honest.

But I just wish I hadn’t wasted so much of my energy on being worried about what I was eating.

Study abroad was both an eye-opening and difficult time for me, both on a general level and in terms of my eating disorder. I had amazing experiences (I CLIMBED A MOUNTAIN) and difficult ones; I had more than one Skype call hone that ran more or less like this:

Me: “I can’t do this. I’m eating dessert all the time and I can’t exercise because I’m constantly in class or seeing beautiful French scenery and historical monuments, and I’m going to come back five hundred pounds heavier and this is awful.”
My parents: “…Did you just hear what you said?”
Me: “That I’m eating desserts and going to French classes and historical sites and cities and it’s horrible?
My parents: “Yeah. That.”
Me: “Yes. And I mean it.”

I’m not trying to be glib about it, but the amount of energy I put into worrying about things completely out of my control was exhausting. My eating disorder came with me on my trip abroad, and it sucked some of the joy out of it that I could have had.

Not all. But some.

Haven't tried these yet? Run, don't walk.

Haven’t tried these yet? Run, don’t walk.

I still discovered a taste for French pastries, like the ubiquitous, affordable, and oh-so-delicious macaron. I tried steak tartare, which is… well, which is raw hamburger. (Surprisingly, tastes like cold pasta sauce. Not terrible.) My host mother taught me how to make chocolate mousse by hand, which is both easy and incredible-tasting.

But the time I spent worrying about the weight I might have been gaining could have been spent so much more productively.

And being so careful and nervous about how I was eating while abroad actually only set me farther back.

This was one year ago Sunday. Thursday, a few months shy of one year into recovery, I get a second chance.

Thursday afternoon, I’m heading back to the airport for my second trip abroad, this time to London and Northern Ireland. I’ll be studying creative writing with international professors and students from across the United States, and attending an international writers’ conference the last week of July. If this sounds like something I came up with in a fever dream, well, that’s my feeling too. I’m even going to see Macbeth at the Globe.

Let’s type that one more time: I’M GOING TO SEE MACBETH AT THE GLOBE.

And this time, I’m going to be far more discriminating with my packing.

Umbrella: check. Scarves and long pants: check. Electrical outlet converter and camera: check.

Eating disorder? I think I’ll leave that at home.

I’m not kidding myself that it’ll be perfect this go-around. I still have issues shaking up my daily food routine, though I’ve learned how to better manage my discomfort. I’ve been relying on an exercise routine to make myself feel comfortable, which I doubt will be feasible while strolling the streets of London and visiting the tombs of Chaucer, Spenser (I hate Spenser, but I’ll let that slide), Tennyson, and Dickens at Westminster Abbey. But I trust myself at this point to see the relative value of five pounds verses the grave of my literary hero and historical crush Chaucer.

The image in my head is of those travel-sized tubes of toothpaste that you’re still allowed to bring on the plane, despite the paranoia of the TSA. There’s still a small potential for danger there, but as long as it’s three fluid ounces or less, the damage possible is highly manageable. If I am going to bring the baggage of an eating disorder, I’m only packing the travel-size version. Pretty tough to ruin an entire vacation with a problem that can fit in the palm of your hand.

It’s not going to be as easy as it might be for someone who has never struggled with issues around weight and eating.

But I’m going to have my high tea in foggy London town and eat it too.

*****

A brief side note to this post:

Given that I’ll be traveling through the United Kingdom from Thursday until the very end of July, updates to The Body Pacifist will not be as frequent as they have been previously. I’m leaving the country for a creative writing fellowship, so while my  Microsoft Word will be flexing its muscles pretty regularly, I don’t know how much time I’ll have to spare.

Never fear, however: I hope to update at least a couple of times while I’m away, and when I return at the end of this literary sabbatical I’ll be back with enthusiasm aplenty to continue writing.

Don’t miss me too much.

Or, if you like, do. My self-esteem would enjoy it 🙂

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.