I typically shy away from sharing too much personal information. I would never want it to interfere with any client relationship or treatment plan. However, I've had a lot of thoughts running through my head the past few weeks and I hope it only adds to the conversation around disordered eating and eating disorders. It may also help explain my passion for what I do!
I recently had a haircut. I’ve had the same stylist for the past, oh 8 years? So she knows that my hair historically has been pretty fine and thin. I don’t know if I can adequately describe how much I loved to hear her say “Emily! Your hair has so much body! I cannot believe how much new growth I am seeing!”
I’ve noticed. I kind of love running my fingers through my hair now and feeling how much thicker it has become. I do it fairly often, especially days where I find destructive thoughts trying to creep back into my head. On those days I don’t only feel my hair, I also:
- Remember how great I am sleeping. I don’t wake up hungry in the middle of the night so that’s obviously a big reason why.
- Remember that when I sleep on my side and my knees touch, it doesn’t hurt. My hips don’t get stiff and tight from being pressed into the mattress either.
- Remember how much stronger my body is. I love being physically active and an active body needs FUEL.
- Remember that my bladder is now strong enough to hold urine. I don’t think I need to tell you how awesome that is.
- Remember how I can stand up without getting dizzy and lightheaded.
- Remember how good it feels not to get a pounding headache every afternoon from obsessive exercise.
- Remember how much better I am at choosing physical activity that leaves me energized, without planning my day around it. And being OK with skipping or missing a day.
- Remember how much I love being able to go on vacation without one anxiety ridden thought about what I am going to eat and how I am going to get my exercise in.
- Remember how confident I feel in my ability to listen to my body and meet it’s needs for nourishing and healthy foods, adequate sleep, rest and relaxation, enjoyable and invigorating movement, laughter and play, and effective stress/anxiety management.
- Remember how I can leave the table well fed and satisfied and move on with life without preoccupied thoughts of guilt or food anxiety. And if they do come up, I know how to notice them as activities of the mind and not who I am.
- Remember how much better I am at cutting myself some slack. Allowing myself to have bad days or to be OK with not challenging myself when I’m not feeling up to it.
- Remember how much clearer, functional and healthy my mind feels. I love knowing what it is to “feel at home” in my own body. I find so much peace in knowing that I can always return to that safe, quiet place in my mind and heart where wisdom lives. That is something I hope for everyone.
- Remember how I can confidently walk away from conversations or people preoccupied with diets, “forbidden foods”, body size or shape knowing I am doing what’s best for me. What a waste of time that was!
- Remember that I’m OK not fitting in. We live in a world obsessed with competition and comparisons and I just don’t want to play that game any more. Period. I see it everywhere and no one has time for this, people! We all have bigger things to worry about.
- Remember how I can eat foods I choose to without one lick of guilt.
- Remember how much more patient I am with myself, which has made me more patient with others. I still have a long way to go - and those closest to me know that the best - but I feel good about the fact that I am consistent in trying.
- Remember that when I find my mind latching onto negative thoughts about my body, I can remind myself it’s a dead end road that leads nowhere and that a healthy and able body allows me to live a life I love.
- Remember how much more alert I feel during the day. I have energy and am able to meet the tasks of a wife, mother and business owner.
- Speaking of which, I have so much more space in my head and my heart for my endlessly supportive husband and my precious children. I won’t go into too much more detail on such a personal subject, but they were short-changed for way too long. They deserve better.
I could go on but you get the idea. In all honesty, my mind and body still have healing to do and I definitely have things I need to take into consideration and work around, including being patient and forgiving of myself. There are also still some days that are really hard and I still make plenty of mistakes, but that’s life for everyone. I look forward with patience, faith and hope while feeling extremely grateful to be right where I am. There's no timeline anymore - I'm good just being me. For me, this is what it means to live in a body that has recovered from disordered eating thoughts and behaviors. When all is taken into account, I don’t know if I have ever felt better mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. The best part is, anyone and everyone can feel like this regardless of their weight or what their body looks like. I’ve learned first hand that health is a product of healthy behaviors in body and mind. It really has very little to do with what your body looks like, especially as our society perceives it. We are entitled to let our bodies settle where they need to be as we go about living a full and happy life (which includes freedom from preoccupation about food and body shape).
I’ve come to this place because I have made a conscious effort to stay present and open while creating an attitude of gratitude and abundance. That was, and continues to be, my medicine. There are days I still wonder if it’s too good to be true. I mean, is it really that easy? This whole “listen to your body, eat foods you love and that leave you feeling satisfied while focusing on stuff that matters” new way of approaching life. But apparently it isn’t. It really is that easy…and that hard. Because truth is, it hasn’t been easy. I’ve fought really, really hard to get out of my own way. To quit being my own worst enemy and start being my own best friend. I know from experience that body-trust is a right and that food is meant to be nourishing and pleasurable.
Making peace with food meant making peace with myself. I did that with the help of a brilliant and empathic therapist. Early on she told me that the goal wasn’t to change the parts of me that I hated (would have been my choice) but to make sense of them so I could work with them more skillfully. I remember so clearly the day she said that a Perfectionist (my personality trait, as determined by the Enneagram) at her best is spontaneous, flexible, highly compassionate and forgiving, wise, discerning and morally strong. At best that sounded impossible. Me? Spontaneous, compassionate and wise were the last words I would have used to describe myself – which isn’t to be hard on myself but just very honest.
(Side note: it’s hard to think clearly when your brain is starving – which can happen at ANY weight when it’s not fueled properly. I had to be engaging in self-care behaviors and eating regular, balanced meals before I was able to think rationally, increase in self-awareness and change the structure of my brain through mindfulness practice. Therefore, I am of the opinion that mental health is largely influenced by proper nutrition and may very often be the starting place.)
I’ve always believed that weaknesses can be turned into strengths. For way too long I wasted my time on petty, selfish, prideful and inconsequential pursuits and suffered pretty severe anxiety as a result. As hard as the last few years have been, I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I would gladly do it all again if it meant being where I am now. I still have a long way to go, but it’s through the power of the divine that my heart has been changed and I see very clearly who I am and where I am going. I’ve had so many tender and life-changing experiences, which I will forever hold in my heart. I still have those perfectionistic tendencies, but I know now how to use them in a more skillful way so they can work with me instead of against me. I’m nowhere near perfect, nor will I be anytime soon. In fact, since I’m now much more self-aware, it’s even more obvious to me when I think or act in ways that don’t honor who I am or what I value. The difference is that now I choose to understand what led to them, what my motivations were and what I would like to change or do differently next time. I’ve come to love that part of me that wants to learn, improve and grow. In fact, it’s what I love most about myself. What once made me more miserable than you can imagine, has now become my greatest strength.
The best part? I’m not special. I know I’m loved and part of something much bigger than myself…and so are you. Anyone can enjoy these same feelings and experiences and I am so honored to point others in that same direction. While you may not identify with my struggles, I’m sure you have your own. The humanity we share means we all have our stuff and need a little help getting through it. We are all just doing the best we can, and I only share this so that others may find hope and faith to keep fighting the good fight.
The new hair growth I’m experiencing has a lot to do with nourishing my body, but I feel it is more directly correlated with the emotional and spiritual growth I’ve seen. I leave you with a question to ponder: What if you addressed your health from the inside out instead of the outside in?
Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD