Yoga entered my life in college when I was struggling with anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, negative body image, and an eating disorder. Though the awareness of my anxiety and depression only came years later - at the time I thought I was just a huge freak who couldn't get my shit together while everyone else seemed perfectly happy.
The year my eating disorder was at its worst - my sophomore year of college - I started attending yoga at a small studio in town. Weeks would pass where each time I arrived on my mat, I would cry. I didn’t know why or where the feelings were coming from, I just had a knowing feeling I needed to let them out - AND, for the first time, I felt safe to let them out.
Instead of numbing my feelings - a practice I had grown accustomed to for most of my life - I let my feelings flow out of me within the confines of a safe space of my incredible teacher and fellow students.
Several months into my practice (and still well into my eating disorder) I had an epiphany. I recognized the harm I was causing my body, mind, and soul through my eating disorder behaviors and thought patterns.
It was during this epiphany that I received a message that I can only attribute to a higher power.
The message was clear. The message was that I needed to stop. And I needed to begin my healing process.
It wasn’t a quick turn around but I steadily progressed toward recovery. I began to tell people about my ED. I began to enlist the support of friends and professionals. And I committed to my yoga practice - for it was this practice that guided me toward my epiphany and my awareness of a higher power.
You see, it wasn’t learning cool poses in yoga that got me healthy. (Although the learning of cool poses was certainly fun and made me realize how physically and mentally strong I really was.)
It was the understanding and awareness that I was a part of something greater than myself. At the time (almost 15 years ago) I had no idea what this “something greater” was.
I still don’t know FOR SURE. But I trust and have faith that it was and is a higher power, the universe, source, God, nature - whatever you want to call it.
I recognized that there was something truly divine within me and that this divinity connected me to all other human beings and living things on the planet. I acknowledged that if I continued on the path of self-destruction, this divinity (or, we could call it “light”) was never going to shine.
I knew I had to make some big changes if I was to fulfill my purpose on this earth and truly live out the gifts I was born with.
And those changes started with getting better and choosing recovery.
Today, 15 years later, my spiritual practice and commitment to myself and The Universe / God / The Divine is stronger than ever. It is a practice I engage in not just on my yoga mat, but as often as I can in my everyday interactions with other people and with myself.
My practice exists in examining the way I speak to and treat myself. Am I choosing thoughts that are supportive, loving, and nurturing? Or am I choosing thoughts that are self-deprecating, damaging, and harmful to my body, mind, and soul?
I know I have this choice and I get to make it every single moment of every single day.
I am in my spiritual practice when I am aware of this choice and chose to engage in thoughts and behaviors that are from a loving source.
That doesn’t mean it’s always easy. And to this day I still get triggered.
When I get triggered I acknowledge the pain and instead of numbing through self-harm, I allow myself to feel all the emotions stream through me. Then I will make a choice of action that is rooted in love. Love for myself. Love for others. Love for the divine.
I think people are mislead and believe that spirituality means a constant flow of butterflies and rainbows. While there is definitely an uptick of butterflies and rainbows in my life, there is also darkness.
It is when we try to ignore, suppress and numb our darkness that we can get into trouble.
My advice? Feel your feelings and ask for help. Make sure you have people you can turn to - including friends AND professionals - whom you trust with your whole heart to hold space for you. Eventually, you will learn to hold this space for yourself and it will empower you to continue on your path of recovery.
Remember, it is a choice we get to make every day. May you always chose the path of love, even when it may be the more difficult decision.
Written by: Maggie Converse
Maggie is a holistic health and intuitive coach, a yoga & meditation teacher for recovery from eating disorders and substance abuse, and a guide for individuals carving out their unique spiritual journeys to find inner peace and healing. Maggie is 12 years in recovery from her eating disorder. When she's not writing, teaching, or coaching she loves to spend time outside with her dog or taking a road trip exploring this big beautiful world! If you're interested in a consultation with Maggie, please visit: http://www.maggieconversemethod.com/connect-1/
And here we come to the Cognitive Behavioral Model, first coined by Aaron Beck in the 1960's. This model has since been used to explain depression, social phobia, addiction, and many more mental illnesses. Plus, you guessed it, this model has also been helpful for eating disorders. While there is no one right answer for treating eating disorders, research has shown Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to be effective and has been recommended as a best practice guideline in Australia and New Zealand.
So then we come to this question - how can we use this research backed CBT to our advantage in battling an eating disorder? What does this model look like for someone with an eating disorder? Example time. (Disclaimer: one persons experience is not all - this is based on my experience but it could look completely different for someone else)
Situation:I don't receive text messages back from friends I reached out to
Thoughts/Beliefs: they are probably trying to avoid me because I'm annoying or they don't like me
Emotions: sad, lonely, abandoned
Behaviors: binge mindlessly while also mindlessly getting lost in Netflix so I don't have to feel my feelings
Not a great cycle to go through - clearly. Take a few moments and identify your own cycles with this model in mind…. Now - there are only a couple things in here we actually have control over.
Situation: nope - shit happens and most of the time its out of our control
Thoughts/Beliefs: Yes, with some hard work! We can try to distract our automatic thoughts or combat them with facts of the situation. One of the best ways I've found to combat thoughts is to check in with my supports - for instance with the situation above my supports remind me of all the other things that may have lead to them not responding, "it's not you, sometimes shit happens" (ah yes, there is that uncontrollable stuff again)
Emotions: No changing here - what you feel is what you feel and that is 100% ok! Honor it, don’t run from it!
Behaviors: Yes! One of the things we have most control over in this model - something that we can absolutely work to change. Are you able to keep yourself busy with something else like painting or a puzzle, maybe shut doors to bathrooms or put away things that might be tempting for you to cope with in the moment.
This model can be like a road map to change. Hopefully you've taken the time to identify some of the cycles you go through, now take a look at those thoughts/beliefs and behaviors - the things you have the ability to change. Start brainstorming how you can interrupt these two aspects of the model, bring your thoughts to your team or supports! I know in the moment this cycle seems helpless - but there is hope to break free! The model does well explaining dangerous cycles, but it can do even better explaining positive ones. Remember what parts you have the power to change and always move toward recovery!
Written by: Rae Thomas
When you’re in recovery from an eating disorder your mind is often full of thoughts about your next meal, the next challenge and the next time you’re going to have to choose recovery over the disorder. With all of this going on, it can be very easy to neglect self care. But self care is crucial to the recovery process. Chances are if you’re in recovery you have a treatment team (of some sort) that helps support you when you need it. With the end goal being that you will be able to support yourself.
It’s also important to remember that when you’re in recovery from an eating disorder self care doesn’t just mean bath bombs or getting your nails done. It means doing the things you neglected to do for yourself when you were in the depths of your disorder.
EAT! Eating your prescribed meals in recovery is probably the number one way we have to take care of ourselves. It’s hard and often feels impossible - but it has to be done. In order to work on the underlying factors of your disorder, your body has to be stable enough to think, feel and explore.
This one may seem obvious, but physically allowing yourself to rest is extremely important in your recovery. Relaxing it’s beneficial for you physically and mentally. Relaxing does not make you lazy. Relaxing does not make you weak. In fact, it makes you strong. Some people may choose to distract themselves as a form of relaxation. This could include watching TV, a movie or reading a book. For others, it may be helpful to reflect in some fashion. This could be meditation, mindfulness exercises or journaling. Regardless of what works best for you, relaxing will recharge you for your next obstacle in your recovery.
Another important form of self care in recovery is knowing when to stop, say no and setting boundaries. This is often hard for individuals in recovery. Often times, lack of boundaries contributed to feeding your eating disorder. This one takes time and requires a lot of patience with yourself. Start small, with something that’s not too hard to say no to and work your way from there.
I will admit, it is hard to think about taking care of yourself when you’ve always thought your needs didn’t matter. But they do. You need to be taken care of just as much as all the people you have poured your heart into. Self care is a stepping stone and useful tool on the journey to self love. Stay strong, don’t give up and give yourself a little pat on the back. The work is hard but will pay off a million times over in the end.
Written by: Katie from @edrecoveryblog
When self care isn't fun… when I have to force myself to truly carefor myself - that's when I struggle. Makes sense right? It's so easy to journal when I have nothing but good things to say. It's easy to meditate when I'm being really mindful.
I hear self care being coopted to mean anything luxurious: baths, face masks, roses, chocolates, movie dates. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of these and often budget solely for these self care treasures. But it moves us away from recognizing the nitty gritty parts of self care, where it does feel like a chore, where I'm angry about making the time, but grateful afterwards.
So here's the thing, what is self care actually supposed to do? What is the intent here? For me, self care is something that…
Ice cream and a book can certainly hit some of these but the minute I'm tested with a frustrating situation or some other obstacle - poof. Think of it like your phone - maybe you've charged it 100% but come at it with an hour long video or roaming challenges, you've got maybe an hour or two until its caput. But what if instead of just charging it, you upgraded the battery or deleted some apps so you could use that energy more effectively? This is the difference between flashy self care and nitty gritty not always fun but long lasting self care.
This summer has been a struggle, I've been in constant transition which has always been a challenge for me. After a morning of anxiety and panic attacks, my partner and I talked about what I needed to manage this while caring for my mind and body. "Well, you haven't been taking your meds." Looking confused, I reminded him I wasn't on any meds for my anxiety (no pill shaming here, please do whatever works for you!). He likened my regular exercise and meditation (two things that really help with my anxiety) to taking medication, "I mean, it helps right? And just like if someone doesn’t take their prescription meds for anxiety or depression, they may struggle, wouldn't it be the same with the things that work for you?" Lightbulb! I hadn't been doing the self care that actually helped, I had just been filling time with surface level luxuries. Did I want to make the time to be active almost every day? No. Did I want to commit to meditating more often? No. Do I want to now? No, not really. It sounds much better to get lost in Netflix or slumber. It sounds much more fun to fill every moment with adventure around my new city and make new friends. But I won't get far on these, these do not consistently check off the bullet's above. I need to make time to take my meds, we all do.
Sometimes we have to do the self care that we don't want to. We have to make plans, go to therapy, meal prep, meditate, etc. even when it seems like the opposite of the luscious pampering sold to us from societies understanding of self care. So ask yourself this, what do you want self care to do for you? And what things will check all those boxes for more than just one moment? What kind of meds do you need to take and how can you commit to taking them?
Written by: Rae Thomas
In recovery, I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out what happiness really is. I've moved through a lot of options - appearance, praise, food, academic success, financial success, social media likes, sunshine, fitness accomplishments, wide spread recognition…
I just kept jumping from one thing to the next, continuously asking "so am I truly happy now?" And I would be, for a little while. I remember early on in my dance days being selected for a prestigious role. I spent the coming weeks cheesin' through campus, life was good! On stage finally performing this beautiful piece my mind swirled around the thought, "this is true happiness". And then it was over… and so was the euphoria… and so was any idea that I had finally made it to the wonderful land of 'happiness'.
I went round in this cycle with so many things thinking I made it and then losing it again just to go searching for something else. No way you too!? I hear it all the time from friends, family, random strangers that I've started chatting with because silence is more awkward than awkward small talk. Point is, we all have different ways of trying to create happiness in our lives, but there are two kinds of happiness here: momentary happiness or life happiness. If you're familiar, it’s the same concept as hedonic or eudaimonic pleasures from Aristotle (shout out to the philosophy nerds!) Getting a big dance role or being praised for your appearance - momentary happiness. It goes away eventually and then you're left looking for more. But life happiness is consistent, it’s the thing that doesn’t depend on anyone else or any other certain thing happening but rather it just exists in your life. Pretty abstract, I get it, but this is how I found my life happiness.
I went to a meditation class, and they asked us to ponder a question, what is most important? We were instructed to not think through it logically, just let things pop up in our head, acknowledge those answers, then move on to whatever came next, we continued this process until something stuck and kept popping up. Then they asked - what's most important about that most important thing? Again urging the same process of acknowledging and letting go. I landed on what brings me life happiness - connection. Connecting with people, nature, myself, my purpose, feeling intertwined with other things in my life, this is where I find long lasting happiness. That means not checking out moments of joy OR pain, it means staying connected in challenges. It means staying present when I'm uncomfortable and when I'm angry. It means that happiness is connecting with every single experience I will ever encounter. Maybe connection is your happiness, maybe it’s a higher power, or maybe its within adventure. Wherever it is, it will not mean that every moment is enjoyable, but it will mean every moment is worthy of living.
Written By: Rae Thomas
Twelve years old - I'm on a trip with my family feeling overwhelmed by the chaos of our journey and life in general. I felt so anxious that my appetite disappeared and a week later I returned to school in a smaller body. Greeted by compliments and praise, I noticed how people began to look at me different, I became an object of desire. I realized that 'sexy' was my ultimate body goal, if I was sexy then I was wanted. As a young girl searching for validation and identity this was all I needed to associate being wanted with being loved.
It didn't start to consume me until high school, where life circumstances granted stress beyond my wildest dream. My eating disorder became my only means of emotional comfort and regulation. Simultaneously, the pursuit of sexiness heightened as I started modeling, where sexy was a too tiny waist and visible collarbones. My eating disorder behaviors were not just passively accepted anymore, they were required. 4 years went by with my memory of the details in between lost from the effects of the disorder. I remember the moment though, at a conference being asked to lose even more weight in order to model across seas. I remember everything moving in slow motion and hearing a voice inside me say - this will cost you your life. To this day I can’t say I understand where that voice came from or how I had the courage to turn down the offer. But that day I chose recovery and I’m grateful every day that I did. A change in life plans and one application later – I found myself off to college.
Six years later and I’m months away from getting my masters in counseling, intensely passionate about helping others fight for their recovery. No part of it was or is easy, this recovery journey is messy. But messy in the ways that finally allow you to breath, to love again, to be at ease in your body. Along the way, I’ve found myself grateful for every thought, emotion, and experience that makes up the mess. Life has begun to look more like gallery worthy abstract art rather than a child’s finger-paint. So here I am 6 years later in this beautiful mess of recovery, fighting for others to create their beautiful recovery too.
Written By: Rae Thomas
Recovery from an eating disorder is complex to define. It looks and feels different to everyone. However, the stamp on my recovery came in July of 2010 as I began to discover my infinite worth in Christ. As a little girl, feelings of shame, embarrassment, and unworthiness consumed my heart. I craved to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance. In an attempt to fit in, I sacrificed my core values which left me feeling torn and regretful. The eating disorder was a master manipulator in that it filled my mind with empty promises; “If you lose this much weight you will be pretty.” “If you don’t eat past this amount of calories you will feel good about yourself.” Lies. They were all lies. The truth is, there is no magic number that signifies self-love. Although, the eating disorder will fight till the end to convince you otherwise.
Treatment centers became a revolving door in an attempt to keep me alive; 10? 11? 12? I lost count. I remember asking myself, “Why is it that others are choosing recovery from the eating disorder yet, I continue to be imprisoned by the obsessions and compulsions of Anorexia?” The amount of hopelessness I felt was suffocating at times. In early 2010, I hit the bottom of rock bottoms. I began experiencing something I had never felt before; my body deteriorating. It was screaming for love, for nourishment, for rest. The truth was, I didn’t know how to give it those things. For the first time in my life, I feared for my life.
What happened next is nothing short of … well, God. I remember very clearly getting ready for bed one evening in January when God spoke loud and clear to me. He said, “If you don’t seek help, you will die.” I prayed. I called out to Jesus. He heard me. I firmly believe God guided my footsteps from that day forward. He led me to the Kirsten Haglund Foundation who provided a treatment scholarship where I not only found recovery, but God. I found my worth in Him and in Him alone. Today, almost 8 years later, I can honestly say that I love myself. I appreciate my body. I enjoy nourishing my body with satisfying food. Through recovery, God blessed my husband and me with our son on July 5, 2016. July 5th was the day I said goodbye to the eating disorder and hello to life. Redemption is sweet.
Written By: Kaylin Boni, Survivor
My journey to better health has been a learning experience not all that different from learning to walk. A child learns to walk by first learning to stand, and then wobbles and falls many, many times before he gets it right. I spent many years trying to learn to stand, as I tried all the popular diets and plans, and each of them failed me. It was not until 2010 that I finally gained the support I needed to stand. My doctor, who was concerned about my health and obesity, suggested I work with a campus dietitian. The most important thing the dietitian did for me was make me realize that I did not have to give up the foods I love, nor did I have to eat foods I loathed just because they were healthy, in order to have a healthy and balanced diet. I realized after many failed diet plans, they all had one thing in common – I was no longer enjoying my food. Once I learned to eat the foods I loved in moderation, healthy eating became much easier. Then, eventually the exercise component came along, as I joined a program full of supportive people that helped me learn not only how to exercise properly, but how to enjoy it.
I have also wobbled and fallen a great deal along the way. Life gets in the way sometimes – major changes and disruptions in my routine caused me to fall back on old habits. But, each time I have fought my way back to becoming healthy again, and in fact I am doing that right now. But it has become easier to get back on track now, because I have been here before and I know what to do to make my way back to a healthier lifestyle. Am I walking yet? Not exactly, but I think I am getting there. Given my experiences, the best advice I can give is to think of working toward a healthy lifestyle as not a sprint, but a marathon. And, be sure to enjoy life while running this marathon, or you may not get to your destination. Do what is best for you to get there, and hopefully you will begin walking soon too.
Written By: Crystal Stiles
At first it seemed so unique. So special and isolated. It wasn’t until I had been in this field for a while before I realized my story starts out the same as a lot of other people who have struggled with an eating disorder: a distorted body image that started way too early.
In second grade I was comparing my private school uniform sizes to those of my friends on a playdate.
In third grade I wasted too many birthday, eyelash, and shooting star wishes on being thinner and losing weight (coupled with the wish to ride on an airport baggage claim carousel, which has yet to be fulfilled).
In fourth grade I remember lying in bed with a pair of scissors, wishing more than anything that I could just cut off that chunk of fat on my stomach.
In fifth grade I remember boasting that after being sick for a week with the stomach flu that I had dropped 8 pounds.
I was young and full of adventure. I lived for playdates with my friends. Sleepovers and pool parties cluttered my summer. But I could never get rid of the nagging feeling that I was bigger and weighed more than my friends. There was always a little voice that would tell me my stomach was too big to wear that swimsuit.
To change into my pajamas in the bathroom because no one wanted to see my thighs.
That I shouldn’t have popcorn AND candy during the movie.
In middle school I was AWKWARD. Not the typical braces and crocs awkward that everyone can relate to. I mean awkward in the sense that I had braces, and awful haircut, and a horrible sense of style. (Think: sundress over a long-sleeved t shirt over jeans). I didn’t know where I fit in, and I definitely didn’t feel like I deserved to fit in. That voice had gotten louder. It told me to eat salad for lunch. It told me to skip that pool party. It told me I was disgusting, fat, and overweight.
But one day, that voice wasn’t just internal. It wasn’t just me beating myself up. One day, that voice came from a boy in my class who walked right up to me in the hallway and told me how fat I looked.
That night I threw up my dinner for the first time. That night started a cycle of harmful eating habits, excessive workouts, and a pattern of binging and purging that would last way too long. In my mind, if I had all these thoughts, and he said them, then they must be true.
These thoughts, that voice, and those actions affected me for too long. I blame this partially on the lack of education on eating disorders and mental illnesses. My knowledge was limited, and what I did know scared the hell out of me. All I knew was that something in my brain wasn’t matching up. I didn’t know that 4 out of 10 Americans will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. I didn’t know that eating disorders were the mental illness with the highest mortality rate. I didn’t know that I wasn’t alone. I didn’t know that I wasn’t the only one with this story.
Written By: Becca Schollaert
Before this year, I was certain the only way I could run out of my eating disorder was by running off the ends of the earth.
And maybe this sounds really cliché but I think, before this year, I spent my life trying to do just that- wished my hands into things that would hurdle me over bridges, wished my body into a house on fire.
On October 23rd of 2017, I was admitted to a residential facility for the treatment of my eating disorder- Anorexia Nervosa. This day, however, did not come without its own obstacles. In the days leading up to this particular date, I remember I had a dietician appointment. It was a Friday, I believe, and on that morning, I remember needing to call out of work as I could hardly even stand up in my shower long enough to get my hair wet. I remember shutting the water off and sitting in the corner of my bathtub- somehow, both above water and beneath it. I didn’t make it to work that day, however, I did still make it to my appointment. I remember her room, I remember her lights, I remember something about my heart. I remember the emergency room. And it was that emergency room visit along with a series of interventions that followed that finally led me to seek a higher level of care.
I think, sometimes, I still get scared. Sometimes, I’m still afraid of falling asleep out of fear that I may wake up forgetting why I’m choosing to do the hard things. Sometimes, that fear of being swallowed whole again keeps me up until sun rise.
But I think the difference between now and then is that I’m now far more interested in protecting my spirit- in filling myself with a kind of love that serves me better, nourishes me better; a kind of love that does not leave me feeling hungry. As I explore my truth more in this new beginning, I feel a yearning to share more love, do less harm, step fully and deeply into myself- into my center. I now feel far more capable of allowing myself to utilize my body as a vessel to catapult me into the light I’ve spent my entire life wishing I could live in. I am soul, not body- I am soul, not body. This is now my truth.
Written By: Alexis O.
Emily Estes lives in Lincoln, Nebraska with her Goldendoodle pup, Miss Adley Mae. Recovery from her own struggle with an eating disorder, anxiety, and depression has led Emily to create community and resources to empower others on the journey. Emily owns Sage Nutrition, LLC where she serves as a Registered Dietitian. Her work revolves around her motto that "food is meant to nourish our bodies, not nurture us."