Eating Disorder triggers during the holidays: There’s more to it than you might think

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It’s that time of year again! The holidays have arrived and for many people this means sitting down to feast upon feast of five course family dinners . While this is enjoyable for many people, this is not necessarily the case for those among us who suffer from disordered eating.

The holiday dinners themselves are hard enough as it is, but the real challenge rolls around in January when all people seem to be talking about is their new years resolution to lose weight, get in shape, and shake those extra pounds from the holidays. For some, this kind of conversation might seem innocent and casual. But for people who struggle with an eating disorder this kind of conversation can be triggering which can risk worsening the disordered behavior or derailing the recovery efforts of someone who is trying to overcome their eating disorder.

The thing about eating disorders that people may not realize is that they are very competitive disorders. This is the reason why so many individuals become so much sicker after becoming involved in online eating disorder communities or even support groups. The disordered thought patterns thrive off of competition. You compete with yourself with the belief that the only acceptable number on the scale is one lower than the one before it, but you also compete with others in the sense that you want to be the best at weight loss.

What this means in the context of the holiday season is that when someone with an eating disorder is bombarded with messages about losing weight and being fit, it triggers a competitive element in their mind which can cause them to lose track of their recovery or become sicker than they already were. Of course, this is not the fault of the individuals who set those pesky New Year’s resolutions, nor is it the fault of the individual plagued by the eating disorder. To place blame would be impossible and , quite frankly, pointless.

With all of that being said, it is important to recognize that this is a difficult time of year for those of us who are trying to recover from an eating disorder. If you know somebody who has an eating disorder, consider showing them some extra support over the next few weeks and encourage them to stay on track. It is very common to lose sight of the recovery goal when weight loss seems to be the focus of so many people during this time of year. Show your support by not talking about weight loss around someone who has an eating disorder or by reaching out to them and offering them support in even the smallest of gestures.

If you’re reading this and you are also struggling feel free to leave me a comment below and we can chat it out. Let’s show each other the support that we need!

xo

Ayla

You are more than your external shell

I recently came across a YouTube channel by Savannah Brown in my recommended videos list and I was absolutely stunned by how much I can relate to this girl. She has struggled with an eating disorder and body image issues and is currently working towards self-love and self-acceptance.

I came across the above video while browsing her channel and I was really inspired by the messages she shares. She talks about the tendency of women to hate themselves and their bodies because of the messages presented to us in society. Heaven forbid a woman embrace her body and love the way that she looks without picking herself apart for all of the perceived flaws. That would be unacceptable and immediately shamed as being narcissistic and vain.

Women are constantly told by society that they are not good enough, not thin enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough–just plain not ENOUGH. So it’s no wonder so many girls and women struggle with issues like eating disorders, low self-esteem, and body dysmorphia.

I think Savannah brings up some really good points in her slam poem and it’s definitely worth watching. I hope it helps some of my readers in the same way that it helped me.

In the words of Demi Lovato, “what’s wrong with being confident”?

xo

Ayla

Anna Akana on the Importance of friendship

As you’ve probably figured out if you follow my blog closely, I love Anna Akana’s videos.

I re-discovered this gem today and it made me smile despite the fact that I’ve been having a rough week, so I figured I would share it.

I can relate to Anna in the sense that I am also a very introverted and isolated person. I enjoy solidarity and I would much prefer a night in reading a book over a night at a club or a party. I can appreciate the value of a nice chat with a close friend or a girls night in, but the idea of going out to crowded environments like a party or a club makes me cringe.

With that being said, even though I enjoy being alone I am starting to realize that it is really important to have social supports in the form of friendships. And don’t get me wrong, I have some really great friends. But the problem is that most of them live a few hours away. I’m at that point in my life where my friends and I stay in touch through phone calls, texts, and emails because we’ve all gone our separate ways for school and career opportunities. So even though I have some great friends, this does me little good when I’m having a rough day and I need some physical companionship. Sometimes you really need to see friends face to face which means its important to have people who live close enough that you can see them in person even if it only happens every once in a while.

In a few months this could be even more important to me. If I end up moving to a new city I will no longer have the support of my roommate and therapist (the only two constants I have right now) so I’ll be even more isolated. Because of this, I think it is important for me to start building connections now so that when/if I move again in a few months I will have the ability to reach out to new people and make new friends in the new city so that I have people to lean on when times get tough.

To say i’m anxious about this would be the understatement of the century. It’s been years since I’ve been in a situation where I need to make new friends in a new situation where I don’t know anybody. I’m terrified. I’ve finally reached a point with my close friends where I feel comfortable disclosing the mental health issues that I struggle with but it took years to build up that level of trust. I’m defensive and self-protective by nature because of my past and I find it difficult to let other people get to know me. I’m scared that I will be alone and unable to let people in. I’m scared that I will be alone.

There is a huge difference between enjoying isolation while knowing that you have people to lean on when you need to and being isolated because you have absolutely nobody to lean on. The potential for complete isolation is terrifying and the thought of that makes me fear the future. But at the same time I need to stop letting anxiety make my decisions. I need to take risks in life if I want to move forward and reach my goals. As hard as it might be, I need to learn how to build a support system for myself while moving forward with my life.

xo

Ayla

I disagree with the Pope: Feel your anger and set it free

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Recently while browsing through pinterest I came across this image quoting Pope John II and I was immediately frustrated with the sentiment of the quote.

Basically what this quote says to me is that it is better to cry and hold back your feelings than to unleash your anger on someone and validate your own feelings by holding someone accountable. Sometimes the only way to “cleanse the heart” is to release the emotions which are being held back. Sometimes people do horrible things and they deserve to be on the receiving end of anger even if it hurts them.

Growing up I was taught that it is not okay for me to feel angry– especially with authority figures– even when I have a valid reason to feel anger. I was taught to hold back my emotions and bottle them up until it got to a point where my only means of coping was to inflict harm upon my own body. In fact, the desire to hold back my anger was so strong that I’ve had many therapy sessions specifically dedicated to helping me understand that it is okay to feel anger and to release that anger onto others who have caused me distress. Anger is a normal human emotion and just like any other emotion, it demands to be felt. So you can either hold onto the anger and let it poison your mind and make you unhappy, or you can release it and move on.

With that being said, I do think that there are responsible ways to release anger. Telling someone that you are angry or showing them your anger does not need to involved screaming, yelling, cursing, or verbally assaulting someone. Sometimes releasing anger can be as simple as telling someone “you hurt me when you did __________ and because of that you’ve made me feel _______”.

Crying can also be a way to deal with anger on an internal level, but if we never confront the issue and let others know when they have wronged us, how can we expect them to learn from their mistakes? How can we help others improve upon their self-awareness and treatment of others if we never communicate our anger?

To suggest that we should cry instead of releasing anger is not only self-damaging, but also harms others by robbing them of the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. In my opinion, one of the greatest injustices of the world is the pervasive tendency of people to hide their emotions rather than expressing them. I believe that we would be happier if we were better able to express our emotions –no matter if they are negative or positive.

Emotions will be felt whether we communicate them or not. We cannot ignore them, at least not without putting ourselves at risk for mental health consequences such as the self-harm and eating disorder which I have struggled with for years. We as a society need to teach children how to communicate their emotions in a healthy and effective manner so that when they grow up they are not afraid to express those emotions.

Anger should not be internalized or ignored. Anger should be expressed healthily just as we would express happiness or sadness. For this reason, I have to disagree with the words of Pope John II.

xo

Ayla

Holidays and Social Anxiety

For anyone who has social anxiety, you would probably rather spend your holidays doing something like this:

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Rather than something like this:

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Let’s face it. Parties are mentally–maybe even physically–exhausting for those of us who are introverted. But social anxiety is not the same as introversion and for those of us who experience social anxiety, it is more like emotional and mental torture than simple exhaustion. The thought of going to a holiday party makes me want to cringe.

The exception to this would be holiday parties with my family and close friends where I know everyone and feel comfortable talking to everyone. However, when I am invited to a holiday party where I will only know one or two people among a crowd, I will more than likely find one reason or another to decline.

Take Christmas eve for instance. I was invited to spend the evening at my landlord’s Christmas dinner for his family which I quickly excused myself from with a fabricated “prior commitment”. Personally, I find the idea of spending time with my landlord and his family to be quite strange in and of itself, but add on the anxiety of having to talk to complete strangers and eat dinner with them? I would rather sit alone in the dark with all of the lights out pretending not to be home than go to that party. And that is exactly what I did.

For those of you who have never experienced social anxiety, you might find it difficult to relate to the experiences of your loved ones or even begin to understand why they seem to be so flaky with social engagements. To you I say please try to understand that anxiety is a real issue with very real and very uncomfortable symptoms. If you really want to see a friend or a loved one over the holidays but they decline every party invite you send their way maybe you should try inviting them to coffee or lunch or a girls (or guys) night in. I can’t speak for everyone, but I find it much more enjoyable to spend time with someone one-on-one as opposed to  going to a party. For starters, you get to spend more time talking to each other and catching up, but it also feels less overwhelming and anxiety provoking than going to a holiday party.

Food for thought for all of you party-goers!

Happy holidays!

xo

Ayla

Silencing your inner critic featuring Anna Akana

If you haven’t already seen Anna Akana’s videos on YouTube, you should definitely take a few moments (and by that I mean hours because she’s hilarious) to check out her channel.

Recently, during one of my Akana binge watching episodes I came across one of her older videos which really hit home for me. I have a huge inner critic, and I would argue that so do most other people in this world.

Whether we’re criticizing our appearance, our relationships, our personality, or our work, there always seems to be some reason to essentially bully ourselves. As the old saying goes, you are your own worst critic.

Ironically enough, we often criticize ourselves in the name of self-improvement when really what we are doing is self-deprecating. Therefore, if self-improvement is what you’re after then a much better approach is to try positive affirmations. By encouraging yourself rather than constantly putting yourself down you will increase your confidence and give yourself more chances to succeed.

Of course, this is easier said that done and while this is achievable on your own for some people, others might require the help of a therapist to overcome the inner critic. In fact, some forms of therapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are specifically intended to help people change their thought patterns. This is because mental health professionals recognize how difficult it can be to overcome thought patterns once they are ingrained in your life. With that being said, even though it is hard to overcome that voice in the back of your mind that inspires doubt, it is not impossible. With hard work you can definitely reclaim your confidence and silence that inner critic.

xo

Ayla

Spending the holidays alone and self-care

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Merry Christmas and happy holidays everyone!!

This Christmas is a bit weird for me because it is my first Christmas that I will not be spending at my parent’s house with my whole family all together. My family is at that point where the kids have all grown up and moved out which means we’re all at different points in our lives.

For 364 days of the year I’m totally fine being independent and introverted and alone. I take pleasure in quiet alone time where I can do whatever I want. Admittedly, this usually means I’m either online talking to you lovely people or I have my nose stuck in a book. But then there’s Christmas day which is a traditionally family filled day. I love Christmas because it is a time when family comes together and the atmosphere is so cheerful and loving. But not this year.

This year the whole month of December has felt very lonely. I’ve been anxiously awaiting the arrival of Christmas with dread rather than excitement this year. Part of me still believes that my family blames me for the fall out of my abusers actions. I broke my silence about the abuse which means that I am the one responsible for the blaring tension and division of my family over the holidays.

I never thought I would be among the people who would come to hate the holidays, but this year I’ve spent so much time feeling isolated and alone and I hate the idea that this might be the reality of the holiday season for many years to come.

But it hasn’t been all bad. I went skating last week for the first time in years and even though I’m not very good at it, I still had fun. Additionally, I got to spend some time with a friend who I haven’t seen in 8 months yesterday which was really nice. And of course, we can’t forget about the promise of wonderful sales on boxing day! I look forward to that every year and while this will also be a solo adventure this year, I still plan to enjoy it.

I’m trying to focus on some positives to keep my spirits up even though the next few days are sure to be rough. I’ve even allowed myself to have a cup of hot chocolate even though it is strictly forbidden by the voice of my eating disorder. Today I need to pamper myself and show myself some love and self-care. I am my own source of stability. I will get myself through this.

For anyone else who is feeling lonely over the holidays, I’m sending you big hugs and lots of holiday cheer.

xo

Ayla

Irony in society: Eating disorders edition

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I was recently reading an article in Elle Magazine about a blogger who quit veganism for health reasons. The cause? Orthorexia Nervosa.

Now before anyone gets defensive thinking that this is a vegan-hating blog post, stop, breathe, and continuing reading. Veganism is a lifestyle choice and while it is not one which I follow, it is admirable to make a change to your lifestyle for the betterment of others’ well-being–in this case, animals.

The irony that I wish to point out is that veganism–when done correctly–is a healthy lifestyle; however, it can also hide a deadly illness. Orthorexia is not a diagnostically official illness in the DSM-5, but it is argued that it should be included as a diagnosis among other eating disorders. Essentially, orthorexia is a preoccupation with eating healthy and staying fit to the point where it is no longer healthy. These individuals might have a healthy body weight and their lifestyle may in fact leave them looking like the picture of health, but the obsessive thought patterns that characterize all eating disorders are just as prevalent for individuals who suffer from orthorexia. Accordingly, as with any other eating disorder, orthorexia nervosa is not so much about the food as it is about the thoughts.

So basically, even the healthiest of lifestyles can be unhealthy. But now comes the real irony. In the article, the author notes a moment when an orthorexic woman was looking through her pantry and came to the realization that “there wasn’t a single thing that was okay, if I put all our society’s messages together” (Elle, December 15, 2015 issue, “Feeding Frenzy”).

The lesson to be learned here is that society has so many messed up messages about food. If you follow a vegan lifestyle people will judge and criticize. If you follow a strict diet based on calories you’re judged for being too vain about your weight. If you eat too much, you’re glutenous. It doesn’t matter what you eat or how much of it you eat, you will never be able to avoid all of the critics of the world. Everyone will always have an opinion on your lifestyle and eating habits, no matter how irrelevant it is to their own lives.

So I guess the one thing that we can take away here is that people will judge you no matter what you do, so do what makes you happy and makes you feel healthy when it comes to what you put in your body. It is, after all, your body. Feed it whatever fuel makes you feel your best. If that means having a chocolate bar every once in a while, go eat that chocolate bar!

As someone who is still struggling with an eating disorder, one of the many things that I’ve worked on unpacking with my therapist is my fear of judgement. I have a fear of eating in public or even just eating a family dinner with loved ones. I’ve conditioned myself to believe that all food is bad; all food is fattening; food consumption is equated to a loss of control. Therefore, when I am in situations where I have to eat around other people (i.e. Christmas dinner) I feel as though others are judging me for eating.

Reading the article in Elle helped me realize that even people who follow extremely healthy diets can have issues with food and disordered eating. This doesn’t make it easier, but it does give me hope for recovery. If you’re struggling or if you know somebody who is, check out the article or leave me a comment below!

xo

Ayla

50 Books of 2015

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Hey there readers!!

At the beginning of 2015 I set a goal to read 50 books in 2015. To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to make it when I still had 10 books to read at the beginning of December, but when I set my mind to something I make sure that I get it done!

So without further ado, here is my book list for 2015!!

  1. The Ruby Cirle- Richelle Mead
  2. Beautiful- Amy Reed
  3. Clean- Amy Read
  4. Side Effects May Vary- Julie Murphy
  5. Get Well Soon- Julie Halpern
  6. Fallout- Ellen Hopkins
  7. Zoe Letting Go – Nora Price (AMAZING READ!!)
  8. Asylum- Madeline Roux
  9. How to Save a Life- Sara Zarr
  10. Stick Figure- Lori Gottlieb
  11. Inside Out: Portrait of an Eating Disorder- Nadia Shivack
  12. Better is Not So Far Away- Melissa Groman, LCSW (AWESOME!)
  13. Brave Girl Eating- Harriet Brown
  14. Before I Die- Jenny Downham
  15. Faded Denim- Melody Carlson
  16. Skinny- Donna Cooner
  17. Reclaiming Your Life From Traumatic Experiences- Edna Foa (lent to me by my psychologist for therapy)
  18. Bladed Silver- Melody Carlson
  19. Blood Wounds- Susan Beth Pfeffer
  20. Two or Three Things I Forgot to Tell You- Joyce Carol Oates
  21. Stranger Than You Know- Jolene Perry
  22. Hold Still- Nina LaCour
  23. Sharp Objects- Jillian Flynn
  24. The Virgin Suicides- Jeffrey Eugenides
  25. Stolen- Lucy Christooher
  26. Without You- Saskia Sarginson
  27. Go Ask Alice- Anonymous
  28. Wildthorn- Jane Eagland
  29. Willow- Julia Hoban
  30. The Bear- Claire Cameron
  31. Skin Game- Caroline Kettlewell
  32. The Last Good Day- Jessica Warman
  33. By The Time You Read This I’ll Be Dead- Julie Anne Peters
  34. Girl, Stolen- April Henry
  35. You Are My Only- Beth Kephart
  36. To Be Perfectly Honest- Sonya Sones (Horrible.)
  37. Light in the Shadows- A. Meredith Walters (GREAT)
  38. Warmth In Ice- A. Meredith Walters
  39. Speak- Laurie Halse Anderson
  40. The Transfer- Veronica Roth
  41. The Initiate- Veronica Roth
  42. The Son- Veronica Roth
  43. The Traitor- Veronica Roth
  44. I’m Not Her- Janet Gurtler
  45. This Star Won’t Go Out- Esther Earl
  46. Binary Star- Sarah Gerard (Horrible.)
  47. The Disappearing Girl- Heather Tophan (GREAT READ!!)
  48. Never Eighteen- Megan Bostic (meh..wouldn’t read again)
  49. Paperweight- Meg Haston (AMAZING!! Best book of the list)
  50. I Was Here- Gayle Forman

As you might expect from a mental health oriented blogger, a lot of these books are related to or focused on mental health, particularly eating disorders and self-harm. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am drawn to content about eating disorders especially; however, I recognize that this is not a healthy interest to engage with. With that being said, I encourage you to be cautious when reading any of the latter books relating to potentially triggering content. Don’t read anything that might jeopardize your recovery.

Happy Reading to anyone who decides to read any of these! Let me know what you think in the comments! I love hearing from all of you lovely people out there. 🙂

Ayla

“Courage isn’t about being unafraid. It’s about giving yourself no other option than to face your fears.”

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Fear…It’s the elephant in the room of your own mind. You have all of these dreams and aspirations for your future, but there is still a voice in the back of your mind that questions whether or not you will actually take that step. Will you push past the fears and all of the ‘what ifs’? Will you take that risk and have faith in your ability to make it to the other side? Or will you drown in a sea of regret?

The next year of my life has the potential to be a monumental turning point in my life, and I’m not just talking about recovery. I’m talking about completely uprooting my life, moving to a new city where I will know absolutely nobody and essentially be starting from scratch and building a new life for myself.

I will obviously not be completely forgetting about my past; I still have my family and friends and people who will be there for me to help me through the transition. But at the end of the day I will be the one bearing the brunt of the anxiety and the potential for things to go wrong is terrifying.

However, what I have learned in the past few months is that I have goals for my future and in order to reach those goals I need to step outside of my comfort zone. Nothing will change if I am not willing to leave behind the comfort of my current lifestyle and reach for the future that I want for myself.

It’s not about being unafraid. It’s about recognizing the fear and not allowing yourself to give in to it.

I hope that in a few months when it comes time for me to make the decision about my future (provided I am offered a spot in the program I want to attend) that I will be able to make the decision that is best for my future, not the decision that will be best for avoiding the fears and anxieties of the present moment. I need to start pushing past the anxiety of the here and now in order to work towards the future that I want. I can’t let anxiety control my life anymore.

xo

Ayla