How Mindfulness Saved Me From My Eating Disorder
Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.
“You’re killing yourself.”
I remember it all very distinctly: the hard ER mattress, the IVs coming out of my frail arms and hands, the active noise of technology and distant voices of doctors reverberating through my brain as the world around me drifted in and out of focus. My head hurt, my eyes struggled to stay open and my limbs required every ounce of energy I could muster simply to move beneath the white hospital linens. It was all a mix of sights, sounds and sensations that became too real for my dizzied brain to process. And yet, above it all, the voices of the nurses rang in loud and true.
“Your entire immune system is shot.”
“You’re going to die unless you make a change. Now.”
At that moment, I had the strange but desperate desire to imagine that what had landed me in the ER would have been something out of my control. An unlucky accident, a car crash or an infectious disease. I would have taken anything. Absolutely anything but the truth that I was on the verge of death because of a mental “sickness” that I felt I should have had full control over: my eating habits.
If one were to look at my credentials, they would never assume that an eating disorder would be in my deck of cards. No one could predict that a “mental” disorder could penetrate my upbringing and pull me this far from my truth. I was raised by a family that always emphasized the importance of health, nutrition and mindfulness. By the age of 5, I was already learning how to meditate, moving through sun salutations and being taught why food out of our organic garden was more nutritious than what was served at school.
Further, as a child, I watched my father beat cancer through the healing power of food and I had read dozens of books on the subject to support him in his journey. Yet, somewhere along my path, societal norms got the best of me and looking back now, I can accept that my downfall had been years in the making.
You see, while my family preached the importance of individuality and self-love, the kids at school couldn’t care less. To them, I was thought to “look like a boy,” be “too tall,” “too fat,” and “too skinny.” I tried my best not to put any stock into what they said, but these comments laid the foundation of my years of “body shaming.”
Then, when I was 15, I was “discovered” by a modeling agency and approached about signing on with them. At first, it felt so exciting. It finally seemed like someone felt I was “good enough” and maybe even something special. But those feelings of acceptance and elation only lasted until I signed their contract, at which point they immediately began exercising their control over my life. They first told me I could no longer play sports (apparently I was already too muscular), then they started telling me exactly what I could eat and when. One Friday afternoon, my agent instructed me, in regards to a casting on Monday, “Make sure you don’t eat until Tuesday.” I thought she had to be joking, but no laugh or smile followed the comment. I didn’t eat, to be safe.
Fear and anxiety about my weight engulfed my entire world from there on out.
I dieted, starved, binged, purged and exercised for countless hours. I gained and lost hundreds of pounds over the course of a decade. I partied into the early hours, pill-popped and attracted a string of unhealthy and abusive relationships, including my relationship with myself. I completely abused my mind and body to pay my rent, travel and sustain my social life. I justified this existence with occasional yoga, wheatgrass shots and supplements. I lived a far from balanced life, but for the better part of a decade, I thought it was “normal.”
But “normal” doesn’t land you in the ER.
Laying there in the hospital bed, I felt so helpless. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. For the first time in a long time, I was without a packed schedule, social scene,or alcohol that allowed me to mask the unhappiness I had with my body. I felt as if my anxiety and depression were heavy on my chest and as real as the humming monitors and white curtains that engulfed me in my truth. There was no one there except the doctors and nurses. Their touch wasn’t warm and comforting like my father’s when I would come home from a day of being bullied at school. Their touch was a reminder of the possessive and controlling world I lived in that seemed to leech the little energy I had left out of my body. The hospital bed reminded me of the world that distorted my mind and consistently pulled me away from the table at meal times and into party after party until, finally, I landed here, near-dead, feeling helpless.
However, they were right. I needed to make a change and free myself from this grip. Through my tears, I decided that the answer — the way I would save myself — was to return to nutrition. I thought that if I had learned it once, I could do it again.
I found the courage to remove myself from my current environment completely, swapping the New York City party scene for international travels and enlightening educational programs, seminars and workshops. I became a certified holistic health coach and took on paying clients, preaching the benefits of whole foods and aiding others in fixing their poor eating habits. And yet, with another year and a half of knowledge, I still wasn’t cured.
Every time I walked past a mirror, into a fitting room, or in front of a camera, my heart raced. Some days I still felt too skinny, some days too fat. I continued to portion out even my kale salads so I wouldn’t eat “too much,” and I never skipped a yoga class out of crippling fear that one missed downward dog would cause the weight to pile onto my hips. I ducked out of important events because I thought everything in my closet made me look bloated, and I even found myself missing the feeling of taking laxatives and diet pills.
Most overwhelming, however, was the embarrassment I felt sitting across from my personal coaching clients, explaining the benefits of green juice but all the while panicking about their exact sugar content. Sure, my nutrition degrees taught me how to eat healthily, nourish my body and heal on a physical level, but they had not helped me heal my mind completely or release the grips of anxiety and depression.
It was hard for me to fully understand why I wasn’t free. I thought I had gone back to my roots and built myself back up from the bottom, yet I just couldn’t shake the internal demons and destructive patterns that had latched onto me. I desperately wondered how my father was able to rid himself of terminal cancer, yet I was wildly unable to take control of my mind. I delved back into my coursework and traced our family’s history up and down, looking for what I had missed or where I had gone wrong. Over and over I went, calculating environmental factors, rethinking diet plans, reworking protocols. Over and over until I thought I had exhausted all data points, until I felt I had no option left but to accept that I was going to have this “mindset” for the rest of my life. But in that place of acceptance, the light finally came on.
Meditation is something my parents began teaching my younger brother and me when I was five years old. They worked hard to integrate it into our everyday lives along with energy and breath work. While the other kids at school played video games, we met with healers to learn about Chakras. Of course, once I reached my late teens, I decided I was too cool for any of that “hippie” stuff and pushed it aside in favor of the trends and expectations my peers followed. But now I realized I needed to make amends with the flower child I abandoned within me and get back to the basics.
I started with simple meditation and a consistent yoga practice focused on reconnecting my mind with my body rather than shedding pounds. I further added in breath work and energy work, all the while looking for a specific program that would use these techniques to help me repair my relationship with my body. Unlike the plethora of fad diets and weight loss pills on the market, there was not a lot out there on how to rebuild my confidence, so I began creating a regiment of my own.
I integrated personal mantras with meditations geared to help repair my subconscious beliefs about my self-image, along with mental exercises to help create a new relationship with food. I practiced day-in and day-out and slowly began to feel the self-love returning. I found myself caring about myself again and taking care of my entire being. I felt the grip of anxiety and depression begin to release while I began to live again. And finally, after over a chaotic decade of self-deception and self-hate, I found myself reclaiming my freedom, my mind and my life.
I came out of the experience stronger, happier and more confident than I had ever been before. What’s more, I emerged with the knowledge that healing your turbulent relationship with food can not be cured with another diet, even if it is one of leafy greens and fresh-pressed juices. Most importantly, I learned your turbulent relationship with food and your body can be healed through reprogramming your mind. You must “unlearn the way you were taught to struggle.”
Take a moment now to think about what you are most fearful of when it comes to your weight and health. Is it gaining weight? Being around other people who are more slender than you? Not having self-confidence in social settings? Being naked? Experiencing emotional triggers and breakdowns when you eat? Experiencing anger that is triggered by depriving yourself of food and social experiences? Becoming sick if you don’t lose the weight? Or maybe it is actually losing the weight and finally being free?
Shut your eyes for a moment and gently analyze each fear individually. Acknowledge the fear and allow yourself to address the cause of it. You will be surprised at how much you most likely overestimate each fear; most are not as dramatic as they might feel. Now ask yourself, “Am I ready to overcome them?”
If the answer is yes, then moving forward, when you find yourself feeling frustrated with your body or feeling down about what you see when you look in the mirror, remember me. Remember that you are not alone. Remember that breaking free from depression or anxiety, finding your steady, powerful inner confidence and opening up to the deepest form of love for your body can only come from within.
You don’t need another book or diet plan or pill to tell you what’s healthy. Your body already knows what’s good for it. Your job is simply to give it the room to speak.
I believe this can only be done by reprogramming your subconscious mind and everything it has been taught to believe.
You can do it. I think you just need to quiet your mind and find a place of self-love.
This is a truth I now hold self-evident. I have integrated this practice into my own life and use it with my personal coaching clients, helping hundreds of women reclaim their sense of self and love of their bodies. It is my hope that you, too, can find this truth within yourself and allow it to transform your life as well.
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Getty image via oatawa