Weekend Reading
March 3, 2024

As part of my continuing education I’m doing a course about the crossroads of gastrointestinal and eating disorders.

It’s now the final day of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week for 2024, which is an appropriate time for me to be strengthening my knowledge base.

The title of the course is “When Food Hurts.”

Not every person with an eating disorder also has GI complaints, but the title of the class got me thinking. As a practitioner, I try not to lose empathy for how painful and scary recovery can be.

The longer I practice, the more I can identify two things that make eating disorder recovery especially hard.

The first is that behavior change comes before identity change. The second is that physical healing tends to come before psychological healing.

The upshot of all of this is that, during recovery, a person often has to behave as if they’re better before they actually feel better.

Comforting behaviors and rituals get taken away, and very destabilizing behaviors take their place, all before the benefits of recovery become clear.

It may not work this way for every person, but that’s how it was for me. Bodily healing felt like growing pains, rather than immediate physical relief. The mental struggle was intense: I had to adopt normalized food behaviors without yet wanting to be a person who ate normally.

I could sum that period of my life up by saying, “I felt worse before I felt better.” And I’ve said that, or something like it, to clients—sometimes you feel worse in order to get better.

What is exactly is “worse,” though?

It’s normal for people in recovery to develop a glamorized memory of their eating disorders. So many of my clients describe their eating disorders are rarefied experiences.

Very often, they’ll say that they felt more mentally sharp, energetic, artistically attuned, or alert when they were sick. I used to remember my illness through that lens, too.

While it’s true that starvation can induce some of these sensations, there might also be selective memory at play.

When I think back on having an eating disorder, I can recall hunger highs and moments of heightened perception.

Yet most of what I remember, truthfully, is being cold all the time.

I remember not sleeping because of an empty stomach and an overactive mind.

I remember being irritable, anxious, and tense. I had low stamina and frequent, nagging headaches. My digestion was a mess.

I spent a lot of time trying to identify some mysterious health condition as the cause of these symptoms, when in fact they were all symptoms of having an eating disorder. They were telltale signs of an undernourished body.

Today, as NEDA week comes to a close, I’m feeling so much empathy for all of the people who are “in it” with their recoveries.

I know that it’s a big ask to push through discomfort toward an uncertain outcome, to lose a sense of self before a beautifully reconstituted self emerges.

Yet I’m also holding a firm and steadfast awareness of the benefits of recovery: physical, mental, and spiritual. I’m celebrating the peace that comes with getting better.

In the many years in which I’ve written about recovery, I may have talked too much about its challenges and not enough about what a profound relief it is.

If you’re currently finding your way through recovery, this weekend reading post is a reminder that there’s a reason for your efforts. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. And while the process may be uncomfortable, that discomfort is ultimately so much less than the cost of an eating disorder.

I hope you can hang onto that. I wish you more and more ease as you make your journey forward.

Happy Sunday, friends. Here are some recipes and reads.

Recipes

1. I’m always looking for dessert recipes that are both gluten-free and vegan, so that I can have something to share with celiac friends. This beautiful treat fits the bill and speaks to my love of Italian cuisine, too.

2. Every time I make roasted fennel, I think to myself that I should be making much more of it. This version looks so good. I’ll try it with my cashew parmesan.

3. Speaking of cashew parm, I’m down to add it to this super green pasta.

4. I can just imagine the nice, chewy and crunchy textures of  this wheat berry salad!

5. Roasted sweet potato spring rolls would make a great appetizer platter for sharing with friends.

Reads

1. Important New York Times reporting on eating disorders in adolescent boys. I think it’s great that one of the physicians interviewed reminds parents that the risks of overreacting to symptoms of an eating disorder are much less serious than the risks of under-reacting. I’ve said this to parents, too.

2. A lot of my clients ask me about collagen supplements. The bottom line is that I don’t think they have much potential to cause harm (though they may be a drain on your wallet), but I also don’t think that the research we have suggests much of a benefit. This article elaborates well.

3. A truly uplifting story about how an endangered butterfly species is being supported and protected by communities of caring humans.

4. The story of MealTrain.com, an organization that helps friends and family members to delivery homemade food to loved ones who are going through a hard time. The article pays thoughtful tribute to why homemade food is such a meaningful gesture in the face of life’s tough moments.

5. I hesitated to read this article, because the sadness I feel about seeing less and less snow is so poignant. But it is comforting to know that there’s a name for this sense of loss—solastalgia—and that so many others feel it, too.

Hope you have a peaceful Sunday evening, friends.

xo

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    1 Comment
  1. Hi Gena,

    I want to thank you for the work you have done on yourself, but also the help you are giving to others who have an eating disorder. I believe one of the things that is most needed for those who are trying to recover is hope. You give that to them and to those who read your blog. What a lovely gift.

    Thank you, venice

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