Each month I look forward to posting a client spotlight. And I'm so grateful that "A" was willing to share her story with all of you. It has been so gratifying to work with her as she has worked hard to develop a happy/healthy relationship with food. She has fought hard in her recovery from an eating disorder and along her path found two keys to healthy eating and exercise- cooking and climbing. Read on and enjoy.
Six months ago I hit a low point in my battle with an eating disorder. I had literally run my body into the ground through a long-standing combination of over-exercise and under-eating. It took three full months in a treatment center to restore my body to health, but it continues to take work to restore my mentality surrounding food and eating healthfully. Thanks to the support of Marci and my therapist, (as well as constantly checking in with myself on a daily basis), I can honestly say that I am in a place that I haven’t been in for years. My approach to both food and nutrition has been transformed. No, I don’t pretend to say that disordered thoughts and tendencies don’t exist – but I know how to fight them.
I never intentionally tried to compromise my health or destroy my body with an eating disorder. Rather, it felt like something I could control in the middle of an emotional tornado. I had always been an athlete, rowing through college then running marathons in the years afterward. I thought I knew about sports nutrition and healthy eating. But what was originally a way of staying healthy became an addiction; I only allowed certain foods into my body, at certain times, in certain amounts. I shut off everything my body was telling me. I continued pushing myself physically, until my body nearly gave out. I was mentally, emotionally, and physically spent. I had a brutal awakening in January of this year and realized that I couldn’t continue treating my body this way. So I decided to give up all control for the sake of getting both my healthy and my life back.
The early stages of treatment were both physically and emotionally intense, uncomfortable, and even painful. But the challenge now is regaining a healthy perspective around eating, exercise, and maintaining life balance. I am a different person now – physically, yes, but more important, mentally. While there is clearly no single thing that helps individuals recover from an eating disorder, two processes have remarkably helped me find my way to a fresh food mentality: cooking and climbing. Let me explain. :)
I had never really cooked a meal to share with others; sure, I cook my own food, but I had never truly enjoyed food preparation because of my tight restrictions on what I allowed myself to eat. I ate a baked sweet potato but never cheesy mashed potatoes. I grilled fish with lemon but would never have given it a maple glaze, for example. I can’t explain it, but there were so many foods I wouldn’t eat in the midst of the eating disorder simply because the dish, as a whole, terrified me. I met a friend, however, whose joy was in cooking delicious meals and who graciously began to share that skill with me. I began to help with the cooking a couple times each week as we made dinner for ourselves. Something about the process of creating a meal and being involved in each piece of onion dicing or butter melting made something in my head suddenly click. Once I prepared a “challenge food” in this context, from start to finish, it was no longer scary or off limits – I could easily see exactly what it was, and in breaking it down into ingredients and steps. What had been a looming pasta nightmare, for instance, became a delicious, hearty pasta dinner that I could enjoy with a great friend. So challenge by challenge, I realized the key to tackling my fears was just to cook them! And I know now that all I have to do when confronted with something that I hesitate to eat, or when I think twice about whether something is “healthy enough,” is cook it myself and understand that it is simply food – delicious and nutritious in all of its forms.
Coming from years of exercising for the wrong reasons, I have been careful, in my recovery, to approach exercise as something that I WANT to do for the sake of enjoyment. The same friend has recently reintroduced me to hiking and backpacking as a fantastic form of physical activity. I must admit that in recent years I haven’t been an enthusiastic hiker…it did’t provide the physical challenge and intense vigorous exercise that I thought I needed. But in re-learning what is healthy and good for my body, as well as what is thoroughly fun in the process, I am coming to absolutely love the periodic hikes and trips I have been taking through New Hampshire’s White Mountains. But they have been invaluable as well in what they have taught me about my body’s needs regarding nutrition.
I have realized through the months of treatment that I need to put a lot more food into my body in the course of a day than I was ever aware of, simply to get through a normal, busy weekday. Butthrowing in about 4000 feet of elevation and miles of trail, I discovered that food is, plain and simple, fuel for my body. Without sufficient amounts of food, I cannot perform. I have been at the point of tears on a trail, body exhausted. Yet after refueling I’m suddenly happy and able to continue going.
Of course, we all know that proper nutrition allows us to live and have the energy our bodies need. But it wasn’t until a hard day of hiking that I was able to see the direct correlation between food in and energy out. Easy. It was so freeing to realize that to some extent, it doesn’t matter what I put in – I need the fats, the carbohydrates, EVERYTHING, in order to do what I want to do.
But this applies to the rest of life too! Pretty much any food, in moderation, can and will be used by my body to live the active, healthy life I want to live. And in consuming every food, in a variety, I am happier. Eating what I want to eat, when I want to eat it, is less of a challenge when I acknowledge that food is fuel. End of story.
So of course, the mental battles of eating habits are there, and they may always be, but they are few and far between. And when they arise, I know how to fight them. I am committed to living a life that isn’t dictated by my food choices, but enhanced by them. And I’m getting closer!