The National Eating Disorders Associationkicked off its awareness week on 2/24 building on their campaign of “Come As You Are.” This theme was first presented in 2019 as a call to all individuals experiencing issues with body acceptance and disordered eating, regardless of their background, to tell their story and be heard. This year’s campaign calls for people to reflect on the positive steps they’ve taken toward accepting themselves and others, including those born of set backs and falling off course.
Even though I have been in “full remission” from Anorexia Nervosa for 8 years now, there have been days and weeks where I catch myself thinking and behaving with the logic of my past disordered past self. These moments are usually triggered by stress. Knowing that stress has the power to conjure up ghosts of Julia’s past, I decided to create a contingency plan to make sure I stay healthy in both my body and mind.
One of the major positive steps I’ve taken this year has been to meal prep.
My “cooking for one” game has been sad. I held this belief that cooking was best saved for when I had company or other people to cook for. Subsequently, I would either stretch the same food out for days or would eat an assortment of “snacks” between clients and commutes. A couple of months ago while at work on a very hectic day I caught myself thinking “you don’t get to eat today.” That automatic thought freaked me out because I haven’t thought that way in over 15 years. It was mean, punishing, absolute, and not at all reflective of the present me in the room. Combined with the lethargy, irritable mood, and GI issues I was experiencing (perhaps a combo of stress, the environment, and my eating habits) I had to take action.
RSVP for One
I decided to reframe “cooking for one” as treating myself as my own dinner guest. I started my action plan by making a grocery list of pantry items to create more meal options. I also researched recipes that weren’t time consuming to ensure that I could work meal prepping around my work schedule. I chose which days of the week I could cook – Sunday nights after work and Thursday mornings. I kept a note in my iPhone where I would jot down ideas of what to cook on my commutes to and from work. This helped me to appreciate and get excited about the process of planning my meals. I have been able to stick to this plan because I made it an enjoyable process. The second I start feeling like I haveto do it means the plan needs to be modified.
People can still experience distorted body image and eating habits even if they aren’t diagnosed with an eating disorder. Developing a healthy relationship with yourself and with food can be a life long process, but trust that it’s possible. Help exists in the form of counselors, therapists, nutritionists, holistic health professionals (love you, Dr. Huang) to name a few who can guide you toward a positive body-mind connection from thought to table.
Redefining my relationship with food was one of the hardest challenges I overcame in my recovery from Anorexia. It’s been a decade plus journey with plenty of weak moments and falling off of the wagon. In an effort to hold myself accountable and practice what I preach, to both my clients and loved ones, I’d like to tell you a bit about the role nutrition played in getting me to where I am today.
The Miseducation of Julia Fragias…
The body is a wonderfully efficient machine.
Starve and abuse it, but in a continuous loop of feedback mechanisms, the brain catches wind of what you’re doing and tweaks every cell in the body to maintain your existence. When I started to eat again, my brain clearly didn’t trust me. It adjusted my metabolism to a lower rate in order to make sure the calories I put into my body wouldn’t disappear.
It took a while to earn that trust back.
The image you see above from 2007 is a softer, fuller girl almost 2 years into recovery from Anorexia. I didn’t know how to exercise properly. I didn’t know how to likefood, much less understand now-common concepts like macronutrients. I was instructed by my then counselor not to restrict food and was assured my metabolism would normalize. Eventually.
But, of course, I was still afraid to eat.
I categorized foods into “safe” and “off limits.” How did I decide what made them safe? They were low in fat or fat free. Vegetables or fruit were safe, as long as they didn’t bloat me. Liquids were safer than solids. It also helped if they were low in calories per serving. I ate my “safe foods” repetitively and copiously.
My criteria for safe were so far off the mark that they actually contributed to my rapid weight gain. As my body continued to expand, I had to fight the urge to restrict my eating. I wanted someone to give me a magic menu or list of foods that I could eat without anxiety.
I wanted safety, but I needed education.
Through therapy, I was getting served a whole lot of how to eat through mindfulness, which was helpful – chew your food well, eat slowly, savor the flavors, be grateful for the nourishment – but nobody was telling me what to eat.
How could I begin to structure balanced meals that would fuel my body efficiently?
Count your macros…
My self education was to obsessively watch fitness channels on Youtube. This was when I first came across the term macronutrient. The body builders and fitness professionals I was taking notes from all shared the same advice – count your macros. It’s a catchy word, especially when repeated like a mantra, but what exactly are they?
Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats: compounds we derive the most energy from and that make up the bulk of our diets as humans. Our cells need these nutrients to grow and develop properly.
Finally, I had something specific to focus on. I concentrated on the ratios of these compounds that the fitness community recommended were optimal for fitness and good health. I constructed a daily diet that consisted of ready made and home made protein powder based shakes, protein bars, bags of nuts, bananas for my pre-workout, and cans of water packed tuna for dinner.
Finally, I had a new “safe” list!
Problem was, it was even more restricted than my previous one.
My workouts were cardio endurance based only and lasted between 60 and 90 minutes to the point of utter exhaustion. There are a number of reasons why this is not the fitness route you want to go down, but I will get into that in my next post. I dropped about ten pounds, but I was constipated, had started to develop eczema patches all over my body and odd outbreaks of hives, had terrible insomnia and brain fog. As if that weren’t all bad enough, I put on virtually no muscle tone.
At the end of 2007, my annual blood test indicated I was deficient in many vitamins and borderline anemic. Essentially, I was malnourished. My doctor didn’t help matters either by telling me I needed to lose a few pounds. He came to this conclusion based on a chart of height and weight ranges of which I was at the high end of normal. FYI – this chart also said I was a normal weight when I had full blown anorexia. Scary, truly.
I left the doctor’s office terrified.
I abandoned my diet and let my body’s cravings guide my food choices. This was recommended by a therapist who believed the body intuitively knows what it needs. She was also trying to prevent my patterns of restriction and categorizing food. I remember meeting up with an old friend, who had struggled with childhood obesity and was now super fit. I asked him how he learned to eat properly. He laughed at me and said, “Julia. NO ONE eats properly. It’s how you exercise that counts.”
Working with a trainer, he put on lean muscle that raised his metabolism and allowed his body to burn off more calories at rest.
And he noticed something interesting.
The fitter he became, the less he craved the fried pork chops, plantain chips and soda of his youth. Remember what I said about the wonderful efficiency of the body? As his body grew healthier and stronger, so did his food choices.
He strongly urged me to contact his trainer. After I got over myself (my bad experience with personal trainers was documented in my post A Body Is A Terrible Thing To Waste) I set up my first session in August of 2008.
I started on the strength-training program the trainer designed for me. It was around the 6 week mark that I started to feel something I never expected to feel again. Hunger.
I was hungry all the time.
To actually feel my stomach rumbling and experience the weakness of NOT attending to that hunger was frightening to me, but also a huge step forward. Hunger was a sensation I had psychologically dulled for years with my disordered eating habits. So, for the first time since my recovery began, I ate when I was actually hungry.
This. Was. A. Game changer.
I was most ravenous within an hour of my workouts. I found myself craving meat, which was shocking because I had been a vegetarian for 7 years and the thought of animal protein in my mouth used to nauseate me. This hunger and these new cravings were my body’s call to action.