This past week I was a guest speaker at my friend’s high school English class. The class is about food, culture, and identity, and after reading the students read It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell, I was brought in to share how my experience with restrictive eating, compulsive exercise, and my recovery journey was similar (or different) than the author’s.
In the days and weeks leading up to the talk, I briefly thought about what I was going to share. My friend had a list of points she asked me to discuss (what my current goals are, who makes up my support system), and she also mentioned that a few girls had prepared questions they wanted to ask.
Great! This should be easy!
Not so much.
When I actually sat down to plan out the key take-aways I wanted to girls to know, THERE WERE SO MANY I WANTED TO SHARE:
- Eating disorders are a mental illness and need to be treated as such.
- Recovery involves refocusing one’s mindset and retraining ingrained patterns and behaviors.
- There is not one specific recovery model that will work for all people. In fact, if one’s recovery is the same weeks later, then something is wrong.
- Life is about change. Being stagnant means a person needs to reevaluate herself and see where there are areas that she can grow in.
I tried covering all of these topics in the time allotted, but I knew that I wasn’t able to get into detail on all the points. Instead, I started fielding questions from some of the girls, and one of them in particular made me think.
When you were pregnant, how did you battle those compulsive exercise behaviors and restrictive eating thoughts?
Immediately, I was brought back to when I was pregnant with my daughter nine years ago. At the time, I had given up running and was not into weightlifting–in fact, I couldn’t even do a solid pull-up or push-up. My life was devoted to Bikram Yoga, and I’d take a class daily (sometimes even two). When I found out I was pregnant, I immediately asked the various studio directors of the places that I practiced at if I could continue taking class as there is a pregnancy series designed for Bikram devotees. Given that I had been an ardent yogi for the past five-plus years, they felt comfortable with me doing the twenty-six postures in the hot room and said I could. And that was what I did until the day before I gave birth–Bikram Yoga.
Given my compulsive exercising history, I am actually surprised that I was relatively sane when it came to doing the yoga classes. Even in the first trimester when I could have still laid flat on my back in savasana, I never did. I read that further on in pregnancy, blood flow to the heart could be impeded when in the supine position, and even though I was far from that period, I wanted to be safe so I stopped lying flat. I also began modifying the “spine strengthening series” from day one. Instead, I did planks or some other asana that kept me from laying on my belly. Also, sit-ups were a no-no as were compression postures. And while I normally searched for the hottest section of the studio to do my practice, I instead stayed in the cooler areas of the room and made sure to drink a lot of water before, during, and after class.
And even more remarkable was that even though I COULD do yoga any time, there were days I was just too darn tired to do much of anything. So I didn’t. I slept. And woke up and ate something. And then slept again. I remember one day in particular, I don’t think I left the sofa. My husband left for work and I was napping on the couch. He came home in the afternoon and I was still laying there. My body was exhausted because it was trying to grow a life. I had no energy to push it to do standing bow pulling pose, so I didn’t.
Food wise, I held the same outlook: Do what my body was telling me to do. Some days my body was telling me to eat carbs, sweet carbs like cookies and pie. Other days my body was telling me to eat salty carbs like pizza and KFC biscuits. There was a good stretch of time when I ate pizza every day for dinner. I kid you not. EVERY. DAY. Frozen pizza. Pizza Hut. Dominos. Little Caesars. I didn’t care–so long there was bread, sauce, cheese, and meat, I was GOOD.
When I look back at that time, I am surprised that I was able to eat so freely and rest when tired. Why was I able to do that then, but fast forward ten years and I could barely take a day off from the gym without tears and anxiety? The answer? The reason I acted in a sane manner was because I knew that what I did, whether it be the activity I participated in or the food I ate, did not only affect me but also my child and husband. If something happened to our daughter because of negligence on my part, my husband would be distraught, my child would be in peril, and I’d have to deal with the remaining guilt. Our FAMILY would bear the brunt of my actions, not just ME.
As I think about my recovery journey now and how I’ve dealt with (or not dealt with) anorexia for the past twenty-one years, I realize that I am still very much “pregnant” and should treat my body and mind as such. Granted, I am not literally with child (two kids are enough for us!), but I am harboring a gift from God, a calling to do His will that is still in its’ infancy, waiting to grow and mature and blossom in the future.
How am I/was I taking care of the gift He has given me? When I was steeped in having to run compulsively or macro count my food, I wasn’t doing too well at nurturing the plan God has for me. My mind was so overrun with thoughts of food and exercise that there was no room for growth in other areas of my life. But now? I’m beginning to see God’s plan for me slowly starting to grow from baby to child–and similar to how I would mother my own kids, I am doing everything in my power to give this little spark, this little being, this little life the ability to build a foundation and expand and grow to unknown heights.