Truth Here

This may be one of the hardest posts I will ever have to write.

Now that this blog is a few weeks old, and people have told me how great it is to read about how I overcame anorexia and excessive exercising, I have a confession to make.

My family and friends see me as a vibrant, healthy mother who has battled through and conquered the destructive effects of an eating disorder. My students see me as the strong English teacher who can lift a lot of weights and eats “healthy.”  My children see me as the mommy who makes them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and tucks them into bed at night.  I seemingly have everything all together.  What many fail to know, however, is that while the intensely incessant eating disorder voice that troubled me throughout my young adult years has quieted down to almost a barely-there whisper, it still manages to sneak in and wreck havoc on my thoughts.  And even right now, I’m battling that tiring and malicious voice.

It is humbling to say.  The prideful voice in my head fears what my colleagues, acquaintances, and fellow gym-goers will think when they know that I still have appointments with a dietitian and psychiatrist to combat the lure to restrict.

But I need to share this struggle.

In fact, I MUST share.  I must share that while the majority of the day I can distinguish between the reasonable, healthy me and the sinister anorexic thoughts, the eating disorder voice has found a way back into my brain (albeit not as ravenously as in years past), and that only good nutrition, talking with a doctor, and the grace of God can help me find true and complete recovery.  After my initial diagnosis and stint in outpatient treatment with Kailey, I discovered true freedom in eating, exercising, and fulfilling the plans Jesus had for me.  But then I found that during times of emotional stress, whether they be positive or negative, the anorexic voice would try to entice me back into its’ dark cave of restriction and compulsivity.

“Do you really need to eat that cookie?  You didn’t work out today.”

“What’s 10 more minutes swimming at the pool?  That’s only, like, 7 more laps.”

About 75% of the time, I’d turn to Jesus to help me combat against these irrational thoughts.  I would pray to Him to help me ignore the compulsion to restrict or over exercise, and He would come through by giving me a great inner peace.  Other times, however, I’d be so mentally and emotionally drained to start, that it was just easier to give into the eating disorder voice.  One missed meal would soon equal two, and spending ten minutes after yoga class to “work on postures” ended up being another thirty minutes of asanas.  Ultimately I’d find that a month later my clothes were looser, my normally clear thinking muddled to a grey hue, and my relationship with Jesus dwindled to three minute “Hey, thanks, yeah?” conversations before I went to bed.  There are not many people that I confide to about my issues because understanding what it’s like to have an eating disorder is a foreign concept to many individuals.  Case in point:  During a conversation about this topic with someone I had considered a close friend, this individual remarked, “Why do you need to write a blog about all this?  Can’t you just DO IT?  I mean, just eat.”

Well, in fact, no, I can’t.  Writing has always been therapeutic, and sharing my journey is one way the anorexic voice quiets down.  Like I wrote about in a previous post, eating disorders thrive on lies and deceit.  Answering co-workers with an “Everything is OK!” grin when we pass by one another in the halls, engaging in talk about nutrition and dieting with my gym friends, and hiding the fact that I still am fearful of eating certain desserts (uh, cheesecake) because I think I will get fat from them are ways anorexia is still in my life–and if I don’t do something about it now, then that insidious disease will just continue to grow and grow until I find myself shrunken into an eighty pound weakling.

Beside being open with others about my struggles, prayer is another action God has urged me to do more regularly.  With this past month, it was through quiet times with Him that I was prompted to journal and talk with others about my continuing journey in eating disorder recovery.  During one such moment I was meditating on Romans 12:1-2, and the idea that my body is an “act of worship unto the Lord” struck a nerve in me.  When I picture true worship, I think of a person’s hands raised, eyes closed, her whole being opened up to Jesus–this individual is surrendering all to God so that she can fully step forward into the calling He has for her.

It was then that I realized I was only 90% living the life God had for me, and my worship consisted of me sitting in a chair, humming along with open eyes and folded hands.  While I felt like it was ok to muddle through work, home, family, and life (basically just “getting by”), God spoke to my spirit that He wanted me to do more than just “settle”.  I should be thriving, and I couldn’t do so if I was still holding onto any part of anorexia.  I was reminded of the times that I spent running on the roads,performing asanas in back to back yoga classes, or swimming miles at the pool–I could have spent all of those hours playing blocks with my son, pushing my daughter on the swing, or sharing some laughs with my husband.  The energy I could have used to journal and develop a deeper relationship with Christ was whittled away when my physical body deteriorated to a two-digit weight that was on the verge of collapse.  The incessant eating disorder voice that would talk me out of munching on popcorn at the movies or drinking a milkshake with the kids invaded my emotional self so much that I had very little love to give to my family, friends, or the Lord.

It was that realization that I was not fully 100% “recovered” that made me break down in tears.  I had had an inkling of this fact for awhile, and so attempted to “get better” in my own way and on my own terms.  I researched how to gain mass the “right” way, aka putting on muscle size with limited fat accumulation, and I structured my day around what I could eat and when I could eat it.  Ironically, this obsessive type of diet compelled me deeper into the eating disorder, and I was soon measuring out nuts with a serving cup, getting anxious if I didn’t eat a certain amount of protein at a meal, and refusing to lick a spoon I had just used to scoop peanut butter with.

It wasn’t until I saw a picture of my husband and I on Easter that the cold hard truth that I needed someone (namely a professional) to guide me to full physical, mental, and spiritual health manifested.  Although I was smiling, my husband and I with arms linked around one another’s waists, there was a slight emptiness in that grin.  I knew that on the outside I radiated happiness, but internally there was a sense of joy and freedom that was missing.  I still loved Jesus, still turned to Him for help, but He was clearly showing me that trying to control my own life (planning and plotting meals, obsessively agonizing over missed workouts) was negating His power.  If I truly trusted and had faith that He could (and would) help me, why not give all control over to Him?  Matthew 6:25 specifically states to not worry about “…what you will eat or drink…Is not life more than food?”, yet I was attempting to take the reins away from the almighty God who knit me together in my mother’s womb and knows me better than I even know myself.  I then heard Him speak loud and clear:  Follow me.  Wherever I will take you, trust me, have faith in me.  And there you will find freedom.

To be able to share this part of my eating disorder journey is extremely trying, as many see me as having everything together.  I am far from that perfect person, yet radiate that image so as not to make other people judge or pity me.  Ultimately, I didn’t want my family and friends to think that I was weak, or that I couldn’t handle a problem that was seemingly resolved years ago.

I had, and still do have, a great deal of pride in this area.

Pride, however, is insidious, and thinking that I could mask my irrational “fat” thoughts or attempt to gain weight by merely adding in an extra scoop of protein powder or drinking more milk was ludacris.  In actuality I was initially hesitant to seek God in the matter because doing so would require me to strip away all of the eating disorder’s lies, and then I’d have to face the real issues behind why anorexia would still have any strongholds in my thoughts.

This past week I challenged myself to break the mold and eat a dinner I wouldn’t normally cook or order for myself.  The meal was at a well-known sandwich shop that specializes in exquisite desserts, and throughout the dinner I knew every bite of the pastrami sandwich on my plate, every lick of the chocolate mousse served after, was one step closer towards complete freedom from anorexia.  I am going to continue to document on this blog all of the ups and downs of my journey to full and total recovery, the insights into why this negative anorexic voice reappears, and what it feels like to find total freedom in Christ from an eating disorder.  Thank you for being a part of this journey and taking the time to read this post.  This blog has turned into a very cathartic way to expel those anorexic thoughts, and hopefully you are also able to see and be blessed by God’s grace and faithfulness through my recovery story.

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The Meeting

Aside from teaching driver’s education or being a stray dog wrangler for the Human Society, I can imagine that being a dietitian and working with eating disorder patients must be one of the most stressful and demanding jobs. Ever. Sure, talking to people about food all day may seem like loads of fun for some, but try coercing a malnourished, defiant teenager to have a glass of milk with her lunch, only to be met with screaming, crying, yelling, and (possibly) threats of bodily harm. All over one tall glass of milk.

Thankfully I never verbally or physically threatened my dietitian (or myself for that matter) when faced with having to eat a double scoop ice cream sundae or an additional serving of meat loaf because my weight was down. I was always
a pretty compliant patient, most likely because God had given me an internal feeling of freedom and faith, so I felt relief and joy at the prospect of having to eat bacon and eggs for breakfast. I had been starved for so long that giving myself permission to enjoy meals with family and friends again felt like a little slice of heaven.

God’s faith has been at the core of my recovery, but full health cannot be achieved without a great support system, and the professionals I saw were just that. Interestingly enough, considering all of the years I’ve known the members of my treatment team, I still vividly remember the first day I met my nutritionist. After that initial appointment I had upon returning home from college, my doctor referred me to a special trio of professionals that specialized in recovery from eating disorders. My pediatrician warned me about “Kailey”, the dietitian he wanted me to see, but even with his forewarnings (and they were positive, mind you), I never expected Kailey to be as fiery and passionate about eating disorder recovery as she portrayed on that fateful summer morning.

I had a mid-morning appointment, right about snack time, and given the breakfast of cereal I had three hours earlier, my stomach was making obscene noises by the time our family stepped into her office. The space emitted an auburn hue, probably because of the orange-yellow painted walls, and I recall thinking she should throw some leaves in the corner and put a pumpkin near the door, and THEN it would feel like autumn, not sweltering hot like the beginning of June.

“HELLO there, you must be Lauren!” Kailey boomed as she stepped into the waiting room to face my parents and I. I was perched surreptitiously on the edge of a cushioned sofa, back rigid, fingers already cold from the air-conditioning. My parents automatically stood up with hands extended, and I almost laughed. Kailey towered over my father, and at almost six feet tall, she eclipsed my dad’s small frame and most definitely loomed over my five foot high mother. Intimidating in deed. As I eased myself up off the seat and held my hand out, I realized how warm and enveloping her shake was. Veins criss-crossed around my bony wrists and the backs of my hands, whereas Kailey’s were a smooth almond cookie hue. Although her large stature would lead even the strongest of men to shrink back in trepidation and cautiousness, I wasn’t in fear of her. Wait, let me correct that. My rational mind wasn’t scared–the eating disorder part of my brain, however, was shaking in its’ boots. Yes, even with God’s peace and prayer, the enemy was trying to find a loophole, a small entryway to worm back into my mind. That’s the interesting thing about freedom. After a wonderful prayer session with my mom, I had discovered what it felt like to have the shackles removed from my thoughts. Romans 12:12 says to be to be diligent in prayer, and just like any kind of relationship where communication is key for it to prosper and flourish, I needed to continue to seek His face daily. Hourly. Whenever I felt over-the-moon with joy or deep in the depths of despair. The relapse rate for eating disorder recovery is tremendously high, and I can only assume that part of the reason why is because patients and supporters see a physical weight gain, but fail to acknowledge that the mental, emotional, and spiritual person needs to be completely whole as well–and one key component in reaching that aim is consistently rejoicing in the pounds gained and food eaten and asking God for help when the eating disorder voice wants one to go for a ten mile run or only eat a bowl of cereal all day.

I never used to like to say that I was in treatment for an eating disorder because most people automatically assumed that I restricted food or exercised for hours on end because I was vain and just wanted to be “skinny.” Yes, I did care about my appearance to a degree, but doesn’t everyone? Don’t we all brush our teeth, buy nice clothes, cut our hair, and clip our nails so that we are seen as responsible and respectable individuals that can function in society? What the majority of the population doesn’t understand is that anorexia, bulimia, or any type of eating disorder for that matter is an actual mental illness, and patients dealing with it are not solely focused on appearance. How humbling it is to say that I have issues with my brain chemistry, and seeing along legged model on a magazine cover would not only lead me to compare my thicker thighs to hers, but to then become obsessed with that fact and strategize ways to whittle away said leg fat.

So when I actually met Kailey for the first time, the healthy part of me was ecstatic because NOW I could finally find hope and recovery from an eating disorder voice that would have tormented me for eating a cookie or berated me for missing a day running. The part of my brain, however, that was fixated on the miles I logged and the calories I ate knew that soon it would no longer have control over my actions, and like a toddler throwing a tantrum because he couldn’t get its’ way, it wanted to toss itself on the ground and have a screaming meltdown.

But the power of God is awesome. I felt that urge to run, the urge to turn right around and bolt out the door, but instead I just prayed.

“Lord Jesus, help me. Help me please. I’m incredibly frightened, but I trust that the person before me, Kailey, was put into my life by you to help me. Please help me.”

And wouldn’t you know, the apprehension, the turning in my gut, the anxiousness in my legs, they all vanished in an instant. And so the four of us–mom, dad, dietitian and me–began treatment.

“Well, why are you here?”

Such a loaded question, one with so many possible answers. Because I’m scared to eat. Because I can’t make myself stop running. Because I may die soon if I don’t gain weight. Because I don’t know how to deal with all the hard issues in my life.

“Um, I need to gain weight.”

“Well, that’s true. You do. And you will. And probably, you won’t like it very much. But first, let me tell you about my approach to recover.”

Boom. Right off the bat, Kailey confirmed to me the truth I knew I’d have to hear: I would gain weight, I may not like it, but it was inevitable. For the next thirty minutes or so Kailey discussed why weight restoration was important and some of the effects of malnourishment on the body. I was briefly entertained by her words, but my stomach was REALLY starting to gurgle by that point, and that gnawing pit of hunger was eating a larger and larger hole in my gut.

“Right. So, now here is the meal plan.”

Meal plan?! My ears perked up with that phrase. I had been on a meal plan too, but I highly doubted Kailey’s diet would be anything like mine.

“These are the requirements for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Plus there will be snacks in between, so we’re aiming for close to 3000 calories a day.”

Here is where I know God’s faithfulness and freedom are true. Give me that meal plan a month ago, I would have balked at the notion of eating that much. When Kailey handed me that sheet with the pre-approved foods listed on it, I was like a child at Christmas. What?! I’d be able to eat Ben and Jerry’s and it was ok? I could have hamburgers and fries everyday if I wanted?

“What do you think?” Kailey asked after my eyes glazed over the list of peanut butter crackers and Pop-tarts that constituted appropriate afternoon snacks.
“It looks fine!” I said enthusiastically. Maybe it was a bit too enthusiastic because I saw Kailey raise her eye at my grin.

“Ok, well, there’s a food group tonight I expect you to be at. So get lunch. From the list. Get a snack. From the list. And we’ll see you at Hungry Lion at 5:30.”

Hungry Lion. It was serendipitous that the first experience I’d have with group treatment would be at a restaurant named after what I felt most of the day (hungry) and an animal that represented the God I knew that would quench said hunger.

“Thank you, thank you.” My mother was beside herself with gratitude, a tear starting to form at the corner of her eye.

Group. Food group.  I smiled a true honest to goodness smile of relief and joy as my parents and I stood to leave. Besides the fact that I had a great sense of physical hunger–by that point my stomach was ready to eat itself I was so starved–I was ready. Like a runner, cued in the blocks waiting for the gun to go off, I was ready to start running this race, this road to recovery

The Prayer: Part 2

Growing up I didn’t know much about prayer.  My grandmother had a “God is Great!” prayer written out and tacked onto the wall of the kitchen, and every time we sat down to dinner we’d have to recite that four-line grace before digging into the meal.  After becoming a Christian, I knew that I should pray, but even then I wasn’t sure HOW to pray.  I’d mimic what I saw other people doing–closing their eyes, bowing their heads, asking God to help them–but those recited lines felt so fake and forced.  On the other hand, my mother, who had been a believer in Christ for about a year which was just as long as me, led a very personal and thoughtful prayer life. I knew her to spend hours in the bedroom, meditating on God’s word with closed eyes and then mumbling something under her breath.  What she was saying I didn’t know, but her calm demeanor while in prayer was vastly different than my more rigid one.

So that day after the doctors, while sitting in our living room, her Bible on her lap, my mother was adamant about praying for me.  She laid her hands on my chest, and opened up the time by thanking God for bringing me home.  Then suddenly the floodgates opened.  She started speaking in tongues (something I had never heard her do before), and then she verbally began breaking off bondages in my life.

“I speak to the spirit of lies and deceit, that you have no hold over Lauren’s mind.”

Say what?  Lies and deceit?  Mind you, I had absolutely NO experience with this type of prayer–the kind of prayers I said were simple, “Thanks God for the grub” type of words before meals, and “Please help me get through this day.”  Had I maybe been ready for such a powerful and explosive verbal monologue from my mother, maybe then I wouldn’t have been so afraid.

But I was.  I was afraid of what she was praying (how did she know that I was lying daily about my exercise and food?), but moreso I was fearful of the one statement she kept on repeating over and over:

“Spirit of death, I command you to leave in the name of Jesus.”

I just about fainted.  Me, dead?!  I was a healthy college girl!  But in the dark recesses of my mind, the 0.01% part of my brain that knew I was ill and in desperate need of help kicked into gear.  I know it was Jesus that pulled that mustard seed sized bit of rationality out, and then miraculously and exponentially expanded it, so that all of a sudden, the fear of thick thighs, the fear of a rounded stomach, the fear of not being liked my others, the fear of my mother leaving this earth prematurely, the fear of not being good enough–they all vanished.

It is very corny and maybe a bit fantastical to many to think that a simple prayer can change the course of a human’s life.  But I am living proof that that is true.  With my mother’s call to the spirit of death to leave, I felt a flood of wholeness, and more importantly, I felt internal freedom.  It’s hard to express in words how one can go from feeling constantly barraged by mental constraints to suddenly seeing the world as one full of possibility and hope.  It was as if I suddenly had permission.  Permission to eat food.  Permission to break the rules. Permission to be a human with wants, needs, fears, insecurities, and dreams.  I could be myself in all of its imperfect glory, and I realized that I was a bright 18 years old girl with my whole life before me–a life where I did not have to worry about running or macronutrients or body parts.  THAT was liberating.

Case in point:  Previous to the prayer I got the Dr. Shintani’s stew for lunch.  After the prayer, I asked for a teri-hamburger plate lunch.  Why did I ask for that?  I just really, really, REALLY wanted to bite into a piece of juicy meat.  The savory, gravy-laden meal was all I could think about and I couldn’t stand NOT having it.  Did I worry about the meal suddenly expanding on my hips?  No.  All I wanted was the meat.  Did I worry about my stomach suddenly ballooning up to pregnancy status?  No.  All I wanted was the meat.

There was a whole lot more to my mother’s prayer than just that one line, but there was power with her utterances.  Prophetic, life-altering, life-giving utterances.  Romans 12:12 reminds us to “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer,” and my mother believed that scripture with her whole heart.  Every morning before we ate breakfast, she would pray for me with that passage in mind: to regain my health, to know Jesus with a pure heart, to be protected from the enemy, and to glorify Him.  She was faithful in seeking His protection even if it seemed like I would have to be sent to an inpatient hospital for treatment or that my heart would start beating at any time.  Miraculously even at the low weight I was at, I wasn’t referred to the local eating disorder hospital, but was instead deemed medically stable enough to attempt treatment in an outpatient setting.  Without my mother’s devoted prayers, I am really unsure where I would be today.  Her prayers didn’t only bring me steps closer to recovery and physical rehabilitation–her prayers showed me the power and might of Jesus and gave me a personal connection to a being I had previously only seen as untouchable and unrelatable.

And so I started outpatient treatment with a dietitian and psychiatrist–they met girls and guys like me at a hospital, so on a tri-weekly basis (those were amount of times I met with them, which seems like a lot but I took off from school to enter recovery) I was constantly reminded of where I COULD be if not vigilant and careful of letting the anorexic thoughts seep into my mind.  The initial meeting I had with the dietitian was unlike anything I had previously experienced, and even 17 years or so later, I still remember the first time we sat in her office and I started treatment.

The Prayer: Part 1

It’s a hard thing to see tears streaming down your mother’s face because she thinks you are about to die.

On the way home from the airport, my mom was very silent.  VERY silent.  That’s never a good sign.  It was only when we got through the front door did she start to cry, her face full of fear and worry.

“What’s wrong?”  I asked, still a bit oblivious to the fact that I looked like a strong wind would send me flying flat onto my bony butt.

“Lauren, you need to see the doctor.”  My mother was firm on this point.

My heart was stuck in my throat, not because I feared the doctor which was also a bit true, but rarely had I seen my mother this upset.  Even when I returned home from my California music camp to visit her after her initial surgery, my mother was smiling in her hospital bed and optimistic about the future.  She had recently accepted Jesus as her savior at a healing prayer ministry gathering, and ever since then, the Bible became her daily reading tool, and a special warmth and love radiated from her that I hadn’t seen in previous years.  Little irritants that normally caused her much grief (helloooo traffic-induced road rage and angry words yelled at me for not helping with the household chores) ceased.  And so to see her with tears running down her face and eyes filled with questions (Will my daughter need to go to the hospital?  Will she even survive the night?) made ME similarly scared.

Ok, ok.  I’ll go.

Lets just say that when my pediatrician saw me walk through his office door later that day, HE almost had a heart attack.  The appointment was a whirlwind of poking, prodding, and questioning, but after the hour or so with the doctor, our family left with another scheduled meeting with an eating disorder specialist and nutritionist.  My doctor had the same look of fear and terror in his eyes that my mother had, and knowing that all of the Hawaii people who had thus seen me all looked completely terrified at my appearance did not sit well in my gut, and made my spirit turn with uncomfortableness.  Great.  To say I was overwhelmed was correct, but I was also so nutritionally deprived, my brain was not thinking quite clearly.  I knew SOMETHING big was about to happen, but it didn’t faze me.  It was almost like I had taken one too many cold medicine pills, and the resulting head-unattached-to-my-body feeling had resided in my body…for the last, oh, I don’t know, 10 months?  12 months?

Here now is where my faith, and my family’s faith, would surely be tested.

I too, like my mother and father, were believers in Christ, yet the head knowledge I had about Him greatly outweighed the experiential knowledge.  Case in point:  I could recite scripture, tell you all about the book of Mark, and detail history in the Old Testament, yet I didn’t have that ONE life-changing God moment where Jesus truly transformed my world.  I heard people talk about it, that there was a time when it was like flipping on a light switch, and they turned from darkened sinners to individuals redeemed and free from the constraints that once held them back.

I wanted that.

Deep down I felt like a fraud.  I said I believed in Jesus, but (in my mind) I didn’t have a close relationship with Him.

On the way home from the doctor’s my mom suggested we stop at Zippy’s to eat lunch.  Great.  Vegetarian chili, just like what I had in the freezer at college.  My mother’s response:  No way.  Pick something else.

Step one of eating disorder treatment:  Patient must eat, and she should try to eat foods that are not considered “safe”…like the aforementioned chili.  Or veggie burger.

What to eat then?  Once seated at the restaurant I perused through the menu with a fine-tooth comb.  Which dish had the least amount of fat?  Which dish wouldn’t make my thighs big?  Obviously my mother was not going to let me run, so what could I eat that wouldn’t make me feel like a gigantic slob?  Ten minutes later I finally decided on stew.  Granted it was Dr. Shintani’s (aka a macrobiotic-like doctor who prescribed low fat meals for diabetes sufferers) vegetable stew, but hey, it was not chili or a veggie burger.

I devoured the meal when the waitress brought the steaming plate to our table, and while my dad looked at me with pride (he had no idea what Dr. Shintani was all about), I saw my mother’s furrowed brow as she bit into her burger.

The first nutritionist I worked with definitely would have frowned at the stew as well.  At a really low weight, patients need as much energy as possible–although the general public may baulk at the idea that fast food and processed snacks make for good eating disorder recovery meals, these types of food will give a person protein, fats, and carbohydrates without taking up too much room in the stomach.  Going with a carrot, green bean, mushroom, and cauliflower tomato-based soup was not the best method for getting in those calories, but I was scared.  Scared of eating a burger which I really wanted and ballooning up overnight.  Scared that I wouldn’t be able to exercise off the meal I had just eaten.  Scared that my perfectly calculated daily meal plan would be uprooted and turned on its’ head.

My mother’s brow stayed furrowed until we reached home.  It was then that she said that we needed to pray.  Sure, I thought, we can pray.  I knew my mother was a prayer warrior, and would devote hours to reading God’s word and then talking with Him.  I was expecting a short five minute recitation of scripture, maybe a few words to Jesus thanking Him for the day, and a request or two for physical healing for me.

Was I in for a surprise.