Although I’ve been in self-led recovery from bulimia since I quit fitness competitions last May, I still suffered from extreme body dysmorphia, lack of self confidence, and worst of all, binge eating. After lots of self-discovery and soul-searching, I was able to look into my past and determine exactly WHY my insecurities took forms of various eating disorders. I won’t go into this right now but you can read more about my story here: Just Keep Swimming. Whatever you are going through is simply the result of all the experiences you’ve had in your life. In my case, an eating disorder was a way for me to cope with problems of my past and avoid taking ownership of my struggles. It had nothing to do with food itself (although it seemed like it had everything to do with food).
My mentor recommended I read a book called A Course in Weight Loss by Marianne Williamson which changed the way I perceived my eating disorder. Instead of seeing myself as just “fat,” I began to see myself in a dichotomy between “Thin Me” and “Not-Thin Me.” ***(Edit: These are the terms I used based on what I knew then. Although I do not use terms that promote fat phobia and diet culture anymore, this is a share from when I was in the midst of my journey)***
The Thin Me wants to jump out of bed feeling ready to take on the day. The Thin Me wants to go on adventure with my future grandchildren and outrun them in a game of tag. The Thin Me wants to have a healed heart and a high self-esteem. Then there is the Not Thin Me. The Not Thin Me sleeps all day to avoid facing the day. The Not Thin Me has unhealthy habits that result in heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes. The Not Thin me is filled with trauma, addiction, and shame. Now that I have identified my two personas, I was able to distinguish between which one is my authentic self, and which one is my poisoned self. Although I do not prefer the Not-Thin Me, I realized that she’s not bad, she’s simply trying to keep me alive after experiencing years of restricting, over-exercising, and abusing my body.
We all have our demons. We all have daily struggles. And we all are faced with decisions every second of every day that can either bring us one step closer to what we want or send us a million miles backwards. Literally one decision can change the course of our entire lives! It can be scary to think about, but it’s also very hopeful.
I have summarized essential mindsets and habits that helped me get over my eating disorder and adapt a healthy lifestyle for good. And best of all, they are all effortless. They’re not easy, but they also do not require a single minute of cardio, a single rep lifted, or a single calorie-counted.
Rid of Shame
When I first committed to recovery I told everyone about what I was going through. And I mean my mom, my boyfriend, my friends, my family, everyone on social media, and even strangers. When everyone was aware of what I was going through, not only were they able to be supportive, but I was no longer able to hide. All of my stress-eating was done in secrecy because I was so ashamed to admit that I was struggling with an eating disorder, and the depression and anxiety that came with it. Once I stopped hiding I stopped masking everything and realized people love me for who I am, I stopped feeling so shameful about it.
Shame is a suffocating blanket of that attacks self-esteem and promotes insecurities. Feeling the need to achieve impossible perfection and then being ashamed that you’ve failed is a vicious cycle of self-destruction. Shame also does not allow room for improvements because it forces the individual to bear unworthiness inside instead of seeking help on the outside. It’s crucial to break that cycle by embracing imperfection as a form of uniqueness and beauty, and casting the blanket of shame away.
Immediate Application: Embrace your imperfections by describing, in writing, every negative, emotionally-charged thought you have about yourself. Do not hold back. Scribble everything down. Give yourself time to write the letter but don’t put too much thought into this. It will be freeing to write everything down knowing that nobody will ever read it and it will be even more freeing to allow yourself to feel your feelings. After you are done, burn, shred, or destroy the letter. Allow the insecurities, the stories, and the self-doubt burn with it.
“We all eat lies when our hearts are hungry.” Whether you are flat-out lying, not telling the complete truth, or not speaking your truth at all, holding back in self-expression backfires extremely quickly. Being honest about the challenges you are facing helps overcome them much quicker. Not only are you taking ownership of your emotions, but other people can support you in recovery.
Besides sharing your struggles, it is important to speak your mind at all times. If something upsets you, say it, and don’t hold back. If something excites you, show it, and don’t hold back. If something scares you, confront it, and don’t hold back.
Immediate Application: Who can you share your story with? Share it and do not be ashamed. Share it without insulting yourself or apologizing for your misdoings. Be honest about all the highs and the lows. If you feel like you cannot share it with someone close to you tell a stranger, write a blog post, or write it on paper and leave it in a cafe.
Allow Yourself to Dream
As Williamson wrote in her book: “Overeating is an act of spiritual starvation, and one of the things the overeater often starves herself of is the natural right to dream.” The only reason people do one thing in excess is because they are lacking something else, something their soul really desires. Many of us who feel incomplete with our lives have one thing in common: we restrict ourselves from dreaming wholly.
A person who struggles with unhealthy eating patterns often has an unworthiness conversation which perpetuates a self-fulfilling prophecy of self-punishment. For me, the pattern went something like this: “I dream of waking up tomorrow morning feeling energized for a run outside and yearning to enjoy nature.” The thought that comes immediately after is “Well that probably won’t happen because I’ll eat too much the night before, sleep in late, and feel too lethargic in the morning.” Validating that thought process in my head causes me to do exactly that. Thoughts that start with “I can never be/do/have that” are very disadvantageous when it comes to creating the life you want.
Allowing yourself to want what you want freely, without a limiting belief, frees you to become the person you aim to be. Dreaming is not unrealistic. Dreaming is simply allowing your heart to want what it truly wants.
Immediate Application: Answer this question to yourself (or better yet, write it down): What do you want? And I mean what do you truly want that is not ego-driven (i.e. fame, lots of money, a six pack)? Do you want to travel the world and experience different cultures? Do you want to be an author and inspire millions of readers? Do you want to be the greatest mathematician and win a Nobel Peace Prize for a new discovery? This question can be answered in many ways: create a vision board, write a vision statement, have a conversation with a close friend about your dreams, etc.
Nourish Your Soul
Any kind of self-destructive behavior deprives your soul of a sense of stability, comfort, inspiration, and connection.
A sense of stability comes from consistency, and human beings thrive off of it. If we go back to our earliest days, we realize that as a small child, we wanted more than anything for our parents to be consistent with their love. We trusted that they would not send us conflicting messages or only give us conditional care. Disordered eating brings quite the opposite: sporadic, seemingly uncontrollable and irregular behaviors that send us in a downward spiral of despair. Whether you experienced a full love-tank as a child or not, it is important to treat oneself in a nurturing and caring manner right this very moment. The simplest way to do this? Treat yourself as if you are a child. Give yourself all the nurture, support, and care as if you are parenting yourself and you know that love makes a child reach their utmost potential.
Immediate Application: Write a list of activities that bring you joy, peace, and fulfillment. Beside it, write a list of actions that bring you misery, stress, and discontentment. Do more of the things on the left hand side, and less of the things on the right.
Nourish Your Body
Any kind of self-destructive behavior depletes the body of energy, vitality, and longevity.
Unlike many mental disorders, rarely is an eating disorder an alteration in the chemical composition of the brain. Most of the Western World was well-fed as children. You were not consciously starving yourself as a small child and not binge eating as a toddler. Usually an eating disorder comes after a traumatizing experiences. We may or may not remember them, and most of them are seemingly insignificant (i.e. someone judged your body, your parents made comments about your appetite, you didn’t get the attention needed). This means that somewhere during development our subconscious shaped our traumatizing experiences into a story that told us we were unworthy, insecure, weak, etc. which then turned into control (or lack thereof) of food intake.
This control is detrimental to the body. The body is either starving for nutrients or scrambling to digest them. Neither of these two extremes are good for metabolism, let alone mentality. Think about it, if you never dieted in the first place, gave your body everything it needs when it needs it, and remained as active as a kindergartener, you’d most likely have the same metabolism as you did when you were 5.
Your experiences are not your fault and the story shaped around them are simply an inevitable by-product. The stories were your coping mechanism and during the time-being they saved you. Now that you’re ready to move on from self-destructive behavior, it’s time to choose a story that serves your lifestyle and supports your well-being.
Immediate Application: Commit to giving your body what it needs as soon as it needs it. For example, upon waking, your body is dehydrated and groggy. Make it a habit to drink a giant glass of water every morning as soon as you get up. After performing your morning self-care routine, cook yourself a wonderful breakfast. Put love and effort into it. Make your breakfast colorful, satiating, and flavorful. Mashed avocado on top of toast with salt, pepper, a few drops of lemon juice and a sunny-side-up egg on top is my favorite. As you eat, chew thoroughly and enjoy every bite. Remember that it is not the first nor the last time you are eating. Trust your body to tell you when it is hungry. When the time comes, repeat the same steps for lunch. Add lots of vegetables because you know that that is what is best for your body. And trust your body to tell you when it is full.
Create what you want to put into your body, receive all the nutrients you have created, and remind yourself that you are abundant in nourishment.
The best part about this article (although I am quite embarrassed to admit it) is that I am writing this to myself. Letting go of shame, dreaming, being honest, and nourishing my body and soul are all habits that helped me in my recovery. That does not mean that it comes easy. That does not mean that I always speak my mind, and never skip a meal. That does not mean I cook my own meals and never eat on the run. And that certainly does not mean that the word “impossible” is not in my vocabulary.
What it does mean is that I am aware of what is hurting me and what is contributing to my recovery. I have actionable steps to take when I feel myself falling and even when I feel that I’ve completely fallen into a deep, dark hole I know that this too, shall pass.
Hi, I’m Mary and after recovering from an eating disorder and healing my body, mind, and spirit, I started my online platform Mary’s Cup of Tea, to inspire women to find their own inner peace and unconditional self-love. Now, I travel to beautiful places and eat yummy foods while sharing my heart with you through my writings, videos, and online courses. Welcome!