There Once Was a Girl

There once was a girl who thought she was the problem. She let herself be manipulated into thinking that it was all her fault. What happened replayed in her mind over and over again until the memory twisted and she couldn’t even remember if it was truth or just her imagination given how horrible it was.

There once was a girl who looked in the mirror and saw flaws. The one she trusted to love her for who she was made her believe her flaws were true when he turned her away with mean words. Her weight was wrong , too heavy in his eyes. And she believed him.

There once was a girl who let herself get bullied time and time again because she thought she deserved it. She put herself down and held herself back. Her unhappiness overwhelmed her and kept her trapped in a sick cycle carousel of repeated hurts and blame.

There once was a girl who chose to use the source of this pain to change her life. “I’ll prove him wrong,” she thought. She decided to lose the weight that turned him away and find her self-worth again. Her eyes were opened to healthy living and wellness and she unexpectedly found herself on a new journey.

There once was a girl who went to London and then started a blog to work through her conflicting emotions about her body and her relationships. She found a voice and made new friends. Life got better. She became healthier. And she found her self-worth beyond the mirror.

There once was a girl who needed to confront the demons from her past by shutting the door. He came back to haunt her and she still wasn’t good enough. She would never be good enough and her anger became too much to keep bottled up after so long.

This girl needed to say enough.

This girl needed to be brought down to see that her choice to reshape her reflection had everything to do with her and nothing to do with him.

This girl needed to realize the hurtful words from her past say more about the speaker and their insecurities and their need to make themselves feel better by cutting her down.

This girl needed to be surrounded by true love to believe in love.

This girl needed to believe that she is worth more than she ever allowed herself to have.

This girl needed to reclaim the origin of her journey and give herself more credit.

This girl is me.

This girl is you.

This girl is anyone who felt they needed to change themselves for the benefit of someone else.

You were never the problem.

Your journey is your own and the strength it took to get through those challenges makes you remarkable.
Choose to surround yourself with those who see your strength and beauty beyond your reflection.

This girl chooses to turn away from the past and look towards love. It’s time.

As always, stay healthy and keep paying it forward. 🙂

The Trouble With Labels

finding yourself

Have you ever gotten so wrapped up in a book, you find yourself completely transported into the mind of the main character, where all of their thoughts become your thoughts and their feelings your feelings?

That’s the mark of good writing and the ultimate in story telling in my opinion. That I can suspend my reality for that moment in time and just become someone else in another time and place is a magical experience.

It was in the middle of one of these excursions into the mind of Lieutenant Eve Dallas in New York 2059 that I felt myself thrown back into my time and in my bed with the Kindle clutched in my fingers.

The main character had just gone through a literal and metaphorical stripping of her identity when her badge was taken by her commander as part of an internal investigation into the murder of a fellow police officer. To her, being a cop meant everything. It’s who she was through and through. Without the badge she was utterly lost.

I was overcome with her grief until suddenly I felt myself put the story on pause while I examined my own life and what it would mean to be without an identity.

For as long as I can remember I’ve found my identity in other things. You’d ask me to describe myself and it was usually in relation to something or someone else:

The daughter. The big sister. The little sister. First-generation American. New Yorker. The best friend. The girlfriend. The overachiever. The smarty pants. The ivy-league student. The employee. The blogger.

Then there were the attributes that I perceived to be part of my identity as projected by my own insecure mind:

Dominican girl trying to act “white”. Weak and unassertive. Dependable. Passive aggressive. Complacent. Chubby and not your “type.” Just a friend. The nice girl. The third wheel. Underachiever. Obsessive. Fearful. Bend over backwards for you but never for me. Nothing special.

Over time I allowed those labels and these attributes to mesh in such a way that I couldn’t tell you where I began and where the projections ended. It’s still hard for me to shake off some of those labels and the expectations they carry. I allow myself to be overshadowed by the implication that I’m one thing or the other, but never more than that.

I’ve had my fair share of shitty relationships of the friend and romantic variety which played a big part in how I shaped my identity in my late teens and early twenties. To say that my self-confidence and trust in what I thought were the right people was viciously kicked around, puts it pretty mildly.

The thing that keeps me from wallowing in a pit of self-pity or repeating the same horrible mistakes is remember that it all boils down to choice. I choose not to regret that past because each part of that trauma put me right here, which is a pretty good place considering. I take each of those experiences as a lesson learned and as another chapter that I could keep buried because it was in the past, with or without closure. Besides, we all have baggage don’t we?

It took a long time to realize that a lot of that crap that I’d stowed away was still there. In fact, it’ll always be there. For years I’d say that it had no role in my present life and that I was like two people; me then and me now. Me then never touched me now. And I went about life thinking that was true.

I checked back in with Eve Dallas to see how she handled her past. She crumbles under the loss of her cop identity only to realize that who she was at her core could never be taken because she created herself out of the traumas of her youth. She didn’t allow that to stop her from becoming her true self.

It occurred to me then how foolish I’d been to think that I could cut my life in half between past and present and ignore what brought me here. Of course the past matters. I can’t erase those first couple of chapters because the rest of my story just wouldn’t make any sense. It’s as much a part of me as the rest because of who I became afterwards.

And when that point clicked, the flood gates opened. I started to see patterns and habits emerge out of my relationships with friends and family. Out of my choices and the thought process behind my decisions. Out of my perception of myself.

I’ve done everything I could to remain hidden behind a label because somewhere along the line I chose to believe those attributes that rose out of a shaky past. I think I’m a pretty great friend, daughter, and sister. And I feel that I’m an all-around good person. But I chose to believe that I wasn’t anything special too. I drew myself out of the picture and got lost.

So this is the where we reach the climax of this particular story. Ready for it? Okay, here it is: I’m done.

I’m done with expectations. I’m done with being whatever it is other people think I should be, look like, say, do, study, work, write, listen to, dress as, behave or believe in. I’m done with putting myself aside because I’m scared of what people will think if I do or say what I really want, whatever that is. I’m making the choice to believe that I’m more.

The upside here is that I have a circle around me that keeps me both grounded and inspired to take more risks. They believe in me and encourage me to believe in myself. It’s a two-way street which is key.

And even with that support, I’m beginning to understand that I need that reservoir of strength in me at all times. My relationships are important but none is more important than my relationship with myself. I found so much self-worth in giving to others all the time. It’s time to be my own heroine and start giving to myself.

Feeling lighter on my feet and clearer in mind, I turned back to my story and found satisfaction in seeing the unbreakable Lieutenant Eve Dallas jump out of her grief with fury as she fought back using her wits and tenacity, proving once again that she was and always will be a badass. ❤

What is Orthorexia?: The Thin Line Between Healthy Eating and Unhealthy Obsession

Upon hearing the words “eating disorder,” it’s likely the images of an emaciated woman refusing food or another taking frequent trips to the bathroom to throw up are conjured.

We’re familiar with anorexia nervosa and bulimia through films, television shows, health class, or magazines. Modern technology now provides a new platform for these diseases with the creation of sites and profiles dedicated to ‘Anas,’ ‘Mias,’  and thinspiration ideals. Just do a quick search of these terms with a hashtag on Twitter and  you’ll see endless pages expressing the war with food out of a desperate need to be thin, raging daily.

You may know someone personally who’s facing their own battle with eating disorders and struggle with the obsessive addiction to be thin. Or maybe you’ve been down this road yourself.

However you’ve encountered eating disorders (ED) in the past, most people have heard of anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating in some context. Given the overwhelming statistics of ED related health concerns and the media coverage utilized to help educate the public about these disorders, its become part of our modern social discourse. Despite that awareness, many people become afflicted with anxiety and some form of disordered eating, especially within our environment that often provides conflicting ideas about food and health.

There are eating disorders aside from anorexia and bulemia that are relatively unknown but share the same foundation of obsessive control of food for the purposes of weight loss or management to the point of addiction. I had my eyes opened forcefully late last year when I discovered one form of ED that I’d never heard of before but would never forget: orthorexia.

I recently told a story about my experiment with the Paleo diet and how it triggered some of my negative behavior with food that I thought I’d overcome. It was during this time that I discovered orthorexia.

I was at work going through my news feed and came across this article from Runner’s World that grabbed my attention. It spoke about how a fixation on eating healthy, organic foods can sometimes cross a line when you become obsessed with the need to be absolutely “pure” in all of your food choices. I felt that the description of this disorder fit me like a glove, and so I did what I normally do while reading health articles: I self-diagnose and freak out.

Everything about this disorder seemed to make sense to me since I was in the throes of a diet crisis that hadn’t even reached its peak yet. My breakdown wasn’t due for a couple of months, but I’d already sensed something was off in my gut.

The idea that you could take something perfectly healthy like eliminating processed foods from your diet or reducing your sugar intake and pervert it by ruthlessly examining every item of food that crosses your lips to determine if it passes your own high standard of healthiness didn’t seem far-fetched to me. It’s this kind of obsessive analysis that goes on in my mind all of the time about everything, especially food when I don’t keep it in check, which I wasn’t last year.

I think what eventually forced me to admit that something was wrong was my level of anxiety. I couldn’t just get home and throw dinner together or quickly pick up lunch during the day. I had to painstakingly plan my meals out ahead of time and think through each item on my grocery list to see if it passed my personal ‘approved list’ of foods that I could eat. What was supposed to be a simple diet turned into a nightmarish process. And worse yet, I’d still experience guilt if I wasn’t committed 100% of the time or ‘cheated’ on one meal. How could I not see the similarities?

Courtesy: Athleanx

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, orthorexia nervosa  is an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating to the point that ‘purity’ becomes the goal and foods deemed impure are completely eliminated. The emphasis is more on quality than quantity and orthorexics go to extreme lengths to fiercely maintain a diet as natural and clean as possible.

Our nation is in the midst of a national health crisis with regard to the rates obesity and its associated health risks that constantly play out in the media on a daily basis. The focus on leading healthy lifestyles along with a movement towards going green with organic products and cutting out processed foods to be replaced by natural, all blend together to create a perfect storm for those susceptible to obsessive behaviors surrounding food. The sad irony is that in an effort to embrace a positive lifestyle change, some adopt worse habits that can be devastating and difficult to overcome.

Erin Sund wrote about orthorexia for AND and spoke with Dr. Marjorie Nolan about the disorder:

“Orthorexia starts out with a true intention of wanting to be healthier, but it’s taken to an extreme,” says Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson Marjorie Nolan, MS, RD, CDN, ACSM-HFS, who specializes in working with eating disorder clients. “If someone is orthorexic, they typically avoid anything processed, like white flour or sugar. A food is virtually untouchable unless it’s certified organic or a whole food. Even something like whole-grain bread – which is a very healthy, high-fiber food – is off limits because it’s been processed in some way.”

Although orthorexia is not officially recognized by the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders),  it is quickly becoming accepted as a new form of disordered eating that has similar effects on both the physical and mental health of those afflicted as anorexia and bulimia.

I am not a licensed professional nor a registered member of the APA or the AND. But I am an expert in me and what I’ve gone through personally with relation to food, and the point here is that any kind of obsessive behavior where you’re spending more time thinking about the food and its components and less time actually enjoying the meal, is not a good thing.

Initially, I found the very existence of a term that described my food issues satisfying with an immediate sense of relief as if I’d been “figured out.” There’s a name to what I’ve been experiencing and that makes all of this okay, I thought.

The fact is, no it really doesn’t make it okay. Giving it a name helps bring it out of the closet and raises awareness to others out there who might not realize that its unhealthy to be so excruciatingly detailed in their thought process about what’s on their plates. But that’s just step one and it’s harder to land on step two.

I don’t know if I’m orthorexic or if anything I’m going through qualifies as a classifiable disorder and really, I couldn’t care less. Tagging it as one thing or another doesn’t take away from the fact that I still have too many thoughts about food which make some decisions that are simple for others much harder for me. I don’t know why. I couldn’t tell you, but that’s where I am.

I’ve made a commitment to leading a healthy lifestyle and I believe I’m capable of approaching food with a positive frame of mind. What makes a difference for me is allowing myself to speak openly about my challenges and shed light on those dark corners so that I can stay on the right side of the line. I don’t think having a passion for healthy eating and living is a bad thing and it’s something I’m continually trying to understand each day.

The benefit I found from discovering orthorexia is that it opened my eyes to the negative habits I developed and it helped me begin a process of forgiveness and healing. I was able to acknowledge that it was real and that I wasn’t the only one with this kind of pressure. It’s all about choices and being honest with yourself about your intentions. That’s the power of knowledge and that’s my goal with this blog.

In an effort to keep that going and to share information that I think is vital for everyone to know, here is an infographic created by the non-profit National Eating Disorders Association who recently sponsored National Eating Disorders week February 24 through March 2nd. It was a massive campaign to help educate the public on the impact of eating disorders and learn more about services available for those in need of support and professional help. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) is another amazing resource if you’d like more information.

Courtesy: NEDAwareness
Courtesy: NEDAwareness
Courtesy: NEDAwareness
Courtesy: NEDAwareness

I am always staggered by the statistics for ED. It reminds me that these disorders afflict people of all backgrounds, races, and genders.  Shed any limited thoughts you might have about the face of ED and consider that it’s an issue that affects people from so many different walks of life.

Have you experienced similar anxiety about food and healthy eating? What do you think about classifying orthorexia as an eating disorder and treating it as a disease? Share your thoughts! I’m curious.

Remember to keep paying it forward, now and always. ❤

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