Theres something different about me in this photo.It took me a little time to figure out what it was: Im not smiling.
For those of you who know me, Im basically always smiling. In fact, I remember going to college on my first day and the security guard looked at me and said Your Native American Name is Smiles-a-Lot. Actually, he didnt say Native American and in retrospect maybe it was kind of a racist thing to say. But the idea is that smiling is pretty inherent to my nature. Im a sunny, upbeat person.
In my previous life as CakeSpy, I capitalized on my sunny nature. Basically, I embodied a lifestyle of all cake, glitter, sugar, and happiness. At all times. This was very authentic to me, dont get me wrong. But it wasnt the full version of me. At times, I felt very one-note, like I had rendered myself into a cartoon character.
So the fact that I am not smiling in this photo seems to speak volumes about the current place I am in life. Not unhappy, but at the point of Big Transition.
As you probably know if youre on this site, a little less than a month ago I made the decision to lovingly say goodbye toCakeSpy.It was a massive decision, and I felt extremely supported by the beautiful responses I received from readers both old and new.
One of the big reasons why I said goodbye to CakeSpy is because I want to fully recover from my eating disorder.
I have suffered from disordered eating since the age of 13. At the age of 30, I entered recovery in earnest, and have identified as mostly recovered since then. But there have been certain aspects of the disorder, including obsessive food thoughts and calorie counting, that have remained problematic for me.
I realized that running CakeSpy was perpetuating some of the behaviors that were holding me hostage in mostly-but-not-totally recovered purgatory.
I hated to admit this to myself, but it was true. I realized that to truly kick my eating disorder for ever and ever, I had to remove food as the primary focus in my life. And that meant giving up CakeSpy.
Operating a food blog helped me be less scared and more curious about food. It helped me come back into the world. But as I progressed in recovery, the continued exposure to food began to act in a different way. I found that it kept the obsessive food thoughts coming my way. It also kept me eating a high sugar diet which honestly was not doing me any favors health-wise, as much as on an emotional level, it made me feel good and loved and treated well.
I realized that to continue progressing in recovery and as a human being, my focus had to shift from food to actually living life. I dont want food to be the most important thing in my life anymore. I want to eat food so that it can fuel me being awesome. I want my art, my writing, and my relationships to be the most important things in my life.
Now that CakeSpy is over, I feel like part of me has died. I feel like I have also been reborn, so that leaves me feeling like an infant. The world seems totally full of beautiful untapped opportunity in every direction…and yet kind of scary at the same time.
On the one hand, I dont feel all that different. I am still doing artwork and writing assignments for various clients. I am still keeping busy and doing yoga and collecting unicorns.But on a very basic and pure level, theres been a huge shift in my identity. Im not Jessie the CakeSpy anymore.
So who is this Jessie who believes in full recovery and is going to try to find it? Here are some things I know for now:
I am recovering.I truly do believe in full recovery from eating disorders. I believe I have taken a powerful step toward recovery in shifting away from CakeSpy.
I am an adult.They say that when you enter recovery from an eating disorder, you are emotionally the age at which your disorder onset. So if I entered recovery at age 30 but my disorders onset was at age 13, then now at age 36 Im emotionally a 19 year old. Actually, I think this might be pretty accurate. But now that Ive given up my website, I think Im ready to focus on actually being an adult, as hard as it might be for me to catch up on those lost emotional and developmental years.
Im a little scared, but Im strong.Sure, Im a little scared of this Big Transition in my life. But Im financially stable, I am talented and funny and cute, and I have good ideas. Im strong, and I know Im going to be ok.
Im human.I think that one of the biggest transitions is going to be shifting from the cartoon character version of myself to a more human version of myself. Somewhere along the line I think I slipped into the persona I set up for CakeSpy and didnt give myself permission to come out. Im ready to just be a person. Someone for whom its not always just cake and sweetness (though lets be honest, it is still largely unicorns and rainbows).
Oh, and permission to be someone who doesnt have to smile all the time.
Back to that photo at the top for a second. The other day asked my mom to take the photo to capture the ridiculous face my little pug Olive was making. But then as she was taking the photo someone must have said something to me or something, because I looked away.
What I see in that photo is a very honest face, and a very real version of me.
Changes. Validation. Bigtime who-am-I territory. Thats what Im dealing with right now, sweeties.
I need to tell you about something that happened in a yoga training I once took. One of the teachers asked the group what it meant to have an open heart. The answers were mostly pretty predictable and optimistic, which is a beautiful thing. But then he changed the course of the question and asked about some of the challenges of having an open heart.
This is where I spoke up without thinking (this is something I suffer from), and I said You feel all the worlds sharp edges.
Having an open heart is a beautiful thing. Because honestly, your heart is bigger and stronger than you even realize. But HOLY SHIT CAN THE WORLD HURT SOMETIMES.
Since last year, Ive been dealing with a Big Breakup. Part of me is embarrassed to say its still deeply affecting me on a daily basis, because well, you should buck up, start dating, get over it! Thats what society tells me, anyway.
Ive also dealt with the death of my baby boy pug, Porkchop. Another thing that I had limited permission, societally speaking, to grieve. Its like, people post nice things on Facebook for a little, but then its all are you going to get another dog?. Dont get me wrong, this question doesnt offend me (just in case youve asked me that). But how could I get a mere dog when Porkchop wasnt even a dog at all but a little spirit love nugget spawned directly from my heart?
So, here I am trying to deal with these things, and trying to move on with my life, and to maintain an open heart while Im still at it.
But the sharp edges are hitting me left and right. Some examples:
I dont know the rules. I mean, the last time I dated was before the internet even existed (slight exaggeration). I dont know how it works and things that are apparently normal hit me deeply. I am not super experienced. I counted a few weeks ago, and Ive now officially been on 19 dates in my entire life. How on earth does this stuff work?
Ive been trying very hard to form a community in my new city, and have really made some great strides, I think. But an observation that I have had is that as an adult, making new friends is difficult. I think this is partially because people are more established, but partially because peoples hearts crust over a little bit as they get older. Its harder to let people in. Of course, it does make it all the more worthwhile once you do find someone to share time with in a meaningful way.
People often tell me that I seem to have it together. And in a lot of ways I do; I can see how Im an impressive person. I do cool things, I bought a house, I travel, Im interesting. Im very independent. But I still seem to need so much validation. Am I doing good? Please tell me Im doing good. Like my Facebook post! Love me, love me, love me! Where the fuck does this come from?
I identify as mostly recovered. But I am not fully recovered, not yet. I recognize that I still have some hurdles to overcome. The above bullet points are big parts of what I need to overcome, or at least find peace with.
Because I recognize that when things arent going right–when I am not having success in love, when I encounter someone I want to befriend who seems to be immune to my charms (believe it or not, right?), when I dont seem to have the validation I need…when things arent working out, my mind turns to food.
Everything seems too confusing and hard to deal with, so instead of focusing on that, Ill turn my laser focus to what I have eaten. How many calories have I eaten today? How many did I eat yesterday? Have I walked 10,000 steps yet? Did the yoga teacher talk too much and reduce how many minutes of active asana time I had?
My eating disorder is in the corner, tempting me. It says, Jessie, turn off those heart rays, because the world will only hurt you. Put your heart in a box and come back to me, Ill always be here for you. Ill protect you.
Its tempting. I mean, when my heart is open, Im a big doofus in the world. I say stupid things, I make mistakes, I overshare, Im deeply uncool. Im likely undate-able. Definitely a weirdo. But theres something beautiful in that too, I think.
So what will keep me from falling back into disordered eating when the world is so painful sometimes? I know Ill sound like someone who does too much yoga, but honestly, I think the answer is LOVE, and FAITH. And keeping my dang heart open!
I need to keep on being my ridiculous, open-hearted self, big mistakes and stupid statements and contradictions and confusion and ALL. Yes, I think one should always try to learn from mistakes and continue improving. But its also necessary to love myself as I am, too, and look at myself with compassion.
I need to have faith that its all going to work out for the best. Uggggh part of me feels so deeply cheesy in admitting this, but I do believe that things happen for a reason. I dont necessarily know if I call it god or the universe or give it a name, but I do believe that I am being guided on a path. Now, this isnt a sort of blind faith that I should leap and the net will appear. I am a little too cynical for that. I think that there are still plenty of decisions and lots of work that I need to take an active part in. BUT I do think that challenges and positive milestones are put in front of me for a reason. I choose to have faith that even if I dont understand them, that they are working in my favor in some way. Not only does this keep me from becoming a shut-in who never leaves the house for fear of the big scary world, but it helps me reject the eating disorders pleas that I come back to its comfort.
Sometimes I fall asleep to cheesy self help videos on YouTube. Yup, I just admitted it. I forget what the video was, but it was about letting your heart shine, and something that the person said hit me. It was that many of us are scared of shining our hearts forward because we fear getting hurt. So we create armor around our hearts. But really, this is the opposite of what we should do, because if we truly let our hearts shine forward, wed be surprised to find that theyre a zillion times stronger than we think. The idea that our hearts are weak is a myth. If you have the bravery to truly let your heart shine, youll find that its like a light saber. Its not that you cant be hurt. Honestly, as I recently told a friend, lately Ive felt like my heart is hanging out of my chest with a big ol bruise on it, and even a gentle breeze freaking HURTS.But in spite of that: you CAN keep going. Put that shit out into the world!
Ultimately, I know that my eating disorder isnt the answer. Living life, with all of its pain and low lows but high highs…thats where the real experience is. And Id rather have that then be skinny. Not all days, but more and more days. Im winning.
When you get down to it, recovering from an eating disorder is pretty simple. It boils down to this:
Yup! Its as simple as that! The books, the hospitalization, the therapy, theyre not necessary at all! You just need to eat normally! Have a hamburger, just eat in moderation! Along similar lines, allow me to quickly cure all sorts of other ailments:
The cure to alcoholism: Just stop drinking!
The cure for drug addiction: Just stop doing drugs!
The cure for OCD: Just calm down already!
I hope that you can tell by now that Im joking. Yes, these solutions are simple, and they are what most people in fact are looking for. However, theory versus practice = different entirely. The clearest and most direct way to be recovered from an eating disorder is to eat normally. But its not as easy as that, and thats not the whole story.
There are all sorts of obstacles and landmines along the way.
For years and years, I restricted calories. If I ate more than the certain safe number in my mind, it truly Fucked My Shit Up. OK, most sites about ED recovery dont give numbers, but Im going to give numbers. At first, my safe number was 1700 calories per day. Then it dipped down to 1500 calories per day. Then, for a time, I really just felt better if I hovered around 1200 calories per day. But I would always round up calories–for instance, if a label said that an item had 60 calories, in my inner ticker, Id log it as 100 calories.Just to be safe.
Not too long ago, Whole Foods began listing calorie counts for all its foods. As it turns out, there was a bakery item I was buying there fairly regularly during my low calorie days. I estimated that this item contained 250-300 calories. In truth, years later I learned that this item contains more like 700 calories. In going back in time, I can see that without realizing it, because of this inconsistency in my count, I actually was eating a normal amount of calories. Honestly, the me of that time period would have DIED had I known how many calories I was consuming. It would have been the Worst Thing in the World. And yet when I think back to that time, I always felt hungry and miserable cking.
Yes: without realizing it was eating a normal and acceptable amount. And yet I still had an eating disorder.
This long story is to say: eating disorders are not just about physical hunger, so to expect them to be cured by eating a normal amount is total bullshit.
An eating disorder grows from issues and emotions that are not food. So really, food is not the problem. However, through the disordered eating behaviors that the person in question manifests to deal with said issues and emotions, food becomes a problem.
So really, to recover from an eating disorder, one does have to start by addressing the food issues, because theyre dangerous and not healthy and they are a problem. However, its just the first layer of recovery.
From there, you have to keep peeling back layers of those issues and emotions that drove you to disordered eating in the first place. And with every layer, stuff comes up, and you want to turn back to the comfort of letting food be the scapegoat. Sometimes, you do.
I dont think that the idea of eating disorder recovery is to peel back every layer and just be totally raw and come to a point where youre like voila! Im all good now!
More, its to get to a point where you can permit life to be messy and uncomfortable and not turn to food as your only way to deal with it. Or, at the very least, to recognize that this is what youre doing with food.
Consider, for instance, these very normal reactions to events both positive and negative:
You have a bad breakup and eat a box of bonbons and drink a bottle of wine by yourself while cry-watching The Holiday.
Your niece makes a truly terrible and monstrous cake from a mix, and even though youre not hungry you force yourself to eat it. Because you love her.
You are too busy at work to eat lunch, so when you get home, you devour half a bag of potato chips.
These are not signs that someone has an eating disorder. Theyre pretty normal yet isolated events that one would hope is not the norm. However, this is to say that eating disorder recovery wont necessary look like eating normally all the time, because all of the above things are normal.
Ultimately, just eat normally isnt terrible advice. Because coming to a more accepting and peaceful place with food is important for someone with an eating disorder. However, its incredibly dismissive advice that shows little understanding of the inner torture that is an eating disorder.Its just recovery 101. Eating a proper amount of calories IS something that can be corrected. But what got you to the point of an unhealthy relationship with food is the real problem. So while your sentiment is appreciated, dont bother saying just eat normally to someone with an eating disorder. This thought has in fact entered the persons mind, I promise you, but they have to find their own path there.
I have spent a lot of time hating my eating disorder. I get angry about what it has taken from me, how much time it has wasted, what it has done to my body.
Its maybe like a tattoo that I got that I regret, but its still there.
Or like a relative you wish you werent related to. As much as you might go to lengths to avoid that family member, as much as you might make grand gestures of cutting them out of your life, you will always–always–be connected to them.
Im fortunate in that I dont have such a relationship with any of my relatives. Actually, when I hear that people have cut family members out of my life, it often makes me sad, like cant you work it out? Cant you accept each other?. Typically not my place to say or ask, but the thought does cross my mind.
I recognize that my eating disorder isnt a weird uncle or cousin I should make amends with. But at the same time, I wonder if things could change and become far easier if I just decided to accept my eating disorder and allow it in my life…even to love it.
At this point, dealing with serious disordered eating is happily in the past for me. Im not severely restricting, nor am I bingeing and purging. However, the fear can still be there with food. Theres part of me that is tempted to avoid events and situations where there will be food involved. I still cant eat with an incredible amount of ease. Food is still fraught at times.
So what if I chose to find these behaviors endearing or amusing? What if I could relegate my still-present disordered behaviors to the territory of a spoiled young child having a tantrum?
For instance: when my nephew was younger and would have a tantrum in my presence, I felt discomfort, but also a measure of amusement. And while I would get annoyed or embarrassed, I never stopped loving or accepting him.
What if I could treat these still-disordered habits similarly? For instance, if Im delivered a plate of food at a restaurant and the fear kicks in –the bun on this burger is too big! Why didnt I ask for dressing on the side? I wonder how many calories are in this cheese? –when these thoughts arise, could I simultaneously be annoyed and reject them, yet also accept and love them as part of me?
I think that the hard part about such a concept is not that its hard. Its that its easy. Almost too easy. How radical to simply accept myself–disordered, bent, scratched, imperfect–as a whole and complete and beautiful being, just as I am? To not feel as if I am innately flawed and need fixing?
As Sharon Salzberg writes inLovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness,
Surrendering our fixations, simply being happy, is like suddenly breaking free from confinement. It is as if we were in a small, cramped room on top of a mountain, and all at once the walls have come tumbling down, revealing a panoramic vista. How breathtaking!
Im not trying to dismiss the seriousness of eating disorders, nor am I in any way saying that traditional treatment is not effective. However, in reaching a more advanced point of recovery, I do think that theres a point at which one is at a crossroads. Is mostly recovered enough? Or is it worth doing the truly scary thing: embracing, accepting, and in that, letting go of the disordered eating?
You guuuuyyyyyyz. Its been quite a month, this August.
First, it was the 10 year anniversary of CakeSpy. Its kind of staggering to even believe it, actually.
But there was a whole lot more going on than just my business/websites anniversary. I also bought a house in Philadelphia. I also moved to Philadelphia from Asheville, which had been my home for the past two years. I also turned 36, which seems like a pretty Serious Age.
Im also still kind of reeling from a Big Breakup a few months ago. Im getting on with my life but after a number of years with someone theres quite a bit of adjusting to do.
So, heres where I need to share a little secret: while I am an adventurous soul and love trying new things, I dont always do so well with change.
In a way, I think this is part of why I suffered from anorexia for so long. Because less than being about the food, it was much more about the control.
To put it in simple terms: the world is a big scary place where people leave and things change and jobs shift and SHIT GOES DOWN. However, in an anorexic world, you can keep things clean by controlling what you eat. You can trick yourself into thinking it keeps your life simple and under control.
This couldnt be further from the truth. Actually, the longer they try to control things, the more rigid they become with food, the less in control they really are, and the less in touch they are with the world around them.
Anorexia then begins to control the anorexic.
So, here I am with all of these big huge changes. Many are good. Im absolutely thrilled at being back in a big city. Ive already met some mega cool people, tried a bunch of new food, and gotten lovingly competitive at a number of different yoga classes.
But still there are the feelings of uncertainty. Like, I have had a dual income for the past few years, can I really handle owning a house? Ive also had someone to call me pretty and watch movies with me and let the pugs out when I havent been around. Can I really do all of this on my own? Does the fact that I had this breakup, plus the fact that I am divorced, mean that I am flawed in some way and incapable of finding lasting and true love? Whats wrong with me? Even though the breakup was fairly amicable, I still kind of feel like a loser at times.
In the face of all of these ups and downs, it would be so easy to turn back to the tried and true structure of my anorexic tendencies. To count calories and only feel safe if theyre at or under a certain number. To avoid socializing so that I can make sure to have time to exercise like a demon. To get really, really thin. To get so thin that I dont feel anything.
But heres the thing. I havent done it. I havent done any of it.
I havent done these things. I havent restricted or counted calories.
When I moved, I was prepared for a little bit of disordered-eating regression; it happens, and usually I find its a good decision to give myself a little room to accommodate it rather than fight it.
But Ive surprised myself bynotfalling into old patterns. Actually, Ive amazed myself by just not having the energy to count calories or adhere to a strict diet. Ive been getting a lot more exercise than usual by just doing stuff like cleaning my patio or running up and down my stairs or moving furniture, and when Ive been getting hungry, I cant be bothered to worry about counting calories.
For example: the other day I went out grocery shopping and upon the thought of walking home, I was like dude, I need a cookie. So I bought a cookie and ate it and the walk home was ok and I didnt feel the murderous rage that comes with Deep Anorexic Hunger.
Or at another moment, my sister left a to-go container of leftover nachos at my house and I ate them the next day because I was hungry and they looked good. No voice screamed inside of my head YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO EAT NACHOS BECAUSE THEY WILL MAKE YOU FAT.
These things might sound like nothing at all to someone whos never suffered from disordered eating, but to an anorexic, this is huge. Spontaneous eating is something I have always dreamed of, and here it is, happening in these unexpected little moments.
So, anyway. The takeaway I would offer here is that if you are a disordered eater who is going through a time of transition, it can be very tough. It can challenge your recovery and tempt you to go back to old habits.
Dont take that awful ED bait, yo. Be kind to yourself, and give yourself room to adjust to your new surroundings as the transition unfolds. Sometimes, by offering yourself compassion and space, you might find that you give yourself room to grow in positive directions.
If you were to ask my naughty little eating disorder what I deserve, it would say (imperiously): NOTHING.
I am not my eating disorder, and I try to ignore this voice. But sometimes–particularly when my self esteem is low or I am going through trying times–it is hard to ignore it.
Recently I have been experiencing some seriously trying times. First and foremost, I am experiencing a shift in one of the most important relationships in my life. Its messy and complicated. Breakup isnt quite the right word, but I guess its the most understandable one. For as many ways in which we are ridiculously compatible, our incompatibilities are big ones, and on fundamental issues.
Add to that the fact that I am buying a house in a different city, moving to a different city, working on two different books, and trying to maintain my regular freelance writing schedule. Oh, and a relative of mine is slowly dying. I dont mean for that last one to seem flippant. My grandfather is very old. Some days it seems like he might die before sundown, other days it seems like he might make it through to next year. Its hard, the not knowing.
Its hard for anyone, I think. But an eating disorder adds a particularly interesting dimension to all of it. My eating disorder has had plenty to say lately.
Regarding my relationship, my eating disorder says: The difference between you and people who are in happy partnerships is that they are all good enough. You, on the other hand, are not good enough.
Regarding everything else, the eating disorder says This is your lot in life so quit complaining. Just start counting calories again so that we can make everything feel nice and structured. I can give you something that you need right now.
I know that its not true, but when Im in bed at night, trying to sleep and not able to…it seems like there might be some truth to my fears, and some truth to the idea that doing things like counting calories could make things feel right again.
As you might have guessed, it shows up in the way I eat.
Counting calories has never seemed as alluring. I cant control the outcome of my relationship, or my relative dying, or even if Ill continue getting jobs. I can definitely do the best I can, but to think I can control these things is simply not true.
I can, however, control how many calories I eat. Maybe life is out of hand because my eating has gotten out of hand? Maybe it would all be better if I went back to a strict 1400 calorie diet, or better make that 1200 just to be safe?
To further complicate things? Im also having trouble eating. I dont want to eat. But I know I must because not eating would trigger eating disorder stuff. So I do eat. Then I feel like I never want to stop eating. But I know I must because thats not the solution and it wont make me feel good. I get stomach aches when I do eat enough, I get them when I dont eat enough.
Lately, Ive had to make some big decisions about my next steps in life. Moving! A change in relationship! Family changes! Its a lot. But what has required the most strength has not been dealing with the changes. It has been maintaining faith in the fact that I deserve things, and not just any things, but the things I want in life. I need to be very brave to adjust my life accordingly, even if it really hurts.
It takes bravery to believe that you deserve your dreams. It takes bravery to defy your eating disorder. But Im going to try to do both.
I cant say Ill always do it perfectly, but I can sleep at night knowing I am fighting the good fight.
Today, I want to make a case for not stopping halfway when it comes to recovery.
In my anecdotal experience, there are a few basic stances on full recovery.
One is that its simply not possible. Many people who have suffered from disordered eating believe that they can reach a point where their symptoms are under wraps, but they believe that the disorder will always live inside of them. The best that they can hope for is stability and keeping their symptoms under wraps.
Another is that full recovery istotespossible. Usually youll hear this from people who say that they are in fact recovered. Theyll say things like I had an eating disorder in high school but I kicked it. Or some variant of that. Wont lie: I kind of hate these people. Im like, well, what is wrong with me that I suffered during high school, then instead of kicking it, I continued to suffer for 15 m