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As is customary at this time of year, I’ve made some resolutions. Yes, I know that everyone makes New Year’s Resolutions, and no one ever keeps them. But I think there are two reasons for this.

 

1. They set unrealistic goals.

2. They make a general statement about where they want to be, without looking at what needs to be done to get there.

 

I’m hoping to avoid these errors. I remember making resolutions every new year when I was in the midst of an eating disorder. Of course, every year I would plan to lose weight. That was all I ever wanted. Of course it wasn’t all I wanted, but in the absence of sound mental health and with no feeling of self-efficacy or control in my life, I imagined that everything else just happened to me. Losing weight was the only thing I could actually control, and so I resolved to do that, every year.

It’s not just those with eating disorders who make those kind of resolutions. It’s maybe one of the most common ones to make – to lose weight. Especially after the excesses of Christmas. And I’m betting most people usually fail.

But here’s the problem – you’re making a resolution that involves denying yourself, punishing yourself, and adopting a lifestyle that is less desirable than the one you currently live. When you make a promise to lose weight, more often than not it’s attempted through dieting and denying yourself of the things you enjoy. And it’s accompanied by reluctant, frenzied exercising which is done purely as a means to an end and not for enjoyment in itself.

Of course people fail, when you look at it this way. And the same goes for any resolution – if you’re not excited about it, truly motivated, and without a clear idea of what you’re doing and why, it won’t be important enough to you to stick at it when the going gets tough.

So I have promised myself that although I AM making resolutions, they’re not just for the sake of it – they will be things that are important to me. I will not make promises that I don’t think I’m capable of keeping. In fact,I’m not making any promises at all, just setting goals. And as well as those goals, I’m going to look at what needs to be done to achieve them. I’m going to ask myself every day what I can be doing to bring myself closer to those goals.

And I accept that I won’t be able to progress towards every single one of them, every day. The list is too extensive! But to get where you want to be, you need to work out exactly where that is first. And so by identifying what I want to achieve this year in every area of my life, I’m taking the first step towards getting there.

 

My New Year’s Resolutions for 2012

 

Food and Recovery
Stop weighing myself on a regular basis
Pay more attention to hunger signals, and eat slowly

Running and Fitness
Achieve a sub-40 minute 10K
Achieve a sub-1:30 half marathon
Run a mile in under 6 minutes
Work up to completing a full run in my Vibrams
Join a running club
Establish a home practice in yoga

School and Work
Pass my placement, hand everything in and qualify as a social worker
Get a job as a social worker!
Enjoy what I do, and not feel so anxious all the time that I’m not good enough
Stay on top of assignments and don’t let myself get too overwhelmed

Relationships
Stop taking my anger and frustration out on Matt
Spend more quality time with Matt that doesn’t involve watching TV!
Make new friends, by pursuing things that I’m interested in and reaching out to people more

Money
Set a budget and stick to it

House
Do all of the home improvements that Matt and I are planning as soon as possible. Aim to be finished my mid-February?
Establish a weekly cleaning day – Matt has suggested Thursday

 

So I’ve done the easy part. I’ve made a big list of everything I want to achieve this year. The hard part is doing it! And that’s where running comes in.

Running? What’s that got to do with sticking to resolutions?

Well… my experience of running has taught me that I am capable of things that I never thought possible. This time a little over two years ago, I was a complete non-runner. Not just a non-runner actually, an anti-runner. I disliked people who ran. I couldn’t understand it. And like many things in life, when you don’t understanding something you tend to be fearful of it. I wasn’t homophobic, I wasn’t xenophobic but oh boy was I runner-phobic! I would actually scowl at them in the street. And when my dad, sister, brother, sister-in-law AND boyfriend went running, I would shake my head in disbelief and mild pity.

But deep down, what fuelled my negativity towards running was the fact that I just could not do it! I had tried. I knew it was good exercise. I wanted to be able to run for miles. But every time I tried, I would make it no more than 100 metres before I decided it was too hard and walked back home with my tail between my legs.

Fast forward two years later. Not only can I run, I am GOOD at running. I LOVE to run. I eat, sleep and breathe running (and eat, sleep and breathe BETTER because of running!). How did this happen? Could it be that somewhere deep inside me there lies a well of determination, stamina and willpower that had gone previously untapped?

So if I can go from despising running to it being an indispensable part of my life, what else could I do if I set my mind to it?

That, dear friends, is why I feel confident in my ability to achieve – or at least work towards – my goals. That, and a loving, positive approach to them. So if I don’t always do what I know I should, or if they fall to the wayside at times, I’m not going to beat myself up about it. I’m going to remind myself why they’re important to me (if they still are… because things change, right?), and if I decide they’re still worth pursuing I’ll pick myself up and get on with it again.

Of course it’s easy to pick and choose which goals you want to work on and neglect others. Sitting here in the library blogging about ‘staying on top of assignments’ is a convenient way to avoid actually doing them! So I have a plan. I’m going to identify one thing from each area, every day, that I can do towards a goal. It doesn’t have to be big or time-consuming. I just have to set that intention at the start of the day, so that I can be sure that the way I’m living is consistent with where I would like to be headed.

I’m sure you’re thinking this all sounds lovely and idealistic… but it’s only January 6th, how long will I keep this up? I’ll be honest, I’m asking myself the same question! But then I remember how determined I was to run, and how that determination has stayed with me – and I am reminded of how capable I am of making changes when I really set my mind to it.

So I’m going to finish this mammoth post off with my list for today. It’s a little late in the day now, so my intentions will have to be small ones.

 

  • Concentrate on eating my dinner mindfully
  • Go for a run, and do another mile in my Vibrams
  • Spend half an hour reading for my next assignment (seeing as I’ve already done some – but not enough! – today)
  • Be nice to Matt for the whole evening (yes, unbelievably, I have to set this as a goal because I usually find something to have a go at him for!)
  • Stay within my weekly budget (I doubt I’ll be spending any more money today, but so far I’ve done well)
  • Clean the bathroom

 

See, those are all easily achievable daily goals! And they correspond to each area of my life that I identified bigger goals in.

Maybe I should have added ‘Update blog regularly’ to the list! I’m not quite sure where it would fit so for the moment I’ll just keep it in my head – but at least I can tick that one off for today!

 

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Apparently I can only update my blog with the help of a large americano, in the quietly bustling surroundings of a coffee shop. That’s why it’s taken me this long to post again. And it’s also why, having taken the bus to a place nearby that has wi fi (rather than opting for one of the three cafes right by my house), I am less than impressed that two schoolchildren have just sat down next to me with their mum! I shouldn’t be such a grumpy old woman, but I can’t help it.

Perhaps it’s a good thing that it’s been a while since I last updated. Previously I wrote about returning from holiday with a renewed enthusiasm for recovery, and I hadn’t yet resumed my calorie counting behaviours (and was hoping to avoid doing so at all). Now I have another week under my belt so to speak, and I can really look at how things are going.

(Side note: it turns out this particular coffee shop is popular with a number of families whose children attend the local primary school. Note to self: do not come here again after 3pm!)

I am proud to say that I haven’t counted calories once since returning from my holiday. I’ve caught myself trying to estimate at times, and immediately stopped my brain in its tracks. They say knowledge is power, but for me it’s my undoing. After many years of having an eating disorder I have so much knowledge about the calorie content of different foods that at times I catch myself doing frantic calculations. It can be hard to ‘un-know’ this information, but I’m trying. I did consider covering up or cutting out the nutritional info on all of the foods I have in my cupboards, but that is neither necessary nor realistic. Actually, I am perfectly capable of reigning myself in when need be.

So it’s been… gosh, three weeks?… since I last truly ate according to numbers rather than hunger. I haven’t gained weight (although this shouldn’t matter), the world hasn’t stopped turning, and I haven’t been gorging myself uncontrollably each day.

If anything, I consume less when I’m not counting calories. This is a strange quirk that I think I touched on in my last post. I think when I am relying on calorie counting I eat right up to whatever amount I consider to be acceptable or reasonable, regardless of hunger. I can eat past the point of satiety because I don’t need to rely on my hunger signals to ensure I don’t overeat; I know exactly how much I’ve eaten. The fact that I’m vegan and a sizable portion of my diet consists of fruit and vegetables means that I can consume relatively large amounts of food without taking in too many calories. There is nothing inherently wrong with this of course; had I never had an eating disorder, ignoring my hunger signals would probably not be an issue. People do it all the time, and they don’t feel bad for it (or even notice).

The problem for me is that I see this as the slippery slope back towards bulimia. So whether it’s muffins, or ice cream, or fruit, I have to be careful not to over-consume.

Lately, since I stopped relying on numbers and started trusting my hunger, I have found that I daren’t eat when I’m not hungry, because then I do risk overeating. So I am forced to eat only when my body asks for it. This has initiated a constant dialogue between my body and my mind, as I frequently check in with my body to find out what it wants and needs. As a result, when I fancy something more indulgent or higher in calories, I feel completely able to allow myself a treat because I know I am consuming the right amount at all other times.

One of the resolutions I made on holiday was to set little goals for myself, to try and tackle the areas of recovery that I’m still struggling with. As far as calorie counting goes I feel like I’ve gone way further with it than I imagined I would. I had planned to introduce some non-counted meals, to gradually wean myself off counting altogether. Part of this plan involved letting Matt cook dinner some nights. As I’ve done away with calorie counting completely, I haven’t needed to set this as a goal because it’s been easy!

So far he’s made a delicious pasta, we’ve eaten paella at my parents’ house (his idea) and last night he made stuffed aubergine with patatas bravas. It was so good that I’ve demanded it again tonight!

I tend to divide my food issues into two categories or behaviours: calorie counting and weighing. Now that I’m well on the way to eating normally, the obvious thing to do is to work on the weighing.

Okay, so I’m going to just jump in and set myself a goal here. I’m going to have three No-Weigh Days a week. Yes, that deserves capitalization. I can choose which days to (not) do it on. So if I know there will be days I might feel a stronger need to weigh myself, I will still have the freedom to do so. But at the same time, I can start to introduce some days which won’t begin with the scale. I am rather ashamed to admit that this is such a big problem for me, because I honestly believe, right to my very core, that weight shouldn’t matter and nobody should measure their self-worth according to such an arbitrary number. Yet I continue to do so.

I would like to be able to stop weighing myself completely, to throw out the scale and never look back. I hear of people doing this with ritualistic scale-smashing ceremonies. When I say that I don’t know if that would work for me, I don’t know if I’m making excuses and letting my ED rule, or if it’s perfectly reasonable to try doing things more gradually.

A crucial part of recovery is learning who you are, and developing an ability to trust yourself. As a result, I can usually tell when I’m making excuses or lying to myself. I also know a lot more about what I need and want. And I think I’m ready, at this point, to trust that I know what I need more than anybody else. More than any therapist, or self-help book, or recovery method out there. I have enough confidence in myself now to know what works for me and what doesn’t. It’s very similar to running in some ways. You can follow a training plan, particularly when you are a beginner, and it will tell you when to run and how far. And it is often very helpful to have this guidance. Some days you don’t feel like running, and you start to make excuses, but then you see the training plan and you see it written down, set in stone, and it gives you that little bit of extra motivation.

But then you get injured, or one day your legs just don’t feel right. And the longer you go on running, the better you get at recognising these days, these times when you genuinely need a rest and are not just making excuses. And no matter what the training plan says, you have to do what’s right for your body. Getting better at running is a balancing act between training hard enough that your body adapts, and resting when you need it. A training plan will only take you so far; after a while, you must learn to recognise what your body is telling you and learn to listen. In the same way that I have developed a dialogue with my body in order to respond to my hunger appropriately, I have entered into a similar conversation when it comes to running. I am intimately tuned into every twinge, niggle, and tightness that I feel and I am able to recognise when I need to rest, stretch, ice or when I can keep running.

Saying that, I dragged myself out for a reluctant three mile run earlier – reluctant because I wanted to run further, but stopped myself. The fact that I did this is a good example of a time that I listened to my body. But really, the fact that I ran at all shows a complete disregard for it. I shouldn’t have run, I should have cross-trained instead (I could have easily cycled). My injury has been threatening to flare up again, and with a 10K race in three or four weeks I need to be careful that it doesn’t reach the point of me not being able to run.

Speaking of racing, I finally cut up all of my race t-shirts yesterday. It’s something I’d been meaning to do for a while. They were taking up so much space in my drawer, but I didn’t want to throw them out because each one holds a little memory for me. I have a ritual now, after every race. I keep the medal, if there is one. I keep the race number. And I keep the t-shirt. Anyway, to solve the problem I came up with the idea of cutting out a little square and keeping it, then perhaps sewing them together to make a continuous quilt or blanket. So I grabbed them out of the drawer, and hacked away at them all until I had a little collection of fabric squares.

Two years’ worth of races, condensed into a tiny little collection in the middle of my living room floor. It doesn’t do them justice, really. The effort that went into each race was so immense. And they all hold such unique memories.

The 2010 Kildare half marathon was my first ever race. I had already signed up for the Great North Run in September, despite never having run outside (at that point I was still only up to an hour of running at a time on the treadmill). When my dad and brother (experienced runners) started talking about doing the Kildare race together, I got jealous and wanted to join in too. They weren’t sure – I would only have been running for four months (three if you don’t count the treadmill runs). It seemed ambitious. But I had a new-found determination and drive since beginning the recovery journey, and nothing seemed impossible. So I signed up.

Three months later and there I was, toeing the start line with butterflies wreaking havoc with my stomach and my mind full of self-doubt. I had a target time of under two hours, but secretly I wanted to do it in under 1:55. The gun went off, but it was a while before I started running as I was starting the race mid-pack. We shuffled along until my group reached the start line and then off we went. I picked up the pace, but cautiously. I had heard about what happened to people who went out too fast, and I was determined to play it safe.

A few miles in and I began to settle into it. The nerves dissipated and I just focused on putting one foot in front of the other. The further I ran the greater my pride became. I began to reflect on my journey from that first run to where I was now. Mere months beforehand I was struggling with an eating disorder. I was abusing my body, and I was miserable. And now here I was, powering along with strength in my legs and a smile on my face. As I reached the final third of the race tears stung my eyes and I relished every single step that I took as I ran further and further away from the ED. That was how I saw it. I was running towards recovery.

I crossed the line in 1:53:54. I had done it. Not only had I completed a half marathon having only been running a matter of months, I had done it in a time that, although I was aiming for it, I didn’t quite believe I could manage.

One year later, and I lined up again at the start of the 2011 race. A whole year had passed. A year further along in recovery, and strength gained both emotionally and physically. This time there was a different atmosphere. I wasn’t soaking up the camaraderie, I wasn’t shuffling along mid-pack. I fought my way towards the front and when the gun went off I was one of the first few to cross the start line. This time I didn’t merely run; I raced.

I finished in a time of 1:31:05, the second female to cross the line. I was immediately met by a presenter from Kildare TV, who promptly held a microphone in front of my face and started interviewing me! One year later, and I had taken over 20 minutes off my time. Right before I stepped on the podium to collect my medal and prize, my dad finished the full marathon. He had run it in a time of 3 hours and 53 minutes, his first marathon at the age of 63. We hugged, tears welling up in both of our eyes.

The same race, two years apart. Such different experiences, but both wonderful and joyful in their own ways.

Running has taken on a different meaning for me in the last year. It began as a simple hobby that I wanted to improve at, but never expected to excel in. I was happy to run in the middle of the pack during races. I never imagined that I would be starting near the front. I never knew that I would actually be good at it. And now, when I race, I am not aiming to simply finish. I am aiming to win. It almost scares me, when I stand on the start line with thousands of others, that my goal of finishing in the top three or five women is completely realistic. M used to joke with me prior to every race, saying ‘Make sure you win!’. These days he says the same thing, but now he means it. And when I call him up and announce my position, which this year has never been less than fourth, his surprise has begun to fade and what used to seem ridiculous is now almost expected of me.

I am so lucky to be in this position, to have found something that I am good at and enjoy doing so much. And of course, I enjoy the fact that I have a talent. It is a source of pride for me.

But I will always remember that first race. It didn’t matter how good I was. I wasn’t comparing myself to others. In many ways, I was more a winner then than I am now. Because every time I ran, I felt that I had won. And it certainly felt that way during the half marathon. I don’t know who won it, nor do I care. Because I won that day too. I won my own battle with an eating disorder. I would not have been able to run that far, or that fast, without taking care of my body and eating properly. Every single mile of that race was a little victory.

I don’t get that so much these days, as recovery becomes more routine. I sometimes forget to celebrate the little wins. And I think it’s important to try and recognise these. However routine it might seem to get up, eat breakfast, wait until I’m hungry and then eat lunch, I need to celebrate my ability to do so. Because I have ten years of abuse to make up for. For every time that I starved myself, or purged, or cut, or had a negative thought about myself, I owe my body threefold. For every meal I denied myself, I should celebrate a meal provided. For every time I pushed myself in the gym for three hours without food, I should celebrate my ability to refuel adequately after a run. For every time I ate beyond my body’s natural limit and purged, I deserve to celebrate my ability to recognise when I am full and stop eating.

All of these things are so routine to most people, and it’s easy to forget that once upon a time they were missing from my life. But I don’t want to forget. Because then I might take these moments for granted. And I want to savour every delicious bite, every lovely feeling of just-enough, every strong, fast run that I couldn’t have done without that big filling breakfast. These tiny little moments happen every day, and while they go unnoticed to most people, I am lucky enough to know what life was like without them. Consequently, I am able to appreciate life in a much fuller and richer way for it.

In my world, every meal should be like the end of the race. I finish it smiling, and someone hangs a medal around my neck. Everyone is clapping and smiling, and congratulating me. And sometimes, after a particularly tough meal or having worked through a difficult patch in my recovery, I even get a trophy. Imagine! It would be a little crazy and impractical if that was the case. But it doesn’t stop me from having my own little celebration every time I successfully fight my eating disorder. I’m going to make a mental note, the next time I successfully listen to my body or beat my ED in some way, to take a moment to hand myself a metaphorical medal and appreciate how far I’ve come.

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