Why my restricted diet didn’t work:
I grew up in a controlling home; Mum and Dad were eastern Europeans and followed the mantra of “finish what’s on your plate before you can leave the table”. Food was served to me, and I rebelled growing up by ordering chicken fingers and fries on special request at every dinner out (even when not on the menu). “Picky eater” was what I was dubbed. But in retrospect, I can see that my little self was trying to solidify herself in self-assurance and in my rebelling, I was attempting to gain control over my own life. I became so keen to rebel that it then became my identity because I was so sick and unhappy of being told what or when to eat. Essentially, my identity became “Fuck you, I’ll do the opposite of what you want me to do.” The trouble lay in my identity becoming a mask of coping through rebellion, instead of true intuitive listening to my own needs. What the hell did I like to eat?
Long ass food journey of Bulimia, Anorexia, seasoned with Anxiety and Depression. Honestly, now, as I heal, I can say that self-awareness and being present is the key to finding myself. There is no fear and no need to escape myself when I’m present. If I dissociate, numb myself, mindlessly eat shit that bloats me, if I don’t tune into my true hungers, be them mind-based or physiological or BOTH, then I lose myself. The cycle continues in this catalyzing way, the vicious turmoil of pain and more pain, craving more and more escape. More water, more salt, more foods that engage my psychological needs to FEEL (think shitloads of Tabasco, heat, FEELINGS, SENSATIONS, etcetc).
After high school and university, binge-purge escapism persisted. I was a sensationalist. I rebelled so hard and didn’t eat the “real food” served at home, buying into my now-ingrained habit of rebellion by way of non-food items (egg white fluff pancakes, fat-free coffee whitener, sugar free jam…copious amounts of splenda…) paved way to finding a healthier way in more routine, and Timothy Ferriss’s “slow-carb” diet. This was a new awakening for me. A peek at physiological nourishment. So I followed, strictly. Slowly, binges stopped. I ate on time, without hours of punitive fasting, and real food like eggs and hummus. But my deep sense of self was still not looked at. I was covering up the wound, not looking at the pain, again, escaping. I’ll bless my own soul for surviving though, because each step along this journey has molded my NOW. Thanks sexci Ferriss for the SC diet because it gave me nourishment, body nourishment and not soul, albeit, but still good food. But, HARK- (?)
This new diet, “Paleo” became what I believed to be my saviour. But then my life gradually took on an insane routine-oriented blinding, rubbish-path. Obsessed with timing of food, and so keen to listen to body hunger cues while still bloating and dishonouring my intuition, I closed off my own life.
Today, right now, I am changing. More aware of myself than ever before, I don’t want to hide from my feelings anymore. When I release this stronghold of routine, I am forced to FEEL. When I feel all of my needs, all my body’s speech, I am so goddamn grounded. Fuck, I just now had the first real food breakfast I’ve had in years, instead of my usual super-diluted protein-powdered blended “smoothie bowl” (sometimes smoothies good, sometimes chew, aye?!). What I am realizing is that the reasons my “diet” and most “diets” don’t work, is because WE are always changing. We have to constantly tune into our needs, no singular rules will work. For example, kefir, good shit, right? Honestly though, not alllll the time! Sometimes my body doesn’t want kefir, and sometimes it does. That’s WORK. That’s discomfort in awareness. Listening, because we are DYNAMIC beings, this human shit we partake in. Always changing, no constant, no definitive rules. Sometimes poo 2x a day, sometimes 4 (sorry for those less than 2….bless your souls….might I suggest flax? sometimes…).
That’s that. I’m on my way. We all are, aren’t we?
And now, some funny indian comedy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_o_GAZMnmuM&t=70s
Have a sweet ass Monday!
To be present is so not scary.
Slowly, I isolated myself from life, from fear of my bulimia and binge purge ways. Mindless. Habit and routine waked me from the hollow centre of a pit, stringently noosing my neck as I dug my nails deep in resistance. Slowly, the control of timely eating, routined meals and portions and also that of refueling without going for ages without nourishment falsely gave me a sense of control. In a way, it was a survival tactic to pull me out of Bulimia. It worked.
Now, though, I am more aware, and there is no fear of binge-purge ways. I am a Nutritionist, a coach, and a lover of helping others find self-love. But I need to live that shit first. Slowly, with presence, fucking presence, I will watch my ways and choose other ones. I will observe my body cues prior to the mind tempting me to restrict and follow the patterns that are so ingrained in me. I have innate natural intuition, as do we all, and it is always available with presence. Where do I feel the sensation in my body when I make choices? So often, I have zero awareness of the body language my muscles skin and bones are hinting at me. It is always there, again and again I slowly feel that shit. Instead of monotonizing my life, sabotaging my body and disregarding its voice, I am listening. Bloated? Needing love? What nourishment do I need?
Lately, I am finding that I need cooked foods. Rajasic state, anxiety and hyper-arousal which catapults me out of the present moment and way out of my window of tolerance are what result with vinegary salads that some part of me craves. Perhaps it’s the part of me that is desperate to FEEL. I am awakening to just how suppressed my true feelings are. I am afraid. I am afraid to trust myself. It’s been so long since I’ve honoured my true body signals and my true needs. Nourishment is holistic; it encompasses Life.
Connection, with others and the self, is a need not filled falsely or fleetingly by food. God, listening deep gives such insight onto this! Mel, my dear woman, no phone at the table! (soon this will be easier, first comes at dinner, then no longer will I even WANT the phone at the table).
Every addiction has a cause and a source. Removing the addiction does nothing unless the source is healed. So fuck, no phone at table? What does the phone at the table serve for me? I am well aware of the detriments of lack of awareness. I feel that the phone fills a void of control and lack of connection and engagement in life, so I concentrate my “high” at meals with distraction, hyper and hypo arousal via glued to instagram or reading blogs. Hmmm, as I learn what I need, I will see that I seek those meaningful connections outside of mealtimes. I feel so much better after a meal that is mindfully consumed and peacefully sated when I listen to my intuitive eating knowledge. My body responds with sound digestion, calm gut, and no need to escape myself or run away. And in this way, I heal from The Shit.
And now, begins yoga.
Warning: “informative read” aka kind of boring but really good insight #ifimaysaysomyself….
Anorexia Nervosa is physically visible as a disease of bodily malnourishment, and can be easily spotted in a struggling individual. Physical markers like shockingly low weight, gaunt face, cold hands and feet, inability to focus, among others, are easy to spot. However, the deeper seated malnourished inside the mind hides more than only the body shows. The psychological turmoil faced by those suffering ranges from abuse, trauma, pain, lack of control, a poor or non-existent self-worth, and more. Overall, the suppression of pain has been cultivated by the anorexic, in order to survive a life circumstance. Of the many causes, the reaction is the same, and can be expressed as an inability to stay within a symbolically thin window of tolerance. Mindfulness, and reconnecting with the lost sense of self as one learns to reacquaint themselves with safety in their own presence is key in healing from Anorexia Nervosa.
Trauma, regardless of the avenue experienced, is something many of us face in our lives. Through evolutionary coping mechanisms that instill a survival instinct, we engage in dissociation as a protective means to attempt to find peace and to live on. An eating disorder manifests in this way, by means of coping and controlling external stimuli when feeling out of locus of control. The Anorexic feels forced to dissociate from their body, to not live inside it, but to hover on the outside, where they feel safely disconnected from the source of trauma and pain. This is a very wise way in which to survive pain and threat, and is defined as the Fight or Flight response. The Fight response directly speaks to a feeling of emotional overwhelm, panic, feeling unsafe, angry, racing thoughts and anxiety. This can be named the state of “hyper-arousal”, and is a state of coping where we have left our window of the tolerable level of trauma experience in our lives, and are in overdrive of engagement. By contrast, hypo-arousal, the “flight” response, is where the individual numbs themselves, disconnecting from painful thoughts, engaging in feelings of shame and diving into a deep, isolating depression. It should be noted that both states cultivate a sense of isolation, as an Eating Disorder originates from feeling unsafe in one’s own body. And so, by receding from contact, the Anorexic is seeking to blanket themselves away from harm’s way.
Conversely, the happy window of tolerance that is to be cultivated for a physically and psychologically healthy individual is one that can be described as a condition where one finds it easy to carry on with daily life in a state of well being. When this window is in an appropriate range, life’s challenges are easy to cope with. When the window shrinks through dissociation, receding, numbing and when survival mode kicks in, many events are triggers into dissociation from the body, and the coping mechanisms harnessed are engaged. For anorexics, this being self-starvation.
Although the causes range drastically of why trauma occurred that shook the person so much that they found life to be unsafe, the idea of suppression and dissociation are always present. This is why the healing process must include a reintegration of the self back inwards. Emotional resilience results from a deep sense of connection with one’s needs, and is in a healthy state of balance within a range of tolerance when the boundaries of one’s limits are known, and able to be recognized in the present moment. Physical markers by form of body signals are shown, such as a rapid pulse, body temperature, observing racing thoughts, cold or hot flashes, restlessness or a sense of apathy. When these informative feelings surface, it is important to acknowledge them, and to reflect upon their source. This is the beginning of cultivating a sense of mindfulness back into the body, when the Anorexic has made it an innate habit to shut off the mechanisms of feeling emotions. By using meditative and mindfulness techniques, the healing journey can begin, and slowly, compoundedly, the Anorexic will gain awareness that the coping mechanisms that once saved them are no longer needed, as the threat is gone. In this way, the window of tolerance will widen, when occurrences are no longer seen as threats to one’s safety. A deep sense of ease will be reinstilled into one’s life, fuelled by an unwavering sense of self-knowledge, self-trust, and calamity to face life’s challenges. As this process takes place, the coping of self-starvation will slowly be weaned. Techniques like yoga, meditation, Qi gong, reflection, journaling, focusing on the breath, psychological therapy, and art expression are all means though which grounding self-knowledge provides a healing space to recover from loss of self, and from a life outside one’s shrunken window of tolerance.
Anorexia Nervosa is a debilitating illness, whose cause has a multitude of trauma. However, manifestation in dissociation from one’s body, and a loss of sense of self are all present and necessary in order for the disease to form patterns in the Anorexic. By becoming aware of the self through methods like Yoga, Mindfulness, Meditation, Qi Gong, talk-therapy, journaling, reflection, art therapy and more, an Anorexic is able to widen their window of tolerance and learn to feel safe in the world. As this regrounding process takes place, the window of tolerance widens, and one can slowly learn to end the coping cycle of self-starvation. The hope of recover is something that every hurt person needs, and getting support through this process is integral to a wholesome recovery. Pain is not a feeling that is enjoyable to experience, but by observing it and trusting in the self to overcome it, life becomes more safe. It is not that we tolerate more pain; it is that fewer of life’s challenges cause us to lose our ground, as fewer are experienced as pain. Knowing thyself is the gift of liberation, and there is hope.
“Mindfulness And The Window Of Tolerance”. St. Michael’s Hospital Mental Health (2017): n. pag. Web. 7 Mar. 2017.
Melanie Sakowski is a Holistic Nutritionist, a Yoga Instructor, a Triathlete and an Eating Disorder warrior on a healing journey in Toronto. She believes in the power of self-connection through mind-body work in a holistic view of wellness, and looks forward to helping others heal from trauma through a multifaceted approach to wellness.