I'd just like to preface this post by saying that I didn't plan this. I know that what I'm about to share with you today has nothing to do with love, books (side note: who's as excited about Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird sequel as I am?!?!), or...well, anything fun, really. But it's something I desperately need to talk about - not just for you guys, but for myself, too. And it's probably gonna be a long one.
I've tagged this post with a trigger warning because in it, I mention disordered eating and a lot of the unhealthy diet habits I used to follow.
Don't worry, though; this isn't about to become the Ominous Post of Doom! I just want to talk about something kind of serious. Again. (I'm sensing a trend emerging...)
One of the most difficult parts of readjusting to a healthy relationship with diet and exercise has been simply undoing the unhealthy habits & patterns of thought I created during my phase of disordered eating. As they say in the Disney movie Frozen, "The heart is not so easily changed, but the head can be persuaded." No matter how many times my head tells me that eating cupcakes and ice cream in the same day won't kill me, my heart is perpetually disgusted with myself. No matter how many times my head tells me that "fat is not a feeling," my heart continues to whisper that single, most detrimental word to me, over and over and over again: fat fat fat fat fat....
Now, I don't mean to say that head progress = no progress, because that simply isn't true. As every twelve step program on the planet would have you know, the first step to solving your problems is admitting you have a problem in the first place. But even so, it's all-too easy to downplay what you have accomplished when you're not seeing the results you want. I feel like I've progressed beyond the stage of mere acknowledgment of my problem - and I know I'm ten times stronger than I used to be - so whenever a bout of low self-esteem takes over, it hurts more than it ever did before. For the first time, I feel like I'm taking a step backwards, rather than planting myself ever more firmly in a position of weakness. It feels like regression, rather than a downward spiral.
On her blog, Gala Darling has the best post called Knowing It vs. Feeling It that sums me up perfectly: she writes "I know what it's like to intellectually know that what you're doing is unhealthy, and to know that theoretically, it could all be solved quite easily. But then you look in the mirror and break down in tears, because you can't stand how repugnant you are." Changing your thoughts truly has the power to change your life, but before you can change your thoughts, you must change the feelings that lie within your heart. That is why I will never call my transition to Intuitive Eating "easy" or "natural": because I had redefined "normal" to mean something so vastly different from the "normal" I was born with.
Source: Cannibal Coalition
I don't want to be the girl who won't miss a day in the gym, but still just yesterday, when my workout led to searing back pain, I kept going, following that old mantra of "just push through it." I don't want to be the girl who lets food consume her, yet the single decision to eat French fries over fruit still retains power over my entire mood.
Yet still I endure (even if I sometimes ask myself "Why?"). I have yet to throw in the towel and pick up my old life of calorie-counting, incessant weighing, and judging my self-worth by the size of my jeans. I still don't like what I see in the mirror, nine times out of ten, but I haven't given up yet - because there's a spark within me, the tiniest glimmer of hope that believes that change is possible. And there is undeniable power in that, power I want to share with you, because I think that we all deserve a little power in our lives.
In order to share a little of the power I've discovered & motivate myself and you to take the next step toward recovery, I invite you to join me in the following exercise - so pull out a journal, a notebook, a planner, or some blank sheets of paper and get ready to write!
We're going to make two lists. (Just a disclaimer: I partly stole this idea from Michelle May's book Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat.) The first list is going to be titled "Old Habits." In it, you'll list every arbitrary health, diet, or exercise "rule" you once followed (or are currently following). That's right, list every single one: if you aren't being completely honest with yourself, then neither your mind nor your heart will be convinced that it's time to make a change.
The second list is going to be called "New Habits." In this list, we'll match every "Old Habit" with a new-and-improved, healthier tradition, designed to suit the person you're dedicated to becoming, not the person you used to be.
So let's take a few minutes to sit down, preferably in a quiet, solitary place, and think about what we really want for ourselves. Confront all those old "demons" just long enough to have peace, but don't let them linger: kiss the old you goodbye. When we regroup, I'll share my two lists with you for some inspiration/motivation.
What are you waiting for? Ready, set, GO!!!
Source: Know Your Meme
Hello again, darlings!
As promised, here I am to share my lists with you. Disclaimer: I am not a certified health professional of any sort; my ideas are simply ideas. I have also personalized them to my own needs - whatever works for me, may not work for you (and that's okay!).
As for the "Old Habits," this isn't meant to be a Post of Shame for those of you who may still be following some of these diet rules. If dieting serves you - if it makes you feel happy and healthy - then who the heck cares what I think?! These habits did not work for me personally; they only served to exacerbate my root problems of low self-esteem and poor body image. But, if it works for you, to each their own. I approached this with the best of intentions - I seek only to guide and inspire you!
Now, without further ado...
- "Eat every two to four hours."
- "Consume between 1500-1700 calories a day."
- "Write down everything you eat."
- "No white carbs."
- "No added sugars."
- "Only eat natural sugars."
- "Run once a week."
- "Perform at least 20 minutes of cardio a day."
- "Never go a day without exercise."
- "Weigh yourself once a week."
- "Make pancakes with protein powder to cut calories."
- "Add greens to smoothies." This is a totally viable habit - if you don't find it disgusting, the way I did. I just did it for number I saw on the scale.
- "Try on your prom dress once a week to make sure it still fits."
- "Do a juice cleanse the week of prom."
- "Drink a glass of warm lemon water every day upon rising."
- "Eat only nonfat dairy."
- "Eat only full-fat dairy."
- "Eat as little dairy as possible."
- "Eat protein at every meal."
- "Plan all your meals and workouts in advance."
- "Starve yourself to make up for what you just ate."
- "Eat only whole, unprocessed foods."
- "Only cook in olive oil."
- "Eat no 'junk food.'" What is "don't eat junk food" even supposed to mean? "Don't eat scraps of metal you found at the dump"?
- "No fruit after 2 PM."
- "Use Fitness Pal to track all your calories, burned and eaten."
- "Eat clean." Again, what is this supposed to mean?!? "Shampoo and condition your food before eating"?
- "Never skip breakfast."
- "Eat several small meals a day instead of three large ones."
- "Eat nothing from a package."
- "Eat nothing with more than three ingredients."
- "You must do 'cleanses' to detox your body." Because apparently, having a liver isn't good enough.
- "Whatever you do, when exercising, just push through it. Pain is a sign of weakness."
- "Measure your waistline to ensure a healthy amount of body fat." To me this meant "to make sure YOU aren't fat."
- Redefine "exercise." I encourage each and every one of you to do this - or to adopt my new definition (see the header) by pinning it, tweeting it, or instagramming it! Seeing exercise as a positive tool to make you happier and healthier, rather than "skinnier," has been crucial to me in my recovery. I also encourage you to expand your definition to include workouts for your mind and spirit as well, such as reading, meditation, and/or prayer. To become a truly healthy person, you must nourish all aspects of your health, including your mental and spiritual health.
- Eat the rainbow. My goal is to eat or drink a food in every color of the rainbow every day! Red tomatoes, orange carrots, yellow corn, green spinach, blue blueberries, and purple Naked juice are just a few of my favorites.
- Identify and avoid your triggers. For me, trying on my prom dress and weighing myself are my two worst triggers. And I admit it: I still buy into them. Maybe ten minutes ago, I thought to myself "I need to try on my prom dress" and when I couldn't zip it up, I ran to the scale. But dresses can always be altered and the numbers always lie. You don't have to settle for clothes that don't fit you or make yourself a slave to your weight. Our self-worth is never determined by the shape or size of our body!
- Journal your feelings. Oftentimes, we push back our emotions and turn to "comfort foods" like mac and cheese or ice cream when we don't want to confront them - or worse, replace those feelings of insecurity or sadness with the words "I feel fat". I love a steamy bowl of mac and cheese as much as the next girl, but I also know that when I want something creamy, it's usually because I'm running away from something else. Writing down all your problems, stream-of-consciousness style, really does help. A journal is especially great for people like me, who don't always feel comfortable talking about their feelings; after all, journals are a lot less judgmental and a lot more quiet than real-life people! :)
- Practice forgiveness on a daily basis. After consuming what feels like *thousands* of calories, being hungry just seems like an anomaly, even a sin. I always want to fight it by skipping meals or exercising, to "repent" for everything I just ate, but take it from me: skipping meals when you're hungry will only leave you feeling miserable in the end. No matter how often you need to do so, practice forgiving yourself and moving on. Think to yourself "Tomorrow will be better." For me, praying and reading the Bible helps with that. Knowing that God can forgive me, even when I can't forgive myself, is sometimes all I need to keep me going. It's the smallest things in life that make the greatest difference.
- Set goals that have nothing to do with your body. Give yourself something productive to focus on besides weight-loss. I try to set between 5-10 small, measurable goals each week and write them in my planner every Sunday - often, they're as tiny and silly as "wear a bright lipstick" or "finish a book," but they make me feel like a happier, more fulfilled person. Showing yourself all that your powerful creative energy can do when it's not so focused on your body image can help a lot with low self-esteem (take it from someone who knows!)."Volunteer once a month", "start a blog", "keep an art journal for a month", or "find new ways to show my S.O. I love xir" are a few of my favorite long-term ideas.
- Start a Radical Self Love Bible, a la Gala Darling. I know I've already referenced this blog once in this post, but I can't help it - I love her. Total girl crush moment. Anyways, Gala Darling has essentially started a whole movement around self-love and acceptance/body peace called "Radical Self Love." She recommends keeping a sort of art journal throughout your self-love journey, called a "Radical Self Love Bible," which you can refer back to when you need a little reminder of how wonderful you are! (And trust me: you are all wonderful.) Click here to learn more about your Radical Self Love Bible! (I'll also include more links about Radical Self Love at the bottom of this post for all who are interested.)
- Aim to move every day. This kind of goes along with "redefine exercise", but pff, whatever. This is important, too. "Moving" could mean anything from jogging five miles, to doing a single hand-stand, to crawling from your bedroom to the kitchen fridge - whatever you like to do most, do it! I feel it's important to adopt an "anything goes" mentality. Any time you're being less than sedentary, you're doing something "extra", at least as far as your body is concerned. Don't think that you have to complete ten rounds of Insanity or lift 300+ pounds for exercise to "count." Everything should count!
- Listen to your body. Our bodies are amazing, intricate machines capable of sending us any number of innumerable signals. It's absolutely crucial that we tune into those signals not only to lead healthy lifestyles, but to avoid injury, sickness, or even simply making a poor life decision. When your body is screaming "stop," it's not the right time to push yourself harder - it's time to slow down. When your tummy knows it doesn't want that last bite, really consider it before you just pop it into your mouth. When your head and heart are screaming "No", don't go through with It, whatever It may be! Trust your intuition - it was given to us for a reason. The more you practice listening to your body, the more you will love said body and appreciate all the incredible things it can do.
- Put in a little extra effort every day! Naturally, "effort" means something different to all of us - and no one's definition is wrong. That little something extra could be anything from washing your face, to spritzing perfume, to planning your outfits in advance...basically, whatever it takes to make you feel beautiful, do it. Every day. No excuses!
- Go media-free, at least for a little while. When I first realized I had a problem, the first thing I did was delete Twitter and Instagram because I often found myself comparing my pictures to other girls', wondering why theirs had gotten twenty 'likes', while I'd only gotten two. I realized that this instrument, while it was created to connect me with others and make me feel good, only made me feel alienated and negative. Social media, at that point in my life, was a poisonous influence...yet today, now that I have this blog, I've been able to utilize it in a positive way again! I guess what I'm trying to say is that you don't have to rush to delete Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, everything right this second. Just practice getting back to your caveman roots - you know, when the Internet didn't exist - for thirty minutes, an hour, days, forever. How long isn't what matters; it's what you choose to do with that time you would have spent on Pinterest that does!
- Get some zzzs... Have you heard? Insufficient sleep is the newest public health epidemic! Sleep deprivation is obviously bad, for obvious reasons, but most of us are probably extremely unlikely to turn to sleep as the solution to all of our problems. As someone who's prone to long, exhausting emotional breakdowns, I'm here to remind you: sleep is your friend! Everything always looks brighter in the morning, trust me.
- Inspire yourself. Ideas include watching TED talks and inspirational YouTube videos (I like to mute my workouts while I listen to inspiring interviews), following a guided meditation, creating a Pinterest board, crafting an inspiration dream board or collage, keeping an ideas journal, and reading as many books as possible!
- Identify your role models. Lena Dunham for her individuality and eff the patriarchy attitude (Side note: who else is sick of people asking why she's naked all the time? Um, Sir Interviewer: when you're at home, how often do you wear clothes?!). Taylor Swift for her gracious personality, Southern charm, and flawless sense of style. Audrey Hepburn for her classic sense of style and her loving, giving heart; not a soul who met her ever had an unkind word to say about her. And, of course, Beyonce, because she's Queen Bey. Those are just a few of mine. They don't have to become yours, but having any sort of "guide" to turn to in your time of need can make the road ahead seem a lot less scary. (When in doubt, I always ask myself: What would Audrey Hepburn do?)
- Meditate every day. A word for beginners: meditation is always harder than you think it's going to be. If you're anything like me, clearing your constantly-humming mind is a daunting, near-impossible task. But it can be done - and it will be done, as soon as you try meditation! If you missed my tweet about it, the Honest Guys' 10-minute Positive Body Image Meditation is a godsend.
- Eat the forbidden fruit. Flip back to your "Old Habits" list for a moment. Are there any foods you barred yourself from eating that really, really make your mouth water? For a "no added sugar" girl, it could be Chips Ahoy. For a "no white carbs" girl, it could be your grandma's homemade ravioli. Whatever it is, EAT IT. Go ahead - I dare you. Treat it like an experiment, "just to see what happens"...the more you see the complete and utter lack of nothing that results ("Wait, the world won't explode if I eat this cupcake?!" No, it won't!), the more you'll dare to break those rules, one by one.
- Volunteer your time. Organizations like animal shelters and food pantries are always looking for volunteers - always. Not only will they be happy to have you, but you'll be happy to have them: volunteering instills a sense of purpose. Remembering that you are here to do more than fret about your thighs, that there are bigger problems in the world than the size of your butt, is a refreshing and necessary part of recovery.
- Relax. Modern-day life always has this sense of urgency about it, especially here on the east coast. The times that our lives seem nonstop, just "go go go", are the times we need relaxation the most. Stress can take years from our lives. So, draw a hot bubble bath, light a few candles, and play a soundtrack of the ocean waves or some zen music. As soon as your muscles melt in the water, you'll wonder why you've never tried this before!
- Do a work out for your brain. I know, I know - this sounds like something your third-grade teacher would have said. But I mean it! Your brain is a vital muscle, so don't be afraid to pump some iron: read a nonfiction book, watch the news, do a crossword puzzle, or invest in a word-of-the-day calendar. When you can feel your brain getting stronger, you know that you're getting stronger, too - and after all, it's from our hearts and minds that we should be drawing our self-worth, not our bodies.
- Switch to decaf. Disclaimer: I'm not giving you yet another "diet rule" to follow here. This goal is personal to me. I love Starbucks as much as the next girl, but I have an extremely sensitive reaction to caffeine - yet no matter how much I shake or how many chest pains I feel, I can't seem to give up my iced lattes! Switching to decaf is what's right for my body. If it's right for yours, too, then go ahead and make the switch with me! Who knows? Maybe we'll even do some kind of "21-day caffeine-free challenge"....hmm :)
- Filter your feed. To this day, it still blows my mind how many magazines, websites, and social media accounts are devoted solely to "thinspo" and "fitness." At first, I didn't realize how much it affected me - I used to make excuses like "Oh, I'm just following them to get workout ideas and recipes, whatever" - but once I read the idea on Lauren Fowler's blog through her free "Break Up With Diets" challenge, I knew it was time to hit "un-follow." Unfollowing all those old diet accounts has also helped me understand what I'm really interested in - now, I pin fashion, recipes, and party DIYs! Those things are my passions and hobbies, not starvation and deprivation.
- Write a personal mission statement. You could also call this a manifesto, a promise or a pledge, a devotional, or a mantra. Make it a few words or a few pages. State your hopes, dreams, goals, purposes, reasons why, anything, everything. Decide what you are going to do with your time and energy now that you are no longer a dieter, or enjoy the simple freedom of not knowing what's next. If you're a Radical Self-Love Bible-r, you might want to tape your mission statement to the inside cover - or, hang it in another prominent place where you will see it & be reminded of your mission! (Oh, and FYI: comment below if you want me to post my personal mission statement & a "how to write one"!)
- Get yogi with it. See what I did there? Ha ha ha...okay, so I'm not as funny as I think I am. But I still mean what I say. Yoga is one of my favorite forms of exercise because it emphasizes my belief that "exercise" is not just about the body, but about the mind and spirit as well. Also, I just adore the way you don't just do yoga; you practice it! That one little word holds a lot of big lessons for all of us. If you're looking to start a solid practice, check out my favorite YouTube yogi, Adriene, here.
- Reward yourself. Don't blow your budget, now - but a few sweet treats here and there never did a girl any harm. When you're having a bad day and need a little extra self-lovin', or simply feel that you deserve a pat on the back, don't wait for someone else to supply the rewards: hop in the car and go get yo' nails did, pick out a new perfume, treat yourself to some cute new lingerie, or get a massage (God only knows I could use one of those!). Whatever you've done this week, you've earned it!
- Take a multivitamin. Now, I'm not an MD - I cringe at the sight of blood - so you might want to check with your doctor before taking any supplements. But, a multivitamin is a good idea for everybody - particularly women, who are constantly losing iron during their periods & who need to start stocking up on the necessary nutrients for pregnancy years before they plan on having a baby. Dr. Michelle May advises that you look for one with at least 100% of your daily value of everything. Also, make sure the vitamins you're taking are right for you: I take the One a Day Chocolate Brownie Vita-Craves because they are gelatin-free (and therefore vegetarian!), and due to my small size, only take half the recommended dosage.
- Check your posture. Of all the ballerinas I know, my posture must be the worst! I have a lot of back and shoulder issues - and most of them, I'm sure, have to do with my poor posture. As I'm sure we've all heard, at least from our ninth-grade gym teachers, posture is extremely important to overall good health. So let's all make a pact to improve our moves, shall we? I love Lauren Conrad's Fit Tip to try sitting on a yoga ball at work. My mom and grandma are also constantly telling me not to spend so much time sitting on my bed; it provides poor back support. Finally, keeping electronics like phones and laptops at eye level can help prevent the Hunchback of Notre Dame thing we've all got going on here. For more tips and tricks, simply search "posture" on Pinterest; there are literally thousands of exercises and infographics posted for the sole purpose of bettering your back.
- Cook (& eat!) with your soul. In this day and age, let's face it: no one, and I mean no one (well, except maybe Beyonce), has ever gone a lifetime without eating fast food or frozen dinners on a weeknight. No one. But, when you have time to cook, take advantage of it instead of tiredly flopping down on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn for dinner (I mean, come on, who hasn't done that?). I truly believe that cooking from scratch isn't just good for the body; it's good for the soul. After all, nearly every culture attaches warm feelings to home-cooked meals. The concept of "comfort food" had to come from somewhere. The more often you cook, the more special all of your meals will seem - and the more your body will absorb the love you put into your food.
- Surround yourself with beautiful things. Freshly-cut flowers. Clean and orderly living spaces. Pastel pinks and mint greens. Shiny nude pumps. Cupcakes that (almost) look too pretty to eat. In my opinion, these are some of the most beautiful things life has to offer. Identify what those things are for you and put as many of them into your life as possible, as often as possible.
- Family comes first. Your family is there for you, literally, when no one else is. Whether you consider this a blessing or a curse, let's face it: they have to love and forgive you when you cannot even love and forgive yourself. Healing times like these are when you need your family the most, so don't cut yourself off: take the time to call home from college, take the kids to visit, or (my fellow teenagers) instead of staying holed up in your room, descend the staircase and simply enjoy the company of others'. Thanks to your family, you are never alone. Take advantage of that.
- Never miss an opportunity to say "I love you." I think people underestimate just how important their personal relationships are to their health. You never want the one day you didn't say it to be that person's last. When you die, you never want to be the person who wishes they said it more. Always answer with "I love you, too" - never just nod, go "uh-huh," or worst of all, say "I know." Take nothing for granted. You don't want to be the person who doesn't know a good thing 'til it's gone.
- Practice gratitude daily. One of my goals this week was to start writing down ten things I feel grateful for at the end of every day. To my surprise, I found that it was harder to limit myself to ten than it was to think of "ten whole things"! Once you start writing down everything you're grateful for, you start to realize just how much you have. Remember: you are a lucky person. Chances are, if you're reading this, you live in a developed country, with a decent-sized income, food on the table, and a loving family. Cherish that. God could have made your life so much harder than it is right now.
- Dance. Barefoot. As often as possible. Preferably, in the rain. (If it's too cold for rain where you're at - fellow New Englanders, can I get a "hey-ho"? - then bundle up: the snow will do...and there's been plenty of that.) I might be a little biased, considering I'm a ballerina and a competitive dancer, but I think dancing is the best way to feel happy and free. So stop caring what everyone else thinks. You know the cliche: dance like no one is watching!
- Drink hot tea. And lots of it! Tea is full of antioxidants (especially green tea), which protect against diseases like cancer and overall strengthen your immune system. Not to mention, a hot cup of tea is like liquid relaxation, or a hug-in-a-mug: you can practically feel your muscles relaxing, your stress and tension melting away, with every sip.
- Last but not least, soul-search. Pray. Meditate. Read faith-based literature or attend religious services - any religious service. Open your heart to the Universe. Constantly ask questions - especially "Why?" - and never settle for anything less than answers. Why am I eating so fast? Eating is boring; I just want to get it over with. Why am I bored? I'm eating alone; I'm not hungry anymore. Asking yourself "Why?" is truly the first and most important step on the long and windy road to recovery.
Anyways, that was my own little ED healing exercise - I hope it helped you as much as it helped me! Here's to starting over with a clean slate this February, so that by Valentine's Day we can love ourselves just as much as we love our significant others, be they men, women, furry friends, or fictional characters.
P.S. As promised, here are some more links about Gala Darling's Radical Self Love: