Choosing Recovery: The Easiest Hard Decision I’ll Ever Make

Yesterday, I made the decision to once again stop tracking my calories and weighing myself for at least the month of February. For the past 4 months, I have been inching my way back towards this leap with my dietician — increasing my calories very slowly, and only moderately successfully. I was due for another increase yesterday, but I wasn’t even consistently hitting the previous increase. I also had my first ever doctor’s appointment where I actually told the doctor about my diagnosis (OSFED – atypical anorexia subtype, in case you were curious – meaning having lost a significant amount of weight due to obsessive caloric restriction but not yet being classified as having a medically underweight BMI). And something hit me…

It wasn’t that long ago that doctors were calling me an athlete; now, they are calling me anorexic. And, I had the thought: what do I want to be called? Anorexic or an Athlete?

I was so proud the first time someone referred to me as an athlete. It’s not a title I ever thought I’d carry. Athleticism was not a part of my personality! Athlete means dedication, focus, commitment, discipline – it means all the good qualities I want to have. 100% I want to be called an athlete again.

But, if I’m honest, there’s also a part of me that wanted to be called anorexic. But, really, what I think that part wanted was for it to be obvious that I was in pain. Anorexic means “I’m not ok, and I need help.” Anorexia communicates that when I feel like I can’t.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few days telling this part of myself that giving up anorexia doesn’t mean that I can’t communicate my pain. And, in fact, giving up anorexia is likely to mean stronger pain, not less of it — because it means giving up the thing I was using to self-soothe and numb that pain.

A few people in my support groups have asked me “how? How did you make this decision? How did you get to this point?” Even I was asking myself if I’d find this point again…just this weekend, I was asking it. Well, a few things…

First, I have the benefit this time of already knowing that intuitive eating works well for me and that there are very good things on the other side of eating disorder recovery. I’m not nearly as scared this time around, because I’ve done it before.

Second, I have been so overwhelmed and stressed lately — daycare closed due to a COVID outbreak there, and I had to work full-time while caring for my two young children.

The eating disorder adds so much stress and pain on top of all of this other stress and pain. In a moment of clarity, I had to genuinely ask myself why I wasn’t choosing to take control over the one thing I could actually change to make things better?

For months, coming to this decision has felt like the hardest thing. But, in the end, it is really pretty easy. You really do…just do it. And anorexics are stubborn, strong-willed people. When we put our mind to something, we do it. 100%.

I don’t know what exactly will happen now. Though I’m not clinically underweight, I’ll still probably gain some weight, and that might suck. Hopefully, the people who matter to me won’t care about that. Hopefully, I won’t care about that too much.

I’ll try to document it some on here — this starting over again journey back to intuitive eating. I’m only a day and a half in, and I can already tell you that it is both immediately freeing and frightening. But, mostly freeing. And already worth it.

Reflections on Losing 100 Pounds: What “After” Me Would Say to “Before” Me

If I could go back in time … go back to Before and talk to my young-20s self who was only a couple of years into her weight-loss journey, what would I tell her? What advice might I give this version of myself who was finally stepping into her life and learning to live out loud?

The first piece of advice I would give myself is to get into therapy.

You have been through trauma, and it is influencing you in ways you can’t see. You may not even be ready to call it trauma, but it is.

You need to learn to deal with these things instead of shoving them into a box in the back of your mind as if they will just disappear or stay out of sight, out of mind. Because, that box will never contain them. And, they won’t go away. Not with losing weight, not with binging or stopping binging, not with exercise, finding a new partner…not even with therapy. But, at least with therapy, you won’t be holding them alone.

cir. 2011

Next, I would tell myself to talk to a dietician. Not just any dietician, but one who specializes in eating disorders. Because, news flash young self, you have an eating disorder.

Not “you’ll develop one,” but you HAVE one. You’ve had one for a long time. And, while Weight Watchers has taught you how to control and track portions, you are doing absolutely nothing to get to the root of your already-decade-long eating disorder. And, if you don’t address anything but the manual steps to losing weight, you’re going to come out this on the other side just as unhealthy as you went in.

Then, I would tell her…find something, anything that is not weight- or diet-related, to be passionate about and then fully invest yourself in that thing. Nurture the ever-loving-sh*t out of that passion.

Knowing me, I’d say…ride horses. Ride ALL the horses. Learn to canter and jump and ride bareback – who cares that you’re still in a bigger body? Do it anyways! Find a way. Set aside money to make it something you do every single week. Make it a priority.

When you are sad, ride a horse; when you are angry, ride a horse; when you are happy, ride a horse; when you have overwhelming feelings in every direction and don’t know what to do, ride a horse… if you can’t afford to ride, find some way to be with horses… or walk dogs or paint or sing or maybe even learn to dance. ANYthing but starting a new diet.

One day, this journey will be over — the journey of weight loss. One day, you will be at After. And what will you do then? What will be your passion then?

Find it now. Nurture it now. Do it now so that when “after” gets here, you are not left without a life outside of weight loss to which to turn.

Which leads me to…this: don’t ever let your world shrink around any one thing.

Nothing is permanent.

I know it is your most desperate wish that something or someone will come into your life with a promise of forever that you can actually believe in, but start grieving now, because that doesn’t exist.

And if something or someone starts promising you otherwise, run as fast and far away as you can. Don’t cling to it in desperation for the false promise to be true.

The only constant is change.

Your body will change, the number on the scale will change, the people in your life will change, your life situation will change, everything will change. Forever and always. And no matter how hard you try to make that not happen — no matter how hard you try to control or avoid change, it will come just the same.

There is very little in life that you can actually control, and that is scary as fuck.

So, gather your resources. Build a team of support around you…a life full of support and passion.

That’s what I’d tell my young self. And I’d hope to god that I’d listen.

Weight Loss Addiction

I wake up in the morning, use the restroom, and then slip out of my pajamas while analyzing every inch of my body in the mirror.

Do I look bloated today? Is my stomach sticking out further than yesterday? When’s the last time I had a bowel movement? (You’re welcome for that TMI.)

I step on the scale while holding my breath. I analyze everything I’ve eaten in the last 24 hours. Did some choice I made yesterday mean the scale will be higher today? The what-ifs start: What if I’d just foregone ONE snack, eaten 100 calories less, if I’d JUST skipped the chocolate…

The number comes up. It’s a loss!

I feel an immediate rush of pleasure: yes, yes, yes! I did it! It feels so good!

Do you know that feeling?

How long does it last for you?

It used to last me a while — a week, days, at least that one whole day. A 0.2 or half-pound loss would still give me a little dopamine spike for a bit.

Now, it lasts mere seconds, and only if I drop down to at least the next pound lower. I can maybe drag it out by posting about it somewhere, writing it down, recording it. But never for more than a few extra seconds.

Then, I am craving the next hit. I am thinking about the day to come. I am making food plans, figuring out how best to avoid food situations, re-analyzing yesterday’s choices for what I could’ve done better to get a bigger loss… a bigger hit.

It’s an addiction. And, I don’t know when it became this.

The truth of the matter is, I’m pretty OK with the way my body looks right now. I’m 134 pounds, 5’6”, I lift weights, so I have some muscle definition — yes, I have loose skin, but I’m healthy. I’m average. (That’s frightening in and of itself, but that’s another post for another day.) So, if I’m OK with my body, why do I want to keep losing weight?

This is not something I was ever warned about when I began my weight loss journey. And, maybe it’s not an issue for everyone, but it makes sense that it is for me. I used to use food to get that dopamine rush. Nothing made me feel as (temporarily) “good” (or, at least numb) as a binge. And, over time, I had to eat more and more to get those feelings, which also lasted less time. I wish I had considered that the same might be true for weight loss.

I don’t know how to end this blog because, right now, I’m stuck in this addiction. I can only say, if I did it all again, I would focus more on nurturing the other things in my life so that my world didn’t shrink around any one thing: food, weight loss, exercise, a person… anything can be addictive. And, since I think I’m probably hardwired to be prone to obsession, I would and will focus more on being flexible in any area of my life where I begin to become rigid.

I know I needed to lose weight at one point in my life, but I wish I’d had a better picture of the long game.

Intuitive Eating Through My Second Pregnancy After Weight Loss

Hi everyone! I’m sorry for keeping you waiting. Life has been hectic since COVID, pregnancy, and, now, a second kiddo! But, I wanted to make sure that I came back to update you all on how my second pregnancy and first couple of postpartum months have gone.

When I last left you, I was 18 weeks pregnant with baby Michael, had gained about 9 pounds, and was still exercising 5 days a week. Here’s a comparison of how I looked at this point with Michael vs. with my first kiddo, Emma.

To be honest, early on, I felt like I looked pretty similar to how I had with Emma. However, as time went on, I definitely noticed I was bigger this time around than I had been the first time.

For example…

In case you couldn’t tell…the left picture is my second pregnancy (Michael) while the right picture is my first pregnancy (Emma).

On the day I went into labor, I was something like 173 pounds, meaning I gained 33 pounds this pregnancy…almost exactly what I gained with Emma!

This pregnancy was different in so many ways, though. I exercised up until about 30 weeks, and then I did stop exercising (minus chasing my first kiddo around) when the pressure of the pandemic, parenting at home while working full-time, pregnancy, and the loss of my beloved cat finally caught up with me. Still, I ate intuitively this entire pregnancy — even when the weight gain and larger stomach scared me. To be honest, I’m 6.5 weeks postpartum, and besides walking a couple of miles most days, I haven’t started exercising “for real” again yet.

I ate freely and kind of a LOT this time around, whereas, last time, I tracked my calories religiously and only ate 2,000 calories in my 3rd trimester (ha! 2,000 calories would now be restrictive for me).

Last time, after I had Emma, I lost 10 pounds after she was born and maintained a weight of 147-150 for 6 months; this time, I quickly and, without effort, lost about 18 pounds. I currently weight about 155 pounds. Apparently, my body is pretty consistent, haha.

Here I am yoga-ing with my daughter while wearing my son!

To be honest, right now, I have absolutely zero desire to diet or strenuously work out. Probably because most days, I end the day looking something like this:

I’m tired! My husband and I are BOTH tired…pretty much all of the time.

Our 4-year-old daughter is having a tough time adjusting right now, so all of my energy is exhausted trying to be present for her while also taking care of the baby and house. (Did I mention our indoor-only cats somehow got fleas? Yeah. So, I clean the house kind of a lot right now.)

The good news is that, mental health wise, I am doing 1 million percent better this time around than I did last time. I will do a separate blog on that at a later time, I promise.

Until then, I’m living life in a size-bigger pants and still eating the cake. Because life’s too short to worry about being a little squishy!

Til next time 🙂 Stay safe!

Obligatory Baby Photo!

What Does Normal Bloating Look Like?

I recorded a video for my YouTube channel yesterday (I’ll post it below) that I thought would translate pretty well into a blog as well (plus, I’m going to add some bonus pictures that aren’t in the video just for my awesome blog readers). For those who would rather watch vs. read (or watch and read), here is the video:

Now…let’s talk about bloating.

This experiment was inspired by one of my favorite YouTubers, Natacha Océane, who recorded what a normal day of bloating and scale fluctuations look like for her. Now, there are a few differences between Natacha and myself…

Natacha and Me

…have you spotted them?

I’ll give you a minute.

Just in case you can’t tell from this photo, Natacha is in her 20s, has never been obese, and has never had a child — three pretty big differences between the two of us!

I loved her honest portrayal so much, though, that I wanted to provide my own showing my different body type. So, that’s what I did!

Now, if you watch the video, you’ll hear all about how difficult this day wound up being for me. I struggle pretty hard with watching the scale and my body fluctuate. I am hoping that this experiment will help to remind me that these are very fickle things that fluctuate wildly, and there’s no need or reason to change anything just because of minor fluctuations like this.

Now, the experiment…

Method!

I “measured” as soon as I woke up, after my run, after lunch, before bed, and when I woke up again this morning.

I took two sets of photos/video: my abs relaxed vs. my abs flexed (not that you can see them, haha).

I also weighed myself.

What I Ate

Pre-run: espresso with some creamer

Breakfast: protein pancakes w/ extra protein powder, peanut butter chips, coffee w/ creamer

Lunch: half of a buffalo ranch salad kit with a beef pattie on top, sweet potato chips, sour gummies

Dinner: a bowl of cereal with 2% milk, blueberries, and a yogurt

Snacks: lunch meat (turkey), crackers, pickles, protein bar, decaf coffee with creamer

How I Worked Out

5-mile short run

Results!

Here are the weights:

I was 140.2 when I woke up, 138.8 after my 5-mile run, 140.8 after lunch, and 140.8 before bed.

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I woke up at 139.6 this morning.

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Abs Relaxed Photos

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Absrelaxed2.jpg

This morning:

Absrelaxed4.jpg

Abs Flexed Photos!

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Flex2.jpg

This morning:

Flex4.jpg

Conclusion!

Bloat is normal, the scale fluctuates a lot throughout the day and day-to-day, and these things are not something to worry about. I thought, at first, that I bloat up “bigger” than others because of the elasticity in my stomach area, but I’m honestly not sure that’s true now. I think I’m just much more critical of myself!

Also, on a personal note, yes, I have legitimately gained a couple pounds in the last couple of months. I actually had lost about 4-5 pounds when I went on a short-term, idiotic diet, but my body composition test told me that all I’d managed to do was lose muscle & water & freak my body out so that it was holding onto fat for dear life. So, I stopped dieting, got back on the intuitive eating train, and re-gained the weight within 3 weeks. My next body composition test is next week, and I’m hoping to see that I have my muscle (water) back.

Personal Note

This was a really hard experiment for me, and I am feeling all sorts of anxious about putting it out there. I’m definitely struggling with body image a lot these days – more, I think, than I was even before I started exercising.

That said, the exercise is going amazingly well! I continue to see gains in my strength and endurance, and I want that to be all that matters — I at least want it to matter more than a stupid number on a scale. I hope, some day, this is true for me.

 

So, I Started a YouTube Channel…

I’m kind of hesitant/reluctant to share this here, because writing is definitely “my language,” but I’ve decided to start a YouTube channel. Actually, I used to vlog back in college, so this isn’t an entirely new medium for me, but, in any case… this is just a very short entry to say “hey…if you’ve ever wondered what I sound like…now you can know…”

The channel is going to be quite similar to this blog. I want to be open and honest about my previous weight loss journey, eating disorder recovery, intuitive eating, mental health, and fitness journey. I’m always open to suggestions on what to film; there are a few little videos up right now. I’ll post one below! Side note: right now, I am just filming with my phone until I decide if this is something I see myself doing long-term. Right now, I’m just dipping my toe into this new hobby.

 

No-Track November

I’ve been bouncing around the idea of trying out intuitive eating (or at least not tracking my food) for some time now. I’m not sure I can convey the anxiety this concept causes me, but let me try:

Imagine everything in your life that matters to you: everyone you love, everyone who loves you, all you have accomplished, all of your hopes and dreams for yourself and your loved ones.

Now, imagine all of those things only exist in your life for as long as you remain in firm control of your caloric intake, body shape, and the number on the scale.

If you’ve been able to conjure up the feeling of life-ending anxiety and pressure that entails, then you now know what every single moment of my life feels like for me. And, you’ll understand a little better the magnitude of this decision.

I am doing this for a few reasons:

1. I’m honestly curious what will happen. Can someone who was previously obese, lost the weight, and maintained that loss for years actually give up tracking food and NOT gain everything back? I don’t know. And, I don’t know how else to find out except to experiment.

2. There’s some scary shit beneath the surface of this eating disorder. If I’m not obsessing over calories and macros, what is going to come up? What will fill my mind? I want to tackle the deeper layer now. I can only do that if I am not numbing myself with restriction and food obsession.

3. I realized recently that both mine and my family’s diets are rather limited. I do all of the cooking, and I tend to cook the same “safe foods” repeatedly. I also often eat something entirely different from the rest of my family. This is not how I want to raise my daughter. Also, it’s not how I want to live. I LOVE cooking…or, at least, I used to…

So, here we go.

There’s no other way to do this but to just do it — and it needs to be for long enough that I can really truly see “what happens.” We’ll start with a month.

Eat Less, Weigh Less: A Woman’s Mantra

43117043_10102349786336293_6428486540736856064_nMy whole life, I have always thought there was only one way to “be” as a woman: eat less, weigh less.

That’s how you get thin; that’s how you stay thin. And, women should be thin.

After years of trying and failing to commit to eating less, somehow, I finally got a grip on that chain, and I’ve been toeing that line for a decade.

It’s exhausting. There’s a reason that all of the studies show that most people who lose weight will gain it back. (Even my nutritionist tells me that I’m the first person she’s ever met who is part of the National Weight Control Registry.) I have spent years living in fear that I will gain it all back too. To combat that fear, I clung to this truth: “If I eat less, it can’t happen.”

Starvation is a full-time job. There are no breaks when you turn restriction into a lifestyle. When every calorie matters, food becomes an obsession: the first thing you think about in the morning and the last thing you think about at night. It even invades your dreams. You learn to live at a low level of hunger at all times.

I am so tired of being hungry.

Three months ago, I stumbled into a local gym that provides personal training and specializes in educating their clients about all things health-related. During my consultation, I told the owner that I had nutrition down but was ready to learn about exercise.

For the first couple of months, I continued to do what I’ve always done: eat less. I asked even more of my body, and I was so angry at it when it “failed me.” In frustration, I did, again, what I’ve always done: I doubled down on my commitment. I decided that I would eat even less, I would work out even more. That has always been the answer: eat less, move more. Right?

And then, about a month ago, after literally crying outside of the gym after a particularly bad day in which I felt weak and like I had regressed in my strength training, I found this video by a female fitness (and especially strength training) guru, Natacha Océane. In the video, she halved her caloric intake for a week (dropping from her normal 2,500-2,800 to just 1,400 calories per day, which was about what I was eating at the time) but continued her typical exercise routine. Suddenly, she couldn’t lift nearly as much weight, she was exhausted, and every time she ate, she just felt more hungry.

I felt like I was watching myself from that morning at the gym – unable to lift what I’d just been able to lift a couple of weeks before.

And something clicked. And I watched more videos, read more articles, scoured the internet world of female strength training and…holy…crap.

There is an entirely different world out there.

There is a world of women who are eating more, gaining muscle (which means, yes, gaining weight on a scale), and yet somehow being leaner and stronger and a million times more alive than my starving self.

There are countless women showing how they moved from an “eat less, weigh less” lifestyle to an “eat more, f#@% the scale” strength training lifestyle and are now actually a few dress sizes smaller despite a higher number on the standard scale.

But, more than that, there are women who have said “f#@% the scale, f#@% my appearance, I want to be strong. I want to be able to do pull-ups. I want to run a Spartan race. I want to deadlift double my weight. And that is what is going to fulfill me.”

At first, I was thinking “well of course it’s OK for you, super fit women, to eat more; but, not me. I’m not allowed to eat that much.”

What sealed the deal for me, though, was my trainer very bluntly telling all of us that he sees so many of his female clients come in eating next to nothing and desperately trying to lose weight, and that his goal for us was to see us eating more, getting stronger, and focusing on performance goals.

That told me “Yes, you…specifically you…who are not super fit or lean like the women in those YouTube videos, you who still have a lot of body fat…even you are allowed to eat more. NEED to eat more. This will work even for you.”

And, so I am.

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Slowly, and with a lot of fear and trepidation, but also with trust and just as much stubbornness and willpower as it took to restrict, I am increasing my intake. I am changing my goals.

I am no longer trying to eat less to weigh less; I am trying to eat more to get stronger and to develop a lifestyle in which I am thriving – doing so much more than trying to stay thin.

And, it’s working.

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I went from never running a mile straight to being able to run a 5k in a matter of weeks. (Aiming for my first 10k on Thanksgiving day!)

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If you follow me on Instagram (@saladflambe), you’ll have already seen this, but I gained a pound this month, and it was all muscle; plus, I still lost some fat. All while eating more, not less.

I want to shout it from the rooftops… every time I see someone talking about how little they are eating, I want to take their face in my hands, look them in the eye and say “you don’t have to do that! There is another way to live! And to really, truly be alive!”

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Yes, even for you.

 

Getting Comfortable with Being Anxious

It has been 3 weeks since I last stepped on a scale; I have no idea what I weigh right now. Not only that, but for the last 3 weeks, I have eaten the number of calories that somebody else has set as my target number of calories. It is higher than I would choose to eat on my own.

I’m anxious, but that is OK.

I am anxious, but I am doing it anyways.

I’ve been relatively quiet on here about what exactly I’m doing right now, because I was honestly not sure that it would last. I was afraid to tell you all and then to fail…not unlike how I failed to give up tracking my food. But, I’m going to go ahead and talk about it now; if I fail, you’ll get to see it, but that’s ok. It’s all part of the journey.

Nearly 3 months ago, I joined a small local gym and began exercising regularly for the first time ever under the guidance of group personal trainers. I expected to burn out on it quickly, but, actually…I think I kind of love it.

flex

I quickly noticed that, in order to perform well, I needed to eat. But, of course, the eating disorder part of my brain panics about that. So, I was caught between a rock and a hard place: one part of me wanting to perform well in the gym; one part just wanting to lose weight.

I am choosing performance.

Right now, I am taking part in a challenge at my gym during which I have made some commitments:

  1. To work towards being able to run 5k without stopping — (Accomplished this morning!!)
  2. To work towards my first pull-up — (stilllll a ways off)
  3. To eat enough protein — (I am still tracking my food; but, I am eating more than I would typically eat. And, in fact, my goal is to be eating even more in time)
  4. To not weigh myself except for those weigh-ins required by the challenge (one at the 4-week mark; one at the 8-week mark both on a body composition scale – because scale weight is a crappy tool for measuring anything worthwhile)

I am also working with my eating disorder nutritionist to challenge my eating disorder; it is becoming a lot easier to distinguish that ED voice from my own, because while I am focused on performance, the ED is not.

Right now, I am at this stage where pretty much everything I’m doing makes me (and/or the eating disorder) anxious:

  • lifting weights = stalling out on the scale
  • eating more food = fear of weight gain
  • not weighing myself = feeling out of control
  • eating fear foods = feeling like I am completely losing control of myself and am a bad person

I’m doing it anyways. All of it. Because enough is enough. Because life is too short for this bullshit. Because I want to actually be happy and live life and not sit on the sidelines terrified that a plate of pasta is going to mean that nobody loves me.

My nutritionist told me that if I continue to “do it anyways” (listen to the other trusted professionals who have told me what it is I should be doing rather than listening to my eating disorder (previously thought of as “myself,” but I prefer now to think that I am not my eating disorder)) that one of two things will happen: either the anxiety will fade or I will be able to say “I am anxious about this thing, but I am doing it anyways,” and that will be OK. I’ve already seen this starting to happen.

I don’t want to make this blog too long, but I do update my Instagram regularly now; you can find me @saladflambe

I’ve been posting a mixture of “What I Eat in a Day,” race and lifting videos and photos, eating disorder challenge posts, plus pics of my daughter and my cats 🙂

I am 3 weeks into my gym’s 8-week challenge, and I am already thinking about what I will be doing next. I discussed it with my nutritionist this week, but I’m not quite ready to “commit to it” here. So, stay tuned… If I can work up the courage, it’s going to be big (for me), and it’s going to be terrifying (but, in a good way). Good thing I’ve got these guns to keep me safe now 😉

gunsss