body image, eating disorder

my story {part II}

First of all, thank you for all the comments and encouragement for my last post. Sharing my story has long been a dream of mine, and I truly do feel that God gave me this story so I can share it with others. If you are just tuning in, go back and read Part I of my story.

Continuing on with my story…senior year of high school was a turning point (or breaking point) in my eating disorder. With impending transitions of leaving Moscow and going to college, I retreated to my eating disorder for comfort and a sense of control. I felt like everything was out of control and that I had become too relaxed about school (I was perfectionistic about that too), exercise, and eating, so I resolved to be even more disciplined. As a result, my weight went down a little more, and I became obsessive about everything.

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Throughout these seven years, I was not happy. I felt trapped by my fear of weight gain and going out of control, but I didn’t know what I could do about it. I was afraid that if I allowed myself to let go of control, I would gain an enormous amount of weight and be undisciplined – which I see now as entirely black and white thinking. Finally, at the end of high school, I was ready to change. One motivating factor was my dream to one day be a mother. You see, during this whole battle, I didn’t have a period. I first had a period in 5th grade, but then with my eating disorder it never came back. Your body needs a certain about of fat to produce estrogen and have a period. My fear was that I had ruined my reproductive system and would never be able to have a child.

Around high school graduation, my oldest sister intervened. She lovingly and graciously encouraged me to get professional help. Finally, I was ready to make a change in my life. The next couple weeks involved moving and saying goodbye to the place I called home and finding a treatment program back in Minnesota.

As we looked into treatment options, I remember worrying that they wouldn’t think I was “sick enough.” Maybe the wouldn’t let me into a treatment program or think I needed help. So I restricted and exercised more. Little did I know how sick I was…just right on the cusp of in-patient treatment. That summer, I started an intensive outpatient treatment program 4 days a week. I was so ready for change, that I did what needed to be done – which meant restoring weight. For the next several months, I completely cut out exercise and followed the meal plan my dietician came up with. These months were some of the hardest in my life. Eating foods I hadn’t had in years, feeling full, not exercising, and watching my body change were a sudden blow to me.

At the same time, my therapist and I started working through all the emotions and thoughts surrounding my eating disorder. An eating disorder is never just about the food, the food is a coping mechanism or symptom of what is really going on inside. It has taken me years to identify what led to my eating disorder. There was no traumatic event that sparked it or unkind words. I grew up in a loving family and community, and was only ever told I was special and beautiful. I’ve come to see that my need for control and my anxiety and perfectionism played a large role in my eating disorder.

The 3-4 months I was in treatment, I only made forward progress. For many in recovery, forward and backward progress is the norm. Many people get stuck in one stage of recovery or they relapse. I am so thankful that I was able to move forward and make the changes I needed to do. I completely attribute this to my supportive family and mentors, and to God. God gave me strength to keep going when I was enraptured with fear and when I had no strength of my own to keep going with recovery. He was my strength.

Backing up a bit, in high school, I had my life planned out. I was going to attend St. Olaf College, study French and Management, and get a job in International Business. While few of us know what we are going to do with our lives when we’re in high school, I truly had no idea what the future would be. God had a different plan for me. While in treatment, it became clear that I needed some more time to heal and adjust to life in the US before attending college. So, I deferred my acceptance to St. Olaf, and spent the next year at home in Minnesota, healing and working. It was not what I planned at all, but God knew it was the best thing for me.

 

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I graduated from the treatment program in the fall, but continued to see my therapist and dietician weekly. I had restored weight, but had a long way to go. When you struggle with and eating disorder or any type of addiction, the longer you are in it, the longer it takes to heal. Over my seven year struggle, I had developed so many cognitive distortions (faulty thinking) and limiting beliefs. I had to retrain my brain to think in a different way. I also had to retrain myself to eat.

How many of us truly eat intuitively? And by intuitively, I mean like a child – eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’ve had enough, without any food rules or values attached to food. I was far from intuitive eating. In my eating disorder, I had learned to tune out my body – it was truly mind over body. My mind told me when it was ok to eat and how much. My mind told me I had to exercise and for how long, regardless of how my body felt. My ability to tune into how my body feels and what it needs has taken years to master. Now, I finally feel like I can “hear” what my body needs. And not just that, but I give my body what it needs (most of the time).

It has been eight years since I started my journey to recovery. It was not been easy and there have been so many ups and downs. I wish I could encapsulate all the things I have learned and gone through, but that would take a book. Progress has been slow too. I remember feeling so discouraged that I wasn’t getting anywhere with my recovery, that I still felt so trapped by eating disorder thoughts and behaviors. Looking back now, I see all the progress I have made. Early on in recovery, I would never have imagined I would be in the place I am this day. I am far from 100% recovered. Sometimes I still struggle with guilt after eating or I despise my body. There are still foods I am “afraid” to eat and not exercising sometimes makes me anxious. I’m not perfect, but I am making progress. Regardless of the struggle, it is so important to recognize the small victories along the way. Let me share a few with you:

  • My body has found it’s happy weight – I’m at a weight now that is easy to maintain. I can eat what I want and move in a way that’s enjoyable because my body does an amazing job at adjusting to my needs.
  • My period is back! (Sorry if that’s TMI, but for women, your period is a HUGE indicator of health)
  • My definition of exercise has broadened to include so many different levels and types of movement. I love to exercise now because it makes me feel good, not because I have to. And if I miss a workout, it’s not the end of the world.
  • I allow myself to sit and rest (sometimes I watch TV in the afternoon! – if Blake is reading, he knows how big of a deal this is, haha). In my eating disorder, I always had to be moving a productive, but now I’m learning the importance of rest.
  • A dessert (or two) every day is one of my daily joys! Deprivation is NEVER a good idea! Have a piece of cake if you want it. If you deprive yourself of certain foods, you’re more likely to overdo it in the future.
  • I have SO much more confidence than ever! – I am learning to love myself and celebrate what makes me unique. Introvert? Yep that’s me!
  • I laugh again – I have fun and enjoy life!

I write these not to brag, but because I want to share all the good things that God has done in my life through recovery. He has been my strength, and He has put so many people in my life to walk the journey with me. I will be forever grateful for a couple therapists and dietitians who led me along in recovery (professional help is key to recovery!), and my family, mentor, and friends who held my hand, challenged my faulty thinking, and encouraged me to choose life.

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Amanda Moe Photography

If you know someone who is struggling with an eating disorder or an unhealthy relationship with food or exercise, keep loving them! They may not be willing to get help yet, but there are so many ways you can help them. Feel free to contact me if you have questions about supporting a loved one.

The sad thing is that so many women struggle with an eating disorder to some extent. About 80% of women struggle with disordered eating in the US. You don’t have to be diagnosed with an eating disorder to get help for an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise. One of the emerging “eating disorders” is orthorexia, which is an unhealthy obsession with health and clean eating – I see this all around me. I will delve more into these topics later, but what I want to hone in is that if you feel enslaved to food an exercise, then you can get help.

If you have made it this far, thank you for reading. My story is not finished, I am constantly learning about myself and challenging the thoughts and behaviors I have developed over the years. I am also learning to combat the messages in our culture that tell us what to eat and not to eat, and how we should look. I am so excited and ready to continue sharing this journey with you all, through my real experiences, thoughts, and lessons. Thank you all for your love and support!

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body image, eating disorder

my story {part I}

This post is long overdo, since my story is the main motivation behind this blog. I share my story openly because I want you to know who I am and the work that God has done in me through my story. I also want to encourage others who are going through an eating disorder or recovery. There is hope! Life free from an eating disorder is incredibly abundant!

Disclaimer: If you are going through an eating disorder or are in the early stages of treatment, this post may be triggering for you. If you are struggling with body image or eating, please do seek professional help.

My story begins when I was in fifth grade. There were many other things in the years leading up to my eating disorder, but fifth grade was a significant time for me. I was self-conscious of my body – it was on the chubbier side, and I was going through the beginning stages of puberty. I was never athletic and was a very sensitive, shy little girl. During fifth grade, I experienced a lot of emotions (puberty hormones I’m sure) and feeling out-of-control. I remember being extremely distraught about how my body looked and at times crying because I felt as I had no control over it. I imagined that I would always be this way, and I would never marry or be anything important because of it.

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Finally, the summer after fifth grade I took action. I decided to become “healthy”. Looking back now, I know this is a common route to an eating disorder – trying to lose a little weight, gain control, or become “healthier.” I discovered calories and started limiting those and my fat intake. I don’t remember everything I did, but before I knew it, it was out of control. By the beginning of 6th grade, I had lost over 30 pounds (in less than 3 months). I was exercising obsessively, skipping meals that I could, and eating only the bare minimum. While I was at my lowest weight ever, I still saw a chubby girl in the mirror. My eating disorder skewed how I saw myself and compounded my fears of gaining weight. I was completely blind to the fact that I had an eating disorder.

Later that fall, my parents stepped in to help. At that point, I outright refused to eat many foods because I was afraid I’d gain weight or lose control. I thrived off the feeling of being hungry because it made me feel disciplined and in control. Living in Moscow, we didn’t have access to treatment centers or American therapists and dietitians, so my parents helped as best they could. I started eating 3 meals a day plus snacks, and regained a little weight, but I was still enslaved to my eating disorder.

Over the next seven years, I maintained the appearance that everything was okay. I ate meals and snacks, exercised a “reasonable” amount, and wasn’t dangerously thin, however my eating disorder still controlled me. I was terrified of gaining weight, and did everything in my power to control it through food and exercise rules. Looking back on the rules now, they seem ridiculous, but at the time they were very real. Rules about how much and what foods I could eat plagued me. I would avoid social situations because I didn’t know how to handle food. I made excuses about why I wasn’t eating “xyz” because I wasn’t hungry or I didn’t like that food. Exercise also controlled me. Regardless of the day or how I felt, I had to exercise a certain amount of time every day, and only certain types of exercise counted.

For years I lived in bondage to food, weight, and exercise. They were constantly on my mind, keeping me from enjoying life in the moment. My relationships suffered because I was shy and so preoccupied with my weight. I became so self-conscious about everything I did, and I wanted to be the best at everything.

The funny thing is that even though I was at my lowest weight, it was never enough. I constantly felt that I had to do better – be healthier, more fit, and skinnier. I felt extreme guilt for eating and had extremely low body image. I was terribly unhappy, but wasn’t willing to change. My mother was a constant support at this time. I confided with her my fears and unhappiness. I wanted to be free, but was so afraid that if I let myself eat what I wanted I would be out of control.

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During late high school, I went through a period of rejecting God. This was probably in part due to teenage rebellion, but also deep inside me, I knew that if I let God in I would have to let go of my eating disorder. I was not ready to let go yet. This was one of the darkest times of my life. I literally felt the distance from God. Finally, I did turn back to God because I could not stand the distance. Nothing dramatic changed with my eating disorder at this point, but it was the beginning of change.

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

Intuitive Eating, Self-care

should you exercise when you’re sick?

If you follow me on Instagram you will know that I have been battling a sinus infection for the last 9 days. It has been super frustrating especially because we just moved to Philly and I want to get out and do things and work. I’m terrible at resting, as my husband can attest, but I am really trying so I can get better.

One thing I’ve given up during this time is exercise. I love exercising for a variety of reasons and find it beneficial for my overall health, but when I am sick exercise is the last thing I need. Don’t get me wrong, I miss moving my body and feeling strong. I cannot wait till I’m better and can resume with normal life, but I won’t sacrifice my health for a workout.

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This current mindset is drastically different than what it used to be. In my eating disorder and even in recovery, I followed a rigid exercise regime. I had to work out at least X times a week, for X amount of time, and I wouldn’t consider it a workout unless it was heart-pumping. Rain or shine, sick or tired I worked out. I was so afraid that if I missed one workout, I would gain weight. I also believed that if I didn’t work out, I couldn’t eat. So, no matter how sick I was, I would fit in a full workout.

I will post later about my journey with exercise, but this is the gist. My addiction to exercise really started shifting about 5 years ago, when I injured my knee. I had to stop working out completely and then find other ways to move my body. This experience completely broke me. I had to face my fears.

Through this injury (which I am still working on), I learned to trust my body with food and exercise. I learned that my body doesn’t need to go through intense exercise to be healthy. I picked up other forms of movement like walking, yoga, pilates, lifting, and swimming, and fit them into my exercise options. I learned that I could and need to still eat and eat enough even when I’m not exercising. My body didn’t blow up and I didn’t instantly gain tons of weight.

If you struggle with an eating disorder or exercise addiction or are even just afraid of gaining weight, let me tell you that you can trust your body. Are bodies are so smart, and if we actually tune into them, they tell us what we need (what to eat, if we should move our body, etc.).

Robyn, one of my favorite bloggers, has taught me so much about how exercise affects our bodies and hormones. Her posts have challenged me to listen to my body and evaluate why I exercise. I’ve learned that intense exercise when I’m in a stressful time of life, sick, or tired actually causes more harm than good (see her posts here and here).

I’m not saying exercise is bad. In fact, I love moving my body, and cannot wait to do so mindfully once I am better, but there is flexibility. Exercise should be enjoyable not add stress or harm.

When someone is recovering from being sick, their body needs energy to heal itself. That means rest and adequate nutrition. It is okay to skip exercise for a couple days or weeks, if that’s what it takes to heal your body.

I say this as someone who knows the fear of gaining weight from missing a workout, and yet I’ve also learned that there is so much flexibility. I can trust my body. In these last 9 days, I haven’t instantly gained weight or lost all my muscle mass, and I’m eating the exact same.

In the larger scheme of things, missing a couple workouts, make little difference in my life. My goal is to take care of my body so I can live life to the fullest and love others well. Life is so much more than exercise.

 

 

body image

saying goodbye to my teenage body

During my twenty-six years of life, my body has gone through several changes. From a baby to a toddler, toddler to preteen, preteen to teenager, etc. I know that the body I have now, will continue to change if I become a mother and as I enter menopause. Body changes are a natural part of life, yet many women, including me, fight these natural changes.

I first became aware of my body size was when I was in fourth or fifth grade. I felt bigger than most girls and often times felt helpless to change my body. These were some of the feelings that led me into my eating disorder. Years later, I now know it’s common for pre-pubescent girls to fill out, but at the time my body size felt a life sentence.

These feelings led into a seven-year struggle with anorexia, where I religiously controlled my weight and body fat. Looking back, sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had let my body be. What would it have been like if I had let it naturally develop?

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Because of my restriction and over-exercise, I never went through the natural changes of puberty. My body stayed in it’s pre-pubescent state. This drastically changed when I went through treatment for my eating disorder. In 3 months, I went from underweight to a healthy, stable weight for my age and height. Restoring weight was one of the hardest things I have ever gone through. The body I had known for 7 years was completely foreign to me. I wanted to crawl out of my skin, to mask what I had become. In reality, this weight was much easier to maintain than my previous weight. However, it didn’t feel “safe.”

It took me years to somewhat accept my new weight. I thought I was over the hard part, but no, there were still changes to come. In college, my body went through another change. I added a little more weight, and my body filled out in certain areas. I was so scared and frustrated. I had just started feeling normal in my body, and it had to change on me again. I bought new clothes and tried to accept these new changes.10369743_10202128400146982_1539850783066765785_n

After college, my body went through yet another transformation – into a woman. Suddenly I had curves. I was again faced with the need to find clothes that fit my changing body. During this time, I never weighed myself – to this day I still don’t really know how much I weigh – but I could feel the changes. There were many tears as I tried on clothes and embraced the idea of being X size. I was also filled with fear and doubts – Am I eating too much? Am I not exercising enough? I felt completely out of control of my body, because while I was doing the exact same things as I had been doing for a couple years, my body had a mind of its own.

This transformation was one of the hardest. I didn’t know if I could trust my body or my lifestyle decisions. However, I did not want to fall back into a life of rules and restriction. I reached out to trusted friends for support, I surrounded myself with positive messages, and I cleaned out my social media feeds. It’s not easy, but I am coming to accept my new womanly body because it is healthy for me.13938164_10206989854480302_3206533756796738888_o

Something I have learned in this process, is that women’s bodies go through a “second puberty.” Just as a girl’s body changes in her preteen years, her body also changes in early to mid 20’s from a young girl to a woman. I find solace in this, because I don’t want to look like a young girl all my life. I want to look like a woman, curves, softness, and all.

I know what it is like to control my body at a certain size, and to me it’s not worth it. I don’t want to hold onto my teenage or young woman body. I want to live in freedom to enjoy life and trust how my body changes with time. This life is so much more freeing! Believe me!

If I can leave you with one thought – let go of control. Your body is an AMAZING creation and you can trust it! As you let go and learn to listen to your body, things may change, but give yourself grace. Love your body and all that it can do for you.

You are beautiful!

 

Uncategorized

embracing my body in pictures

This past weekend, Blake and I attended the wedding of one of his dear high school friends. The setting couldn’t have been more picturesque – a bright, open church, surrounded by trees in the middle of the Wisconsin countryside. After the ceremony, I wanted to take some pictures. I am terrible about documenting life events and people, and am trying to be better at it. However, I knew the personal struggle that would ensue…

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I don’t like having picture taken of me. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Even in a group photo, my eye immediately hones in on myself, and I base the “quality” of the picture off of how I feel about my body in the photo. In individual and group photos, I pick apart my body, criticize my “trouble spots”, and completely degrade myself. Sadly, this one photo can affect my mood the rest of the day – bringing me down, isolating me from people, being afraid to eat too much, blaming my habits for why I look “so bad,” etc.

Despite knowing this would happen as we took pictures, I tried to be confident in my body and my individual beauty. I took pictures of Blake first – such a stud – but then he wanted to take pictures of me. I was awkward. I didn’t know how to pose in a way that hid my “flaws” and made me look natural and elegant. I looked off to the side because I hate my face straight on. I told him to make me laugh because I think my smile looks funny. I tried to have fun, but nothing felt natural.

After our photo shoot, we piled into the car and I proceeded to look at all the photos he took. I cringed. Not because he’s a terrible photographer, but because my insecurities about my body were confirmed and my confidence in my beauty dissipated. However, there was one photo that made me feel beautiful. He had caught the right moment and added depth, which elevated the whole look.

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I was deflated and insecure after seeing the photos, but what struck me was how I felt so different about my body from photo to photo. It was the same hour, and I was wearing the same dress, my hair and make-up were all the same, and it was me the whole time.

Photography is able to capture the beauty all around us. Like make-up or a cute outfit, it can enhance the beautiful aspects of a person, place, or object. And I’m not just talking about appearance, but also personality, emotions, and relationships. However, a photo can skew an image. Lighting, angle, camera quality, editing, and composition all play a role how “good” a photo is. I love my wedding pictures, but that’s because they were done by a professional photographer who edited them beautifully.

When I was in eating disorder treatment, I participated in a body image group. I remember talking about how we see ourselves in photos. We do exactly what I just described – pick ourselves apart. I know many women who do this, even those without an eating disorder. We do the same thing with mirrors. How many times do you look in the mirror and actually feel better about yourself? How often do you hone in on that one part you don’t like? I never feel better about myself when I look in the mirror, and I still focus on my arms and tummy – they will never be good enough.

As I build my presence on social media and the blog, I don’t want to just be the photographer. I want you all to know who I am. I want to be able to look back 50 years from now and have pictures of my 20s. As I ponder all this, I realize that I fear pictures, because I worry they will confirm how awful I already feel about myself.

I firmly believe that every woman is beautiful…so why should I think differently of myself? Every woman (and man) is beautiful! We all have unique talents, personalities, strengths, passions, abilities, experiences, and bodies. The world tells women they can only feel beautiful if they have the “idealized” body at the time (which, by the way, is constantly changing).

The root of my struggle is not whether the picture is good or bad, but how I already view myself and how much I base my worth on my appearance. What would happen if I accepted my body and was confident in its beauty? Would I view a picture of myself differently?

I make it sound like an easy equation, but it’s not. Accepting your body for all it is and all that it can do for you takes time. I am still a work in progress.

As women, let’s encourage each other to cherish the bodies we have and celebrate the woman we see in the photo.