Bravery for Breakfast: The “Small” Acts That Change Our Lives

Three years ago last week, I launched Girl Boner® on my blog. I heard a range of reactions when folks first learned of the series. “OHMYGOD, you’re doing porn?” asked one woman. (Um…no. But good guess!) “Girls get BONERS?” asked others. (Yep! Learn more here.)

Numerous others told me how brave I was for openly discussing sexuality. I appreciate that sentiment, trust me—but to me, Girl Boner® has always felt natural and exciting. So while I’ve certainly had my share of giddy butterflies along the way, I’m not sure brave is the term I’d use.

There are many definitions of brave: possessing or fearless, exhibiting courage, daring beyond discretion, to defy. To me, brave doesn’t mean an absence of fear, but moving forward in spite of it. A brave soul lets something greater than fearfulness drive them, often accepting scariness as part of the deal.

I’ll tell you about a time I really felt heroic.

I was in my early twenties, and had decided to turn my life around amid my struggle with a severe eating disorder. I’m not talking about the day I collapsed in Paris many of you are familiar with, but the morning I woke up after an intense binge, having consumed enough to feed a small family for a full day in one sitting. Stomach distended and palms sweating, I sat at the kitchen table with a bowl of cereal, struggling to put spoon after spoon in my mouth, reminding myself of the commitment I’d made the night before:

I won’t let you live this way anymore… Try something new.

As I savored these banana pancakes and veggie sausage the other day, the ease wasn't lost on me.

As I savored these banana pancakes and veggie sausage the other day, the ease wasn’t lost on me. #savoredeverybite

To end the binging/starving cycle and heal from the disorder that ruled my every moment, I knew I had to wake up that morning and eat a post-binge breakfast. No attempts to “compensate” through starving. No excessive, self-punishing exercise. Just…breakfast. The seemingly simple act billions of people around the world do daily without much thought seemed to shatter my heart that day, as much as it would begin to make it whole again.

Forcing thoughts of I love you…You’re going to be okay, I made it through the meal I, for once, hadn’t measured or over-analyzed, finding a smidgen of light on the other side. It would take months (upon months) of such efforts, but eventually the “love” I’d professed felt authentic and I wasn’t merely okay, but more vibrantly alive.

Not long after, I began to recognize the link between my body image issues and a lack of sexual empowerment, changing the course of my life and eventually leading me to Girl Boner®. I can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened had I let E.D. win and skipped that meal that day. Sometimes it’s the seemingly smallest of steps that have the most profound impact.

I’ve had bravery on my mind a lot lately, much thanks to some very special women.

Very soon, I’ll release my first non-fiction book, Embraceable: Empowering Facts and True Stories About Women’s Sexuality. It features not only my own story of self, body and sexual embracement, but those of over fifteen other women who’ve fought their way to the same.

One common thread throughout the book is bravery. It’s tragic to me that embracing our full selves—including our sexuality—has become such a rare and bold act, particularly considering the devastation that can derive if we never do so. All of this, I feel, makes this book and these women’s stories particularly important.

I can’t thank you all enough for sharing in my Girl Boner® journey thus far, and hope you’ll stay tuned for more details on the book. In the meantime, as the incredible author Cheryl Strayed shared at an event last week—on Girl Boner®’s third birthday, as chance or fate would have it—stay brave! I’m cheering for each and every one of you. ♥

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When have you felt brave? Has a seemingly “small” act made a huge different in your life? If so, I’d love to hear about it!

Navigating July 4th: How to Find Freedom From Food Angst

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart. I am. I am. I am.” — Sylvia Plath

Plath’s quote helped me through numerous occasions when it was all I could do to simply breathe. July 4th used to be one of them. Holidays can be incredibly stressful when you have an eating disorder, ranging from mildly stressful to panic attack inducing. I’m grateful that all of that’s in my past now, and saddened by the vast number of people who can relate.

If you are one of them, I hope you’ll find the following post helpful. I’m honored to be a guest on the National Eating Disorders Association’s blog, sharing tips on navigating the 4th of July when food, your thoughts and your body seem like enemies. I seriously wish I could hug you! Instead, I bring you this:

NEDA July 4

To read the full post, click the above image or this link

Anais Nin_courage

Wishing you all a safe, healthy and happy weekend. ♥

Food Anxiety and Disordered Eating: Holiday Survival Strategies

“Change happens when you understand what you want to change so deeply that there is no reason to do anything but act in your own best interest.” — Geneen Roth

From festive tunes and decor to gift exchanges and gatherings, the holiday season fills me with child-like glee. All throughout, however, I’m cognizant of the fact that many people have near opposite views due to food angst. As someone who’s endured it and now mentors folks in its grasp, I know too well the depth of disordered eating pain. I wish I could multiply and divvy up my joy and inject it into every person suffering. Since I lack that super power, I’ll instead share some useful strategies with hopes that they might find appropriate eyes.

Even when food is the enemy and everywhere, you’re not as alone as you feel.

8 Ways to Manage Food-Related Anxiety Through the Holidays

1. Know you’re not alone. Little feels as lonely as fighting inner-food demons amidst gleeful bashes, and little fuels those demons like loneliness. One-third of holiday stress derives from overindulgence, according to Mental Health America. Add to that the fear of being judged or watched and  general food-related discomfort and it’s safe to say that you’re far from solitary. Considering how hidden many of these issues are, it’s likely that someone nearby struggles similarly. While you’d never wish your challenges on others, viewing yourself as one of many courageous folks who “get” it can help.

2. Confide in a personal cheerleader. Many of us have at least one person in our court who we can openly confide in during tough times. Share your concerns with that person before stressful events. If you fear mid-feast panic, have a code word or signal ready, along with a plan of action. When you ask your cheerleader a particular question, for example, he or she could ask you to step away to help you with something. If the person is a distance away, keep your phone at the ready for an SOS text or call.

3. Plan ahead food-wise. Keep “safe foods,” foods you’re comfortable with, well-stocked in your kitchen and workplace. Bring dishes you can eat with ease to holiday events, with plenty to share. Avoid arriving to parties and feasts on an empty, rumbling stomach. Eating a balanced snack beforehand can help reduce anxiety physically and emotionally. Balanced snacks, containing complex carbohydrates and protein, help your brain produce and utilize calming brain chemicals and staves off overeating. Have whole grain cereal with low-fat milk, for example, or yogurt topped with fruit. (Neither will make you “fat.”)

4. Get creativeI’m not talking about creative ways of food avoidance or pound shedding, which can fuel anxiety. Invest that energy into something therapeutic. Creativity helps take our minds off of stress, allows us to work through challenging emotions and provides emotional fulfillment. Sing. Write. Bake (if you’re comfortable doing so). Draw. Paint. Dance. I’ve personally found free writing, writing quickly and without judgment, near miraculous. For a useful free-writing exercise, check out Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages.

5. If you’re concerned about overeating or riddled with guilt for doing so, try to cut yourself some slack. Everyone feasts on occasion. One calorie-laden meal or day, or even several, won’t break your wellness or trigger “fatness.” Starving ourselves to make up for overeating by depriving the body of nourishment and making way for the bingeing/starving roller coaster, however, can. Even if you don’t attempt to compensate, guilt and self-loathing aren’t helpful to anyone. If you end up bingeing, forgive yourself and move on by eating, rather than skipping, your next meal.

6. Try not to view foods as “good” or “bad.” Demonizing certain foods makes them more tempting, increases stress and perpetuates negative attitudes and behaviors. All foods provide nutrients. Our bodies need carbohydrates, protein and fat to function and thrive. Many holiday foods, such as turkey, whole grain bread, potatoes, pumpkin and cranberries, are chock-full of vitamins and minerals. Emphasize healthy fare and, if you’re able and interested, allow yourself treats. Eating a modest-sized, rich dessert when you’re desiring it keeps it from turning into a craving, which can facilitate bingeing. Once you’re finished, engage in something non-food related, pronto.

7. Give yourself permission to opt out. If a particular event is too much to manage emotionally, decline. Tell the organizer you’re not feeling well and make tentative plans to catch up with friends and family another time on more comfortable grounds. People who care about you wouldn’t want you to attend a function that feels debilitating. (Would you force a friend who’s deathly afraid of flying onto an airplane?) Opting out when it “in” seems impossible isn’t selfish, but self-nurturing.

8. Focus on others. When the food monster overtakes your brain, it can feel all-consuming. While it’s understandable and not your fault, it’s a highly selfish state. What can you do to brighten another’s day? Seek the good in people and offer compliments. Ask questions about people’s lives with genuine curiosity. Hug loved ones. Send greeting cards. Volunteer. A bit of warmth will help others who may be equally anxious, and give you far more in return.

For more information on eating to quell food-related angst, check out my recent articles:

Love the Skin You’re In: Putting Order Back in Disordered Eating LIVESTRONG.com
Nourish Your Body, Nurture YourSELF: Bolstering Your Self-Esteem with a Healthy Diet LIVESTRONG.com
Food Cravings: Demystifying Intense Desires for Certain Foods LIVESTRONG.com
Foods That Increase Serotonin and Induce Sleep The Nest Magazine
The FulFillment Diet: Pursuing Passion FIRST Bartlett’s Integrated Health Journal

I’d love to hear from you. Have you or a loved one grappled with food stress over the holidays? Any pointers to add? Questions to share? If you’d prefer to share thoughts privately, feel free to write me directly. I’ll also be having a quiet Thanksgiving, so if you’re struggling and feel like chatting, find me on Facebook or Twitter.

Does Dirt Have Calories? — My Story

I awoke that morning as I did most mornings while living in Paris—woozy, exhausted and determined. During what should’ve been a pinnacle in the modeling career I’d held dear, I was enraptured and controlled by an eating disorder. Where logic would’ve told me to get some rest, nourish my body and tend to the day’s work responsibilities, E.D. commanded I wake up and run! Breakfast, castings, agency meetings and photo shoots would have to wait; my sole priority was the upkeep of my disease.

My emaciated body had been surviving on carrots, sugarless ice tea and Coke Light, yet felt gigantic and punishable. If I could eat as little as possible and burn far more than I chewed, I might finally reach thinness—i.e., happiness, success and perfection. I had to run.

I slipped my feet into my worn out, blood-stained sneakers, stepped out of my tiny Parisian flat and headed toward the Seine. The Eiffel Tower came into full view atop the pastel haze of the sunrise—a living, breathing Monet. It’s beauty could’ve taken a blind man’s breath away, I wrote in my journal. I didn’t deserve it. 

The dewy earth squished beneath my feet as I ran to the rhythm of calorie-counting. Forty-five plus six plus ten… Plus five plus ten plus three… I estimated the ‘damage’ from the day prior then plotted an itinerary of exercise and occasional food bits to compensate. So accustomed to ignoring the dizziness and fatigue accompanying me, anything else would’ve felt foreign. But this time was different.

I observed that the dip in the ground ahead looked like an adult-size cradle. Perhaps I knew what was coming.

I ran with increasing dizziness and pain, as though a metal clamp squeezed my brain. Run! Don’t stop! You can’t. Tears stung at my eyes as I tried to outrun the inevitable. I fell to the ground, as though in slow motion. And for a brief, savory moment, I felt weightless.

I awoke later, lying in the grassy cradle, the taste of blood and dirt in my mouth. Rather than wonder how long I’d been there or if I’d been hurt, one thought filled me with terror: Does dirt have calories? 

I don’t recall who found me or how I made it to the medical center, only the words of the British doctor: “You have anorexia. Do you understand what that means? You could’ve died. You could die.”

Her words blurred together like fog on a windshield as my thoughts went wild. She’s crazy! I can’t have anorexia. Please don’t make me eat… I felt neither thin nor “skilled” enough to have a disorder characterized by starvation. Sure, I had problems—the “cancer in my soul” I’d journaled about. I felt physically and emotionally rotted and weak, but couldn’t make sense of anything. I only knew I had to go home.

The week after I arrived in Minneapolis, I began treatment and fought harder to remain ill. Once I accepted my diagnosis, anorexia seemed the one special thing about me. If I let it go, what was left? The word ‘recovery’ seemed synonymous with ‘fatness,’ ‘failure’ and ‘mediocrity.’

As my starving measures increased, my emotional and physical self tolerated them less and less. My therapist repeatedly threatened in-patient treatment. I lied, promising I would eat more and gain necessary weight.

Finally, one of my worst nightmares came true. In a moment of despair, I gave in to my longing for a single bite of chocolate ice cream. As I placed the dollop of creamy cold sweetness into my mouth, my entire body trembled. I felt intoxicated, a sense of danger, head-to-toe orgasm, temporary relief. But one bite turned into two, then six, then all that remained of the half gallon. The fatty cream sat like a putrid rock in my shrunken stomach. I’d never felt so ashamed.

The bingeing/starving roller coaster that followed was the most excruciating and important occurrences in my recovery. At its worst, I entered what my therapist called a “bulimic trance.” The bingeing took over and I had little awareness of all I’d consumed until I found myself sobbing amidst wrappers and crumbs.

As weight returned to my body, friends and family told me how healthy I looked.

“You’re filling out so nicely!” The well-intended comment haunted me for months. Desperate to stop bingeing, I decided to take my treatment more seriously.

“I will do anything to stop this,” I told my therapist.

“Good,” she said. “It starts with eating. After you binge, don’t skip your next meal.”

Anything but that. I resisted her instructions, holding staunchly to the belief that if I were just strong enough, I could attain the thinness I desired and stop bingeing at once. It sounded Utopian. Meanwhile, I mourned the loss of my anorexia like a lost soulmate.

One night, after a fast ended in a gargantuan binge, I hit bottom. I considered gulping the poison I’d used on occasion to vomit, aware of the life-threatening risks. I didn’t want to die, but I couldn’t bear life as I knew it. In a fury, I scavenged the house for the tiny bottle. When I couldn’t find it, my heart raced. I struggled to breathe.

Then something remarkable happened. Incapable of purging in any of my viable methods, I calmed down. Calmness brought clarity. Rather than plot restriction strategies for the coming days, I began plotting a future free of ED.

I walked with trepidation to my wall mirror and looked not at my hips, belly or thighs, but into my eyes. The head-on stare punctured the swollen balloon of hurt inside me, releasing sobs.

“You can’t live like this anymore!” I told my reflection. “I won’t let you hate yourself so much. This is not who you are.” I didn’t know what I was fighting for, but my instincts said, don’t give up.

My anger at ED and proclamations in the mirror were the first signs of self-love I’d displayed in years, the light switch in the dark cave I lived in. If I managed to turn it on, I knew my life would change.

I threw my “skinny clothes” and scale in a dumpster and removed the size tags from clothes that fit. I told myself that for one year, I would not diet, starve or make any other attempts at weight loss. If I gained weight during that year, so be it. The next morning, with trembling hands and tears flooding my cheeks, I ate breakfast.

Though I wanted to forego my commitments frequently over the subsequent weeks, I held fast. The bingeing continued at first, as did my weight gain, until I nearly doubled my lowest weight. If I have to start over every day, I will, I wrote. And start over again and again I did. I had nothing to lose by trying and everything to lose by not.

Months later, I was no longer dieting, starving or bingeing and my life was beginning to feel like a life. I was in college, making friends, writing songs and even, on occasion, laughing. But my recovery had reached a plateau. I felt awkward eating around others, anxious about eating too much or too little. The slightest pangs of hunger or fullness put me on edge. I saw plates of calories and felt guilty when I indulged. And though I resisted, I longed to diet. ED hadn’t left. He’d only grown quieter.

One day over steaming cups of Indian tea, my mom handed me a CD with a song she and my dad wanted me to hear: Lee Ann Womack’s, “I Hope You Dance.”

“It’s time to find joy,” she said. (And here I’d thought I had everyone fooled…)

The song’s message about “dancing,” which I took to mean many joyful things, hit me with profound force.

That evening I sat at a park watching a group of friends picnicking, captivated by a woman around my age. After a bite of her hearty sandwich, she closed her eyes, tipped her head back and said, “This is so good!” I longed for an ounce of her joy.

I’d been eating because I was “supposed” to, promised others I would and never wanted to go off the bingeing/starving deep end again. In order to fully recover, I had to manifest joy around eating.

I knew it was possible because I’d experienced it. My childhood love affair with food seemed insatiable. Family photographs portray a bubbly, smiling girl holding an ice cream cone, sitting before a luminous birthday cake or about to take a chomp out of a fresh red apple from our backyard tree. Before bed, I often asked my parents what the next day’s breakfast would entail, “so I could dream about it.”

Food for my family meant togetherness. Birthday celebrations, picnics by the lake, nightly home cooked meals—a special bond and a clay we used to build memories. Until fear and ED had creeped in. No more, I decided.

I began studying food with a velocity I’d only previously applied to treadmills. I wanted to discover its goodness and stop dreaming of ways to avoid it. What did particular foods do for me? If not for managing weight, why did people eat them? How could I eat healthfully, and not by diet book standards of what that was?

I began addressing a self-compiled “I’m afraid of” list. Eat in public. Eat at a restaurant, alone. Eat a meal prepared by others without demanding particulars. Eat the ice cream that triggered my first binge—one serving at a time.

I traded my diet books for medical and dietetic texts that defined food as fuel, a necessary means of nutrients, and obtained my certification in nutrition. I cooked, experimented with foods I’d never tried and volunteered at soup kitchens. I stopped aiming for dietary perfection. Multiple studies had convinced me that such increased my risk for bingeing, obesity, anxiety, depression and sleep problems—pretty much everything on my “No, thank you” list.

It took numerous attempts of arriving at an upscale restaurant alone before I dined there and several more before I enjoyed the food without heavy perspiration or heart palpitations. I wept over a homemade candlelit dinner for one, served on my grandmother’s china. I stocked my kitchen with food until it felt warm, loved and lived-in. Rather than cold and frightening, it felt like home. I took a Buddhist philosophy course and applied its principles to my meals. Eating slowly and without distraction soon went from mortifying to pacifying. On difficult days, I asked myself what I’d feed a dear friend then treated myself to just that.

*****

On a cool spring evening, I sat at my kitchen table with a bowl of spicy chili and fresh-baked corn bread. An unexpected breeze blew through my apartment window, carrying a flower from outside into my bowl. Plunk! As the pink petals swam amongst the diced tomatoes and cannelloni beans, I laughed. Struck my own amusement, I realized that nothing but goodness sat at my table. All anxiety, shame and feelings of inadequacy had dissipated, leaving me with a palpable sense of peace.

I returned to Paris that summer to celebrate my recovery. Near the grassy patch I’d fallen in I buried a capsule filled with cards from loved ones, photographs, under-sized clothes and copies of my songs and journal entries. ED’s funeral, I called it. A memorial service for my SELF. I ran along the Seine, this time grateful for the strong legs that carried me, the absence of pain and my second chance at a happy, healthy life.

*****

What does ‘beauty’ mean to you?
One of the BEST parts of my recovery was the growing ability to use my brain and energy for pursuits unrelated to diet or exercise—writing, reading, singing… Sam Levinson’s poem, Beauty of A Woman, inspired me on numerous difficult days. In honor of all the poem stands for, I invite you to join me in a beauty-FULL celebration on Friday, February 10th. To learn how you can participate as a blogger or prize sponsor, visit Beauty of a Woman BlogFest.