Category: ED Recovery

What your mirror won’t tell you

I have trust issues. With mirrors, that is. Even on the days when I spend an hour doing my hair and putting on makeup, I look into the mirror and still see the flaws. You see, mirrors magnify our weaknesses and drown out our strengths. They allow us to view a skewed reflection, believing it is the truth. As much as I would like to believe that I use my mirror to see my favorite traits, telling you that would be a lie. I, like every human, pick myself apart when it’s just the mirror and me. I focus on that new zit that magically appeared, despite how well I take care of my skin. I focus on those tan lines that will ruin how I look in a strapless top. I focus on how my hair is frizzy (dang humidity). I focus on how the stretch marks across my thighs and hips refuse to disappear.

Did you know that what you see in the mirror isn’t even true? There is a phenomenon called body dysmorphia where our brains skew our own perceptions of how we look. Furthermore, we tend to focus on the things we don’t like and our brains make our flaws seem bigger and more important than anyone else would think they are.

As I remind myself of these truths, my body whispers, “Be gentle to yourself. Your mirror will never tell you anything besides lies.” I’m here to remind you (and myself) of what your mirror will never tell you:

Your mirror will never tell you what a great friend and family member you are. It will not remind you of your giving, selfless heart. It will not prompt you to call your friends or schedule a dinner date with your parents. It will always keep you focusing on yourself.

Your mirror will never tell you how much you’ve accomplished in your lifetime. It will remind you of your perceived failures: the muscle you’ve lost, the hair you can’t tame, the remnants of a body of your past. It won’t remind you that you’ve graduated college, landed your dream job, gotten published, started your own business, raised a beautiful family, and followed your dreams.

Your mirror will never tell you how you’ve changed your own life. It will remind you of the things you haven’t changed and of where you’ve been. It will make you focus on your scars, not on the healing. It won’t tell you how you’ve recovered from an eating disorder, walked again after surgery, given birth to new life, or worked your way up from rock bottom.

Your mirror will never tell you that you are valuable. It will magnify all of the reasons that you feel unworthy and not good enough. It won’t remind you that you are so loved by many. It won’t remind you that you are an integral part of your workplace. It won’t remind you that you have purpose beyond what you may comprehend in this world.

Your mirror will never tell you that you are unstoppable. Your mirror will hinder you, as you focus on the things that bring you down. How can you tackle a big project or presentation when you are subconsciously fixated on the gap in your teeth or the zit on your face? Your mirror won’t remind you that you are a force to be reckoned with.

Your mirror will never tell you that you are more than your appearance. It only knows appearance. It won’t remind you that your “big thighs” are strong and can take you places. It won’t tell you that your “fluffy arms” take care of people. It won’t tell you that your “puffy eyes” reflect joy and see the best in others.

It is up to you to look past the mirror and move beyond the surface level, deeper into the core of who you really are. Use your mirror to help you get ready in the morning, and then say goodbye to it for the rest of the day. You are so much more than what your mirror tells you. And after all, who wants to be a slave to lies?

What is intuitive eating, and how do I do it?

What is intuitive eating? I get asked this question a lot, and I do not always find the answer to be simple. Perhaps the biggest premise behind intuitive eating is that food is not the enemy. Intuitive eating is based on getting back in touch with your hunger and fullness cues. It is seeing food as both enjoyment and nourishment, and not something to be dreaded or earned. Intuitive eating honors internal hunger and fullness cues; it is eating when hungry, but not famished and finishing when satisfied. It is giving into cravings that you cannot seem to shake, because maybe your body does know best and is not trying to constantly meet unreachable goals that it never wanted you to set. Maybe your body is trying to make peace with your mind. Through proper nutrition, there is a restored sense of normal eating patterns, which may vary person to person. For me, normal eating includes waking up in the morning and enjoying a hot, relaxing cup of coffee before getting going for the day. It includes my favorite breakfast foods, such as warm, buttery biscuits and sweet fruit. It means being spontaneous for lunch – if I am at work and my friends want to go get fast food, I am able to say yes without contemplation or justification. Normal eating meals feeding my body snacks when I am hungry. It means having pasta, pizza, salad, chicken and veggies, bread, or anything that constitutes food for dinner. It means enjoying a bowl of ice cream or cookies or a hot chocolate before bedtime if that is what my body is asking for. It is seeing food as carbohydrate, protein, and fat that fuels my body. It means not adjusting my food intake or exercise regimen based on what I have eaten or how my jeans fit that day. Intuitive eating is eating without rules, rigid plans, set times, or any external factors. When this happens, there is freedom and peace with food and fitness.

Intuitive eating rejects the diet mentality. It allows one to make peace with food. It consistently and constantly challenges the food police. You must scream “NO!” to the dangerous thoughts in your head that you are good for eating minimal calories or bad because you ate a cookie. Intuitive eating respects the enjoyment factor of eating and fitness. In our constant fury to be “healthy,” we often ignore the vitally important factor of enjoyment, and sacrifice our happiness and health for rigid man-made rituals. One of the most basic gifts of existence is the pleasure and joy that can be found in eating. When the joy in eating is restored, nutrition and health are also restored.

Intuitive eating is finding alternative ways to express emotions without using food as the means. Instead of “stuffing” our emotions by either stuffing our bellies OR restricting food, we must find other methods of relief from negative emotions or stress. Take a walk. Read a book. Take a bubble bath. Go outside. Call a friend. Write in a journal. Find what works best for you and make it a daily task to utilize it for stress relief in lieu of food. We must learn that food is not a reward or punishment.

Intuitive eating and intuitive exercising go hand in hand. Intuitive exercising is respecting your body by celebrating all that it does for you. If you have large thighs, maybe that’s so that they can take you on long hikes or allow you to run in half marathons. Whatever your perceived “flaws” are, use them to build you up. Be a part of intuitive, enjoyable exercise rather than militant, forced exercise. Focus your shift from calorie burning to feeling good about moving your body. Move away from weight as only indicator of success. Observe how your muscles grow when you lift weights and nourish your body properly. Take note of how you no longer feel so out of breath walking up the hill in your neighborhood. Success should be measured subjectively in how you feel, instead of objectively in numbers and measurements.

Intuitive eating and exercising come down to you. They are individualized, personal, and intimate. I cannot tell you how to eat or when to exercise, because one size never fits all. It is up to you to provide yourself with gentle, consistent nutrition by making food choices that honor hunger cues, health, cravings, and taste, while providing an overall sense of wellness and freedom. It is up to you to decide when to move, how to move, for how long to move, and who to move with based on how you feel each day. The best way to be intuitive is to check in with yourself daily – spend time becoming more in tune with your own body and mind, and finding the perfect balance between the two, not letting one or the other fully control you. That’s intuitive eating and exercising, and yes, you can do it.

on earning food

Last week I sat in a lecture listening to a professor/RD talk about snacking while watching television. She innocently mentioned that she and her husband ate an entire bag of chips, so they “had to walk it all off afterwards.” “Thank goodness we got rid of those calories!” she joked. I looked around as other students smiled and laughed with her. I sat motionless. Yet my mind was on fire.

How could an experienced professional in my field make such a comment with no regard to the true implications of her words? She, just like so many other people who surround me, implied that food is bad and must be fought off. It must be exercised off. It must be earned.

Why should we have to earn our food? Do we make our pets earn their food or exercise to “make up” for the calories they eat? Would we tell our best friend that she could only eat a cupcake if she had eaten less than X number of calories so far that day? Would I dare enter a hospital room to see a patient and tell him that he needed to get out of bed and take some laps around the hospital to “burn off” his lunch? We have somehow morphed into a culture where food is simply a privilege. Food is not a necessity.

This food-shaming, exercise-praising culture we now live in is slowly destroying us from the inside out. When we force ourselves to “earn” food, we are simultaneously forcing our lungs, hearts, brains, muscles, and all other organs to “earn” food. They work for us 24-7 in order to keep us alive and able to do all of the things we do in a single day. So why would we punish them by only giving them food (read: energy/ATP) when we feel that it’s justifiable – when it’s on our terms?

We deserve food at all times. Not when it’s convenient. Not when we decide we’ve exercised enough that day. Not after we’ve fasted. Not until our stomachs are growling so loudly it is no longer bearable. Not when we feel that we earn it. Our bodies require energy at all times. It is our job to provide it consistently and regularly in a way that is comfortable, positive, and enjoyable.

I’m sorry if your body’s physiological demands don’t fit into your perfectly planned schedule, weight control regime, or mental rules. I know, I’ve been there. But you really only have one job – and that’s keeping yourself alive and functioning. We go to the doctor’s office when our bodies aren’t functioning properly. We go to physical therapy when our bodies are bent out of shape. We spend hours researching our issues online in desperate hopes of finding treatments. Staying alive and functioning is everyone’s main priority, yet we never seem to start by treating our bodies properly. So let’s start by feeding our bodies appropriately, staying well nourished and hydrated all day long, and exercising when it feels convenient and enjoyable. Let’s ease our minds of the constant counting, calculating, and contemplating. Let’s learn to eat regardless of our plans or agendas. Let’s learn to eat regardless of what or when we last ate or will eat. Let’s learn to eat without boundaries, binding conditions, or terms. Let’s learn to eat regardless of whether or not we “earned it.” Believe me, you’ve “earned it.”