No thank you to covering up and hiding behind clothes that feel safe. No thank you to keeping the tank on while running in 100 degree weather, for fear of being judged as not thin enough. No thank you to ideal body types and unrealistic standards. No thank you to diets, restriction, and food rules. No thank you to excuses like “I’m not hungry” or “I just ate”, when your mouth is watering and your stomach is rumbling. No thank you to gluten-free, fat-free, carb-free. No thank you too anything ‘free’ other than my own body. No thank you to BMI charts. No thank you to earning desert and exercising away guilt. No thank you to arguments about macros and why “that diet worked for me”. No thank you to Weight-Watchers and Flat Tummy Co. targeting teens.No thank you to scales. No thank you to diet culture.
No thank you to gazing eyes of strange men. No thank you to catcalls and “you should smile more”. No thank you to “hey baby”. No thank you to “bitch”, when I ignore you. No thank you to older men calling me honey. No thank you to looking over my shoulder when I’m walking alone. No thank you to holding my keys between my knuckles. No thank you to checking the backseat before getting in the car. No thank you to pretending to talk on the phone in parking garages and on the street once the sun has gone down.
No thank you to undermining educators. No thank you to scripted curriculums and shackles on creative freedom. No thank you to teaching about Christopher Columbus as if he were a hero. No thank you to standardized testing. No thank you to taking resources from “failing public schools”. No thank you to buying books for my classroom with my own money. No thank you to taking work home every night, yet barely earning enough to make ends meet. No thank you to iPads as babysitters. No thank you to neighborhoods so unsafe that kids can’t play outside. No thank you to low expectations placed on low-income students and students of color. No thank you to segregation. No thank you to guns.
No thank you to gender stereotypes and unequal pay. No thank you to questions of marriage and children. No thank you to “that’s so cute” in response to my profession as an educator. No thank you to mansplaining. No thank you to fear of failure. No thank you to the linear career path. No thank you to settling. No thank you to the appreciation of what you have as an excuse not to want and work for more.
When a baby learns to walk, she crawls for a while. In time, slowly and with the support of adult hands, she stands up and moves forward. Finally, one day she takes her first steps, free of parental support. But seconds later, she falls. She gets back up, takes a few more steps and inevitably she falls again. This process is repeated over and over and over for months on end, until eventually, she stops falling. As she develops into a young child, her early childhood will be riddled with scrapes and bruises from countless trips and falls. She won’t fall every day, maybe not even every week, but she will still fall until at some point in her life, she will stop falling almost completely. Even as an adult however, there will be a fall from time to time, whether it’s tripping over a root or falling over a shadow. Even every adult falls.
Progress is never linear.
Eating disorder recovery is a lot like learning to walk. It starts slow and choppy, and you may feel like you’re failing most of the time. But overtime with commitment and support, it slowly becomes easier and more consistent. No one masters eating disorder recovery in a day (or month, or year). Eating disorder recovery is a long and challenging process. Even when you think you’ve got it down, like an adult surprised by a fall, you will hit a bump in the road.
This isn’t to scare you off from recovery. Yes, eating disorder recovery is arduous but it is also one of the most beautiful things in the world. But far too often, eating disorder recovery is packaged up neatly with a curled ribbon on top. Eating disorder recovery is frequently portrayed as a before and after, an image that can be detrimental for those living in between. Eating disorder recovery is a courageous journey to embark on, but it is just that; a journey.
Eating disorder recovery is beautiful, but it isn’t pretty. Recovery is messy and anything but linear.
For years, in college and beyond, I was consumed with guilt when I ate something “unhealthy” (what does that even mean?!) and I went to extreme measures to negate the “extra” calories I consumed. Track and cross-country practice were never enough, especially if I’d eaten lunch that day. I’d convince myself the extra core-work or rest-day-cross-training I did was for my running success, but it was always in an effort to make myself smaller. I regularly cried myself to sleep and made myself miserable, forever in a fight to change the way my body looked.
My recovery began before I could even admit to myself that I had an eating disorder. Close to four years ago, I was still suffering from a tumultuous relationship with food, exercise, and my body. But around that time, I moved to a new city, made new friends, and began to look at running differently. Slowly, I felt a shift in my mindset and over time I grew to hate my body a little less. It took a couple of years, but in time I was finally eating pizza again, I dreaded bikinis less, and I couldn’t remember the last time I had cried myself to sleep. I thought I was all better. Wrap in shiny paper, add ribbon, end of story.
But like I said, that’s not how recovery works. My recovery continued, but certain behaviors stuck with me or returned. I hadn’t weighed myself in at least a year but then my roommate got a scale. At first I weighed myself a few times out of “curiosity” but before too long it was back to weigh-ins two or three times a day. I was eating foods I once feared, but gluten remained fully restricted from my diet. And rest days? Still wasn’t a fan of those. I kept trying however, taking it one day at a time. Baby steps and plenty of falls.
This time last year, with the birth of Lane 9 Project, I found a community of women with experiences similar to mine to connect with. I began to talk about my experience and for the first time, admitted to myself that I had struggled with an eating disorder and that I am still in the recovery process. With this community I have had the opportunity not only to reflect on how far I’ve come, but evaluate how far I still have to go.
For example, I love Cheez-Its. Like really really love Cheez-Its. But while I was eating them the other night, I said out loud, “I really need to stop eating these”. Why?! I was hungry, Cheez-Its taste good. There were zero reasons for me to stop. The voice of my eating disorder, the one I’ve been able to silence so successfully, was creeping in. And again, just tonight, I finished up my easy training run and grappled with the idea of doing some core exercises. I didn’t want to, but I felt like I should. Again, the eating disorder voice I’ve worked so hard to leave behind, was trying to sneak back in. I believe I am mostlyrecovered from my eating disorder, but there is always room for growth, and progress is never linear. I may feel amazing for months and then have a few bad days. That’s OK, the goal is to keep moving forward.
This week, I’m teaching my 3rd grade students about story mountains. In stories, characters face a bunch of problems as we climb the mountain, we reach the climax at the top, and then the character’s problems are resolved as we make our way back down the mountain. In my eating disorder story, I’m on my way down the mountain, I’m beyond the climax, the height of my eating disorder, but the path isn’t clear. The trail ahead is winding, with rocks, roots, and the occasional uphill in the way. I will not turn around and climb back up that mountain, but I am prepared to get a little lost on the way.
No one will get everything right in recovery the first time (or second or third).
I am an adult in my recovery journey, but even the strongest among us fall down sometimes. You will fall and you will fail and that is OK. No one will get everything right in recovery the first time (or second or third). Unfortunately, it just isn’t that easy. When you fall, remind yourself that you are not alone. There are so many others who have fallen down with you, help them up. When you fall, do not stay down. You are not a failure, you are a human. You are doing the very best you can and that is always enough.
National Eating Disorder Association Helpline: 800–931–2236
As I scanned the aisles at Trader Joe’s this weekend, a container of animal crackers caught my eye. In a matter of seconds, I went from noticing them, to placing them in my cart and moving along. I thought animal crackers would make a perfect snack to fill the void I’ve been feeling in the afternoon since I’ve been running early before work. That was all the convincing I needed to take them home with me.
Later, as a munched on a handful of lions, and tigers, and bears (oh my!), what I tasted was familiar yet nostalgic.
“When was the last time I ate animal crackers?”
I began to rack my brain. Throughout my childhood, and into my high school and early college years, animal crackers were a staple in my pantry. A simple, yet relatively filling snack I could grab as I headed out the door for karate class or after a run while waiting for dinner. Thinking about it, I realized I probably hadn’t enjoyed animal crackers in about five years.
It was my senior year of college when I stopped eating gluten. I did it because I had so-called stomach issues and I thought that maybe I was ‘gluten intolerant’. It never occurred to me that maybe the reason I constantly felt sick and lethargic was due to the stress and guilt I struggled with every time I ate bad food.
For me there was a clearly defined line between good foods and bad foods. Was it green? Good. Did it contain sugar, carbs, or fat? Bad. I was all in for spinach and egg white omelettes, grilled chicken salads, and fruit smoothies parading as meals. I internally praised myself any day I didn’t eat more than an apple and peanut butter or carrots and celery for lunch. I silently applauded when I said no to ice cream while everyone else headed to the on-campus Friendly’s.
I was constantly keeping score in my mind. If I ate something healthy my score went up, if I ate something unhealthy my score plummeted.
It happened gradually, but overtime I placed all foods into one of the two categories; yin or yang. If a food fell on the side of evil (in other words, if it tasted delicious or actually satisfied me) it required planning and preparation to be eaten. If I ate something I wasn’t supposed to, breaking an arbitrary food rule, I’d bury my head in guilt and shame. In order to rid the guilt, I’d punish myself with something like endless sit-ups, skipping dinner, or brutally negative self-talk until I cried myself to sleep. It was exhausting, but my food rules were the Ten Commandments and they were to be obeyed.
Looking back, I never realized all the rules I’d created for myself, so when I began to heal my relationship with food and my body, I didn’t anticipate all the undoing that would be necessary. Little things, like ice cream once in a while or fries with dinner began to creep back into my diet on occasion, giving me the illusion that I was ‘better’. I was no longer micromanaging every little thing in my body so in my mind I was ‘healed’.
My food rules were so ingrained that I didn’t even notice how vehemently I was still following them.
In August of 2016, we were at the beach, laying in the sun while snacking. In the bag of snacks we toted, alongside some fruits and veggies, was a box of Cheez-It’s. I still hadn’t eaten gluten since 2012, but Cheez-It’s sounded really good, so I thought “what the hell” and dove in. For the first time in four years, I ate gluten. And absolutely nothing happened. I enjoyed the Cheez-It’s, I felt satisfied, and I immediately began to think about all the delicious and fulfilling foods I could finally eat again now that I had officially broken my “no-gluten” rule (GIMME PIZZA!).
No gluten was certainly my most far-reaching food rule, and I’d love to say that once I broke it I began eating intuitively all the time, but that just isn’t the case. I continued to subscribe to a number of food rules for a very long time and I’m realizing there are still many I’m working to break. Just in the past year, I’ve finally begun to allow white bread, white pasta, and white rice back into my life rather than scrutinizing every food label to see if it’s really 100% whole wheat. A couple of months ago I ate a cupcake a student brought in for his birthday for the first time in my four years of teaching. And honestly, eating pizza on a weekday still takes a little dose of courage. But here’s the difference, instead of passively following the arbitrary food rules I created, I’m working to actively break them every chance I get.
Instead of passively following the arbitrary food rules I created, I’m working to actively break them every chance I get.
I don’t think I was holding onto a specific “no animal crackers” rule, but I do think I’m still working to loosen the reins on what I see as an acceptable snack. Animal crackers didn’t fit that box before and now I’ve let them in. It’s a teeny tiny victory, but it’s a step in the right direction. I can think of some food rules I’m still working through and I’m probably still holding on to some that I do not realize now but will eventually be confronted with. For now, it’s a work in progress and there is no longer a clear line between good foods and bad foods. Except that good foods are the ones I enjoy and bad foods are olives.
National Eating Disorder Association Helpline: 800–931–2236
I’m sitting in my childhood bedroom, painted pink and orange from when I moved in at 13, staring at my reflection in the mirror. My best friend Kiley is curling my hair and we’re sipping a fruity cocktail of some sort, shaken up and delivered to us by my mom. Kiley turned 21 on Wednesday and at midnight, I will join her. About ten of our high school friends are coming over for food and drinks before we head downtown to celebrate. As we get ready, my mom bakes pasta, cookies, my favorite chocolate chip cheesecake, and whips up some magical champagne jello shots.
When our friends arrive we eat, drink, and chat about everything from middle school drama to post-college plans. Most of us are heading into our senior year and won’t see one another again until Christmas. Everyone was enjoying themselves, including me, but there was a voice in my head that I couldn’t turn off:
You shouldn’t have eaten dinner, now you don’t look good in your dress.
Why are you having that cookie? You’re disgusting.
Do you even realize how much sugar is in that drink?
You have no self-control.
My friends were there to celebrate me, yet I was completely incapable of celebrating myself. Throughout the night, the feelings of guilt and shame never subsided. The champagne glass in my hand was filled to the brim with regret. A night that I should remember as pure joy is clouded with vivid memories of self-hate.
The next morning, while my friends slept-in, I got up early and went for a long run. I ran 12 hard, fast miles. Sure I was training for the upcoming cross country season, but the real reason I ran that morning was an attempt to shed the guilt of the night before. I wanted to burn calories and run my body ragged as punishment for letting go and letting myself live.
The following day, I ate very little, still attempting to purge the guilt. But finally, the lack of nourishment caught up to me and I ate some leftover pasta. I dove into the bowl and with every bite the guilt came back. I quickly felt like a failure and the voice of my eating disorder grew louder and more aggressive.
You are worthless.
Why would you eat that? You’re so fat.
I was angry and frustrated with myself for losing control. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just stop eating. I wished I was better at restricting. I thought, “I’m not even good enough to have an eating disorder right”. So I ran.
I went to my favorite trail and set off for a run on my full stomach, knowing I would feel sick and hoping I would throw up. It was muggy with a light rain when I stopped on the shoulder of the road and cried. I tried throwing up but it barely worked. I felt trapped in my own skin and wanted a way out. I wanted to look different and feel different but I couldn’t find a way. We only get one body.
When I look back on my 21st birthday, these are the things I remember most vividly. Unfortunately, this type of memory is not isolated to one birthday. For years, Christmas and Thanksgiving were holiday’s I feared and my memories of them are clouded with anxiety and guilt about food and my body. When I remember parties with my friends and teammates in college, I see images of certain photos that I once shed tears over because I thought I looked so terrible. It’s painful to recollect these memories but they are an important reminder of just how far I have come.
Tomorrow I will turn 26. Twenty six isn’t really a monumental birthday (other than losing your parent’s health insurance) but to me, it is. I am celebrating more than another year on this earth. I’m reflecting on that birthday 5 years ago when I was at the height of my eating disorder and I am taking pride in how far I’ve come.
It has been a long, slow journey to recovery and it’s a journey that has no end. Everyday I have to make choices to keep myself on the road to recovery. I still occasionally fight the eating disorder voice in my head. Some days are easier than others, but most days are pretty good.
Tomorrow morning, I will run long with great friends not because I want to burn calories or punish myself but to enjoy running and prepare for my upcoming marathon. Tomorrow afternoon, I will celebrate at brunch by drinking mimosas and eating as much Mexican food as I can, surrounded by wonderful people. I will fill my day with laughter, absolutely no guilt, and I will contrast it wil that birthday 5 years ago.
My eating disorder can no longer rob me of beautiful memories.
This year, I am not just celebrating a birthday, I am celebrating the control I have gained over my life. I am celebrating that my eating disorder can no longer rob me of a beautiful memories.
It’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and It’s Time to Talk About It. It’s time to share our stories and remove the stigma from mental illness and eating disorders. It’s time to talk about our struggles and share our recovery. It’s time to create a sense of community and empower others to embark on the road to recovery.
As I set off for my morning’s extra easy run after a rough week of marathon training, I was filled with inspiration. The Lane 9 project has officially been launched with the goal to educate, inspire, and empower active women about the Female Athlete Triad, amenorrhea, and disordered eating. With the creation of this project, a light has been brought to my life. I am passionate and hopeful about the future for women suffering from body image issues, disordered eating, and overexercising. The badass women I am working with are an inspiration and together we will create a movement that will change the path for so many active ladies. Head over to Lane 9 Project to see what we’re all about, be inspired, and join our community.