My Religion + My Eating Disorders

My Religion + My Eating Disorders

If you know me personally, or have read the “About Me” section on my blog, you’d know that I pretty much fit in with the ‘stereotypical Utahan, born and raised in the LDS religion’, topped off with the classic ‘married before the age of 20’ that us Utah Mormons are known for. Although I will say that I probably swear a bit more than your typical Mormon… which consists of a few ‘shits, hells, and damns’ sprinkled here and there ūüėČ

Before I dive in, I just want to acknowledge that I know members of the LDS religion can get a real bad rap. People claim that Mormons are uptight, judgmental, and closed minded with a ‘Holier than Thou’ attitude. And I’ll be honest, I’ve met a fair share of members who do have one (if not all) of those attributes. BUT I’ve also been surrounded by members who are some of the strongest, most genuine, open and kind people I’ve met. I feel like Mormons can get totalized for the few ‘bad apples’ and mistakes that people within the church have made, but hey, we’re all human. No one in this religion is perfect, not even our Prophet. And if there are people in this religion who do claim to be perfect… then they probably missed a couple lessons in primary or somethin’, cause that’s not the LDS religion I know.

A N Y W A Y S…

Flash back to my sophomore year of high school when I was developing anorexia. I read my scriptures and prayed just about as much as any teenager remembers to during that time. I went to church each Sunday and partook of the sacrament (but with a fear of the single bite of white bread, thinking things like¬†‘why can’t they just use whole wheat’?). I hated fast Sundays just as much as the next guy (mainly because I thought that not eating a little something every 3 hours would RUIN your metabolism– still gotta laugh at how ironic my obsession with metabolism was back then ’cause literally everything I did was the OPPOSITE of maintaining a healthy metabolism). But overall, I was living ‘the holy life’. During this time, when I was becoming more and more obsessed with my body and food, I didn’t really think much about my religion. It was just there, and I believed and accepted it.

Once I started on my recovery journey, I still read my scriptures and prayed just as much as any teen during that time. I still went to church weekly and took the sacrament (still working through the fear of that tiny bite of white bread). Once I wasn’t constantly counting up numbers of calories and minutes of exercise and my brain started to have more room to think about religion, I would spend more time in the scriptures, and digging deeper into the gospel principles to find out if I truly did believe in this religion. But I’ll be 100% honest, I never had a time during the hell of my anorexia recovery that I had a ‘coming to Jesus moment’. There was never a moment where I was overwhelmed with the spirit, being filled with comfort and joy to know I would achieve recovery. When people ask if I felt that Heavenly Father’s hand played a roll in my recovery, I tell them that looking back, I know He did because I believe his support was within the people around me, but there was never a time I directly turned to Him for help. I didn’t know enough about the power of prayer, nor did I truly want to fully recover.

Jump forward a few years. When I started struggling with binge eating, I turned to my religion. Partly because I had more experience with the power of prayer and I had felt the spirit so strongly in other times of my life, and partly because I desperately wanted to escape the cycle of bingeing that I was stuck in.

I looked for General Conference talks and messages from our leaders to read regarding eating disorders (which isn’t too many), magazine articles (also not a bunch), and blogs of other LDS women who had overcome binge eating disorder. I also prayed.
And I prayed.
And I prayed.
I prayed in my bed each morning. And in my bed each night.
I prayed in the temple.
I once even prayed in the woods, midway through a run.
“Please, help me stop binge eating.”
“Please, Father, help me gain control.”
I’d plead through tears daily with all of my heart because I thought,¬†if I can’t control myself, He will be able to give me control.¬†

And you know what happened? I still binged. Heavenly Father did not take my urges to binge away like I so hopelessly plead for.

Now there are two common answers that people could give me as to why I was not receiving the answer to my countless prayers.
1. God doesn’t exist.
2. You weren’t praying hard enough or living as worthily as you should’ve been to receive an answer.

However, I’ve come to realize that I don’t believe either of those answers cut it.
I’ve come to understand that God doesn’t work that way of ‘you pray, I’ll give ya want you want, but you just have to be ‘holy enough”. God does allow bad things to happen to good people.

In my religion, we learn about the Plan of Salvation. And the biggest part of that plan is to be sent to earth to be tried and challenged. To learn and to grow. Why? To become more like Him.
God knows the greatest of pains. For anyone who has experienced the loss of a child, or a loved one, He knows your pain. He, Himself lost 1/3 of his children in the pre-mortal life. He had to send down his Only Begotten to be hated, spat on, rejected, backstabbed, and ultimately to go through the worst pain imaginable in Gethsemane, and then crucified. God knows pain, and that’s part of what makes him God.

For us to truly become like him, we need to endure through our own personal prisons. We need to find that there are lessons to be learned in each and every trial. For me, I learned the importance of family- I became best friends with my mom because of anorexia. I learned how to fight through the deepest of my fears from eating a slice of pizza when my soul was screaming at me not to. I learned that baby steps add up to something beautiful. Through binge eating, I learned that my relationship with food and my body still had gaps that needed to be filled in order for me to reach my ultimate goal of becoming an eating disorder specialized mental health professional. I learned the importance of vulnerability and humility in building strong relationships by admitting I needed help with my binges. And through both of my eating disorders, I learned what it means to be resilient.

I probably could’ve learned these lessons in ways other than developing eating disorders. But I strongly believe that God knows us personally, and knows in which ways we will best learn through specific trials. Sure, God sent us the Bible and Book of Mormon to teach us lessons that we should learn in this life, but as with most lessons in life, we don’t fully and completely understand something from a book until we put it into practice.

All of this is just my little understanding of a complicated question that no one on earth has the answer to. I don’t have all the answers, a bishop doesn’t have all the answers, even the Prophet himself doesn’t have all the answers. I’m just goin’ off of faith here, but at the end of the day… that’s the most we can do.

I don’t know why Heavenly Father allowed me to suffer through two eating disorders. But from the lessons I’ve learned, and the strength and resilience I’ve gained, I have faith that it was not in vain. And I have faith that this is the case for each trial every individual may face in their life.

Racing Weight

Racing Weight

The relationship between weight and competitive running is complicated.

You hear all the time about athletes who drop a lot of weight (either eating disorder related or not) and they seem to all of the sudden get crazy fast. They start breaking school records and getting PR after PR, saying they’ve never felt better. You also take a look at all the best runners in the world, from the high school level up to the Olympic level, and there’s a common body that majority of those runners have: thin arms, flat stomach, and thin, muscular legs with an effortless looking stride.

There’s no denying it’s true; having a lower weight makes it much easier to run. When gravity has less of a pull on you, it takes less effort to propel yourself forward step after step. At the competitive level, most athletes even have a ‘racing weight’, or the lowest, ‘safest’ weight they can be at to compete. I mean, for most people this relationship would seem to be quite simple– lower weight = easier to run = easier to run FAST.

But this relationship can get complicated for people like me who weren’t born with a ‘runner’s body’ (I mean, my dad was a 6’6, 300 lb offensive lineman in college, and I take most after him). This relationship can even get complicated for people who ARE born with that ‘ideal runner’s body’. That little equation,¬†lower weight = easier to run = easier to run fast, leaves a lot of runners striving to maintain a low weight, and terrified of gaining a couple pounds. For some athletes, this means developing disordered eating behaviors or exercising excessively in order to do so.

This was the case for me. The two times in my life where I ate the most disordered and exercised past my body’s limits, I had a goal in mind to become a better runner. And until I began binge eating, I was able to maintain my ‘racing weight’, a weight that I had deemed that I was able to run my best at, yet it was a weight in which I had to exercise more outside of an already long and grueling practice, where I would avoid specific foods and go to bed hungry, and a weight in which my body wouldn’t produce a consistent period, and received injury after injury after injury… after injury. Even with all these issues, I had that weight in mind, and I believed that any more pounds would affect my performance.

And its true. Fast forward a year and a half, 20+ pounds over my ‘racing weight’, my performance was definitely decreased. I went from an 18:20 5K to a 20:00+ minute 5K. While I did develop¬†VCD¬†(making it extremely difficult to breathe), there’s no question that my quick increase in weight has made running more difficult for me as well.

BUT WITH ALL OF THIS IN MIND; I don’t tell my story to leave anyone, especially any athletes feeling even more terrified of weight gain. This story does have a happy ending.

If I have learned anything from my roller coaster ride of a running career, it’s this: running fast is one of the least important things you will do in life.¬†While I didn’t really take it to heart at the time, my amazing college coach would always tell our team that running should never be our first priority; instead it should be behind our families/loved ones, our school work, and our well-being. I may be wrong, but I think he believed this because he knew that running can be such a nasty beast. You fall in love with chasing down the next PR, or beating that one person who usually beats you, and the feeling of an easy long run. But then in just moments, you can get a stress fracture, and then another, and then get mono, then get another stress fracture, then develop VCD and at last you’re left completely heart broken and lost because running no longer treats you like it used to, and 95% of your whole identity was tied up in it… and so you turn to the one thing that you were depriving yourself for some sense of comfort: food.

Alright so maybe that’s all a stretch because I know that what I went through definitely isn’t what everyone else goes through (or will ever go through lol). But I still¬†do¬†see runners who get so caught up in their performance, pushing loved ones, school work, and their own personal well-being to the side, and if injury or sickness strikes, they are left completely lost, feeling broken and useless.

We are much more than runners. We are students, daughters/sons, sisters/brothers, friends, wives/husbands, mothers/fathers, co-workers, religious group members, leaders, amazing artists, hilarious story tellers, great cooks (or maybe not-so-great-cooks like meūüėČ), listening ears, and shoulders to cry on… we are so so much more than runners. While running can definitely be a big part of one’s identity, I’d argue that it shouldn’t be the only, or even the main part. It took me getting my competitive edge for running pried from my fingers from injury after injury to finally realize this. And I can reflect back now and realize that my weight in all of this certainly didn’t matter either. In fact, many of my injuries were self-inflicted by trying to maintain a weight too low for my body’s comfort.

Yes, running fast is one of¬†the¬†greatest¬†feelings in the world. Holding records and earning medals is certainly impressive, yet, at the end of life, if you were miserably trying to restrict your food intake, depriving yourself from your favorite foods or from going out with friends, spending hours after practice in the gym when you could’ve been making memories with loved ones, was it¬†truly¬†worth that PR? Your running career, or any type of athletic career for that matter, is not your life’s purpose. You learn absolutely amazing lessons and the greatest work ethic from competing as an athlete, however, it will never be worth it if you are spending your years of competing obsessing over your body or performance. I hope if you’re reading this and you are an athlete, you understand that you are much more than what your body can do. And if you don’t quite understand this yet, I hope you start looking. It may just be the most important search you go on.

I Stopped Binge Eating, But I Didn’t Lose the Weight

I Stopped Binge Eating, But I Didn’t Lose the Weight

It’s been over half a year since my last binge!!

I looked through my ‘binge journal’ that I kept throughout the year and a half-ish that I battled binge eating, and it pained me to see how irrational my thinking was throughout my journey. As I mentioned in¬†this¬†post, I tried doing countless unhelpful strategies such as strictly controlling my food intake and striving to lose weight, both of which just perpetuated the issue. However, I loved reading how I FINALLY started catching on the last few months of my battles. The last few entries I wrote contained things such as–

I planned to eat a piece of Nutella toast, a protein bar at work, some chicken and sweet potatoes for dinner and a protein shake at night. Once I had my Nutella toast, I L O V E D it ’cause recently Nutella has been my JAM, and I so desperately wanted to just eat and eat and eat the Nutella and popcorn and Oreos and cereal- but I stopped myself. I decided to just make another piece of Nutella toast even though it wasn’t on my days macros. Guess what? After eating that toast, I felt satisfied. I GENUINELY FELT SATISFIED WITHOUT WANTING TO FURTHER GORGE MYSELF. Honestly a huge leap for me. I’m so proud.¬†

I hate how my brain sets it up to feel like I NEED the binge, I NEED to fulfill the urge…. and after I do, I regret it so much. But I try to act all positive and be like, “I can do this!!! I’m gonna get stronger, I’m gonna be better and lose¬†the weight and be great and good in no time, just keep¬†trying!!! …But I need to do something new. As my pops always says, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”.

Don’t I want to stop feeling sick? Don’t I hate the stress of ‘what’s OK and not OK to eat’? Don’t I hate putting off my loved ones in order to fulfill my stupid urges? I do. And its HARD to change, so hard. I’m still trying to find the best possible way to combat… and as scared as I am about turning to intuitive eating, I might want to start now. I genuinely want to become an intuitive eater… the hard thing about that is my intuition feels like it is screwy and I still have a fear of gaining more weight. I tell myself that I will start trying¬†to eat intuitively after I loose the weight, but I don’t know what the best option is. If it was me giving advice to someone else, I’d tell them to start trying to get into intuitive eating now, slowly but surely.¬†

Once I finally caught on and found out what really¬†worked for me, I knew that I would never go back. And I haven’t!

However, there’s one thing I’d like to mention because I believe it is important: Even though I have stopped binge eating, I have not lost the weight I gained during that time. Despite my grueling collegiate running workouts and my attempts at restricting my intake, I still gained a pretty significant amount of weight. As the scale kept creeping up while I was bingeing, I was horrified each time the number rose. And once I finally realized that the solution to my binge eating was full freedom with food and accepting my body as it was, I was at the highest weight of my life. I hated the fact that I had gained so much weight due to binge eating, but I had to learn to be OK with it, which was difficult to say in the least. In the back of my mind, I thought that if I stopped binge eating, the weight I had gained would just fall right back off again, but seven months later, my weight hasn’t changed by much.

Most of our bodies are built to be able to gain weight easily but lose weight with difficulty (with the exception of those who have speedy metabolisms or various medical conditions). Because way back in the day when the only food ya got was during the scarce times ya boys brought back some nice mammoth or saber-tooth tiger or berries or somethin, our bodies are built to store up fuel for periods of starvation. In fact, back in the day, people who could gain and store weight the easiest were the people who survived the longest. The natural tendency to hold onto weight IS NOT A REASON TO HATE ON YOUR BODY. When it holds onto that “stubborn 10 extra pounds”, it’s just trying to do its job.

I could sit here and agonize over the fact that I didn’t lose my “binge-body”. I could try going on another type of diet to try and lose the weight. I could miss out on enjoying the life I have now by worrying about the extra fat surrounding my tummy and thighs. But having taken those roads too many times before and losing YEARS to the pains of self-hatred, I know it’s not worth it. No, gaining weight because of binge eating was not ideal.¬†But the longer I spend obsessing about that weight or trying to change, the more time I spend losing to the disorder.