Justin (my insanely talented husband) filmed me and my eating disorder story for his final project in his film production class this semester. For those of you who have followed me for a while, most of what I talk about is probably old news, but in the video I go over my history with eating disorders and my road to recovery.

Check it out below!

Thankful for Thanksgiving

Back when I was seeing an eating disorder specialist (Michael Spigarelli), he would always make me book an appointment the week before Thanksgiving so we could create a battle plan for handling the holiday and the food that goes with it. Ever since I've had this blog, I've tried to do the same thing by posting about a week before Thanksgiving as a way to prepare myself and hopefully prepare others to embrace the holiday rather than dread it.

In the hopes of publishing this post before anyone heads off to their respective Thanksgiving dinners, I've decided that it would probably be best (and quickest) if I made "listicle"this year.

Ready? Here we go:

  1. Dr. Spigarelli used to always tell me that "You could eat a full Thanksgiving dinner--including dessert, everyday for a week, maybe even two weeks, and you wouldn't significantly gain weight." 
  2. It is always better to eat, than not to eat. If you don't feel comfortable eating the entire dinner and all its sides, start with what you feel comfortable with--just make sure you eat something.
  3. If you're going through a disorder right now, brace yourself. Your family probably won't understand the emotions you're feeling--that's normal and that's okay. If you have a family member who is going through a disorder right now, watch them, but don't hover. If they seem like they're feeling down, distract them. Ask them about their day. Don't make comments about the food, dieting, or anything like that. If you notice they're struggling more than normal, pull them aside in a non-public area and sincerely ask them if they're doing okay and if there's anything you can do to make things easier for them. Be available. 
    1. If you don't know if you have someone in your family who is experiencing a disorder, avoid talking about calories, dieting, and other negative comments regarding weight and food. Your words have an impact even if you're just saying something in passing--they can shape how someone else sees themselves and their food. 
  4. Food is not the enemy. We need it to survive and it does our bodies good. Turkey gives your body protein and folic acid. Mashed potatoes give your body vitamin-C. String bean casserole gives your body beta-carotene and vitamin-B. Sweet potatoes gives you vitamin-A. And even pumpkin pie gives you potassium. Food is more than calories and fat. It is life. 
  5. It's okay to struggle--don't give up on yourself. 
  6. Try to forget calorie counting. Spend more time enjoying the holiday atmosphere--it only comes once a year. 
  7. If you over-eat, don't obsess over it. It happened, but it isn't going to define you or your waist, and it shouldn't define your day. 
There is so much more that I could say, but I think these seven points summarize my thoughts on Thanksgiving pretty well. If you're going through a disorder right now, I know what you're going through. Three years ago, as I was starting to come into recovery, I was having a hard time imagining a future where I could just sit at the Thanksgiving dinner table and not have to worry about sneaking away to the bathroom to throw up my food or to be able to just eat a Thanksgiving dinner without thinking about it. It is possible though--here I am today, excited and feeling positive about dinner tonight. If you need someone to lean on today, lean on me. Recovery wasn't easy, but it was worth it. Additionally, recovery isn't easy, but it is possible. 

Thanksgiving is a hard holiday for individuals who are going through disorders and women in general--so remember that you're not alone in your struggles. Stay strong and be brave enough to be kind to yourself today. You can do it! I believe in you. 

Happy Thanksgiving! 

P.S. I totally made my first apple pie from scratch
 last night--it totally looks food blog worthy! I'm so excited
to see if it tastes as good as it looks!


Although I've made a lot of progress on my journey to love my body and who I am post-eating disorders, earlier this year I realized that I still have a long way to go before being completely comfortable with myself in every regard.While I'm usually fine with looking at myself in the mirror and liking what I see, I still cringe whenever I see an unattractive picture of myself (granted, I usually think every picture of me is unattractive unless it's carefully posed and edited--something that I think is more common than not within groups of women). Up until a few months ago, I would even go as far as to untag myself from and hide pictures of myself that I didn't like from my Facebook timeline. Because of this, dating a photographer whose favorite subject to photograph is you, can kind of be problematic.

After our first couple of months dating, Justin started to bring his camera on our dates and to be honest, I hated the pictures he took of me. Even worse, he would publish them on Facebook for everyone to see--whether I liked how I looked or not (he actually didn't know how much I was struggling with this until a few weeks ago when I started conceptualizing this post). Although I didn't ever stop him from posting photos of me, I made sure that only the ones I could tolerate showed up on my social media timeline. I was also quick to pick apart why I didn't like the photos, despite all the compliments and reassurance he would give me (I'm pretty sure it's human nature to be your own worst critic). I think it's usually easier for us to find things we don't like about ourselves than things we do--especially in photos. Maybe it's the concrete nature of having a picture taken of you that incites personal critique. As in, once a photo is taken, it can't be taken back. And even more so, once a photo is posted online, it can't be unseen. I think there's also a fear of once you see an unattractive picture of yourself, you become afraid of that potentially being how people see you in everyday life. It's kind of comparable to hearing your voice on a recording and asking yourself: "Do I really sound like that?"

One of the most frustrating parts about Justin taking pictures of me back then was that whenever I didn't like a picture, he couldn't see why I didn't like it. We used to joke that it was because he was biased, but after months of Justin taking pictures of me and having the time to reflect on my negative thoughts, I realize now that there wasn't anything bad with the pictures themselves. In fact, there has never been anything wrong with pictures of myself that I haven't liked or thought were ugly. What was wrong though, was how poorly I was willing to treat myself just because I didn't look the way I wanted to or thought I should. The more I've thought about this, the more I've realized how common of an experience this is for women collectively. We've all asked someone to re-take our picture because we didn't like the first one. We've all taken what feels like a million selfies just so we can get the perfect angle or lighting. We've all tried to use a filter to take away our blemishes or to distract from features we don't like on ourselves. And, we've all looked at a photo of ourselves and desperately asked: "Do I really look like that?"

Over the past couple of months, I've tried to make a consistent effort to question and counter any the typical negativity I experience when I look at a picture of myself that isn't necessarily attractive. And I'll be honest, it's been way harder than I ever could have anticipated. Not only is doing this an attempt to overcome your thoughts, but also your emotions as well. I think as women, we're taught to focus our efforts regarding our worth and self-esteem upon our appearance. By doing this, we place unrealistic expectations upon ourselves to the extent that (at least in my case) when we see a "bad" picture of ourselves, we immediately feel ashamed and embarrassed—almost as if it's a direct blow to who we are as a person (something which is entirely untrue).

Believe it or not, over time I’ve actually found that the “bad” and unattractive pictures of me have their own beauty to them. They show me as a living, breathing, and feeling being. They feature me in all my imperfect, but authentic glory. By embracing photos of me that I would have initially perceived as unattractive in the past, I’ve gotten to see myself with new eyes while also finding a new sense of freedom. I’m no longer afraid that my carefully crafted image of myself and self-esteem are going to crumble as soon as someone posts a picture of me that I don’t like. When I look at a picture now, I see myself first and my imperfections second--instead of the other way around. There really isn't such a thing as"unattractive" pictures, but there is such a thing as having an unattractive outlook on yourself. Pictures are just pictures. In a sense, they're neutral until we assign subjective meanings to them.

We aren't always going to look selfie-ready and that's okay. Photos are meant for capturing memories, not negativity over how we look. Looking at some of the pictures that Justin took of me is almost a bittersweet experience for this reason. In some of the photos, I was so preoccupied with how I looked that it took away from the actual moment that was being captured. Luckily, I realized all of this before Justin and I took our wedding photos. Had I not done this, I think the same thing would have happened with those photos too. However, because of my actions I'm able to look back at our photos and remember how happy I was rather than how preoccupied I was with how the photos were going to turn out or how I was going to look in the photos.  

Although it still takes conscious effort to remind myself that unattractive pictures are just pictures, at least now I know that there is so much more to who I am than what a camera lens captures me as. A camera can never capture how compassionate you are; how intelligent you are; or how talented you are. It can never capture the lives you’ve touched for the better, the challenges you’ve faced, or how intrinsically important you are. 

Pictures capture us in a moment of time whether we're ready or not,  
And I for one want to make sure that I remember that moment as a good one regardless.


Hi all!

Two weeks ago I married the love of my life and I couldn't be happier! With all the wedding planning and stressing over, I should have time to start posting again in the near future :)

Thanks again for all your patience and support, I can't wait to share some more of my thoughts with you soon!

P.S. Here are some pictures from our big day, I wish you all could have been there!


Hi everyone!

I feel like I owe all of you an explanation as to why I've been so flaky with my posting lately.


I'm engaged!

With all the wedding planning and such going on, I probably won't be able to post frequently again until the end of October.

So, as always, thanks for all of your support over the years and I can't wait to update you on my latest adventure soon!


A couple months ago I went to go see my endocrinologist and found out that I've lost a significant amount of weight in the five months prior to my visit. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem for me or even something that I would have wanted to know, but it became a problem when she told me the exact amount that I weigh. My old endocrinologist knew not to talk numbers with me because I first met her during my disorder and right after Dr. Spigarelli told me that I wasn't allowed to weigh myself. However, my new doctor wasn't aware of this. Needless to say, I was elated to hear about my new weight, but that elation has quickly started to morph into an obsession.

I'm not upset that she told me (I mean, It's not like I can or should go through life averting my eyes when I'm weighed on a scale or expecting doctors to hide that information from me every time I go to a hospital) but I am upset by my own reaction to her telling me this.

When I was at my heaviest, I used to always tell myself that if I could just get to the weight that I'm at now, I would be happy. I thought that by reaching this weight, I would finally be able to be satisfied with my body and all of my body image issues would magically go away.

However, I'm starting to realize that this isn't necessarily true.

For as proud as I was of losing the weight that I once had, I'm now terrified of gaining weight back. I criticize my appearance and compare myself to others more so than I have in a long time, my expectations of myself are slowly starting to become more and more unrealistic, and worst of all, I've even started to monitor what I eat and let calorie counting slip back into my thoughts.

Although I'm aware of what's going on within myself, I've been way more passive about addressing these issues within myself than I should be. So, I've decided it's time to have an introspective heart-to-heart with myself to try to nip these disorder behaviors before they become active participants in my life again.

Ready? Let's do this:

  • Alyson, what is there to be afraid of? Going back to the previous weight that you were when you lost weight the first time after recovery? You liked yourself and your body then just as much as you do now. Weight doesn't determine worth or beauty, remember? I thought we've moved on past this.
  • These thoughts that you're having go against everything that you've stood for and all the lessons you've learned during the three years you spent recovering. You're becoming a hypocrite.
  • If you keep this up, you could easily fall back into your disorders or allow yourself to relearn an unhealthy relationship with food. Food isn't the enemy and your body isn't a construction zone.
  • Good gravy, girlfriend. Your brain was made for bigger and better things than preoccupying itself with calories and constantly critiquing your physical appearance.
  • Being skinny isn't an accomplishment and wearing a smaller clothing size isn't something to be proud of.  
  • You are more than your body and you are good enough. 
  • Also, at any weight or state, your body is nothing to be ashamed of.
  • Don't be too hard on yourself for slipping up, recovery is a life-long effort. 
  • Body image isn't reliant how you look or what you weigh, body image is reliant on how you feel about yourself.
  • Losing weight doesn't guarantee happiness--you know this firsthand. Last time you obsessed over losing weight, you were constantly miserable, hungry, and depressed. 

With that taken care of, I want to note that as I started to recover, I slowly realized that happiness came from things other than my weight or what I ate. Additionally, the motivation behind my recovery changed from wanting to lose weight to wanting to be recovered and healthy. Instead of trying to change my appearance, I decided to change how I saw myself and coincidentally, I also became happy with myself as well.

Lately though, I've seemed to forget all of this.

So here's a reminder to myself that:

  • I'm still proud of who I've become. 
  • I still love my stretch marks because they remind me of where I've been.
  • I'm still proud of how strong my body is and all that it can do at any weight. 
  • I still believe that size is just a descriptor, not a determinate of worth. 
  • I still think that I am beautiful no matter how I look or how the world says I should be. 
  • I still know that I am not my disorders. 
  • I still love myself because I am worth loving. 

I don't think it's a bad thing to lose weight or to be happy that you lost weight, but from my own personal experience over these last few months, I've come to realize that there's a fine line between being happy for yourself and obsessing over maintaining your happiness due to conditions you've applied to it.

Yes, I'm happy that I lost weight.
But I won't let my weight determine my happiness.

So, if I gain the weight back, who cares?
If I eat more than the recommended amount of calories for a meal, what's the big deal?

I deserve to be happy and proud of myself regardless of the number on a scale, the size of a dress,
the food I've eaten or the reflection in the mirror.

I am more than my body and I am more than my weight.

I am Alyson.
And I will be happy with myself.

Photo Cred: My Super Talented Boyfriend, Justin

Mission Statment

I was cleaning out my room last week and came across a folder that I used in my 10th grade health class.

As I opened the folder, two packets and a mission statement fell out in front me. The first packet was blue and on the front it said, "Unit 1". Curious, I turned its pages to see what I had written inside. Topics ranged from self-esteem to goal-setting and to the avoidance of abusive relationships. In the assignment sections, my teacher asked us to take the time to fill out personal reflections for each category we covered in class. Overall, my answers were positive and hopeful. I mentioned how I wanted to see the world and how grateful I was for my friends and family. On a personal health assessment page, I listed the worst thing about my physical health being that I probably went to bed later than I should have. I also wrote that I was lucky to not have a mental illness (although later in high school I experienced depression and anxiety).

The second packet was yellow and on its cover were the words, "Unit 2: Personal Fitness". On the first page in the packet were the measurements I needed for my target heart rate and below that, were my BMI measurements which were followed by a "handy" calculation for a calorie deficit that we could use if we wanted to try to lose one pound a week (which my teacher encouraged all of us to do on a regular basis, since he believed most people could: "stand to lose some weight").

You're probably wondering why I'm rambling off about two packets that I filled out in high school.

Well, it was during this 10th grade health class that anorexia first manifested itself in my life. It was where I first found the resources that I had been looking for to help me lose weight. It was where I first found the tools I needed to count calories and to measure food. It was where I first found the motivation to act on the thoughts that had been festering inside of me for years.

 It was the perfect storm.

From the first page of that packet on, the margins of each page were filled with notes on how I could most effectively lose weight by dieting and exercise. There were even instances where I wrote how much I didn't like my body or myself in the margins too. Except for a few examples, they weren't blatant comments of self-deprecation. Instead, they were sly insults hidden under false overtones of positivity concerning the "better" version of myself that I was in the process of making. One of the worst pages that featured this, was titled, "Managing Your Weight'. Again, my teacher chose to go in-depth about how to lose weight through calorie deficits while also addressing how many calories were in a pound of fat, how many calories were in a hamburger, how to calculate how many calories you could burn depending on your weight, and (ironically) what eating disorders were.

Comparing this second packet to the first one broke my heart. I could see the girl from the first packet disappearing as I turned the pages of the second. My goals and my priorities switched from focusing on going to bed earlier or being kinder to my friends, to losing weight and counting calories. I saw the progression of a relatively carefree girl becoming an obsessive, depressed mess in a few short months. I was able to relive the hateful thoughts and lies that I once fed myself all for the sake of becoming "healthier".

I saw the loss of my soul.

I want to point out that I don't necessarily think it was my teacher's fault for me becoming anorexic--because it wasn't. I was the one who chose to follow what he advised us to do. However, his attitudes and the way that he planned his curriculum were an eating-disorder and self-hate breeding ground. And this isn't just limited to him or to his class. There was a teacher at my high school who was known for using calipers to pull at and measure the fat percentage on her students bodies. Students would weight themselves in gym class too. Why? All for the sake of fitness and health of course.

Instead of achieving that though, what they did instead was unintentionally shame student's bodies who didn't meet designated fitness standards. Although it's never shameful to have fat on your body, eat a hamburger, not exercise five days a week, or not have your BMI within a certain range, students were taught the opposite in my high school's health and fitness classes.  By cultivating these thought processes, the emotional and mental health of students were sacrificed for the sake ridiculous measurements that aren't even accurate indicators of health for most body types.

I understand that maybe what happened to me in my health class was an isolated experience--I mean, it's not like everyone in that class developed an eating disorder or eating disorder habits from what was taught. My concern though, is that the way health is taught fuels eating disorder mentalities, thin-culture, and false perceptions of health. Even if I hadn't developed a disorder, I can guarantee that I would have taken what I learned in this class and stored it in my mind as truth. I probably would have referred back to it at times and even worse, I would have taught these unhealthy concepts through my actions or words to others.

In the personal mission statement that I mentioned earlier, I wrote that I wanted to "always be in control of my body". Although that was just one line in a one page paper, it says more about who I was at that time in my life than anything else I had written for that assignment. When I said that I wanted control, I meant that I wanted to have absolute control over my weight, appearance, and everything that entered or left my body.

Looking back on that goal now, I think I still want to achieve it. I still want to always be in control of my body, but not in the same way that I used to.

I want to always be in control of how I feel about my body and not let any measurement or opinion from someone else change how I see myself. I want to always be in control of what I feed my body and not let calories dictate my diet. I want to always be in control of appreciating how strong and resilient my body is regardless of how many pounds I can lift or miles I can run.

As soon as I finish this post, I think I'm going to go throw these packets away because it doesn't really do anyone any good to dwell in the past. I'm glad that I found them though. Reading through their pages has helped me remember where I've come from, along with helping me realize the progress that I've made to become who I am now.

I'm much healthier now at my current weight and not counting calories than I ever was back then when I was trying to diet because health goes beyond things that can be seen and measured physically.

And maybe it's time that we start teaching health classes about that instead.

Eating Disorder Awareness Week: Closing Remarks

Wow! From the stories shared to the overwhelming support we've received, this week has been amazing!

I hope that Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2016 has been informational and inspirational for you as you've read through the stories and content that were posted. Although the individuals featured this week shared similar disorders, none of the experiences with those disorders were the same. Eating disorders are internalized and individualistic diseases that have varied causes, symptoms, and cures.

Eating disorders don't discriminate. They affect individuals of all shapes, sizes, ages, and genders; however, we often tend to stereotype what a victim looks like or how a victim should act--further perpetuating the epidemic. As a collective whole, society knows that eating disorders are commonplace occurrences, but because not enough (or diverse enough) survivors feel like they can speak out about them and because the public tends to shy away from speaking in detail about disorders, victims are often left feeling isolated, alone, or believing that they don't have a disorder to begin with.

Eating disorder awareness is more than a week in February, it's a necessity.

To anyone who is currently fighting for recovery or fighting just to survive another day: recovery is out there. Self-acceptance is out there. Eating without thinking is out there.

To everyone else: you can make a positive difference in the life of someone with a disorder by simply being understanding of what they're experiencing through awareness and patience.

I want to give a special thanks to the writers of the stories that were shared this week, I'm sure your words impacted and changed lives--your stories impacted others in ways that my story can't. Thank you for having the courage to write about your experiences and to be so open with us about your disorders. I know just how hard that can be.

To everyone else, thanks for taking the time to read what's been shared. Without you, this week wouldn't have been possible :)

With all of this in mind, here's to Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2016! This has been a great experience and I can't wait to see what stories will come our way next year!

Eating Disorder Awareness Week: Story 3

As the last submission for the week, I thought that this story had a great message to end on. Eating disorders can feel like mountains that are impossible to climb, but as someone who has recovered, the view from the top makes all of the hard work worth it.

Many emotions are surfacing as I sit down to catalog the unfolding of the last few years.  Writing about my disorder demands honesty and introspection--two things I don't always feel comfortable applying to one of my biggest secrets.

Several years ago I was on a study abroad in the UK.  At the time I was really out of shape, meaning, physically incapable of doing much.  One day, our group set out to scale the one of the highest peaks in Scotland, Ben Lomond.  At base camp I was certain I wouldn't make it.  I prepared a list of socially acceptable excuses to quit halfway through: a sprained ankle, dehydration, accompanying another quitter back to camp; reaching the summit was honestly not even an option in my mind.  Well, as the ascent got vertical and hot and windy, my escape plan surfaced as an easy out, but as I looked around at my friends I could see they were struggling too.  Sensing their strained efforts on the same road gave me the courage to be seen panting and gasping and pausing at every switchback.  Eventually I could see the final climb and knew I was going to make it--as sure as I had been that morning of the impossibility of setting foot on that summit--there it was!  In reach!  I huffed up the jagged incline with an energy and confidence I'd never felt before, and when I finally stood overlooking the shadow-dappled valley sprawling long and deep below me, I wept in disbelief.  For the first time in my life, and in a beautifully physical, tangible, calculable way, I could look behind (or in this case, below) me and see a great distance covered--proof of progress--of leaving something far from me and walking toward a greater goal. 

My eating disorder isn't a mountain I've conquered just yet--but I am on my way and tonight as I plunk out my story, I feel much like I did on that mountain.  I can look back and see that despite my doubts and fear about the future, I have come a long ways from where I've been, and that gives me courage to press on.  I hope something in my experience is a thread of connection for someone who needs it.  I'll begin at what I think is the beginning:

I started gaining weight in the third grade.  I remember sensing my mother's concern at my rounding figure and resenting her efforts to curb my food intake.  I began comparing myself to the slender girls at school.  Soon my weight began affecting my athletic ability in PE; I felt great shame in that and began avoiding physical activity and its accompanying embarrassment.  I'm not sure when but it was around this time my binge eating began.  I ate for comfort, for entertainment, and perhaps in rebellion.  My weight skyrocketed and my confidence began a downward spiral I'm still in the process of calculating. 

Junior high and high school were particularly painful.  By this point my weight and eating habits were out of control.  My parents took me to concerned doctors and diets were administered, but I never stuck to one.  I ate in secret, I binged at school, at home, probably every day.  I was miserable, but I don't think I was fully aware of how sick I was.  I longed for social acceptance, for attention from boys.  I developed a moral superiority complex around the slender girls at school, placing myself above them by degrading their 'vanity' or their 'immaturity.'  I made them into the classic mean girls in an attempt to make me feel better about my miserable self.  That's had a lasting effect on me and I wish desperately I could undo the damage I authored to myself and my view of others during those years. 

My junior and senior year I got more serious about losing weight.  My parents sent me to a weight loss camp.  I joined the track team (a self-inflicted humiliation that I look back on with great tenderness and self-love; I am proud of doing something hard, physically, emotionally, and socially).  Track season was the first time I ever slimmed down.  The weight came back and by sophomore year of college, I was at my highest weight ever.  Half way through sophomore year I deferred college to serve an eighteen month volunteer mission for my church.  I spent some time at home with my family in the months leading up to it and my mom and I went on a pretty restrictive diet together.  While the diet was effective, I developed an unhealthy relationship with food and became well-practiced in deprivation.  Understandably, the weight loss and the resulting confidence gave me a high that was hard to come down from.  I left on my mission determined to continue my weight loss, no matter the cost. 

Over the next year the weight slowly came back.  When I recognized this I snapped into a control mode that scared me.  For so many years of my life I had no self-control whatsoever, but in those few months at home I had replaced my addiction to food with an addiction to weight loss and the lengths I went to in my rebound were scary.  I began purging--something I had never done before and I got very good at it.  In a very short amount of time I lost all the weight I'd regained and more. I lied to everyone around me about what I was doing.  I was deep, deep in self-deception, refusing to admit to anyone, let alone myself what was going on. 
By the time I went home I was thinner than I had ever been.  These habits continued and intensified as I began dating my future husband.  During our engagement I lied about the obvious weight loss and secretly engaged in purging, restricting, and more.  What I didn't see then was how transparent the situation was to everyone around me, especially my fiance, and how hurtful it was to him that I not only refused to share my struggle with him, but that I lied about it too!  Not a recommended way to begin a marriage. 

Dress fittings sucked me into dangerous depths of deception and self-abuse.  On my wedding day I was smaller than I had been for decades.  I'll say it again, it was a high.  An unstable, self-consumed high.  To his everlasting credit, I married a man who cared enough about me to call me out on my lies and destructive behavior.  Those first few months of my marriage were full of painful conversations and realizations about what I was doing and the damage it was breeding.  That was the beginning of honesty.  For me it was hard.  I wasn't ready to give up my desire to be thin.  I felt justified in chasing a dream I'd been deprived of for my whole life.  But soon the charade caught up with me and I was forced to give up my secret vices and tools one by one.  Sadly this surrender wasn't by choice.  I wish I'd had the courage and the love for my husband to trust him with my struggle without being caught in lies first.  But slowly I let the walls be knocked down and then with his encouragement, I sought help in a recovery group for women with eating disorders. 

I remember hearing some of the women speak about being on the other end of recovery.  I scoffed at their evangelical testimonies that they were totally healed-completely free of the chains of the disorder!  I knew better. This monster will haunt me for the rest of my life--sure I might learn to hide him away in a closet and eat and be healthy, but you can't kill him.  You just can't.  Well, I was wrong.
As I attended meetings and grew in humility, I began to believe that recovery, in the truest sense, is possible for me.  I saw a genuine light in the eyes of the recovered women I befriended.  I began to trust the confidence they exuded and became willing to abandon my fears and faulty thinking.  Hope came pouring into my life. 

I'm still insecure about my body and their are days I fall back into old patterns.  But I've been blessed by the influence of amazing souls who point me to my true identity and worth.  I am surrounded by true beauty:  it is not perfection or idealism.  It is the love that redeems and values broken things, making them whole.  I'm okay with my imperfections; I'm in the process of embracing them, and the miracle of it is that as I do, I become better able to embrace others as they are.  I guess that's joy of ascending out of the lowlands of personal struggle--for we all travel those dark and lonely valleys, whatever they may be.  Climbing out and up gives us a perspective that can cheer and strengthen others--to see their potential and love them in their low places. 

I'm a better person for working through this challenge.  It's given me a chance to look myself square in the eyes and conquer demons in the darkest corners of my heart.  It's bred compassion and charity for others.  I'm happier for separating counterfeit beauty and enduring beauty. Life has become very bright with hope as I climb to higher ground.  

Eating Disorder Awareness Week: Story 2

As women, how often do we expect our lives and our bodies to perfect? As I was reading through this next submission, I found a lot of the fears and warped realities that I've experienced both during and after my eating disorders. Although I realize now that I wasn't born to look perfect or be perfect, I do try to make a constant effort everyday to be perfect in loving myself.

My eating disorders, at their roots, have had little to do with eating. They are the product of a fantasy which follows me around everywhere I go in the back of my brain, penetrating my perceptions, even when I don’t notice it there, even when it peeks into conscious view and I am ashamed of it. 

"My fantasy is simple, though it has infinite incarnations: in my fantasy, the world is about me.

Because the world is about me, all persons and events bend to my will. I am happy and successful, receiving rewards and recognition for my Ph.D. research, landing a writing job that is lucrative, stimulating, and world-changing (and somehow, simultaneously, effortless). Though I have many fans and admirers abroad (never the type to interfere with the comfort of daily anonymity), I am firmly anchored by love in my most intimate relationships. Each and every guy I meet wants to be with me—how could they not? They find me drop-dead gorgeous, the just-right type of thin, but also smart, witty, and insightful. I am both their erotic dream come-to-life and the only one they can bear their soul to (though they never burden me with more than I can handle, perhaps because I intuitively know how to handle all their troubles). In my fantasy, love has no aches or growing pains; it comes to me like a resplendent, overflowing fountain, because that’s just how stellar I am. With time, after having innocently broken many hearts, (causing me a very-virtuous-though-not-scarring sorrow), I will choose from among them someone both humble and ambitious, minimalistic and wealthy, gentle, sensitive and ruggedly assertive. We will marry on a blissful 75-degree day in my parent’s backyard.  He’ll never leave my side, for just the thought of being with another woman will make him gag. Our children, if we have them, will be beautiful, bright, and well-behaved. My pregnancies will never change my figure. When we travel to Egypt, Europe, and the Marshall Islands as a family, somehow my children will acquire extraordinary educational experiences while never seeming to be there, always allowing me plenty of space to enjoy romantic time with my husband. I’ll age slowly, if I do at all. When I age, I won’t feel it—I’ll be one of those surprisingly fit and lucid grandmothers who never has to pee in a bag, never forgets anyone’s name. In my fantasy, all the good that the world has to offer, usually unevenly, haphazardly distributed across lives, is directed towards me.

This, more or less, is my fantasy: a life where I get everything I want, with all the thorny bits of life cut out. What do you think happens when this fantasy sits in the back of your mind each day? It makes me interpret everything in the world—from a piece of bread to a person—in terms of my fantasy. In the ways that life aligns with my fantasy, I’m ecstatic. In the ways that it doesn’t, I am pouty and frustrated. Obviously I try to temper my fantasy with service to others, learning, and grounding spiritual practices. Whenever I notice my fantasy is rearing its head, I recognize that it needs to be put to sleep. But sometimes it leaks so sneakily into my life so I barely even notice when it takes over.

And so it is that one summer, I developed an eating disorder. I got this idea that I ought to have a slim and attractive, “perfect” body, like in my fantasy—none of those curves or cellulite spots like normal female bodies had. Brownies, ice cream, peanut butter, and soda came to be “evils” to me that I should shun and avoid, unworthy of the body I envisioned for myself. In my fantasy, I was good. I was disciplined. I always said no to evil. For over a year, I delighted in my capacity to restrain myself from food, sticking to stringent rules about what I could and could not eat. Each meal time, I played a pleasurable, masochistic game with myself, seeing how little I could eat to feel full. Though I kept my distance from food, I thought about it often, as if I had to keep my eye on it so as not to trip out of control. When I received compliments for having lost weight, I knew I was on the right track. Guys asked me out at about the same rate as before, but I strode proudly down the sidewalks of campus as if everyone admired my new thin body. As if my fantasy was theirs, too, and they knew I was succeeding.

The problem was that my fantasy was a fantasy. It is not possible to cut out the thorny bits of life, to maintain the body I wanted without all sorts of costs and ill effects. I developed such high anxiety about food that after months of turning my head from it like a pious saint from sin, my discipline broke. I began eating in their entirety the mashed potatoes, boiled carrots, and rolls my mother scooped gratuitously onto my plate.  I began saying yes to pistachio ice cream and Oreos. I woke up to the pleasures of eating, again—but this was no easy thing. Food was cruel, for how it leered at me--that rich ganache frosting on my brother’s birthday cake, the dense, chewy blueberry bagel that settled like a bulbous water balloon in my stomach. I wanted to be disciplined like I was before, but there was no going back, no un-forgetting of tastes and textures in my mouth and the satisfaction of a full stomach.

Still locked in my fantasy, I continued to overthink food and eating, but this twist in my lack of discipline bred different behaviors. If food would not keep its distance, then I must consume every last bite of its nearness. When I was alone in the kitchen, it was as if the world, all its people, and time itself disappeared. The pantry, fridge, and cupboards were chests of treasure bestowed from above. With the rules gone, each bite was an ecstasy of personal anarchy in my mouth. The chocolate chips, the cold pizza, the banana bread—each piece was mine, mine, mine, even when it wasn’t mine—when it belonged to my roommate---even when it wasn’t mine for the moment—when I had intended it for a late afternoon snack— there was always more, and more, and more—and when I finished eating one thing I’d move quietly on to another, unquestioningly, like turning a page in a long, long book.

After these shameful evenings alone in the kitchen, I tried various techniques to stuff my life back into my fantasy. I’d say to myself, “I’ll skip breakfast the rest of the week, and cut out sweets for the next month” as if restriction could overwrite my hours of indulgence. Or I’d take a different tactic, “It’s not that big of a deal. Everyone pigs out on occasion,” as if I could still be the girl in my fantasy even if I ate a lot. I began meeting with a therapist and dietician, wanting help to regain control. To my frustrated surprise, they tried to tell me that I didn’t need control—I needed self-acceptance. My therapist gave me stories to read of people with binge-eating disorders far more severe than mine. After looking over my food log, my dietician tried to persuade me that I only felt I was out of control because I was letting go of my restrictions, learning to enjoy food again. “It looks like you just overeat on occasion,” she said with a tone somewhere between consolation and condescension, “These aren’t abnormal amounts of food.” I was doing nothing wrong, they insisted. Nothing wrong.

I listened to them. I carefully set down my goal to eat less. But the food wasn’t the problem. Nothing really changed until my fantasy was slowly uncovered to me.

One Spring term, I signed up for a yoga class on Monday and Wednesday afternoons. In a bright, broad room I spread out my mat parallel to the rows of other women and sat cross-legged on top of it. When our instructor came in, she directed us to rise to our feet, to begin the adjari breathing, and off we were for an hour of stretching and elegant straining. A floor-length mirror covered the left wall, which I peeked at furtively each time a pose allowed us to face it. I pretended to use the mirror to adjust my posture or the position of my hands, but really I was checking the size of my arms, legs, and waist.

One afternoon our instructor led us into the tree pose—lift your right leg, bend you knee, and place your foot gently on the inside of your left thigh. Keep your hands at heart center, or stretch them high above your head. We turned to face the mirrored wall, but my view that day was obstructed by several bodies in front of me. My eyes tried to seek a way past the shoulders and torsos, but suddenly I saw—
--I saw all these women, their arms outstretched, their calves trembling to balance; I saw a few of them glancing in the mirror as I was prone to do; I imagined them in front of other mirrors, in department store dressing rooms, trying on their yoga leggings, or in their bathroom mirrors, glaring themselves into make-up’ed beauty each morning.

“Is each of them as worried about their appearance as I am about mine?” I asked.
And after I asked, I saw more: I saw these women looking both ways to cross the street, trudging their way to the testing center, slipping on snow, frowning as they entered a class they didn’t like. I saw them fighting with mothers, forgiving their sisters, nervously delivering talks in church. I saw them crying when they received rejection letters from programs, jumping up and down elatedly when they received scholarships.  I saw these women and I cared. In a moment of shocking and liberating clarity, I saw how wasteful it was for us to persist in our individual fantasies, which blinded us to each other. Each of these women seemed overwhelmingly good and beautiful to me. As my arms reached high above my head, tears sprung to my eyes and I dropped my fantasy, for their sakes. I wanted to enjoy and participate in the rich, lovely, and important world buzzing all around me, and I wanted them to, as well.
Nearly two years later, that moment serves as a lighthouse in my life. Recovery from my eating disorders has been a slow and stilted, often painful process that will likely continue throughout my life.  I see now, however, that the problem is only marginally related to food. The problem is when I give reigns to my fantasy, when I want to run from the imperfect, thorny life I have for the blissful life of my fantasy. I remind myself that the blissful life isn’t real—even when I was at my thinnest, when I was supposedly doing everything “right”, I was anxious and miserable. And I remind myself what I learned among those women in my yoga class that day, that this imperfect life has a strength and loveliness all on its own which is actually more gripping, compelling, and grounding than the ridiculous life of my fantasy. The struggle is not to control life, or my body, but to see it more clearly for the lovely thing that it is."