Warrior of the week: Devon

Devon has courageously permitted me to share beautiful insights about her eating disorder. Her story reveals the truth we all are on a journey with food and body.

I am currently embracing a beautifully unstructured point in my life. If I had not made the conscious decision to seek further treatment for my eating disorder, I would hold a very different perspective towards this current life stage. I moved to Boston a little over two years ago to finish my Master’s program and complete rotations for my dietetic internship, actively fulfilling my self proclaimed identity as an overachiever. I thrive off maintaining a hectic schedule, facing increased anxiety towards having too much free time. Having recognized this, I explored the option of enrolling in a higher level of care. I am currently involved in a partial hospitalization program, a step I have been pushing aside for much too long.

It’s so important to recognize when we need support! How do you feel as a future dietitian, or someone who works in the nutrition field affects your recovery journey?

As an ‘RD to be’ having just completed my dietetic internship, I was hesitant to seek further support. Having gained greater experience within the nutrition field, I became ashamed of my struggles around food and nourishing my body. I became increasingly frustrated simply because I was unable to practice the same guidelines I presented to my patients. Within the greater nutrition field, the emphasis often placed on healthy eating and the participation in regular means of physical activity acted to encourage my disordered behaviors. As a dietitian, I hope to promote the mindset that all foods can be, and should be included as part of a healthy eating pattern. I hope to dissociate the practice of eating from ingrained moral values, encouraging others that there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods. All foods are comprised of similar nutrients, acting to provide the body with energy it requires to not simply live but in a enriching manner. Food serves a purpose extending far beyond basic nutrition. It is cultural, social, comforting and emotional. Food acts to satisfy both physical and spiritual needs within the body, further validating that one meal or snack choice is no better than another. Through my own personal struggles, I hope this greater understanding I have gained will help others facing similar situations.

What does recovery mean to you?

As I understand for myself, recovery is not static. It is not a singular event or a given ‘ah ha’ moment, but is comprised of many conscious challenges, decisions and actions. It involves establishing daily intentions and a general sense of motivation towards better health and wellbeing. I do not believe recovery to be the absence of disordered thoughts or behaviors, but instead gaining a wide set of coping skills of which enable inner strength and resilience. By becoming more familiar with personal triggers and resulting urges towards behaviors, it becomes easier to face adversity in a healthier manner without the reliance on disordered tendencies. Recovery holds a vastly different meaning for each individual, and I encourage each person to further explore what recovery truly means for them.

When did you decide you needed help? What was the turning point?

In my personal experience, the idea of seeking a higher level of care remained foreign to me for several years. My parents encouraged me to address my anxiety around food following my college graduation in 2015, but I was unable to fully consider this option at the time. I was free to acknowledge my behaviors were feeling increasingly compulsive, but I could not see beyond the grips of the disorder, nor was I willing to part with it. Disordered behaviors often arise as a coping mechanism, one in which feels deceptively supportive in the short term but turns so tremendously destructive. This point in time involved transition, change and growth, all of which spark feelings of discomfort and uncertainty. I was able to establish a care team through my graduate program, taking baby steps along the way towards maintaining a stable health status to allow me to finish both my Master’s program and internship. As a personality trait, I remain highly achievement oriented, a characteristic which discouraged me from previously seeking a higher level of care. Conveniently I always had a larger excuse, one which made me feel that treatment was not an option as I simply didn’t have the availability or interest. I have now come to realize I had been completely blended with my disorder and was unable to make sound decisions for my wellbeing. Having finished my internship, I knew this time would be an opportunity I would not likely face again prior to establishing a career path for myself. I jumped head first into the recovery process, knowing I may grow more hesitant if I did not take action.

When you face challenges, what are some things you do to face them? Or maybe some things you remind yourself of? Basically, how do you keep going when the going gets tough?

Recovery at any stage is incredibly hard both mentally and physically. The body is changing, growing, repairing and adapting on so many intrinsic levels as we engage in the necessary mental work. Eating disorders are not focused solely on food, or the fear of food itself. Disordered eating is so deeply rooted in our psyche stemming from adversity, challenging family dynamics, personal trauma among other triggers. Having to part with comfortable and familiar coping mechanisms is intimidating and introduces uncertainty and a heightened sense of anxiety. Through my personal experience in recovery thus far, I have faced challenges I did not initially anticipate as a result of parting with something which brought me comfort, control and a sense of identity. On harder days, I remind myself of a simple mantra repeated by our dietitian here, to ‘just try’. You are acutely familiar with life as paralleled with your eating disorder, but what might you be missing out on? Can life be a little more comfortable, manageable and enjoyable? I have adopted this mantra as a daily intention of mine. Just try. You can always step back and reevaluate the situation if needed. I take comfort in knowing this is not a commitment, but a choice I am making for my personal wellbeing.

Have you noticed any changes in yourself since starting recovery?

The most meaningful realization in my recovery thus far has been eating more than I may feel comfortable with has not drastically changed the appearance of my shape. Prior to starting treatment, I feared allowing my body the nourishment it greatly needed to heal and repair would cause large fluctuations in my perception of self image. While I do notice slight shifts, I am embracing my body in a manner I was not able to previously. I have gained confidence and a sense of grounding in myself. I appreciate having a more womanly shape and have become much more trusting of the process.

What is one piece of advice or encouragement or reminder you would like to offer others who are struggling or who may also be in recovery?

Recovery is a permissible time to be selfish. It is a time for personal growth, healing and self exploration. By agreeing to take further steps towards recovery, you are practicing the highest act of self-care and love. I encourage others to remain in touch with what is helpful during this time and to reevaluate situations and relationships which may not feel supportive. Part of recovery is establishing a sound foundation, one in which fosters positive choices, thoughts and actions. Removing yourself from anxiety producing environments is not at all self-centered, but necessary to promote sustainable change. Be gentle with yourself, and practice small acts of respect for yourself each and every day.

What do you think are some of the most important ways people can support others in recovery?

Eating disorders can be confusing for both individuals and loved ones. I am aware of my own triggers, but do not fully understand why a given topic might be more sensitive. New triggers may arise in daily life or conversation as life is dynamic and constantly changing. We face evolving circumstances and continue to learn how to best adapt. By remaining in touch with ourselves and establishing personal boundaries, potentially uncomfortable situations can be better managed. Never feel as though you have to justify your feelings or experiences to others prior to setting boundaries. Some examples could be to keep discussions away from food or eating, weight, body size or shape. Although many comments from loved ones are made with the best intentions, it can be helpful to reevaluate the situation prior to speaking. For example, rather than offering a compliment focused on body size or shape, consider complimenting one’s hair style or clothing choice. A focus on body size, even from a place of good intentions may be perceived as triggering as recovery is a highly vulnerable life stage. Similarly, making a well mannered comment that someone appears ‘healthy’ may send one’s mind into a cycle of disordered thoughts towards body image and size. To best support the recovery process, individually focused guidelines should be established among loved ones to encourage positive interactions and further healing.

I hope you felt touched by her story.

Myths and truths of dieting….

Dieting gives us purpose. It keeps us on the straight and narrow path toward unveiling the beautiful, skinny person that lives inside of us.

Myth!

Binges and overeating reinforce just how undisciplined, apathetic and hopeless we really are. Dieting is our consistent way of getting it right.

Myth!

salad

We worship the god of love, light and peace through restriction and deprivation. By dieting, we prove how punitive parts of us can be, how long other parts can live in deprivation, how tough we are. Through diets, we show our strength and find validation of our goodness.

Myth!

Life will be perfect when our skinny jeans fit, when the weight that limits our capacity to find love or the perfect job, and that separates our heart, soul and mind falls off our body. We think skinny people have perfect lives and reach out and take what they want — because of their weight!

Myth!

Absurd, isn’t it? The story continues…

Restrictive eating is how we obtain perfection by diminishing fat bellies, thighs and hips, banning cellulite, and creating a steadier state of mind. We pack away nagging thoughts and feelings we can’t tolerate and put a pretty bow on top.

Myth!

Diets fix us and stop the emotional parts of us that are married to being less than, undesirable, unredeemable—like shame, guilt, and abandonment. Diets fill the empty space and our dissatisfaction with our selves and life fades away.

Myth!


Truths

It doesn’t work that way.

Diets numb us to reality. The part of you that restricts hides the truth. The part that binges conceals your true nature. The part that overeats covers your soul.

Compulsive eating is a bright red Exit sign when life isn’t what you signed up for. Restricting is a refusal to play that game any longer. You pulse between fullness and emptiness as a control mechanism to mask the parts of that hold unhappiness.

What will you hold onto, what is your purpose, who are you if you don’t diet and obsess all day about how your flabbiness defines you, rice cakes acknowledge your strength, and salads sans dressing demonstrate your fortitude?

peacefulness

You hold onto the present moment—without judgment. You listen to your breath. You feel your heart beating. You acknowledge you are alive and worthy to be who you are! You discover your purpose is not to punish yourself but to celebrate all the different parts of you, to bring more beauty into the world simply by being you, joyful you. You discover your Self—where Compassion, Clarity, and Connection reside.

Your relationship with food is a powerful coping strategy in dealing with a painful past. There are parts of you that hold tight to that story. There are better strategies now to cope. You can integrate them and heal yourself.

I get it, I do understand. It’s easier to continue punishing yourself, to push down and cover up the parts of you that hold the painful feelings with food instead of patiently listening to them.  So they can let go of old beliefs that no longer are needed to protect you. Your obsession with body and food appears to give you purpose, quiets the ugly roar of life, and occupies you so you don’t have time to really face the music. It robs you of pleasure, joy, and the abundance of bliss that is your birthright.

The truth leaves you vulnerable. That’s scary.

Standing in your truth, your vulnerable parts stop stuffing down your essence with cookies and ice cream. You do the Courageous work of being present and open-hearted to get in touch with the parts of you that hold old stories that no longer define or support you.

Diets are an illusion. The rhythm of restriction and binging is not real.


Reality

Ultimately, it’s not about the number on the scale or the shape or size of your body. It’s about finding Connection, of satisfying your deep internal desire to belong, and of glimpses of the light of your truest essence— to the full revelation of the cadence of your core. The pulsation within the heart of who you really are.

It’s about believing in your own authentic voice. And quieting the voices that no longer serve.


Heart happy oats

Bagels, lox and cream cheese loaded with capers make my belly do a happy dance. Cheesy grits and eggs are a warming comfort food on brrrrrrr cold New England days. Yet, neither do much to lower my high cholesterol, a genetic gift from both my folks. So bah humbug I turn toward boring and beige oatmeal instead. Wait! Oatmeal can be divine.

This is my new luscious dish of decadent delights. Extra-thickly cut old-fashioned oats with Sunview jumbo raisins simmered with a bit more water than Bob’s Red Mill calls for lends an ultra-creamy texture filled with plumb fruit. Pour steamy, creamy oatmeal atop diced Honey Crisp apples and sprinkle with pecans, walnuts and almonds for crunch. Maple syrup makes them especially New England-like, yet some may want to use a non-nutritive sweetener like stevia. Either way, you’re ready for a wintery treat that keeps you full for a long, long time.

Coconut oil not all it’s cracked up to be

The latest hype is coconut oil, coconut milk, shredded coconut, coconut manna, and MCT oil (medium-chain triglycerides). Those invested in high fat, high protein dietary intakes for weight loss and overall health could be advised to stay on top of your cholesterol levels, especially if high cholesterol is an issue in your medical profile or your family history. Check out this previous post for more details about this.

Watch this video by Dr. Michael Gregor to see the evidence that supports avoiding coconut oil and using monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in cooking and salad dressings, especially focusing on organic extra-virgin first cold-expeller pressed olive oil, olives, nuts, seeds, and avocado.

 

 

Eat a rainbow of color

And I don’t mean Skittles! Phytonutrients are chemicals produced by plants. Phytonutrients give plants their pigmentation, which simply means the more colors you eat, the more phytonutrients for your body. A good way to tell whether a fruit or a vegetable is rich in phytonutrients is by the depth and intensity of its color. That’s why we are encourage to eat the more saturated dark green leafy greens, red, yellow, green and orange sweet bell pepper and purple eggplant, plums, and grapes, among others.

Phytonutrient-rich foods include not only fruit and vegetables rich in hue, but also legumes, nuts, tea, whole grains and many spices. They can provide significant health benefits for the human body.

 

 

So what’s under the rainbow?

Red—flavonoids & lycopene

  • Healthy heart and strong memory
  • Tomatoes, strawberries, cherries, apples, red peppers, watermelon, etc.

Yellow & Orange—beta-carotene

  • Healthy eyes and good immune function
  • Carrots, oranges, pineapple, sweet potatoes, mangoes, pumpkins, cantaloupes, etc.

Green—chlorophyll, carotenoids, isothiocyanates

  • Healthy bones, teeth and eyes
  • Spinach, green peas, cucumbers, broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, asparagus, etc.

Blue & Purple—anthocyanin

  • Healthy aging and strong memory
  • Eggplant, blueberries, purple grapes, purple cabbage, figs, beets, dark beans, etc.

White—flavonoids

  • Healthy heart and hood cholesterol levels
  • Onion, garlic, ginger, chives, mushrooms, jicama, etc.

Easiest guarantee to get all the nutrients a body needs is by following the yellow brick road to somewhere over the rainbow!

Good Measures