The Winter Olympics have been ruined for me.
No, not because a squirrel got hit during the snowboarding slalom race.
Nor because a curler was caught doping. I mean, who knew that ice-shuffleboard was so physically taxing…
No, I’m talking about ice skating, sadly.
Little known fact, when I was growing up, I went through a phase where I wanted to be a figure skater. And I did for a little while. But didn’t like the hours of practice I had to be on the ice alone.
During my stay at inpatient for anorexia, there were actually several girls there who were former figure skaters — who had developed their ED during their time skating. It was apparently “rampant” — their words — in the sport.
And so since then, I have never really looked at skating the same. The poise and beauty I was seeing on the ice was now tainted with the knowledge of what those young girls were potentially enduring off the ice.
So this year, when last Olympic’s ice skating gold medalist – a fifteen-year-old phenom from Russia – didn’t return this year, in the prime of her career, my antenna went up, and my nose smelled a red flag. ((Let’s try to get one more mixed idiom in there))
Doing a little digging, and tipped off by an article one of my wonderful readers sent me, it turns out that this Russian skater: Yulia Lipnitskaya had to hang up her skates due to health complications from anorexia. ((And I’m not outing her here, she is very public about her battle.))
And that is the same storyline for Gracie Gold — another Olympic darling and defending bronze medalist – who didn’t skate this year due to complications from an eating disorder.
It is sadly a skating narrative that is all too familiar.
And my heart goes out to those brave girls, and I’m praying for them and their recoveries.
But how fitting, that the women’s final skate fell on the eve on National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.
Last week, I said I would answer your questions to help foster an understanding. But I must preface by stating, that I am not a doctor, therapist, dietician or health professional — I’m just a girl, sharing my experience. And if you think you or a loved one has an eating disorder, please seek professional help. Truly.
So okay, thank you for sending in your questions. Let’s get to them!
I’ve been told that once nutritional intake is improved/regulated that the eating disorder voice diminishes … did you find this to be the case or did you find you had more resolve?
There’s 100% truth to the notion of a “brain fog” when you’re hungry. During my anorexia, my body was so depleted that the fat pads in my brain had deteriorated, so I was not thinking clearly, at all. And so this made the ED voice incredibly loud, and my decision making skills incredibly impressionable. But once I started nourishing myself, and those fat pads in my brain began to grow back, my cognitive thinking radically improved. And it was then that I realized, wow, I could have died. I’m playing with fire. And it was then that I started truly attacking recovery and fighting back against the voice of ED. The ED voice, during my initial recovery, was always in the background, but resisting it is a muscle, and the more you resist and the stronger your recovery, the quieter it gets.
Do you have any tips for fighting apathy or ambivalence towards recovery?
Yes! Ok, this is going to sound crazy, but go with me here. I got angry. I thought about all the things that I used to love to do – like play sports, sing, be goofy, hang out with my friends, etc. – seriously write them on a paper and make a list. Then I thought about how ED stole those things from me. And it got me so angry. ED is a liar and a thief. I then decided to reclaim my life and fight for the life that ED stole from me. So every bite I took was a way to reclaim those items on my list, and give a big “F-You!” to ED. I would imagine the Rocky theme music playing in the background, and it became personal. I was angry. What’s the saying….Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned? Well…there you go.
Also — go to different restaurants or buffets — like a Chinese buffet or something — to help you fall in love with food again. Buffets especially, because you can try little bits of lots of different things. Go with a trusted friend or supportive parent.
What would be an appropriate, kind comment to make to someone who has recovered or is in recovery? Is there something that would be well received? Or should we just not mention anything about it at all?
Great question. Because many well meaning comments — i.e.: “You look so healthy!” or “You look great!” — can be very triggering. Because all she hears is “You look fat.” So I would just stay away from the image comments all together. Perhaps something along the lines of, “I’m so happy to see you!” or “I’m so glad you’re home! I can’t wait to spend time with you!” The topic can be addressed, but maybe not as the first thing you say. Maybe in a quiet moment over coffee, you could mention how grateful you are that she made the courageous decision to get help/embrace recovery. And then, mention that you think she looks radiant, or that there’s a light behind her eyes that is beautiful. Something that is not pinpointed on how her body looks.
At what point does obsessive turn into an eating disorder?
This is a very tough question. Because it is different for everyone. I think, ultimately, one would need to look at the obsessive behaviors — because that is usually a red flag right there that there is some sort of underlying issue, eating disorder or not. An eating disorder in itself is an obsessive disease. But an obsessive condition is not always an eating disorder.
But food rituals are definitely a sign of an eating disorder, and those can become obsessive – i.e.: eating in specific order, chewing a certain number of times, insisting on eating at a specific time, etc.
An obsessive preoccupation with weight or calories or body image – definitely a sign.
But there are true physical signs of an eating disorder: loss of period, anemia, difficulty sleeping, abnormal blood vitals, etc.
Are eating disorders genetic or learned?
Both. There can be biological predispositions, but also, environmental factors are very influential, too.
Do you have to binge or purge to have an eating disorder?
No. There are many different types of eating disorders: Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder, Orthorexia, Compulsive Exercise, OSFED (Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder) This is a very informative link about the different types from NEDA.
With an eating disorder, do you see yourself in the mirror different than what others see you?
Yes, this is called Body Dysmorphia. And it can temporarily linger even after you’re in recovery or weight restored. Basically, it is the stereotypical image we see of the skin-and-bones girl looking in the mirror and seeing an overweight reflection of herself. That is truly what it is like.
In my case, yes, the physical reflection was something I struggled with, but after recovery, I would see a hideous image of myself, as I was projecting all the shame and guilt I felt from my disease onto my reflection.
This is precisely why mirrors are so harmful during the weight restoration period, and why inpatient facilities don’t have them. In fact, to this day, I do not own a full length mirror. It just is too…I just can’t.
How do you talk/approach someone that clearly has an eating disorder?
With gentleness and kindness. Without judgement or criticism. With concern and honesty. In privacy and a one-on-one setting. Without presumption or accusation. With patience and a willingness to listen. With knowledge that she is probably going to lash out in anger or hurt. With love and compassion. With resources for professional help. With an offer of support and confidentiality.
Did you ever feel like you were just going through the motions of recovery for everyone else rather than just yourself? What was your motivation to recover?
Oh this one is a doosey. I have to be honest, and yes – there was definitely a season where I was just going through the motions. And that’s when I relapsed. Because I wasn’t truly recovering for myself. I was doing it for everyone else — and no one can want your recovery more than you.
But my motivation to recover, is honestly Jesus. He is my recovery. Without Him and His strength I couldn’t do it. I had to realize that I had worth because of His death. He took away all the guilt and shame I was carrying around from the ED, and truly renewed my spirit. He forgave me, and helped me forgive myself. I want to live a recovered life because I want to live it in praise and worship of Him. I know that sounds super cheesy, but honestly, all the other mumbo jumbo about, “body positivity” and “loving yourself” and “mindfulness” — yes that can be really great. But frankly, those feelings are just that — feelings. And they can fade. And during a really hard day, no “body positivity” quote is going to carry you through those tough moments. Only Jesus and His love that saved me from the grip of death.
For more insight on my recovery, as well as what specifically helped me embrace a new life, you can get my book, Bloom.
Thank you for reading. Recovery is a day in, day out, decision. And every day, remind yourself that you are worth it!
***THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO HAS ORDERED MY BOOKS, BLOOM: A JOURNAL BY BEAUTYBEYONDBONES AND “MY BLOGGING TIPS“***
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