Thursday, July 30, 2015

Keep Fighting: 4 Things to Remember in Eating Disorder Recovery


    After years of suffering from an eating disorder, I can finally say I am recovered.  It took me so long to get to this point and at times I felt as though I would never reach it.  Recovery is difficult and tiring, but worth every ounce of energy, every tear cried, etc.  It is at the end of that difficult journey that a person is able to reach living life again.

     Recovery is not all doom and gloom nor is it sunshine and rainbows.  Some days are better than others.  It is in those dark days that it is important to remember why we are fighting so hard for recovery.  These are the things that really kept me going on those tough days and I hope that they inspire you as well.

1) Be Comfortable – Wear clothes that feel comfortable to you, whatever size you may be.  I know for me, I have been tempted to wear a size smaller because I cannot possibly be a size higher or maybe I only had a size smaller in my closet.  However, I was not comfortable in those clothes.  They did not fit!  I needed to be wearing the right size.  I had to shop for a new size or find something else that was more fitting/comfortable.  Whatever size issues you may be going through, make sure each and every day that you are leaving your house in clothing that feels good to you and that you are comfortable in.

2) Remember Your Values/Goals – As Jenni Schafer says, “What dream is bigger than Ed?”  For me, every time I felt like giving up, I remembered that I have a dream of going to graduate school and making an impact.  I knew I could not do that if I was in the eating disorder.  I wanted graduate school a lot more than the eating disorder.  (I am applying soon!)

3) Journal – Expressing your emotions, good and bad, in a creative way in a journal is so helpful.  It does not have to be in words, it can be in drawings, collages, etc.  It is a really great outlet for emotions that are difficult to articulate or seem to build up to the point of exploding.  A journal is also really helpful when it comes time for therapy and you can easily look over your week.  It is definitely something to at least try.

4) Have Compassion/Kindness – This is a really hard one and a BIG challenge, but it is also really important.  When going through all the difficulty of an eating disorder and recovery, it is especially important to have compassion and kindness towards ourselves.  Slip ups will happen.  Everyone has slip ups.  It is in those moments we must try to find compassion towards ourselves rather than anger, frustration, shame, etc.  It is with compassion that we are able to move forward and recover from those slip ups.  Remember: Talk to yourself as you would speak to a friend.  What would you say to them in those moments?

Recovery is absolutely possible.  Keep fighting and never give up.

 Kristin Bulzomi is a writer and an advocate for eating disorders, recovery, and mental health. Her blog, KristinSeattle, details her own journey in recovery from an eating disorder and mental illness. She uses her experiences to discuss important recovery topics and as a platform for increasing awareness.

Kristin has a Bachelors degree in Psychology from The College of Idaho. She is in the process of applying to graduate school.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Looking for our Body Image in All the Wrong Places

The moment we enter this world our body image story is being formulated and written. I personally have struggled with an eating disorder, specifically bulimia and binge eating disorder, and have painstakingly agonized over my own body image issues for the better part of my life. Since I was a young girl around the age of 10, the relationship I’ve had with my body has not come from a place of love or acceptance but rather from a place of hate and intolerance. I was taught and have held an embedded belief that my body was something to be used, perfected and visually altered. Furthermore, if I couldn’t master the appearance of my body by the standards established around me, I believed I had nothing of real value or worth to measure me as a person. This resulted in me feeling scared and panicked that I would become invisible and that my very existence as a human being was at stake.

Allen Ginsberg, said, "Whoever controls the media—the images—controls the culture." Every day we are inundated with systematic messaging from the powers that be in the mainstream media and the marketing culture. We are processing and taking in more information on any given day than in any other time in history. You may think that this stuff doesn’t bother me or have any effect on me. Whether you believe it or not you are being affected, you just may not be aware that it is occurring. You are in fact absorbing these messages subconsciously and your thinking and emotional perceptions have been and are continuing to be altered by the constant messaging coming at you full speed ahead. Each time we open up a magazine, turn on the television, listen to the radio, get on the internet or drive down the street we our constantly being bombarded with some sort of messaging that is seeking our attention to convince us that something is wrong with our bodies; AKA you are not good enough that plays on our shame and neediness. All brilliantly designed to make us think that we need to feel and look pretty by buying and doing whatever it takes to fix the appearance of ourselves in order to look great, feel good and finally be happy, happy, happy.

“ What a strange illusion it is to suppose that beauty equals goodness” – Leo Tolstoy

When it comes to our obsession about weight and the anguish over our body image we are trapped in a never-ending cycle of failure. With every failed attempt to alter and change our bodies with superficial and temporary quick fixes, we hope that this will finally be the magic formula to mend and heal our fractured souls. Consequently we are left more disconnected from bodies, ourselves and to each other. The real issue is that we are seeking to fulfill our underlying needs and find acceptance of ourselves through a generated version of awesome that has been created for us. As a result we find ourselves in a state of constant war with our bodies and ultimately ourselves.

In addition, we are now faced with the onslaught of the NEW “Positive Body Image” focused marketing campaigns.

Leading us to believe that they are teaching us something about our bodies and empowerment by trying to convince and persuade us that they have somehow widened the definition of beauty and body acceptance. Marketing to us by using trendy and empty catch phrases of body love and real beauty, while simultaneously endorsing images that still send the same age-old message that our true value and self-worth inherently lies only in the external and visual appearance of our bodies. And now, what women are really being asked is, if they truly love themselves, want to be heard, feel powerful and be authentically seen than they need to bare it all as some sort of proof that she has now received her secret club card to be deemed officially empowered. The danger of this type of thinking and messaging is that it has become socially acceptable since it “appears” that they are empowering women and advocating for a healthy body. As long as a campaign is all about “body positivity” and “body empowerment” this automatically makes it honorable and viewed by so many in our society as acceptable and a step in the right direction, but progress does not equal change.

The concept of our body image needs to move away from the visual to the feeling of your body, said Melanie Klein,

co-author of “Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body.” I recently

attended a yoga and body image workshop where one of the discussions centered around how body image perceptions that we hold and believe in, are the accumulation of experiences and messages received throughout one’s life; forming how we feel and what we think about are own bodies. Melanie then asked, how were your body image perceptions and beliefs formed? I started thinking about what is body image, what is beauty and by the way what the hell does, love yourself, love your body, even mean?

What is Body Image? Body image is defined by how you see yourself, how you feel about how you look and how you perceive others see you. It’s the subjective picture or mental image of one's own body relative to those of others.

What is beauty? It is a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, which pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight. Beauty is subjective; two different people may perceive the beauty of a person or object completely different.

Love Yourself? An empty, trendy marketable catch phrase that pretends it’s teaching us something about our bodies and empowerment.
As a result, I thought long and hard about how my own perceptions and beliefs were shaped and formed in creating my body image story. First, I was an only child with a controlling father that objectified women and treated my mother as less than him. I had a mother who was silent, scared and uncomfortable in her own skin. I was subjected to a tremendous amount of trauma that included physical, emotional and sexual abuses that all left me feeling ugly, devalued, flawed and damaged. I was also a prodigal female athlete where my body was subject for constant ridicule and critique from coaches, trainers and family. I sought refuge in my eating disorder to avoid all that I was feeling, turning my focus and attention to only my body. Then slowly add in the exposure to the relentless toxic messaging of what femininity looked like, what pretty looked like and the idealized body media that perpetuated my self-loathing and combative relationship with my body.

“At some point you have to find closure. At some point, you have to make yourself believe that your body is a home and not a battleground.” – unknown

The intention of your body is not to be a vision of beauty that you decorate for the outside world to gawk at and critique with its relentless eyes. Then why do so many of us still buy into the belief that our personhood can only be measured by the total sum our body parts and that belief will enhance our lives and bring us true happiness. As I have mentioned earlier this message is being programmed into our thoughts so how are we to fix ourselves and fit in if this message is false?

Have you ever stopped and asked yourself, what is the purpose of your body? It is the vehicle and tool that allows you to communicate and share your humanness and without your body you would be emotionally removed from connecting with others. Your body is a gateway to human connectedness regardless of whether it conforms to superficial and arbitrary standards of beauty. When I stop to think about my body in this magnificent way it begins to let me see the significance of my own body and allows me to ask the question; what is it that I am really trying to fix?

“ Your Body is a gateway into connection and intimacy – into-me-I-see” Chelsea Roff

It is not surprising that girls, boys, women and men alike struggle and are imprisoned with misdirected thinking and perceptions regarding body image issues. Society tries repeatedly to convince us that something is wrong with our bodies by playing on our insecurities about appearance, weight and body image issues. We wage war on our bodies by repeatedly trying to visually alter, change, and fix it up through relentless dieting, exercising, plastic surgery, buying beauty products and denying it over and over again to achieve the fabricated, flawless, and idealistic body standards that only exist in the media.

Yes, I want for all of us to have self-love and body acceptance but we can’t continue down the worn out path where we believe that we can “think” ourselves into a real relationship with our bodies and that it comes from an external place. The language we use and the overall discussion we have has to change when talking about body image. I don’t want to associate a person’s authenticity by using words or labels (such as plus-size, skinny, real beauty, thin, average, pretty, handsome, muscular etc.) that categorize and strip down who a person is by visually defining them. Let’s start having conversations about body image in terms of what human beings have to offer such as intelligence, kindness, power, spiritedness, humor, intellect, humanness, empathy and compassion to name a few. When we talk about each other in these terms the body image superlatives start to disappear and take a back seat creating the necessary room to make connections to our bodies, others and ourselves. If the media can formulate a toxic and destructive message to sell products and make money they surely can formulate a positive, empowering and nondestructive message to achieve the same goal… but only if they consciously want to.

Tina Klaus is a contemporary artist living in Denver, Colorado with her husband, Jeff and her feisty dog, Tulip. She is also the founder behind Don't Live Small, an award winning eating disorder recovery blog where she co-authors it with her therapist, Dr. Michael Maley, PhD. He is currently the Eating Disorder Treatment Coordinator at University of Colorado at Boulder and has a private practice in Boulder. We have chosen to speak out together about the chaos that eating disorders create for those who suffer from them and for their loved ones. We have both been affected by this chaos, and our hope is that our honest words and relevant topics help support you as you walk through your own imperfect road to recovery. We firmly believe that it is never too late to turn things around, no matter how many times you have turned them around before. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Life In Recovery

I haven't weighed myself in eight years.

I have stepped onto scales at my doctor's office, but I always request they never tell me my weight. I leave it to them to monitor it and make sure I stay within a healthy range and, other than that, my old scale is just a piece of crap sitting in my closet.

I like it that way.

For the majority of my life, I let a piece of plastic dictate how I was going to feel. There were, in fact, mornings where I woke up happy and excited until I saw how much I weighed. I know I am not alone in this -- men and women alike deal with it daily -- but how unsettling it is to stand back and realize that a number can change how we feel about who we are.

I wish they made scales with words so, instead, they could tell me, "Do you feel strong? Do you feel healthy? Can you pick up your nephew for a hug? Can you go for a run with your dog? Can you laugh loudly and effortlessly? Yes? Then who the hell cares what order of numbers show up?”

But it's hard not to care. Every day people and things and our minds tell us to care. Mental illnesses like anorexia and bulimia cannot just be out thought. Self-confidence and self-worth cannot just be switched on. Saying my worth is more than what is on the scale is easy, but that does not change how hard it can be to believe it – especially when the world continues to say something different.
I cannot change the world, though. I cannot change what they seem to value as a whole, but I can take the power away from what they do.

At the beginning of my recovery (which involved many other things like therapy, a nutritionist, etc.), I promised myself I wouldn't rely on a scale anymore. I don’t remember why exactly, I just knew it wasn’t serving any purpose for me. At least, any purpose that was beneficial, which was proven by how terrifying it was to let it go. And, as time went on, this proved to be truer than anything I could have imagined. Without that scale, I was forced to look at other things in my life and issues I had to work through. Without a number to fall back on and “blame”, I had to learn to identify my feelings, why they were there, and deal with them.

But, more importantly, the absence of those numbers has given me a freedom to choose my own strength and my own power. In the space they left behind I am able to value myself in action, in courage, and in love.

I haven't weighed myself in eight years. I don't know my weight and don't care enough to check like I once did. It is up to me to be my own force now – and, instead of looking down at a scale, I hold my head up and make the world look me in the face.

S.E. Carson is Irish, can say the alphabet backwards, dances while making dinner, is ridiculously terrified of snakes, and is happily convinced her life might just be a single, long I Love Lucy episode. One of her proudest moments was when a child mistook her for a very tall leprechaun.

A Colorado-native living in North Carolina with her husband and dogs, Carson is writing a book about her experience with, and defeat of, anorexia.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

How Being A Mom Impacted My Journey

Just after midnight on August 2nd, 2014,  I welcomed my son Trystan into the world. It is hard to believe now that it was almost 11 months ago as I can still picture the hours leading up to one of the most exciting days of my life. Becoming a mother has been the greatest joy but my journey to motherhood was not without its challenges, especially when it came to my ever-changing body.

I was in recovery from my eating disorder for over eight years when I became pregnant and over the months that followed, I was surprised at how much I struggled with my changing body. Most days, I felt empowered and emboldened by my bodys ability to grow a baby all the while I carried on doing everything I had done before. However there were many days, where Id put on jeans that fit the day before only to find them stuck at my hips. I felt the negative self-talk sneak back in, as well as the nerves of feeling at odds with my body. Even acknowledging that I was growing a HUMAN inside of me didnt ease the stress at times and I found some days really hard.

I was able to manage these triggers by talking to other pregnant friends about what I was experiencing. For my friends who had never had any disordered eating, they could relate in that they also struggled with their changing bodies. Hearing this made me appreciate that I was not alone. My past may have made me more susceptible to these negative feelings but my struggle was also wrapped up in being a young woman growing up in a thin-obsessed culture.  Realizing that, I was able to refocus my attention back to the bigger picture (the growing of a human)! Doing some research on how my body was shifting and making room for this little being was fascinating and inspiring and made me feel like my body was this fantastical vessel. I began giving my body (and in that, myself) more compassion and room to do what it needed to do to raise my child in a safe and healthy way.

When I stopped trying to fight my morphing body, I began to feel so much better about the process I was going through. I found I had more energy to go to the gym and slept better because of it. Ill spare you the gory (and glorious!) details but the act of giving birth made me completely in awe of myself and my bodys ability to be resilient and strong when I needed it the most.

My son will be one next month and I hope to instill in him a happy and positive sense of self as he grows up. I want him to be well versed in the social constructs of body image and the unrealistic expectations put on women but also men. I believe it is never too young to start this type of education as I remember feeling big as young as ten years old.

But for now, I will love every chubby roll on his body and on mine too! 

Blog written by: Sioned Dyer

I get excited about creating vibrant and inclusive communities. I have worked in the non-profit sector for over ten years in various social planning and community engagement roles. Concurrently to my professional work, I am in graduate school at Simon Fraser University in the Urban Studies program. I love being outside and you can find me on any given day, hiking with my son and dog on one of the many North Shore trails. A coach with Special Olympics for over eight years, I believe that when all folks have an opportunity to thrive, our communities will flourish!