It’s not out of the ordinary for me to write about my past issues with food. There's something safer about the ability to stylize my thoughts once I've conquered them and moved on. It's far less tidy to engage in a conversation about my current struggle—with ends left untied and no pretty, body-positive bow wrapped around my sentiments. But I'd go as far as to say perhaps that's the beauty in all of this. That we can write about our bodies when we're feeling strong and fearless just as candidly as we do when our thoughts are astray.
For me, it's a never-ending battle. I'll never be done worrying about food or trying to keep my disordered thoughts under control. But I try my best, with each passing day, to classify what's real and what parts of me are delusions.
In this case, a devotion to "self-love" (i.e. not counting calories, allowing myself to indulge, and forgoing healthy foods for heavier, comforting ones) has had a less-than-favorable result on my body. Over the last year or so, I decided enough was enough—I was going to eat what I wanted and silence the passenger-side demons telling me I had to restrict myself. A diet I'd once called balanced (one I previously worked so hard to streamline) was now reckless, with a devotion to "not giving a fuck" over all else. I mistook real hunger for my cravings to be "normal," as a person who doesn't have to care about what food she eats or how she looks to be happy.
Then, I gained 10 pounds. All of my hard-earned, expertly honed acceptance flew right out the window, and I began to feel helpless. That's the thing about progress. It can stagnate and regress in mere moments. One mirror check, tight pair of jeans, or unflattering photo and poof—it's gone. At first, I didn't mind. I knew I'd gained weight, but I've come to familiarize myself with a body that often fluctuates. But as time went on, I found myself more and more frustrated with the way I looked, indulging for the sake of it. My intimate moments were spent picking myself apart, relinquishing the compassion I'd found after years of merciless scrutiny. I finally stepped on the scale as my own tipping point, hoping that seeing the number would quiet my fears and put me back in the driver's seat of my own recovery. It didn't. Right there, in plain black and white, was a number I didn't plan to see. Though, rather than fall back into an age-old spiral, it forced me to confront what had happened. I'd let go of a hatred for my body while also washing away the lessons I'd learned in the process. I needed to find balance again and treat my body with respect—which means making health a priority again.
So I made a plan to get myself back to a place I'm comfortable with—both physically and mentally. Below, I outline what I've been doing to try to regain my stability because the journey to wellness, self-care, and body acceptance is winding and constantly oscillating.
Be open and curious rather than restrictive.
This doesn't mean eat anything, anytime, anywhere. That's something I learned recently. Instead, "Listen to your body and how it feels," notes plant-based cook and health coach Lily Kunin. Rather than eating for the sake of regulating your emotions, Kunin asks that you maintain a constant dialogue with your body. What are you craving? Is there a reason for that? Experiment with how certain foods make you feel. "Try eating vegan or paleo for a couple of weeks. Do you feel depleted or does your energy soar? Do you feel different after eating a big, raw salad in the winter [as opposed to] the summer? I talk about how to tap into this intuition in my cookbook, Good Clean Food, and share the recipes based on how food makes you feel."
Be realistic about takeout.
If you're constantly getting delivery (me), it's really tough to know exactly what you're putting into your body. And in the moment, it seems so much easier (read: it's fun) to order Chinese food or pizza. Instead, try Plated or Blue Apron. Both companies make cooking at home as low-impact as possible. And if you're really like me (and still can't get it together to prepare your own meals), hit up the prepared food section at your local grocery store. It's time-effective, it ideally tastes better and more satisfying than something you'd make yourself, it's easy to stay on top of ingredients, and it allows you to eliminate stressful decision-making in the process.
Get over how healthy-eating "sounds."
After months of rolling my eyes at "diets," getting over the antiquated notion that eating healthy is "uncool" is a positive step. It's lame to judge other people's choices, especially when it comes to food. No one has any idea what another person is going through—why they're ordering a salad or choosing to abstain from dessert. So stop being judgmental of both yourself and others at the dinner table. Then, you'll feel more comfortable ordering healthy, nutrient-rich foods when you know you need them. My narrow-minded view of which foods warranted approval is just as uneducated as when a man says, "I like a girl who can eat," when what he really means is, "I like a naturally slender girl who can eat whatever she wants and not gain weight." It's the celebration of traditional beauty ideals while balking at the means available to get there (e.g. a clean diet). It's also not behavior indicative of the struggles or progress I've made on the road to eating disorder recovery. All in all, it's a bad habit, and I'm cutting it out entirely. And ordering salad more often when I'm craving it.
Do some research.
The quickest ways for me to move forward are acceptance and research. Accept you gained some unwanted weight, drink a lot of water with lemon to kick-start your metabolism (and flush out your system), and research a bunch of delicious restaurants in your neighborhood that also have a health focus. Look into websites that take a holistic, positive view toward dieting and food, rooted in self-love rather than restriction and rules. Try contacting a nutritionist to take charge of your eating routine with more expertise and information.
Oh, and breathe. You're going to be fine. You don't have to give up the time you spend eating (it's important to me), but you can change the food you're consuming and the way you're thinking about it. Know all your hard work isn't lost just because you gained weight. It's all good.