GUEST BLOGGER COLUMN, “LIFE IS FLUID”
If I had to sum up on of my most defining victories against my disordered eating practices: you can begin something for the right reasons but maintain it for the wrong ones.
I once cried over a bagel.
It was an incredible experience, more complex than the short laugh I usually tell to friends. It’s funny. I cried over a bagel.
I was giving in after three months of “cleansing” myself of, supposedly, all the things that were making my body miserable—anything that wasn’t exclusively fiber or protein. It was a real meal plan with a name and a medical following. But, at that point of my life, after years of falling into worrisome relationships with food, I should have known. Restriction is a red flag for someone like me. I started wanting to feel better, about both my function and look, and found myself in a cycle of intense food-related self-discipline-turned-punishment. I obeyed every rule about what I was not allowed to eat. I added my own. I started chewing things and spitting them out before swallowing them. I changed the game. That’s what was so sinister about the whole ordeal for me, in retrospect. I began that “cleanse” as a step toward a recovery on one end of the spectrum, away from scary binges that saw no end, and flipped it toward the other extreme.
It’s hard to face some of the non-logic I toted as my turn-around today. There should have been a tip-off, right? This cleanse was my obsession, my distraction, never forgotten at any time, and more important than everything I chose not to think about instead. I took guilt wherever I went and couldn’t hide how much it burdened me. There was never any real satisfaction, only pursuit that had to be topped. And everywhere I went, the people who noticed my immediate 15 lb. drop applauded me. My face had never had any angles before, and I wanted to see how much the food I (didn’t) eat could reveal details like that to me.
In that frame of mind, I learned a lot about purposeful nutrition, and much of that has value today. For example, I made the effort to prepare all kinds of plants I had never tried before. But then I’d grow tired more and more quickly every night and would determine the cucumber I’d just finished slicing would have to be enough. I was not healthy, though I told myself I was. And I blamed my lack of energy on the “bad” things that a life without sugars would help kill off in my gut. It didn’t even occur to me to blame the snack-sized meals or the dozens of flights of stairs I made sure to run through the day.
But on a particularly tenuous Valentine’s day, hovering right around the first true break-up I’d ever had, my mother took me to a bakery—a forbidden zone—and insisted I eat whatever I wanted. With maybe more than a little insight, she let me know it was okay to be there. And I, with invisible chains on my wrists, I took a bite of freshly prepared, yeasty bagel. And I cried. We’re talking sparkly, dramatic montage tears that led to huge honking sobs, people. And it was all because there was bread in my mouth. Because there were lots of unpleasant feelings I hadn’t confronted yet. Because I was willing to readmit it on a day that was otherwise rampant with disappointment that bread is one of my most favorite things in the whole world.
I share this with you today not knowing about your own track record or relationship to food. I want you to know I respect your journey. I wish you all the best, beginning with mindfulness. Mental illnesses and road blocks of all sorts can be challenged, and mindfulness is the first step. You can be healthy one day and look back and smile at all the time you spent not knowing how to want to be healthy.
If I may, I’d like to pose a challenge of my own to you. Imagine yourself championing over whatever it is in front of you. Imagine yourself achieved, actualized, and past the disorder in front of you right now. Go ahead. What is different? What’s changed? It’s important to identify what’s different about the you that’s fighting now and the you that wins later to find out what has to be adjusted in the mean time.
Ask yourself, "When I’m recovered, what’s different about me, not just physically, but emotionally? How is my time spent? How does Recovered Me think and feel?"
Then, please fill in the following: ”When I’m recovered, I want to…”
If someone had asked me that question during the three months mentioned, I’m not sure what I would have said. Now, my personal answer is something more like “to know that one bite is just one bite” or “to feed my body as though it were my best friend”. Ponder your own goals for a while. Be kind. Separate as much as possible from the guilt and habits of today and find out how ready you are to have a honest and wholesome relationship with food. Next, tell a trusted someone about the goal you’ve just set. Please. The words and the timing are all yours, but here’s a guarantee: you are capable, especially with some help.
I like to tell people “I cried over a bagel” so that they laugh. What’s wonderful is that now I can laugh, too.
Kristen, 21, is a college student as well as a musical theater instructor and classically trained soprano. She holds to the motto “life is fluid”, and truly believe no struggle can last forever, even if the next phase isn’t clear right now. When Kristen isn’t doing the singing/acting/dancing thing, she’s prone to spending much too much time with video games and nerd stuff, tumblr, a crochet project, staring at plants, thinking about snacks, or sleep. You can read all of Kristen’s posts here.