My (Radical?!) Guide to Eating Healthy For The Holidays!

Every year, without fail, I see articles talking about how to "eat healthy for the holidays". And, every year, I want to throw something at my computer because they only perpetuate dangerous ideals. Mainly that some foods are "good", some are "bad", and we all must carefully navigate through the forthcoming edible minefield OR ELSE.

So, I decided to come up with my own "guide" for eating healthy during the holidays. And it goes a little something...likeathis...

Eat What Sounds Good To You
I am serious. And don't call me Shirley.

I am serious. And don't call me Shirley.

I know this is a revolutionary idea for diet companies/food companies/basically everything. And I know the aforementioned are shitting themselves at my very suggestion of such a thing. But here's what I've learned in my years of pre-, during-, and post- eating disorder/recovery/whatever phrase suits ya best -- if something sounds good to your body, that's not a bad thing. Because, as I mentioned before, foods are not inherently good or bad. They're (oftentimes extremely delicious) things that help make our bodies go and jump and hug and throw large objects at our computers when we read frustrating articles. 

Eat a Variety of Stuff

Sure, no food is good or bad, but eating one type of food (even if it was on my "good" list during my disorder) doesn't do a great service to my body because I'm not getting all the nutrients I needed. In fact, I actually feel better and feel I am taking better care of my body when I eat a variety of foods, including foods that used to scare me. Bananas, pudding, soup, sandwiches, cookies, salad, apples with caramel dipping sauce, pizza, zucchini bread, fresh green beans, PIE and MOAR PIE, etc. Each has something to offer me. It's when I'm only eating one thing/denying myself other varieties, that makes it so my body *needs* something else (which often led to purging). 

Eat When You're Hungry, Stop When You're Full

Sounds simple, but it can be incredibly tough. The body is a pretty fantastical machine and can let you know what does/doesn't sound good, when its had enough/wants more, but I knowfirst handhow this sensation can often be lost in the throes of an eating disorder. And it took me a while to not only get it back, but also to trust it. I had to eat very slowly and very mindfullychecking in with myself after each bite. "Am I really full or is that my brain trying to tell me I am?" And then be proud of myself for stopping when I was full, and/or continue eating food if I was hungry. (Oftentimes, if I wasn't sure whether I was full or not, I would stop and remain mindful after the meal in order to see whether I was hungry still and, if so, head went back to fridge and honor that feeling.)

It's OK To Be Full

There is nothing wrong about eating to fullness. Nor is there anything wrong about having more food than you did the day before. Some days I'm more hungry and some days I'm not, so some days I eat more and some days I eat less. That's normal.

*

My list is pretty short compared to the many I've found, but I feel it covers some good basics. No part of this is easy, of course. Not for people who've struggled with eating disorders or some form of disordered eating, or anyone who has been led to think/feels that food is an enemy to struggle against. For me, getting anywhere near to these concepts came after a lot of practice and therapy, so if you aren't "there yet" that is OK! Every single step I took is what got me to this point, even the ones that didn't feel big at the time and especially the ones I wanted to skip over.

Each year I can't help but reflect upon all the Thanksgivings and Christmases that were torture, and how nice it would have been for mewithin the horrific repeats in my mind and self-hate in my heartif there was another "guide" that spoke of food so differently and showed that all the excruciating steps I was taking might lead to a completely radical (and freeing) relationship with food. Regardless of how far fetched it may have seemed at the time.

This makes me want to add one more thing to my list, actually:

Reach Out If You Need Support

There is nothing wrong with needing support through the holidays (or at any time)! For the past two years the hashtag #THX4SUPPORT has been used on social media (you can read about it here) for those who need some community on difficult days like Thanksgiving. I'm not sure if it is being "officially" run this year, but that doesn't mean people still can't use it and support each other if necessary. (Also, don't hesitate to tweet me (@SEtotheCarson) or drop me a line or whatever if you feel drawn to do so!).

And, no matter what, keep fighting to know that you deserve to be happy, to feel and know you have worth, and to be free.

Love,
s.e.c

Thoughts on Therapy

Sometimes, this is what recovery/being recovered looks like for me:

I have to take extra care that all the nutritional labels are either directed to the back of the pantry, or upsidown and against the cabinet shelves. 

I have to actively tell myself that my pants aren't smaller. And even if they are, I could stand to gain some weight. And even if I have gained weight, it's ok. 

I have to decipher whether I would normally have that FOOD if that part of my brain wasn't so heightened and, if so, still eat it if it sounds good.

***

I have always felt that when my mind kicks up, it's for a reason. Something going on in my life, feelings I haven't processed, etc. When it does, the first thing I always try to do is figure out where it's coming from.  

This is rarely easy or straight-forward. And I'm aware that, sometimes, it might just be chemical/brain-based— that, for whatever reason, that day everything-about-me-which-can-short-circuit does. These days days are very difficult for me to handle and accept, because there is little I can do. If I can't figure out a probable cause, I can't examine it and feel like I'm DOING something. I know I am not the only one who struggles with needing to "actively do something"; it is a large contributor to my actions and tendencies. And it requires continual practice on my part to understand that, sometimes, not doing anything is doing something.

Regardless, lately I've been starting to dig into some deep down stuff. Therapy can be such a process; I've had to start at the top of the muck and keep digging away and away, like an archaeologist. And only recently have I started to get to some things that are ingrained. Things that didn't happen and I needed them to. I have had an inkling of an understanding regarding these Things for a while, but had never determined what looking more closely at it all would do. I am aware of it enough, I'd think. And nothing now could change it. But I don't know. I suppose if I poke at it, like I'm beginning to do, and it still bleeds, then it's still something I need examine. If it's not scarred over, or fully healed, and it still can turn on that part of my brain, then it's still unresolved. And it's just like anything else I've ever done in all this—no promise that rummaging through painful self-reflection will feed any benefits, that nothing will come from it other than more pain and more days where I have to be even more careful with nutritional labels than usual. That I could very well slip after nine years of steadiness. 

But there has never been any promise, has there? Just the closing of my eyes and sheer god damn stubbornness.

And yet here I am— in all my fight and floundering— and I will keep doing that which scares me.

The Difference Between Brainfog and Forgetfulness

Really? I’m dedicating an entire post to brain fog?

Yup. Because after I go through all the technical explanations about my (insert whichever chronic illness I am trying to describe here), brain fog—more than anything else—leaves people a bit perplexed.

While one can often scientifically (and laboriously) describe the effects chronic illnesses have on the body, brain fog can come across as more of a general, non-specific term. I mean, look at it. Brain fog. It’s like the name of a slapdash band from the 1980s or something my nephew made up.

Regardless, even while the medical field doesn’t always acknowledge it (though recently I have had more doctors recognize it), and a slicker sounding name might be better (i.e. Cerebrum stuffyconfusa…?), it doesn’t make it, or the massive frustration is brings, any less real.

I have always had a sharp memory. Freakish even. Tiny details of what a stranger was wearing at my brother’s graduation party when I was 6, where a specific bit of information is in a 500-page textbook, birthdays mentioned in passing.

But things are different these days.

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More often than I would like, I am in mid-sentence when I completely shut off. Mouth agape, eyes rolling around in my head as I desperately try to think of that rudimentary word. (It’s “door,” Sarah! Door!) Sure, lots of people forget what they were going to say but with brain fog, I forget everything I was saying. Often times, even after I’m reminded of what I was talking about, it takes me a good minute or two to call it back to memory. Additionally, how embarrassing is it when you have to sit there for 20 seconds to recall a word like “door?” “I walked through the…” “Reverie? Time-space continuum? Electromagneticastrosphere?” “Um… no. The thingy that does this: *hand gestures*

Thankfully my family and friends are aware of this, but when it happens with strangers it can be mortifying.

Similarly, I often forget what day it is. Then I forget what day it is five seconds after I ask what day it is. If someone requests for me to bring them something, I’d say 10 percent of the time I actually remember to do so. I forget doctor’s appointments, responding to email/phone calls from people checking in to see how I am, changing the oil in my car.

(Personal lament: I love words, so it’s always extra fun when, after sending an email, I find I forgot how to spell something. Or, if that isn’t enough, I’ve completely omitted words from a sentence and/or substituted a completely unrelated word. “Dear Boss, I have the book busy today. Thanks!”) Sigh.

Most of the time I’m able to get a kick out of these things, but brain fog can also have more detrimental effects.

I have been taking my medication at the same times every day for years, but there have been weeks where I just completely forgot them. And it isn’t like my routine had changed at all. Work didn’t start at a different time or I was at someone’s house in a different time zone. Things were exactly the same... I. Just. Forgot. Then, of course, because I’m missing meds, my symptoms get worse, which means I get more brain foggy, and more spectacular emails to my boss are sent.

How much water have I had today? It has to have been a couple liters, right? (Try barely a glass full.) Did I forget to send my nephew a card for his birthday? (Damn it.)
I even have to make a note to, “make a note of things to do today.” And don’t get me started on how demoralizing it is to try to sit down and write. I haven’t been able to focus for months.

However, out of all this information, I think this may be the most important to understand: Forgetfulness and brain fog bring about two different kinds of feelings because they are two different things. Sure, I’ve been preoccupied in my thoughts and then found myself trying to remember what I was going to do next; being forgetful makes me feel flighty. But having moments while driving where I honestly cannot remember where I am going, where I am, and how I got there? Brain fog makes me feel frustrated, panicky and confused.

And it’s hard. Transitioning from someone who could remember the weirdest details to someone who now has to think for 30 seconds to remember her 10-year-old dog’s name? When people chalk it up to forgetfulness, it makes it even harder. Forgetfulness comes across as something you can work on; brain fog, just like chronic pain, dizziness, other symptoms, etc., is something you have to cope with and adapt to.

So what can family and friends do?

Please, please be patient and understanding. Chances are we are already ripping ourselves apart for forgetting to get a birthday present for our niece, or not getting the tickets to the movie, or spacing on filling up the cat’s empty water bowl. Also, when we blank out in the middle of the sentence, stay with us and appear engaged. A look of understanding can go a long way in that moment where we feel like complete idiots.

Find a gentle way to remind us. I admit, I’m a bit of a proud person, so I can get a bit defensive when my someone asks how much water I’ve had or if I’ve taken my meds (especially when I’m already frustrated at myself for forgetting). But I need it some days. A designated note-spot by the fridge or on the phone helps for other things. I have a calendar now and write things down in like, eight different places.

Lastly, assure us it’s OK. Being exhausted and not being able to do the physical things you want? It sucks. But, on top of that, forgetting “simple” things, important things like calling your best friend, and just feeling all stuffed up in your mind? That really sucks. So give us a big hug and/or tell us it’s OK when we beat ourselves up about it. We often need to be reminded that we’re not a big ol’ burden even though stuff falls out of our heads sometimes.

Eating Disorders are an Invisible Illness

Only recently have I realized that not many people understand that eating disorders are, in fact, an invisible illness.

Image borrowed from  Screen Relish

Image borrowed from Screen Relish

So I'm going to say this louder for the people in the back because it's very, very important:

you can't tell if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them.

It's kind of like you can't tell if someone has diabetes just by his/her appearance. Sure, some may need a insulin pump just like some disorders may cause the person to be very frail, but eating disorders do not discriminate. No matter how much you weigh, what you look like, your socioeconomic status, your gender, your race, your religion, your age, your sexual orientation... eating disorders can, and do, affect everyone.

I have no doubt this misunderstanding has been perpetuated by the media's often macabre focus on anorexia—blasting their articles with shocking "before and after" photos and bold headlines that state the person's extreme low weight. And while talking about the deadliest mental illness is important, there is so much being overlooked and left out, and that is far more damaging than people may realize.

Often, a big component of these illnesses is the lie that "you aren't enough". In direct relation to the eating disorder, it often becomes "you aren't sick enough to have an ED", or "you aren't thin enough to have an ED". This is continually enabled by the aforementioned articles, as well as the misunderstanding of people in general. (Not to mention medical personnel, but that's a whole other rant for me to get into another day.I cannot tell you how many people I've heard say they don't think they have an eating disorder because their BMI (which is a crap measure of health to begin with)/their weight/whatever doesn't qualify or isn't "enough". Not to mention people having said such things to them (i.e. "You weigh too much to have an eating disorder." "Men don't get eating disorders.") And with an illness as dangerous as these, when early intervention is vital, that false belief can literally mean life and death.

Besides—when it comes down to the nitty gritty—eating disorders aren't about weight anyway. It's a far more sinister internal struggle that manifests in the person's relationship with food. But, still, many people are kicked out of treatment programs when they reach a "healthy weight " even though that does not, by any means, mean they are cured of their disorder. In fact, some people have been refused treatment or insurance coverage because they don't meet a certain criteria.

Certainly doesn't help combat that falsity that "you aren't thin enough to be sick", yeah?

It's a dangerous and difficult path to wager as someone who struggles with a disorder as well as those around them who care, and I would encourage people to check out Types & Symptoms of Eating Disorders by NEDA. Listed there are ones which have a clinical diagnosis under the DSM-5. But some—like orthorexia nervosa—aren't listed and aren't in the DSM-5 (another avenue which can lead to feelings of not being "sick enough" etc.) However, all eating disorderswhether recognized in the DSM, have other variations, disordered eating, etc.are valid; there is no hierarchy.

And we, as a whole and as individuals, must start looking past the outside and start seeing the invisible.

Sarah

If I missed a disorder of any kind please let me know so I can add it; it is important to me that all are represented.