I Am Alive - My Eating Disorders are Too

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

I've written numerous posts on eating disorders  and specifically my eating disorders. And I've been debating about whether or not I should write this one. 

I'm not sure why exactly except for the fact that it's very painful for me and I have been in continuous recovery now for nearly two years. This is something I am not sure I ever thought was possible. And quite honestly, there was a time that I didn't want it to be possible. I was afraid of who I would be without my eating disorders and I was afraid of what I would look like. And most of all, I was afraid of the lack of control I would have over my eating - and my life if I didn't have my eating disorders. 

For those of you that don't know, the eating disorders I struggle with are: Orthorexia and Anorexia Nervosa. In short, orthorexia is a lesser known but increasingly prevalent eating disorder in which the person is so fixated on being healthy and eating healthy that it becomes unhealthy. 

To give you a tiny glimpse: I was in my mid-20s (5'4") and weighed a whopping 95 lbs. Mind you, prior to my eating disorders I was very healthy all around with a strong frame and weighed about 118 lbs. In the depths of eating disorders, I landed myself in the hospital twice with agonizing stomach pains and long story short - my pain was due to the fact that I wasn't eating enough food for my digestive system to function properly. I was so severely depleted of nutrients and under my "set" weight for so long that it took my body four years to regain my menstrual cycle. 

This post isn't to mull over everything that my eating disorders are and everything that they are not - I have done that several times over and you may read them in links posted above if you choose.

This post is to honor my past struggles with my eating disorders, celebrate the leaps and bounds I have made in my recovery, and stay humble in knowing that my demon may rear it's head at anytime. 

I recently did an interview with a women's health magazine on Orthorexia and was asked if I am "fully recovered." No, I am not and don't believe that I ever will be. I have not acted on my eating disorder thoughts. Those thoughts are not as strong as they once were but they are still within me. It's still something I face every day, with every meal, and I have made a commitment to myself to not allow my eating disorders to control me. 

I have eating disorder thoughts now and for the most part, I am able to see those thoughts for what they are and say "hey, I hear you, and I'm not going to listen."

I have finally come to a place in my life were intuitive eating is something that comes naturally to me. I never knew this to be possible. I was so reliant on other people's concepts and viewpoints that I lost the connection with my own body and hunger. At some point, I will write more about the how in intuitive eating because I think it's essential for me to live a peaceful life with food and I think others could benefit from more of that story - but I want to keep this post about my celebration and raise awareness about the types of eating disorders, dangers, and offer hope to those struggling.  

This week (February 26th-March 4th) is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. It's always a time where I reflect deeply about the long battle I have had since 2010. Over the course of those eight years, there were times that I was in complete denial about my eating disorders, other times were I was acutely aware yet succumbed to the panic, and other times I tore through walls I never knew I had the strength to bust apart. And, it was not a linear journey - at all. I had many relapses in both my thinking and behavior. And, while thoughts may not be visible - they can be just as destructive - trapped in your mind, consumed by obsession. 

Left: my Dad and I, winter 2012 (95 lbs) ; right: my nephew and I, summer 2017  (? lbs I don't weigh myself)

Left: my Dad and I, winter 2012 (95 lbs) ; right: my nephew and I, summer 2017  (? lbs I don't weigh myself)

Over the years, I found myself in various parts across the country and I cannot even begin to express my gratitude for the people who helped me along the way.

My dearest family and friends, I would not be where I am today without you. Thank you.

And, to my loving boyfriend who helps to keep me so grounded - you amaze me each day. You are my rock. I love cooking for you - for us and reminding myself of "oh yes, this what a wholesome meal looks like." I love you so much my darling, my sweet. Thank you for your grace. Thank you for your support. 

A diet will never be able to tell you how to eat like your body can. Once you trust your body, it will teach you everything you need to know. 

With love & gratitude,

-AEB

Fifty Shades of Orthorexia: Including Grey

Those of you that know me, know that I am equipped with an extreme personality. Grey is hard for me. Middle is hard for me. Subtle is hard for me. Waiting is hard for me. In between is hard for me. Balance…is hard for me.

*Note: Fair-warning that many of my paragraphs and sentences in this post will begin with an I. 

You’ll either find me with my phone in hand, ever-connected, or, I am nowhere to be found with my phone on Airplane mode accessing only the camera and notepad.

I either have my music on the loudest decibel or I am relishing in complete silence. 

I am either involved in one activity after another – working, jogging, yoga, hiking, cooking, cleaning, errands – or I am laying in savasana doing absolutely nothing.

I am either teetoll’ing it, or I am indulging in a few (or several) nightly cocktails.

I have the ability to thrive in the middle of no where – nestled comfortably in the country – miles from any major city with sounds of roosters and crows peacefully waking me in the dawn hours, or smack dab in the middle a city – downtown amid the around-the-clock sirens, horns, hollers and, screeches.

I am either an Unconventional Cave-Woman Paleo-er… or  a Virtuous Raw Vegan.

I am all natural, or bright hot pink lipstick.

I am an all in... or... all out girl.

I am all black. Or, all white. 

It’s the in between that makes my palms sweat. The middle-sized towns with things like Walmart, Home Depot , car washes, and chain restaurants that are missing the local cafes, mom-and-pop hardware stores, and farmers markets but far away from the cityscapes, fitness studios,  fashion districts,  coffee houses, and Whole Foods.

Obsessions. Extremes. Addictions.

All of these lie at the heart of Orthorexia, an unhealthy fixation on being healthy - specifically eating healthfully.

Obsessions and addictions are interrelated and so often serve as distractions - anything to get us outside of ourselves rather than looking (or living…) inward.

To explore this notion of distraction a bit further, watch the video below with Amber Valletta on her struggle with living with addiction.

An eating disorder (ED) is very much like an addiction. When I am active in my eating disorders (Orthorexia and Anorexia), I am all-consuming. Utterly fixated on my food… specific ingredients, where they are sourced, whether or not they are organic, availability (will I be able to get these ‘superfoods’ if I were to travel?),  how clean they are, how much I will eat and at what times, and perhaps the biggest one of all – how it will effect me physically, mentally, and even spiritually (i.e. "will eating this raise or lower my vibration?") 

My addictive personality only amplifies my predisposition to live in an extreme way.

Coconut is a miracle food? Oh, coconut EVERYTHING! Lip-balm, hair mask, sunscreen, lotion, cooking oil, coconut water, coconut milk, coconut meat, coconut butter, anti-fungal, anti-viral….Ok really coconut is a miracle food but I have taken it to an extreme. And have even been called, “Coconut Head,” on more than one occasion.  Another example would be my most recent rabbit hole, of living as a Fruitarian. Consuming not one, not two, no…not three, but upwards of twenty bananas a day. Yes, twenty. And no fats or protein other than the minuscule amount that is in fruit and vegetables. So this meant no nuts, seeds, or legumes either. On the surface, it was an honest attempt to ‘heal’ my body from illness, disease, and pain. 

Image found on: https://www.facebook.com/WellandGoodNYC/photos/a.175204979693.120205.91915774693/10153660388004694/?type=3&theater

The eating disorder(s) for me, only begin to scratch the surface. Beneath the fixation with food and being the healthiest that I can possibly be, I discovered that it was once again about control (a false sense of) and fear.  When I cut through the bullshit and take a good look back on this year and what sent me deep into the abyss of eating disorder insanity, the situation became very clear to me.

Earlier this year (2015), I felt scared. I felt defeated and helpless. And, I didn’t want anyone to know. Especially myself.

*Note: I have learned that denial with oneself can perhaps be the most damaging form of self-sabotage

Events that prompted my (recent) ED relapse:

This is not to BLAME any of these circumstances – these were stressors that occurred and triggered my Eating Disorder Demon

  1. Change in positions at place of employment
  2. Frequent travel for work
  3. Laid off from work
  4. Unemployment
  5. Selling/giving away belongings
  6. Moving out of my apartment
  7. Moving to a different city/town (3 times)

I was numb to my emotions and went on autopilot (survival mode).

I didn't admit ... to anyone that I didn’t feel ‘OK,’ that I may need some help… Instead, I ran. I left where I was living and went back to to a place that felt safe and comfortable.

I have learned that people (myself included) are doing the best that they can with the knowledge and resources that they have at the time.

While the debate is still out whether addiction is a disease, it is in fact, a mental illness. I am of the opinion that it is both. Addiction is complex, and wildly difficult to treat. 

While my intention wasn't to write about addiction - I feel that the behavioral aspect of addiction is so closely tied to that of Orthorexia, that I simply can't write about one without acknowledging the other. It seems that the word 'addiction' or 'addict' has a common connotation of drugs.. alcohol.. sex... gambling... but what about everything else? What about being addicted to things that are seemingly healthy?  Exercise, health foods, detoxing, cleansing, cleaning, working... even things like cooking, fishing, knitting... seemingly harmless - joyful activities can become an addiction. 

I'm reminded of an article that I read on Goop, "Why We're All Addicts." The article is so on point, that I could quote it all - so I implore you to give it a read. Though, below is an excerpt.

“Addiction is inside you no matter how far your soul has evolved.
The truth is that each one of us possesses the same attributes that fuel alcoholic binges, restrictive eating patterns, and marital infidelity. Yes, addiction is inside you no matter how far your soul has evolved. It resides in your psyche and binds you together with all other addicted beings in the world. Addiction is archetypal. This means that we all share its energy in the unconscious part of our psyche. It is a feeling that we know instinctively and is imprinted in our DNA. We could not shake it if we tried...
So, what is addiction anyway? This is a question that has sparked some debate in recent years. One contingent of prestigious psychologists considers it a genetic disease, while others would argue that it is a learned condition brought on by the trappings of one’s environment. I respectfully disagree with both of these theories. As someone who has faced my own addiction for over 30 years, I have come to know it well. It is my belief that addiction is simply energy. It is energy that flows through the body and lodges itself in the mind. Initially, it saturates the body with a sense of longing and fills the mind with invasive and obsessive thoughts. These repetitive thoughts will not cease until some sort of compulsive act has been committed. Here is an example. There is one homemade peanut butter chocolate chip cookie left in the tin and you are thinking about it relentlessly. You have already eaten two and by no means are still hungry but still have the urge to eat the last one. In fact, it is difficult for you to concentrate on anything else until it is in your mouth. You have just succumbed to addiction. Addiction is the inability to control your urges in the face of potentially negative consequences. You are attempting to stay healthy and that cookie does not correspond well with your proposed fitness program. But you couldn’t control yourself so you ate it anyway. When this behavior becomes a pattern, you are in the throes of an addictive cycle...
It is my belief that addiction is simply energy. It is energy that flows through the body and lodges itself in the mind.”
- Dr. Carder Stout

So here we are - faced with choices. Choices of extremes. Choices of balance. Black or white. And if we look close enough, we begin to see the shades. All of these different shades. 

What I a coming to understand is that Grey – grey represents flexibility.
Grey is neither good nor bad.
Me.

Me.

Fifty Shades of Orthorexia

*Note: This list pertains to behaviors, thought patterns, and actions when I am in the depths of my ED (not recovery)

  1. In the depths of my ED, I become numb to feeling, both physically and emotionally
  2. I deprive myself of the nutrients that I need to properly function
  3. Emotionally I shut down to feeling
  4. Eventually,  I am unable to cry
  5. It's difficult for me to relate others
  6. I lack empathy
  7. And physically, with little to no food to digest... or only digesting one type of food (like fruit), one cannot feel the food in their body as much
  8. You're literally empty inside
  9. I become infatuated by this emptiness
  10. And find a certain type of comfort in the nothingness
  11. When I succumb to the tight grip of Orthorexia, I lose sense of my roots
  12. I become off balance
  13. I am not grounded
  14. As an Orthorexic, I have a constant need to feel 'pure and clean' 
  15. On the flip side of that desire to feel or be 'pure and clean,' I think that there is a belief deep down inside of me that feels I am 'impure and unclean,' I am working on that
  16. When I feel impure or unclean, I find it nearly impossible to accept myself
  17. Or love myself
  18. No amount of green juice, salads, fruits, water, herbs, supplements, showers, detoxifying cleaners, yoga, running, or saunas, will make me feel clean or 'detoxed' 
  19. Orthorexia offers a false sense of control
  20.  Restricting my body of nutritions is one of the ways that I punish myself for things that I have not forgiven myself for
  21. Not only do I restrict my body of nutrients, but I will also find ways to deprive myself of other joys in life
  22. Joys such as going out with friends,traveling, having adventures, taking (healthy) risks
  23. Orthorexia becomes a way that I sabotage myself
  24. When Orthorexia is ruling my mind (and life), I act out of fear
  25. And make rash decisions
  26. When Orthorexia is ruling my mind (and life), I am in flight or fight mode
  27. (My) Orthorexic practices provide a false sense of safety
  28. (My) Orthorexic practices provide a false sense of security
  29. Through regimented and methodological behaviors
  30. When Orthorexia is ruling my mind (and life), it's difficult for me to relate to others
  31. Or feel accepted 
  32. Orthorexia becomes a way that I isolate myself 
  33. When Orthorexia is ruling my mind (and life), the way that I eat is not sustainable
  34. And therefore, I have an easy excuse to have to deprive myself
  35. Orthorexia causes me to feel that there is constantly something wrong with my body
  36. Orthorexia is way for me to feel safe in a world full of uncertainties 
  37. Orthorexia fuels my addictive and obsessive personality 
  38. The stress and anxiety of dining out causes me to lose all sense of focus 
  39. Or the ability to stay in the present moment 
  40. Or the ability to truly enjoy the the taste of the food in my mouth
  41. Stopping for a quick bite turns into an hour or more of finding something that is suitable based on onerous or impractical requirements  
  42. Because I am not getting the nutrients that I need, I lose all sense of my hunger 
  43. I eat in fear and worry 
  44. My body is so deprived that my mind is consumed with thoughts of food
  45. Thoughts different recipes occupy my mind
  46. I obsessively read about food, recipes, and stare at restaurant menus as though I haven't eaten in days
  47. Because my hunger gauge is off - I become uncertain of my portions. Is this too much food? Not enough? Is this a normal amount to eat for dinner? Should I be having less snacks? More?
  48. I become uncertain at the times of the day that I should eat rather than relying on my hunger cues
  49. And when I do have a mouthful of something that I have deprived myself of - my anxiety sky rockets with worry about what it will do to my body (even if it is something that is known to be healthy like sweet potatoes)
  50. My passion is health, sometimes, I allow my passion to turn into an obsession

Before I close, I'd like to thank Dr. Steven Bratman, who coined the term Orthorexia in 1996, for all of his time and work into the study of Orthorexia. 

"Enthusiasm for healthy eating doesn’t become “orthorexia” until a tipping point is reached and enthusiasm transforms into obsession.
Orthorexia is an emotionally disturbed, self-punishing relationship with food that involves a progressively shrinking universe of foods deemed acceptable. A gradual constriction of many other dimensions of life occurs so that thinking about healthy food can becomes the central theme of almost every moment of the day, the sword and shield against every kind of anxiety, and the primary source of self-esteem, value and meaning. This may result in social isolation, psychological disturbance and even, possibly, physical harm.
To put it another way, the search for healthy eating has become unhealthy."
-Dr. Steven Bratman

I am learning to live and be comfortable with grey. Embrace grey. And dance in the glorious and delicate balance of the rainbow of colors that surround grey.

So here's to the Grey... and everything in between, 

-AEB

 

My Battle with Orthorexia:Tricking Myself with Bananas

I keep saying "I'm going to write a blog about this." "This" being, the past year, my struggles with living in a new city, living alone, charges in my career, developing and pursuing my passions, battling my eating disorder, the ups, the downs, the in-betweens ...  I've just been bouncing words around in my head that barely form sentences. There is so much to say, so much I have learned, so much that has changed, so much that I want to share, so many feelings I want my readers to understand and so many messages that I wish convey. 

The year 2014 was by far the most challenging year thus far - in my life. Wait, didn't I feel that way about 2013? Certainly in 2012? Maybe even 2011? Perhaps the years do continue to get more challenging. Wouldn't one expect for life to get a little easier as you learn a little more each day on how to navigate through it? You're all LOL'ing right now I'm sure. Because yes, isn't there a popular saying "No one ever said life would be easy" or something like that?

Ah, yes.

life is hard.png

Is what we strive for in life ease? Does ease equate happiness? I'm sure you're all shaking your head 'no,' because of course ease does not equate happiness. Happiness is a state of mind - or a state of being - happiness can be embraced in the midst of struggle and when life is difficult. Or, not easy. In fact, there is another popular saying suggesting that easy is quite boring and that we should continuously challenge ourselves.

So you know what I mean when I say that it (2014) was a challenge? That it was a massive struggle? That it was difficult beyond comprehension? That is was hard?

What the !*$# happened?!? You may be wondering. Well, I'll tell you what happened. There were shifts in my life that I hadn't expected. In fact, just about everything in my life changed dramatically. My move from sunny Boulder, CO to the enlightened Bar Harbor, ME was a beautiful and transformative journey with many ups and downs. I met some of the most incredible people and embraced the sacred land of Mt. Desert Island. From there, I went to West Palm Beach, FL after falling deeply and madly in love (or so I thought)- and when that came to end, I started anew in not so sunny (but shockingly authentic and charming) Philadelphia, PA to take on a new career endeavor and start my 'new life.'

That is where my 2014 began. So, not only did I have a heart wrenching break-up from a man that I thought I would spend the rest of my life with, I was working in a new career and living in a new city. And, I was lonely (not be confused with being alone as I have come to find that we are never truly alone). Needless to say, there were times that I not only felt uneasy, but I felt unsafe, unloved and unworthy. That's a lot of un's. And un's weigh us down. Un's trigger all sorts of physical, spiritual and emotional responses.

What happens, when we are not at ease? Let's say, we are not at ease for an extended period of time. What happens? Disease.

When we simply examine the word, we can see how very true this concept is:

Dis• ease = disease.

Louise Hay, the great Metaphysical Teacher and motivational author, explains this concept at length.

There were moments through the changes in my life that I started to feel at ease -  comfortable, safe, confident, loved, and deserving. And it was during those times that I naturally took care of myself in all areas of my health. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially and so on. It was during the times that I felt uneasy or was at dis-ease, that I neglected each area of my health - some more than others and it was during those times that I began to feel particularly unwell (aka malaise) and unbalanced.

If you've been reading my blog over the years, you know that I have struggled with an eating disorder known as Orthorexia for quite some time. After my initial breakthrough in recovery, I was able to stay true to myself, listen to my intuition and my body and stay in recovery for many months. However, when certain things in life started to feel 'out of control,' I relapsed quite heavily. An eating disorder, like an addiction, does not simply go away. It is always with you and you have to learn how to overcome the antagonist (for lack of a better word) day-in and day-out. Some days, weeks, months and years may be better or easier  than others

In 2014, I relapsed a few different times throughout the year, with the latter part of the year being the most devastating. It was difficult for me to recognize when I fell back into old behaviors because I went about it differently than I had in the past. The obsessive compulsive and destructive behaviors and patterns were present but the methods were different. In other words, the what and why where the same, but the how was different.  I thought because I wasn't 94 lbs and starving myself that I didn't have a problem. 

In essence - I very strategically yet subconsciously tricked myself.

In fact, I actually gained weight and lost muscle with my new way of restricting. Instead of restricting carbohydrates and sugar, I restricted my intake of other foods like protein and fat and increased my carbohydrates and sugar (fruit) but the underlying pull was the same - a desire to be clean, pure and healthy. At a glance, these don't seem like bad things to desire. Doesn't everyone want to feel healthy? So, looking at it the other way, it is an obsession and feeling that you are dirty, impure and unhealthy and unwell. Now that...that feeling will not only bring you down but disturb any shred of peace and confidence you may have.

So when does this obsession fire a trigger in my brain? Well folks, as I have said in previous posts, it doesn't have anything to do with food. These thoughts and behaviors rear up on their hind legs when things in my life feel out of control and I am frightened or uncertain (aka fear of the unknown). Food is something I can control - of course this is a false sense of control because it actually ends up controlling me. I touched on this in my previous posts on Orthorexia.

Mind you, restricting is never a good idea, but restricting protein and fat is especially detrimental and the crux of it is that I would NEVER coach anyone to do what I was doing.

Red flag number one. I had gotten so wrapped up in this new style of eating (remember, desire to be pure and clean) that I had transitioned to Vegan then onto Raw Vegan and then nearly Fruitarian following an 80/10/10 lifestyle spear headed by Dr. Douglas Graham and his practices. In fact, I did actually try 'The Banana Diet.' What happened? Well, I truly felt like I had gone...bananas. All the while, I had this nagging thought in my head that I needed to heal my body. That there was something wrong with my body.

I'm not going to say that those styles of eating don't work for some people - I'm not them. But the simple fact of the matter is that these styles of eating were extremely detrimental to my health. In fact, I function very poorly on them and become very sick. I actually lost strength and energy and literally felt down-right loopy. Some people DO thrive on beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and very little or no animal protein. I on the other hand, do not. I actually have a true sensitivity to nuts and seeds especially sesame and flax and have a very difficult time digesting beans and legumes. But I ate them anyway.

I ate them because I wanted to be able to, I ate them because I was rebelling against my body and angry at my body for all of the food intolerances that I have (like gluten, dairy, sulfites). Let's back up a moment though, I wasn't only angry at my body for these food intolerances and allergies... I was angry at my body for much more than that. And this is deeply rooted to my past of sexual assaults, abusive relationships, body shaming, and low self-esteem. I was trying to design a diet for myself that screamed health to me - that let me know that I was OK - and in my mind, that was strictly plant-based.

After a just a few months on a strict vegan diet, along with the loss of muscle and disruptive cognitive function, I also developed cystic acne, my eyes become very bloodshot surrounded by dark circles, extreme fatigue, headaches, my hair dry, I become more depressed and increasingly irritable. And, because I was consuming foods that didn't agree with with me and perpetuated inflammation while depriving myself of the foods that I thrive on (like properly sourced animal protein), I started a cycle of binging; which I had never experienced before. I would be floating along 'just fine' and then I would find myself out and about or invited to a dinner and my hunger and cravings would be so extreme and out of control that I felt like I could eat through the night. And then I would leave feeling bloated, with heartburn and full of guilt and shame for eating so much and being that out of control. 

I had this picture perfect image in my head on what health would look like in my life. 

Smoothies every morning! Wheatgrass shots! Green juice and salad for lunch and dinner! Plant-based! Cleanse, cleanse, cleanse! Detox! Alkalize! Doesn't paint a picture of health in your mind?

healthy greens.png

Now, some advocates from those types of food lifestyles (aka diets) may argue that I wasn't doing it right or that I didn't give myself enough to heal. That I still had toxins in my body or that the feelings I was having and physical difficulties like fatigue and trouble concentrating were just the side-effects of detox and that I needed to push through.

Some "Food" for thought: This Will Change Your Mind About Hunting

This 21st century notion that we are walking toxins and need to constantly detox is part of what is wrong with the world (I'd say mostly in America). If we go about thinking everything that we eat is going to have a negative impact on our health - well it probably will just by detrimental emotional impact of fearing the food that you are putting into your body. Don't get me wrong, I will always lean toward buying organic and I will do my best to always by properly sourced animal meat and fish but that apple at the airport that surely had pesticides at one point is NOT going to kill me - in the scheme of things, I am better off eating the apple than: a) Starving or b) Eating some gluten-free vegan processed junk. This constant 'oh, I need to detox' or 'oh, I need to cleanse,' is a vicious cycle in our society.

We need to eat a diverse selection of real whole foods as close to their natural state as possible. And we need to be grateful for our food while honoring our body and our hunger. That's it. It's really not that much more complicated. The human body is well equip to take care of any toxins that we encounter and if we are eating real whole foods that are nutrient dense, then we are giving our body's what they need to naturally and continuously cleanse and detox.  

I was not honoring my body and I certainly wasn't honoring my hunger. I lost all sense of when I was hungry and when I was full. I had to get real honest with myself. Smoothies generally make me feel sick, I'm not sure if it's the concentration of fruit and vegetables all once or what but smoothies off all kinds will usually hurt my stomach no matter how slowly I drink them. I seem to be able to tolerate them better during the hot summer days and in the morning. And juice (you know the Cold-Pressed, Fresh-Pressed, High-Pressured, Organic, Non-GMO, Enzyme-rich, Juice Frenzy of the decade) unless it's mostly vegetables spikes my blood sugar - even green juice I need to be careful and drink sparingly. And most nuts and seeds cause digestive distress if I have a lot them.

So, what is this desire to be clean and pure really about it?

Well, I already told you that it really doesn't have anything to do with food and is more about control. Yes, this true but that only grazes the surface. The desire to be clean and pure doesn't even have anything to do with the physical body at all. This desire is deeply rooted on a spiritual and emotional level. This past relapse has shown me that while I made great progress uncovering old wounds that need to be healed and made strides in my recovery, I still have a lot of work and healing to do. This type of emotional healing is a continuous process - though sometimes... we need to go back further to points and times in our lives that may have been too difficult or painful for us to deal with it when it happened.

There comes a time when your soul has to let your mind know that you the issue can no longer be pushed aside - the memories can no longer be suppressed. And that in order to fully heal on a physical level, you need to heal on the emotional and spiritual level first.

Those of you that know me on a personal level, know that I have a tendency to build walls. OK - THICK HEAVY walls. And I tend to keep things inside - only opening up to a few if that - and have a very difficult time reaching out to others for help. I don't even like writing that word. Help. Ah, yes, "I Am a Rock," by Simon & Garfunkel comes to mind.

A winter's day
In a deep and dark December;
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I've built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
Don't talk of love,
But I've heard the words before;
It's sleeping in my memory.
I won't disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.

Transformation is a funny thing. A year goes by and at first I think, "Wow, that went fast." And then, I really think about... and I'm like "Wow... I feel like I've changed so much in last 12 months. Certainly 24 months. And 36 months? I feel like I was a completely different person. Actually, I take that back. I was not completely different but my life was different, the way I lived my life was different, my thoughts were different and my surroundings were different. But the core of me has remained the same - my roots - my values  - my morals. Yet there were moments... moments where I lost grasp of that core. I fell away from my Authentic Self and lived my life according to how I thought I should rather than how I wanted. Out of FEAR, I separated myself - from myself. 

Music is one of the elements that can bring me back to my Authentic Self - that core - and that bring ME back. In fact, sometimes, it is the only thing that will. I have a playlist that I have titled 'Authentic.' When I have that feeling that I have lost my roots and I don't feel like I can trust myself and have lost that connection with my intuition - I put on that playlist, sometimes for hours and slowly but surely, I come back around. I have quite a bit of Simon & Garfunkel on that list. I highly recommend creating our own Authentic playlist to tune into when you are feeling out of sorts - or otherwise 'not yourself.' 

"Just as one must not attempt to cure the eyes without the head or the head without the body, so neither the body without the soul. In fact, one must care 'first and foremost' for the soul if one intends the body to be healthy. If the soul is moderate and sensible, it will not be difficult to effect health in the body; if not, health be difficult to procure..." 

Ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates.

Most people think of health as one dimension: Physical. I tend to think of it as three dimensions: PhysicalEmotional, and Spiritual. Though, truly, it is more accurately six dimensions: Physical, Mental, Emotional, Spiritual, Social, and Environmental.

Where I get into trouble is when I focus too much on one of those dimensions and for me, that is typically too much focus on the physical. Then what happens and when I really get into trouble is that ALL six of my dimensions of health fall out of whack.

The first step for me in cure my 'dimensional upset' is to get grounded. Get back to my roots. I mentioned music as one way that I start that process. There are many others.

Things that I do to get ME back (aka Embracing my Authentic Self) and connect to my Higher Power:

1) Get out in nature
2) Do yoga
3) Listen to my Authentic Playlist
4) Talk to my family and/or close friends
5) Meditate
6) Get some perspective and read some books (books of all kinds!)
7) Write (non-fiction, fiction, free-form and all of the above!)
8) Play! Do something FUN like swinging on swings
9) Drive - anywhere
10) Indulge in something that I have deprived myself from (like a decadent piece of chocolate cake - yep gluten/dairy free chocolate cake does exist ;) )

Hiking may trump all others on my Authentic list

Hiking may trump all others on my Authentic list

Coming to the realization that I wasn't taking care of myself and that I had relapsed was somewhat devastating. How could I possibly help others if I was neglecting myself?  How could I, as a Health & Lifestyle Coach, create these beautifully healthy and balanced programs for other people and do the exact opposite and place extreme restrictions on myself? But then I had to remember something. I had to remember to love myself through it. To forgive myself and love myself. To honor my Eating Disorder Demon for serving a very important purpose of giving me a sense of comfort and protection in a time that I was uncomfortable and scared. 

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Once again, I am so very grateful for the people that I have in my life. Some of you are dear old friends, some of you teachers and mentors and some of you are wonderful new friends - I lovingly embrace all of you and thank you for being along side me as I go through the many adventures that life has to offer. 

I find great comfort in knowing that I have a strong support system and I have great knowledge and resources around me to help me through this and keep me strong on my road to recovery once again. Part of this recovery includes abstaining from alcohol as well. Alcohol has a very negative effect on my body and my find and consequently, the other dimensions of my health. It is one thing that will very quickly disrupt the connection and communication with myself and my higher power. 

My Book 'stash' 

My Book 'stash' 

I will be spending time reading through amazing and inspiring books. Some I have read before like Eating in the Light of the Moon by Dr. Anita Johnston and some of them are new to my collection. I've also been spending time on my creating a new Vision Board and tapping into my creativity.  

What's the moral to my long story?

Always, always listen to your body. Trust your intuition. Trust yourself.

Always, listen to The Wind of Your Soul.

I listen to the wind
To the wind of my soul
Where I'll end up, well, I think
Only God really knows
I've sat upon the setting sun
But never, never, never, never
I never wanted water once
No, never, never, never
I listen to my words
But they fall far below
I let my music take me where
My heart wants to go
I swam upon the devil's lake
But never, never, never, never
I'll never make the same mistake
No, never, never, never

With Love,

-AEB 

My Battle with Orthorexia: Living in Maine, Restoration

Sideways, upside down, inside out, whatever terminology you'd like to insert here, my life has had quite a shuffle over the past month. And to tell you the truth, it feels as though it has been a year. Not in time, no. In the way that feel.

I feel different. I feel calm. I feel at ease. I feel happy.

There has been a shift.

I won't delve into the details of what exactly went on over the past month, but I am now in a new home here in Maine. And, it is perfect for me right now. While a bit challenging at first, in the end, I am so very glad that this move happened. Not only because I'm in love with where I am now, but because there were some important lessons learned and growth had along the way.

My view

My view

Nestled in the lush woods, with views of rolling green hills, unique barns, sheep, and deer, I am resting easy and enjoying the sunrise and sunset like never before. My first night there, I stepped out onto the deck above the budding blueberry bushes to checkout the night sky. My roommate and I shut off all the lights so that we can see the stars more easily.

What we saw immediately went onto my informal list of the 'top most incredible things that I have seen.' The sky was clear, stars bright and appeared closer than I can ever recall seeing them. I was awestruck and then I shifted my gaze below and saw hundreds of fireflies sparkling beneath us. It was magical. Purely magical.

So here I am, going on my fourth month living in Maine. Wow, how very different my life is today than this time last year. Maine is serving a great purpose in my life. I believe wholeheartedly that this move was exactly what I needed. It has not all been beautiful, in the traditional sense of the word and it has not been all 'roses' and 'peaches,' nor has it been easy. There have been some struggles, some tears and some restless nights. Though through that, I have shown myself the strength that I embody, exercised the tools within me to carry me through some rough winds and came out stronger and more focused than I was before.

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While there were some struggles, there were also great breakthroughs. And where there were tears, there were also deep soul-baring laughs. And now I sleep, sometimes for nine hours at a time.

There were two paths laid before me:

One was rocky, dark, cold, damp and full of cobwebs.

The other...

Clear, a bit sandy, some turns, subtle hills and full of sunshine.

I chose the latter, and it was just that simple.

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Many of you know that I have been in recovery from an Orthorexia, a lesser known eating disorder, since March of this year; and near the end of April I made my move to Bar Harbor, ME from Boulder, CO.

The harvest of my pain was its own peace and remedy.

As low as I had sunk, I rose, faith restored from blasphemy.

Body, heart, and soul obscured the path, until

Body melted into heart, heart in soul, and soul in love itself.
— Rumi
Where I like to practice my yoga

Where I like to practice my yoga

I work daily in maintaining a healthy recovery from Orthorexia. Yesterday was the first time that I weighed myself since mid-March. I am up 13 pounds and at a 'healthy/normal' BMI of 18.7 (according to the Centers of Disease Control).

While emotional, this number ultimately makes me very proud. My yoga poses are becoming stronger, the muscles in my arms and legs are surprising the heck out of me and earlier this week I ran my longest run (non-stop running) of 5.7 miles. Think I could have been able to that a year ago? No.

The list of those that I am grateful for continues to grow. You all know who you are, and I thank you each day. Looking forward to seeing how this chapter unfolds.

With Love,

-AEB

My Battle with Orthorexia: Recovery, Balance & Moderation

If you missed my two previous posts on my battle with orthorexia, you may view them here: My Battle with Orthorexia (first post), My Battle with Orthorexia: Epiphanies & Recovery, The move to Maine brought on a shift in gears for me. A healthy shift. Driving out here and now being here, I've been looking at food a bit differently. Nutritional therapy that I received before hand, helped with my new mindset. This has been a shift from thinking about food as a way to sustain me throughout the day, to food as FUEL.

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Just as I had to stop to put fuel in Europa (aka my Jetta), I have to continuously put fuel into my body as well. Seems quite simple doesn't it? It is. Instead of obsessing over the amount that I was eating or the specific ingredients, I just ate when I was hungry and  didn't worry about the exercise that I was not getting. In all reality, driving in and of itself sucked the energy out of me and my body NEEDED and DESERVED the time off from cardio and lifting. Not only that, but the day that I moved out of my apartment, in a hurry, I slipped and fell on black ice, pulling a ligament in the back of my right (driving) leg. Coincidence? "Slooooooooow down Ashley," says the Universe.

I had boxes of food with me for my cross-country drive as well as a cooler for berries, meat, hard boiled eggs etc. There was one that that I knew and that was that I didn't want to be caught without food. Looking back on it, it saddens me to know that in my restrictive food behaviors, I was not only restricting the intake of fuel for my body on a 'weight' level but on a holistic level. My nutritionist helped to bring this to light for me. When we are not giving our bodies the proper fuel (from ALL healthy food groups), we are not only effecting our physical appearance but our organs (including our brain), muscles, hormone levels, and a slew of other parts of anatomy that allow for us to properly FUNCTION. When that took hold in my brain, after I welled up with tears, I knew that my behaviors had to change for the safety and comfort of my LIFE.

I eat when I'm hungry, I listen to my body and I try very hard to not dwell on things like why I am hungry when I ate just an hour ago, or why I am hungry before bedtime. I just listen, and respond to my bodies signals. This requires both balance and moderation. 

Balance & Moderation

I  constantly check-in with myself on my eating behaviors to gauge whether I am being obsessive or restrictive and WHY.  Am I afraid of something? Is it a rational thought? Is it a replace in thinking? Is it 'My Eating Disorder Demon' talking? 

These check-ins are subtle. Keeping a food log, journal, counting calories or weighing oneself is generally NOT a good idea for a person struggling with or recovering from an eating disorder. This is true for me. I do not do any of those things.

Eating foods in all food groups is something that have come to embrace (aside from dairy). In my past I have been quite an extremist. Oh, grains aren't good for you? OK, I will eliminate every single grain for the rest of my life. Oh, cinnamon is good for you? Great, I will start taking cinnamon every day until it makes me sick (even though I was indeed taking the 'recommended' dose). Oh nuts and seeds are amazing for you? Awesome! I will chow down on nuts and seeds all day long until those too make me sick.

I did all of those things. And more. Not quite that casually, no, as I did do my research but that's just it. Instead of researching within myself, listening to what I needed; I acted upon outside research based on others experience whom may or may not have had any sort of credentials.

My diet has been consisting of some non-glutenious grains (mostly rice), starches (like squash and sweet potatoes), meats (mainly fish, poultry, eggs and some red meat), all sorts of fruits and vegetables, some legumes and a few nuts/seeds (significantly less that I was). My diet is still clean, yet it is a healthy clean. A balanced clean.

Aaaah yes... and coffee... in moderation... 

Aaaah yes... and coffee... in moderation... 

While I sincerely thought that I was embodying health before, what I was doing was actually depriving myself of the fuel that it needed to truly be healthy. Healthy for my mind, body, and soul.

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And I've returned to my jogging ;) Food = FUEL = ENERGY

Where I once believed firmly that health began with nutrition, followed by physical exercise, I now believe that health in fact, begins with our state of mind.

With Love,

-AEB

My Battle With Orthorexia: Epiphanies and Recovery

Since my initial post on My Battle With Orthorexia last month,  I've had quite a few epiphanies and breakthroughs that I would like to share with you. I will warn you now that this post will be a bit stream of conscious as I attempt to explain things. 
 

Thank you sweet sister of mine for sharing this one with me

Thank you sweet sister of mine for sharing this one with me

Allow me to first start off by saying, that this is not an easy battle. I've had highs, lows and everything in-between with a few 'relapses' in thoughts and behaviors along the way. What one must recognize about an eating disorder, whether they are personally struggling with one or know someone that is, is that it is NOT about food. 

I know, right?

Just as an alcoholic uses and abuses alcohol as a coping mechanism, a person with an eating disorder uses food whether it be overeating, under-eating/restricting, and/or obsessing as a coping mechanism for circumstances and emotions things that are occurring or have occurred in their lives. The actual reasons behind the need for a coping mechanism will naturally vary from person-to-person. 

This disorder is powerful and strong. And it can indeed, kill you. Recovery from an eating disorder has one of the highest chances for relapse (or lowest recovery rate depending on how you look it) out of many other disorders/diseases and the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder. Why is this so?

I have a theory on one of the reasons why this may be true... 

We cannot live without food. We all know this. An eating disorder is a type of an addiction. And when you are in the thick of any addiction whether it be mental (obsessive/compulsive) or physical (substance abuse etc.), you are in fact, under the influence.  

Imagine if you will, that for an alcoholic to 'recover' they had to learn how to drink 'normally.' Not quit drinking entirelyThey had to stop their drinking in excess yet still frequent bars and only have a drink or two. And go to liquor stores on a regular basis but get a couple of beers instead of a bottle of whiskey and a case of beer. 

Now, I am NOT saying that recovering from alcoholism is not a feat. Wow, it is an enormous life-altering feat! Though it may explain why recovery rates for those with eating disorders are not as promising. Those of us that have found ourselves battling an eating disorder, are surrounded by food all of the time, from culture-to-culture, day-in-day-out, and we must learn how to eat 'normally' again. 

My Demon, my Friend

My Demon, my Friend

I've named my eating disorder, 'my eating disorder Demon.' But don't get me wrong. This Demon has actually protected me in many ways, has been there for me and provided me comfort throughout a very difficult time. So while I am actively battling this Demon, I am honoring it at the same time. And understand that it served a purpose.

I lovingly release and honor the past and joyously welcome the new.

The past is our past but that's just it, it's OUR past. We lived it. We made it through. We learned from it. And we should love it. Honor it. And be at peace with it. Whatever 'it' may be.

I spent a lot of time and energy pushing my past away. The "I've got this," "I'm fine," "Don't worry about me," "I'm tough," "I'm past that," "It could have been worse," "I don't need help, I don't need you, I don't need anyone..."

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The reality, is that with a BMI of about 16.5, I was not only classified as underweight, but severely underweight. Now, I am grateful that this had not gone on for years, but it did go on long enough to where the consequences of being at such a low BMI effected me. And the consequences are not only physical but mental as well. I won't delve deep into that topic but the mental implications can also be vast; such as the inability to focus and extreme obsessive compulsive behaviors. You are indeed, under the influence

So, I came upon some epiphanies over the past week.

Epiphany #1: Control

Life.

Life happens. And for the most part, the majority of things in our lives, are out of our control. And generally, that is OK. Expected. And accepted. But, there are those times that things go completely awry. And then there or those times when go not only awry, but devastated by trauma. 

When an event takes place that derails you life to the point where you feel out of control, you latch on to things that make you feel in control.

I am writing this using 'you,' but I am in fact, talking about myself.

Back in fall of 2010, I had series of life events that left me feeling dis-empowered, helpless and completely out of control. I latched onto three main things that enabled me to feel in control. Hence the word feel, in the end, these things controlled me. I didn't actually have control. 

Sources of 'False Control'

    1) Exercise

    For all of my adult life, I've found great joy in exercise. Whether it be walking, hiking, jogging, lifting, yoga etc., it is, and will remain to be one my favorite things in life.

    Though, I started to use exercise in such a way that it actually stressed my body in times where I truly needed emotional support and rest. I exercised/worked-out twice a day 6-7 days a week for over two years. Even when I was sick. When I was tired. Exhausted. Stressed. In pain. And even shortly after my surgeries. It wasn't a release anymore - it was an addiction. An obsession. But it made me feel in control. Little did I know, it was in fact, controlling me.

    This mind you, happened gradually over a long period of time. And I have since then, toned the exercising down to allow my body to heal during this process. Which in-and-of-itself, has been difficult to let go and give myself and my body permission to rest. 
      
    2) Food/restriction/elimination diets

    I latched onto the idea that there was a 'perfect' diet out there for me in order to feel my best. I've been writing several posts on this so I won't go into great detail but in essence, I used restriction around ingredients and specific food groups as a way to feel more in control over my life. It was something that I could research, tweak, see, and feel results.

    Over the past month, I have slowly introduced specific foods that I had eliminated back into my diet. Some worked (grains such as white rice and corn, added sugar, added starches). Some did not. Gluten, did not. For the same reasons that I initially stopped eating gluten (vertigo, exhaustion, stomach rashes etc). Dairy, did not. And for the same reasons that I had initially stopped eating dairy over four years ago now (heartburn/indigestion, diarrhea).

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    This is how I feel about the gluten and dairy. 

    Most importantly, I branched out. I gave myself permission to eat things that I had not eaten in a long time, even years. And it was scary, but I am also very proud of myself for stepping outside of my comfort zone and I will continue to do so. It's a process. 

    3) Medicine/Doctors

      Similar to my diet, I felt that there was something in my body that needed 'fixed.' Something was wrong. What I failed to recognize, was that the something that was wrong was actually an internal cry for emotional help and support. The something that needed fixed, was on an emotional and spiritual level yet I stayed with the mindset for years that it was on a physical level. Yes, I did in fact have hernias. And I did in fact, have Endometriosis but those were not the sole source of my physical pain and symptoms. Not by a long shot.

      Countless visits to doctors, tests, procedures, herbs, medicines, supplements, and thousands of dollars. It's no wonder that my body was unable to recover and reset back to a state of 'normalcy' as it was constantly bombarded by things that it didn't need or couldn't absorb/breakdown as I was becoming malnourished due to lack of nourishment on both a diet and emotional level. As my nutritionist explains nourishment, there are two types: Nourishment with a capital (N) for food nourishment and nourishment with a lower case (n) for emotional/loving nourishment. 

      This fixation on 'fixing' something on a physical level also brought to me a false sense of control. 

      Epiphany #2: Fight or Flight

      Do you know what physically happens to animal (including humans) when they are in 'fight or flight' mode?

      Well, let me tell you, it's quite fascinating. Here is a website that explains the fight or flight response in more detail. Below are some highlights:

      • heart rate and blood pressure increase
      • pupils dilate to take in as much light as possible
      • veins in skin constrict to send more blood to major muscle groups (responsible for the "chill" sometimes associated with fear -- less blood in the skin to keep it warm)
      • blood-glucose level increases
      • muscles tense up, energized by adrenaline and glucose (responsible for goose bumps -- when tiny muscles attached to each hair on surface of skin tense up, the hairs are forced upright, pulling skin with them)
      • smooth muscle relaxes in order to allow more oxygen into the lungs
      • nonessential systems (like digestion and immune system) shut down to allow more energy for emergency functions
      • trouble focusing on small tasks (brain is directed to focus only on big picture in order to determine where threat is coming from)

      I can't even begin to tell you how much this resonates with with me. Bullet-by-bullet I nod my head. Yep, experienced that. Yep, experienced that. Dilated pupils, veins in the skin constricted, increased heart rate, low body temperature, trouble focusing... Though, I'd like to especially point the one on digestion and immune system shutting down to allow more energy for emergency functions. Wow, did it ever. Chronic diarrhea and various other immune related symptoms is the main thing that plagued me during this time.

      Bottom line, my body quit functioning properly. 

      To an outsider looking in, I had it pretty together. Living alone, working a full-time job, eating 'healthy' foods, exercising, and generally walking around with a smile on my face. But on the inside, I was full of fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the relationships that I was in and those that I had left. Fear of what could happen. And most of all, fear of what had already happened that I continuously ran from facing. 

      You see, for years, I was in a chronic state of 'fight or flight.' Why?' you may ask. I didn't feel safe. Simple as that. My sense of safety and security had completely deteriorated. I began to think about this 'fight or flight' situation combined with my lack of feeling safe and secure and as it really soaked in, I reflected back on the times over the past few years that I did feel safe. 

      I can count them on one hand. And all but one of those times were when I was with my Dad. It didn't matter where I was with him. But when I was with him whether it be on vacation or one of his homes, I was generally symptom free irregardless of what I was eating or drinking. I felt safe. My systems relaxed. There was one other time that I can recall and this was when I went on vacation by myself to Bar Harbor, ME (where I am now moving BTW, post to follow). I stayed at a Bed & Breakfast for seven days, right on the ocean, took myself out for meals, ate things I normally wouldn't have and indulged in more wine than I normally would have and I felt great. And was again, generally symptom free. There it is again. My flight or fight response subsided and I felt safe. I allowed myself to relax. To be

      Now, this doesn't mean that I need my dad wherever I go (although that would be kind of cool because he's pretty amazing), but what it does mean, is that I need a balanced life on an emotional, spiritual, and physical level in order to establish a sense of safety, security and peace. 

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      I don't have a step-by-step guide on how I will do this, but I am getting there. By loving myself, by trusting myself, listening to my body, forgiving myself and forgiving others. I could go on and on, but those are some of the things that I am currently focusing on to help me in breaking free from 'fight or flight.' Here is another great site on fight or flight. 

      Epiphany #3: Deprivation

      Someone asked me not too long ago, not "What do you do for fun?" but rather, "When do you have fun?"

      I just looked at him blankly. There was really no answer that I had for him. I pondered this for a bit and came to the conclusion that the only time I really did have 'fun' was on the rare occasion that I was around my family or when I was alone hiking, writing or traveling. Alone. Mind you, I do rather enjoy being alone, but it had gotten to the point of isolation. Depriving myself.

      In learning more and more about restrictive eating disorders such as orthorexia, it's very common and almost always the case that the person also restricts (deprives) their lives in other ways.

      Why? To feel in control. Safe. Secure. 

      Like waves crashing in, there was a steady flow of realizations that hit me of other ways in my life that I deprived myself. Laughter, fun, socializing, love, indulgences such as alcohol, rest/relaxation, sleep... I started to write them all down and suddenly my life started to make a little more sense to me. Things became a bit more clear.

      Allowing myself to let go and release has been an invigorating experience. There has been fear, no doubt, but it's getting easier. And it makes me smile.

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      As I am writing this, Sting's 'Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot,' just came on. How very fitting. I think I'll be listening to this song often ;)

      Aids in my Recovery Process

      Professional Guidance

      I've been seeing both a nutritionist and therapist that work solely with those recovering from eating disorders. They have both helped me immensely in getting to the why behind my eating disorder,  learning how to be gentle with myself, forgive myself, putting things into perspective, understanding what it takes to truly fuel and nourish the human body and much, much more. 


      Recovery Stories

      I am especially fond of this one

      Affirmations

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      Books

      Eating In the Light of the Moon has been my favorite thus far. I recommend every female read this book whether they are struggling with an eating disorder or not. I also recommend that those supporting someone with an eating disorder read it to better understand their condition.

      Louise Hay and Crystal Alandrus' inspirational books (and audio recordings) have been a huge part of my recovery and although I have not met them in person- I feel like they are part of my life. You Can Heal Your Life, is another one of my favorites. 

      Others I am reading: The Passion TestThe Power of Myth and Healing From Trauma

      I adore books ;)

      Meditation, Yoga & Metaphysical Work

      Meditation, yoga and metaphysical work really could be an entire new post (as all of these could be). So rather than going in deep on this topic, I will simply let you know that all of these combined have not only helped me in my life path and recovery but have been part of a life transformation on a body, mind and spiritual level. 

      'Lifelines'
       

      When I am struggling with a relapse in behavior or struggling with my Demon in thoughts, I text, email or call one of my friends, my mom or my sister (if I am not actually with them). In other words, I TALK about it. I voice it. The support system that I have is truly a gift.

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      And with that, I will end this post and say thank you again to those that have helped me along the way and continue to support me. How very blessed I am to have you in my life.

      With Love, 

      -AEB

      My Battle with Orthorexia

      This is the most difficult post that I have written. In fact, it is one of the most difficult things that have ever written, period. 

      Has anyone ever told you that you are 'too close to the situation'? I had quite a few people in my life tell me this throughout the past couple of years. I thought: "Nah... look at all of this research I do. Look at all of this information I have found. Look at all the progress I have made. Look at all of these people that have healed themselves this way. Look at all of this groundbreaking literature to back it up. Look at all of this HEALTHY stuff I buy!"  

      Since 2010 I have been on an endless search to heal various physical ailments through food elimination and diets. In doing so, I became acutely aware of all the nasty things that get put into packaged and processed foods, the dangers of this food and that food and benefits of this food and that food. And countless diets. Paleo, Primal, Raw, Vegan, Vegetarian, Pescatarian, Anti-inflammatory, Macrobiotic... seeking that perfect combination that would allow me to feel my best. Be the healthiest. The cleanest. The Purest.

      During this same time, I continued to suffer from gastrointestinal issues (chronic diarrhea and bloating). So, in my mind, there was still something wrong. There was still something to fix.

      The search consumed me.

      The search consumed me.

      What I have is called, Orthorexia. It is much different than Anorexia though it can have similar side effects. While anorexia typically has a fixation of weight, orthorexia is a fixation on eating healthy. They do overlap. And I believe my struggle with orthorexia, obsession with healthy eating and having a clean body also morphed into anorexia. 

      "Orthorexia' is defined as an obsession with 'healthy or righteous eating'. The phrase was first created in 1997 by California doctor Steven Bratman, and refers to people who create severely limited diets in the name of healthy eating. It often begins with someone's simple and genuine desire to live a healthy lifestyle. The person may choose to stop eating red meat, but eventually cuts out all meat; then all processed foods, and will eventually eat only specific foods that are prepared in very specific ways.

      As with all eating disorders, the core issue is not about food. My struggle began at a time in my life when I was dealing with massive emotional stress.  In the fall of 2010 I was sexually assaulted and during that same time, had recently left a relationship and entered into another unhealthy relationship (both unrelated to the assault) quickly after. With my life in disarray, and my emotions crying for help, food was something that I could control. 

      Or so I thought.

      Note: This post is on MY battle. I do not believe that everyone on a restrictive diet has orthorexia.  Though, this post may raise awareness that 'diets' can become an obsession. And can be a 'gateway.' Most of all... listen to your BODY. Always.

      It was a slow progression. For much of 2011 I was 'tweaking' if you will, still maintaining a pretty 'healthy' diet and body weight but experimenting with elimination diets. And in 2012, I tweaked a bit more and become increasingly strict with what I allowed into my body. Following my hernia surgery in December of 2012, I became even more fixated on eating healthy, weighing in at 94 pounds at my doctor's appointment just a few weeks ago. 

      And then I got sick. Twice. And weighed 'who-knows-what' and then I landed myself in the ER with severe abdominal pain. This pain that I was feeling was on the surface, not dangerous. But the underlying cause - in sum, was that my body just did not have the reserves to sustain me while being sick nor did it have the strength to recover 'like a normal person.' 

      A healthy body is a guest-chamber for the soul; a sick body is a prison.
      — Francis Bacon – an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist and author
       

      No doctor has ever told me that I should not eat the foods that I have eliminated from my diet. I truly believed that I was doing the best and healthiest thing for my body. I eliminated entire food groups. No processed foods, no packaged foods aside from bars and sweet potato chips, no refined sugar, no corn, no beans, no grains at all except for oats and brown rice (so no gluten, millet, spelt etc), no yeast, no soy, no dairy, and very limited other starches.

      The consequences to this type of restrictive eating are massive.

      The side-effects listed below are side-effects that I experienced. These are not researched and therefore I do not know if they apply to others with orthorexia/restrictive dieting. 

      Physical Side-Effects:

      • Insufficient nutrients/ malnourished
      • Insufficient calories
      • Dangerous weight-loss / unhealthy BMI
      • Decrease in energy 
      • Dangerously low blood pressure
      • Insomnia
      • Hormone inbalance
      • Loss of appetite

      Emotional Side-Effects:

      • Anxiety 
      • Obsessive-Compulsive behavior (measuring food, listing out meals, only eating at certain times)
      • Fear (of food/ingredients)
      • Depression
      The spirit cannot endure the body when overfed, but, if underfed, the body cannot endure the spirit.
      — St Frances de Sales

      There were many signs along the way that I chose to not recognize. For every sign, I had an answer. A rather good one, at that. 

      I had one woman I didn't even know straight up ask me: 'Do you eat?' I thought it was the rudest thing I had ever heard. And perhaps it was rude. But maybe it needed to be said.

      During this time, I was cooking, baking, blogging about food and my love of food, helping to guide others in their path to a healthy lifestyle and so the thought that I could have a problem was downright absurd to me. Ha! 

      I would NEVER EVER advise someone else to do the things that I was doing. I re-read what is on my website after acknowledging that I have a problem and thought "Wow, I'm pretty dang intelligent. Why didn't I just listen to myself?" 

      Simply put, I got caught up in my passion. As a friend stated to me: "You know, people take great pride getting taken by their passion. You simply did that."

      quote.jpeg

      I was being dishonest with myself. But most of all, I was not loving myself. I was not nurturing myself and I was not accepting myself. I was loving and accepting myself in ONE condition. I was not loving and accepting myself through thick and thin (pun intended). 

      Although, I was doing all of these wonderful things like reading several different self-help books, doing affirmations, connecting with my spirituality and becoming very aware of myself and my surroundings, I was not recognizing the thing that I needed to face the most.

      I hit bottom.

      Hard.  

      Through all of the deaths, break-ups, moves, sicknesses, and surgeries, this struggle, right here, right now, is by the far the hardest that I have fought. And I am honored and humbled to be able to share my experience.

      And the work begins...

      Some books that I purchased to help me in this journey.

      Some books that I purchased to help me in this journey.

      An eating disorder can be a dead end or a door opening to a life better than you can imagine.
      — Carolyn Jennings

      This Wednesday, I start an outpatient program and will be seeing both a nutritionist and psychologist. I am excited for this journey to begin!

      Rest assured, I am still very much in love with food, cooking, baking and all that it has to offer. I cannot predict how this will unfold, but I can tell you this: 

      My posts will change slightly and my recipes will evolve but I will be here. Learning, pushing forward and sharing my experiences.

      And I have an incredible support system. My family and friends have embraced me with loving arms and for that I am immensely grateful. Thank you.

      With love,

      -AEB