The REAL Icing on the Cake

Enough of the sugar-coating. I don’t care for it. 

I’ll pass on the fluffy cupcakes with frosting, gooey cookies with glaze, and warm chocolate iced donuts with sprinkles. 

You may think I’m crazy, but …

No coconut and cream coating, powdered sugar finishing touch, or triple chocolate fudge, please. 

No thanks …

I want to know what’s underneath (and I’m not just talking quality ingredients). Forget the sugar-coating, I want to taste the real stuff. 

And no, this isn’t just another a nutrition talk from your health coach 😉

I want to know more …

I’ll go for some raw egg. Perhaps some unsalted butter. Unsifted flower. Half-melted chocolate chips. Crisco from the can.

I’m craving simplicity. 

I want to taste transparency. 

I want to chew on unrefined adequacy.

I’m craving pungent. 

Riveting.

Relentless reckoning.

I want the REAL recipe. The first ingredients. The natural ingredients. The processed ingredients. ALL the ingredients. Healthy or not. Fresh or stale. Wherever you are right now. 

I want the exact amounts, the honest amounts, and all the mistakes you spilled into the bowl. 

I want the “too much of this” and “too little of that.” 

I want the beaten batter and all of its lumps. 

I’m not interested in the decorated finished product, covered in layers upon layers of sugary colored frosting. I’m interested in the layers underneath—the sources of the sequence, and the steps in the story.

I would much rather meet the creator of the cake. 

I’m craving RAW. I’m craving REAL. I’m craving TRUTH. 

I want to know YOU.

The world often makes us think our raw ingredients don’t matter. We think we can’t share these messy piles with the world. We have to mix things up first; we have to make things look presentable. We become deceived in believing that our lives aren’t exciting enough; our bodies aren’t pretty enough; our schedules aren’t full enough; our stories aren’t important enough. 

I’m here to tell you that “perfect cake” is crap.

Or maybe we think our ingredients aren’t pure enough. We think our contents aren’t organic enough, our prep isn’t smooth enough and our measurements aren’t precise enough to fit in with this world. We attempt to cover up our misguided steps, our faulty accidents, our stained aprons and cracked mixing bowls. 

Maybe if I add more salt here, or sugar there, no one will notice. 

Maybe if I just keep stirring, the batter will become smoother.

Maybe if we bake more goods, good reputation will follow.

Maybe if we pour a little quicker, and beat a little faster, our struggle will become numbed.

Temporary fixes are … well, merely temporary. There will be a day when someone bites down on the piece of the broken eggshell you failed to pick out of the mix. That person might even be you …

We all want to be noticed. We all want to be accepted. We want to be admired, loved, and respected. We want people to bite off a taste of our lives and come back for more. Only, the dish we often are serving to others isn’t real. It isn’t authentic. It isn’t richly bold and filled with flavor. It’s an underwhelming recycled recipe. A recipe that’s not our own.

I get it …trust me, I do. I used to live in the kitchen of forbidden foods. I used to mix to the beat of society’s KitchenAid. I used to chop in the monotonous rhythm of perfectionism’s lies. But at the time it seemed easy. I worked to blend in, rather than stand out. Except I realized that in my mind I did stand out. I wasn’t like other people. I swam in my shame. The eating disorder claimed each one of my meals. I thought my broken cookie crumbs were worthless, so I swept them into the sink. 

I get it … transparency can be tough. Vulnerability can be vicious. Details can be dreaded. Opening up can be overwhelming. Sometimes healing hurts. But truth can be transforming. 

It’s time we shared our original recipe, without fear of judgement. It’s time for us to cook and eat freely and adventurously. There is no reason to confine to the unrealistic ideologies and spotless kitchen floors. We’ve all had a mess that we’ve franticly mopped up before anyone noticed. It’s time to open the jar of individuality and write your name in the chocolate drizzle. 

I admire any person who can tell me their past, lick the spoon, and use it to make a delicious batch of brownies. Secret recipes only hold their suspense for so long …

Just think of what the dessert spread would look like if we all divulged and swapped recipe cards. Just think of the sweet stories we could savor …

Your story matters, whether you think of yourself as a master baker or not. 

Your contents are beautiful … and can create a delicious masterpiece. 

Let’s be raw. 

Let’s be riveting. 

Let’s be REAL.

5 Things I Learned From Working in the Fitness Industry

I have always held a passion for fitness, before even knowing what the term “fitness” was. 

P.E. was my favorite subject in grade school. Every chance I had to be outdoors, I took without question. I was the 8-year-old tomboy who you could find rollerblading in the streets and strategizing with my brother and neighborhood kids in an intense game of backyard football. I loved how being active made my body feel, and I loved the escape that sports gave me. The physical accomplishments and recreational outlets positively impacted my ability to stay focused on intellectual tasks and in school. And after dealing with my own struggles in my teens to effectively balance nutritional needs with my enthusiasm for exercise, it made sense that I would choose Exercise Science as my undergraduate major in college. It was a logical decision to immediately pursue a Health and Fitness Specialist (EP) certification upon graduation followed by a nosedive into a professional opportunity in the fitness industry. Everything seemed to be lining up appropriately. 

For over three consecutive years I worked as a wellness associate, group exercise instructor and personal trainer, and I have since continued my fitness enthusiast efforts as both a holistic health coach and high school running coach. Within that early time period there was a season when I lived, breathed, and bled everything fitness. I was immersed in the competitively evolving atmosphere and was eagerly soaking in every minute of it. I fully embraced the title of Personal Trainer and spent every ounce of my time reading and researching theories, scientific articles, periodization approaches, and ways to improve myself for my clients. I spent my time devising incentivized wellness challenges and grueling workouts, counting tedious repetitions and tracking results, hopping around the group exercise studio like a bunny rabbit on caffeine, and developing a love-hate relationships with burpees. 

I loved promoting fitness as part of a healthy lifestyle, and motivating others through physical activity. But one day this trainer hit burnout. I realized that there are so many more aspects to the wheel that would be forever turning. I recognized that in the world of fitness, there are many lessons to be learned. There will always be something that can be changed, adjusted, or critiqued. Rarely on the fitness planet do we hear the words “good enough.” 

In an age where we are constantly being shown how we can better ourselves, fitness is always a hot topic in the “self-improvement” category. But even from someone who favors this idea, I think it is also important to take some time to rest with ourselves rather than wrestle with ourselves. 

Fitness will always be a part of my lifestyle, because it’s just such a deep part of who I am. But I have now adopted a contemporary “holistic fitness” mindset… aiming to maintain a balance of a fit mind, body, and spirit. And so, from the reflections of a forever-fitness lover, I invite you to take a rest and read on. Below are five lessons I would like to take with me, and hope to pass along to anyone reading this today.

1. The Comparison Game Has No Winner

Everyone is uniquely and individually different for a reason—you aren’t meant to be exactly like that person you are admiring on social media. Sure, you can have similar results and maybe even similar stories, but even if you do the exact same workouts and eat the exact same things, you will ultimately witness what those changes do for you. One of the most common misconceptions about any fitness program is the idea that what is written in the books or advertised on the internet will work for everyone. While this kind of “cookie-cutter” approach is often misleading, it is important to understand why it does not work. The fact is that each and every person is different with regards to their individual make-up, hormones, genetics, ability to adapt to their environment, personalities, biological elements, etc, their needs and their circumstances. Therefore each person must be treated as a special project, as still highly capable. I was deceived by this trap soooo many times, thinking that my circumstances or training regimen must match up with what is portrayed by the text books or broadcasted by progress pictures. This teasing of inadequacy is very difficult to escape—Facebook and Instagram news feeds are flooded with other people’s prides and accomplishments. Our eyes and minds are filled with unrealistic photo-enhanced expectations often on a daily basis, oftentimes leading to crushed dreams. Constantly seeing how the world is so much farther ahead of where we are currently can make us feel as if we will never be able to keep up. I have learned that the combination of this pressure with the comparison factor really can be a thief of joy. Life is too short to live this way, piled with self-judgment and self-ridicule. So stop beating yourself up! You are you for a purpose, meant to play a role that only you can fulfill. Be happy for those who seem to have reached their goals, but work on finding and achieving your own. Find your “perfect fit.”

2. Thinner Isn’t Always Better 

“Strong is the new sexy…” 

“From skinny to strong …” 

Whatever the tag line reads, the bottom line is that strength should be valued over slim. This lesson is a difficult one, especially for anyone dealing with poor body image or feeling societal pressures to be a certain size or look a certain way. I for one used to be afraid of putting on too much muscle, which stemmed from my own struggles with an eating disorder as a a teenager. Surprisingly enough, my position working in the fitness industry surrounded by heavy barbells, creative competitions, and strong and admirable fitness-goers led me to believe even more in ability over aesthetics. I was inspired by others who cared more about what their bodies were capable of, than what size clothes they wore. It was during this time that I was humbled as an athlete: before I graduated college I could run 26 miles no problem but I couldn’t perform a proper squat. I received compliments on my “tiny” frame, but couldn’t even do a “real” push-up. Once I jumped into the world of personal training, I knew something needed to change. It was a daunting change, but an intriguing one. I knew it would take time, and I knew it would take heart. But I also knew it would strengthen me on the inside as much as the outside. And so began my determination to regain functional strength. Weight training became my new experiment and nutritional exploration became my new hobby. I was fueling for function and nourishing to glow. My desire to be a reliable trainer and a strong empowering woman motivated me to get over my past battles to stay slim. Accountability kicked in, and so did my new eyesight. My perspective changed along with my attitude. Muscles grew, and so did my confidence. Looking back on my early twenties, this was one of the best decisions I had made since college. You are capable of so much more than you realize. 

3. There Is Such a Thing As Too Much

More is not always better and harder is not always smarter, just like too much of a good thing can turn into a not-so-good thing. This applies to exercise as well. Sometimes our bodies need a break! As the Sports Recovery Annex would say “You are only as good in your training as in your ability to recover.”  (Awesome place to check out if you’re in the Jacksonville area, btw.) If you aren’t recovering from your workouts, there isn’t any sense in doing them. Your bodies adapt by recovering from a progressive load, just as muscles develop by repairing from a tearing stressor. This is how you become stronger. Too much stress causes a tie to break—if you keep pulling your knot tighter and tighter, ignoring the pain or fatigued sensation, you could find yourself strangled in too many injured loops to crawl out of. Pay attention to quality nutrition, fueling timely and enough, hydrating properly and adhering to self-care. One piece of the functional puzzle cannot be neglected. While you may hear the phrase “No one ever regrets a workout,” be prepared to deal with the consequences of pushing too hard for too long, or pushing too hard too soon. Overtraining is a real thing—I’ve seen it happen with my athletes, and I’ve experienced it myself. There is no benefit in pulling from an empty tank. I understand that as a fitness fanatic or avid athlete, stubbornness can often overpower sanity. But most importantly, it is vital to listen to your body. Use your fitness journey to develop a sense of self-awareness that allows you to tune in to your body and recognize its needs. Rest days are ok. Hard days are ok. Easy days are ok. Putting your health at risk to squeeze in a workout is not. When in doubt, “Train smarter not harder.”

4. The 3 P’s: Patience, Persistence, Perseverance

“Practice, practice, practice—for practice makes perfect,” may have been the famous mantra I received time and time again in my adolescent all-star days, but after some serious encounters with reality I have come to believe differently. While practice does lead to progress, sometimes stagnant progress leads to a never-ending cycle of dissatisfaction. While we push our limits and practice to our utmost potential, sometimes we find ourselves in a frustrated position where we are constantly reaching for more and more. This can create a feeling of inadequacy, especially if we have indeed put forth the hours and hours of dedicated hard work. I have found that “progress over perfection” is so much more rewarding. Be patient with yourself, your time, and your commitments. Do make the commitments, but know where and when to extend grace. Unfortunately, quick fixes do not exist.  Fitness is a journey, just like life. Goals require steps, and steps are meant to be taken one foot at a time. As much as we may want to, we cannot skip the basics. Reality is, you cannot get stronger without a stable foundation, regardless of your training background. Therefore, you cannot continue to progress without building upon existing platforms. Stability and mobility must precede agility and intensity. Strength must precede power, and with power comes performance. Muscles cannot grow if your stabilizers cannot support the larger mass, and even our greatest strengths can become crippled by our hidden weaknesses. So start slow, and maybe even small. But most of all, start smart. Just don’t get so caught up in becoming the “best,” that you forget to notice your current “being.” 

5. You Can Have Your Cake and Eat It Too (Seriously)

You heard me. Have your cake, eat it, and most of all, enjoy it. One “bad” day, nutritional “slip-up,” missed workout, relapse, slow interval, tired run, choppy swim, failed pull-up, fluctuating scale, or weak lift won’t ruin all of your fitness progress (unless you let it). The journey isn’t an “all or nothing” mentality…that kind of thinking is exactly what will lead to an eventual burnout. Holistic fitness is all about developing a long-term trust with yourself. Learn about your anatomy, your psychology, and your physiology. But don’t ignore the main goal of vitality. Don’t punish yourself with workouts or you won’t view movement as a privilege. Don’t restrict your food intake or you will most likely fall into a binge. Don’t guilt-trip yourself for skipping a day at the gym or you will constantly be at war with your own inner expectations. Fitness is a fabulously freeing lifestyle, but only when we work to integrate an interconnected strength with our minds, bodies, and emotions. Challenging ourselves can be invigorating. Recognizing our potential can be empowering. Accomplishing goals can be inspiring. And seeing yourself from a different perspective can be life-changing. So bask in your body’s ability to move, take time to enjoy your favorite foods, notice how you feel in response to your actions, and honor your willpower to savor today. You can change your lifestyle and still embrace who you are. You can embark on a new fitness journey and rediscover your strengths. You can still be disciplined and practice healthy balance. You can have your cake and eat it too. So hike the Appalachian, try a yoga/spin/pilates class, set the record for the world’s longest plank, build that booty, engage that core, swim in open water, complete a 5K, get coached for CrossFit, hit a new 1RM, train for a marathon…whatever you venture to do, go about it wisely. Try something new, get others to help, and just BE YOU.

 

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Dream Big

I used to think that dreams were only for dreamers. People who spent their days daydreaming rather than doing. People who were overly optimistic and failed to be realistic. People who were always persistently positive and couldn’t see the hurdles. 

I used to think that I didn’t have time to dream. I needed to not waste a second and instead put in the work. I had to keep on pushing harder even when I was tired. I had to keep on pressing towards the goal. But my goal wasn’t my dream… there would be another goal after this one. My goals lined up without a finish line in sight. 

For a while, I didn’t think I deserved to dream. I had lost control of my life as I knew it and thought I’d never gain it back. What was the point? Besides, I didn’t have the energy. I was sick—at least that’s what the doctors told me. I was haunted—at least that’s what my enslaved brain told me. Dreams were for happy people. Dreams were for strong people. Dreams were for those who freely lived. Dreams weren’t for me.

I used to spend all my efforts pushing my limits. Aiming for nothing less than perfection. Beating myself up over small shortcomings. Shuttling almost all of my drive into manipulating my eating and exercise. Even with all the 

pounds lost and pounds gained, moods up and moods down, depression gone and returned, self-criticism accepted and rejected, I still refused to sit still. I couldn’t sacrifice all of my progress to stop and attempt to dream.

Just one more…I thought to myself. Just one more…then I will be satisfied. 

Or so I thought.

Lap after lap of falling on my face …

 Year after year of over-exerting myself …

I still didn’t feel fulfilled. Yes, I had reached all of the goals I had meticulously set for myself. I had far surpassed them, actually. But it still wasn’t enough. I still felt a hollow pain inside. 

Then one day, I had a dream. I dreamed I was speaking to a large audience about my struggles. I dreamed of a new arrival of strength. I envisioned myself confident, joyful, and strong. I saw myself as inspirational, grateful, and empowering. I saw my future from the inside out: mentally liberated and physically free. Professionally driven and relationally connected. Family-oriented and faithfully serving. I imagined myself alive and healthy, courageous and compassionate. 

I had a dream of being someone instead of just doing things. I had a dream of becoming and knowing who I was. I dreamed that I would feel and recognize a passion. I dreamed of a passion that would propel me forward. I dreamed of obtaining a forever foundation, and acquiring a true sense of my unshakable self. I had a dream of discovering who I was meant to be. 

By training myself to be present, I allowed myself to dream. By acknowledging my past, I opened up myself to the idea of a future. By facing mere brokenness, I recognized my hope. It was in this hope that I finally learned what it truly means to believe. And this believing would require faith. 

You see, it is in times when we feel lost when we are forced to find our way. There is hope in the air of even every gloomy day. Dreams aren’t just a random dance at nighttime. No… dreams are meant to wake us up. Dreams help us distinguish reality but aim for something greater. Dreams can never be won by an opponent, or snatched away by a contender. You can never fail at achieving your dreams, because your dreams are yours to choose. Uniquely crafted by your hopeful mind, your dreams belong to you.

Dreams have character. Dreams don’t simply get checked off, or conquered with a detailed program. Dreams are forever growing, but in the most rewarding way. They are yours to fathom, yours to keep, and yours to chase. Dreams take a small thought and turn it into a big opportunity. Dreams are meant to be pursued, not accomplished. They are meant to be motivators, not pressures. They are meant to bring value to your life, not destroy it.

So I decided to dream. I dreamed hard, and I dreamed big. I refused to let my eating disorder crush my dreams. And I’m still dreaming. 

I dream of a world where eating disorders are no longer stigmatized. I dream of opportunities to pay it forward, and to use my story to help other people. I dream of reaching others through speaking and writing. I dream of sharing my book with anyone who will listen. I dream of being an educational voice in the athletic department and a role model for student athletes. I dream of resounding mental health resources and of becoming a professional in the field someday. I dream of a pro-recovery movement, and impacting the lives of young women in an effort of prevention. And I dream of a fulfilled purpose here on this earth. My dream is to run after life that my Creator designed for me to experience, and to love as hard as I can. 

Dreams take risks. They take sacrifice. They take hard work. But they also require vision—a healing vision; a hopeful vision. I pray that the Lord would heal any blindness tonight. I pray that you could see your worth, recognize your value, and feel your purpose. For “He who began a great work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ.” No one knows when our days are over. But dreams keep singing even after the last sun sets. ❤ 

 

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Human Days

I remember what it felt like to have “bad” days.

It’s not that I don’t have them anymore, but something in my mind is different:

I guess I have finally accepted the fact that I’m human.

I remember what it felt like, just trying to get by. Pressing on throughout the day, trying to keep busy to distract myself from looking down with disgust or disappointment. Feeling sluggish, bloated, discouraged and disillusioned. Punishing myself with double extra-long workouts, or restricting food until I couldn’t stand it anymore.

Yes, there were indeed “bad” days. Poor body image days, hopeless days, weak days, and frustrating days. Anxious days, angry days, and annoying days. Regretful days, resentful days, and rebellious days.

But there were also good days. Motivating days, exciting days, strengthening days and empowering days. Thankful days, thoughtful days, and transforming days. Victorious days, vocational days, and vibrant days. Each and every day soon became my choice.

I could choose recovery, or I could choose relapse. Yes, sometimes the eating disorder seemed more powerful than my will. Sometimes it won over my voice of reason. But there was always an opportunity for a second chance. There was always that short moment of free will. A moment with a fate that spoke the difference between slavery and freedom; isolation and community; pressure and peace.

I know what it feels like to dislike yourself. But what I have realized over the years while in healthy eating disorder recovery is that when I may not have liked myself on the outside, I still secretly loved myself on the inside. While at my lowest, yes, there were times when I couldn’t recognize my own thoughts anymore. In those days I was incapable of making rational decisions on my own. There were times when I pondered the true meaning of life, because I could’t truly feel it.

But after years of slowly getting better, I began to feel again. I began to laugh again and love again. I even began to love myself again. I may not have been happy with how my body looked every day, but I was in love with the person I was becoming. I knew I wasn’t done becoming her yet. So I pledged to keep on going.

I now recognize that this girl will never be done growing. I know I may not ever have everything figured out. But the self-knowledge and self-contentment that I have acquired by allowing myself to heal makes all of that okay. I guess I have acknowledged that we all make mistakes. I guess I have finally realized that no one is perfect. I guess I’ve learned that life is not meant to be wasted while wishing the day away. I guess I have accepted the fact that I’m only human.

Each and every day is a gift from above. There is no room for shame.

human

 

 

Entrepreneur Expression

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No need to dance around the subject, I’ll just go ahead and say it:

BEING AN ENTREPRENEUR IS EXHAUSTING.

I don’t know why I thought it would all of a sudden get easier. I mean, let’s be real, I truly have come a looonnng way in all of my personal and professional endeavors. But the human side of me is ready for some pieces to finally start fitting together. I thought I would be flying by now.

Reality is, these past six months have been one heck of a whirlwind …

In February I sought out to improve my own health through holistic functional medicine.
I then managed to survive 40 straight days vegan.
I concocted dozens of different smoothies, mush bowls, and veggie dishes on a daily basis. Nutritional background gratefully served in my favor.
Through a consistent effort, I dramatically improved my blood work profile and successfully balanced my hormones (with supervised guidance).

In my “spare time” I conducted loads of research, put together 24 chapters, and self-published an autobiography. (Not to mention the endless drafts and countless editing checks.)
I learned the ins and outs of digital formatting and online marketing. Somehow I’ve even kept up with Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

I officially launched FitPeaceByPeace, LLC, accompanied by all the required filings, regulations, and processing fees.
I invested a chunk of my savings to get the ball rolling, dealt with tax information and opened a business bank account.
Hours and hours have been spent brainstorming, networking, writing programs and proposals.

Yet there is still seems to be no time to simply sit and twiddle my thumbs. (Even though I find myself doing this on a daily basis.)

The work is never done. There is always something I could be doing. But then I deliberately stopped to look at my situation– I don’t really wish for the work to be done.

You see, while I sit here and complain about all of the hard work, someone is still constantly at work. God is continuing the good work that He began in me. I don’t ever want to wish for His work to be over.

As I contemplate the next step, God is already waiting. While I spit out all the things that I have accomplished, He is still accomplishing a fine masterpiece in me. It’s not about all the things I do, the brands I make, or the stats I create. His work is all that matters. Who am I to rush the will of the Lord?

I am here, open, and willing. I dream of doing big things. But I want these things to be for God’s kingdom.

As I try so very hard to figure everything out, God already has my life figured out. He’s the boss with the plan. It’s my job to trust and to listen.

It is so easy to get caught up in trying to keep up in this world. But I think the lesson to remember is that this life is not a race. We each have a purpose while here for a short while, and only God knows when that purpose has been fulfilled.

Even still, this doesn’t mean that God cannot continue to use us. It doesn’t mean that once we complete a “task” given by the Lord that we are done with business here in this life. We are forever constantly growing, just like a business must constantly grow to survive. The growth and maturity and life lessons to be learned, are all a part of the process. And as an advocate of the phrase “just trust the process,” I need to remember that God isn’t done here yet. Therefore, my work isn’t done here either.

Sometimes, I think we try too hard. I think that we create this image for ourselves of what life is supposed to look like. But oftentimes, it still seems like we are running in the dark. Yes it is great to set goals. Yes, it is awesome to have time-management. But at the end of the day, if you worked whole-heartedly for the Lord, then all of your efforts that day were worthwhile, regardless of the outcome.

When we chase the Lord, our wildest dreams will fall into place. When our focus is in the right place, we won’t have to try so hard.

God notices our persistence. He sees our dedication. God feels our passion. Some days, with frustration and stumbling road blocks, all we want to do is make our Daddy proud. All we want is attention, affection, and commendable affirmation. But the truth is, we already have them. We have been enough all along…

So to all who have ever had their heart set on an impossible dream:

 

“The only thing impossible for God is to be impossible.”

 

 

 

Image source: conversations4change

Forever Full

Today is the day after Thanksgiving 2016, a day which also has marked a series of “firsts”…

This year was the first holiday that my family has had the privilege of sharing with my little brother’s girlfriend (who, originally from England, does not normally celebrate the typical American holiday.)

This morning, I experienced my first encounter with serious debit card fraudulent activity, which thus called for a special visit to the bank to file a police report.

This warm Florida afternoon was the first time I have hit a baseball bat to a tennis ball in over 15 years, attempting to bring out the little 8-year-old girl still hiding inside.

And today was the first time in a long time, that I have awakened the morning after Thanksgiving full of peace; rather than hoarding the feelings of anxiousness, guilt, or regret.

Allow me to explain…

 

You see, for someone like me with a history of disordered eating, a day centered around stuffing food into overflowing tummies and onto crowded plates is something just short of a nightmare. All sorts of anxiety kindles in growing fear of anticipation for what the “food holiday” will entail: fear of getting sucked into the gluttony habits, fear of unintentional triggering comments from company, fear of being pressured into eating the “decadent indulgences,” fear of being judged by the amount of food on my plate, fear of binging on odd foods, fear of gaining weight…but mostly, fear of falling under an uncontrollable imbalance of thoughts and behaviors which I normally can keep on a tight chain.

I have experienced some wonderful Thanksgivings with my precious family, but many of those priceless quality moments have then been “ruined” in my eyes by my “mess-ups” of binging or guilty food behavior. In these circumstances, I wasn’t able to compartmentalize my relationship with food from my relationship with my loves ones. For years this first relationship overpowered my ability to interact and invest in others I cared about. It always seemed to dominate my thoughts and proceeded to rob me of the present.

I remember last year’s Thanksgiving being a true turning point for me in my recovery. I made it my goal last year to really focus on relaxing in the present moment, and on the relationships with my family surrounding me. I realized that even though the day is traditionally focused on what is on the dinner table, I could choose to focus instead on the smiling faces around the table and caring hands slaving away in the kitchen. I still ate more than I would on a typical day, but didn’t beat myself up about it. I laughed, I reflected, and I reminisced in all of the cheerful childhood memories shared with these people who were huge influences in my life. I sat and remembered what it was like before…life before my “disorder” took over my being. Before I knew how to pinpoint and direct my feelings, I found comfort in these loving connections of friends and family whenever little anxieties started to emerge. I was an anxious child by nature, but when I was in the vicinity of those with whom I felt comfortable, those insecurities seemed to disappear.

When I felt safe enough to let my guard down, I was loud and even obnoxious at times, but most of all, I was present. Last night, as I practically slid off the sofa in my family’s living room from belly-aching laughter which filled the cozy nostalgic air, I was so very thankful…I was happy…but most of all, I was present.

I told myself before Thanksgiving last year that this day was going to get better. Though each year is different in its own special way, last year my mindset, (in my eyes,) was in fact better than the previous years of mental battles. This year, I had no doubts going into the usual overwhelming atmosphere. Maybe it was the new accountability I have acquired as an eating disorder mentor and a health coach; maybe it was my own encouragement in a recent presentation about redefining nutrition; maybe I truly am far enough in recovery to be able to hold my strength; or maybe my body is finally able to calm down after physically starving and feeling unable to catch up–whatever the cause of this new feeling of contentment, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

I feel physically satisfied, mentally sharp, and emotionally stable–three areas which are very vulnerable to falling out of balance. I had worked up an appetite from my annual Turkey Trot early that morning, but I was not ravenously contemplating every chance to divulge in a meal. I wasn’t restricting my allotted feeding time or quantity thereof, but instead filled my plate with what I wanted and how much I wanted, and didn’t think twice about it. I might have only chosen the dishes which I considered to contain familiar ingredients, but just like everyone else, I chose my meal based on my personal likes and preferences. I left the table satiated after clearing my delicious colorful plate, and continued to embellish the opportunity to socialize. I didn’t fret about all the workouts I would have to do the next day, or the “special occasion” foods I wished to binge on later, hidden from everyone’s judgment. For once I felt like a normal human being, simply enjoying the holiday.

 

I think what many people fail to realize is just how difficult social gatherings around food can be for someone struggling (or who has previously struggled) with any sort of disordered eating. If you think about it, it is essentially a built-up event which requires the affected person to publicly walk into a room enveloped by a cloud of their biggest fears. Curious eyes can be intimidating, foreign foods can be terrifying, conversations can be awkward, misunderstanding can be degrading, comments can be embarrassing, and worries can be piercing. Until we have one positive experience to serve as our new home base, each invitation to converse over a meal in an unfamiliar environment is more of a challenging dilemma rather than an exciting opportunity.

But I do believe that in situations like these, the only way to conquer these frightful feelings is to face them. As I mentioned, all it takes is one positive dinner with friends, or one successful relational Thanksgiving, to serve as a tremendous confidence-booster. It provides a new reference point, and the positive feelings following such an accomplishment are so much stronger than the old “safety set” of eating disorder retreating habits. The initial decision to step into the territory of interacting with a new perspective may not be easy, and the sequential steps may not be perfect. But just as I have mentioned before, these series of successful steps will continue to grow, and will provide the staircase towards a wonderful life of freedom.

It’s taken a while, but now I eagerly welcome the invitation to converse over a meal. I look forward to the quality time and the primary nourishment from cultivating genuine relationships, while sharing wholesome physical nourishment. So the next time we meet up for lunch, consider it my privilege to be able to partake in such meaningful moments together. Letting others in to the depths my past is not a task that I take lightly, and your trusting presence is something I highly value.

As I reflect on all of my many blessings this holiday season, I am thankful for the present. But even so, I am thankful for my past—my sufferings, breakthroughs, and this new position of strength. I am thankful for my company and my connections along this road of self-discovery—especially with my loved ones and acquaintances, yet also with myself. I finally feel welcomed inside my own skin again…I feel loved, appreciated, and valued in my own teary eyes.

I am thankful for the Love which taught me what it means to love, and the love which has given me a reason to be thankful. God has continued to show me this love (His love,) regardless of whether or not I chose to receive it or reciprocate it. This love is the love that has kept me going, and is the love which now shines to keep me glowing. I now remember what it feels like to actively cherish, while humbly stepping back in awe of thanksgiving. Grateful for the patience and opportunity for a second chance, the choosing does seem to get easier year after year…

I now choose family, forgiveness and freedom.

I choose patience, perseverance, and peace.

I now choose laughter, liberty and life.

I choose to be forever filled with thanks.

 

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Thess 5:16-17

A Hopeful Promise

Sometimes, you have to first make the decision to change for someone else. Sometimes, the accountability and motivation must come initially from an external source, to drive you forward until you can reach a point where you finally begin to love yourself again. In the beginning of all of my chaos, the majority of my professional treatment was forced, in a sense. In my own blindness, I liked what I had going for myself as far as my routine and disciplined behaviors were concerned; I thought I was doing a good job managing my life, and didn’t truly believe anything was wrong with my current habits…I thought I had found happiness through my controlling routines and rituals of obsessive diet and exercise.

After I was clinically diagnosed, I went to all the doctor appointments and counseling sessions in submission to authority as a requirement, basically for my parents, while I was still thankfully underneath their loving care. Eventually, rational thoughts began to re-enter my mind as my primary reward system during treatment was introduced—the deal being that if I gained enough weight back, I would be allowed to return to the sports that I loved. For a while this was my only motivation, along with pleasing my family members who I hated to see constantly worrying about me…at that specific time, a return to the soccer field served as the perfect external driving force which gave me hope for something in which I associated the feeling of joy.

Later on in my athletic career, I picked up the sport of distance running—something I never thought I would have been “allowed” to do previously because running burns an insane amount of calories. But while one may initially think that a sport such as running would be an awful idea for someone with my history, I believe it actually played a very positive role in my recovery journey. While in high school, my reward for weight gain once again revolved around sport participation—though this time being the privilege to run in an annual local 15K. With my new nutritional training from dietitians and schooling, I knew very well that I had to fuel myself more efficiently in order to keep up with my training schedule. It “allowed” me to eat more (in my little twisted brain,) and I was ok with mentally granting myself the extra calories because I was aware of the large amount of energy that I was expending during my runs.

Just to make things clear, however, this isn’t to say that this grueling sport healed me—I still sported unhealthy body-image vision goggles while racing in my prime. I do think that my time spent in the distance running world, which later progressed further into the fitness industry, served as a necessary stepping stone in my own personal recovery journey. Once I realized the new fitness goals I had made for myself, regardless of whether they were endurance or strength related, I became more motivated to follow up on the nutrition side—this time with a new focus on feeding instead of fasting.

 

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Just recently, after years of small increment changes on the consistency and quality of my food intake, I finally landed in a place along my recovery road where I sincerely wanted to change—I wanted to change for the better, and I wanted to change for me. Back when things spiraled downward years ago, it took compelling and begging from my family and friends; coaxing me and disciplining me to get better. Later on down the road, I wanted to show them how much I appreciate their love, concern, and loyalty during such a devastating time of my past.

Today, I still stand firm in my place of stable recovery surrounded by them as my backbone, and accountability partners forever. I made a promise to these loved ones to never again return to my dark corner, and I will most definitely hold true to this loyalty. Along with this pledge, now I finally realize that I do desire this talked-about life of ‘freedom’…I want this for me. I want a future full of promise and days full of laughter. I want to travel, see the world, meet new people and hike tall mountains. I want to be a strong presence for my family, instead of weighting them down with my insecure sufferings. I want to begin my own generation of family someday…to be a wife and a mommy…to sit on the back porch with my handsome husband hand-in-hand, watching our children playing in the yard…to be able to hold my daughter close and tell her how beautiful she is. I want to experience life and breathe the fresh air…I want to carry on a legacy of commitment and truth.

 

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I have finally reached a point in life where I’m no longer accepting any nonsense from that deceiving little seed that somehow planted itself in my innocent mind years ago. There are trails I want to explore, sights I want to see, and goals I want to reach. I want to reflect on my past and learn from it, without it controlling my very being. I want to redefine myself by what I have overcome, and who I want to be, not by a previous lifestyle that may appear to present unsurpassable limits.

Through the ups and down and thick and thins, my faith remains unwavering. Though it was often blocked and masked at times, it has marched back up to the front of the line to lead me onward over and over again. In all the turmoil, confusion, self-ridicule, heartaches, setbacks and disappointments, faithful love endured as my constant. I am finally beginning to open myself up to that love, which has been desperately knocking on the door to my heart ever since I fell off the cliff of stringency over 10 years ago. All these years that I labored over trying to become my best; only to recognize now that I was the one who was standing in the way. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in a hopeful future, I just frankly didn’t honestly believe I deserved it. I could tough it out till the bitter end, just as I had been habitually doing for more than half of my life. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in surrender and serenity…I was just so unaware of the mere extravagance which could come from a future of freedom.

 

Today, this hope of a better tomorrow, stemming from a grateful present, is what propels me forward. Realizing the strong importance of self-expression, day by day I am becoming one with myself, and making peace with my past. It is a journey of forgiveness, kindness, thankfulness, and acceptance. It is a road of diligence, discernment, empowerment, and determination. Just like all of my countless road races, I know there will always be a finish line. My life holds value; value which I cannot expect to try and rush. It has taken me many years to openly confess my past flaws and sinful mess-ups, and to stand up to my own fears of shame and judgment. But it is time…time to stand transparent and true, proud and tall. It is time to find that boldness to share my story, for my family, my friends, my counselors, my doctors, my fellow soldiers, my God, and myself. I want to share to touch the lives of anyone out there struggling with doubts, fears, past hurts, self-inflicted pressures, and internal and external stressors. All of the knowledge and wisdom which I have been fortunate to collect over the course of this rollercoaster ride, serves me no good if I simply ball it up and hold it inside.

 

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So, friends, this is for you. Let this account be an external motivation to bring out your best self. Perhaps you have a loved one struggling, could use some extra inspiration, or maybe you are hurting behind closed doors. Regardless of the particular circumstance, I can promise you this: there is a such thing as hope. Believe in this hope, and in the healing power of intentional presence and heartfelt understanding. I can now say with sound audacity that I do understand what it feels like to drown… but most importantly, I now understand what it feels like to fly.

 

“Promise yourself that you will never do that to your body again…”—Anonymous

“I promise…with my whole heart, I promise. And I always keep my promises.” —AR

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Holistic Guinea Pig

Every once in a while, I enroll myself in little health-related “experiments.” Being a personal trainer and overall avid health-seeker, I find it beneficially necessary to try out different lifestyle changes, trends, or intriguing fitness claims (after doing extensive research of course,) from time to time. This hands-on approach enables me to be able to draw from personal accounts so that I can deliver quality support to other people I come in contact with, and to genuinely “practice what I preach.” Recently, I have intentionally been extending an extra effort to listen to my body, fuel it holistically, and rejuevenate my suspected burned-out athletically-driven system. I’ve realized that I feel most at peace when I make an attempt to really slow the pace down… relaxing around food, not feeling the pressure to workout or perform, and really becoming in tune with my body’s feelings, tendencies, and reactions to various environments and stressors.

This whole past year has been a little self-experiment, quite frankly. I used to be pretty content with my physical outward state and exercise routine, but my complacency was subconsciously eating me up inside. Of course I didn’t realize it at the time, as I continued to push my body past its limits. Funny how we don’t realize how deep we were actually sinking until we reach a certain viewpoint above the pit.

I used to feel sluggish thought out the day, legs heavy and brain foggy (unless I was drinking coffee.) I used to fast the majority of the day, and was used to consuming literally all of my calories between the window of 2-9pm. Currently, my dinners still remain my largest (and most nutritious) meal, and I still have an after-dinner snack that is usually just as calorically dense as the previous meal. But I also now feed my body throughout the day, consistently and willingly. Of course I have certain staples that I turn to, but also pay attention to what my body craves, and fulfill its requests. With this improvement came a proactive attempt in rebooting my entire digestive system, by introducing natural supplements like probiotics digestive enzymes, both of which have helped tremendously in my overall gut health. It really is fascinating just how all the internal systems are connected. I learned pretty quickly that the saying “If your gut ain’t happy, you ain’t happy”, is oh so accurate.

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