Search This Blog

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sam Malone in a Bar with a Beer: On Eating Disorders and Eating Well

Only Ted Danson could have great on-screen chemistry with a lemon rind. 
  One of my favorite television shows is Cheers, a 1980s sitcom centered around Sam Malone, a recovered alcoholic who owns a bar. (When I was pregnant I watched all eleven seasons in the space of about three months because I was/am very prone to binging on good things, as we will soon learn.)  In a lot of ways, being a person who's had or has an eating disorder is like being Sam Malone--constantly surrounded by a thing that has the power to destroy you. The big difference is that, unlike Sam Malone who can abstain from beer, we ex-anorexics, ex-bulimics and ex-binge eaters have to eat every day multiple times a day. Depending on where you are in your recovery or how you're feeling that day, breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks can feel like battles or emotional triggers or a million other unpleasant things. I
       I've been very vocal both on this blog and other mediums about my past history with eating disorders, particularly my anorexia diagnosis in high school. For a long time, I told "my eating disorder story" as a kind of neat little narrative of down fall, utter despair and miraculous recovery complete with an epiphany about the meaning of my life and a new appreciation for my body. In reality, that journey has been a lot messier and treacherous and drawn out than I think I wanted to admit to myself.
      After seeing a therapist recently for some other life issues, it's become clear that I jumped into a pattern of binge eating pretty quickly after announcing myself "recovered" from anorexia and leaving my outpatient treatment program.  For the most part, I maintain a diet that's as free as animal products as possible (no meat, fish, dairy, eggs, gelatin) because of ethical reasons. I'm also fortunate in that I crave pretty healthy food--most of the time. Some days it's salads and veggie stews and fruit smoothies. Other days it's chocolate chip cookies and tater tots--and I can't just eat six tater tots, I have to eat half a bag of the gross processed frozen kind that make me want to tear my stomach out. To be honest, most of the time I feel totally okay about that. I understand that the occasional overindulgence isn't going to make me gain hundreds of pounds and doesn't mean I'm a failure of a human being. What I am starting to realize though, is that these junk food binges are becoming a regular part of my life in a way they haven't been for a couple of years. They're not healthy and, if possible, I'd like to take care of what ever issue is causing them.
    I'm a big proponent of mindful eating--eating the food I want, whenever I want them as long as I'm both actually hungry and actually craving them. Believe it or not, I actually lost a lot of weight once I embraced that approach. Sometimes, however, I forget about the mindful part and start letting myself eat just whatever because "Body acceptance! Diet free lifestyle!" This past summer, I've fallen back into some old habits which include skipping meals and then compulsively eating vegan candy and/or fried potato products out of loneliness or sadness or some other depressing reason. It's definitely not at an out of control point (been there, done that) but I'd like to get back on track with healthier eating before my dance season starts, particularly since it looks like I'll be donning the pink tights and a tutu for Nutcracker this year and sugarplum fairies with low blood sugar are no fun. Plus, as a fitness professional, I think it's important to model healthy life choices for my clients. To me that includes demonstrating that you should enjoy your favorite dessert every now and then with no guilt and that you should fuel your body with nutrient-dense foods on a daily basis.
   For people with eating disorders or a history of emotional eating, just living normal life is kind of like being an ex-alcoholic in a bar.  There's food everywhere. We have to eat every day. We have to choose every day to do the right thing for our bodies and our minds. It's really hard sometimes and I don't know if I'll ever get it right.