Cookie Decorating Party

Last night, Ben and I went to a cookie decorating party, and I actually enjoyed eating cookies and other snacks at the party. When I was deep in my disorder, I had such a strong aversive reaction to cookies, especially because if I let myself be near cookies, I might cave in and…goodness forbid…eat one. But, when I was a child, long before I developed an eating disorder, I loved making and decorating cookies for the holidays, including shooing away my parents, grandparents, and sisters from trying to steal unbaked cookie dough from the bowl. I am enjoying discovering all the ways that I am returning to my more natural responses to foods and activities and how much more being free from my eating disorder allows me to interact with the world around me.

The cookie decorating party was additionally fun because it was adult-themed, and all the things that were taboo to talk about when I was growing up were things that we were drawing on cookies and laughing about. So, I can be more grown up (or less, if you count laughing at adult jokes as less mature) while still enjoying activities that were fun when I was a kid. And, it was awesome to have Ben with me last night…as it has been awesome to have him with me since the day I met him.

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Snapshot Stress Response

As a result of seeking ways to minimize my stress levels, mostly because I now see how stress triggers my eating disorder behaviors, I am more aware of how I handle stress.

I have been working quite a bit recently on my 1st first-author paper on my asthma research, which has definitely been stressful. I contribute to that stress by first creating unreasonable deadlines for myself, trying to use added pressure as a way to motivate me to work. Then, when I do sit down to work, I browse online, “wasting time” before finally starting on the main task at hand. Often, I then take a food break, during which I am usually more interested in unhealthy foods than healthy foods, much to the chagrin of my quieted eating disorder. When I finally do start working, I get stuck in a bubble of obsession about the work and do not want to stop to eat or do anything besides work. I deny myself time for fun activities throughout the day, like going to the dog park or dancing, because I feel guilty about having wasted time earlier in the day and I do not want to lose my newfound work flow.

I was in the middle of this cycle yesterday, when Ben helped me break it by encouraging me to go run a couple errands with him and stop by at the gym. As a result, I was able to tackle that stressful paper task at a leisurely pace this morning and send a new draft off to my collaborators before the afternoon rolled around.

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Distracted by Life

Again, it has been awhile since I have updated my blog. I used to delay starting my work in lab by writing blog entries every morning, but I have recently been starting my lab work nearly as soon as I arrive in lab. Also, when I was avoiding reading research papers for my asthma research, I was reading and commenting on eating disorder papers. I hope to continue posting on my blog and commenting on eating disorder papers in addition to, instead of in place of, doing my work and reading asthma research papers, respectively.

Some recent progress in my recovery has been that I enjoy food more now. Last weekend, I really enjoyed a couple meals. One was a buffet at the Wynn hotel in Vegas where I finished my meal by trying at least a bite of nearly all the desserts available there. (It was also nice that we stayed in an amazing, amazing room at Encore.) My favorite was the creme brulee. Ben and I also went to Firefly tapas restaurant with one of his friends while we were in Vegas, and I realized that I no longer think about how the food is going to end up on my body while I am eating. When I wanted more bites of the tapas food, I took more bites, and I was not worried about extra cheese or grease on my food. I really just enjoyed the flavors, and that was refreshing. Additionally, it has been a lot easier for me to eat meals in general, which may be confounded by the fact that I stopped needing a weight gain diet awhile ago.

I have learned a new approach to working out at the gym. I used to use the machines for isolated muscle work, but Ben recently encouraged me to try working multiple muscle groups at a time with deadlifts, lunges, squats and situps on a yoga ball, among other exercises. The transition to working multiple muscle groups at a time has made my gym time so much more efficient. It takes me much less time to work up a sweat and start to feel sore the next day or so later, which is helping me stay within healthy limits on gym activity.

I am freer without my dance team commitments and I am finally going to go out social dancing tonight at Cheers! My dance instructor and I are both excited for the new transition for me, and I had an awesome dance lesson this afternoon.

I have been way more emotional than I had been for a long time. I feel intense happiness and sadness and everything in between, all of which often inspires tears for me. But, when I have had a chance to express my emotions to their fullest, I feel freer. I even felt safe enough last night, when Ben and I were having an intense, awesome conversation, to cry a little at Panda Express. Normally, crying in public would have been super taboo for me and way too vulnerable, but it felt amazing to express my emotions as I felt them.

Finally, I have not been as rigid about saving my normal, pre-determined amount of money each month the way I had been doing in the past. I would love to be able to save the same amount of money each month, or more, but I am also generally learning to be more flexible and less restrictive with myself and that feels nice too.

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Brief Updates

It has been awhile since I updated because I have been busy:

(1) Finishing my NaNoWriMo novel…yes, I finished in time, but the story is far from complete

(2) Dancing/competing at the US Open for West Coast Swing…I had so much more fun than I was expecting, and I finally now feel like more of myself when I am social dancing

(3) Working on my research papers + catching up on a backlog of imaging and data analysis…feels good to get a handle on my work

(4) Finding bridesmaid dresses for my friend’s wedding…the first dress that all of us tried on was perfect even though we are a variety of sizes

(5) Enjoying my friends…fun games, dinners, and more

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Embracing Failure

My therapist and I randomly talked today about how I failed my driver’s test. I actually failed it twice before I finally passed it. At the time, I felt like such a big failure, and I kept all my failed attempts as a deep, dark secret that I had to hide in shame. My drive to be perfect was taunted by failing at something nearly everyone learns to do…drive. I was afraid I would need a chauffeur or someone else to help me through all the driving I was doomed to face. Talk about catastrophizing!

Even when I admitted to my therapist that I failed my driver’s test, I padded the information with the fact that I have never been pulled over or received a ticket, as if I have made up for my early failings through later perfection. But, so what if I failed my driver’s test in the beginning? That does not make me a failure or mean anything about me as a person. Besides, the system lets people re-take the test, and I got to take advantage of that…multiple times 😉 And, I don’t have to be perfect to make up for earlier failings. (I need to keep reminding myself of that last point.)

 

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Research Roundup #4 – Exercise Addiction

Today’s summary is on “Exercise addiction: A study of eating disorder symptoms, quality of life, personality traits, and attachment styles” by Lichetenstein et al (Psychiatry Research, 2013). I chose this article because I never would have considered myself an over-exerciser before I received the diagnosis of anorexia. When I was in high school, I was on a swim team where the minimum time commitment was 20 hours a week of swimming so exercising for 15+ hours a week when I later developed my eating disorder seemed like nothing. The problem with my exercise habits was that I did not eat enough to compensate for my high activity levels, but there is more to it than that…

Introduction: Exercise addiction was once embraced for its euphoria and relaxation effects, until studies found that excessive exercise can cause health problems and decrease quality of life. Half a percent of people in the general population have exercise addiction, according to the Exercise Addiction Inventory (EAI), while 6.9% of sport science students in one study had exercise addiction. There is some controversy over whether exercise addiction is a primary condition or is always secondary to an eating disorder. The following personality traits are associate with exercise addiction: perfectionism, anxiety, obsessive compulsiveness, and narcissism. Attachment patterns can also influence excessive exercise tendencies, wherein people with more insecure attachment styles are more likely to have eating disorder symptoms. The authors compared an exercise addiction group with a non-addicted exercise group, hypothesizing that the groups would have few eating disorder symptoms and that exercise addiction would be associated with health problems and related to personality type and attachment type.

Methods: The authors used an online survey to gather information about participant demographics; the EAI score for defining exercise addiction; health-related quality of life; personality types; and attachment style. There were a total of 121 participants (79 men, 42 women) who exercised from 2 – 18 hours a week (mean of 8.4). High EAI scores (24 – 30) were found in 41 participants and lower scores (6 – 23) were found in 80 participants.

Results: Compared to the control group, the exercise addiction group was younger, exercised 2x more, had more overload injuries (including that impaired work performance), and had more eating disorder symptoms (higher drive for thinness, perfectionism, internal awareness, asceticism, and impulse regulation), though the body mass index did not differ between the two groups. The quality of life scores were not significantly different fro the two groups, except that the exercise addiction scored worse on bodily pain. The exercise addiction group was more likely to be extroverted, hostile, and achievement oriented as well as less likely to be agreeable, straightforwards, altruistic, compliant, or modest. There were no differences in the attachment styles.

Discussion: The exercise addiction group had higher scores on the eating disorder symptom scale components (though their BMIs were normal), especially the drive for thinness and perfectionism; as a result, this study was unable to distinguish between primary and secondary causes of exercise addiction. The exercise addiction group experienced more physical discomfort that interfered with normal activities, which may be due to injuries, though their overall scores were not lower. There is some complicated description of personality traits in exercise addiction that does not add more than what was stated in the results. The study limitations include: self-reported data (could be biased or inaccurate), cross-sectional design (gives snapshot in time, but not changes over time), lack of clinical interviews to assess eating disorder diagnoses (would help distinguish between primary and secondary causes of exercise addiction), and some others.

Conclusion: Exercise addiction is associated with weight concerns and perfectionism. There is no evidence for decreased quality of life in people with exercise addictions, except for the worse bodily pain scores. People with exercise addiction are more likely to seek excitement and work for high goals and standards, while they are less likely to be straightforward, altruistic, modest, and compliant, which is consistent with narcissistic personality traits. Exercise addiction was not related to attachment style.

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NaNoWriMo Rebellion

I got bored with the eating disorder novel I was writing for NaNoWriMo so I transported my characters to an entirely different world that was randomly inspired by a dream I had some nights ago. Some of the characters are still the same people; some of them are entirely different, reminding me of what Erin Moregenstern has said about her NaNoWriMo experience with The Night Circus. I read somewhere that when she grew bored of her characters, she sent all of them to the circus.

Since changing my story, I have enjoyed writing so much more, which is what I want the most out of NaNoWriMo. I recognize that I am farther from having a complete book, even while I am closer to achieving the 50,000 word winner mark. However, when I was writing an eating disorder-based novel, I was trapped in my own experience with my eating disorder. The more I tried to change my characters, the more they fought back and asked for me to be truer to my personal experience, which is not always interesting. I have appreciated revisiting some of what brought me to this place in recovery, but, for now, I am enjoying creating a new world just as I am creating my new life in recovery.

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