eating disorders

How and Why I Quit Therapy

Therapy is magical.

Seeing a therapist has been part of my life and my story since I was eight years old. I started in a small office in an old, two-story Victorian style house a few towns away when my parents got divorced. We’d get Wendy’s on the way there right after school. Mostly, my therapist Barbara and I played board games and drew about my feelings. I wrote poems. I talked about not feeling like I belonged at the Catholic school I went to, and the confusion of all of it happening to me at once.

In fourth and fifth grade, we had a group at school called “Banana Splits” where we met weekly or monthly during my lunch time and ate together and talked. It was a group of kids whose parents were going through a divorce or who were already divorced, and I actually found a lot of peace there. I don’t know the logistics of how I was enrolled, but I just remember it being safe and helpful to me at a time when I was so, so lost in a new elementary school and still maladapting to my parents’ being apart. 

I found a therapist in middle school who I saw up until my high school graduation. She got me through episodes of depression, anxiety, bullying, self-harm, (then) undiagnosed, eating disordered behavior, coming out to myself, ending my relationship with my biological father, and recovering from what I knew at the time to be an addiction to self-harm and self-imposed destruction.

I saw her through my diagnoses of depression and anxiety at age 17, and there were so many instances in which I can say she saved my life. She’s passed on now and someone else lives in her house (which also used to be her office); but I am so grateful to her for how much she helped me in the seven years I sat in her office baring my broken soul all that time.

Throughout college I had a few episodes of suicidality, in which I was recommended on mandate to the University Health Center Psych Services. Their intake crisis counselor became my therapist outside of school, and she would get me through four years of college and phone sessions until a year after that. She was like the mom I needed, the one who didn’t nitpick my outfits or police my food–she nurtured me.

Doc M saw me through unhealthy coping mechanisms and even unhealthier codependent relationships, coming out to my family, navigating college with anxiety. After a major breakup and a year of graduate school, I was managing okay. It was mutually understood that I was ready to move on.

In December 2018, I sought therapy again for the first time in a few years, immediately following a relapse. The first thing I did was look up “eating disorder specialists” on my insurance website, as well as on Psychology Today.

 

I found a therapist with Friday appointments, who took my insurance, close to my house. I had also at this point started drinking again (which most of you know, I don’t do) so I knew this was yet another bottom I’d need picking up from, with more than just an app and a text to the crisis line acting as a de facto “treatment team.” 

This person’s profile also contained the usual client-focused questions that tell a person seeking their help virtually nothing about their experience with specific issues. The video I linked above is a really good comprehensive primer about how to find a therapist who will do a better job for you by asking the right questions and demanding the right level of care for yourself through a series of “what to look for.” (Note that it’s pretty new-agey/weird Portland OR specific; maybe I should make one for the Long Island area).

This therapist, according to my insurance website, listed eating disorders as a specialty.

This was not the case. 

I will say, this therapist often gave a lot of really good feedback and didn’t let me stew in my own sh*t longer than I needed to. I got a lot of what I needed, not wanted, to hear, and was always tasked a lot of reflecting to do. But I’d never experienced a therapy session in which 90 percent of the talking was done by someone who wasn’t me for an entire hour, where specific issues that I had been clear about addressing were forgotten about in favor of talking about this person’s politics, and where conversations that just mentioned my LGBTQ (particularly transgender) friends were taken as a challenge and a debate in which I was asked to educate this person about those issues. They also frequently made jokes about scheduling appointments not too far apart so they could get paid, and then inserted “for continuity of care” as an afterthought. It was…weird. In hindsight, it was probably a huge red ethics flag. 

Most significantly, I never really got the help that I needed, and asked for, for my eating disordered behaviors. Those continued. And in their office were books about the keto diet, gluten free fad literature, and other triggering and unhelpful things that signaled to me that this person was indeed not the therapist who could or would help treat my eating disorder, despite their best intention and the fact that my own insurance company said they were qualified to help.

I saw them continuously for about nine months before ghosting them entirely. Since then, I rely mostly on my brilliant and amazing psychiatrist for therapy. I’ve been seeing him for three years this spring, and there has literally never been a session I haven’t left with a smile on my face. He even told me to give that therapist a shot and not “break up” with them…but I’m actually faring really well with just my psychiatrist’s help for the time being.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s really difficult to maintain executive functioning sometimes without a weekly and frequent therapist. But that’s why I’m so grateful for all the skills and ideas I have learned in therapy up to this point, in the past 17 years since I started in and out of a therapist’s office. I also am so grateful for different apps like Sanvello, Recovery Record (which, admittedly, I need to use more often!) and the cultivation of a spiritual practice that involves regular ritual, community, and openness to learning.

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Breaking up with a therapist is never easy–heck, I ghosted mine. I guess I did this for a few reasons a) saying outright “you’re really transphobic and I want to recover and this isn’t helping me do that” is a mouthful of awkward, and b) I didn’t really feel like I owed this person that explanation or any at all. I felt like “do no harm” was not happening for me, no matter how well-meaning this professional was; which solidified my need to survive first and cut ties with this person without much communication.

I haven’t been back since September, and I’m okay with that. Has my journey with ED been bumpy at times? Absolutely, especially now at a time when health stressors are high for our entire culture and I’m navigating a potential chronic digestive illness.

But I’m managing, and actually, this time away from my work has allowed me more time to self-care and make time for the things that I don’t get to do ritually for my mental health. So I’m feeling grateful, despite not having a formal “treatment team” or never really having been to treatment despite likely needing it.

Self Advocacy is EVERYTHING.

Especially when it comes to eating disorder recovery and other specific diagnoses within the mental health field, you have to know what to ask for. I am no longer afraid to ask potential therapists what their experience is in eating disordered behavior and treatment, and whether or not their approach involves HAES.

A list of questions (that you are absolutely entitled) to ask a potential therapist for your ED:

  • What is your training in eating disorders?
  • How do you understand eating disorder recovery?
  • Would you give the same mental health advice to a thin/fat person?
  • What do you know about HAES, and do you align with the philosophy and science that supports it?
  • What is the efficacy or effectiveness of Overeaters Anonymous? Do you recommend this program to everyone who you believe has an ED?
  • How do you treat the twofold illness of disordered eating and body dysmorphia?
  • Can I count on you to avoid weight talk or weight bias?
  • What is your approach to treating anorexia?
  • What is your approach to treating bulimia (conventional or exercise bulimia?)
  • What is your approach to treating binge eating disorder? (if their answer is weight loss as a primary treatment, get a second opinion)
  • What is your approach to treating orthorexia?
  • Do you believe that a person can fully recover from an eating disorder?
  • What resources are you connected to in case I may need a higher level of care? Will you support me in accessing that higher level of care if necessary?

(A note to therapists: involving diet culture, weight loss or other fatphobic approaches when treating folks with ED will NOT help them recover–promise).

I think it’s important to look FAR beyond what the insurance company website says a person specializes in, and straight up email/ask them yourself. If they spent a weekend doing a seminar or crash course at a Renfrew, that’s not eating disorder specialized. If they diet regularly and subscribe to the culture that renders some bodies more deserving of help than others, that’s not eating disorder specialized–that’s food/disorder fixated.

Find a therapist who spent time doing LONG rotations at ED clinics, reading up on and taking continuing education courses in the specific manifestations of disorder you are looking for treatment in, someone who knows the harm that diet culture does and is at least able to recognize the HAES framework. And don’t stop asking questions about what they have done to prepare to treat and empathically understand the FULL scope of your illness in the here and now. The only boundary I would say is off limits is outright asking them about their personal experience with eating disorders–that’s not your story to hear; it is only their story to tell, just like yours is your own.

Wondering out loud here for you, my LI/NY followers–would we like a video similar to the one I shared above, for New York based treatment options for those of us with ED? Let me know. 

Stay safe and healthy out there, everyone!

eating disorders

A Shout-Out to My Gastroenterologist

I recently went to my gastroenterologist for a consulting visit before my scheduled procedure in April and I was so honestly happy with the outcomes.

When I began the process of seeking out treatment for my stomach issues (which are related directly to my anxiety, have been persisting for years, and likely were made more difficult due to my ED behaviors), I was really nervous and didn’t know what to expect. A family history of GI-related illnesses (Crohn’s, celiac disease) runs in my family, and I had been experiencing symptoms for the past few months that were indicative of something needing to be done.

Image result for ibs memes

At my first appointment, the standard thing went on–conversation about symptoms, family history with the help of my mom who came with me to the appointment, but a minimal discussion of my mental health conditions and my history of an eating disorder. I got a few tests spread out over those next few months–an MRI that came back normal, despite not feeling normal and often having nausea and other issues.

So I scheduled an appointment to meet with my doctor during a week off and I went alone to discuss the unaddressed issues of my eating disordered behavior in a more complete way.

She didn’t take my weight at all, validated my mental health symptoms as a likely cause of my gastrointestinal issues, and gave me a recommendation for medical food that would help.

Image result for ibs memes

We discussed Overeaters Anonymous and the fact that it’s unnecessary and unhelpful for me (something that doctors, in my experience, never feel, especially when fat patients are sitting in front of them), discussed my family’s relationship with my disordered behavior and my lack of ED treatment (due to weight stigma and denial that what I had was an eating disorder at all in the first place), and she reviewed my previous tests and came to the conclusion that my ED has had no long-term adverse affects on my body.

It is likely that I do have IBS, and she noted that I may benefit from biofeedback so that I can get better at aligning my hunger and fullness signals with my executive functioning.

Because after a few years of binge-purge cycles, I learned how to recover, but my anxiety is a persistent issue. I still struggle with executive functioning, and sometimes will get so busy or bad at time management or just be too anxious to eat, and my hunger signals will go ignored and eventually shut off until they are no longer in my awareness.

Image result for ibs memes

It sometimes would result in me skipping meals for hours, and bingeing once I can no longer ignore the ghrelin entering my stomach and telling me to eat, causing me to double or triple up on food, as a way of answering for my missed meals.

I left this appointment having articulated all of this to my doctor, and feeling heard and validated in that understanding of my behavior as it relates to my GI function. And none of it was attributed to my fatness, I was not asked to answer for my weight or reduce it, and I am so grateful for that.

This comprehensive understanding and being able to talk to a doctor about my eating disorder history and be understood and not stigmatized for my weight all at once was probably the best experience I’ve ever had with a medical professional since realizing that I needed to recover from BED/OSFED.

It is difficult enough to be a fat patient in any medical office, but when that doctor visit has to do directly with your eating behavior and the potential for weight stigma is higher than normal, bracing yourself for both subtle and not-so-subtle fatphobia is stressful and traumatic.

I didn’t think finding a doctor who was understanding of my history of eating disorders across the spectrum WHILE also actively not being fatphobic would happen for me. These small things add up for us folks who deal with weight bias from virtually all other corners of life in this world. Thank you so much, Dr. S!

eating disorders

A Discussion About Rule 62

An open letter to men in recovery: stop using “Rule 62” to dismiss women, comorbidity and intersectionality.

To ring in 2020, I spent New Year’s Eve with my friends who are sober–most if not all of whom are qualifying members of Alcoholics Anonymous (I am not; however, I understand the fellowship and framework quite well).

I was discussing sobriety with a man I had just met upon walking in the door to my good friends’ house on the water on the south shore of Long Island–the designated gathering place for 50+ sober people at any given time on a holiday such as July 4th, MDW, and this year, NYE.

I mentioned the unfortunate lack of consideration for folks with eating disorders like myself in the program of AA–especially considering that so many women (approximately 50%) experience comorbid symptoms of eating disorders and substance abuse including alcoholism.

The man in question simply said, “Rule 62,” and looked at me blankly.

Rule 62. 

Don’t take yourself so damn seriously. 

Rule 62, for those unfamiliar, is a rule that has found its way into recovery circles as unspoken tradition.

The backstory, from what I understand, has to do with tradition four (“Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A./E.D.A/whateverA as a whole.”) in anonymous programs, which discusses the  idea that individual meeting groups can operate on their own volition without involving or compromising the integrity of the fellowship as a whole.

When AA was expanding, a group attempted to be “all things to all people”–they resolved to take care of meetings, residential treatment, and other facets of recovery life all under one roof–and realized that their goal was way bigger than they could manage in the context of the AA program.

This group came up with 61 rules and sent them to AA as a manifesto or proclamation for beginning their ambitious program. Then, they realized just how daunting a task it would be to take care of every single person’s needs in the realm of addiction treatment–and before scrapping the idea, they came up with rule 62. 

So, what about it? 

Last week, I read a really powerful and thought-provoking opinion piece in the New York Times about the patriarchal foundations and history of AA as an organization. We all know the names Bill W. and Dr. Bob, two men who were alive during the first world war and became alcoholics due to a perceived spiritual malady that they believed had to do with an inflated ego and sense of self, as well as a lack of presence of a higher power in their lives. They were their own higher power for the duration of their relationship with alcohol and drinking–which, as the NYT article suggests, is the essence of white male privilege. 

They sought to recover from this sense of ego, but did it also heal their harmfully separatist sense of rigid gender roles and toxic masculinity?

Alcoholics Anonymous itself has, seemingly ironically tried to be all things to all people; opening itself to women, people of color, people with doctorates, average folks, and everyone in-between, but how can it do that if it still holds itself in the principles, practices and ideas of a world that was designed by and for white men? How can a fellowship with such a marginal number of women attending compared to men even say that “anyone can do it” if they have the capacity to be honest? 

The problem is, this claim is dishonest in and of itself.

Rule 62 was meant to be an ego-check on a group of alcoholics who thought (mistakenly) that their individual group’s program could be a one-stop shop for recovery. When they failed, they wrote this rule as a way of softening the ways that their ambitious and admirable mission had not gone to plan. Well intentioned? Maybe.

In this conversation in my friend’s kitchen, Rule 62 was used to dismiss my very real concern about the harm still being done to people like me in the rooms who are not having their eating disorders addressed–a problem backed by statistics, as I shared before.

I know, I know. If AA were to take on eating disorders too, they wouldn’t really be AA anymore. But this is 2020; and we really need to start accounting for the more than half of the fellowship that needs access to a safe place to express the comorbidity of their alcoholism with other issues like disordered eating and, in the case of my region, opioid abuse. By not being sensitive to issues that clearly and empirically intersect with the problem of alcoholism, there is an imminent danger of making full recovery inaccessible to so many members and potential members.

“At least you’re not drinking” (I hear this one a lot, too!) isn’t good enough anymore. Eating disorders have an unbelievably high mortality rate, especially anorexia nervosa. And I’d venture to say that MOST eating disordered alcoholics can relate to the feeling that alcohol sets off their ED, and vice versa. This is serious.

Food is available at tons of AA meetings without supporting the people for whom food might be a trigger. With over 50 percent of addicts and alcoholics also having an ED–it seems a little insensitive not to address this, and to tell those who are authentically worried about it “not to take themselves so damn seriously.” 

It’s not really a coincidence or an accident that this “rule” is probably most often bestowed upon women, as it was done unto me.

Having an ego and unwarrantedly flaunting your ability to quote a book that is, dare I say, just as fallible and subjective as we all are is…confusing, and honestly, a form of gaslighting imo.

Women don’t need to be powerless, and we don’t need to be told not to take ourselves so seriously. The world outside of those church basements and sober gatherings already does that to and for us. 

Now, I know that this individual’s use and interpretation of Rule 62–like the fallible interpretations of a lot of things in AA and other anonymous groups–speak to the person, not to the fellowship as a whole, hence, the fourth tradition. Hell, Rule 62 was created so that a bunch of people who created a plan and failed, like any human might do, could laugh at themselves and not be bummed that they hadn’t succeeded. We all need a little of that in our lives, certainly.

But I wonder how many times this rule has also been used to drive women into silence about the things that bother them about the world that they live in; things happening inside and outside the rooms. Because the fact is, we absolutely need more power in the world at large and in the daily context of our lives, not less.

And that’s not going to come to us when we are told that the realities of the things we face–pay gaps, the motherhood tax, harassment, assault, violence, dismissal, diet culture, body shame, objectification, legislation made against and about our bodies, repeated interpersonal abuse and marginalization–aren’t serious, problematic or important enough for the men who claim to be united in recovery with us (while, might I add, segregating themselves OFTEN) to take seriously.

I’m a member of a recovery fellowship that isn’t AA, but since AA laid that foundation, I’m addressing it directly, I guess. Any if not all of my closest friends are members of AA. Some of them may cheer me on for saying this, and some might not. That’s okay. However, if anonymous recovery groups, and recovery as a whole, isn’t the same boys club that it says it “used” to be, I’m going to need some of the recovering men I see, know, and love, to start proving that. In fact, I demand it, because (gasp!) I take myself seriously. Out of nothing more than self-respect.

 

eating disorders

So, I joined a gym: Week 1

During and after college, I used to be an avid attendee at my local Planet Fitness. Then exercise bulimia got in the way.

I would often go to the gym twice a day, especially after bingeing on dining hall food to the point where I would make myself sick. Exercise became a punishment, a compensation, a labor.

I took this behavior home with me after graduating from college, too, even when I started to recognize my eating disorder for what it really was–a disorder. I was obsessed with my body and food and unwilling to compromise with myself. I slowly began to resent the gym and movement pretty much altogether, and was restricting enough so that the gym wasn’t necessary for compensation anymore. This led me down a dangerous path.

I was also a track and XC kid from 7th to 10th grade, when my knees wouldn’t let me run distance anymore and I had to give up the sport. I used this, as you can probably guess, to my full advantage when creating my elaborate eating schemes and compensation behaviors. I ran and ran and calculated each mile ran or walked down to the 1/10th of a mile. I did crazy sprint drills on the bleachers at my high school (when I was home for the summer) and strength exercises like the football players do in movies.

 

Until one day just before my college graduation, after a really memorable experience of feeling so disgusted with myself on an elliptical that I couldn’t keep going after fifteen minutes, I swore off exercise machines for life.

What I didn’t realize then was that it wasn’t the gym’s fault that I had this attitude; it was my intention and (over)use of the gym itself that created an association with disorder, misery and self-consciousness in my own head.

Now, I was born with a displacement in my hips; one is a few degrees higher than the other, and it makes my right knee joint work harder to reach the ground (knee pain), AND, to top that off, I have flat feet.

So basically, from the waist down, I’m pretty prone to a lot of clicking and pain in my hip joints. I feel like one of the Golden Girls and I’m only 25 (if I were a GG I’d absolutely be Dorothy btw).

Recently, I re-joined a gym for the first time in about three years. I’m back at the same Planet Fitness I used to belong to in college and would visit frequently on my breaks from school and weekends home. Except I signed up with a new goal in mind–health and strength first.

My hip pain motivated me to go get stronger, and I’ve since been doing that. Often times, fat folks get diagnosed as fat when they’re in pain–and it’s not always incorrect, because there are certain joints in our bodies that bear weight (load-bearing joints); and to stress them out creates mobility compromises for some folks. But for me, my knees have always been jacked up, fat or not–hips too.

But just as often as fat people get told to lose weight to improve their health, thin people don’t. Thin people with the same joint problems I likely have will be told to stretch more, strengthen and work out more–but I guess when it comes to fat folks, it is assumed that we can’t, won’t, or aren’t already doing those things for our health or to maintain strength in the areas that cause us pain.

So I went to the gym telling myself “I’m going to make my left hip pain less frequent and severe,” and that’s just what I did.

So far, I’ve been there twice since signing up, and I did two weight circuits, a stretching sesh, and some specific leg training stuff like lunges. I even made time for the stair climbing machine of death that I used to be terrified of because I fell off once. I went on for only five minutes because it was like reaaaaaaaallllly hard, but I took what I could and didn’t do it past my threshold of enjoyment. That’s what exercise is all about, I’m slowly learning–our intention and the ways we plan to connect with and interact with our bodies while we move them.

To extend this bada** gympowerment thing even further, I told my mom not to comment on my appearance or physical activity and especially not to connect it to weight loss since that’s not what I’m there for–and so far, those boundaries have been maintained which is so tremendously huge for me. There is nothing better than to be seen and heard and respected all while getting to improve my health in a way that has nothing to do with weight loss, and to receive the recognition that there is worth–and health–beyond my weight.

Stay tuned for more updates from the gym!

eating disorders

I Wrote a Book! Royally Incomplete is now a full length book

What an exciting summer it has been!

 

Y’all know I’ve been writing a book–and that book is finally HERE! I’ve poured my soul into writing and editing Royally Incomplete for the past three years; we’ve been through life changes, brand changes, name changes, and body changes. I’m so proud to present my blog, in book form, plus a little extra.

 

ROYALLYINCOMPLETECOVER.jpg

I’ve been working with Eliezer Tristan Publishing, an indie publishing house that focuses on mental health narratives and stories. I am so grateful to have been writing this blog for the past three years, because it flowed so seamlessly into a book. The timing, the energy and everything that went into this was all just perfect, and it has produced something that I’m really proud of.

But it hasn’t all been because of me. My editor, Leighanna, designer Michelle, and the CEO of ETP, Sarah Fader, have been so valuable to me throughout this process. In my publisher, I have made a new friend, so many connections, and I’m looking forward to even more as this comes to true fruition.

This book is more than just my blog on paper; it contains some never-before-read essays and poems by me: including “The Calculator in my Brain”, “Skipping Meals Can Make You Relapse” and “Attacking a President’s Weight Isn’t a Valid Way to Be Political”, as well as a workbook-style comments section for readers to engage with the writing and the content. It’s meant to be for anyone who is trying to garner a better understanding of body acceptance, using the questions and experience that I’ve had to grapple with in my three years on this journey. It’s just about what’s worked for me and giving people those same tools so that they can heal too–regardless of whether they have a clinical ED diagnosis.

The paperback is up for preorder on Amazon this week, too!

That’s not it!

Summer has had me busy on social media, too! I started the Body Love Book Club, a discussion group that meets monthly on Instagram to discuss a book related to fat studies, body acceptance, recovery, body image, or related topics. This past week was our first meeting, and we discussed Linda Bacon & Lucy Aphramour’s Body Respect; the conversation was small but super successful and I had a great time moderating the discussion! Stay tuned for future book discussions and dates by following my Instagram or Twitter.

I was also published as a guest writer on the Mental Health at Home blog, in which I discussed the possibility of “overdosing” on self help/self care and how it impacts and impedes recovery. Check it out and let me know what you think! And if you’re a mental health recovery blogger in need of guests, I’d love to write for you! I’m also looking for collaborations and interviews (maybe you have a really cool recovery or MH podcast???) to engage with in the coming months pending my book release. Contact me!

Right now, I’m waiting on the paper copy to come out so that I can sign and send a few to those who want them in the near future; and I’m looking for people to read and review the ebook/Kindle edition on Amazon! If that’s something you’re interested in, definitely head over to the link, purchase and download, and review the book!

Have the best weekend everyone!

eating disorders

Fat acceptance helped me recover from my eating disorders

What is the ‘fat acceptance movement’?

There’s a lot said about it on many corners of the internet. Recently on Instagram, there’s been a lot of discussion on fat acceptance–particularly due to the release of a controversial indie ‘documentary’ that has solicited, harmed and pissed off fat and/or recovering content creators alike on various platforms.

 

 

There are so many opinions, ideas and even myths about what the fat acceptance movement truly is at its core–and even more speculation and bias regarding how it helps people. I can only speak to my own experience, but I hope that in sharing that experience, I help those who have strong opinions and maybe not all the pieces put together to understand why this movement is so important to me and so important to thousands of people who use social media to recover and feel validated in a world that can often be so cruel and judgmental to everyone in it, regardless of size (but especially to fat and plus-sized people).

There are entire accounts on Reddit, Instagram and Twitter devoted to harassing and targeting fat bodies, and posting things laden with logical fallacy about the folks in those bodies. Yikes.

More than body positivity

Almost everyone on the internet is aware of the hashtags #bodypositivity and #effyourbeautystandards (started by Tess Holliday); and these hashtags have conceived movements that fight back against conventional beauty standards in a general way. But the fat acceptance movement and its related hashtags take it a step further–allowing people who live in bodies beyond a straight size (that is, larger than 16 or XL) to celebrate who they are, as they are right now.

But apparently, this makes some people absolutely raging mad. 

 

 

The fat acceptance movement has been around for quite a long time–and it’s based solely on the idea that fat people should be accepted and deemed worthy by the society we live in and receive all the same dignity and care that anyone else gets. This includes in retail, the medical and healthcare industry, and all other institutional areas of life that a person may interact with in their day to day.

It makes people raging mad because it’s considered to mean that we, those who believe that fat people deserve dignity and respect without having to shrink as a prerequisite, are “gLoRiFyiNg oBeSiTy” (yawn).

First of all, let me hit you with this revolutionary idea–‘obesity’ is a construct.

Literally, fat people have existed for hundreds of years. Obesity as a medical term has existed for far less time than that–and the numbers and charts that supposedly quantify obesity are questionable, as are the motives behind themThe Center for Disease Control acknowledges that weight is influenced LARGELY by factors that exist outside of a person’s behavior (social class/elements, environment and genetics make up some of the total ecology). In fact, our body types–everything from how much we weigh to how that weight is distributed–is 60-70% determined by things that AREN’T diet and exercise (Bacon & Aphramour, 2014).

A conundrum I often like to reference in this case is the idea that fat people don’t work out or that they became fat because of their own habits. Often, fast food and “junk” and laziness are associated with fat people; yet I’ve done my own data-collection research that actually found that thin and fat people eat the same amount of fast food in a given week. Images of soda, burgers, sugar and fat bodies are juxtaposed, especially in American culture–the assumption is that all fat bodies got this way by those means. This just simply isn’t the truth.

Random thought addendum: Those who believe that fatness is a universally unhealthy state of being might (and do) suggest that fat folks need to get off the couch and exercise more–yet, those same people are the ones who make it the most embarrassing for fat people to engage in movement in public. So, with this logic, fat bodies are supposed to work out to get un-fat–but only if they do it in secret?????

Fat acceptance means exactly what it says–that we acknowledge, honor and love all bodies as they are, including and especially those who face the largest amount of hate, gatekeeping, and bias from a culture that demands thinness in exchange for validation in many forms. Fat acceptance insists that we don’t demand a set of behaviors from fat people before we deem them valuable to our culture and in our lives.

Fat acceptance does not mean that every body needs to be a certain weight, or under or over that weight or perceived weight, to be seen, heard and unconditionally accepted. Fat acceptance IS body acceptance; because we have to accept and love the most vulnerable with extra care and kindness.

Much of FA is operated on Health at every size (HAES)-related principle, which is a scientifically supported movement that looks at cross-referenced and intersectional measures of health. Back to that term total ecology; it takes into account not only a person’s physical health, but their mental and social health as well, in determining the overall health behaviors of an individual. HAES does not suggest that every body is healthy at its current state; it merely suggests that those bodies who have been deemed unvaluable because they are not thin are also capable of health.

Fat to Thin–and back again

Though I realize that there are limitations to anecdotal and personal evidence, I think my story and my voice in the discussion about fat acceptance and eating disorders being so inevitably and inextricably linked is a resonant one–and I don’t believe for a second that I am alone in this experience. 

When I was in the throes of my eating disorders (plural), my weight was relatively normal most of the time, save the fluctuations for water and binge/purge cycles, etc. My eating disorder started when I was really young as emotional eating in response to trauma, but eventually opened up into compulsive calorie counting, serious restriction, chronic dieting, exercise purging, followed by periods of bingeing to offset the fact that my body was starving and trying to scrape together any energy it could to keep me awake, alert and alive.

 

I watched my weight jump down then up then down and back again for a number of years–sometimes, I’d weigh myself more than five times a day. No amount of controlling the number on the scale could save me from myself.

I was obsessed with making ounces go away and exercising through any free time I had–I could calculate the amount of calories burned while simply standing.

When restricting finally became unsustainable and unappealing, bingeing won over and became my primary behavior. But of course, I had to find a way to get rid of it so that I could maintain some sense of invisibility for my disease; I remained a normal weight by exercising for hours on end and keeping up with this compulsive behavior like it was my religion.

At seventeen, when I finally sought some kind of formal assistance for my mental health, my “diagnosis” was a psychiatrist who looked at me and told me that a certain medication would help me lose weight–but he did this without really hearing what my behaviors were or how I really felt about myself.

This was the essence of what fed my disorder for just a few more years–instead of treating my behavior, a mental health professional treated (and helped maintain) the vain and sick part of my eating disorder–keeping me believing that as long as I didn’t look sick, I wasn’t.

It also helped to keep my fear of ever being “too fat” alive–and didn’t stop me from doing all I could to prevent that from happening, no matter what the cost was to my physical safety (sprains, muscle strains, and more) or my mental health.

I entered a twelve step treatment process on my own that only served to keep diet mentality alive. I celebrated the success of losing 26 pounds in three months. Which, retrospectively, I did by restricting and keeping up the same fear of becoming as fat as the person I am now. Fatphobia, in its most literally defined form, kept up my ED and allowed it to be insanely loud. I was afraid of becoming fat. This is a known symptom of body dysmorphic disorder, a common sub-ED common in most anorexic folks. It was alive and well in my brain and in my life, even in the absence of thinness. 

And guess what? I gained the 26 pounds back and then some.

Years prior, while in this cycle, I had so many unidentified gastrointestinal issues that were, looking back, a result of being between states of malnourished and bingeing, all while exercising without enough energy to sustain me during periods of activity. My eating disorders were what gave me this fat body–from years of abusing it past its limits in the pursuit of thinness no matter the cost. And now that I’m blessed with recovery, I truly do love this body.

When I found the fat acceptance movement, it was through a series of blogs and books and instagram accounts that I really looked up to. I didn’t know how to stop yet, but I knew I was tired of hating my body and eating so erratically. At the beginning of this journey three years ago, I saw bodies that were more diverse than mine, who looked like mine, who loved themselves the way that I hoped to love my body one day.

I learned what radical acceptance was, long before fat acceptance–and fat acceptance honestly saved my life. I learned so much about set point, about restriction and about “last supper” eating and how that was all damaging my brain-body connection and causing stress (which is a factor in weight instability). And most importantly, I learned that trying to control any of these things about my body wasn’t going to get me the relationship that I saw so many people from around the world already having with themselves. 

Being able to accept my body as it was allowed me to not notice or care when I lost a lot of weight as an unintended side effect of eating what I wanted when I wanted–because I wasn’t stressed out about never being able to eat what I used to see as my “cheat foods” again.

As soon as I trained my brain to realize and understand that I could have Dairy Queen, pizza or other fear foods whenever I wanted them–I stopped wanting them as much as I craved them when I was in the disordered eating cycle. As a result, I stopped driving myself crazy–and I stopped weight cycling. And I didn’t care what the scale said because I learned so much about how weight isn’t a concrete or absolute health determinant.

BTW–weight cycling is a known cause of heart disease and other diseases that are often wrongfully attributed as having a causal relationship with fatness. (Say it with me: correlation isn’t causality. Correlation isn’t causality.)

Fat acceptance, as a concept and as a movement, has a lot more to it than people are willing to give it credit for. There is an entire subset of academia surrounding the idea of fat liberation and fat politics and policy, and it’s something that everyone who is interested in equality should take an interest in.

Immersing myself in fat studies allowed me to find something else to do besides count and hide food and feel shame and live in my head. I have made the most invaluable connections and done so much healing work on myself and been a voice for others. I have been called upon to check my own motivations, conditioning, privilege and learn from some of the most incredible people; Marilyn Wann, Deb Burgard, Cynara Gee, Jes Baker, and so many more. 

Fat acceptance IS body acceptance. Fat acceptance is weight neutrality (for me–and for me, being weight neutral is recovery). Fat acceptance is body love, body positivity, and all things that make all bodies accessible to the people who live in them as they are at this very moment and always. I wouldn’t trade my allegiance to the fat acceptance community for anything–because it brought me recovery and an understanding of this body that isn’t rooted in constant confusion, starvation, deprivation, rigidity or hatred. I love this body, fat or not. I love this body, forever and today and always. Fat acceptance helped me to truly see and fully live the idea that none of us are free until each of us are free.

Thanks, fat acceptance.

eating disorders

Body Love Bookclub — Beginning this Month!

I am so excited to announce this!

Me, a few registered dietitians and influencers on Instagram are starting a BODY LOVE BOOK CLUB!!!!

 

We are going to be reading a book monthly, in the realm of fat studies, fat acceptance, body love, body acceptance, weight science, and anti-diet culture.

$_35.JPG

 

This month’s book, which I chose to kick us off, is Body Respect by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramour. I chose this book as a starter because it so clearly and concisely discusses the nuances behind dieting research, myths about weight science that have been perpetuated by several industries across the last century, and much more. You can find it on Amazon, Google Books, Kindle edition or at your local library and join us for our discussion at the end of the month!

We are going to meet on Instagram LIVE on August 22nd at 8:45 pm EST. Follow @theinbetweenqueen for updates and more!

 

Uncategorized

‘Callout culture’ isn’t necessarily ‘toxic,’ it just asks us to be uncomfortable

Have you ever messed up?

Let’s begin with a story. A few months ago, I was part of a HAES group on Facebook that centered fat bodies. I was SUPER excited about my new yoga wheel, which would make doing a bunch of different poses more accessible to me and my size 18-20 self.

I posted a picture of me in shoulder stand on my wheel with the caption of “my fat a** doing yoga” and honestly, I realize it was–not my finest moment as an ally.

There was a mixture of messages; people equally glad for me to be able to do yoga accessibly, something that is not often seen because yoga has been co-opted by thin white bodies that make an effort to push out and not represent fat folks.

But more quickly and more frequently, I got messages and comments from people larger than me, giving me critical feedback about why yoga wheels aren’t always accessible for people who live with butts even bigger than mine; or why seeing the word “fat a**” (which I now fully recognize as a slur that sometimes reminds people of being bullied) triggered them. It wasn’t necessarily mine to reclaim from the beginning. And in my post, and in all my excitement, I managed to center myself while marginalizing other folks.

 

Your missteps and mistakes aren’t about you

No one was saying my body was not or is not important–but I failed to note that my body, despite its not-thinness, queerness, and not fully-ableness, is the most represented one in the “body positive” and even in the fat positive community. I failed to see that even if and when you are a fat person, you can still benefit from thin privilege without being thin. You can still be affirmed as a “good fat” by the society we live in; the very same one that preaches that thin is healthy, thin is virtuous and good, thin is best. Because smaller fat people are closer to being thin than people who are, say, “infinifat”; and they are given more social currency because they “fit.” And I don’t mean to say “they,” like I’m not one of them. I am.

Neglecting to put a TW or a CW (trigger or content warning) stirred up a lot of feelings for a lot of people–put me in contact with the moderators–and left me feeling defensive. I did not want to have to mark and label my own body as “triggering”, especially after fighting with it for almost two decades through binge eating, restricting, dieting and exercise abuse. 

I fought and fought and fought with people for my own worth and validity–had over 400 comments directed at me, my message, and some even at my body. These were hurtful and painful and did a really, REALLY huge number on my mental health for a few weeks. I had to grapple with the fact that I had hurt people, no matter how unintentionally, and not try to level the playing field with hurting them again even if they were hurting me back.

Comments like “someone the size of one of my legs pretending they have the same experiences as me is laughable” — objectifying me and sticking into my head over and over again, awakening my eating disorder for the first time in what would have been months.

Then came the supporters, who I didn’t ask for–less nuanced in the social justice aspect of fat politics–who would post and then dip out of the group in ‘solidarity’ with me; and I began to feel like these people were giving me a representation that wasn’t true to who I am. They were supportive, and well-meaning; but misguided in some areas of this language and this work. This is where it got even more stressful.

The “all lives matter” rhetoric coming from those who share equal marginalization with me as a 2X/3X sized person was really disappointing–I didn’t and do not stand by it and it was uncomfortable that it even went to that space.

I had to shut it off for a while after so many conversations with the moderators about reparations, my errors, and my own feelings of being disrespected. I was SO uncomfortable and scared and wounded — and sitting in my own place of reference waiting for someone to patch me up and dust me off and tell me I was 100% right and demanding emotional labor from others — something I have learned better than to do, honestly.

It would have been so easy to frame this in the narrative that ‘callout culture is toxic,’ but that waives my accountability and my need to center and repair my relationships with those who experience a lot more difficulty in their life from a psychosocial space than I do.

I am a tremendous believer in the idea that impact ALWAYS outweighs the intention of our actions. We can mean well, but if we harm people, we are ultimately responsible for that. I drafted an accountability post a few weeks after this happened, in an effort to repair the emotional viscerality of the situation, but my mental health and consulting with the admins kept me from posting it to the group.

 

65322227_931364720559819_1166836631306582713_n.jpg
This doesn’t necessarily accurately represent ALL bodies, but it is helpful in understanding where to put yourself–especially when understanding that there are bodies that experience varying degrees of size discrimination in accessibility, fashion, social situations, etc.

“Small fat” privilege definitely makes up a lot of the voiced experience in many of the movements that body positive or body neutral people have access to, and this itself is not ideal. I want to do my best to be a better ally and simultaneously voice my experiences as an “in-between fat” person (because the current “measure” doesn’t really describe me well), and hopefully somewhere along the way, others can identify with holding space for their in-betweenness–at the same time, I want to stand out of the way so that bodies that don’t look like mine can speak, move and do the work that they need to do to free themselves without sizeism, healthism, or fatphobia. Centering less normative voices is an action–one of many–that can counter the “white and slim thick is normal, nothing else” that goes on on the internet. Nobody is free until we all are. Education on how to do this is not owed to me, but I am absolutely willing and ready and eager to be told where to position myself in this process.

The amount of gratitude there is to express for dialogue; past, present, and future, is boundless. My deepest apologies for harm done and for all that I have neglected to do in this learning process.

That being said…

One thing that I refuse to do is to drown out the voices that hold me accountable with toxic positivity. In the past, I’ve justified and made excuses, but toxic positivity is something that seems to be replacing ‘callout culture’ and it isn’t for the better. I see this mostly among able-bodied, small fat, white, cis/heteronormative writers and influencers–and it’s far more toxic than ‘callout culture’ itself.

Toxic positivity is a term that comes from the mental health realm, in addressing stigma associated with mental illness. It looks like those well-meaning messages and words of good intention that come from people who don’t share your experience or have no idea what they’re talking about. They offer suggestions like “have you tried going outside”, tell you about how kale or pilates saved them from depression or start a lot of sentences with “should.” Know the type? The friends and family who are just trying to make you feel better about being anxious or depressed, but are really just adding to the stigma, incompetence, self-doubt, frustration or stress you feel if you experience symptoms of a mental illness.

Screen Shot 2019-07-21 at 1.53.09 PM.png

Toxic Positivity in Accountability Culture is Similar

What I mean by “toxic positivity” when it comes to responding to your audience is responding to accurate, valid or critical thought and criticism/feedback with “you’re being negative,” or “positive vibes only!” and other such language. What this does is ultimately silence and dismiss the person who might be trying to help us learn and grow as an influencer and an ally. Toxic positivity demands only affirming or validating responses from those in its circle, and sometimes literally blocks out the rest and dismisses them as “haters.”

But our ‘haters’ can often teach us about what we need to do to be better, and they don’t owe it to us to be kind or gentle about it–especially if our actions are harmful to them. You might come out of a mistake a little (ego) bruised. But. you grow through what you go through. 

 

Screen Shot 2019-07-21 at 1.50.53 PM.png

 

Being called out, confronted, or asked to pass the mic is uncomfortable and immediately launches people into the defensive–I know that from my own experiences of screwing up, and not just in the time I mentioned; it has often been uncomfortable for me. At the same time, it has also shaped me. This goes for my interactions about race (because I have a blind spot as a white person), gender identity (because I have a blind spot as a cis person), and disability (because I have a blind spot as an able-bodied person. It’s no one’s job to hold my hand and educate me, but it is my job once I have been told how a certain view, voice or amount of space I am taking up on other peoples’ behalf or at their expense is harmful to them–to educate myself and not demand anything from anybody until I know how to act right.

I have no reason to apologize for my body, but I do have to apologize and make right on it if I force people to hear what I think, see what triggers them, or listen to words that are harmful to them without their consent. I don’t just get to tell people to “stop following me” if something I do or say triggers them–because it’s my responsibility as a justice-oriented person, activist and feminist not to perpetuate the same messages that do harm to marginalized people whether they follow me or not. 

It is, first and foremost, a privilege to be able to say any of the above toxic positivity responses–because it means likely not having had to think about the person who’s experience one is responding to. That is the essence of privilege–not having to think about it. And calling folks out isn’t necessarily toxic–individuals who call out can become toxic when they start attacking others’ humanity and forgetting that there’s a person on the other end of the listening session, but the act of calling someone out for being less than mindful is, imo, perfectly acceptable in a world or in a learning community that prioritizes justice and representation. The only thing that will make that justice restorative is time, and a whole lot of listening. And that’s what these ‘conversations’ (which can sometimes look and sound and feel confrontational or tense) should look like–listening sessions, where the privileged listen and the marginalized speak about harm done and reparations to be made.

 

 

 

eating disorders

New Merch Store is Now Up!

Hey everyone!

There is SO much to update you about the work I’ve been doing these past few weeks to hustle this brand and my recovery message to a place where it finally feels like it’s reaching folks. I’ve been overwhelmed by the planning and executing of so many different moving parts of my process and it’s been TRULY amazing and incredible and surreal that it’s all happening at once.

I’ve been building and shaping and reshaping this brand for almost three years, since I began this blog in 2016. I’m so excited for this forward direction and to be able to share it with you, whether you’ve been reading since day one or you’ve just come along for the ride.

First announcement — I’ve signed a contract with Eliezer Tristan Publishing! 

I’m joining a few other eating disorder recovery warriors in being a writer for ETP–bloggers like Colleen Werner and Charlotte Kurz. It’s going to be a blog-to-book feature with an interactive workbook component, featuring some essays and poems I’ve never shared before! Sarah Fader and I are still working out the release date details–and I will reveal more as we get the cover wrap! For now, the working manuscript is almost finished. I am PUMPED!

Screen Shot 2019-07-13 at 6.51.54 PM.png

 

Second Announcement–I now have a merch shop!

This past week, I launched a merch shop on Spreadshirt–so you can get your favorite recovery quotes, anti-diet sentiments, and fat lib gear. Just click the link! Here are some examples of what’s available (all designed by moi!). And you can get free shipping using the code SHIP4YOU at checkout! Most designs go up to a 4X, some to a 6X (working on more extended sizing options!) — some of the extended/non-straight-size items may not be immediately visible, but if you click on the tabs for t-shirts they’re there 🙂

recovery-is-resilient-printed-on-a-floral-background.jpg

inbetween-queen-logo-by-cindy.jpg

1,,,appearanceId=2.jpg1,,,appearanceId=1.jpg1,,,appearanceId=557.jpg

 

…and there is so much more coming!

 

I just want to shout out Sarah Fader at ETP for our newfound ally ship and for her love, guidance and humor throughout this process. Being an influencer, or becoming an influencer, is a lot of sweat and literal tears and time spent away from the present moment and in my phone. And, I have to admit, sometimes, it makes it easier to get in my head; but I’m trying to keep my message positive and do the work required of me to be here and be helpful and love myself along the way.

 

Cheers!

eating disorders

I’m About the same size as the new Nike mannequin; and we still have a lot of work to do.

I know I’m not the first person to be caught up in the storm that is the new Nike mannequin representing women my size. But I felt like I needed to engage in this conversation and I needed to do it now.

The fat acceptance movement does NOT say “any” weight is healthy. It says that there is no size limitation to health. If you’re 125 pounds but slamming drugs into your system every weekend, that isn’t health. If your job is giving you so much anxiety you can’t get out of bed in the morning, that isn’t health. Health is a pattern of behavior, not an aesthetic. And that’s exactly what Nike is trying to tell us.

1268679.jpg

And science actually supports this, considering that a) there is no conclusive evidence for “food addiction”, b) fatness does not come solely from food addiction (in fact, 80% of our body weight is genetic; to get an idea of what your body’s “set point” will look like, look at your parents/aunts/grandparents/uncles etc.) and c) fat able bodies, like mine, are capable of running and physical activity. 

For reference, I just visited a new doctor (my primary) this past week, who weighed me and took all my vitals. My blood pressure, she says, is “perfect.” She took my weight but didn’t label it, instead asked me, “Are you comfortable in your skin? Yes? Okay, that’s what matters.” We did an EKG and several breathing tests. My lungs work great. EKG results perfect. Eating disorder history noted in my file.

I want to be clear: I am a fat person and I didn’t get that way by skipping exercise and eating McDonald’s like every ignorant troll in the comments section seems to believe about me; about us. I am a fat person who has experienced symptoms of all three major eating disorders (anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder). Not all fat people are eating disordered, and not all fat people with an eating disorder have binge eating disorder. Contrary to popular belief, trying to be thin for 13 years actually made me fat. 

I got fat from years of yo-yoing, restricting, bingeing, exercise compulsion and crashing. I was a runner in high school and middle school for four years, sitting at a “normal” weight while bouncing back and forth between bingeing and starving myself. Two a days at the gym followed my 2500+ calorie binges at the dining hall. I threw my body into a state of hunger, panic and confusion and when I finally started recovering, my metabolism had to catch up with the fact that it forgot how to process food. I had digestive and gastrointestinal issues for years. My body settled into a weight that it sustains for the most part now.

An abhorrently fat phobic article published in the Telegraph has gotten a lot of attention for making claims such as “Yet the new Nike mannequin is not size 12, which is healthy, or even 16 – a hefty weight, yes, but not one to kill a woman. She is immense, gargantuan, vast. She heaves with fat.”

One thing that I can’t understand about this particular quote from this particularly disgusting article, which I hope to draw attention away from when discussing the implications of this new Nike thing, is how in fact the author came away with this mannequin’s size. I have to say, I’m like, at least four different sizes across different clothing companies at different stores and I look like this. I am a size 16, 18, XL, XXL, 2X depending on the store/brand, and a 2 at Torrid most of the time.

The author’s own contention with internalized fatphobia is so evident in the way that they hyperbolize the body of an inanimate object. The mannequin’s fatness is smoothed out, chiseled, and blurred. Women see themselves in her; heck, I see myself in her–but not all women do, and that’s the deeper discussion we really need to be having in the wake of all this.

Clothing sizes are created in America and in other countries so differently, and they are almost always rendered with the thin body in mind. So when people design the clothes that I put on my body, I am not the reference point. I have also been met with disbelief at the revelation that I am a size 18 because apparently my fatness is “deceiving” (not to mention that I still pass for thin in a lot of spaces, admittedly)–so how can she know that this mannequin is beyond a size 16 just by eyeballing it? Has she seen the way that Old Navy cuts clothes and how a size 12 from Kohl’s and a size 16 from American Eagle sometimes look the exact same? Does the author know that numerical sizes are culturally obscured enough to be virtually meaningless?

Nike is no different. For instance, the fact that even their “extended” sizes go up to only 3X is telling of how they think of athletes. Do they think that women larger than a 3X just don’t run, or that they can’t? Do their extended size leggings ride up the way all my other activewear leggings do?

There’s so much going on–and there’s so much to celebrate and yet still so much work to do. And they’re forgetting fat athletes like Louise Green and Jessamyn Stanley when they endeavor to “include” bodies that are seen as “out of their market anyway” because apparently, if you’re fat, you must not be active; and if you’re fat and you do work out, you’re to be made a spectacle of–so whether fat people go to the gym or stay at home, we can’t win. This is the pervasiveness of hatred for fat and the fat body. 

I will admit, Nike is helping fat women access a particular market that has either locked them out or forgotten about them altogether. For profitability? Probably. But it’s something to be said for forging a path in the direction of fat acceptance. Fat acceptance isn’t the same thing as fat promotion; and that’s often what people get twisted. We aren’t going out and demanding that everyone look and exist as we do; we’re just carving out the right we have to take up space, participate and be represented.

Unfortunately, it is not yet popular for corporations to be fat positive, and the various criticisms rooted in nothing but pure hatred for fat bodies tells us exactly why that is–because companies want to benefit from body positivity, but not like that. This is where I hope Nike steps in to shift the culture of recognition that fat people exist, and we aren’t changing for anyone or changing without our consent. Body positivity is the new rainbow capitalism, and this discussion comes at a perfect time to discuss both–especially with body liberation being tied so deeply into the liberation of the LGBTQ community, we cannot allow ourselves to be fooled by the table scraps offered by those trying to make a quick buck off our self-love. Be proud, and get representation, but be smart. Body positivity still doesn’t represent or celebrate everyone, and it sometimes fails to include bodies that aren’t cis, able-bodied, white or thin-passing. The word “thick” is appropriated so often by folks who aren’t, and it is usually code for “acceptably fat.” And until all of us are accepted, none of us are free. 

This can be hard to remember when we are duly faced with being excited about representation while having to fight off the trolls and basement-dwelling keyboard warriors who say we don’t deserve it.

There is so much to do all at once, and we don’t have to do it alone. Go find and lean on your community of fat babes, whether it’s to do a walking club (with or without Nike gear) or to sit at home and watch Netflix or read Body Respect together or figure out what to do about something that needs changing in the world. Grapple with how we are represented and dare to be seen. Be the walking Nike mannequins of the world and be victorious. (Oh and don’t give Tanya Gold from the Telegraph anymore web traffic).

As Nike says: