HOW I HEALED MY EATING DISORDER, PART 2.
It was noon on a Friday and I'd just finished class at UCLA Law School. I was stressed: I had a paper due Monday and I hadn't even started researching yet. Meanwhile, my best friend's birthday party was scheduled for that evening and I was worried about how I would balance being a good friend with studying. I slid into the front seat of my car, folded down the sun shade and stared at myself in the mirror. I knew I needed to hit the books, but I was almost too stressed to get started. I needed to do something to calm down. So I folded up the mirror, turned the key in the ignition, and drove straight to Sprinkles Cupcakes in Beverly Hills, already feeling ashamed of what I knew I was about to do.
"I'll take a dozen." I told the slim brunette behind the counter in her crisp, white apron.
"Okay which flavors would you like?" Was she looking at me judgmentally, or was it just my my imagination?
"Oh these are for my friend," I lied. "It's her birthday and she loves chocolate. So anything with chocolate. Chocolate chips, chocolate icing. Surprise me!"
But of course the cupcakes weren't for my friend. I drove straight back to my apartment and devoured each and every one, hating myself as I savored each bite of sugary sponge cake and buttery frosting. I licked the wrappers, throwing them into a messy pile in the box in front of me. I felt horrible, physically and emotionally. So I went straight to the bathroom to throw up. But unlike the gallons of Dreyers Ice Cream that came up so easily, the cupcakes just wouldn't come up. My stomach and heart ached. I was a failure. I'd never get this paper done. I'd never be a size 0. I'd never be good enough. And now I felt too sick to go to my friend's party, so I was a bad friend, too.
This was the reality of my life for more years than I care to tell you. And as much of a living hell as it was, I know my story is not uncommon. I used to be ashamed and embarrassed by it. Once I came clean, shared my struggles, and made the decision to heal for good, I realized that so many people (both women AND men) are going through the same thing whether it’s bulimia compulsive eating, anorexia, orthorexia, or even just an unhealthy preoccupation with food.
I’m living proof that you can completely heal. One hundred percent. Even if you’re like me, and have been struggling for YEARS.
If you didn’t read my first post on my path to recovery, please start there. That’s where you’ll find the first two steps in my recovery process – and I highly recommend you follow the same process if you’re struggling with your own food issues.
But once you’ve acknowledged the problem and told someone, then what? While you’re off to a great start, those two things alone won’t heal you.
Here are MY next four steps towards recovery:
1 Find a therapist, or at the very least, someone who is NOT a family member or friend, that you can talk to, 1-2x each week. Consider these non-negotiable meetings that take priority over everything else you’ve got going on in your busy life. When you first start, you’ll be excited and gladly cancel your social plans to make time for them because you know HELP and RELIEF is on the way. But the more you start going, it will start feeling like a chore and you’ll want to cancel. Why? Because after you break through the facades and masks you’ve been wearing for maybe your whole life, then the REAL WORK BEGINS.
You can no longer hide. You’re starting to expose your entire being to a stranger. And that’s exactly what you need to do or else it’s pointless. So if you came home from school the night before, ate 5 bags of chips, a gallon of ice cream, a few candy bars, and wallowed in that misery, you need to tell your person. (And yes, I’m giving you specifics because I’ve done it, too.) Come clean. Once you do, then you can start to work on the behavior, and the HEALING begins.
So don’t even think about cancelling your standing appointments. It’s like yoga – those poses that you hate doing are the ones you need most. They make you uncomfortable, and you need to SIT IN THAT DISCOMFORT and work that shit out.
You might be wondering—how do I find the right therapist for me?
Knowing where to begin and how to find your person is really hard. Spend a little time Googling therapists in your area who specialize in eating disorders. Find out which ones accept your insurance and start there…but don’t rule out those who don’t bill to insurance. Many will often work on a sliding scale based on what you can afford.
There are also differences in the types of therapists that are available: you can find a psychotherapist, a psychotherapist with expertise in eating disorders, a psychiatrist, or a life coach. Do your research and understand how these professionals differ in their approaches, then choose the level of care that feels right for you. For example, a psychotherapist uses cognitive and behavioral therapy techniques to address root causes; a psychiatrist often uses the same techniques, but they can also prescribe medication. Life coaches are just that…coaches, and can be great resources as well.
I chose to work with a psychiatrist because I felt that specialized training in mental illness would greatly benefit a complicated person like me. And as someone who is impressed by educational accolades (that’s the lawyer in me), my doctor was the head of psychiatry at UCSF. He’s also not a pill pusher and doesn’t think that medicine is the solution for all of life’s problems, though if it’s needed, he’ll prescribe it. Remember, there is NO SHAME in whatever route you choose.
Once you’ve made a list of potential matches, start scheduling some appointments. You might not connect with the first person you meet, and that’s okay. Ideally, you want someone who’s going to give you tough love, provide lots of objectivity, and give you a safe space to fully express yourself. I wasn’t looking for someone who was going to sit back and empathize with my struggles. I wanted someone with a strong opinion and guided expertise to give me the tough love I needed to pick myself up and fight for my freedom. You don’t want a pushover or a doormat.
After you’ve found your person, go to meetings weekly -- even twice a week if you can afford it. And if none of these are options for you, find someone who isn’t a friend or a family member to talk to. Because a stranger will be able to provide the objectivity that you need and isn’t intertwined with your life.
2 Buy my favorite book, Brain Over Binge. Read every single word and highlight every sentence that speaks to you. In this book, you will learn that the urge to binge is actually rooted in your own brain and not necessarily linked to things that may have happened in your past. It presents a very logical approach to the problem and a pragmatic solution to making lasting change. I truly believe that, along with regular therapy sessions, this book CHANGED MY LIFE. I think this book can help anyone with an eating disorder, even if it’s not binge eating.
3 Eliminate sugar from your diet, or at least reduce it drastically. Sugar is a drug that’s been proven to be just as addictive as cocaine. The more sugar you eat, the more your body craves, and it’s easy to get into a vicious cycle. Cutting the amount of sugar in your diet reduces the urge to binge. So, for lasting recovery, you MUST, MUST, MUST cut the amount of sugar in your diet. If you have been binging for a long time, it’s really hard to do because your body craves it, but it gets easier after about a week. And once you get that sugar out of your system, your body will crave real food. Eating those fresh, nourishing foods in the right amounts will make you feel good again. Bye-bye to the bloat, bye-bye to the cravings, and hello to the energy and will to fight for your healing. Work with your therapist or coach on little tips and tricks for reducing the sugar. You’ll thank me.
4 Do something that will help you learn more about yourself and teach you a new skill. This will be different for everyone, but for me, I enrolled in a yoga teacher training in San Francisco. At the time, I was practicing law and working insane hours, and I had to sneak out of the office to make it happen.
I didn’t enroll in teacher training with the intention to teach (though I left that door open). I did it to better myself and find modalities of healing in any way that sounded interesting to me. I learned how to meditate (though I still hate it), how to speak in front of people and find my voice, and how to make myself vulnerable in front of a large group of people. I also immersed myself in ancient wisdom and teachings, and found my teacher, Stephanie Snyder who holds me accountable to this very day.
Yoga teacher training might not be for you. So what is the ONE thing you’ve been curious about exploring? Identify it and make it happen. I know these things don’t come for free, but they’re worth saving for. And don’t be afraid to ask for discounts -- the worst they can say is “no!”
5 Start making changes and carving out your new path. I learned a LOT about myself from all of the therapy, reading, yoga training, and sharing with my loved ones. I learned that a lot of my issues stemmed from a family member’s appearance-based valuation of herself and me. I learned that I had the power to control my binges and I could STOP the vicious cycle. I also learned that I used food to cope with the stress and unhappiness I felt in my career practicing law. The important takeaway here is that once I took the power into my own hands and actively starting looking to heal, I learned everything I needed to heal, and to heal for good. And the good news is, that if I can recover and overcome over 15 years of this shit, so can you.
Armed with my newfound knowledge, I put the plans in place to get out of my career and rid myself of toxic relationships that were holding me back from FOOD FREEDOM.
No one said any of this would be EASY. It’s not. But it’s WORTH IT.
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