Digesting My Shame (My struggles with Food)

This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and that means a lot to many of my friends. Many more than it should, I feel in my heart, because so often eating disorders are related to trauma and abuse, or the destructive social effects in the way that people interact or experience media portrayals.

However, I am proud of these friends and so many more, and often feel appreciative of their ability to verbalize their struggles and share them with others. Food is such an intimate and necessary part of our daily lives, and thus it attracts a multitude of shame and stigma that can be hard to overcome.

So in this post today, I wanted to bring light to a new kind of eating disorder which has been rising rapidly, though it is still not a clinically recognized diagnosis just yet. It is called Orthorexia Nervosa. 

As described by the National Eating Disorder Association:  “Those who have an “unhealthy obsession” with otherwise healthy eating may be suffering from “orthorexia nervosa,” a term which literally means “fixation on righteous eating.” Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity. They become consumed with what and how much to eat, and how to deal with “slip-ups.”.. Every day is a chance to eat right, be “good,” rise above others in dietary prowess, and self-punish if temptation wins (usually through stricter eating, fasts and exercise)..Eventually food choices become so restrictive, in both variety and calories, that health suffers – an ironic twist for a person so completely dedicated to healthy eating.” https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/orthorexia-nervosa

Do you know anyone who might struggle with this, or do you yourself? Please reach out to the hotline number at the bottom of this post, or comment below to share your own experiences.

My experiences:

I have worked with a counselor for childhood related trauma and conditions for about 5 years now, and she knows more about me than most anyone else. However, I remember the day that I admitted to her that I thought I had a problem with eating, and how it was one of the hardest things I ever had to say outloud.

I know am lucky, because I am fortunate to have access to resources that many do not, including counseling, healthcare, income (though still quite limited), internet, and community.

Despite all of this, however, my struggles with food have still made me feel completely isolated among my friends and family, never quite able to describe how most days I skip food for the stress of eating something “wrong”. This “wrongness” was nurtured by many things including:

anxiety around access to food and attitudes towards food growing up

-the bombardment of healthy eating pressures in society and media

-the control over my food choices experienced while in a toxic relationship

But more than anything, it has grown out of one of my weakest abilities, which is that of self care. Self compassion is not something that I had ever focused on until the last few years, and while I’ve gotten immensely better at it in many way, I overlooked this particular element. Its strange even to me, because I’ve always fed my animals the best I possibly could, and I used to love cooking for others. And if I host someone, I always make sure that they eat 3 meals. Unfortunately, that did not translate onto the self, and for me food became so stressful not only to prepare, but simply to consume, that I just stopped.

I’ll explain: Up until recently, despite the fact that I work an extremely physical job, most weeks I  would eat what might equate to 1 meal (though definitely not a healthy or wholesome one at that). This would occur at least 5 out of the 7 days in a week, and had been going on for the better part of 2+ years. Between external and internal pressures to eat well, I just ended up skipping meals, and would be left with such little energy and time that I would resort to eating something high in calories, sugar, or fat (“its better than nothing”, “you worked hard today you’ll burn it off anyway”.)

Recognizing that my relationship with food was becoming toxic, and admitting that I had gotten myself into a bad situation with my health, was really the biggest challenge for me. I am still working with my counselor on it, waiting to see how my changes will effect my blood work, and I am still populating the hang outs with close friends with more dialogue about food than I would like too, but I’m getting somewhere.

I know I am fortunate that my struggles with eating, whether or not they are technically considered a disorder, are still manageable and reversible at this point. Because I also suffer from Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, I am putting all of my extra money towards a functional doctor, who has a nutrionist on staff, and that makes it even easier for me (Diet is a large part of healing the chronic condition).

Overall, I can rationalize that I have a lot of support and that there are easy ways to get back into eating well. But despite that and the fact that I like to make light of it most of the time because I know its rooted in irrational thought and behavior..every day is still an enormous effort for me.

It is easy to feel fatigued, isolated, and drained from struggles regarding food (physically, emotionally, and mentally). That is real, and that is okay. You just do your best everyday.

Please take this week, and some time every week, to consider those in your life that might also have struggles around food and weight, and to be kind. Remember that commenting on someone’s weight, no matter their size, crosses a very personal line, no matter how close you are to them. Wait for them to bring it up if they feel comfortable, or find a different way to approach it. Help out by following the links on the “Get Involved”  page of the NEDA. Also, remember that not every person who has had an eating disorder wants it to be part of their identity, to be viewed as “in recovery” for the rest of their life. (Here is a great article that talks about why: “It’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and once again, I’m not participating” )

Thank you for reading this, and making space to think a little bit more about people’s personal struggles. There is a lot of stress to carry with politics in the US changing rapidly, but it is important to make space for basic individual struggles as well.

If you, or you suspect a loved one might have an eating disorder, please..

1-800-931-2237

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Reflections after “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry”

There is a lot for me to mull over after watching the new feminist documentary “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry”, as my journey into and through feminist philosophy has weaved in and out throughout my life. To see it in a historical context, hearing from women who organized for reproductive rights, equal pay, and child care, really does shed light on how deep the roots of oppression wove into the female identity; that they still continue to penetrate just shows their perseverance.

A few years ago, I swore that I was not a feminist. There was so much to this. For one, I had always felt this disconnect from the concept of femininity, and what it meant to be a woman. There were many reasons for this, a negative disconnect with my mother, a feeling of not being equal from my father, a defense mechanism I needed to cope with the various struggles I was having, and the distance and humor of a male perspective that kept me afloat. (Later would I realize that feminism also challenges the concept of what a “lady” is, and that my natural state of being could not stand patriarchal practices and standards, even as I tried to use them myself)

Later in my very early twenties, as I began to understand more about oppression and what it meant through Occupy, I grew to the notion that I did not want to be labeled as anything but an anarchist- one who believed that constructs designed to limit us were dehumanizing at their core. While I shared notions of feminism, I denounced it as a label, using the defense that even the feminist hero-Emma Goldman- did not describe herself as a feminist, so why should I? I just wanted everyone to be equal, I didn’t want to focus on any specific cause because they were all interwoven.

But with the work I was doing, and the ideologies I was delving into, I began to accumulate a community of feminists-strong women who were fierce and kind, able to communicate boundaries and problems with dialogue through a beautiful threading of language I didn’t quite understand, but admired. I began to pay attention.

As the documentary showed, and I learned through reading numerous dialogues and quietly standing back  in conversations to observe their voices and their perspectives.. feminism is actually about much more than it is initially presented as, especially by media (movies, news stations, online news sources and journals). Its about abortions, and rape culture, and empowering female voices, for sure. But its also about how patriarchy has hurt families, friendships.. how it has become a systemic force which restricts individuals from having meaningful relationships, and individuals from being themselves. It has created a mold that all must follow, where emotion is removed or seen as weakness, and sex has been taken from love and cast into a conquest or payment. Where expectations become demands and manipulation becomes commonplace.

What struck me as interesting about this particular documentary, and the common theme portrayed from all whom spoke in it, was the idea of anger as a driving force. They spoke of the Women’s Liberation movement being so powerful because for so long they were stifled, and became a powder keg of action. I’ve definitely seen a lot of anger in movements, but more often than not, that anger is dismissed and encouraged to be almost tamed for the sake of progress. Time and again, I’ve seen others shy from individuals who have that type of emotional charge.

Perhaps that is one of the things we lack. Our society has now become indifferent to so many things, like violent movie scenes and murders on the news, so that we are able to continue functioning. The goal is to keep going. Keep going to work, keep being a good spouse, a good parent, a good citizen. We can’t fathom anger fitting into that. Anger is dangerous, and uncontrollable. It is something to avoid and make scarce.

When contemplating this, one has to compare with the ideologies of the Buddhist monks, concepts wrapped into famous characters in our generation like the Jedi in Star Wars, and the yoga practices that have become such a trend in even our everyday exercise routines. Don’t attach… don’t let fear and anger rule you. “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

So like I have found most of the ideas around feminism, there is a pull towards the middle ground. While people have a tendency to lean entirely in one direction or another (anger/indifference, empowerment for women/hatred of men, action/inaction) these are not what the cause is about. I found that idea demonstrated in the movie, when, as the Furies began to let their anger turn into blind action and hate, eventually the other groups pulled them back. It was also evident when one of the speakers admitted to getting kicked out and feeling rejected, but then acknowledging why and joining back in.

Yes, the history of feminism has been so rich with questioning, and with discovery, and searching. I find it appealing to see how it’s mostly tried to work towards or been pushed towards a middle ground with not only sexism, but also with racism and homophobia, showing that they can be challenged and recognized as part of the larger problem.

Nowadays, we struggle so much with our extremes as the extreme nature of our oppression has seeped into subtlety. The middle is constantly changing, throwing us off balance, and forcing us to adjust. I find that in my own life, as I plant one foot firmly to lose ground beneath the other, and I think many of us do the same. Financial insecurity, food insecurity, and safety insecurity have left our nation reeling, not sure enough of ourselves to quite make the big changes needed, or unify in the powerful way that the Women’s Movement did, or the Civil Rights movement.

There is a shame in that, that I often must cope with, for after watching a film about such powerful organizers and how dedicated they were to the cause, I note my decline in active protesting and organizing from 3-4 years ago. There is a strong urge, especially being enveloped in a history of passion, to march on down to DC and to demand change. But as the film shows us, it took many years, methods, and minds to make the change that they accomplished. First they needed to change the mindset of their fellow women.

So, in my own ways, I counteract the culture by integrating alternative language into my daily life. I speak truths that come off as strange for their admittance, shaking the shame and stigma off self care, identity,  and struggles. It seems little, but upon recent conversations, others have admitted their own secrets to me, or shared that they brought up conversations within their circles about concepts I’ve presented. The ripples begin to move across the pond.

So I’ll conclude, stating that I believe the film has a lot to offer those who identify as feminists.. or not. It’s challenging to what we know, or what we think is reality. There are still many battles to be won, or tidal waves of change to crash on our shores. But first, we must become aware of what we’re feeling, and follow the reactions those realizations give us.

For me, being told I was a feminist wasn’t enough. I needed to learn what it meant, and especially what it meant to me specifically first, before I could claim it as my own. Perhaps, that is the real challenge. To find a community in our struggles to make this world a better place. (Corny!)

Thanks for reading, if you made it through. I weave in and out of some different topics that I would eventually like to explore more, but for now, that’s it. In love and struggle, Kara