Grounding Through Yoga

Whether I have a million tasks to get done or have absolutely nothing to do, the presence of anxiety seems to be constantly looming. My go-to in order to manage anxiety was always running or working out. During an intense workout, I would experience peace as it was one of the few activities that would take me out of the racing thoughts in my head. However, having struggled with a restrictive eating disorder, the option of exercising or exerting tremendous physical energy was no longer sustainable. I tried several other coping skills, such as coloring, reading, and walking outside, but none were as helpful as the practice of yoga. I had been introduced to yoga while in an inpatient eating disorder treatment center, but at the time despised the idea of laying still on a mat during which catastrophic thoughts overwhelmed my mind. However, months after discharging from intensive treatment, I knew I had to find a healthy, balanced way of coping with anxiety, if I wanted to maintain the progress I had made in my recovery. This is when I decided to give yoga another try.

I read somewhere that it takes 8 weeks of practice in order to make something a habit. So that is what I set out to try with the practice of yoga. Every other day, I made time to take out my mat, and practice various forms of yoga. Some days, I tried a meditative aspect to yoga by listening to guided meditations while laying down. Other days, I did vinyasa flow routines by watching videos on YouTube. For every day I took the incentive to take out my mat and practice, whether that be for 5 minutes or an hour, I put a smiley face sticker on a calendar in my room! This continued for only a couple weeks, until practicing yoga became engrained in my everyday routine.

At first, yoga was not an efficient tool in relieving the anxieties I held. It was more like a chore to check off my to-do list. But with practice, yoga has become an effective outlet for the stress and tension I hold in my body. While moving through poses, I actively think about the functions my body performs in order to keep me living. This in turn has helped me find more gratitude for my body as whole, which gratefully has decreased the intensity of body dysmorphia I regularly struggle with. I set aside “yoga time” as my time in the day to consciously release any worries, fears or anticipations I am holding. Whenever a thought about an upcoming exam or an undermining self-belief pops up, I try to bring myself back into the present and solely focus my attention on moving deeper into a pose. With consistent practice, my body and mind soon integrated, automatically connecting yoga with mindfulness and serenity. Fitness posters, athletic brands and media usually portray specific types of yoga, but there are several different forms out there and can be tailored to meet our mental and physical needs. So don’t give up on the idea after one class or one try. Practice creates habit!

 

 

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Life after Residential

Being in a 24 hour treatment center for an eating disorder is like being in a safe, yet mentally and physically challenging bubble with only extremely supportive people. I remember on my last day at the facility, on my graduation day, I felt ready to take on the world. I had been following my meal plan 100%, stepping out of my comfort zone consistently and disputing numerous self sabotaging thoughts I often faced.

However, the “real world” outside of treatment wasn’t as optimistic and recovery focused as I had glamorized it to be. My first snack out proved to be a challenge in itself. There was no one sitting with me, watching me consume every bite, and that all too familiar voice of ED became stronger. In treatment, there were so many items censored due to its potentially triggering content, such as magazines, websites, toxic people and most forms of media. But in life, there unfortunately aren’t “trigger warnings” on everything. I was blindsided by the countless diet/weight loss ads and the number of active, athletic people I saw all around me. I had forgotten what real life was like in just the couple months I spent cooped up in a treatment facility.

Even though it was quite a shocker immediately following residential, it became a normalized challenge that I began to expect; it was just another component left to battle on my journey to recovery. It is common, and actually completely expected to face lapses and slips after higher level of care. It is the only way to learn! That said, it is all the more beneficial to have a strong support system in place after discharge. Continued care has been a crucial aspect to my continuation in recovery. Whenever I had moments when the eating disorder thoughts tried to slip back in, my treatment team was there to catch me and pull me back into my wise mind. Overall, life DOES get better after inpatient care for an eating disorder. The strict rules of treatment facilities do not linger forever. It becomes a gradual process of learning to live a life true to your authentic self.

 

A Year in ED Recovery

It was flu season and it was far too easy to get sick in a dorm hall with 400 other college students in such close proximity. So one of my best friends and I had decided to get flu shots at Kaiser, just down the block from our school. We got in the elevator to leave the building when I received a phone call. It was the call from my treatment team saying that I had to check into an inpatient eating disorder treatment center within the next 48 hours. My entire life changed at that moment. It was the day putting recovery first was no longer a choice, but a necessity in order to continue living a life worth living.

It has been a year since that time now. It has been a year of treatment programs, therapy sessions, meal plans but most importantly, it has been a year of growing in recovery. I always wondered at the time what recovery would be like. Will I ever eat normally again? Will I ever accept my body? Is recovery actually worth it?

I am here to tell you from the other side that recovery is SO worth it. For quite a while, I was on a strict meal plan, counting exchanges and logging every meal/snack. But as my dietician had promised, there came a day where my meal plan was actually restricting my food and meal choices. I began the process of intuitive eating and now am able to eat balanced meals and snacks, without an exchange system in place. However, when I feel overwhelmed by food on an unusually tricky day, I simply go back to logging for a day or two to help me maintain consistent eating.

At the start of recovery, overcoming desires to engage in eating disorder behaviors seemed impossible and was extremely draining. But as time progressed, and as my toolbox of coping skills expanded, the time and energy spent needing to fight off an urge became more manageable. I consider myself in stable recovery, but not fully recovered. Therefore, I do experience urges, but they are not nearly as strong or overpowering as they once were. There are days where I feel like restricting, but very rarely do I actually act on them. Nowadays, I find pride in myself for being strong enough to act against ED’s wishes, whereas before it was the exact opposite.

When in treatment, I felt “sickly” with having so often to get my blood drawn, EKGs, vital checks, doctors appointments and therapy sessions. Truth is, I WAS sickly which is why I needed so much monitoring. But as my vitals stabled out, the number of appointments and tests/scans did decrease! I get my vitals checked every few months, instead of multiple times a day, and meet with my dietician once a month, instead of twice a week. Important to note that I have gained the skill of being able to ask for help when I need it. So when there are times where checking in with my treatment team more often would be beneficial, I am not hesitant to reach out to them!

One of the largest mental struggles I faced was related to body distortion and negative body image. Words cannot express how grateful I am that BODY IMAGE DOES GET BETTER! People assume that body image issues are “cured” as soon as weight restoration is complete. However, that is when the real work in practicing body acceptance comes into play. Body image is one of the later aspects to improve during recovery from an eating disorder. This is just one of the several reasons why recovery is such a strenuous journey. Why would someone want to continue fighting and overcoming urges to end up struggling mentally just as much as before? This is one of those times where trust in the process and trust in the treatment team is crucial. It’s that point where things get harder before they get easy. I wore sweatpants and oversized sweatshirts in the middle of summer, spent hours crying in front of the closet mirror in my room and avoided social gatherings due to embarrassment of my body…so yes, I understand how bad body image really gets. That said, I am at a point now where I am able to wear a bikini and go kayaking with my friends, happily try on clothes at the mall after a full meal AND dessert, or wear crop tops to class! This doesn’t mean that I am perfect or cured from bad body image. There are still days where I struggle, but those times are not NEARLY as often or as intense as before. I now use bad body image as an indicator that I need to pay increased attention to the other stressors in my life. The mood of the day or the tone of my week is no longer determined by the reflection I happen to see in the mirror.

I thought I would always have an eating disorder. But now, I have a renewed sense of hope. I believe that it is possible for me to one day forget the caloric values of foods. I believe that one day I can look at my weight on a scale and accept that the number is just a number. I have already come worlds farther in recovery than I ever could have believed possible. I used to think that eating disorder survivors were “in recovery” for the rest of their lives; but today, I wholeheartedly believe in “fully recovered”.