3 Ways To Make Your Life Bigger

I recently opened up my Instagram DMs to eating disorder and recovery questions, a practice I tend to participate in on a weekly basis. I’ve been thinking about one particular exchange ever since. I’ll drop it below:

 

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For those with a history of disordered eating, for anyone enduring a complicated relationship with the term “healthy”, food can easily consume a huge portion of the mind. When I first began true recovery (I had a few fruitless attempts that came before), all I could think about was food. I feared it, and yet I craved it. I had restricted myself for so long that part of me saw recovery as a free-for-all, the perfect excuse to finally just get to eat. You mean I had to eat? It felt like a dream.

But I was terrified that this newfound freedom would run untethered, that I would lose control, that I’d eat into oblivion. And thus, I feared food during this time. The power it could possibly have over me.

It became all I thought about.

3 Ways To Make Your Life Bigger

My Eating Disorder Story: NEDA Week 2019

My eating disorder is Easter 2011, around 8:30 P.M.

My mom clears the table for the dessert spread. I’m wearing a blue Abercrombie tank top tucked into a floral skirt. My stomach is bloated, stretching the band of the skirt so I can’t see my toes. I look down. Then I look up. Greeted by dessert. I slide into a seat next to my cousins and dive in. Three of this, two of those, a couple glasses of milk…what’s that? My sister offers to make hot chocolate for everyone. She makes me two because “I have a big appetite guys”. As if that wasn’t clear.
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My Eating Disorder Story: NEDA Week 2019

Soft Reminders While Weight Restoring

in a society that praises weight loss, weight restoration in eating disorder recovery is nothing short of complicated. it’s one of the most daunting tasks you’ll take on because it challenges you in so many ways. it feels impossible until it’s done. there’s so much irrational fear that rises at the beginning, but staying mindful of the long-term goal is necessary for quieting that voice of doubt!

in case you needed to hear it, remember…the weight will distribute, the bloating and pain and discomfort will subside, the hunger cues will regulate. food will become less of a chore and more of a pleasure. the way you look will stop dictating your life, and you’ll find validation and happiness in the feats you accomplish that are beyond visual perception. you are strong, you will endure this process, and i promise you, you’ll find your way.

please note that it’s SO important to work closely with a medical professional during this time. your weight and your health are a serious issue and need to be addressed in a manner that matches this. i weight restored under an inpatient hospitalization program led by a team of doctors, and later i continued outpatient with my parents and an outpatient team monitoring my intake. i am NOT a medical professional and am not providing medical advice. i’m simply sharing my experience and what i learned from the process after going through it myself.

some tips for dealing with weight restoration;

  • power through the first two weeks.

this is arguably the scariest part of the process. it’s also the most vulnerable time to slip back, so support during these days needs to be at an all-time time. whether that support comes from your family, friends, a treatment team…anyone, anything. something to hold you accountable.

*fun fact: @healthfulradiance actually began as an eating disorder recovery food diary to hold myself accountable during weight restoration. yep! way back in the day (any OG followers remember @seekingstrongerwings? yep, that happened too). i used the instagram recovery community as a means of support. i would post my breakfast because once it was out there in the world, i felt i had to stick to it. i exposed my meals because it stripped me of my ability to hide and lie, say i ate something without ever being accountable to actually do so.

anyway, make sure you hold yourself accountable, however that looks for you. this isn’t your norm, the whole eating 4,000 calories a day thing. (i want to note here that you should be working with a medical professional to increase caloric intake in a safe and methodical way. going from eating restricted amounts of food to doubling or tripling that amount overnight can be SO harmful to your body, please take caution!!!!). but it won’t be your norm forever, you can’t see it that way. it’s your norm for right now, so the quicker you get over the shock factor that comes with it and the more you normalize it, it will get easier.

  • stay distracted

okay, so your body is changing…don’t. fixate. on. it. i know what you’re thinking, “ALL of the weight is going to my ______, what’s going on!?”. THE WEIGHT WILL DISTRIBUTE. please be patient, please trust your body, please believe in the process. when i was weight restoring i was paranoid that my stomach would just grow and grow until it quite literally exploded. the weight will find its way to the right places but it won’t be able to do that if you stand in its way. give things time.

during that grace period, move on with your life. during this time i spent a lot of time with others, as focusing on socializing kept my mind occupied. my sisters and i would take silly little day trips on weekends. i would run pointless errands with my mom, help my dad with housework, call my grandma and chat for hours (something i still do, because IMPORTANT). the more time i spent investing in my relationships and making memories, the less time i had to pick myself apart. i spent less time with myself because my judgement and attention weren’t what my body needed. my body needed food, rest, and everything else would fall into place.

  • no body checking!

i didn’t even know what the phrase meant until my roommate at the hospital warned me about it when i went home for thanksgiving. i remember so vividly her sitting on her bed, wishing me a safe trip to my cousin’s house, “oh, and whatever you do, don’t body check. avoid full length mirrors!”. we didn’t have any of these at the hospital. seeing one for the first time after a month would surely be triggering.

while you’re weight restoring, your body will change shape and size. this is inevitable and shouldn’t come as a surprise. this is also rationally speaking. eating disorders are irrational, and it will convince you that you’re doing the wrong thing. NOT TRUE. the best way to avoid having to confront this irrational fear is to avoid seeing it. for some time, it’s going to be DAMN HARD to look at yourself in the mirror. you’ll feel out of place, foreign, confused. this is natural and it’s okay.

i weight restored in the summer in NJ, where most days are spent in bathing suits and not much else. i knew i couldn’t spend those months holed up in my room alone. i needed to go on those beach trips, have my friends over swimming, grab ice cream for lunch. these were challenges in my recovery that would make me better. what made them manageable for me was doing them all in a baggy t shirt, aka avoiding tight clothing. when i found myself in a bathing suit, i never, ever looked in a full length mirror. body checking, no thanks!

swimming with others was extra hard because i found myself wanting to compare my body with theirs. i was always envious of so-and-so’s this or that, never happy with my own body. but what helped me work through this was constant positive self-talk. when i found my mind slipping into comparison, i made a point to step back and say, “does this matter at all to me? is this going to help me get through this recovery?”. the answer was always no. and so i was able to move on rationally knowing that i was on the better path.

  • embrace it!

use this time to really push your palate. try EVERYTHING and ANYTHING. you gotta eat, you might as well enjoy it! this time was when i really began to pick up cooking. i figured, i have to eat, why not make it fun? i cooked a lot with my parents and broke nearly all of my food rules in the process. nothing was off limits anymore. i was free to gain the weight however i wanted to. and while i initially didn’t WANT to, knowing that i HAD to gave me that extra push to try it all.

today i eat *mostly* plant-based. i don’t eat much meat (except for my dad’s sunday meat sauce and my mom’s meatballs!), i don’t eat dairy, but i do eat fish and eggs. hard to put a label on all that! nevertheless, one thing i want to make super clear is that while i was weight restoring, I HAD NO LIMITATIONS ON MY DIET. i believe i earned the right to eat the way i do today. while recovering i ate everything. i made it a point to restore my relationship with ALL foods, no limits, no restrictions. the way i eat today reflects what i’ve found to leave me feeling and functioning my best. this is because these are my CURRENT goals. while weight restoring, your only goal is to restore your health and put on however much weight is needed to do so.

again, i’m not a medical professional in any way, but i love to chime into this recovery conversation when i can. if you’re currently weight restoring, i hope these tips can prove useful to your journey! remember, all discomfort is temporary, but the rewards that come from that pain are timeless.

now what’s for dinner!?

The Period Problem

 

i got my first period a week after i graduated eighth grade. i was late, but i was relieved. my two best friends at the time had been rolling up to homeroom with tampons spilling out of their backpacks since the summer before sixth grade. i always felt out of place when they’d insist we all make a trip to the bathroom during recess to “clean up”. i’d always just brush my hair and wait outside the stall. feeling young, ignorant.

so when it happened, i was over the moon. i felt like i had finally caught up, finally got it right.

only to get it wrong.

a few weeks passed and it didn’t come back. my mom wasn’t alarmed. i just got it, it’s normal not to be regular. right. normal. okay, good. it was reassuring to know that everything was fine.

but, it wasn’t.

now we’re a few weeks out following my first period. we’re also rapidly approaching the eerie beginnings of my eating disorder. at this point i’ve just began “dieting”. what did this mean for me? religiously keeping track of every morsel that went into my body, and then religiously burning every morsel away. i was restricting and exercising twice a day. i was losing weight and getting smaller. my friends and family were commending my hard work.

this became my life until my senior year of high school. throw in a few near death experiences, inpatient stays, refeeding pursuits…you get the picture. for over four years i put my body through absolute hell. i deprived it. i burned it out. it could barely support me breathing, walking. it couldn’t have been bothered with my period.

a stable menstrual cycle is an indication of a happy and healthy body. i remember reading once that if you haven’t gotten a period in 3 months, you should see a doctor. what did that mean for me, who, at the time of reading, was years beyond this warning. 3 months? try 3 years.

when i finally committed to recovery, i had a lot on my plate (literally and figuratively)! the absence of my period constantly lingered in the back of my mind. i knew i needed to fix it. i had no idea where to began. the doctors on my outpatient team consistently promised that once i returned to a healthy weight and body fat percentage and maintained that, then my period would return.

i trusted them. but their hypothesis proved false.

in my years spent in good, stable health, i was luckily able to alleviate various physical and mental health problems that were triggered by my restrictive habits. but my period, that was stubborn.

last year, i realized i could no longer rely on a faint hope that “it’ll come back soon”. i needed to act. fast. this had gone on for far too long. my body needed me.

i spent hours every night after a full day of classes and homework, burying myself deeper and deeper in research. i joined forums, signed up for email subscriptions, read books. i was determined to naturally and lovingly call my cycle home. i had read plenty about the pill and decided it wasn’t for me. my body didn’t need a pill to mimic my cycle. my body needed MY CYCLE. and i was going to get it just that.

below are a few steps i took toward restoring my cycle. to note, i am at a healthy weight and body fat percentage for my height (confirmed by medical professionals). after implanting this routine for about 4 months, i saw the results i was looking for.

**it’s EXTREMELY crucial to note that i am in no way a medical professional qualified to diagnose or provide medical advice. i’m simply sharing my experience and what worked for me. i also don’t believe that these few things alone helped restore my period, but i can never know for sure, so i’m sharing them here!**

Supplements and Herbs:

  • Vitamin C: this one has very little scientific research. it’s more of an “urban legend” type of thing, but i began adding it to my supplement routine. it is thought to possibly elevate estrogen levels while lowering progesterone levels. ive been taking this one!
  • Chaste Tree Berry (aka Vitex Berry): i’ve taken vitex berry in pill form in the past but wasn’t consistent with it. i actually came across this Hormone Balancing Elixir  while doing research and was so intrigued that i ordered a bottle right there. every morning i drink a glass of warm water with apple cider vinegar, lemon, cinnamon, and about 10-12 drops of this elixir. i also use it in my nightlight tea (more on that below)

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  • Ginger and Cinnamon: again, not tons of scientific evidence for these, but these two are believed to induce blood flow in the uterine area and, well, get things moving. they’re also great for digestion and bloating. every night before bed i have a hot mug (okay, usually 2) of ginger tea with a tablespoon of honey and a splash of lemon. i use cinnamon in my morning ACV drink (above, also great for digestion!) and in my oatmeal. 
  • Gelatinized Maca Powder: of all the supplements i’ve learned about, maca seems to be the most promising for period help. of course this one product alone won’t cure anything, but i strongly believe incorporating it daily has helped me among other things. this adaptogen supports the endocrine system and regulates/balances hormones, which is key to regular periods. i prefer the gelatinized powder because this form is easiest for the body to digest. my favorite way to enjoy this adaptogen is to add one tablespoon of the powder to my oatmeal each morning. it has a maple, caramel-like flavor that makes eating it actually enjoyable. if i don’t have oatmeal that day, i’ll use it in a mug of hot chocolate or other blended hot drink of choice.
  • Rhodiola Rosea and Ashwaghanda: more adaptogens. i take these two because they are said to have relaxing qualities. they are best known for reducing stress and alleviating anxiety. since putting any kind of stress on the body can create difficulties in regulating a period, it’s important to take care of your hormones and reduce stress as much as you can manage! i use the vita cost brand for these two. 

Lifestyle:

  • More strength training, less cardio: in recent months, i’ve actively focused on more body weight and weighted workouts. i adore my cycle classes and runs, but in hindsight i believe them to have been deterring my cycle. over the past 4 months i’ve taken more rest days while taking on more low-intensity workouts on the days i am active. i feel stronger and no longer burnt out. oh, and my period’s back, so i think that speaks volumes on that end.
  • Tracking: i recently read Woman Code by Alisa Viti and it was extremely insightful in terms of what steps to take in order to maintain a regular cycle. i downloaded the app MyFlo in order to track my cycle in it’s 4 stages (i highly recommend reading the book or at least googling a bit to gather a better understanding of all 4 stages of the menstrual cycle)! at each point, there are different foods to eat, exercises to do, and overall tips to follow to function to the highest degree at that point in time. tracking my cycle in the app has granted me feedback at each point that has been very helpful.

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again, i am in no way a medical professional qualified to grant advice on a medical level. this is just a look into my recent experience in restoring and regulating my cycle after losing it for FOUR YEARS to my eating disorder. no one thing listed will magically solve your problems. the best thing you can do is seek medical help and guidance as well as educate yourself about what you can do right now. this routine seems to have worked for me, but i believe the best thing i have done for myself is never giving up hope. keep strong, keep believing you can, and keep loving your body so that it can love you back. our faith is healing!

 

 

What’s the Word #3: Anxiety

**Written May 5th, 2018**

When I was a sophomore in high school, not only was I dying from an eating disorder, I was also diagnosed with social anxiety and major depression. Quite the intro to this post, I know.  Following this diagnosis, I was put on Lexapro, a medication used to treat both anxiety and depression. This was a decision that my parents and I finally came to after grappling with it for months. I was originally resistant to the concept of medication. I didn’t like the thought that a tiny little pill would mess with my brain chemistry. I thought it was a hoax. A money making scheme. A waste of time. I thought it meant I was weak, that I was incapable of picking myself up and dusting myself off. But then I reached rock bottom. I couldn’t make it through the morning without crying at least three times. I was missing school to hide at home. I couldn’t function. I felt defeated. I didn’t know where else to turn. So I finally agreed.

 

I think it’s important for me to be as transparent as possible on this platform. No need to hide anything. This is my story, and I’m here to share it with you all.

Let the word vomit begin.

  • First of all, I’d like to clear up a common myth. You do not need to be FORMALLY DIAGNOSEDfor your struggle to be validated. Whether that be an eating disorder, anxiety, depression, etc., what you’re going through is no LESSserious because a doctor didn’t acknowledge it. Far too often I’ll get a DM where the sender struggles with an eating disorder but “hasn’t been diagnosed”, so they conclude that it’s “not that serious”. This is an incredibly dangerous misconception and the stigma around diagnoses needs to be addressed. If you are struggling with an issue that is impairing your ability to lead a healthy and happy life, that is MORE THAN ENOUGH to get help for it. The situation should not have to get “bad enough” for someone to notice it and give it a name. You do NOT NEED TO BE EXTERNALLY VALIDATEDfor anything, ever.
  • This is not a proven fact or statistic but rather my personal opinion based on experience, but eating disorders tend to be COMORBID(meaning that there is a presence of additional disorders with a primary one). For me, my battle with anorexia left me craving isolation and the dark recess of my empty bedroom. I avoided socializing in fear of having to eat with others, and eventually this tendency led me to develop anxiety in the presence of other people. Totally not ideal for a student at a high school with nearly 4,000 students. I remember going to school everyday and feeling like I was suffocating in the hallway. I would take longer routes to class to avoid running into someone I knew. I hid in the bathroom between classes and during lunch. I wore hats and hoods to avoid being talked to. My anxiety made me want to disappear.
  • Let’s return to my experience with medication. There is a stigma around medicalizing mental health. I’m guilty of it too; thinking that someone who takes “happy pills” is weak, helpless. But being on the other side, I have a totally new perspective and appreciation for this option. Today, I’m passionate about holistic healing and Ayurvedic practices. I prefer herbal remedies over antibiotics, that kind of thing. But when I was fifteen, withering away, skin and bones, struggling to even hold my head up…the circumstances were different. I simply didn’t have the luxury to pursue any other course. Medication stabilized me. I started off with a relatively low dosage and worked my way up. The first couple of weeks I remember feeling a lot more at ease in the face of situations that would normally drive me wild (my eating disorder had this rule that I HADto wait exactly five minutes between bites of a meal…a couple of weeks on the medication and I remember feeling less anxious about breaking that rule). I’d say around two months I began to feel unmotivated to do anything, and sometimes nauseous. I can’t speak to why this was, but I remember crying to my mom that I had so much to worry about (SATs, AP courses, pre-college program applications) yet could not find an ounce of drive within me. It was as if I were dragging through the days. After about six months on a decent dosage, my doctor and I agreed that I could begin lowering my dosage. I found Lexapro to help ease my anxiety but it amplified my depressive nature. EVERYBODY IS DIFFERENT.I don’t regret taking this medication one bit. I believe that it created a stable foundation for me to begin challenging the debilitating fears that allowed my eating disorder to thrive. Once I was able to start knocking these down, coupled with coming off of the medication, I began to focus more on my depression. Story for another post. Overall, I was on Lexapro from the end of my sophomore year right up until the month before I left for college. The last two years the dosage was extremely low and I was only taking it every other day. It’s so important to carefully and slowly wean off of medication. Brain chemistry is serious!
  • During my sophomore year of high school, I kept a diary in the Notes app of my iPhone, constantly journaling all of my irrational worries and anxieties. I found this to be a source of comfort and a space to release my pent-up worries. I’d write all throughout the day. In bed each night I’d read through the day’s log. Seeing my irrational fears in words helped me realize they were just that-IRRATIONAL.
  • A lot of what made me anxious was related directly to my eating disorder and fears I had about food, my body, and exercise. That being said, they were pretty irrational and simply WILD. If I didn’t do 200 crunches each morning before school, the anxiety would eat me alive, insisting that I would “get fat” and “lose my progress”. What helped me overcome these fears was VOCALIZINGthem out loud. I remember the first time I did this. I stood in the mirror, took a deep breath, and said, “If I don’t do 200 crunches before school, I’m going to get fat”. Just HEARINGthat, seeing the words leave my mouth…I realized how absurd it was. It made me realize that if I ever heard someone else say it, I’d go crazy. I’d insist it wasn’t true. But why would it be different for me? This conclusion allowed me to work through similar bouts of anxiety as well.
  • My biggest tip for dealing with anxious situations is to be mindful of rationality. I can’t stress this enough. Are you anxious because going to a family party means having to take a day off from the gym? Sit with the discomfort. Why are you anxious about skipping? Is it because you think something catastrophic will happen if you were to give your body rest? Will you really feel happier after another workout over a day spent making memories with loved ones? Are your fears rational? Anxiety, at least from my experience, is based heavily on fears generated by irrational thoughts. Taking the time to recognize what is worth fear and what is not can make all of the difference.

What’s the Word #2: “Health”

**Written April 5th, 2018**

 

“Health”.

Quotes. Why? Because without them, you’re likely to think of the term as defined by the wildly vast expectations society has associated with it. On a daily basis, we’re constantly fed ideas of what health is, what foods are healthy, what diets are not, etc. In the midst of this information whirlwind, we always forget the most important thing about health…it’s relative.

  • What’s healthy for one person isn’t necessarily healthy for the next person
  • Health is more than what you eat and how you move…it’s what you choose to think about, how deeply you love, how accepting you choose to be. It’s how free you are in the body you were given, how open you are to embracing what comes your way, and how passionately you take charge of your life.
  • Whether it’s in real life or over Instagram, I’m constantly being asked “how are you so healthy?” and it makes me want to SCREAM. I know what is being referred to, but I just wish those who ask would realize something. When you comment on my “healthy” lifestyle, you’re referring to dedication to the foods I choose to eat and the way I choose to move my body. However, it’s not these surface level elements that make up health. I’m “healthy” because I eat foods that contribute to the overall well-being of my body, but also to my mental sanity. I enjoy eating plant-based. It just so happens that this choice also benefits the literal health of my body. I’ve been an athlete all my life, so I love to move. It just so happens that this choice also benefits the literal health of my body.
  • Too many of us are consumed with the idea of wanting to be “healthy” but have irrational interpretations of the concept. Smaller is not healthier. Less food is not healthier. More exercise is not healthier.
  • I spent years trying to be “healthy”. It was mentally taxing, to worry about every little thing I ate, trying to make every second at the gym count, etc. When I finally burned out, let go, and shifted my focus toward living my best life, only then was I able to find the peace of mind that to me, is health.
  • We tend to praise people for being “healthy” when we can see outward signs that we attribute to health. Think lean bodies, muscles, etc. What we have to do instead is accept that health is an inward manifestation. It will reveal itself outwardly, but not in superficial ways. When I feel my healthiest, my eyes look different. Brighter, lighter, not as empty. That kind of thing.
  • As long as you’re working toward self-love, body acceptance, and overall peace of mind, you’re pursuing health. Keep going.
  • I’m not healthy because I eat vegetables, I’m healthy because I ENJOY DOING SO.
  • “Health” has emerged in recent years as a trend, and this is both good and bad. It’s amazing to see so many people taking initiative toward fueling their bodies with whole, real foods. It’s incredible to see so many people coming together to move their bodies, to get stronger. However, with the heightened attention around health, there is opportunity for plenty of misinformation to circulate. There are hundreds of trends circulating. Which diet is best? Healthiest? One day carbs are bad, the next day it’s fat. Is Bulletproof coffee actually good for me? Should I only be baking with almond flour? It’s overwhelming to keep track of everything. And trying to do so, while it may seem to be done in the name of health, is actually doing the exact opposite. It’s stressing you out. Stop. Obsessing.
  • So you see your favorite Instagrammer promote a certain diet or trend. Don’t feel pressured to pursue it yourself. They are not healthier than you for doing so. You are not less healthy for choosing not to.
  • Health is impossible to talk about without referring to food. Keto, paleo, vegan…there are copious amounts of diets that you likely feel pressured to explore. Forget labels. Ask yourself what your body needs at the moment. Some days all I crave are high fat foods. Don’t think for a second there aren’t days where I eat two full avocados…my wallet doesn’t forget them 🙂 Other days, all I can think about are carbs. Those days, lots of starchy foods will go down. I can’t tie myself to one label. It’s not in my best interest to do so.
  • Don’t be intimidated by your health journey. Everybody’s path is different. Look to others for ideas, inspiration, and motivation. Then, fall in line as needed. Listen to your body’s needs. You are not that person you admire so deeply. Learn from them, but in respect to your own body, mind, and spirit.
  • Health is eating vegetables but not being afraid of sweets. Health is crushing it at the gym but then taking three days off to rest and be social. Health is a balance, not an extreme.
  • Health. Is. Relative. Don’t forget it!