Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A recipe for recovery......

Eating Disorders in America
Eating Disorders are a debilitating problem for nearly nine million Americans, which often go undetected. These disorders are a complex group of mental illnesses which are difficult to treat, diagnose and prevent because they are rooted in a multitude of causes which can be difficult to untangle. Some issues which contribute to the development of these illnesses include powerful psychological media messages that indicate a warped and shallow definition of beauty, depression, stress, low self-esteem and a desperate need for control. It is imperative to examine this problem and to talk about the issues surrounding it. 

At the age of 34, I can safely say that I have conquered my own personal battle with an eating disorder. After nearly a decade, my long treacherous journey as a young woman has provided me with a plethora of important lessons. It took a great deal of effort to be able to see the flaws within my unhealthy obsession. I have now arrived at a place where I am able to channel my fixation with food and weight into a healthy pursuit of wellness. I learned to turn a critical eye to the media. I learned that I may never be able to change the way that I perceive my body, but understanding that it is a harsh and unforgiving view is crucial to my wellness.

 It took a long time to admit to myself that I was ill. I could admit it to other people before I was able to truly accept it. The most invaluable lesson which I came to understand was how to truly love myself. As a young teenager I attended a summer camp for performing arts. It was at this camp that the first indication of the severity of my illness became apparent. It was several more years before I received clinical treatment; however it was the events which took place that summer which began the process. The following is an excerpt from several journal entries I made during that time.

I was face down on the floor and my chin hurt from the impact. It felt like being under water, as if I were surrounded by muffled sounds and was utterly disoriented. It took several moments before I became aware that I was motionless on the floor. Then suddenly, my consciousness surfaced and the urgency to get moving surged through my mind. I mentally shouted at myself “Move your fat ass!” Nothing happened. My body would not budge. I knew for certain that I was dying. I could hear my heart’s indolent thumping, which sounded deafeningly loud. I was terrified by how slowly it seemed to beat. The sound of my breath surrounded me like a stereo. I entertained the idea of losing consciousness, of drifting back to sleep. There were six other girls my age asleep in their bunks in that room and none of them heard my fall. I longed to be like them, asleep, peaceful, and content. I was different. I was not peaceful and secure. I was sick, but I knew how I would find my peace. I realized that I was not jealous of their slumber; I was completely relieved they were fast asleep. My morning routine required their ignorance. The counselors were out late last night drinking beer and I was sure that neither of them stirred.

I knew that I needed to get moving and could not stay there. I felt the weakness of my body conflict with my fortitude and determination. I was able to roll over onto my back and slide my arm along the floor. I did not dare attempting to stand, but felt comfortable pulling myself up by the blanket of my bed. I knew that if I were to try to use my own strength to push my body up that my arms would fall limp and disappoint me. Just like everything else about my body, a weak and fragile disappointment. My fingers clenched the blanket and I was able to use my grip on the cloth to lift myself up into a seated position.

I looked at my watch as I knew that the time I would have for working out was being wasted there on the floor. Almost two hours before camp wakeup, this would allow me to swim 2 miles at top speed. I reached for the table next to my bed where I had prepared a water bottle full of my “fuel”. It contained water, lemon juice and cayenne; a mixture that I read was great to help lose weight. The first sip burned my throat and I fought an urge to cough. I believed that the sugar I was ingesting from the lemon juice would give me the energy I needed to swim 2 miles in one and a half hours. I hid one of the bunk towels under my bed and it was several days used. It smelled like chlorine and mildew, but it was dry. I snatched the towel and a pair of sweats that I stuck next to the towel. I pulled the sweatpants on under my nightgown and crawled towards the screen door. It was summer in New Jersey and the camp was on a farm so we slept with our bunk doors open, just the screens remained closed. I was painfully aware of every breath that I took as I opened the door as slowly as possible. There was no sound from the door and I was able to slip out silently.

I raced through the field between our bunk and the pool. It was dark still, but light threatened the horizon. When I arrived at the pool I took my nightgown off and hung it over the fence with the towel so that they would remain dry. I put the sweatshirt on and took a rubber swim cap out of the pocket. I put the cap over my hair and dove into the pool. I would have preferred to swim at a much more relaxed pace than I would have to that morning. The pattern I had perfected was to get up three hours before the wakeup call so that I could enjoy swimming 3 miles, or 210 laps with a few breaks in between. I was inclined to exercise for long periods of time at a medium pace. That morning, when I woke at the usual time, I stood up and reached for my water bottle of 'fuel' and the world started spinning. My body seemed foreign, like a car that I was riding in as I fell to the floor. I knew that I was passed out for some time and had lost nearly half my workout time, but I was not going to allow myself half the distance, my goal was to swim at least two miles. I would make up the lost time with a more powerful stroke and no breaks.
When I was swimming I was so focused on my body, on my movement and on keeping track of my laps that the pressure of the world and the pain of my depression seemed as far away as the moon from the bottom of the pool. I liked the physical pains that I felt in my chest when I gasped for air between strokes. I enjoyed the dizziness and hunger. I swam my fat ass off in my clothes because it made me work harder. I didn't think about the pressure of my upcoming performance. I didn't compare myself obsessively to any other girls. I was alone. I was in control. There were no crowds lined up in velvet covered chairs judging every single movement I made. No reporters writing reviews of my pitch, tone and emotion. No photographers armed with their cameras poised and eager to freeze my awkward expression eternally in one position. No poster of me in a costume adding ten, no ten thousand pounds.

I kept a careful watch on the clock above the pool so that I could get to the showers where I rinsed off, changed clothes and dried my hair before anyone woke up. When I finished my laps I hurried to the showers.The room was dark, and I fumbled around to find the blow dryer and turned it on the lowest setting. My hair was not too wet thanks to my cap. My sweats however, I had to leave hanging in my locker to dry. I slipped back into my nightgown and dashed back to the bunk. I feared that someone had gotten up and noticed I was gone, but they were all asleep. I made it back to bed with 10 minutes to wakeup. The next morning everything changed. The routine I had grown accustomed to abruptly came to an end.

The next morning when I stood up to get my water bottle I passed out again. This time everyone noticed. I don't remember crying out, I don't recall injuring myself. I just remember how everyone had overreacted to the miniscule splash of blood on the concrete floor. I was sent to the infirmary, where they kept me separated from the other girls for several days. I made an attempt to brush it all off with the excuse of fighting the flu, but I had been found out. The nurse talked with me about the choices I was making and what I wanted out of my life. They notified my parents of the incident. I knew what to say because I had actually been in the position of lying to an adult about my 'Self-destructive habit' a few times before.
When I look back on that summer, I wonder how I was not hospitalized earlier. I had been starving myself and throwing up when I couldn't starve myself and had been getting away with it for three years prior to going there. I was excessively working out for extended periods of time. I was only happy; I was only fulfilled, when I was unfilled. When I was denying myself the nutrients and the necessary ingredients for life I felt in control of something. I felt powerful. I felt wonderful. I felt physically elated anytime that I was able to get away with vomiting. I liked having a terrible secret.

Everyone around me thought I was so perfect. They saw a star soloist and beautiful dancer. I was known as the little girl with a grownup opera voice. They all told me how pretty I was.... how talented. There were many girls my age who were so jealous of me that they went out of their way to be cruel.... if only they had known how cruel I was to myself.

I began my battle with an eating disorder when I was eleven years old, the age that I began to develop breasts. I was a young performing artist who had been in a competitive environment from the age of six. I was actually encouraged by a dance teacher of mine who told me that I would never be a professional performer if I did not learn to control my weight. I was not a heavy girl, but my breasts were rather large compared to other girls my age. I was wearing D cup bras by the time that I was age 12.

As a young girl I felt the pressure to be beautiful. The television advertisements and photographs of models that surrounded me sent a very clear message in my mind. The rigid world of performing arts combined with an abusive home life left me feeling out of control. My secret, my eating disorder was intoxicating. It was an addiction, it was a rebellion, it was empowering and crippling, it was a game, and it was defiant and all consuming.

Me at 14 years old. I was 98lbs ~ the summer before I was hospitalized.

There are many complications preventing and prolonging people suffering from eating disorders from getting treatment. Some of the perceptions that hinder people from seeking treatment are that having an eating disorder is a choice, that it is not serious, that the person with ED can see that they are very thin, but don’t care, and that it is not a real illness. According to the National Eating Disorders Association “In the United States, as many as 10 million females and 1 million males are fighting a life and death battle with an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia

The fact that our society demands extremely thin physiques in order to be considered beautiful is a major contributing factor to eating disorders. It is not only the messages that we see in the media, airbrushed models, waif thin runway walkers, actors and actresses oiled up and stripped down, but the things we hear in social encounters. “You look great! Have you lost weight?” The messages on the clothing that we buy such as “Instantly Slims You!” or Spanx “Trust your Thinstincts Bodysuit.”  We are also confronted by messages on food products such as “Sinfully delicious” and “No Fat!”

One article that points out the drastic changes in the modeling industry standards was published in the January, 2012 issue of Plus Model Magazine and was titled “Plus Size Bodies, What Is Wrong with Them Anyway?” In this article Editor-in-Chief, Madeline Jones confronts some very controversial statistics. The majority of runway models are dangerously underweight, with body mass indexes that meet the physical criteria for Anorexia. The article also states that while on average, 50% of women wear a size 14 or above clothing stores in general cater to sizes smaller than 14. Two decades ago fashion models weighed approximately 8% less than the average woman and today they weight 23% less. The article explains that the average size of a plus sized model a decade ago was between 12 and 18, today most plus sized models range from size 6 to 14!
Plus Model Magazine

I found this image in the article so striking and I won’t ever forget it. The woman with curves looks vibrant and healthy and the woman she holds in her arms has such a delicate skeletal frame that this thin tiny female appears almost like a child in a woman’s arms, yet they are both adults of similar age. The image demonstrates the drastic contrast between the average woman and the industry standard for models. It is important to draw attention to these standards, as they promote extreme health risks that accompany dangerously low body weight. I encourage people to question what it is they find desirable. It is also important to practice conscious consumerism, purchasing products that have realistic marketing, sizes and standards. Another action that has an impact is communicating with the companies that send these unhealthy messages. As a Mother, I also communicate regularly with my children about the images that they see, teaching them to look around them with critical eyes.

Eating Disorders are complicated illnesses which develop over time; they are not a choice someone makes one day. The support of friends and loved ones is critical to recovery. There are many different aspects to consider. Does the individual have a healthy outlet for their emotions? Are they in a situation that causes them to experience elevated levels of stress? What can be done to offer relief for the pressure that they might be under? As eating disorders are multicausal, learning about the signs and symptoms is critical to early diagnosis. The road to recovery is not an easy one, but through the development of adequate treatment programs, education, support and community awareness this epidemic can be brought under control.

Around the same time that I began experimenting with the self destructive behavior surrounding food I also discovered what really happens to animals in the factory farming industry. I decided to become a vegetarian. My Mother was somewhat supportive but wasn't really able to teach me about how to eat healthy as a vegetarian. To her... it meant that I just ate side dishes at dinner time. Over the next decade I became very unhealthy and was obsessed with food - with not eating it, with overeating it and then vomiting.I continued the unhealthy behaviors into my early adult life, until I became pregnant with my daughter. It was at that time that I found the strength within myself to become educated and healthy. I let go of my fear and let go of my ED.

I still thought about food more than your normal person.... but I used that to educate myself. I learned so much about the industry about the harmful effects of preservatives and processed foods... I learned about free radical damage, dietary supplements, I learned about dyes and pesticides...and I am still learning. I recently went back to college to pursue a degree in Nutrition and perhaps one day an ND! I am eager to learn and I feel healthy and vibrant and alive. I don't ever feel guilty about my attitude towards food..... not anymore. I feel full of purpose now. I feel educated and intelligent. I am thankful for my awareness of the horrors of the industry and I am always eager to engage someone in a conversation about it..... about food.... about health.... but I try my best not to be arrogant or pushy. I often read books about nutrition and cookbooks for fun. I read vegan blogs religiously. I have never felt better than I do now. I look back to the days of being a teenager when I struggled with desire to eat and desire to starve. I look back at the time when I was becoming a vegetarian... my convictions outweighing my palate.. because of what I KNEW about the food on my plate. I remember feeling a physical yearning for something once that today would disgust me. I Love eating healthy. I feel GREAT. I am so happy to have a compassionate diet that excludes that which animals suffer and die to provide us.

A healthy me.... ready to feed you

I wanted to share this information with you because I have recently been reflecting on this. For the last decade I have been on a journey. A wonderful evolution, in which, I have grown closer to Love and to life. I've been reflecting on the fact that I have always, for as long as I can remember been focused on food! I understand now that this passion and this Love for food grew out of a time when I was lost, conflicted and struggling with food....with what I ate.... it wasn't until recently... until I became a vegan... that I felt full... complete.... and absolutely not conflicted. I am full of conviction. I am full of compassion. I am full of inspiration. I am full of delicious vibrant healthy food.

I hope to spread awareness with this blog as well as deliciousness. I believe now that I was meant to cook for others. That I was meant to feed people! I feel connected to food on a deeper level. I feel connected to plants. Cooking is more than a passion of mine.... it is a purpose. Thank you for reading this..... if you made it to the end I applaud you for reading this much!

Happy Healthy me.... in Love.