Planting First Thoughts

A gargantuan hill mounts before me, a monster of sidewalk and height. Yes, one mile up, steep enough to land you on your back. It’s 85 degrees, I have sweat running down my calves, and at the moment, I hate running. But my first thought as I face the Hill is: I can do this. I will do this.  I’m not an optimist of epic proportions. Trust me, at this point, I’m more likely to strangle myself with my shoelaces than chant a mantra. But I’ve learned to plant pockets of empowering thoughts along my run before I get to the challenge.

Early in my run, when I’m feeling strong and shiny, I coach myself. “When you get the the Hill, what will your first thought be?”

“I can do this.”

“When you’re tired and stupid with heat and you hit a wall, what will your first thought be?”

“I can do this.” 

And I can.

This technique works for recovery, too. You can plan ahead. “When I see a skinny, perfect woman and I look down at myself to compare, what will my first thought be?” “When I feel like all I want to die, what will my first thought be?” “When I open the refrigerator, what will my first thought be?”

“I am beautiful.”

“This too will pass.”

“I choose recovery.”

Create your own first thoughts. Something that touches you deep. Something you will respect enough in the heat of the moment to flip your attitude for. Over time, these thoughts become automatic, springing up to meet you whenever a trigger is tripped.

“I can do this,” is simple, but for me, it represents a mountain of effort. I can run three miles. I can mount the hill. So I have no excuse to shirk it. I’ve trained for these moments, I know I have the option to be strong. So how could I choose anything else? A single burst of truth can pierce the negative chatter and give you an open door to a different choice.

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How Shakespeare Can Teach You About Recovery

Self-help books, blogs, TV shows, and fabulous online magazines (like this one!) have their place, but they can never bring fully healing. An idea may challenge your perspective (Women Food and God by Geneen Roth rocked my world), but if you find yourself obsessively consuming self-help material, it may be because your eating disorder is feeding on it. In recovery, it’s easy to put all the focus on your eating disorder, when recovery is about embracing a big, fat, juicy life – with so many other facets and streaks of rainbow than bulimia/anorexia/compulsive-overeating. You need to shoot cracks in the walls of your eating disorder centered world.

How? Take a hammer. Read Shakespeare. Pick up an interesting novel and voraciously consume it. Put a book of poetry by your bed and read a poem each night before you sleep. Find a blog on something unrelated to your ED: knitting, writing, art, or mothering. Listen to a band unrelated to self-esteem issues.

Disorders are suffocating. What you’re doing is opening a window.

THE LISTS

Pick one from each list and request it from your library. Right now. I dare you. 

Marvelous Poetry

Ogden Nash

Emily Dickenson

Walt Whitman

Shel Silverstein

Maya Angelou

Robert Frost

Lewis Carroll

Imaginative Classics

Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Light Princess by George MacDonald

Dracula by Bram Stoker

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Breathtaking Modern Novels

So B. It by Sarah Weeks

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Gentle Health

I want to eat healthy without being obsessive. I want my recovery to empower me and I can’t be powerful running on exclusively doughnuts and pizza. But where does self-control and and restriction begin?

Just like in exercise, the balance isn’t an invisible line, it’s an attitude. Introduce health gently. You are strengthening your body, not stripping it down to perfection. Health makes your skin glow, your hair shine, and your energy quadruple. Every choice to add more fruits and veggies, drink more water, or take a multivitamin makes your body perform well in the present and prepares it for the future.

Discover what health means for your body. Maybe you notice that eating a cupcake makes your brain go fuzzy for the next few hours, so you remember not to eat one before a test. Maybe you notice that eating protein with your breakfast makes you feel ready for the day, so you start adding eggs, lean meats, or a protein-infused smoothie.

Never eat something to punish yourself (naked salad is the usual culprit). Never choose not to eat something to punish yourself. Don’t eat guilt or shame when you could be eating delicious food. If you’ve just binged, notice how your body is feeling. Don’t think you can’t possibly eat a freaking meal after what you just did, notice that your stomach is uncomfortably full and you’re feeling lethargic, so you rather drink a cold glass of water. Don’t think oh my gosh you’ve been eating so much sugar stay away from that that cookie, notice how your body is responding to the sugar overload (Do you have a cold? Have you been feeling tired?) and ask yourself, what could I eat right now that would help me feel my best?

But also don’t eat to reward yourself. If you’re succeeded in something fantastic, take yourself out to the movies, go on an adventure, visit a lake or waterfall, call an old friend, or paint a picture.  Reward success with life. Food isn’t life, all it can do is fuel it.

Eat healthy to celebrate your body. Enjoy food and choose an attitude of love and nourishment.

Rebekah Burcham

Peppermint Tea and Chocolate Cake: Loving Food

I loved to cook and bake when I was a kid. I’d invent recipes, thrilled when they were delicious enough to inscribe on my mother’s recipe cards and slip them into her little green cooking box. Most of my creations, like my root-beer strawberry muffins, were flops. But I adored watching my parents and siblings crowd around my gooey chocolate chip cookies with extra vanilla and a smidgen of peanut butter.

People fellowship over food. Just last night I had a marvelous conversation with my best friend as I cooked her fettuccine with mushroom & spinach cheese sauce (yum!). We’ve all been to the requisite potlucks and BBQs and chewed our grandmother’s famous potato salad. People exult over their plates, recipes shuffle. And my dad is one of many men currently attempting to win this year’s rib-off.

When I developed my disorder, I stopped inventing recipes. When I cooked, it was only to create meals that were carefully within my latest diet’s restrictions. Where I used to simmer chicken with spices and wine and olive oil, I now boiled in water, no matter how tough and dry it made my dinner.

Part of my recovery has been to allow myself to enjoy food again. To spontaneously bake a chocolate cake. To sprinkle mint leaves in lemonade. Suddenly it because about the taste, not the calories. Sure, I make healthy substitutions (did you know applesauce can replace oil in muffins? yum!), but I don’t strip my meals to the bone. I can trust my body to tell me when I need to step away from sweets or when I’m not hungry anymore.

Food gives you energy to live a big, fat, juicy life. But it’s not just fuel – it’s also enjoyable. Allow yourself to feel that again. Enjoying food doesn’t mean you’ll gain fifty pounds. It doesn’t mean you’ll never stop eating. It’s just that the space food occupies in your life can be a pleasant one. And once you’re done with your dish, you’ll move onto the next scrumptious adventure: rock climbing, the movies, succeeding at your job, or kissing your baby’s cheeks.

So here’s my challenge to you: don your toque. Make a recipe today. Bake french bread or make chocolate chip cookies. Make muffins or pasta with homemade sauce. Fish. Chicken. Stuffed tomatoes with mushrooms.

Bon appétit! 


Rebekah Burcham

Loving Movement

Exercise can be a flourishing flair of recovery, but it can also suck you back into an ocean of obsession like a riptide.  How do we claim the first and not the last? It’s not “a fine line,” it’s an attitude adjustment.

Exercise should never be punishment. You should never run three miles to erase the damage from a slice of cherry pie. You should never repeat to yourself “please please please make me skinny skinny skinny” as you strength train. Exercise should never occupy a place of guilt.  

Movement is at its most healing, nourishing, and beautifying when it is loving movement. I run because I love to run, because I love to feel strong and successful, and because I love to celebrate the muscles of my legs and my core. I am delighting in my body as it is today, a body capable of deep breaths and running more miles than I ever thought possible. I also delight in what I’m creating my body to be – healthy energetic, active, able to complete a 10k race.

Exercise isn’t always fun, even when done as loving movement, but you can still use exercise to cherish yourself when it’s hard and hot and painful. You know you’ll feel better later, and you know you are building strength that you will enjoy later (remember – hard workouts aren’t exceptions to the wonderful workouts, hard workouts create the wonderful workouts). You aren’t saying, “If you don’t run three miles you are a complete loser, a weakling, a lazy lump.”  You’re saying, “Even though this is hard, I’m doing this for you.” 

But some days you’re sick, you’re exhausted, or your beautiful labrador died. Some days it might be more loving to curl up with a blanket and a cuppa tea. Loving movement is perseverant, but it is also flexible. 

Play! Try out zumba, yoga, rock climbing, running, dancing in your basement to Frank Sinatra. Find something you genuinely enjoy, something that won’t be a black hole in your to-do list.

Move your body, celebrate yourself.

Rebekah Burcham

Rethink

Photo by Manatari

You have control over your thoughts.  What you feed your brain – books, magazines, blogs – has a huge impact on how you think, but there’s another factor at play.  You can work from the outside-in,  transforming your media diet, or from the inside-out, taking captive every thought.  And as someone wise once said, “When you change your thoughts, you change your world.”

When you catch yourself reeling down a river of ED obsession, you have the power to step out. When you catch yourself disconnecting from the people around you, burrowing into your brain and turning over calories, you can choose to stop and re-engage in conversation. When you catch yourself determining the BMIs of every person on the street, you can choose to stop and notice hair color, outfits, or focus on stores and cars instead. You can direct your thoughts, you are not powerless to them.

As you redirect your thoughts, it will feel like you are just distracting yourself from the inevitable. You’ll eye others suspiciously and wonder, “What does everyone else think about?” You’ll feel empty, nervous. You may feel like if you stop thinking about your ED, you’ll lose something, miss something else.  Scribble down any thoughts that stubbornly resurface, then let them go.  All these feelings will pass.

You may not be able to maintain a clear brain forever in the beginning. But you can take small breaks from disorderland. And those breaks will open space in your life for growth and discovery to happen.

We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. -1 Cor. 10:5b

Rebekah Burcham

The Law

Eating disorders create a Law. If we only eat this while exercising like this, we would live a perfect day. We create our own moral code. These foods are “clean.” These foods are “unclean.” Thin is “right,” fat is “wrong.” Anorexia rigidly adheres to the Law. Bulimia purges mistakes against the Law. Compulsive overeating surrenders to never attaining the Law. Each disorder becomes enslaved to it. The Law is partly created from food rules. Don’t eat after 8pm. Don’t eat sweets. Purge after you binge. Then there are the rules that have nothing to do with food. Never get below a B in school. Run a 5 minute mile. Never disappoint my family. Always appear happy.

There’s a perfect law in the Bible, too. Eating disorder law offers a perfect body, God’s law offers a perfect body, mind, and soul. His law also offers purity and perfection – if it is followed flawlessly. Never tell a lie. Circumcise your boys. Don’t ever worship anything above God – including thinness. But like an eating disorder’s law, God’s law is impossible to follow perfectly. “For the law always brings punishment on those who try to obey it,” reads Romans 3:15.  “The only way to avoid breaking the law is to have no law to break!”

You will never be perfect. You can’t. You will never have perfect grades, perfect sport performance, perfect eating, perfect exercise, a perfect body, perfect kindness, perfect strength, perfect self-esteem, or even a perfect recovery. As long as you fight to fulfill your Law (or God’s law!), you will always be striving to fix yourself. But sooner or later, you will always fail. Laws are unforgiving. They have no wiggle room. Either you are perfect, or you are an outlaw.

But you don’t have to fight anymore.

Take a deep breath. Imagine what it would feel like to surrender the war. To lay down the voices (fat ugly failure die). To release the Law. Does it feel warm, June sunshine melting the last chill of spring? Does it feel abruptly empty, like the walking downstairs in the dark and thinking there is one more stair than there really is? Don’t say, it’s impossible or I’d get fat. Rest for thirty seconds. Tell yourself the story of freedom.

You can be freed from this law. You can be just as perfect when munching a brownie as when munching a carrot. You can be just as valuable when running for three minutes as when running for three hours. You can be just as pure when vomiting your binge as when diving into another box of Oreos. You don’t have to purify yourself through fasting, vomiting, laxatives, or overexercise. Purity that can’t ever be torn away is already at your lips. This is a perfection that can’t be screwed up by an extra slice of pizza, or even an extra pie of pizza. This is a purity that can’t be improved by fasting for a week or weighing your gloryhallelujah goal weight.

God has a path to perfection that rises above the law.  “God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord,” Paul writes in Romans 5:20.

We’ve experienced death coming from law. The death of our dreams, our identity, our hope, our friendships. We can also experience life through Jesus Christ. When his grace rules over us in place of our eating disorder’s law, we are completely covered by his perfection. Our disasters are scrubbed away by Jesus’ strength and forgiveness – not our desperate measures to erase ourselves. We are enfolded in his love, and his love covers our sins, making us pure, righteous, and beautiful, no matter what sins we commit against the law.

Recovery Notebook Exploration

What rules do you believe in? Watch yourself over the rest of the day to see if you discover more.  You can tell if a rule by your response when you break it. Are you overwhelmed with self-revulsion? Do you scrabble to justify yourself?  How do you respond to others when they get in the way of you fulfilling your Law? (Personally, I’m tempted to hang them up by their toes and carve their heart out with a spoon).

Rebekah Burcham

Pro-Recovery

Photo by Tom Newby

The pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia cyberworld is like a family. Sisters standing beside sisters, whispering “stay strong,” sharing bracelets, trading secrets. Texting buddies, challenges, comments, twisted poetry reaching warm tendrils deep inside our hearts. We belong. If we could just be sick enough, they would be proud of us. But it’s not a family. It’s more like a cult, choking and drowning its members. “Stay strong” sends girls into hospital beds. Twisted poetry sends girls to suicide. We sucked the life from each other in order to keep our own selves sick. We fueled the darkness in each other in order to snuff out our own last stubborn stains of light.

When I was pro-ana & pro-mia, I encouraged a 12 year old girl to keep starving herself. She was 80 pounds. Recovery was in her grasp, her family was supportive, the hospital was fresh in her memory. But I encouraged her. “Stay strong,” I whispered. I stole from her all I could with my words. “Stay strong.” Nothing can express my guilt, my sorrow. Darling sister, if you read this, know you don’t have to be strong anymore. You don’t have to fight this fight. Recovery is so much sweeter. Bones are just another cage. Abundant life is at your fingertips.

Companionship is healing. Strangers standing up for each other, anonymous screen names leaving a precious word of encouragement, fragile friendships blooming. So let’s continue to create a community of pro-recovery. I’m already so encouraged at the wonderful blogs I’ve discovered here. Let’s continue to email, talk, blog, post, journal, speak just as fervently as we did when we were gripped with the fever of our disorder. Let’s flood each other with light. Let’s use language to split open lies. Let’s leave long, heart-open messages on strangers’ blogs. Let’s reach out until our arms are aching with fullness.

We fought with darkness. Now we will burn with light.

I love you all, my sisters in recovery. Thank you for your journeys, your honesty, your lives. You give me hope. And you give hope to everyone around you.

Rebekah Burcham

Intuitive Eating

The Movement

Intuitive eating is returning to your natural eating instincts. When you’re hungry, you eat. When you’re full, you stop.  It’s as simple as that.

Children eat intuitively naturally. But life gets messy. We begin using food to cope with the hurts and fears of life. We use food to break ourselves if we’re afraid of being whole. We use food to make ourselves feel whole if we’re afraid of being broken. Food becomes our drug. We use it to medicate depression, fear, joy, and stress. We use dieting and weight loss in the same way. We punish ourselves with starving or create an impossible goal of Perfect Thinness that we have to reach before we face our lives. Bleary and lost, we become separated from our lives by our weight and eating.

Intuitive eating is a tool to cut through this food abuse and reach our lives. Through intuitive eating, we can feel our feelings instead of eating them. We can nourish our bodies, then release the excess. We’re free to eat chocolate mousse for breakfast or to eat salad for lunch. We can learn to eat just one – or to allow ourselves to eat seconds. It’s flexible, personal, and begins to sound a whole lot like normal eating.

People with eating disorders can’t eat normally. You can’t pick up intuitive eating and expect to slide easily into recognizing your body’s signals. If you embrace intuitive eating, at first you may not distinguish thirst from hunger or tiredness from thirst. You may find that you don’t get hungry. You may find that you get nothing but hungry. Be patient with yourself. If you are diligent in nourishing your body, it will begin to heal, and you will become familiar with its needs.

Trust your body to make up for lapses in eating, whether you eat too much today or too little tomorrow. Your body is an incredible instrument. Cherish it, and you will begin to understand it more. It will take time, but you can eat normally. And intuitive eating can help you get there.

Explore

Text: Intuitive Eating Guidelines by Geneen Roth, Photo: Rebekah Burcham

Visit Intuitive Eating.com, a wonderful resource on this philosophy.

Read Women Food and God by Geneen Roth. I don’t agree with her spirituality, but she has a beautiful perspective and discusses how our relationship to our world can be discovered through our relationship to food.

Watch Josie Lenore‘s youtube vlog. She’s incredible! She explores topics like wantpower over willpower, problem-solving over self-comforting, and – of course –  intuitive eating.

The Fat-O’-Sphere

The Movement

We say we’ll be successful and dream-fulfilling and athletic and happy – when we’re thin. Our fat becomes our excuse. We put off our lives until we achieve this magical state. And those who are already thin are still looking for that magic – the magic that supermodels exude from the runways, the magic that cheerleaders and dancers are supposedly showered with. When we look at that belief, we realize its silliness, but it still festers in the back of our minds.

We can achieve our athletic dreams in the body we have now. We can travel, publish our novel, meet our prince charming, dance in public, win a competition in the body we have now. We don’t have to wait to be thinner, tanner, more toned, more exfoliated, more fashionable. Who we are right now is enough.

The Fat-O’-Sphere is a network of blogs, sites, galleries, and people that makes up the Fat Acceptance movement. In its extreme form, it is tumblrs splattered with images of obese women in lingerie, spurning skinny people in an effort to grab equal rights for overweight individuals, but the more sane, educated bunch are about accepting our bodies at whatever weight we already are – freeing us to love and care for ourselves.

The Fat Acceptance movement is about, well, accepting fat. It’s about being realistic about the actual threat of obesity and expecting the same treatment of obese and overweight individuals as their thinner counterparts. Even if you don’t agree with the movement, it is so refreshing to read the words of these Fat-O’-Sphere writers. They are rebels, unafraid of taking up space or declaring their opinions.

It would be difficult to find a movement so contrary to the voices of your eating disorder!

However, as you explore, make sure you remember that sexual desirableness doesn’t make you a woman. What makes you a woman is your love for others, your aliveness of spirit, your gentleness as well as your impertinent rebellions, your strength as well as your sweetness. Your womanness is found in what you do and who you are, not what you look like. You don’t have to prove that you’re sexually appealing to prove that you are valuable. You are already valuable. 

Fat Doesn’t Make You Lazy, Mean, Ugly, Jealous, Petty, Self-Loathing, or anything else. Fat makes you fat. Nothing more, nothing less.

Further Exploration

Here are the highlights of the Fat-o’-Sphere. Some of these links are currently updated, some of them are not, but they are all worth exploring. 

Associations

Association for Size Diversity and Health

National Association for Advancing Fat Acceptance

Health at Every SizeConsider signing the pledge!

Blogs and Vlogs

Shapely Prose

Joy Nash’s Fat Rants

Size Atedeals specifically eating disorder recovery

Articles and Individual Posts: For & Against

Geez Article Reprinted on “Two Whole Cakes”: Why the World Needs Fat Acceptance

Time Magazine: A Brief History of the Fat-Acceptance Movement

“Rogue Priest”: Concerns About Fat Acceptance  (Comments are also valuable)
Pictures