Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

Meal Plan B

HoneyCrisp Apples!!

I think I promised this post awhile ago, and then other posts came up and I’m going to bring it back to the forefront after my Meal Plan A entry: the idea of intuitive eating.

The meal plan was necessary for me.  In the beginning, I had no idea of what was normal, and I could not trust myself to “get the gist” of the meal plan on a regular basis.  But at the same time, I did not want to be stuck on a meal plan forever.  I wanted the same freedom my friends had when they went out to eat–they chose what they wanted at that particular moment in time, with no thought to exchanges or food groups.  You go to an Italian restaurant and you’ll get your grain serving in, but maybe not your dairy and fruit and even the protein.  I wanted to return to my high school years when I would eat whatever I could get my hands one–be it fruit or a couple of cookies–before practice.  I wanted to be able to say, “I want . . .” or “I feel like eating  . . .” and have it be around where I needed to be.  I wanted to loosen up the rules of the mealplan.

Which terrified me.  Because I was afraid both of not eating enough and unconsciously allowing myself to restrict and of eating too much and gaining more weight.  My nutritionist also had the goal of intuitive eating, so we spend less time talking about exchanges and whether or not I filled each group, and more time on how I felt before and after I ate and what my hunger cues were and how strong they were, and when.

We found out that my body seems to need food late at night.  I get hungry then.  And I don’t sleep if I don’t meet that need.  But anything other than a “healthy snack” was not on my meal plan sheet.  So that was the first area I crossed off my mealplan.  My evening snacks were up to me.  And then, depending on how much I ate, I could adjust the rest of the following day’s breakfast.

Learning to honor my hunger cues meant listening to my body, something I had tried not to do for a very long time.  I had lost all sense of hunger.  Or, rather, I stopped listening to it.  But once I started paying attention, those hunger cues “came back.”  It was terrifying to eat in response to one of those hunger cues when it wasn’t “time to eat” according to my meal plan.  But gradually, it got easier.  Or felt more natural.

This was a slow process.  My nutritionist and I worked on this for a year (we had worked on the meal plan part of things for a year, too).  And this has helped me so much.  I can go to potluck dinners and not worry about what I “need” to eat at that meal.  Chances are I’ll make up for it someplace else; I’ll crave more fruit later in the day.  Or I’ll eat more vegetables as a snack.

In the end, it all works out to be about the same each day.  But I am no longer held to the rules of a meal plan.  I am held to the rules of what I need and want. It’s all part of honoring yourself and your needs, giving them the respect they deserve.

Go for the ice cream!

September 27, 2010 Posted by | Eating Disorders, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Meal Plan A

nanners!!!

Meal Plan.  The phrase (or word if you prefer mealplan) that everyone (in the eating disorder world) hates to hear.  Perhaps this sentence has gone through your head at various points, sitting across from a nutritionist or doctor as you send them little arrows of hate for making you eat “so much” and for making you eat foods that “aren’t necessary”?  (Don’t worry.  You’re not the first person who has sent these arrows of hate in their direction.  They’re used to it.)

I am not in a position to tell anyone if his or her meal plan is appropriate or if they can adjust it or tweak it or any of that.  Even though I did all the same “nutritional research” that a lot of you have done, I am not qualified to make any decisions on meal plans.  So that’s not what this post is about.

Here are a couple of things you may want to think about that might make accepting your current phase of treatment a little easier:

No one is making you eat anything.  Even if you are in a hospital.  If you approach each meal and each snack with the thought that you are choosing to take a step towards recovery, you may walk away from the meal or snack with a sense of empowerment.  You are taking your own recovery in your own hands.

The idea of eating “so much” food brings up a couple of thoughts.  If you are on a weight recovery plan, you may feel very overwhelmed with the food in front of you.  Keep in mind that your body needs more food right now because it was deprived of food for so long.  Your metabolism may be messed up from restricting or overeating or binging and purging.  What you are eating now may very well not be what you are eating when you are working on weight maintenance or when your metabolism is back on track.  You and your nutritionist will work together to figure out what your body needs, and what your body needs may very well change.

Also, regardless of which eating disorder you struggled with, your idea of what is a “normal” meal may be a little skewed. I know mine was. Even after tapering off the weight-recovery plan down to a “normal” plan, I felt like I was eating “so much” food. I had no accurate idea of what other people ate.  People who were my age and involved with the same activities as I was.  I couldn’t trust my own judgment.   But then I started paying more attention.  When we went out to eat, they did eat their whole meal.  And they ate snacks in between classes/during classes.  They even tried to eat breakfast in the morning before running out the door to class, and (in my mind) breakfast was optional meal. With time, the “so much” food will come to feel normal.  Each time you choose to follow your meal plan, you give your body a chance to adjust.   Each time you choose to take a step toward recovery and challenge your comfort zone, your comfort zone expands.

Sometimes, in recovery, you just can’t trust your own perceptions about what you should be eating or about whether or not that’s a “normal” amount of food.  Sometimes you really do need to trust the professionals.  They are not out to torture you.  They are there to help you.  But, as with all aspects of recovery, you have to choose to accept that help.

September 23, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 8 Comments

perspective

and this would be?

I’ve been working on perspective lately.  This kind of goes back to the idea of the old me/new me idea.  I used to like having a narrow focus.  I had my blinders on.  If something was irrelevant to the task at hand, it was completely irrelevant.  Me writing a paper involved me writing a paper.  Simple.  Me studying for a test meant me studying for a test.  Still simple.  I had a list of things to do–a list of things I must do–and I did those things.  Check. Check. Check.  Simple.

I still have a To Do list.  I don’t know of a grad student who doesn’t, even if it’s just etched in memory.  It’s always there–that list of things to get done, and to some degree, have to get done.  But I am no longer afforded the luxury of hyper-focusing on each item of my list.  My physical body is just not up to it.  It takes a great degree of energy.

I am learning to step back and look at the whole.  To breath for a few minutes.  To give myself permission to hate the task at hand and be angry that I have to do it while knowing that I really have to just sit down and do it already–and still I take the time to step back and breathe.  I play with my cats.  I am, however slowly, learning how relationships fit into this picture.  I am trying to expand my bubble, so that I see more of the world around me than my little corner.

I have to say I don’t like it.  It’s not comfortable.  I can look at the picture to the left and say exactly what it is and where it belongs.  I took that picture.  I can look at a sentence of Latin and feel this weird comfort that I translated it and it fits in this letter and what once had no meaning now holds a lot of meaning.  Expanding my bubble, opening my lens and getting a wider view–it takes trust.  Trust that I won’t fall flat on my face.  Trust that others won’t laugh if/when I do.  Trust that others will not hurt me with the intent to hurt me–or even without the intent to hurt me.

My eating disorder was my world pared down to the slice of a single apple.  I understood that slice of apple.  But I really had no idea how the apple fit into the larger picture, and so I stayed fixated one that one slice.  And missed out on so much.  In the big picture, that slice of apple is lost.  There are people to love, places to go, books to write, cats to curl up and nap with, and a place in the world reserved just for me that I get to discover.  None of that could happen until I let go of the apple.

September 15, 2010 Posted by | Eating Disorders, faith, identity, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

answer to a question: protect your own recovery

I received the following question on my Questions and Topics page the other day, and I also received a similar question about internet support groups in my inbox:

“I am 23 and in recovery from anorexia. After several months of treatment IP and in Partial, I now only have a therapist, yoga instructor and nutritionist that I see. Do you think that groups like ANAD or other eating disorder support groups are useful? I worry that if I am around people who are struggling, I might be triggered to go off my meal plan and restrict again.”

There are some great reasons to join a support groups–both in real time and online.  But there are also some risks inherent to both, and understanding whether or not a group is a good idea for you requires that you know yourself–know what you need, what has been helpful and, most importantly, what has been harmful.

Support groups are not a one-size-fits-all type of thing.  And the pros and cons may vary from group to group, even within the same organization, such as ANAD or OA or AA (only naming a few here).  Here are some general thoughts and suggestions, in no particular order:

1.  Make sure the group has a moderator.  One who is either fully recovered and has been for a length of time, or who is a trained professional.  I’ve witnessed eating disorder support groups turn into symptom exchange time, hospital comparison time, and sickest weight comparison time.  They might as well have put a sign on the door proclaiming If You Desire To Be Triggered Back Into Your Eating Disorder, Please Enter Here. My advice to anyone who goes to even one meeting of a support group and comes across this: leave immediately and don’t go back.  Don’t give it another shot and see if it was a bad day for the group.  Chances are pretty strong that the group dynamic has evolved to become what it is on the day you first meet it.

2.  If you are worried about being triggered by someone still caught up in the depths of an eating disorder, don’t go.  If you are worried that you might be triggered by seeing someone you think is smaller than you are, don’t go.  If hearing talk about hospitals triggers you, don’t go.  Know your triggers and respect them.  Especially if you are new to recovery.  Someone once gave me this advice: Protect your recovery at all costs.

3.  Facebook and myspace and all those related social networking sites.  If someone is posting pictures that may trigger you for whatever reasons, do not look at the pictures or “unfriend” them.  This is your responsibility, not theirs.  You need to know what triggers you and learn to avoid those triggers.  You may not like what they are posting, but they may not like what you are posting, either, from what music you like to your religion to your politics to what your favorite color is.  Take responsibility for your own reactions.

4.  Online support groups.  Be extremely careful with these. If they are not moderated, they can easily turn into a site of triggers. There are only two I’d recommend: Something Fishy and MentorConnect.  Something Fishy is a pro-recovery site with multiple bulletin boards.  They are closely monitored, but people still will discuss some symptoms and struggles, and sometimes you may catch a triggering post before a moderator catches it and blocks it.  But of the peer-moderated sites, it is as pro-recovery as you can get.  MentorConnect is a ning network and actually involves a request to join and they have very strict guidelines about the content of blog posts, comments, forums, chat nights, and pictures.  Of all sites I have seen, it is the most recovery focused one.  If you apply to be a mentee-level member, you can be matched with a mentor.  Their motto: Relationships Replace Eating Disorders.

Someone else sent me an email and asked me about keeping in touch with people from their inpatient stays:

This is a tricky one.  I am casual FB friends with a great number of people I was IP with.  I am close friends with few of them.  At one time, it was extremely difficult for me to be friends with people from my IP stays, especially the people that didn’t want to get better, or the ones who relapsed.  And yes, I realize I relapsed after the dawn of Facebook and people may have unfriended me.  You throw people on a unit together, people who in the “real world” feel alone and alienated because of their struggles, and they are going to bond.  And this is understandable.  We witnessed certain things together.  We watched one another go through really shitty times.  We held each other’s hands when we cried.  And, hopefully, we came through the other side.

But there will always be people from your IP stay who don’t make it to the other side, or they don’t make it to recovery for a really long time.  If watching another person struggle is a trigger for you, it is not selfish to take a step back.  Protect your own recovery at all costs.  There will come a time when you are stronger and may be able to be a support for them, but until you know that time is here, protect your own recovery–protect your own life.

Yes, you may meet someone on an IP unit or IOP program who is one of your soul mates.  I’ve met a couple of my soul mates this way.  But I know that if we had met “on the outside” we would have still been soul mates.  The eating disorder gets relegated to the “oh yeah, we both had that, huh?” parts of our lives and everything else that makes up a relationship comes to the surface.

And that’s what I’d encourage more than any support group.  Finding someone whom you connect with that has nothing to do with the eating disorder.  At school, at church, at work.  Build a social network.  Which is scary for those of us with eating disorders.  You don’t have to tell them about the eating disorder until you feel ready to, if you ever even want to.  Surround yourself with life.  People, things, activities that require all of you–an active, healthy, fully participating you–and none of the eating disorder.  Give yourself reasons to slowly let go of the eating disorder.

So there’s my roundabout answer.  If support groups help you–great.  But know your limits.  And know your triggers.  Surround yourself with positive people and things (and cute furry baby animals whenever possible!).

Protect your own recovery at all costs.

September 12, 2010 Posted by | coping, Eating Disorders, recovery, relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

semper mutabilis

I was as I was doing errands today that “ever changing” would be a good title for this blog entry. And then I thought, “Well, if the marines can have a Latin motto, so can I.”

Semper mutabilis. Always changing.

My entry last weekend was writing about the Brand New Alexis, the one who had her priorities in order and was going to stick by them as she enters this new semester.  Except that the exhaustion that I expressed in my previous entry only got worse as my week went on.  I woke up on Wednesday with that ache deep in my bones that I just could not shake no matter what I did that day.  Needless to say, I did not walk on Wednesday.

I had made myself walk on Tuesday.  “It’s my one hour of the day that must be protected at all costs.”  My time to recharge and renew and process.  I didn’t really want to walk on Tuesday, but it’s good for me, so I did.  And then woke up on Wednesday in the aforementioned state.  I did not walk on Thursday.  I finally laced up my walking shoes yesterday afternoon before curling up with dinner, swiftly followed by sleep.  My walk yesterday was shorter than my normal walk, and I do plan on walking today and tomorrow since I don’t have classes.

My goal/idea of walking every day as a stress reliever–both physically and mentally–was initially an excellent idea, one that could have helped me have a successful semester.  But now, with two weeks of classes under my belt, I realize that it would not be part of a successful semester.  It would only be one more thing I “have” to do each day and one more thing that creates exhaustion.

And so the plan has changed.  I highly doubt Monday and Wednesday will be walking days.  I just have too much going on, and then too much due the following days.  Thursdays will be touch and go, decided on Thursdays as I take a careful inventory of how I feel, what I need, and how much energy I can safely expend.  Fridays and Saturdays and Sundays are all mine.

Until, of course, the middle and end of the semester hit me and I wake up with that bone-aching exhaustion multiple times a week.  Then, I will probably once more change my plans.

This is the beauty of recovery.  I can listen to my body and respond appropriately.  There are no “shoulds” or “have tos” or “if you don’t then you’ll be wracked with guilts”.  There’s respect for my limits and a deep-rooted knowledge that I can give my body exactly what it needs.  No guilt strings attached.

September 4, 2010 Posted by | coping, Eating Disorders, health, mindfulness, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment