eating disorders & the paradox of controlling our food

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There’s something involved in eating disorders that play an incredible important role in recovery, and also serves to intensify out eating disorder exaggerated – control.

When my eating disorder was a lot worse, I was trying to control just about everything. Calories in and calories out, food groups, amount of exercise, time to eat breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack, fat and muscle percentages & weight I was trying to achieve. I was trying to pinpoint everything to to reaching that unachievable numeric goal. And the more I tried to control, the more my own intentions backfired me, making my eating disorder even worse and delaying recovery.

Why? Because I refused to surrender myself to my body’s needs. When I wanted rice I forced myself to eat brown bread instead. When I wanted white chocolate I forced myself to go guzzle a load of water. When I wanted curry I reluctantly chose clear soup. When I wanted cheesy pizza I unenthusiastically chose salad without dressing. Not just once, but as many times as I could.  I pretty much was denying my body what it needed and what it wanted.

Here’s the thing: when we enter a relationship with food with the aim of controlling the amount of food we put into our body, the (not-so) funny thing is that it ends up controlling us. When I was dieting and restricting my food I was in control, but when I binged, I felt like I had lost control of what I was doing. When we restrict ourselves so much to the point that our body rebels. We don’t make leeways for desserts, mistakes or one-off occasions. Everything must be followed according to the book and when we deviate from our rigid rules, we end up punishing ourselves.

We binge, because our body is starving. A binge is our body’s natural biological response to what we are doing to our body. 

And let’s be honest. For how long can we “control” ourselves? Do we want to control ourselves for the rest our lives, telling ourselves to choose option A over option B because option B might make you fat?

Your relationship to food is a reflection of your relationship with your life.  What is it in your life that you are trying to gain control or change that is making you restrict? A fear of loneliness that makes you binge to feel better? Trying to get a thin body & obsessing over your food intake? Wanting to get more attention and praise & so obsessively exercising to get a ripped lean body that those fit chicks on Instagram?

In my opinion, an important key to recovering (and deriving happiness from it) is this:

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Whenever I find myself obsessing over calories and getting anxious about my weight, I force myself to sit down and think “Why am I wanting to restrict my food and lose weight?” My answer? I wanted to be thinner; I wanted to lose weight, get attention and seek praise.

And then I think back to what I did to achieve that and what happened when I lost the extra weight: constantly watching what I eat and constantly wondering what I can and cannot eat to lose weight, exercising more and even comparing myself to pictures of thin women and using that as motivation to lose weight. Needless to say, my emotional wellbeing took a dip. When I chose to let go (difficult but I still chose it), I was so much happier. I was less stressed about food & wasn’t beating myself up over that bite of chocolate.

That’s the paradox of control. You can be in control of your life ONLY when you stop trying to be in control of every single aspect all the time. Maybe that’s a lesson that is also involved in eating disorder recovery:  that it’s okay to not be in control at all timesThat its okay to be imperfect. That its okay to overeat on some days. That its okay to not have a meal plan or if you do, to not follow it 100% all day everyday. That its okay to not an itty bitty waist or the body that some celebrities have.

When we stop trying to control our food, we start:

  • Really listening to our body and eat what our body tells us it needs
  • Allowing ourselves sweets and chocolate and cake and ice-cream when we want it without feeling guilty.
  • Removing any emotional associations with food.
  • Finding out that we don’t crave “bad” foods as much as want
  • Choosing to eat foods based on what our body feels it needs at that moment

We can’t always control what we eat, how much we eat and how much we exercise. The thing we can control, is how we choose to respond to a situation. The more we try to control what/how/when we eat, the more emotionally distressed we feel (anger, sadness, self-disgust). But if we choose to change how we perceive food, our relationship to food, and displace our self-worth from our weight, the less our food will control our mental wellbeing

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Perfection doesn’t exist and we are all flawed so let’s just learn to accept that we are flawed human beings just wanting to survive, wanting to pat the dust off our shoes and work on recovering from our disordered eating patterns and just be the best person in recovery that we can be.

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10 minutes with Blair Thompson

Welcome back guys! Today’s interview is with a wonderfully gorgeous aspiring undergraduate/ aspiring dietician / warrior, Blair Thomspon ❤

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Blair runs an instagram account: @bodypositiveeverydamday (*hint hint: go check her out and also, yes its dam!). I decided to reach out to her because she posts the most amazing inspirational posts and messages. She reveals her hopes, her dreams, her fears and her vulnerabilities in her posts & whole-heartedly shares with her followers her journey toward body acceptance and recovering from her eating disorder. Her triumphs and her struggles reflect those of ours and that’s what makes her so incredibly relatable. In a way, she’s us. Its as though there’s a bond because she makes one go “oh my god yes that’s me I was going through the same thing and I’m not alone”. In a way I can’t help but feel connected to her, tied by our shared understanding of the same trials and tribulations about our bodies we go through as we continue fighting our eating disorder; as though we know each other even though we live on opposite sides of the globe.

That’s the beauty of it all – shared struggles bring people together.

Blair’s responses came at such an opportune time, because the day I received her responses and read them (August 29), I was going through an incredibly bad body image and eating day. PMS was currently still is hitting me, and when that happens, I get really bad bloating. Its so bad until my tummy actually hurts and I can’t stand up properly and need to lie down because it feels as though my tummy is about to burst. I start swelling & puffing up like Violet Beauregarde in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and it was giving me really bad body image issues. Plus, I wanted to eat so many things & it was bringing back a lot of unhealthy negative thoughts about restricting and body-bashing. It made me feel like I was taking 53 steps back in my recovery, that I was relapsing because I was slipping over and over again.

Not only did Blair share some of the current struggles I go through, she spoke about some of the things that I actually, up til now, still fear admitting. But then I learned: There is NO one way to recover. People are going to struggle with negative thoughts handout disordered eating, sometimes on some days, sometimes everyday. But that’s all right, and that doesn’t make you a failure. It makes you human. When I slip and make mistakes, binge or cry and restrict or throw tantrums, I always end up thinking that there is no other person out there going through what I’m experiencing because like what a wise friend once told me, when you’re hurting, little else matter. But then there are people like Blair who remind me that I am not alone, who share their accounts of same pains and use their struggle to help others and help themselves.

So thank you Blair, for sharing your story with me and reassuring I’m not as wrecked as I make myself out to be and that even though I am still broken, still recovering, still fighting, still bingeing, still struggling, still crying, what’s more important is that I am still brave enough to continue fighting these demons that I have been fighting since Day 1.

I will share some of her personal Instagram posts with you at the end of the interview so as to give you a sneak peek into how she motivates her followers. Until then here’s introducing to you, Blair Thompson ❤

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Hi! For those unfamiliar with you and what you do, please introduce yourself.

Hi, my name is Blair Thompson; I am currently recovering from binge eating disorder. I developed this disorder while I was recovering from anorexia. I am getting my degree as a dietitian, so that I can help people with eating disorders, so I will specialize in eating disorders. Right now I am trying to help others by trying to spread the word to be body positive, to love yourself at any weight or at any size.

Why did you decide to create an Instagram account about eating disorder recovery and body positivity?

This is an awesome question. I created mine because when I deep down wanted help with recovery I never got the help. I got dangerously thin, and I knew there was something wrong, I was tired of being afraid to eat, afraid of fat. I always thought about food and working out. I wanted help, but I never got it, so I tried to recover on my own, I had no support, so I ended up developing binge eating disorder and now I have so much support and I go to a therapist and a nutritionist. I really want to give back to every person who is suffering with an eating disorder, so I use my instagram to help others.

Could you share with us your eating disorder story?

I will gladly share my story. Growing up I was chubby, I was not a little thin person, and I am short but compact. I was very athletic and good at every sport I tried. All I wanted to do is have fun and run around, I did eat a lot of food, mostly junk food, but I was happy and so healthy. I moved a lot and at every school people noticed that I was fat, and they would tell me. I got called fatty all the time, people would make fun of my chin and tell me that I had no chin. My dad told me that once I got older I would be more concerned with my weight. I did not understand what he meant. Then in 8th grade I really liked this guy but he did not like me because I was that fat girl that was shy but really nice. I decided to leave and go to boarding school, when I got there, people called me fat, guys were like “ I can’t date you because you are fat”. I had to be “small”, “thin” to be attractive. I took all of that to heart; I was tired of being ignored. I started to eat healthier, eating less, and working out a lot. I came back sophomore year and lost about 15 pounds, over a year. Everyone told me that I looked so much better. I felt so good, people who ignored me, were in love with me. People treated me with respect and they treated me so much better. Then I had guys flirting with me and complementing me from left to right. I was in heaven. I had a ton of boyfriends from sophomore year to junior year. I loved the attention. Most guys I dated were over the Internet, some in person. The guys at my school were starting to notice me, and one guy touched me in a sexual way, and I felt so uncomfortable. I told a teacher about it, and it was called sexual abuse, he was so mean to me. Each guy that I dated tried and did force me to do things that I did not want to do. They were attracted to me because of the way I looked; I tried to find self-love through an unhealthy way through guys. It did a lot of damage on my self-esteem, I thought that when I got thin, I would feel loved, more importantly I would love myself. Turns out, I did not love myself, I hated myself, I would workout and eat nothing because I thought that it would help me with my self-love problem, but it didn’t. I had poor relationships with guys, one guy tried to have sex with me, but I wouldn’t let him, so he forced me to give him a hand job, I was so scared, I couldn’t move and then after I just cried and cried. I ended that, and I thought it happened because I was ugly, and not thin enough. My problem got worse and worse, my negative thoughts were awful, I self harmed every time I ate, I hated my body and that fact that I had to eat. Eventually I got into a relationship with a guy that I am with now, it is a serious relationship, but he had to deal with me cutting, and being depressed and anorexic. Our relationship almost ended so many times because I cared more about being thin, and feeding my eating disorder rather than focusing on our relationship. It happened again when I started binge eating. Eating disorders love to ruin relationships because it wants you in isolation, and it will do anything to get you there. Now I am still struggling with negative thoughts, and my binge eating disorder, but I am trying to take it one day at a time, hopefully one day, I will be binge free.

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What made you decide to seek help?

The fact that my eating disorder ruined my life, and it made it so that I was not able to function in life, I couldn’t do anything, or enjoy anything. My relationship was falling apart, my grades were falling apart, I was falling apart, I just honestly wanted to die because I couldn’t and can’t stop eating. I knew that I needed the help, and once I decided to get help, the easier it was for me to chose recovery and learn how to deal with my mental problems.

Have there been times when you felt tempted to return to your old habits? How did you overcome them?

There as been meaning times I have felt tempted to return to my old habits. I don’t starve myself anymore; it has been 2 years since I last starved myself. I actually binged ate today (August 28, 2015). I have not cut since 2013. I overcame not starving myself because my body was slowly breaking down and shutting down, I needed food, so my body made it so that I couldn’t stop eating because I starved it for 5 years, and I had my binge eating disorder for 2 years. I have not successfully been able to stop a binge, but The longest I went without binge eating was 3 months, but recently I can only make it about 2 weeks. I have been trying to eat food in moderation and eat food that makes me feel good.

What do you think it means to be “recovered” from an eating disorder, and what are some steps that you take to ensure that you stay on the path of recovery?

To me it means that you choose to be recovered everyday, to know when you are having eating disorder thoughts or negative harmful thoughts. I honestly do not think people can get fully cured from an eating disorder. Even though their weight is restored, does not mean that they are fully recovered. Everyday I tell myself to be positive, that my body is beautiful even though I have fat, and that I still have binge eating episodes. I am perfectly imperfect. Yes I am fat, chubby whatever, and I know that recovery is a bumpy path but giving up is not an option, even if I do fall down one day, I get up and keep going.

What happens when you “fall down”? Could you give us some examples? How do you get back up on your feet?

This is a perfect question for right now. Today I have had a hard day because I had an urge to binge eat. I tried to fight it all day, but then after dinner I just ate everything, I couldn’t stop and I can’t stop. My stomach hurts because I ate too much. I try very hard to not let my falls get me down, I try to tell myself that it is okay, that I am okay, to just breath, and just relax. I cry, crying does help, and I let myself feel everything, because I fall every time to quiet my mind from all the feelings. It is unhealthy; it is so healthy just to let yourself feel every feeling.

What has changed since embarking on recovery, in terms of your perception of yourself, your mindset or your attitude?

A lot changed, my life attracts more positive things, like people and more opportunities. My life is so much more enjoyable; I find pleasure in doing the simple things in life again. I can go out, I can eat out and not worry about food, I can enjoy my friends, and family. It just makes life a happier place, it makes my mind a lot healthier, and my mindset and my attitude is les negative than before. I am working on becoming a more positive person.

Recovering from an eating disorder is slow and can be tiring and equally stressful with lots of obstacles along the way. What advice do you have for other women struggling with their own eating disorder journey?

My advice is to meditate, find a place to write how you feel, be open, and be open minded. Share your story, and struggle to the world through instagram, do not hide; you deserve to have your story be heard. Your ups and downs, your advice through what you go through helps so many people as well. Be honest with yourself and others through your recovery journey.

What was your relationship is to your food before recovery? Did you see it as the enemy or something to be feared? What about now?

Before recovery, I couldn’t eat food, I was afraid of it to the point that I couldn’t stop eating it. I only had good or bad food, so I was not allowed to eat bad food, never ever, which lead me here to binge eating. I saw it as an enemy that I should not have or enjoy. Right now I am actually struggling with my relationship with food, because sometimes I do fear it, and sometimes I do not enjoy it, I try to eat it so fast to get it over with, but sometimes I try my best to enjoy every bite because food is not the enemy and it is not something to be feared.

We live in a society that continues to glorify thin bodies. Despite your quest toward acceptance of your flaws and your vulnerabilities, have you at times, wished you were thinner? How do you overcome that? What can we do?

I wish I were thin everyday, even when I was thin. Sometimes being thin is not even enough. I overcome it by remembering what it was like being thin, it did not help me with my problem, I still hated myself, that is when I realized it has nothing to do with my weight but more with my self-love. I was thin, and it is not as glorifying as people make it to be. I think if we just focus on who were are as a person and focus on what we can do for others and ourselves then we will be able to see more beauty. Instead of looking outwards we should look within ourselves, that is when we will realize that being thin will not help with what we are looking for. Everyone is different, some people are naturally fat or naturally thin or in between.

When you look back to who you were before embarking on your recovery journey, what are some thoughts and feelings that you have about how far you’ve come in terms of how the process of recovery has empowered and changed you?

I realize that I was a lot thinner when I started my recovery journey because I had to restore my weight, but binge eating has had a toll on my weight as well. I am learning to have a balance life, and moderation with everything because I tend to go one extreme to the next. Right now I have come a long way, I use to binge eat everyday, and I use to workout everyday, but I injured myself. So I can’t workout at all, but I can mentally handle that now. I can mentally handle eating too much or eating out. I can eat out with my family or boyfriend or friends. It has changed me in so many ways; I am more flexible with my food and my life in general. I am more willing to do more things because I don’t have to worry about what to eat or what not to eat. The process of recovery has empowered me in a lot of ways as well. I can now share my struggles and my journey with others, and inspire others to do better or be better. I try to be there for everyone, and I can because I have been through the worst parts, and the good parts. I can learn from others as well. I am always willing to learn new ways to recover and help people.

What are some fears that you have about the future when it comes to your eating disorder recovery? How do you stop yourself from stressing out about it (e.g. I personally fear that having children might trigger body image issues!)

My fear is that my binge eating disorder will give me other health problems; I already have a lot already from my anorexia. I have physical injuries from working out too much and starving my body. I am afraid that I will become so physically unhealthy that I will me miserable, I want to be able to go out and do activities, I want to enjoy running around, going on bike rides, and just feeling good mentally and physically. I usually watch tv, talk to a friend that I trust, Post motivational pictures on my instagram. I love listening to music; it helps a lot with stress. I basically fear being unhealthy.

14. Young women are facing a lot of double standards in society as compared to men, and are increasingly becoming sexualized in the media. How do you think this is affecting the way women (and even adolescents) see themselves in terms of their body image and/or other mental health issues?

Ugh. This is another good question. I feel like women are taught that we need to look good and be attractive for men, and only men. A lot of my eating disorder problems come from this. Being that unattractive girl, many older women try to teach us that we need to look good in order to do well in life, we need to look good for men and if we don’t we have basically failed in life. Even women see other women as sexual objects, especially the one’s who are “attractive” and we are all thinking to ourselves that we wish we were attractive like that so we can achieve being liked by men. We can’t help it, we are taught this way and it is put in our heads from the very beginning. I think it is a big thing for mental health issues as well, it is put in our heads that if we are not attractive then we are not good enough, and living life feeling not good enough is horrible. We treat ourselves with disrespect, we allow ourselves to do harm things to our own bodies or we put ourselves in harmful relationships because we think we deserve that because we aren’t “attractive” but in reality every person is attractive. We all deserve to be good enough and to feel good enough. We are more than just bodies and our looks, we are a soul that has a body, and we should take care of it, and take care of our soul.

How do you wish to see yourself in the next 1 year? 5 years?

I wish to see myself binge free in 1 year with a job, and having fun volunteering and getting experience for my dietitian degree. In 5 years I hope to see myself as a registered dietitian that specializes in eating disorders. I hope that I will be living with my boyfriend, and hopefully we will be more than that by then. I hope that I will still be binge free by then as well.

What do you think it means to be a beautiful & empowered woman?

To me being beautiful and empowering has everything to do with personality, you can look good but if you have a bad personality than I am sorry you are not an attractive person because your personality is harmful and mean towards others. If you have an amazing personality and you are a truly amazing human being then you are considered a beautiful empowering person to me. If you are willing to help others and to help yourself than I still will believe that you are beautiful person. I do not believe that there are ugly looking people in this world, only ugly personalities. Looks change, we get older but our souls will live on forever, so love yourself always, no matter what you look like.

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“I am trying to accept my belly and body as it is. Tonight was hard. I don’t know if I would consider if I binged ate or not. I ate a lot of food because I was hungry, but I had that out of control feeling &  started crying because I binged ate on Monday and I was like I don’t need this right now. I also went to therapy on Tuesday. Which helped me a lot. But i am still struggling with food. I probably don’t eat enough throughout the day. And hen at night I get too hungry and can never get full. Ugh. Recovery is hard, but it is worth it. And I never want to go back to starving myself, but I also seem to overfeed myself now. One extreme to the next. I am slowly learning moderation and what it means to have a balanced life and a balanced diet. “

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“Today I had to look nice because of a school project. I felt so good and I actually felt I looked nice lol. But then I sat down. I don’t have a couple of belly rolls. My whole stomach is a roll that rolls over my underwear and sticks out of my dress. It made me so upset that I got a headache and I felt so lightheaded and dizzy, I got so tense and my whole body just started to hurt. I couldn’t focus and I couldn’t think straight. I just felt like I was there. Watching everything happen but not being aware of my surroundings. Then I thought to myself that I need to eat less and do this I need to do this and do that. Or I eat too much or whatever. I get upset because I am a recovering binge eating now. Not recovering from anorexia which wouldn’t be a bad thing for me eat too much, because my body needs the food to live. But now it is like, I need to learn to balance between binge eating and anorexia. Which would be moderation and balance and a healthy mind. I am allowed to feel upset, but I have to accept what I feel and move on in order to grow and recover. “

mental health issues aren’t something to laugh at.

There is no circumstance in which one’s mental health is a laughing matter, nor is there a circumstance when people should downplay what a man or woman has to say when he/she reveals that he/she is suffering from poor body image and/or an eating disorder.

How is it funny when one is so depressed that he actually wants to end his life?

How is it funny when a woman looks at herself in the mirror then goes to cut herself because she isn’t thin like she wants to be?

How is it funny when one panics about weight gain and immediately thinking of crash-dieting?

How is it funny when one starts obsessively checking his body and doesn’t want to leave the house until he/she is thin?

How is it funny when one struggles to stop himself from cutting which results in such mental distress that he starts crying and hating himself?

I don’t speak for all men and women suffering from eating disorders but there are hundreds and thousands of men and women around the world facing terrible self esteem and terrible body image woes.  Can someone tell me if what you read above was remotely funny? How would you feel if you were to do any of those actions day in and day out? Did you know that there are hundreds and thousands of people in the world doing just that?

I don’t really know what else to say to convey the significance of this issues at hand, but its not funny to hate yourself so much that you want to die.

To all the people who think we’re self-centered narcissistic, egoistic, self-loving, attention-seeking people, think again. We may look happy on the outside, but trust me, on the inside, things are crumbling and you have no idea how hard we work to rebuild ourselves.

(too) clean eating

Last week for a few days I’ve been noticing a pattern. I’d eat regularly as I always do, but then at the end of the day, I find myself just wanting to have something sweet. Now that pretty much sounds normal, to end of the day with something sweet. But this was different. I didn’t just want it. I needed it. Badly. A craving for sugar would come and I’d ignore it for a while, but then give it and allow myself something sweet. Usually I go for chocolate or Ben and Jerry’s because that’s the only sweet thing available in the house. However the thing was even though I had already let myself have that something sweet, I needed more. Like more of it. And I couldn’t stop thinking about just wanting to have all the ice cream in the world and just continued sitting in the kitchen and having that ice cream and the next thing I know, I had finished half almost half the carton of ice cream. 

Bugger.

This happened again on another 2 separate occasions. I’d eat as per usual, but by the time I’ve showered after my evening run I find myself battling this strange craving for something sweet. I’d fight it for a while, but then I gave it and go back to the kitchen for the same carton of ice cream and smother my tastebuds with that sweet relief until I’d say only a few spoonfuls of that milky goodness was left pooling at the bottom. 

And I just didn’t know what was going on. I was so confused. I was eating normally and running as per normal so why was it that I started battling the urge to eat more at night. It was only when I lay in bed at night and reviewing what I ate and did during those couple of days that I realized something. All throughout day, I had been doing nothing but clean eating. No sweets, no sugar, no cookies, no ice cream, no nothing. I had almost completely cut off sugar from my eating during these 3 days and eating, as much and best as I can”, whole unprocessed foods – wholemeal bread, tuna, chicken, fish, peanut butter, broccoli etc, though with the exception of rice as its a staple in the Asian diet. I’ve been eating very clean without eating a single cookie or chocolate during these 3 days. 

I suspect that in my zealous pursuit to become healthy and get my eating habits back on track, I might have taken it a little bit too far, focusing only on clean eating and cutting out sugar in its entirety without realizing that doing so might have led my body to become deprived of energy. These 3 days I became so dedicated to healthy eating that I forgot that doing the exact same thing in the past had contributed to my obsessive behavior with rigid dieting, cutting out food groups and punishing myself every single time I had a slip up. 

First of all, I really do need to take a step back and congratulate myself on actually not punishing myself for eating all that ice-cream because I know that 3 years ago, I would probably hastily made my outside and run for 2 hours for even start a torturous round of fasting the next day to balance out the calories. Well OF COURSE I felt guilty for eating all that ice cream and OF COURSE I started panicking a little and questioning where and why I went wrong. But it was only after I reassessed what I had eaten during the day that I realized that okay maybe I had been too strict and obsessive with eating clean because I wanted to eat right and not eat junk food the way I did when I was struggling loads with my ED. I couldn’t really do anything about that ice cream anymore could I? So I just went for a long walk round the block, came home, read Harry Potter and went to bed determined to start afresh the next day. 

And it was better. I allowed myself sugar during the day, ate when I was hungry and stopped when I was full and also allowed myself Ferrero Rocher at night. Never once during the day did I obsess about sugar and cravings. 

I’m sure some of you going through recovery have been through this. In your quest to relinquish your bad habits of overeating junk food or for those not going through an ED/recovery and simply wanting to clean up your diet and reduce sugar from your diet, there’d be times when you pushed it just a tad too far – eating nice and clean the entire day, feeling extremely pleased with yourself and going “Yeah this isn’t so bad I can do this healthy clean eating thing for days” and the next thing you know, you’re scoffing down cheese fries and a bacon cheeseburger and wondering where in the world you went wrong before vowing to start over the next day, only to find yourself making the same mistake again in the week.  

I’m no nutritionist and I’ve no clue how body cells work in response to the food we eat, but I suppose this is what happens when we start a phase of eating “too clean” and not allowing ourselves a little sugar in our diets. We become rigid in our thinking and are determined to only eat certain foods that are whole and unprocessed: brown bread and rice, lean chicken and fish, low fat milk, salads and hold the sauce please but I’ll just have one piece of crouton thanks. No cookies, no chocolates, no muffins, no ice cream, no dessert. Nada. You become so conscious of the food you way that you reject foods that don’t fit into what constitutes clean and healthy eating. As humans we’re programmed to enjoy the taste of sweet foods and sugar cravings are a natural thing to experience and so when we ignore our cravings for far too long, we end up binging on the sweet stuff that we’ve been ignoring. 

And that’s what happened to me. A fair number of times I should say before I realized how my restrictive eating was contributing to this problem. I didn’t allow myself a treat when my body craved it. If you’re a Harry Potter junkie like I am, think of it as a Howler – if you don’t open it soon, it explodes. Similar principle: the more you try to control the craving and your body, your body will rebel. 

Such experiences always bring me back to the one important principle my online ED support group told me: always listen to your body because it knows what it needsThere is nothing wrong with having ice cream and chocolate but to cut it out completely from your diet and remaining determined to eat only certain types of foods instead of eating flexibly can be harmful, both physically and mentally. In the long run and if taken to the limit, your body might start breaking down due to its receiving nutrients from a restricted set of foods,  you start developing rigid and obsessive thinking patterns (e.g. I can’t eat this, I can only eat that) and it might also impinge upon your lifestyle (e.g. unable to eat out without worrying about whether a restaurant serves food that you deem acceptable). Its really a very real thing and really incredibly scary because I myself have been through that – eating only brown bread and maybe potatoes but not rice, only chicken and fish but not beef and pork, only salads without dressing. I didn’t like going out to eat because I hated how I couldn’t predict what foods a cafe would serve and it was a hassle to have to look at a menu online and decide I would only eat the rice and chicken when what I really could try was a creamy pasta even though I’m not a fan of pasta but I had deprived myself of creamy sauces for so long that I just wanted to taste it again.

At the end of the day, your body knows what it needs to eat. You can’t be on a diet forever because you’ll end up miserable. Its all part of mindful eating. Listen to your body because it knows what and when it needs to eat. When you’re hungry, eat. When you’re full stop. Eat chocolate and sweets if you want, but keep it in moderation (though I sometimes I find hard to do that) and if you end up overeating. Don’t punish yourself. Drink tea and go for a long walk and start again tomorrow. 

It takes effort to do something like that I know especially because you’ve been eating in disordered patterns for so long, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you won’t get results if you’re not willing to put in the effort to changing your habits. Tell yourself that you are stronger than your old habits, and you are. If you’ve had your share of sugar and find yourself wanting more, get up and walk away instead of giving in again and again. 

You can do it, you may encounter setbacks but you will get up again and you will try again.

You will make it. 

We will all.

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body image woes: commenting on weight loss doesn’t always make me feel better.

In the past few weeks that I’ve been out and about I’ve met people, both friends and family and I have received comments that I look different. More specifically they tell me I’ve lost weight: “Your face looks slimmer!”, “You look different!”, “You lost weight!”, “You look prettier!” etc etc. And there I’d go stammering away and mumbling “oh its just the eyeliner and the bronzer, I mean have you tried bronzer and blush? They do some pretty amazing things to your cheeks” or “Peplums are very forgiving”

Here’s the deal. I probably have lost a bit of weight although I wouldn’t know for sure because I haven’t weighed myself in the past 2 years ever since I started recovery in December 2012. I’m not in denial. Its more of a need to maintain my sanity and the fact that a number on the scale is definitely a trigger for me, considering how I used to obsessively weigh myself at least 5 times a day (kudos to successfully avoiding a trigger now). Since the start of last year where I’ve actually been able to practice better eating habits, mindful eating and understanding body positive mantras as I wasn’t in and out the country, I’ve been starving and bingeing less and my weight has stopped fluctuating, so the weight that I put on from my constant bingeing has probably fallen off from my face (which is a good thing though somehow the weight doesn’t seem to come off from my tummy) and my weight is currently more or less in a stable zone. However, it doesn’t mean that I’m still free from body insecurities.

I feel good when people ask if I’ve lost weight, I mean, people are noticing something different about you and come on, who doesn’t like receiving compliments? I don’t people to tell me I’m ugly, for Christ’s sake. “Oh my god Serene I haven’t seen you in so long, don’t you look just fabulously ugly?” That’s just lame. You know what I mean right. We all have self esteem needs and as much as people say we shouldn’t get validation from others, deep down in our yearning souls, our need for acceptance from others means that a little praise from them wouldn’t really hurt. We really do want some praise. Or at least, I know I do once in a while.

Anyway. Problem is, when I got home, I actually became a lot more conscious about my body. Like a lot. I know my body. I know that there is a little flab here and there that I wish could make its way to my boobs and my butt. There are still some parts of my body which I wish could look a little taller, a little leaner and little better though last year I’ve been learning to try and accept my body more and focus less on weight loss and more on getting my eating and hunger back on track. However, the fact that some people have actually noticed a change in me and that actually was enough for them to give positive comments was not only inherently rewarding, but also initiated a different set of thoughts. For instance:

1. “Oh my god now that people say my face looks slimmer. I better not gain any more weight and better stay at this size for good. “

2. Oh my god people say I look prettier since I “lost weight”. Does that mean that I was hugely fat years ago when they saw me? Jesus, I must have been fat and ugly back then! How fat was I then?! I can’t gain weight now. Gotta lose weight now!

3. Oh my god I still have flabby arms and a nonexistent ripped stomach. Those have GOT TO GO. UGH.  

 Here’s why many individuals with body image problems have low self esteem: in their minds, and also sometimes in my still-slightly-perfectionistic mind, somehow, losing weight = looking better = getting people’s attention = getting compliments = feeling like Lucy in the sky with diamonds.

Somehow, our weight is intricately entwined with our self esteem, and in a thin-obsessed society, losing weight equates to being beautiful. So when we receive compliments about weight loss, it reinforces the notion of “losing weight = look prettier” Its only natural that we want to continue receiving compliments. I guess for the average individual not overly plagued with body image woes and confident enough in their skins, they’d graciously accept the compliment. But not for someone like me who’s struggled with normal eating and body image problems since she was 16. That’s when the motivation for weight loss can become seriously out of control and all sorts of disordered thoughts and eating patterns manifest. Not good.

I’m not 100% recovered from my ED and/or body image issues. I still have days when I don’t engage in mindful eating, days when I (subjectively) binge and get incredibly anxious and start thinking about eating less and skipping meals, but I’m learning to overcome them. I don’t hate my body as much as before when I see pictures of thinner friends, but yes there are times when I would think about what I should do to lose more weight. And therefore in a way, as much as I try to practice loving my body more, I’m not 101% immune from such tendencies.

This experience actually came as a bit of shock and I wasn’t prepared for it. Its usually me gaining weight and trying to figure out ways to lose weight or trying to accept my body at its natural size, and also wondering why people don’t say I look pretty and getting jealous at my friends. But now having some people tell me I’ve lost weight and having these kinds of thinking come up really threw me off the edge and challenged me. I got a little freaked out and paranoid for a little quite a fair bit quite a reasonable amount a hell lot until finally I had to sit down and remind myself of my main objective: health, and not getting skinny to gain approval

I actually felt a need to maintain my current weight because I didn’t want the blow of accomplishing something, having gain recognition for it and then having it blow up in your face again. I guess for a few days I stopped wanting to get healthy to get my body back to pre-ED mode and instead wanted to lose weight to continue getting praise and feeling good about myself. But reality check came in when I started craving more food and thinking about food more and more and whether I should to shouldn’t eat this or that.

I guess it seems okay to ask: “have you lost weight?”, instead of “have you gained weight?” I mean hell I don’t want anybody to come up to me and ask if I’ve gained weight. The latter somehow just very insensitive and in society, weight loss equates to looking good while weight gain typically isn’t so, unless the person in question was seriously bone-thin and desperately in need of more meat on his/her bones. However, the fact remains that in society, weight loss is seen as something that is positive and recipient of praise and its kind of demoralizing to think that because of this, many women (and also men) have allowed themselves to equate being thin with beauty.

So in the end I asked whether I wanted to go back to the old ancient days when I was struggling with food, obsessively counting calories and weighing myself 5 times a day (sometimes even more), cutting out food groups and exercising til I died just to get skinny at the expense of the many health complications I had as a result (of which I’ll detail another day). Sure I’d still want to lose some weight and of course I still go running. If I lose weight, then okay. If I don’t lose weight, then, okay too. I know what my body can and cannot do now even if it can be mind over matter because when it comes to my eating disorder, I don’t really want to mess with the devil and relapse. I had to remind myself that what was more important now was my heath: to regulate my eating cycle again and minimize as best as I can alls sorts of dieting and self-hate mentality for my sake.

Thoughts?

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Attended a dear old friend’s wedding yesterday. We were debate teammates in secondary school some 10 years ago and now *gasp* she’s getting MARRIED. Here are some shots that were taken for me by my plus one. The wedding was held at an Indonesian restaurant by the seaside and the weather was perfect for an outdoor wedding.

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She was FLAWLESSLY GORGEOUS.

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That’s where the bride and groom would sit and pose for pictures with guests!

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Getting her makeup touched up by her friend before the groom comes

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❤ Mai, you’ll make the most compassionate and quirky wife. HUGS

(P.S. My thighs are aching like mad. My mum had me attend a session with her personal trainer last week to figure out what types of exercises I can and cannot do, given that my knees are aching and also because of my tailbone problem – for some strange reason my tailbone curves out slightly. Like a tail. Yeahhhh. So there are certain things I can’t do because my lower back will ache like hell after a while. He made me do these exercises that didn’t involve excessive running and pretty much gave me a good workout. I woke up the next day with a sore body. Hello I mean I am aching in muscles I never knew even existed. Which is a good thing I guess because I wouldn’t have shaved my legs to go see a personal trainer who wouldn’t give me a workout that didn’t involve knee and back pains)

resolutions, or rather, plans for 2015

Happy 2015 guys! Hope all of you had a wonderful time last week celebrating the end of 2014 with loved ones ❤ It just hit me this morning that I will be 24 years old this year! Meep. Its a fun yet scary thought. Fun (in a way) because hey I sound older and more mature than 22 or 23, but at the same time scary because many people are pretty much expecting me to get my act together. A working adult. Yeahhhhhhh.

Anyway, here I am writing my first post for 2015, and so let’s all bring out the resolutions that we all know are unlikely to be fulfilled. Whoop-dee-doo. With the number of tumultuous years spent struggling to love my body and recovering from my eating disorder, and with a nasty bout of heartbreak added on to that difficult period last year, I’ve learned quite a few things about health (with regards to establishing a healthy body image & recovering from an eating disorder) and happiness in general.

A few years ago, my “New Year’s Resolutions” would have been something along the lines of “lose 20kg”, “eat less and exercise more” and “find out how to make my wallet and not my waistline thicker”

A few days before the new year, I sat pondering the life lessons I’ve been exposed to and the important things that it has taught me and came up with some plans for 2015 that I hope to embrace and/or continue are as follows:

1. Stop comparing myself to other people and learn to be more confident in my own skin by focusing not on outward appearances, but on my own talents, abilities and personality characteristics.

With the past year reading up on body image and practicing body-love habits more, I’ve learned the significance of the adage “appearances are only temporary” When I was younger, I wanted to be tall and beautiful and be the belle of the ball. Now as I grow older and try to find my place in society, I realize there are so much more important things out there that I have to accomplish that are way more important than looking pretty. I gotta graduate with a good degree, get a job, earn my keep and pay my bills. The more I focus on these things I less I think about beauty. What’s the point of being beautiful if I can’t even pay my own bills? What’s being tall and skinny and beautiful compared to traveling the world and gaining new knowledge through the exposure of cultures, adventures and risks which will enrich your soul? I don’t want people to look at me and see only a beautiful thin person, because I know that looks will fade eventually and I know that many people won’t bother to look past than my physical appearances and get to know who I really am.

2. Eat til you are full and eat when you hungry.

This is perhaps one of the most important ones for me that I will devote more energy to. While I am no longer starving and bingeing as intensely in the past, the tendencies to do so remain. Dissecting my foods into its components (carbs/proteins) has become a habit and whenever I’m given an unbalanced  meal, especially when I eat out, usually of which is more rice and less chicken/fish, I end up eating less than I normally would and then tend to overeat at the next meal and get incredibly anxious about. Scraps of past though processes still fester in my mind and sometimes I wouldn’t choose certain goods because I fear it’ll make me gain weight. Although I must say throughout this year I’ve been making progress. I’ve slowly grown better at reading my hunger cues, put down my fork when I’m full & resist pressure (especially from my mum) to eat everything that’s put in front of me Of course there are times when I don’t do it and I experience a teeny lapse. As such before my period where I sort of become the Kraken and just devour everything in sight . Recovering from an ED takes a lot of effort but I definitely want to keep it up

3. Exercise for health and not for vanity and stop when your body tells you too.

I’ll admit that sometimes I spent an extra half an hour running because I’ve seen something someone in a magazine that makes me wish I were thinner. I’ve been trying to override that mentality because I know the extremes to which I can go to when it comes to exercising. In the past I would exercise a whole friggin’ lot because I wanted to look like those models on Instagram I see with ripped abs and arms (like seriously are they even real?). But as I’m growing older I realize that it takes a lot of effort to get that body and I’m slowly accepting that I’m born to have a certain body type – one that isn’ super tall and slim. Moreover, I started experiencing knee pains last week which probably indicates that all that excessive running is finally taking a toll on my poor joints. Anyway. I’ll continue running just to maintain my fitness level & be healthy, but I know now that I shouldn’t force myself to work out just because I want a model’s body.

4. Block out unhappy memories and people from you life and focus on positive.

So according to my aunt’s New Age spiritual beliefs that she subscribes to, the Law of Concentration states that “whatever you dwell upon grows and expands in your life. This law says that the more you think about something, the more of your mental capacity is assigned to think about that issue. Eventually, if you are not careful, you will think about it all the time. This law contains a double-edged sword. If you think about something often enough, it eventually dominates your thinking and affects your behavior” Thinking about unhappy things drains the crap out of you. Like really really. Its so mentally exhausting and expends the mojo out of you. I experienced this when recovering from heartbreak last year. I was so made at this boy for betraying my trust and kept harping on negativity and eventually I just decided to stop one day and force myself to refocus my thoughts to happy things whenever he came into my mind. Life is too short for unhappy moments which prevents us from living in the present.

5. Be grateful for waking up every morning.

This year, the Syrian war, car accidents in New Zealand, floods in Malaysia, the 2 Malaysian Airlines crashes and the recent AirAsia crash just before the New Yea made me think about the fragility of life. How one moment you could be living and enjoying the day and the next day, you might not even be alive at all. Its scary. Really. Life is fleeting and so this year, and really from now on, I’m going to be thankful for life each day and live fully (and responsibly) in the present moment. When things don’t go my way, I would get a mad hissy fit but after a while I sit back and take a deep breath and look out my window and just bask in the beauty of the sky and think of how lucky I am to be able to witness sprawling blue skies. Plus, aren’t grateful people more likely to be in good health and live longer?

Til the next time!

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Gifties from my 2 best girls! They spoiled me so much I can’t even.

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This arrived on Christmas from my German sister! DO YOU SEE THAT FREEZE DRIED ICE CREAM SANDWICH?! SEE IT? I WON’T EAT IT BUT I AM GOING TO MEMORIALIZE IT INSTEAD.

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More lovely things! Yummy cookies from N, iPod from the parents with a note “Don’t drop it in Central Park” (oh the lies I tell them) and assam tea from India when Jia was there.

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Time to bid my black shoes adieu and to use these (what color is this) dance shoes. They gave me blisters. Not liking them already but hey, I need to be grateful for having them right?

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Something funny I found. Oh yes, I would love me some sexy sweaters.

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Ravenclaw notebook from D when he was in Japan’s Universal Studio over the Christmas break! Jia got the Gryffindor one!

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I tried.

Favorite villanous creature: The Nazgul from the Lord of the Rings. Nazgul. I can say it all day.

Man, do I need to get my eyebrows done.

finding strength within myself.

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“The strength of a woman is not measured by the impact that all her hardships in life have had on her; but the strength of a woman is measured by the extent of her refusal to allow those hardships to dictate her and who she becomes”

– C. Joybell C

I guess I’m only starting to realize that life has many ways of testing a person, & that hardships are there for a reason. They’re meant to teach us something and make us grow, but only if we choose to not let it define us. I spent 6 years of my life starving, binging, counting calories, obsessively exercising and self-harming, wishing and praying to become thinner and in the process, I became depressed. It wasn’t just a single episode mind you, but countless episodes. 6 years of endless slips and mistakes. Endless promises I made to myself that okay Serene tomorrow you will not binge or spit your food out and yes, tomorrow will be be brand new day and no you will not compensate by exercising, yet finding myself breaking my word and crying in a corner.

I was only 21 during the height of my ED days but despite having the world ahead of me, life seemed bleak. I didn’t want to leave the house because I hated how I looked. I stopped going for dance because I felt too heavy and big for my skin, as though I could explode out of shell any moment. I eventually became suicidal. When you’re suicidal, you literally feel that there simply isn’t a way to escape a bad situation. When you’re suicidal, everything seems hopeless and death really does seem like a better option.

I was very well aware of the fact that I was suicidal and was even questioning my motives of wanting to end my life. I had a plan. Yet somehow despite being so incredibly distraught at myself, and being so mentally tired, I wasn’t able to bring myself to touch the bottle of detergent. Despite my desire to put a stop to my suffering, somewhere deep inside, this logical part of me that still existed knew that I still had a lot to live for. That there were so many other things I hadn’t seen or done. I haven’t danced a flamenco in Spain nor stayed with traveling gypsies. I haven’t had pastry and pizza in Italy. I haven’t seen the northern lights in Norway. I haven’t fully memorized the lyrics to Fever Night by the Bee Gees. I haven’t seen the sun set in Africa. I haven’t learned Russian or Arabic. I haven’t made a wish at the Eiffel Tower.

Something inside just clicked, and I forced myself to get my act together. The first thing I did was to put the bottle of bleach down, locked myself in my room and contacted my Auntie Christine and took her up on her offer to help break the news to my mum about my ED and needing treatment. I wanted to get better. I didn’t want to live the rest of my life in misery, hiding behind closed walls with my calorie book and counting calories and logging in the amount of exercise I did everyday.

This year I went through several events that disempowered me. I felt incredibly empty, lost and confused. It made me do a lot of reflection and thinking about my values and what I should and shouldn’t have done, and what I should do in the future. I went through a depressive funk that drained me so much that I literally did not leave the house for days. I stopped dancing again and slept a lot. After a week, again, I knew that I couldn’t live like this. One way or another, the world was moving on whether I liked it or not. I missed dancing and laughing on the dance floor while my partner spun me round and round to salsa beats. Moreover, I was already 23 and graduating soon. I wanted to accomplish as much as I can before the responsibilities of being a working adult hit me hard. I wanted to live and not just exist by lying like a sloth on my bed, for crying out loud.

So the first thing I did was that I forced myself to get out of bed and open the windows. Its not as easy as it sounds really. It sounds like common sense, which it actually is, but as someone who’s been through a bout of depression, to tell your mind to stop staying in a depressive mode is a very challenging one. Just like how you don’ t tell someone with an eating disorder to stop dieting, you don’t just tell someone in a depressive phase to stop being sad. Things don’t work like that. To get out of bed is tiring in itself. To get out the house is tiring in itself. Everything is tiring. Your brain literally shuts down.

But then I refused to let myself be beaten down. There was still so much out in the world going on that I wanted to be a part of. I forced myself to go out. I told my #1 homegirl that I needed to find my mojo back. N brought me to her hot yoga class and in a way I saw it a start – to symbolically wash away all the negative energy within me and start anew. Out with the old and hopefully, in with something better. I started working out again and went back to dancing.

Basically, I didn’t want to define myself as someone who succumbed to hardship. I wanted to define myself as someone who didn’t let any negative kabootz destroy me. Instead, I wanted to define myself and be known as someone who fought against what life threw at me. I want to live out the rest of my life knowing that despite curveball life threw at me, I was able to fight it. And I did. I had to find the strength within myself first before I let any other help in. You can receive all kinds of help, but if you’re not intrinsically motivated to change, if you don’t find the courage and strength to redefine your circumstances, you’re not going to go anywhere. i Someone once told me: “you’re a fighter aren’t you”. And I responded: “yes of course I’m a fighter. I fought my eating disorder for 6 years!”.

You probably can’t see it very clearly, but those 2 books I’m holding in the 3rd and last picture are A Beautiful Mind, by Sylvia Nasar & Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. The characters in both books went through unimaginable hardships and sorrow but their journey in life made them stronger. They didn’t let let their hardship control and define their lives. They suffered, they broke and they stumbled, but then they took life by the horns and and worked their way through their current circumstances.

I’ve been through a lot, even if I say so myself. I’ve been mentally, physically and emotionally ripped apart but somehow or another, I actually got back up and I’m still functioning. I’m not the same person I was before. My heart and mind have been ripped but they managed to piece themselves together. Slowly but surely. The thing about the human spirit is that you can mend it when it breaks, but when it puts itself back together, it won’t be the same as before. And each time it breaks and mends itself again, you’re constantly getting a new version of it.

My heart and mind have been through a lot.

I’m proud of them.

I think in the end, you realize that if weren’t for that particular negative event, that particular catalyst, you wouldn’t have been able to move forward in life. In a strange way, you’re thankful, but not thankful at the same time because of given a choice, you wouldn’t have wanted that awful event to have happened. You would have wanted the change to be initiated by something else. You don’t know what it should have been, but all you know is that you will wish it had been something else that wasn’t so painful and personal and heart-wrenching. Its at this point when look back at the catalyst, when memories come back that you realize the funny thing about time. People say time heals all wounds, but it really doesn’t. Rose Kennedy puts it nicely:

 Rose Kennedy puts it nicely: “It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”

What hardships have you gone through in life in the past, and how did you overcome them? Do you feel that its made you stronger, and that you emerged from the storm a different person?

Be proud of how you overcame them but more importantly, be proud that you didn’t succumb to it.