Birthdays are Important!

So, today is my 22nd birthday! According to societal norms, 22 really isn’t anything special (unless you are a Taylor Swift fan… in that case, there’s a whole song about it!). However, I believe every birthday is a big deal and deserves to be celebrated. Especially, dear readers, when you’ve dealt with a life-threatening illness like eating disorders.

 

When I was a young teenager, anorexia nearly took my life. I was dangerously underweight, malnourished, and depressed. I was surviving on barely any food intake and was hospitalized multiple times. I didn’t think I’d live to see my Sweet 16, let alone make it to college.

 

After the darkest days of my life, I had an epiphany– life is truly a gift, and I needed to celebrate it. For this reason, I really do celebrate every birthday as if it’s the best thing to have happened to me. Because in a way, my birthdays are the best thing that continues to happen to me… and not just because of the presents and well-wishes.

 

My birthday– the gift of another year to tack onto my achievement list– is the best present I could ask for. When I think back to the days the professionals were concerned I wouldn’t make it, I feel gratitude that I am still here today. I am a survivor, and every year older solidifies my remarkable progress in physical and mental health.

 

So, I’m going to enjoy my birthday. I’m going to live life to the fullest and celebrate with my closest friends tonight. I have joy in my heart and gratitude in my soul because I am just so happy to be given the gift of 22 years! Happy birthday to me 🙂

Published on the Mighty!

I think it is important to celebrate successes in recovery, whether big or small. Recently, I received an opportunity to write for the Eating Recovery Center and have my piece published on The Mighty– and I am ecstatic! As I begin my senior year at Elon University, I can’t help but think back to when I was a little freshman and marvel at how far I’ve come.

 

I entered college in a good place as far as recovery is concerned, but I quickly discovered that the demands of university life are much harder than high school. Academically, I was thriving. However, my social anxiety became heightened and I turned to old behaviors to cope. I didn’t know how to branch out and make lasting friendships because I didn’t even really know who I was. In a nutshell, I was lost.

 

However, I used the summer after freshman year of college to revamp my recovery and get to know myself. This is something I wish everyone would take the chance to do, whether you have an eating disorder or not. By the end of those three incredible summer months, I walked a little taller, held my head higher, and had a fiery passion in my heart that would fuel many successes.

 

Now, I’m a senior. I am more confident than I ever dreamed possible, I have those deep and beautiful friendships I always yearned for, and I am so proud of the person I am. Truth is, I could not have written for the ERC or the Mighty 3 years ago, but I am proof that amazing progress is possible in a relatively short time and that anyone can find her voice, no matter how lost she might be.

 

I don’t often write about things like this, but I thought it might be nice for y’all to see that I, too, am a work in progress and I am learning every day. I’m not a recovery expert, but I push myself to do better with each passing day and I really am so happy with my progress. I believe each and every one of you are capable of self love and awesome confidence!

 

If you want to check out the Mighty article I wrote, here’s the link!

 

Body Posi– Anytime, any Size

The mirror is a funny thing. Sometimes, I think I look like a supermodel, and that I should get a killer Instagram picture ASAP. But most of the time, I think I look like a hot mess… I hate my hair, my skin has broken out, I see rolls of fat, and I just want to cry. In all honesty, I don’t think I’ve seen a truthful representation of my figure in the mirror in a very, very long time.

 

However, I choose to love my body regardless of what the mirror reflects that day. Being body positive doesn’t necessarily mean I always like what I see. Practicing body positivity just means I appreciate my body for where it’s at, and all that it does for me. The simple fact that my body is still alive after all I put it through in my eating disorder is amazing, and that is why I don’t allow the reflection in the mirror to hold any power over me.

 

In our culture, many women struggle with body image issues, and it breaks my heart. I believe women are beautiful at every shape and size, because beauty goes deeper than the surface. We have to stop judging what is beautiful and “healthy” versus what is not, because every body is different, and every body is gorgeous.

 

That judgment includes your own body. When you choose to stop assigning value to your jeans size or your image in the mirror, you will experience a freedom like never before. I admit, I lost sight of body positivity this summer when my body composition changed, and my size became a part of many of my conversations. I was a slave to numbers again, and I did not like the person I was reverting to. I chose to free myself again from judgment, and I am so much happier now.

 

Body positivity can be experienced at any time, at any size. All it takes is a commitment to live your life free from judgment and to celebrate beauty from the inside out. I have made this commitment and I will never look back. You can, too!

 

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“Get over yourself”

I sat in the same therapist’s office I had been visiting weekly for years. I complained yet again that I had body image issues and I didn’t want to recover from anorexia because I was already fat. That’s right—at a BMI that was well below the “healthy” range, I believed I was fat. I was willing to starve myself to death rather than follow my meal plan because at that moment in time, being skinny was all that mattered to me.

 

I went on, and on, and on… “Sarah, I cannot eat because I’m fat. It’s that simple. I don’t want to recover and I will NOT recover if it means I have to eat. Normal people can eat. I’m not normal. I’m special. I don’t need food.” And do you know what Sarah’s response was? “Get over yourself!”

 

Yup, my therapist told me to get over myself. It sounds harsh, but it was exactly what I needed to hear. I was slowly killing myself with every excuse known to man, and Sarah had had enough of my bullshit. She challenged me to dig deeper, to set aside the superficial obsession with being the skinniest girl in the world, and face my deepest fears—the ones that lay at the very core of my eating disorder.

 

I’m not saying that people with eating disorders are vain. If anything, we are selfless to a fault. However, sometimes, we get so caught up in the lies that Ed feeds us that we lose sight of reality. The real issue that prevents us from seeking recovery is not the fear of gaining weight—that’s what Ed wants us to think. No, the root of our inhibition for recovery is staring that demon in the eyes and taking back our power.

 

At some point while we were sick, Ed took our power from us and brainwashed us into believing that following his rules would make us perfect. In reality, we were like zombies, slowly destroying ourselves. It can be scary to truly have power over our own lives and bodies. For me, the thought of having real choice was terrifying. Now, after being in recovery for a while, I can promise you that having real choice and real power is a hell of a lot less scary than I initially thought. Recovery is a choice, and it’s a big one. But the peace and confidence you will gain makes all the initial fear worth it!

 

I can honestly say that “getting over myself” was the start of a beautiful recovery. When you look at the core of your eating disorder and come to terms with what is really keeping you sick, the world (and recovery) becomes yours!

“Boycott the Before”

I scrolled through my old pictures, trying to find one that captured how sick I was when I was anorexic so I could post it on social media for National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Ed nagged at me, saying “You weren’t skinny enough in that picture, nobody will believe you were sick” and “Oh wow, see how good you looked back then? You should restrict and overexercise again, you’ll get that old bod in no time”. At first, I felt myself falling into his traps, doubting the severity of my illness and my healthy current body. But then, I angrily tossed my phone aside on my bed and confronted the demon in my head.

“Ed, you have no power over me. I kicked you out a long time ago, and you are intruding on my new life– a life free from your wicked lies. I don’t need a picture to tell anyone how sick I was, because the real battle was inside my head, and my current body is healthy and beautiful. I don’t need a before picture, all that matters is the after.”

All that matters is the after. I repeated it over and over in my head. I never ended up posting that before picture– a photo of me at a dangerously low body weight with thinning hair and a sunken in face– because it truly does not matter. I don’t want the world to see how sick I was, because that is irrelevant to the awesome place I’m in now. I want social media to see the real me, the me that is happy and confident and authentic, who does not give any power to lying, slimy Ed.

I encourage you all to join the Boycott the Before movement, where the focus is on who you are today rather than who you were when you were sick. The world needs more positivity and recovery focused posts. Of course, it is important to spread awareness of the dangers of eating disorders, and that is a big part of my blog. However, I believe that posting pictures of my sick body will not help but rather will harm those who are trying to recover. Besides, my smile is much more genuine now than it was when I was sick… and that’s what I want the world to see. So here is my only before and after picture: the change from a forced smile on the left to a genuine smile on the right is something I am damn proud of.IMG_3985

When life gives you lemons, don’t restrict the lemonade

We had just arrived at my favorite restaurant: a quaint lobster house on the pier in Cape May, NJ. I hungrily scanned the menu, relishing the thought of buttery lobster in my mouth. My five year-old cousin sat next to me, playing with the rips in my jeans and giggling at the silliness of my outfit. “Nothing can get better than this,” I thought. I was at peace, despite the looming GRE that I would take in just a couple of days.

 

Suddenly, my world was shattered with a single, heartbreaking text from my aunt– our Nonna had just died. Nonna is my cousins’ grandmother, and I am not blood related to her, but my family and I loved her like our own, and she loved us just the same.

 

My stomach dropped, I felt numb, and I fought back tears as we sat in the middle of the restaurant– the very room where, just a few minutes before, I had felt so complete. Ed tip toed back into my head with the same old empty promises: “Don’t eat the lobster, and you will feel better. Just restrict, it always does the trick. If you must eat, then purge when you are done.”

 

I fought Ed with everything I had and ate the lobster, but my mind was anywhere but the restaurant. I felt a strange sense of guilt– why was I saved when I was sick, while Nonna died from cancer? Of course, I know now that thinking like that won’t help anyone, but in the first few hours after the devastating news, my mind raced from one disordered thought to the next.

 

I love Nonna, and that will never change. I don’t have to throw away my recovery because of a big sour lemon. Life in recovery is not easy, but the difficult times make the joyful moments that much sweeter. When life gives you lemons, don’t restrict the lemonade.

Don’t compare your [beach] bum to others

I walked into a living nightmare. I timidly stepped forward onto the sand, heart racing fast. My heartbeat roared in my ears, replacing what should have been the sound of the ocean with the overwhelming battle cry of anxiety. I couldn’t understand how people found peace in this place– everywhere I looked was a threat to my already crippling insecurity.

My family begged me to take off my cover up. I sunk lower into my chair as I rapidly scanned my surroundings. Walking about 20 feet in front of me was a girl with a six pack and toned arms. I immediately looked down at my stomach, repulsed at what I saw. A strange thing started happening– the more I compared myself to others, the bigger I saw myself. With every pang of jealousy, my thighs grew larger, my stomach expanded, and my arms became increasingly flabby. I wished I could dig a hole and hide in it for the rest of the trip to the beach.

This experience repeated itself over and over again for years, until I was well into recovery. Now, I no longer compare myself to the other people on the beach. We are all there to relax and have fun, and I refuse to turn “paradise” into a body competition. When I go to the beach, I turn off my body checking radar and slip into relaxation mode. I focus on the beauty of the waves, the soft sand between my toes, the sound of my cousins laughing, and that unique beachy smell. I walk the shore with confidence and even make eye contact with the cute life guards on duty when I’m feeling extra brave!

Of course, I still struggle with bad body image from time to time. I don’t always like the pictures that are taken of me in a bathing suit, and sometimes I get bloated and feel a little self conscious about my midsection. However, I no longer let these insecurities define me, and I certainly don’t give them the power to ruin my beach experience. I acknowledge that these feelings are there, but then I tuck them in a safe place in my head so I can forget about my body and simply enjoy the beach.

Long story short, don’t compare your body to others. Instead, try thanking your body for doing the things you love to do. Your body loves you so much that it will do anything to keep you alive, no matter how you try to punish it. It’s time you reciprocate that love.

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I don’t know what started my ED and that’s okay

“What started your eating disorder?” the doctor asked me as I sat in the cold examination room. I was in the process of being admitted to a residential center for anorexia nervosa at the ripe old age of 14. I did not have an answer to his question. “I don’t know,” I replied, anxiously staring at the scale and wondering if I would be put on bed rest, or worse.

 

The doctor didn’t like my answer. “Surely, something must have started it. Children don’t just stop eating for no reason.” I shrugged my bony shoulders. “Were you traumatized?” he asked. “Were you abused? Did your parents get divorced? Were you ever overweight?” The questions just kept pouring out of him, and all I could think about was how I could get out of eating the first meal I’d be forced to confront in treatment later that day.

 

The truth is, I still don’t know “what” caused my eating disorder. I know there are many factors, and perhaps something did pull the trigger, but in all honesty, I have no idea why I went from happily eating anything my mom put in front of me to truly believing I did not deserve to eat. And you know what? I’m okay with that.

 

Recovery does not require some profound knowledge of the cause for your eating disorder. Whether you battle an officially recognized eating disorder or something that lies on the spectrum of disordered eating, the cause of your behaviors is simply not relevant to your recovery. I know this opinion differs from many doctors, but I am speaking from personal experience.

 

Throughout my recovery journey, I pointed the blame at pretty much anything you can think of. Some of the blame made sense, others didn’t exactly fit, but in the end, the focus should be in the present rather than the distant past. I am 21 years old. Thinking back to more than 10 years ago will not help me move forward in my life today. I need to focus on what is working for my recovery now, and commit to doing that. I can’t afford to waste my energy pointing fingers at things that may or may not be relevant to my disorder.

 

Some people need to pinpoint one thing that started their eating disorder. If that helps you and you feel like it is necessary for you personally to recover, then that is fine. For me, and for many people, it is okay to never know the cause or causes of the war with ED. When I was in early recovery, I chose instead to identify the things in my current life that were keeping me sick. My treatment team focused on those few key pieces to the 1000 piece puzzle that is eating disorder recovery, and we worked our way up from there.

 

Now, I am at peace with my past. I couldn’t care less what started my anorexia; what matters is that I am now free. I didn’t need some magical answer to the infamous question in order to gain that freedom. I had to focus on the here and now and commit every day to regaining my life.

 

Looking back to the past will not free you from the demons you face today. As the saying goes, there is no gift like the present. My advice to you is to stop retracing your steps and start taking strides forward. You may be surprised by all the joys that come with letting go of the past and embracing the present, and committing to a future free from Ed.

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A letter to the girl battling anorexia…

Hello, Beautiful!

 

I’m writing to you from the other side. No, I have not died– I am recovered from the very beast who is trying to destroy you. I truly understand your pain, because I once felt it, too. And now, my heart aches for you because I remember the hurt all too well. However, I am not here to dwell on the pain. Rather, I am here to reassure you that there is hope and you are strong enough to recover.

 

Please don’t compare yourself to the sick girls on the internet. They may appear on social  media accounts, perhaps in articles about girls recovered from anorexia, and there are even blogs claiming to be recovery focused but are actually quite triggering. Comparison is the thief of joy, and with Ed ruling your mind, you have very little true joy to spare.

 

Instead, focus on your strength. Turn the “self control” over food into fueling your recovery. Put the diligence of compulsive exercise into consistently going to therapy (and actively participating). Kindle that selfless love in your heart that you give to everyone else and channel it toward loving yourself. You are inherently good and you deserved love– and it starts with loving the person you are right now, flaws and all.

 

Be patient, because these things take time to achieve. Recovery does not happen overnight, nor should it. Recovery is a beautiful, breathtaking journey that deserves to be relished. It is scary the majority of the time, but like my favorite quote says, “Sometimes the fear won’t go away, so you’ll just have to do it afraid,” (anonymous). Eventually, recovery doesn’t seem scary anymore, and it even becomes fun! You’ll just have to trust me on this one.

 

I am recovered, and I’ve never been happier. I am more confident than I’ve ever been, more self aware, and content. I eat and exercise intuitively and am happy with my body’s natural set point; I no longer get flustered by weight fluctuations. My life is certainly not perfect, but I am so pleased with how it has turned out and continues to evolve. Every day is an adventure, and it is oh, so exciting.

 

You are more than the number on the scale, the size of your jeans, and the calories you eat or restrict. You are more than a prisoner to the demon in your head who won’t stop the madness until you are dead– or until you fight back. Pick up your sword and fight with everything you have. Hate Ed with every fiber of your being and don’t quit the battles until  you have come out victorious. You are beautiful, you are pure, you are good, strong, brave, smart, and resilient. Now put on your battle gear, and slay. I believe in you! Catch ya on the flip side (the better side)!

 

Xoxo,

Tara

Just because I’m awesome

Guess what? I think I’m awesome. Actually, scratch that… I know I’m awesome. And it has taken me many, many years to be able to say this. I know I’m awesome because I have overcome the very disorder that tried to kill me throughout my childhood and adolescence, and because I genuinely want to turn my experience around to help others battling Ed. But even if I didn’t beat a life-threatening mental illness, I would still be awesome just because I am me. I like the person I am. I’ve worked incredibly hard to get back to my authentic self, and I wouldn’t trade the real me for anything.

 

Believing in the good inside you does not make you prideful, nor does it mean that you think you are too good for people. In fact, I still recognize many flaws in myself, even with this confidence. The difference is, I don’t let my flaws define me anymore. My flaws are a part of my human nature, and I embrace them because they keep me grounded. I love working to overcome the obstacles I face in my personality and behaviors because I yearn to improve, constantly. Improvement, when done in a healthy way, does not mean self-hatred and punishment. Rather, it means taking your core self by the hand and gently leading her to a better path.

 

You might be reading this and thinking, “Sure, she thinks she’s awesome, but I could never do that.” You could be right—if you don’t put effort into building your self-confidence, you might never think you are awesome. However, increasing your self-confidence is easier than you think, and I have broken it down into a few steps:

 

  1. Find one thing you genuinely like about yourself—it should be related to your personality, talents, gifts, etc., not your appearance.
  2. Write that one thing you like on a sticky note and put it on your mirror. Every time you look in that mirror, you must mentally repeat what you like about yourself.
  3. Practice meditation daily and remind yourself why you are inherently good. It may help to start with how your loved ones see you, but eventually, try to focus on the good you see in yourself.
  4. The more practice you get in consciously building up your confidence, the easier it will become for you to believe it without any conscious effort. So, practice, practice, practice!
  5. Go forth and share your awesome, confident self with the world!

 

See, it really isn’t impossible to become self-confident. Moreover, the more confidence you have, the better you will feel in daily life, even when a curveball comes your way. To those of you who are battling an eating disorder, confidence significantly helps your recovery—it certainly helped mine! And if you are already in recovery but want to take it a step further, this confidence can cross you over to being recovered, if that fits with how you see your progress.

 

In short, I know I’m awesome, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You, too, are awesome, and it’s about time you embraced how truly incredible you are. The world is a better place because you are in it—please don’t ever forget how valued and loved you are!IMG_3944