10 Lessons Recovery Is Teaching Me.

First, notice the choice of words. That was intentional. There’s a reason I said is teaching instead of has taught. Because recovering from addiction is a process.

It’s gradual, continuous, deliberate, repetitive. It’s step-by-step, moment-to-moment. It’s a daily decision not a final destination. But for those who endure the climb, there’s learning and growing and thriving to experience on the freefall.

Sometimes people question if I regret those stolen years marked by an eating disorder—if this life came with do-overs, would I make different choices or walk another path? The short answer is nope. Which might confuse whoever reads this.

Admitting that I wouldn’t change or erase the toughest circumstance I’ve encountered almost borders on masochistic, right?  Shouldn’t I jump at the chance to rewrite history, gloss over the past and sidestep the heartache? Also nope.

This eating disorder is not a stigma I can pretend doesn’t exist or a label I can never escape. It’s harrowing and frightening and dehumanizing and isolating. But this eating disorder is the story of where I’ve been, where I am, where I’m going. I wouldn’t revise a story like that for the greatest publishing deal on earth.

Choosing recovery hasn’t been straightforward. It goes against my instincts. It’s uncomfortable—painful even. Sometimes I despise recovery. But still I forge ahead. This crossroad leads to affirmation, acceptance, self-awareness. It’s worth the scrapes and scars.

How do I know? Because of all I’m learning…

10-lessons-from-recovery

Yep. It really truly is.

February 26–March 4 is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and this year’s theme is “time to talk about it.” Don’t give into silence, shame or secrecy—join the conversation. And if you need support, call the NEDA helpline at      1-800-931-2237.

On Being Tough. Or Not.

fearless

“You’re the toughest person I know.”

It’s a sentiment I hear often. People commend me on this, and their intentions are sincere. I believe that. They leverage these words as grandiose reminders of the crossroads I’ve traversed. Barricades I’ve thrust aside. Mountains I’ve trekked to an unfamiliar precipice.

They applaud my supposed strength as though I’ve earned some bragging right—“Look what I overcame. No coup de grâce will finish me off.”

Except for one caveat. I don’t feel strong. Not even remotely. Under that impenetrable bravado I’ve fought to maintain, I sometimes feel damaged beyond recourse. Wary of exposing those chinks in my armor but desperate for someone to glimpse the truth…

It’s no bragging right to possess insider knowledge of how a psychiatric ward operates. To detect the muffled yet deafening click of a deadbolt for which you have no key. To forfeit both dignity and independence upon stepping inside.

To hear medical professionals issue warning after warning that your actions have fatal consequences, while not caring one iota. To curse a body that you’ll never escape. To pine after an identity which doesn’t compute as your own. To just keep existing—but without purpose or vitality. Or…to flirt with the temptation of not existing altogether.

Those are the memories swarming my consciousness when I’m labeled “tough.” Because the fact is, I’m not.

Today’s cultural climate demands I revoke this confession before it can materialize further. Don’t admit your frailties or vulnerabilities. That’s the accepted mantra. Disguise your battle scars. Force a confident smirk to repress the emotion. And never concede that you can’t survive this alone. That maybe—just maybe—you need another lifeline.

But I won’t conform to those standards anymore. This arbitrary rulebook on how to feel—how to live—I reject its merciless constraints. I’m no hero archetype whose staunch self-reliance is more than enough for whatever crises loom ahead. Nor should I feign this performance. I’m a fragile, breakable human being. That’s my truth.

Flawed but redeemed.

Wounded but healing.

Uncertain but learning.

Weakened but sustaining.

Fragmented but still breathing.

Emotionally stunted but growing.

I’ll take those attributes over “tough” every time because they manifest something emphatically more worthwhile—courage. And even if nobody declares me “the bravest person they know,” choosing to view myself through that lens is enough. More than enough, in fact.

Breaking Vegan: a Relatable Read for Real Life

First things first: gonna start this post with a disclaimer—I’m not vegan. Aside from a vegetarian experiment back in college, I’ve always felt comfortable eating fish, poultry and certain animal by-products.

This is worth mentioning because I know several members of the vegan community have reacted forcefully to the memoir I’m about to discuss. So, for the record, my thoughts on Breaking Vegan are less concerned with this titular label and geared instead toward the author’s portrayal of disordered eating.

Alrighty. We’ve established I don’t follow the diet in question (although my love for fruits, veggies and plant-based proteins is real!), so why have I dedicated an entire post to this book?

Breaking Vegan book cover

Well…because it’s not just about veganism. It’s about being human.

Which sometimes means taking our passions to harmful extremes. Ignoring any smidgeon of logic that might contradict our single-minded intent. Forcing ourselves to believe whatever dogma, justification or outright lie supports our lifestyle choices. Rolling our eyes at those who voice concern. And disregarding our basic need to feel.

But this book is also about redemption. Healing both physical weakness and emotional wounds. Surrendering that insatiable urge for control. Embracing life’s hairpin turns, breakneck speeds and unpredictable thrills. Filling those empty spaces with a mindful center. Swapping out numbness for self-awareness. Affirming—even [gasp!] loving—every little quirk. And choosing balance over reckless abandon.

Basically, this book is about me.

Well…if you wanna get technical, it’s about Jordan Younger (a.k.a. The Balanced Blonde) and her relatably raw transition from orthorexia to personal acceptance.

But yeah, also me. And anyone else who’s lost their identity through the pursuit of perfection. That’s why Breaking Vegan is an important read. Not because Jordan bashes veganism (FYI: she doesn’t), but because she validates our right as individuals to live without labels.

While entrenched in my eating disorder, I used the “wellness” facade to rationalize my irrational behavior. I tossed that buzzword around like a humble brag and considered it my benchmark for success. Yet relentlessly pining after “health” made me unhealthier than I’d ever been. Gotta love irony, right?

Like Jordan points out from her own experience, I couldn’t even contemplate—let alone, begin—the recovery process until those identifiers no longer defined me.

I’ll always gravitate toward “wellness,” but there’s more to life than caloric counts, ingredient lists or sugar grams.

Passion often turns into obsession. I know this firsthand. The challenge, therefore, lies in restoring equilibrium—an elusive concept yet vital component. Sometimes my grasp on this feels superficial, but here’s one takeaway from Jordan’s story: healing can happen. Her message of sustainable, centered and [of course!] balanced health is exactly how I wanna approach this thing we call living.

So…Challenge. Accepted.

And since some messages are most impactful straight from their source, I’ll leave you with an excerpt of my favorite Breaking Vegan quotes:

Word.

On Turning Your Body Image from Naughty to Nice

The holidays are a challenging time of year for me.

I won’t even bother pretending otherwise.

So, with Christmas just 2 days around the corner, that telltale anxiety has begun creeping up on me.

In T-48 hours, the festivities will commence. I’ll be plied with cut-out cookies, green bean casserole (whose appearance at the buffet table always makes me wonder: why is this even a thing???), and every sugary beverage imaginable. I’ll spend Christmas dinner inwardly squirming because there’s no socially acceptable reason to escape “family time” for a stress-relieving workout.

And — most cringe-worthy of all — I’ll nod and *fake* smile as the table conversation invariably shifts to, “I reeeeeeally shouldn’t eat this, but…”

Don’t give me wrong though, I still love the holidays.

No, seriously. I do.

I’m a sucker for seasonal traditions. I can flawlessly quote Elf, and I know the lyrics to every musical sequence in White Christmas (that’s right…not just the title song!). I’m always convinced reindeer can fly upon watching the “Santa Tracker” with my younger cousins. In fact, I’m even listening to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” while typing this post.

Yep. There’s no denying it. Christmas is magical.

Too bad the magic often takes a backseat to my “holiday weight”-centric neurosis.

Negative body image seems grossly intensified during this time of year, and I sure wish Santa would fill my stocking with manuals on getting through the season, unscathed by those pesky insecurities. All gift-wrapped and foolproof because I am on the Nice List, don’tcha know.

Right. If only.

Instead, I’m left to my own devices when faced with excessive eating, thoughtless comments, and degrading voices inside my head. And — if you’re anything like me — you’ve likely experienced the exact same struggle.

But, since we’ve established the Big Guy won’t be bringing any “Body Image Survival Guides” on his sleigh anytime soon, I’ll leave you with this:

3 strategies, which have empowered me to sidestep feelings of inadequacy, so I can actually enjoy the festivities. Maybe you’ll find them helpful, as well. Just sayin’…

  1. If you want a cookie, have a cookie! Depriving yourself  is counterproductive and will frequently lead to a binge. Instead of suppressing a sweet tooth or restricting your regular intake to compensate for said sweet tooth, only to lose control and devour the whole damn cookie jar when nobody’s looking, allow yourself some wiggle room. Don’t overindulge, but listen to those internal hunger cues. If your body is craving chocolate chip goodness, for instance, feed the urge.  Eat 1 cookie. Taste it. Savor it. Then, walk away from the remaining dozen. Sweet tooth satisfied. Anxiety alleviated.
  2. Enough already with “good” vs. “bad” foods! There are no bad foods (unless they’re loaded with artificial preservatives…then, they can’t really be considered food). Only bad eating habits. Example: I might avoid green bean casserole, but my sister loves that shit. Therefore, green bean casserole is neither “good” nor “bad.” Regardless of our individual taste buds, it’s still just food. How food is consumed, though, can be detrimental. Whether you’re obsessively counting calories or mindlessly munching until nausea ensues, you fall into the disordered eating category.  So, eliminate those labels. If you like something, just eat it.
  3. You can be social while staying in shape! Rather than sneaking away from the crowd to sweat off Christmas dinner, turn exercise into a family bonding activity. Take a brisk walk around the neighborhood together, while enjoying holiday lights. Organize a backyard touch football scrimmage. Even play Wii Sports with your cousins (that’s what I do!). By all means, get moving! Just don’t let fitness take precedence over relationships. Strike a healthy balance. Instead of turning your desire for physical exertion into a covert mission, invite others to join in the action.

Oh, and (because…randomness) here’s a picture of some cookies.

Christmas cookies Yes, I baked them. I also — gasp! — ate them.

Guiltlessly.

If I can, anyone can.

You’re welcome (and Merry Christmas!).

5 Reasons to Date a Girl, Who Has Recovered from an Eating Disorder

A few days ago, while absentmindedly scrolling through my Facebook news feed, a certain article caught my attention. One of my female friends had posted it on her wall, along with a comment that said something like “Worst. Thing. Ever.”

The article was titled “5 Reasons to Date a Girl With an Eating Disorder.” (Warning: if you’re negatively triggered by dysmorphic body image material, I wouldn’t recommend clicking that link).

My initial reaction: Umm…WHAAAAAAT?!  

Nevertheless, persuaded by morbid curiosity, I gave it a read. Then, subsequently wished I hadn’t. Only 1 word can adequately describe my feelings toward the archaic, misogynistic, and downright offensive message perpetuated in this article: Horror.

Just pure and utter horror.

Whoever wrote this (come at me, bro!) is – in my admittedly biased opinion – a heinous human being. I consider myself a tolerant, unflappable individual, but I have ZERO patience for someone, who spouts unfounded and verbally abusive nonsense about such a sobering societal issue as mental illness.

An eating disorder is no joking matter. It’s a life-threatening concern that runs rampant in today’s culture. It does not discriminate across gender, racial, or socioeconomic boundaries. It trashes self-esteem. Destroys relationships. Ravages both mind and body. Causes long-term physical and emotional repercussions. It even has the power to kill.

Nope, not amusing. At all.

However, the dude behind this post sees things differently. From his sexist and – can we all agree?! – skewed POV, men should pursue anorexic and/or bulimic women for the following reasons:

  1. They look sexy.
  2. They won’t cost big bucks on date night.
  3. They’re easily dominated.
  4. They probably come from money.
  5. They’re great in bed.

‘Kay…???

Let me just begin by pointing out that I have personally battled and overcome anorexia, so I can assure you  none of these claims are factual. But, for good measure, I’ll break them down one-by-one.

  1. Sick isn’t sexy. It’s detrimental. Is outward beauty such a deal-breaker that a guy would rather see his girl suffer than gain 5 pounds?
  2. Not all disordered eaters starve themselves completely. But, even if they did, what kind of cheap bastard goes on a date without his wallet?
  3. Au contraire. While this illness does attack confidence levels, I’ve known several ED survivors (myself included), who are feisty little spit-fires. Dominate that!
  4. I was raised middle class. And I met girls in treatment, whose financial backgrounds ran the gamut from gated communities to inner cities. Wealth is NOT a contributing factor.
  5. To quote the author, “It’s a well-known fact that crazy girls are exceptional in the sack. A girl with an eating disorder has just the right cocktail of pent-up insecurity, neuroses, and daddy issues to ensure that your whole building knows every time you’re beating it up.” Yup. Nailed it. But not really.

Here’s another point worth mentioning: in the article’s comment section, some male readers were telling a (rightfully!) incensed female reader, “Chill out. It’s satire.”

Ummm…let’s examine that cavalier dismissal, shall we? As a former theatre major, I’ve read my fair share of satirical literature, from “The Importance of Being Ernest” to “Cloud Nine.” Satire uses “humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues” (source: dictionary.com). In other words, it aims to promote something more than misogyny.

Sorry, folks. Not buying the “it’s satire” argument.

Instead, I’ll offer a counterargument. Call it the “5 Reasons to Date a Girl With an Eating Disorder” in reverse. Consider, if you will, “5 Reasons to Date a Girl, Who Has Recovered from an Eating Disorder.”

Also known as The Truth:

  1. She has fought hard to achieve confidence and self-respect. 
  2. She recognizes and appreciates the value of inner beauty. 
  3. She exhibits joy and gratitude for life’s simple pleasures.
  4. She does not demand perfection and freely forgives a slip-up.
  5. She knows better than to take loving relationships for granted.

Think about it. This girl is a survivor. She has a positive new lease on life. She voices her opinions and beliefs. She can be counted on for honesty.  She admits to vulnerable moments, but isn’t controlled by them. She laughs at her own idiosyncrasies and doesn’t take herself too seriously. She embraces both strengths and weaknesses. She’s one tough chick and will go the distance for a real man, who treats her like his equal. Basically, this girl is a badass.

She lives with spirit, as though each day is hers alone to carpe diem. 

And loves with fierceness, as though her chosen person deserves happiness just as much as she does.

Why We Shouldn’t Need to Mind the Gap

I’ll admit…

I became preoccupied with obtaining a “thigh gap” before I even knew it had a name. Let alone a hashtag.

All I knew was if my feet were together but my thighs were NOT apart, then that equaled failure. If they so much as grazed against each other during an evening jog, I’d inwardly curse the loose folds of cellulite that had taken up residence there. Granted, this egregious cellulite only existed inside my head, but still…

Why. The. Hell. Must. Those. Stupid. Thighs. Touch?!

Arrrrrgh!

What is this madness?!

Madness indeed. Not only was I fixated on a meaningless centimeter of space between my inner thighs, but now millions of other young women are too. You can’t scroll through an Instagram feed or peruse Tumblr posts without being inundated by this troubling trend. #MindTheGap has recently become just as much an institution as social media itself. Proponents of the elusive “gap” use these sites as sounding boards to either tout their progress or bemoan their inadequacy. Nope. There’s no mistaking it: thigh gap fixation has given us tunnel vision toward our own physical appearances.

It’s no longer acceptable to simply be considered fit and trim overall. Now every last INCH of our bodies demands perfection.

But, let’s be honest, are thigh gaps even all that noticeable? If you didn’t spend a solid 10 minutes positioning your legs at just the right angle to snap a boastful – and perhaps teeny tiny bit…filtered – selfie, would your friends have any idea that you claim membership in the Thigh Gap Club? Yeah, didn’t think so.

Which raises even more questions: Why is this our new benchmark for beauty? Why is a sliver of breathing room separating 1 skin layer from another suddenly the latest status symbol? Why do we measure personal success in such superficial, fleeting terms?

No, really. WHY?!

Do yourself a favor next time you cringe at your own reflection. Rather than gauging the dead air between your legs, consider instead how those same legs move you through each miraculous day of your beautiful life.

Not that’s worth minding.

Another First Post from Another New Blog.

So, I started a blog. Well…so what, right? Just imagine for a second how many millions of blog posts get published every single day. And I’m just one tiny blip on the radar. So, why should this matter? Hell. Why should you even read it?

You might have skimmed the title page and made an (accurate) assumption that I’ll be blogging about everyone’s 2 favorite topics (read: those pesky little guilt-trippers we all love to hate): Health and Fitness.

*Insert eye rolling.* Great. Just great.

Well, isn’t that convenient?! Yet another reminder you aren’t taking care of yourself in the same obsessive way Cameron Diaz does. That you skipped working out again this week (yup, that gym membership sure was money down the drain!). That while all your Facebook friends are running marathons, posting photos of their “bikini bods,” and yakking about the latest juice cleanse (skinny bitches!), you’re just over here on the couch with a glass of wine in one hand, a sleeve of Oreos in the other, and a “Friends” re-run on TV. Hey now! Even Monica Gellar knows the finer things in life include junk food.

So, you’re gonna pass on the “thin-spiration,” right? Thanks but no thanks. Who needs one more blogger droning on about her experience with Clean Living, Paleo Diets, Yogalates, or whatever the hell this week’s big hype might be.

“After all,” you’re probably thinking, “she’ll just turn out to be a bitch too” (“I bet she even senses where I hide my secret Godiva chocolates stash!”). The horror.

Well…as long as we’re confessing our guilty pleasures here, let me tell you a little something: I love chocolate too.

And cheesecake. And frappuccinos with extra whip. And queso-smothered nachos. And French fries. And take-out Chinese. What I’m saying is I GET IT. I understand the cravings, temptations, and post-“food coma” shame. Yup, I’ve even pulled the old “I’m too tired for exercise” excuse. I UNDERSTAND.

I also understand the social stigmas.

Look. Here are the facts: we’re all woman trying to keep our heads above water in this calorie-counting, fad dieting, food shaming, thigh gap-trending, Soulcycling, image-obsessed culture of the 21st century. We’ve gotten more weight-conscious than Barbie Doll herself. It’s not enough that magazines Photoshop their (already stunning) cover girls…if there was a way to Photoshop ourselves in real life, we would’ve done that yesterday.

Blame the media. Blame red carpets. Blame glossy “Sports Illustrated” swimsuit issues. Blame that guy who reads a “Sports Illustrated” swimsuit issue. Blame that spray-tanned chick who Instagrams a selfie and hashtags #skinnygirlsareprettygirls. Blame effing Jennifer Aniston. Blame yourself for not being like her.

Blame. Blame. Blame. Blah. Blah. Blah.

But enough with the blame game already! Why do we instinctively hate that petite blonde in line at Starbucks, who orders a tall-no-sugar-no-foam-skinny-soy-latte, and unknowingly forces everyone behind her to follow suit? WHY?! I’ll tell you why: because her tight toned ass looked damn good in those yoga pants, so the rest of us just couldn’t resist rattling off the exact same “let’s pretend it’s coffee” order.

It’s simple, really. We thrive off competition. We love to outdo each other in the looks department. And maybe that’s why Health and Fitness have become such taboo subjects.

But I’m not some ripped and intimidating Jillian Michaels wannabe screaming at other women to drop the Cheetos, log off Netflix, and hit the treadmill.  My goal is to empower women to discover (and hopefully, embrace) the beauty they already possess.

Because, ladies: you are strong. You are able. You are sexy. You are wholly unique.

And furthermore, your minds and bodies are powerhouses waiting…wanting…to achieve their full potential through  (you guessed it!) Health and Fitness.

*Insert eye roll-*

No, wait! Stay with me because I’ve got a weapon in my arsenal that I’m willing to bet the average “thin-spiration” blogger lacks. I’ll never preach suppressing your hunger or camping out at the gym. My concern is balance. And moderation. And mindfulness. 3 basic principles that nearly saved my life a few years back.

Real talk. I went from being severely anorexic and consumed by a singular pursuit of physical perfection to content with WHO I am and HOW my body functions. That’s my aim for you too. And for anyone else, who happens to stumble upon my ramblings.

So, it might indeed be a tiny blip on the radar. But let me assure you…it’s not just another blog.