COVID-19 and Recovery
By: Jessica Cushing-murray
The CoronaVirus, COVID-19, the world pandemic. The chaos that is our lives today.
Maybe you know someone who has been diagnosed with this virus, or maybe you are lucky and you and your family have been safely and successfully quarantining as directed. But whether or not this world pandemic has affected your medical health, a big question is has it affected your recovery?
For those of you in recovery from eating disorders, you know that a big part of recovery is learning to become more flexible: with what you eat, how much you eat, your habits before and after you eat, your exercise routine. So this Coronavirus outbreak is likely having an impact on your ability to do your normal routine.
Whether you are in quarantine, or still working an essential job, all the COVID19 restrictions and precautions might feel like they are taking away from your autonomy. This post is here to remind you that no matter how long you've been in recovery from an eating disorder, it is still important to check in with yourself and with where you are in your recovery journey.
A few things that have crossed my mind over the past few weeks: your appointments with registered dietitians/physicians/psychologists that may have been canceled or postponed, the idea that we need to be "stocking up on non-perishable food" may be changing how you grocery shop, the closures of state/national parks and gyms may keep you from your normal exercise routine. All these have affected me in different ways. In my head I think "well I want to be safe, so I should buy a good amount of non-perishable foods, even if they aren't included in my usual food groups," but that can be stressful. For those of us in recovery, any deviation from our daily routines can be stressful, especially when it involves food.
So, there are a lot of things to consider. But while some of these changes may give you some stress or anxiety, it's a great time to practice the flexibility we learned when we first started our recovery journey. It won't kill us to buy boxed mac n’ cheese at the grocery store, just in case this pandemic worsens. Losing your gym to COVID closures doesn't mean you can't exercise: go outside and go for a walk, buy a yoga mat and sign up for the free at-home workout lessons posted by Chris Hemsworth! And give yourself the flexibility of not needing to achieve at the level you were before quarantine.
It’s ok if you are not working out as much as normal right now.
It’s ok to rest.
It’s ok to just survive.
No matter what the world situation is, now is the time to practice all the important lessons you learned at the beginning of your recovery process and stay strong! Don’t let this pandemic change all the hard work you have put into your recovery. Remember that you are strong and that this too shall pass.
Are you struggling with worsening ED thoughts and behaviors during quarantine? Not Your Average Nutritionist is here to help! Our dietitians are well-versed in telehealth, and have openings for new clients. Contact us today!
Libby also created a video for grocery shopping when you have anxiety that you can view HERE.
By: Jessica Cushing-murray
Though most people can understand the serious health consequences that can arise from a long term eating disorder, many are unaware of which problems are most commonly seen. One of which is called a Mallory Weiss Esophageal Tear, or Mallory Weiss Syndrome (MWS). MWS is defined as “tears in the lining of the esophagus,” which can often result from prolonged, severe vomiting, and is thus most evident in those suffering from Bulimia Nervosa.
So what exactly causes MW tears?
In people diagnosed with bulimia, the constant and continual act of forcing oneself to vomit (purge) their food after eating causes trauma to the esophagus (the tube that carries your food from your throat to your stomach). This trauma from vomiting can tear the lining of the esophagus, ultimately leading to people developing symptoms ranging from abdominal pain, to black/bloody bowel movements (blood in feces), to hematemesis (vomiting blood). None of these symptoms sound particularly pleasant, and they are worsened if the compulsive vomiting does not stop.
How can MW tears be fixed?
In people with bulimia who feel compelled to purge themselves through vomiting it can be unlikely that the Mallory Weiss tears in the esophagus will heal on their own. This creates an even more serious condition in which endoscopic therapy or even surgery may be required to resolve the symptoms. Left unhealed, MWS can lead to bad infections, as bacteria enter the open wounds in the esophagus. Though MWS can be the result of other trauma to the chest/throat, severe or prolonged hiccups, gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining), it is a good example of a real and applicable consequence to people suffering from bulimia nervosa. However, it is possible that MW tears heal on their own, and a major part of the healing process is to stop purging behaviors.
For people with eating disorders (ED), it can become difficult to understand how their actions in their ED might affect them in the long run, so it’s important to learn and educate those around you about these kinds of conditions. Living with and recovering from an ED is difficult enough, it doesn’t need to be exacerbated by health issues such as MWS.
If you need help reducing your bulimia behaviors, including purging, make sure to reach out to an eating disorder registered dietitian for help. It can save your life (plus make food enjoyable again).
by Jessica Cushing-Murray
Anorexia, bulimia, obsessive-compulsive disorder. These are terms that are pretty universally known to the general population. But “orthorexia”? Not so much.
“Orthorexia” is defined by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) as, “an obsession with proper or ‘healthful’ eating.” It is a fairly new term to describe those people you may know who are always looking at the nutritional labels on their food or can’t seem to eat food if they don’t know exactly what ingredients are in it. Orthorexia was coined only in the past couple of decades, and awareness of this term is increasing as the number of people concerned about “healthy” eating increases simultaneously. A deeper definition of the term originates from the man who coined the term himself, Dr. Stephen Bratman, who expressed, “Orthorexia commonly begins as an “exuberant” interest in healthy eating that escalates over time. What was originally a choice becomes a compulsion and the individual can no longer choose to relax their own rules. Eventually, the person’s restrictive eating starts to negatively impact both their health and social and occupational functioning; eating the right foods becomes increasingly important and squeezes out other pursuits.”
So why has orthorexia become a condition recognized by NEDA and important to us today?
It is an interesting phenomenon when a condition such as this one can be tied to society’s standards, as well as growing regulations put in place for nutrition in first-world countries. By this, I mean that all chain restaurants are now required to keep a copy of their nutritional facts in every restaurant for their consumers’ reference. Likewise, most places we eat have the calories, fat, and carbohydrate contents all directly on the menu, where these facts can sway anyone toward or away from certain meals based on the number of calories next to that food. In addition, there is a newer emphasis on vegetarian and vegan options, or a page of the menu that is classified “600 calories or less” and “lite meals.” All of these are ways that calories and nutrition facts are seemingly “thrown in our faces” everywhere we go, which certainly may correlate to the development of orthorexia.
In terms of treatment and diagnoses, Orthorexia is not specifically recognized as it’s own disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual (DSM) that health professionals abide by. This makes it very difficult to “diagnose” people as orthorexic. However, orthorexia itself is an obsession with healthy eating, so it is often thought of as combination of a classified eating disorder (such as anorexia) paired with a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Therefore, people who are be orthorexic may be constantly reading nutrition facts and ingredient labels, and may refuse to eat certain foods if the nutrition facts or other factors do not meet their ‘health’ standards. In addition to reading labels, someone who is orthorexic likely eats the same few foods or meals every day because they have deemed these specific foods as “acceptable.” People suffering from orthorexia may--in a similar way to those with eating disorders like anorexia-- completely cut out certain food groups from their diets. Things like “carbs” or “all meat” or “all animal products.” Or they may have other ways of deeming foods as acceptable such as if the food is grown organically or locally. They likely do this for a couple of reasons: the foods they are rejecting are not ‘pure’ or ‘healthy’ enough, but also because it makes it easier to continue with their orthorexic behavior in front of other people. Think about it: someone who randomly and completely stops eating meat looks suspicious, but if they can say to their friends that they have decided to adopt a vegetarian diet, now they have a reason to have cut an entire food group out of their diet without looking unhealthy. Lastly, another important sign of someone who may be suffering from orthorexia is someone who will become visibly distressed when there are no ‘healthy’ food options at an event, or if they are unable to find the nutrition facts or ingredients list for the food in front of them.
Orthorexia can look tremendously like a person who simply took the “eating a healthy diet” lifestyle to the extreme and is now obsessed with only eating very specific “healthy” foods. It is important to recognize and educate yourself on terms like orthorexia, because it has a likeliness to develop into other classified eating disorders, can lead to malnutrition based on the restriction and specificity involved, and can be very harmful to individuals suffering from it. Though orthorexia is not yet classified as its own official diagnosis (though it is currently diagnosed under “other specified feeding and eating disorders” in the DSM-5), the obsession our society has today with staying “fit” and “healthy” is sure to lead to increased prevalence of people becoming orthorexic. While reading this post you may have even had certain people in your life come to mind.
Awareness and education are powerful tools to utilize in helping people whose mantra of “living healthy” has ultimately become the dangerous opposite. The good news is: by reading this post, you just took the first step. See the links below for more information and signs/symptoms of people who may be suffering from Orthorexia.
If you need help recovering from Orthorexia, or another kind of eating disorder, reach out to our Dietitians today! Contact Dietitian Libby Parker HERE.
By: Jessica Cushing-murray
Jessica graduated from UCLA in 2018 with a degree in Psychobiology and continued her education at University of Hawaii for a Masters in Nutritional Science. Though she loved her first semester studying nutrition, she realized that life is not always a linear process and made the decision to apply for medical school with hopes to be accepted this cycle in 2020. But, as a former collegiate distance runner, Jessica will always have a passion for nutrition and helping people struggling with eating disorders.
I probably have never met you, I don’t know what color your hair is, what your family is like, or where you live. And yet, I know you. A big part of you. The part struggling with an eating disorder, the part that has probably taken over your life and is consuming all your thoughts.
Before you roll your eyes and get ready for a lecture you’ve probably been hearing from your family and friends lately, you should know that I get it. Because I used to be you. You wake up every morning and go exercise and probably put off eating for as long as you can. The question constantly running through your mind is “to eat or not eat.” Some foods are acceptable, you’ve deemed them “healthy” in your mind; other foods are things you will not even consider eating. For me, a big “can’t” food was pasta. I used to love pasta: all kinds, spaghetti and meatballs, fettuccine Alfredo, mac and cheese, you name it, I loved it... But then my ED developed and I just couldn’t, it gave me so much anxiety.
You probably have a routine down filled with things like exercise, coffee, maybe even laxatives. Your friends are worried about you and you’re sick of hearing that “you should talk to someone” or “you need help” because you think you’re fine. I used to think that too.
So I have a question for you: what’s the goal? What’s the end point? Do you even know? How long have you been stuck and unhappy in your eating disorder? Is there an end in sight? I had a goal weight. An “if I hit this weight then I will be done and I will be proud of myself.” Here’s what I know: your goal--whether it’s a weight, a clothing size, a feeling--it won’t feel like you think it will. When I had exercised to the maximum and avoided all the foods I used to love, I hit my ‘goal’ - and I felt more empty and lost than I ever had, and I sure as heck didn’t feel any better about myself. When you’re stuck in an eating disorder, you are trapped in a cycle of dieting, cravings, and exercising, and it seems like there’s no way to stop. You might not even realize yet that life isn’t supposed to be this hard.
Two major things I learned in treatment:
1) Nobody can make you want to get better. You have to want it for yourself. And that’s the hardest part about navigating through an ED: the fact that you have to be the one who chooses recovery. Maybe you think that words like “recovery” and “treatment” sound like total BS things that you don’t need. That’s how I felt too.
But now let me tell you the 2nd thing I learned…
2) There are no shortcuts in life. Every decision you make in your ED is going to have real consequences that you probably don’t know about. I broke bones because of my ED. I have friends with permanent heart problems from their excessive exercise/binging/purging. I know people who’s repeated “I’m fine” and “I don’t have a problem” phrases left them hospitalized.
So yes, it’s your life. And it’s your choice to listen or not listen to the people around you. But it’s your life. Don’t you want to be around to live it and enjoy it? My psychologist once asked me, “Jess, what are some things you are unable to do now [because of your eating disorder] that you would be able to do once in recovery?” The long answer was: I could sleep better, have less anxiety, enjoy ice cream and going out to eat with friends, and again ICE CREAM!
But when I really thought about: what could I do when I finally accept recovery? The short answer was: anything and everything.
This is what I wish for you.
By: Lauren MacLeod
Lauren is finishing up her dietetic internship at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to become a registered dietitian. She hopes to work in outpatient counseling and has enjoyed working with the eating disorder population.
Body Positivity/Body Acceptance - Comes from The Body Positive, which was founded in 1996 as an alternative treatment for anorexia nervosa; it shifts focus away from changing body weight. The core competency of body positive movement is:
“uncover the messages that have influenced your relationships with your body, food, and exercise and develop a weight-neutral, health-centered approach to self-care to become the authority of your own body by sorting out facts from distorted societal myths about health, weight, and identity.”
In summary, body positivity is about accepting your body as it is and encouraging lifestyle choices that focus on health, not weight.
Fat Acceptance - A political movement focusing on equal rights and medical treatment of fat* people. The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) was established in 1969, when fat people realized they were being discriminated against in the workplace and medical settings based on body size. NAAFA gives them access to education and support for self-empowerment.
*“Fat” is a word that is being reclaimed, as “queer” has been reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ movement. It is meant to be empowering, not demoralizing.
Health at Every Size - Health is not determined by weight, but rather by healthy lifestyle changes: eating all foods in balance (intuitive eating), and mindful and enjoyable movement. It focuses on taking care of your body at whatever size it is, and looking for actual markers of health, such as blood pressure, rather than a number on the scale. It was established by Linda Bacon, PhD in her book Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight. She has since written another book to combat the modern fight against diet culture: Body Respect.
Intuitive Eating: A term championed by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch (CEDRDs) in 1995 through their book Intuitive Eating. It is composed of 10 principles that focus on rejecting diet culture, listening to what our bodies truly want and need, and repairing our broken relationships with food. It is not a diet, but rather the way humans naturally eat when listening to their body.
Diet Culture: I think the Eating Disorder Registered Dietitians and Professionals really hit the nail on the head with their definition: “...a belief system that focuses on and values weight, shape, and size over well-being. Variations of diet culture also include rigid eating patterns that on the surface are in the name of health, but in reality are about weight shape or size.”
Eating Disorder vs Disordered Eating: An eating disorder fits the diagnostic criteria as defined by DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Disordered eating classifies irregular eating behaviors that do not neatly fit in to an existing diagnosis, but may still pose health risks, physical and/or psychological.
No matter which definitions you identify with, I hope to help you find a way to love yourself. Even if you cannot accept the body you’re in now, can you appreciate all the work that it does for you? Maybe you can even work towards loving it tomorrow.
Kayla Douthitt is an intuitive eating health coach, and owner of Wisdom ‘N Wellness. Her goal is to inspire and empower others by looking inward to heal negative body image, self-esteem issues, eating disorders, and honoring their body fully. She’s on a mission to help end crazy dieting, stop negative spectators who damage body image, and believes strongly in healing from the inside out. Kayla overcame a 10-year battle with anorexia and binge eating that she hid from the world for so long, and now she truly wants to give back to bring awareness to the community and fight for those suffering low confidence and eating issues. Her positive attitude is infectious, she loves all things chocolate, and finally isn’t afraid to talk about the “F” word…Food, that is. Kayla recently started managing Project Heal, (the Largest US non-profit organization providing funds & recovery support for people suffering from eating disorders) Facebook page and is actively seeking more opportunities to end body shaming and food blaming. Learn more at www.facebook.com/WisdomNWellness
Do you find yourself stuck? Stuck staring in the mirror wondering why you think your butt looks big? Or why you think you arms need to be toned in that shirt? Heck, maybe you often wonder why you can’t look like THAT girl. You know the one that seems to have her “stuff” together. How the heck does she have 4 kids and still able to wear a bikini? How is it that those skinny jeans make her look…well…skinny?
Then you get mad. You get angry at yourself. You compare and perhaps even cry. I’ve been there. It’s human nature to want to look good. I would be doing you disservice if I didn’t say that everyone wants to look good, even if they don’t admit it. Looking good is not the problem. The problem is how you treat your body and what you say TO your body.
I say that to say this - Why are you body hating? You aren’t doing yourself any favors by pin-pointing every little area that you think is wrong. Because I can promise you, it’s society that is wrong! It’s the tabloids, the media, the articles, etc. They have us thinking salad is better than cake and celery juice is the next BIG thing.
Folks, I spent years of my own life wishing I should have, could have, would have, looked perfect. I searched for flawless clothes, the just perfect food choices, the ideal hair, etc. If it was the latest and greatest in terms of lookin’ good, you can bet I probably tried it or attempted to try.
Moral of the story, love you FOR you. Love YOU because YOU are made EXACTLY the way you are suppose to be made. I beg you to start taking into consideration that your body deserves kindness, moved with joy and not hate, cared for in a hot bubble bath, and rest when it’s tired. Your body needs you to trust it. Even just a wee bit means so much to those toes that stay bound up in high heels all day long. Your body needs you to just be. Be as you are, not as what everyone else wants you to be. That’s right. This is coming from the girl who thought she had to impress the world and be just like it.
I finally figured out that I can’t stand being like the rest of the world. It’s DISGUSTING!
I’d rather be called a weirdo. Of course, this didn’t happen overnight, and I’ll be honest, it won’t happen fast for you that fast either. It is POSSIBLE if you start now.
I believe that it’s possible to wear whatever you want, how you want and love your body.
It’s possible to show the world your battle wounds of carrying a baby, falling down that dirt road scars, and getting scratched by a cat. We’re human, inevitability made of flaws, and THAT alone is powerful. From here on out, please do your body and your soul a favor:
Give it love. So much love that you can’t even handle it.
By Miranda Daschian
Daschian is a student-athlete at Cal Poly - SLO majoring in Psychology with a minor in Ethnic Studies. She aspires to work with athletes struggling with eating disorders and promote body positivity to those competing in adolescence and beyond.
Imagine a young student who has recently begun high school. Freshman year, full of
opportunity...and a vast amount of awkwardness and hormones. This student, now
surrounded by peers years older and influences from the world of adulthood, begins to
feel pressure. This pressure is on the appearance of their body. They begin checking
mirrors more often, analyzing their face for any ominous pimples, poking and prodding
at their stomach and arms. Mom and Dad notice their once carefree child is now highly
selective at meals and has been frequently skipping homework and assignments to go on
runs or to the neighborhood gym. Weeks pass, and yet these behaviors only increase.
The student’s body is now changing noticeably, and yet they still don’t feel good enough.
Based on this, what gender do you believe the student is?
If you said girl, you may be one of many who thinks of eating disorders as a cis-gender
female-specific issue. While the problem may effect more females than males to this
day, the rates of disordered eating traits and diagnoses in males is on the rise...and at
alarming rates. According to NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) around 10
million males in the United States alone will experience disordered eating symptoms,
and rates of sub-clinical eating disorder behaviors are almost as common in males as
females. These rates may even be higher when stigmatization of males with these issues
is taken into account, causing many to suffer in silence.
So if all genders are susceptible, why do we so rarely hear about one of the populations
at risk? Many aspects of masculinity in our culture involve reluctance to be open or
acknowledge illness or weakness. “Just tough it out”, “don’t be a sissy”...all push males
to put their heads down and ignore things that may be going wrong in their lives. This
masculine stereotype not only tells someone how to process their emotions but also goes
as far as to push them into certain physical portrayals of how a “real man” should look.
If you need examples of this, google “dorito body” or “superhero body” and you will see
an endless array of muscular males (in various degree of dress) who we all know don’t
just naturally look that way. Photoshopped and posed images rule the internet and are
presumed to be the ideal, circulated broadly across social media and the internet. We
have assumed a type of sexualized and polished beauty to be superb, yet the influence of
this type of imagery is toxic and can be seen in rates of disordered eating increasing
among the spectrum of gender.
The biggest impact on eating disorders across the board can be made by changing
aspects of our culture. Sound easy? Not likely, but steps are being made slowly. Breaking
down gender roles and body image stereotypes will allow more individuals to develop a
sense of self separate from how they or others view their body. Individuals who identify
as male that deviate from a traditional “built” frame or masculine features won’t feel
devalued or shamed, and students like the hypothetical one I mentioned earlier will base
their self-worth on aspects other than their bodies. Self-love or body positivity
campaigns in groups as young as elementary school can promote the ideal that one
should love their body for what it is and the purpose it serves. Families can take new
approaches to how meals are introduced in the household, emphasizing less on any
critiquing and more on the energy and sustenance gained from these meals. And more
than anything, future generations should be taught that every body is different, but
every body holds worth.
Picture this: you’re a NCAA Division I student-athlete who spends over 25 hours a week at practice… and you’re struggling with an eating disorder (ED). You have practice every morning at 7am, and you run anywhere from 4-14 miles… you eat as little as possible afterward. You go to class and then back to your second practice of the day and run some more… and you think about what food will be most beneficial to eat so that your legs don’t get too shaky during weight room. Then you finally go to dinner at the dining hall… and you spend all your time online looking up the nutrition information for every item at the buffet. You repeat that day for weeks or even months, and ask yourself why you never have time for other things and why you’re so tired and unhappy.
That was my life in college. A horrible cycle of falling in and out of that pattern for years. I spent a long, long time being torn in half by my sport and my eating disorder.
At the time, the cycle felt impossible to break.
Gradually, I learned how to be happy again. Once I started seeing a psychologist, I was able to get help and express the pain I’d been feeling. Slowly but surely, I saw the return of the “old” me. It didn’t happen overnight, in a week, or even a month. It’s still ongoing, but I began noticing the smallest things as victories. My college coach used to preach, “it’s the little things that make big things happen.”
So I got tools from a psychologist and my support from friends and family, and I started to mend everything on the inside—piece by piece—that had felt broken for so long. At first, a victory was something as minimal as “I ate a full breakfast with my team after practice,” or “my hands didn’t shake at all during weight room today.” But they build on each other. Small accomplishments like that transition into “I didn’t look at a single nutrition facts label all week,” to “I don’t know how much I weigh because I stopped using my scale.” It was all about knowing that there was a win in each of these steps. The greatest feeling in recovery came when I finally reached all these steps and I was no longer just checking things off a list that the dietitian gave me, but I was actually OKAY with taking these steps—both on an emotional and mental level.
Then came one of the most momentous steps in my own personal recovery. I was able to go for a run and not think about the calories I was burning according to pace and mileage. I wasn’t basing my run on which foods I had eaten that day, the calories would be “canceling out.” I was just running—for fun, for me. With lots of time spent working on my recovery process, and myself, I was able to mend the horribly fractured chain that linked me to my ED on one side and my sport on the other.
Since that day and the moment I realized what an accomplishment that run was, things haven’t always been perfect or smooth. Anyone who has been through a similar relationship with food knows that recovery is a messy, ongoing battle. Some days or weeks I’m lured back into calorie counting and I think a little too often about food and its ingredients/labels. Other weeks I’m pulled in the opposite direction by running and I waste energy trying to make the perfect workout schedule and do everything according to pace. BUT, I know exactly what to do or who to reach out to when either of these things happen, and I find ways to re-center myself. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, and I don’t have to be stuck in the middle of two equally difficult problems. Both my sport and my ED will always be a central part of making me into the person I am today, but I am no longer being torn apart by either. I’m in control of how I spend my time, what I think about, and what deserves my attention—on any given day.
And, wow, regaining control over my life feels so damn good.
Author: Jessica Cushing-Murray is a graduate student at University of Hawaii Manoa pursuing a Master's degree in Nutrition. She was a member of the UCLA Cross Country and Track teams during her undergraduate career and is using her last season of eligibility as a grad student now on Oahu. As a competitive long distance runner, Jessica understands the difficulties of trying to balance proper nutrition with college athletics, and hopes that she can make a career out of educating and counseling student-athletes as her future career.
In this beautiful letter to herself a woman, whom I had the privilege to work with, wrote her personal reasons for wanting to recover. I was so moved by this statement of self love and respect I asked if she would please share in hopes that it would inspire others.
You don’t have to have this eloquent of a “why” statement, but I do encourage you to write out why YOU want to recover. What will you be able to do that you can’t while staying in your disorder? Read it every day. If you feel bold, please share in the comments, perhaps it will inspire someone else.
“People say motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing, which is why we recommend it daily.” -Zig Ziglar
I want my desires back. I want my sense of belonging back, my right to belong. I want my voice back -- my own voice that listens to my desires from a place of giving my body freedom to just be, to just be comforted, to just be heard, to come out of my own shadows, to regain self-trust and self-approval, to recognize that while my body may expand or contract, it is an injustice when I fall short of being a safe confidante to my body.
It is similar to living a lie, to gaslighting my body into believing that it is wholly wrong.
Overriding my body, judging my body, slandering my body, muting those voices within my body is almost akin to perpetrating a crime against all of me. In some ways, it also adds up to me becoming my own judge and jury and, so-to-speak, to being my own executioner.
That all shapes up to me becoming a threat to my own being, a threat to my own survival. It poses a form of self-harm. Self-harm be gone.
I want to be in conversation with my body -- to mind my body by mining for the gold within its contours, between the layers of my skin, in my jiggly, squishy or soft rolls.
Otherwise, I am and may forever be constrained by cultural chatter that breeds fear of food and fear of self.
Otherwise, I am confused by mixed signals, and I easily misunderstand my own self, my own wisdom, my own nature.
Otherwise, eating enters a state of chaos and confusion.
Otherwise, I live by dictates of “should I?” or “should I not?”
Otherwise, I omit all questions about my desires and about my deeply personal choices for food and in life.
I want the memories I have of meals to be soothing memories, and I want to be able to connect food and meals to comforting thoughts -- not to feelings of restraint or to lost opportunities for self-connection. I don’t want to be my own troll, posting critical messages in my mind concerning food.
In the end, I want to rethink my life, rethink the words I speak to myself, rethink the actions I take around current meals and meals that I am planning. I want to arrive at my table open and curious.
I want to readily pull up a seat at the table and honestly be all I am. All I am, meaning welcoming my whole self -- knowing my vulnerabilities, subtleties, and nuances and sitting with and helping myself to meet my truest desires. All I am, meaning that I fill my plate in tandem with becoming a more fulfilled self.
In the end, I no longer want to forsake myself. I want to feel that I deserve a place setting and a place at my own table -- and in the communal table of the larger world.
by Jessica Cushing-Murray
Mental health and issues like eating disorders (EDs) are being talked about more and more on platforms like social media. More people are speaking out about its importance and why these topics need to be addressed and brought up in conversation. And these are all great things - it’s exciting to see people spreading awareness with public social media posts - but posting about it and having a real life face-to-face conversation with someone struggling with an eating disorder are two very different tasks.
On my Division I college athletics team, issues like EDs were known but not necessarily voiced. Everyone knew the risk factors, the warning signs, and the importance of a well-balanced diet, but we didn’t have very many honest conversations about these things as a team. You can be someone who posts on Facebook that you support the education of athletes on the dangers of eating disorders, but you don’t really understand what that means until someone on your team (who you run with and see every single day) becomes so thin that the doctors bench her because they believe that continuing to race would be hazardous to her health.
So what does an open, in-person conversation about eating disorders look like? And why is it so important to have them, especially within the athletic community? The conversation starts with either a troubled person reaching out for help, or with a person concerned about a friend/family member.
Because the stigmatization of issues like eating disorders, or potential to be pulled from the team, athletes are often less inclined to talk about it or reach out for help than a non-athlete. However, in my experience, the most significant occurrence is the chain reaction that starts when one person speaks up about their struggles with eating, exercising, or dieting. All it takes is one brave person to tell a teammate that he/she is having a hard time, and we as athletes hear someone else admitting vulnerability, and are suddenly less afraid to acknowledge our own struggles. These conversations are so instrumental within athletics because we have very strong feelings about avoiding signs of weakness.
My team experienced this in a truly positive way. By one girl confessing something as small as “it makes me nervous to eat a lot of carbs,” it opens up the discussion into eating issues, and we realized that a lot of us were having the same fears and feelings when it came to nutrition. Talking about our own food beliefs with each other helped us realize that we weren’t alone in our thinking and that there are other people who know exactly what we are feeling. Once the conversation is opened up, everyone on the team is able to pitch in helpful ideas.
For some reason, in athletics, we find it harder to discuss mental issues in comparison to physical ones. But the conversation would actually follow the same outline regardless of whether someone is struggling with eating or dealing with a broken bone. For example, say you stress-fracture your tibia (shin bone). In distance running, odds are someone else on your team has had the same injury. They’re going to give you all the advice they can on non-weight-bearing forms of exercise, how important it was to wear the protective boot, and the best/worst days that came along as a result of their injury.
Discussions on issues like EDs would go exactly the same way. Because some people have never experienced food fears or the need to exercise or restrict calories, these people can give insight into their healthy way of thinking that keeps them on the right path to a well-nourished body. Some people have experienced these problems before and have guidance on the tools that can be used to overcome these fears. Others on the team are currently struggling, and the team atmosphere and accountability enables them to go places like the on-campus counseling services to seek advice from professionals. The best part about having other people know is that this difficult step of getting help can be done together and with friends.
So I ask again, why is opening up this conversation so important? Because seeking help and getting well is a process that is held up by a support system of people who want your recovery just as much as you do. There is so much to be gained by not having to go through an eating disorder alone. Talking about our mental struggles and fears and looking for support from the people around us is beneficial for ourselves and can unknowingly be the life-changing difference for others.
If you’ve noticed someone close to you showing signs of an ED, first try to understand that what they are going through is very difficult. Then, see if they’re ready to be open up about it; because talking about it is the first step toward getting help. And when it comes to asking someone about it, realize there are so many different possible outcomes: you can be supportive, have lots of questions, or you may even be wrong about them having an ED, but the worst thing you can do is to ignore it. So, ask. Be the person who’s willing to have a conversation about it. Be the difference.
Libby is a non-diet Registered Dietitian focusing on eating disorder treatment and prevention. She approaches health from the inclusive standpoint that any "body" can focus on health regardless of size. She is a ally in diversity.
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