Happy Wednesday, Friends!
As you can likely tell by the title of this post… I owe my frequent readers an apology.
Sincerely. Girl to girl, or boy, or whoever you are.
The other day, as I was updating some content here on the blog, I got myself in one of those downward spirals that can only result in a cringe-fest. You know, like when you stalk yourself on Facebook or Twitter or come across your old diary? Yeah… like that, but worse.
It’s funny, because the mortifying blog-stalk happened in the same week that my mom sent me the draft of the fiction novel I was working on when I was about 13… it’s safe to say my storytelling chops have improved.
One of the common post types that I came across was my old “What I Eat in a Day” entries. Reading them not only triggered me… but made me very sad and upset.
AND – realize that I owe readers an apology. For putting out that content when I was starved – physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally – sick, and very, very mixed up. I thought I was pursuing recovery, but, really, I was pursuing more sickness. I was eating more food, sure, than I was when I was in the depths of anorexia – because that was essentially days on end of NO food – but was nevertheless consumed with food thoughts; when I would eat next, how much, how many grams of this and that, etc. It was my life, my god, my obsession.
I had to come to a point of absolute surrender in order to actually heal my body.
And that healing is happening.
I thought, in way of apology and to show the change God has enacted, I would talk a little bit about my eating patterns NOW – haha, if I can remember everything. You see, I used to know exactly what I would “allow” myself to eat in a day the moment I woke up – weeks before, in fact. I would plan my meals so in advance, obsessing the point of writing down what I would allow myself to eat at Christmas dinner in June.
Now, food has faded into the background because I am not starving anymore.
The desire I had to share “What I Eat in a Day” posts was a direct result of my starvation. When the body is starving, the mind is preoccupied with food. Not only is this scientifically proven, but I’ve experienced it firsthand.
Though none of these examples of my “What I Eat in a Day” posts are even close to the worst of my eating disorder, disordered habits, restricted portion sizes, and concerning thought patterns were laced throughout them.
If I ever directly triggered someone in the sharing of those things… I want to say how deeply and truly sorry I am. In some of these posts, I claimed to be “trying so hard to gain weight/get my period back.” It often wasn’t the case that I was trying so hard. For years, I feared gaining weight more than anything else. I hate to admit that. It sounds so terrible, to fear something like that, but that was the reality.
I said countless times for years, “I don’t know why I don’t have a regular period. I’m eating a LOT, I’m not exercising, I’m gaining weight… I’m doing everything I’m supposed to!”
If you still don’t have a period because of anorexia, I’m not going to sugarcoat it for you. Of course, seek a doctor and medical attention, but I’m pretty certain they will tell you the same thing:
1. You may feel like you’re eating a LOT, but it’s not enough yet. There’s actually no such thing as “too much” in recovery. Your body is literally screaming for nutrients in order to carry out basic bodily functions like your menstrual cycle. Something that really helped me to eat in the darkest days was thinking about food like it was the best kind of medicine I could give myself… because it was.
2. You may feel like you’re lazy and doing way less exercise than at any other point in your life. But if you’re still going for long brisk walks, or even doing intense yoga, it might just be too much. Another form of medicine in this time is REST. You spent x amount of time abusing your body through exercise… it’s asking for rest, and, again, there’s no such thing as too much.
3. You may feel like you’ve gained an unbearable amount of weight, but it is almost definitely not enough yet. I know that is the scariest thing to hear. It is, in fact, the last thing I let go of.
I spent years cycling into weeks of restriction the second I saw the scale tip over x weight. But finally, one day, my extreme hunger was so out of control, I needed to eat until I was full for once. And then I continued to. And the next time I weighed myself, I had well surpassed that x weight… and, a week later, got my period.
I’ve had 4 periods in 2020, and it’s early June. This is BY FAR the most regular I’ve been since I was fifteen years old… and it’s also the most I’ve weighed since I was fifteen years old, as well as the most normal relationship with food I’ve had.
Hm. I wonder why my period came back? 😉
I wish I could tell you that I went “all in” in recovery WHILE accepting that my weight was going to be higher than the eating disorder wanted it to be. But… this isn’t how it happened for me.
One day, about seven months ago, I was just SO SICK of being hungry all of time. For the first time in seven years, I felt like I couldn’t control that hunger. I couldn’t force it away anymore. I ate until I was satisfied.
And I did it again the next day. And the next day.
The fears plagued my mind: You’re just going to balloon up. You’ll never stop gaining. Your appetite will never slow down.
I’ve had bouts of extreme hunger in the past, but they would usually only last a week or two before anorexia screamed her mean month off and I was back to restricting until any ounce of weight gain came off.
But this time – and two months before my wedding day – I didn’t give in to the screaming… even though it was louder than ever, because one VERY loud voice said: “You’re not going to be the skinniest on your wedding day if you keep this up.”
Screw you, anorexia.
I knew that my husband couldn’t be more thrilled about my weight gain, because to him, it meant I was more glowing, more beautiful, and, most importantly, more healthy.
But, I’m not going to lie… I didn’t see it myself.
You’re starting to look like your old self, a voice screamed. You’re going to become her (If you haven’t checked out my full eating disorder story, you can read that here).
No… I can’t lie to you about the struggles that I’ve had.
But I CAN rejoice in the victories…
- I KNOW I am healthier, more energetic, equipped to do my job and my life and serve God with these 30 more pounds. I know that my body now is more like the one God designed for me, because He designed me as a woman who has healthy enough hips to carry a baby. Getting my period regularly has shown me the health in my body.
- I have moments of really loving this bigger body. Really embracing its curves and womanliness.
- All of this has ultimately been used by God to show me that I have spent too much life idolizing my body, controlling what I eat/how much I exercise, and obsessing over my health. This kind of idolizing is not life, and I don’t want it.
So, Friend, if you are reading this and convicted of your need to get your period back after hypothalamic amenorrhea, here is what I have to say to you:
1. You need more food than you think you do. There must not be an OUNCE of restriction in your behaviours or your mind… not just temporarily, but forever. Normal people don’t live via restriction, but via hunger cues that were built in our bodies by our God. Think about a “normal eater” in your life – someone without an ounce of diet culture plaguing or ever having plagued them. For me, that’s my husband, which is an enormous blessing in itself. To live with someone who has never idolized food or his body, who has such a gloriously normal relationship with food, is a gift from God. The support, love, encouragement, joy, and lack of tolerance Johnny shows me every single day is a work of art that I can’t begin to even describe to you. And I had to recognize that, for a while, I was eating more food than he was, but that that was okay, and to be expected. My hunger was at an insanely high level because I was coming out of years of restriction… that simply MAKES SENSE. The ONLY way to repair the damage is to eat to that hunger. Listen to me: I tried to get under, over, and around that fact for almost eight years, and no luck getting my period. I needed to actually eat this amount of food that I was so hungry for.
Now, those of us who are steeped in diet culture may be thinking, “But shouldn’t you fulfill that hunger with other, more important things?” Magazines and Instagram are full of messages like “Don’t eat – you’re probably bored.” Someone struggling with an eating disorder may take this like I did: don’t eat breakfast. Don’t eat lunch. Heck, don’t eat anything ever. The longer this goes on, the more damage is done… and in order to repair organs, bodily functions, and mental clarity, your daily energy requirements plus much more will be necessary.
2. Cut the exercise. It won’t be forever (in my opinion – remember, I am not a doctor). Remember – you have an eating disorder. Step outside of yourself, and look at your situation from someone else’s perspective. To them, someone struggling with food restriction and lack of period would obviously want to cut out exercise and take some much needed rest in order to heal, right? It’s okay if the only steps you take are to the fridge.
No, I’m not telling you that this little amount of exercise is healthy forever. I’m also not telling you to binge eat forever – or at all. I’m telling you to eat to your hunger – which, at this point, might be the amount of food that would equate to a binge for another, but in eating disorder recovery research and experience is necessary – and to rest until your menstrual cycle is restored.
Oops. Ed (Eating Disorder/Satan) just heard that one, didn’t he? Once you get your period, you can go back to restricting!
Nope. Eating to your hunger must be continued, forever. The amount of food you’re hungry for and able to consume will decrease… and you will actually find that you have energy and JOY in exercise again.
One of the most crazy and amazing parts of recovery for me has been SWEAT. Heat.
I used to be cold ALL of the time. It could be the hottest day of July with me lying on the beach, and I would still be shivering.
Now, I often wake up having sweat through my sheets (a common side effect of recovery as your body temperature is literally heating up again). In the past month or so, this has sloooowly lessened, but I’m never freezing to the bone anymore… there’s more fat around all of my bones. And no, that fat doesn’t make me fat.
I sweat when I go for runs. I have STAMINA when I go for runs. I feel STRONG. It’s absolutely amazing and beautiful. Thank you, Jesus!
REST now, so you can actually ENJOY exercise later – without thinking about how many calories you’re burning.
3. Don’t stress your mind off and Google everything there is to know about hypothalamic amenorrhea. I hope this isn’t the 356th post you’ve read today about amenorrhea, as you’ve just been obsessively and stressfully taking in all the info you can find. This is counterintuitive. I know, because I’ve been there, and it didn’t help, but also because stress is proven to be a major contributor to hypothalamic amenorrhea. I’m glad that you are taking your health seriously – because losing your period is serious, and is not normal. But, if I could go back, I would tell myself to stop wasting hours and hours looking for new information. This was just the eating disorder wanting me to find some info that would allow me to get my period back but to keep restricting.
I already knew what I needed to do… I didn’t need to read it in 500 different articles/listen to it in a million videos. I needed to do it.
Friend. Take the next step toward eating your wedding cake in freedom. And the next one after that.
I’m here cheering you on.
And I’m truly here to talk and pray for you, too. Please feel free to reach out in the comments, or via DM @_cassiefulford.