Thursday, July 29, 2010

Tips for recovery from an eating disordere

Sometimes I'm amazed I'm still anorexic. Odd words flying from my mouth, huh? But it's true. I do wonder, at times that at a bmi of 16.5-16.9, I'm still under that 'anorexia landmark.' Let me explain. At night, and sometimes at lunch or breakfast, I eat a normal amount of food. At dinner, I eat all that is on my plate. Actually, the other night, my dad brought out this huge piece of gooey, oozing, gushy blueberry pie. It was enormous, no hyperbole whatsoever. And I ate the whole thing. Yes, I, an anorexic person, at a monumental, prodigious slice of pie. I even scraped my plate afterward. Sure, I felt absolutely sick, and had the strongest urge to purge I've ever had in my life, but I still ate it.

In any case, what I wanted to talk about positive, helpful things you can do to help you along your road to recovery. I am, of course, by no means recovered, but I have found some useful things in my quest for health which I thought I would share with you.

1) Don't think about eating disorders.
Ha, impossible, I know. But seriously, if you try to avoid things like pro-ana sites, anorexic vlogs, calorie counting, etc, it will really help. There is a chance that you will freak out and start thinking about it more, but I think it can help overall. Instead of these anorexic-related activities, try to occupy your time with things that have nothing to do with your disease and will help get your mind off of the desire to be thin. So, what activities would these include? Going to see a movie with your friends, listening to great music, reading, writing (fiction or non-fiction, but something about the world outside and around you, which does not overlap with your eating-disorder world; slightly distanced from you), drawing, doing art, going shopping, spending time just walking around the city or countryside deeply aware of the beauty and life of your environment, taking a class, doing a fun (not one that is punishing or aimed at burning calories) preferable new and unusual/complex sport like yoga/pilates/horseriding/dancing...
The aim of this is to discover that there is more to life than your eating disorder, that you can achieve superior things than having counted your caloric intake or skimmed another pound of vitality off of your body. The other goal is to disassociate yourself from your 'anorexic personality,' and develop your real identity. Because who you are is not this. Anorexia, and eating-disordered tendencies, are not you. They are superficial accoutrements that you use to distract yourself from who you really are, your soul, your personality. Can it be said that anyone, any soul in this world, is composed of thoughts pertaining to food and calories? I mean, when you think about it, that's kind of ridiculous. What do we remember people for? How do we conceive other human beings?
Okay, picture a soul. A yellowy, ephemeral substance, smoky perhaps, hanging in limbo, composed of intangible thoughts and feelings. If you were to see Baudelaire's soul, for instance, you would probably see a (I concede, dark) smoky curl, filled with beautiful linguistic images, an aesthetic view of the world, melancholy, but finding higher truths, more poignant ideas because of his spleen.
Take any other figure in the world. Obama, Dan Brown, Jack Johnson, Ellen Page, Leonardo Dicaprio even. What do they think about all day? How do they define themselves? What is their inherent value based on? They think about what they love, what they're passionate about, what they think is important. They'll be remembered for what they accomplished for other people, not how much they ate or their body type.
Realize that most people really don't care what shape they are or how many calories were in that food that I ate at lunch.
So, try to remember (or grasp) that there is so much more than weight and appearance, that we accord way too much importance to these superfluous, superficial things.

2) Keep your depression in check.
When you think about it, have you ever seen a happy anorexic? Anorexia and depression go hand in hand, so if you're feeling depressed, your more likely to begin feeling negatively about yourself, and then the thinking pattern will resemble: "Oh no, everything in my life is terrible. And that must be because I'm such a terrible person. Oh well, I'll just restrict and lose weight and then I'll get some control back into my life and garner some self-worth." The reverse is also true: when you're under-eating, you will be in a bad mood. I promise.
Again, a nigh-impossible task I'm setting you. But don't worry, it's not as absolute as it may seem. My therapist gave me a worksheet to help me in times of lowness, and I'll share with you the main points, as summed up by her.
1. Increase regularity of psych sessions when you notice increased negative thinking or when you can see you are under increased stress
2. Use relaxation recordings.
My therapist actually did an audio-recording of her walking me through Progressive Muscular Relaxation (stress relief), and some hypnosis sessions, so you could look into finding something on Youtube or making one yourself, if you so desire.
3. Try to always have a major PLEASURE to be looking forward to
4. Try to maintain positive social interactions
5. Get the negative emotions out- Talk or Write
6. Keep a photo out always visible, that prompts you to think about a time and place where you are happy
7. Never under estimate the power of exercise
8. Eat Healthily :)

3) Exercise
Okay, this one you have to be careful with. I want to give exercise in this point a different connotation than in the previous point. By exercise, I don't mean work out on your exercise bike until you collapse and go unconscious. Do not over-exercise. I don't know about you, but when I was at the worst in my anorexia, I really had no energy to exercise. Before sports class, I had to eat something, and even then I would have strength and energy for about 10 minutes before feeling drained. I had trouble walking up the stairs at my school, and would sometimes have to stop mid-flight and lean against the wall, exhausted. I was just so, so extremely weak.
However, during recovery, I've taken up jogging. Let me pre-establish something with you. I hated running. I would run for about 5 minutes, then feel sick. I would watch people running, and turn in disgust, commenting on how they seemed to be suffering so much, breathing hard and sweating like pigs. Yes, very negative view. Nevertheless, after a trip to the East Coast to visit my two college-choice contenders, Mount Holyoke and Brown, my perception was altered.
My host and Mount Holyoke College (from Paris, as coincidence would have it!) actually discussed the Freshman 15 with me. Yeah - shocking, right? Anyway, she was warning me that "Though you think 'this will never happen to me,' it will, I promise you." So, that kind of freaked me out. But, she said she was getting back into jogging, and going to the gym. And she's from paris. I do not know a single French woman who jogs. Especially not a French female teenager who lives in one of the most polluted cities in the world and is concerned by fashion. Nevertheless, that gave me a kick up the rear. The second thing that encouraged me was that we were in Boston during the Boston marathon, and on our flight home, there were about 15 people who had been run in the race, and my dad (also a skinny but healthy runner) and I talked to one, so I had real contact with a runner.
When I got home, I started jogging a bit (very, very slowly, and combined with bouts of walking) and slowly, with training, my endurance and speed has really improved. I can proudly say I ran in the Wharf to Wharf race last weekend, from Santa Cruz to Capitola, a distance of 6 miles, in total of 1 hour and 4 minutes.
Anywho, after all that digression, my point is to find a sport, while you're recovering, which will make you feel toned and happy about your body. When you're anorexic (usually - it was the case for me, anyway) you're generally just a skinny blob. All your muscle mass has atrophied, and all you have left is skin, bone, and a little bit of fat left. Seriously. You have no muscle definition at all, and usually resemble a pathetic, white form of skin.
Exercising will also make you feel better about increasing your calorie count. If you know that you have used your body physically during the day, that you did something good for it, that you did something healthy, it will encourage you to eat something healthy later in the day, too. You won't be as likely to nix your meal plan if you know that you are becoming a healthier person, and that the food will help you become healthier, by giving your body the nutrients it needs. Food is just fuel for the body - it is not bad, and it is not good. It's just necessary.
If you exercise more, and think more in terms of "I am working towards making my body healthier, stronger, toner" it's a lot better than "I want to starve myself and become as tiny and weak and emaciated as possible." When you think about it, what would you prefer between being a weak, emaciated, pale blob, and a strong, healthy, toned human being?

4) Be mental
Go crazy! No, but seriously, try to shift from an obsession with what is physical to a focus on mental things. This is kind of similar to what I talked about in point 1). Try to decrease the importance you put on superficial things, on the physical aspect of your body. Realize that inherently, your self worth lies in your mental capacities and knowledge, not your physical appearance. Try to develop your cognitive abilities. People tend to develop anorexia when they feel worthless. If you work at your intellect, and recognize that you are smart, and have self-worth for that reason, you will be less inclined to try to achieve self-worth through your physical appearance, i.e. starvation and thinness.

5) Associate with people who have a sane approach to food and eating
This is rather difficult for me, because my mother is overweight, and has very mercurial eating patters. She will have a huge breakfast of eggs and cheese and this and that, will snack in her study on yogurts and pots de chocolat, will "forget" about lunch and then make a big deal about it later, saying "Oh, I forgot to do the whole lunch thing. I feel so dizzy." in a bragging way. Or else she'll have hardly anything for breakfast - a tiny bowl of cereal she picks at and eats with her fingers, maybe, or a yogurt and an apricot. She'll come into the kitchen and chop up carrots into little sticks and then eat a few of those for lunch. I don't know. She's very irregular and has always posed as an extremely negative and unhealthy role model in terms of eating.
Then my dad. I always feel like both of my parents are judging me when I eat, actually, but I feel particularly self-conscious when I eat around my father. He is very physically active, and very skinny. Before, I felt like he ate very little, and thought I was fat. Now, he seems to eat a healthy diet (not too little, in any case), and actually eats generous portions.
However, when I'm with friends who aren't all stressed out about losing weight, or who naturally don't eat much (and don't need to!) I feel so much more relaxed about eating. If your fellow diners eat till they are sated, do not restrict, and find pleasure in what they are eating, you will probably feel more comfortable eating sanely, and will simply be more inclined to.

Okay, this blog post is super super long - I'm sorry! - so I'll stop there. I hope these tips have helped, and stay strong all ye recoverers out there - you can make it, and life will be so much better when you do.

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