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Posts Tagged ‘progress’

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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Someone from a wonderful, supportive online community that I am a member of responded to a post I had written about the progress I had made in recovery. In her response, she indicated that at times she had been a little worried because my behaviour had perhaps seemed less recovery-oriented than it should have done. But I insisted I was fine, so she didn’t say anything. And she suggested that maybe it was just a necessary step that I had to take.

Writing a response to her, I was really able to think things through and gain more clarity on the issue. What I wrote came off the top of my head but I think it explains where I am, and how I got here, quite succinctly. So I’ve copied and pasted it here… because why rewrite something that came from such an honest place?

 

I think it was a necessary step. And I was fine, absolutely. Sometimes I wasn’t eating quite enough for my own body’s needs (considering the level of exercise), but what I was eating was probably what most people eat during the day. The excessive control meant that I didn’t indulge as much as I do now, or if I did I put way too much thought into it. It didn’t come naturally. But day to day, I was enjoying food, eating plenty of it, cooking healthy meals and feeling a kind of freedom that I had never experienced in adulthood.
But you start to want more. When I first started to recover, I was pleased with myself if I managed to eat three meals and healthy snacks. Just basic stuff. If I got up, and regardless of how I felt or what the scale said, I ate breakfast. That gave me a sense of pride. After a while, the pride wore off. It became routine. It wasn’t enough just to eat three meals. I got good at doing that, and so I had to take it a step further.

That’s all recovery has ever been, and at no point do I think I could have done any better. I have been completely aware of where I am at all times. When I was being too rigid, I knew it. But I had no choice. It was where I needed to be. It was the stepping stone between completely disordered and completely healthy. Well, there are many stepping stones along that path and I’m still somewhere in between the two, although a lot nearer to completely healthy.

I got to the point where I was learning to indulge without feeling guilty (although I actually started in recovery that way…not feeling guilty, enjoying little indulgences…but when the novelty of recovery wore off, I let some of the old guilt creep in). And then I was still so reliant on the scale. But I managed to break free of the calorie counting. And I needed the scale still there. Reassurance.

Well I guess now I’ve taken another step along the path and don’t need the scale anymore. Or I’m learning not to. I’ve had two years to play around with my body and what it needs. I’ve dropped weight, I’ve gained a little and now I think I have a good, intuitive grasp of what it needs to maintain considering the training that I do (when I’m not injured). I think recovery is different for everyone. Maybe some people go straight into not weighing themselves, not counting calories…just like that. I couldn’t. At times I felt like maybe I should have been stricter with myself. Thrown the scale away.

But I think I was right to trust myself. Because I feel like I’m getting to a point where I can do that, naturally. I’m outgrowing the eating disorder. It doesn’t fit who I am anymore, and I’m shedding that old skin. And I’m doing it at a pace that feels right. There are a lot of changes that you go through in recovery, inside and out. Those inner changes can’t be rushed. And I feel totally comfortable with the pace that my recovery is going at.

I have felt very stuck at times, and wondered if I was actually making progress. Particularly because I couldn’t understand why, if my attitude was so pro-recovery and I was adamant that weight and calories didn’t matter, I couldn’t stop relying on those numbers. And now I know that I was always making progress. It just happened in tiny steps. Or in big steps, followed by periods of standstill.

I woke up this morning, and I looked at my scale. The temptation was there, but I knew I wouldn’t weigh myself. It just didn’t seem important. I know I ate plenty, but not too much, yesterday. My body has no reason to gain weight. I have no reason to seek reassurance.

I’m trying to decide whether to buy a bag of (vegan!) sweets from the deli before I head to the library. My healthy alternative is grapes. I do grapes by the box. They’re awesome snack food. Particularly when you’re working and want something to nibble on. And the dilemma is between the sweets that I really do quite fancy, and something healthier considering how much ‘unhealthy’ (for the body…but good for the soul!) food I’ve been eating over Christmas.

This dilemma is not characterised by feelings of guilt and anxiety. Whether I choose the sweets or the fruit has no bearing on my worth as a human being.

I’m simply wondering what to do, quite casually and without great emotion. This is the kind of dilemma that would have caused great stress once upon a time.

I’m so pleased to start the year feeling like I’ve made a big leap in recovery.

 

Her reply to this was, ‘Here’s to wanting more’. And it really struck a chord with me. Because that is the key to recovery, is it not? Wanting more. Realising that although you could carry on living with an eating disorder, and hiding from your problems through food, actually you want more from life. You don’t want to live the shadow of who you are, the pale reflection of your authentic life. You want the real thing. You want to taste, smell, feel again. You don’t want to be numb anymore.

And when you get started on recovery, it’s wanting more that keeps you going. So I could have stopped once I got to a stage where I was eating regularly and not purging. My body was sufficiently healthy again. I wasn’t experiencing the inner turmoil that my eating disorder had previously caused. But again, I wanted more. And so, through all of the hard times and the days and weeks where it felt like my journey was slowing down, my recovery stagnating, it was wanting more that kept me inching along.

And so I have entered the new year by almost accidentally achieving a goal in recovery that a few months ago felt near impossible. I have stopped weighing myself. And not through sheer willpower. I haven’t had to battle with myself to avoid the scale. I’ve just arrived at this point naturally. The desire to be free has outweighed (sorry for the pun!) my need for reassurance and control. That number no longer seems relevant to my life.

The eating disorder is no longer relevant to my life. It’s not who I am anymore.

And that is a delightful, beautiful, gratifying thing to be able to say with total honesty. I wanted more, and that is what I got. That’s what true self-respect is – when you recognise that you deserve more than you’re giving yourself, and you set out to achieve it.

I like to think that this will be a theme for 2012. Not settling for second best, not coasting along on one level when I know I’m capable, and deserving, of reaching so much higher.

 

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Starter: Mezze platter (for two to share). Consists of bread, hummus, cous cous, falafel, olives, sweet potato crisps and salad. Shared with my nephew but ate more than half myself.

Main course: Kerala Curry. Huge portion. With pear chutney and more cous cous.

Side dish: Chips, to share.

Dessert: Blueberry crumble with vegan ice cream.

 

So I just got back from the meal. To say that I’m full would be an understatement. Bursting at the seams is more like it. The portions are generous, and I have a large appetite.

Or do I? I desire a lot of food, but is it my brain that craves it or my stomach? If I’m honest with myself, I was full after half the starter. I had reached the stage of discomfort three quarters of the way through the main course. By the time dessert came my stomach had reached its capacity and food was instead settling halfway up my esophagus.

I forced it down because it tasted good. I did manage to stop rather than finishing my main course because I recognised that I was no longer hungry. However, ordering dessert after this was pure greediness.

I make no apologies for that greed either. I enjoyed the meal and I don’t feel guilty about it. But I do wonder if I will ever learn to enjoy a meal without eating beyond the point of satisfaction. As I changed into more comfortable clothes, I caught a glimpse of my stomach in the mirror. It looked visibly overstuffed. I began to have a few negative thoughts about myself. “Why must you always do this?” I thought. “Why can’t you just eat a normal amount? Why can’t you control yourself?”

This negativity is counter-productive. I recognise that now. For many years I thought that the way to make changes to my behaviour was to subject myself to a barrage of self-criticism and anger. I would tell myself, “You’re a worthless piece of shit, you’re useless, you can’t do anything right!” And the more I participated in unhealthy behaviours, the louder these criticisms became.

Recovery meant learning a new way of doing things. When I struggled to make changes to my behaviour I continued to ask myself why, but this time the questions came from a place of curiosity and compassion. They weren’t rhetorical questions that were designed to insult; I was genuinely seeking to discover the reasons for my behaviour.

When I recognised the negative feelings I was having towards myself earlier this evening, I decided to turn it around and look at the situation from a positive angle.

First of all, I am not the only person in the world who overeats at restaurants or on special occasions. In fact, it is so common that if I retained complete control over myself during these times I would most likely be in the minority. So while it might not be a healthy thing to do, it certainly doesn’t make me abnormal or deserving of self-criticism.

Secondly, rather than thinking of myself as a failure and framing the situation in such negative terms, perhaps it would be helpful to identify which aspects of my behaviour I am unhappy with and would like to change, and set some little goals for the future. Instead of calling myself fat or useless and worrying about the family meal I have to attend tomorrow (“You’ll fail at controlling yourself then too”), I could see it as an opportunity to improve upon today. This way I can turn every potentially negative food experience into a lesson to be learned, and a chance to work out what I’m doing well at and where I might be able to do better.

So. Which aspects of the evening went well? What do I feel happy with? Well, I didn’t allow calories to factor into my decisions when ordering the food. I looked at the menu, and chose what I wanted the most. When my starter came, I shared plenty of it around the table (I ordered the platter to share because I couldn’t decide between two starters that I wanted, and both of these came with the platter). I found out that the bread was vegan and had two small pieces. I could have easily eaten more but chose not to. During the main course, I began to feel full and chose to stop eating and leave some. I also left some chips and olives despite the fact that they weren’t going to be eaten by anyone else. I chose to order a dessert and felt no guilt about doing so.

That’s what went well. So what am I unhappy about? Despite sharing plenty of the platter with other people, I still ate too much. I allowed myself to eat until I was nearly full, which is only natural seeing as I was hungry when the food arrived. But instead of identifying what a reasonable amount of food would be so that I would feel satisfied yet still hungry enough for the main course, I just ate carelessly. As a result, it took very little of the main course to fill me up. Despite this, I continued to eat to the point of discomfort. I then ordered a dessert on top of this. By the time I finished it (I ate the whole thing) I felt a little sick and couldn’t drink all of my coffee because there just wasn’t room in my stomach.

In light of this, what could I have done differently? I don’t regret ordering the food that I chose, including the dessert. But there is no doubt that I would be unable to finish all of those dishes without pushing my stomach beyond its natural capacity. If I had set aside a little of everything from my starter to begin with, I could have enjoyed tasting each of the foods without filling myself up by trying to finish them off. Then, when the main course came, I would still have been hungry. Had I also spent some time assessing the portion size before starting to eat I would have realised that there is no way I could fit all of it comfortably in my stomach. I could have worked out what a reasonable amount would be and eaten that first. If, after taking my time and savouring the flavours, I still felt hungry (stomach-hunger, not brain-hunger) I could have eaten more. I knew that I would want a dessert at the beginning of the meal, and so with this in mind I could have eaten a little less of everything to ensure I had room. When the dessert arrived, I could have gone through the same process as the main course – identifying a reasonable portion and consuming this before deciding if I still wanted more.

With this in mind, what goals would I like to set for tomorrow? I am visiting my parents’ house to give my dad his birthday presents and cake, before attending a barbecue that a relative of M’s is having. At my mum and dad’s house the obvious worry is the chocolate cake that I will probably feel guilty about eating. Considering that we will be attending the barbecue straight after, it would be wise to limit myself to a tiny taste of the cake so that I can enjoy it without spoiling my appetite. I don’t know what foods will be available for me at the barbecue, but from previous experiences I know it is likely that they will provide me with a larger quantity of food than I need to feel satisfied. I also know that I will be tempted to eat too much, especially as his family are all big eaters themselves. My goal is to take a step back when presented with any food and identify a reasonable portion size rather than diving straight in. I am unlikely to require more than one serving of anything, so another goal is to consume only one plate of food, even if I am offered more.

This may all seem like a great deal of analysis over something as simple as a family meal. And one could argue that there is nothing wrong with stuffing yourself on the odd occasion. Everyone does it, right?

I agree, to an extent. There  is also nothing wrong with getting drunk on the odd occasion. But if you are an alcoholic, then even one drink is too much. As someone who is in recovery from an eating disorder, I have to take greater care in these situations than others who have never had problems with food. It might be fine for them to overeat, but for me it causes anxiety and damages my ability to remain in tune with my body’s needs.

Pre-recovery, had I returned from the meal feeling as full as I do now, I would almost certainly have spent the evening purging. If not, I would have been sitting here focusing intensely on how uncomfortable I was feeling. Either way I would have been consumed by negative, angry thoughts.

Mid-recovery, I find that I am still prone to such thoughts. Except now I am able to recognise that they are unhelpful and channel them into something positive. Writing this has given me a focus for all of that potentially negative energy and allowed me to identify the areas in which I could still make progress. And I have approached myself with love and respect throughout.

See, that’s progress in itself.

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