Thursday, January 13, 2011

Desensitizing Triggers: Recovering in the Real World

I know that most of us in the blog community try to be respectful to our readers by not posting information that could trigger bad behavior or encourage relapse, such as specific weight, caloric content/consumption, etc. But what about the real world? How do we avoid being triggered then?

I've learned that the world doesn't understand eating disorders, much less what it takes to recover from one. If you turn on the television, open a magazine, or log onto your internet connection, it doesn't take long to see why. Almost every commercial is a weight loss how-to guide. People who have never had eating disorders are encouraged to lose weight and are made to feel horrible about their bodies regardless of what size they are. If even people without eating disorders are feeling the pressure, how do you think that makes us feel? How are we supposed to handle that?

I watched television this morning while eating breakfast. Halfway through my english muffin, a Special K commercial came on. Of course, it's about weight loss. At the end the woman asked, "What will you gain when you lose?"

Wait, what? Think about that.

What will you gain when you lose? It made me want to spit my breakfast out. It made me feel horrible. It made me feel guilty for eating, for not losing weight, for not gaining something. The truth is I don't need to lose anything. If I lost weight I would gain nothing. In my case it should have said, What will I lose when I lose? Everything.

But the commercial wasn't meant for me. Luckily, I was able to realize this and I continued eating my breakfast. I realize I'm not their target market, but that doesn't matter. Triggers are everywhere. Society wasn't created to tiptoe around people in recovery. Our only option is to try to think with clarity.

A few years ago, when my eating disorder was much worse, I wouldn't have been able to ignore the commercial and continue eating my breakfast. About two years ago, I worked with a guy who flirted with all the female employees, especially me. It was annoying but I ignored him for the most part. One day in the break room, everyone discussed my food choices and eating habits as if it were their business. People said things like,

"I've never seen her eat."

"She doesn't eat anything. She works through lunch breaks."

"She's vegan so she only eats lettuce."

And then the flirt chimed in.

"Look at those hips. Obviously she's eating something."

Of course he meant it as a compliment. To him, like many men, hips are attractive. To me, they were the enemy. Naturally my eating disorder took his comment and ran with it. My entire life, even at my lowest and highest weight and every weight in between, I've always had a small waist and larger hips/thighs/bottom. Some people call it an hourglass figure. My eating disorder wouldn't let me see it as anything but fat.

Since my recovery began, I've been placed in countless situations like the one above. Each time I have been triggered by the outside world, my first reaction was to let my eating disorder take over. "Okay, obviously I'm fat so, I'll go back to not eating."

In reality, I was using these triggers as an EXCUSE to act out the eating disordered behavior I was otherwise trying to suppress. I was allowing myself to wallow, to regress, to give in to my eating disorder even though I knew better. At that stage in my recovery, I knew better. It's like a little kid. His parents can tell him not to do something, the kid knows he isn't supposed to do it, but the minute his parents aren't looking, he does it anyway. We cannot be that kid. We have to hold ourselves accountable. We have to respect ourselves enough to not allow ourselves to do the wrong thing. More than that, we have to respect ourselves enough to make sure we do the right thing.

As I finished my breakfast, another commercial came on. This one was for mini babybel cheese. It's the one where the girl is in the mall passing out samples of this cheese to shoppers. One shopper is carrying a newly purchased dress. The babybel girl gives her some cheese and says something like, "Do they have that dress in my size... which is... size awesome."

It's a silly commercial, but there was something so strangely empowering about this lady saying she's size awesome. I like that. My mother always told me to dress the body you were given. Be the size that you are. It doesn't have to be the size of the person next to you, the one in the magazine. Just be you.

It reminds me of my favorite little vignette in The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.

They are the only ones who understand me. I am the only one who understands them. Four skinny trees with skinny necks and pointy elbows like mine. Four who do not belong here but are here. Four raggedy excuses planted by the city. From our room we can hear them, but Nenny just sleeps and doesn't appreciate these things.

Their strength is secret. They send ferocious roots beneath the ground. They grow up and grow down and grab the earth between their hairy toes and bite the sky with violent teeth and never quit their anger. This is how they keep.

Let one forget his reason for being, they all droop like tulips in a glass, each with their arms around each other. Keep, keep, keep, trees say when I sleep. They teach.

When I am too sad and too skinny to keep keeping, when I am a tiny thing against so many bricks, then it is I look at trees. When there is nothing left to look at on this street. Four who grew despite concrete. Four who reach and do not forget to reach. Four whose only reason is to be and be."


  1. So true! Everyone around me seem to be trying to lose weight or on some new diet.... But they forget the real cause of obesity-emotional issues and people not listening to their bodies and giving them what they need.

    It's hard to get away from but like you said the commercial just isn't for us - we know better than to believe what those commercials are selling!!

    You are a size AWESOME!! <3

  2. Yessss I hate that commercial!! And how people think that they'll be so much more confident if they lose weight. They should be confident already! Weight loss and looks should have nothing to do with confidence. Thanks for posting this,(:

  3. I used to have the exact same thought about my figurine (same as yours) and I thought oh my gosh, this is fatfatfatfatfat! And no matter how hard I tried to follow what my ED was telling me to do ... my hips remained the same...and unchanged.

    Then I realized...(later down when I was no longer battling severe ED sickness) wait, my hips are not's just bone, and it is how my body is. No matter how much I lose..I will still have those hips and small waist.

    It was validating when I read your comment about your feeling.

    I am glad you shared this post today because it is what I have been noticing lately and wondering how to prevent them from triggering my ED.

    Great post.

  4. This was a beautiful post. So thoughtful and provacative. You are a great writer!
    I just had like 6 AHA moments while reading this. Its amazing how you have progressed things are getting easier for me to handle but the comments (you knpw which ones I mean) are starting to come in and I am not perfect and I need to "Not be that kid" My favorite so far was two days involved the phrase "putting some meat on your bones" (<---hkgfkytfytfyitf76t586!!!) in a "high five" complimentary way.

    Society is not curtailed for ED recovery so - yes- when you are thin people feel entitled to talk about your food and body ...sad but true. I am off to go google that book now.

  5. hello, I've been following you for not long ago and I have found here a glimmer of truth here.
    is so refreshing to know that someone wants to recover and fight for it.
    I leave a recommendation for you: do not look at the television while you're eating. is found it difficult to digest and obviously the quality of programs and commercials that go on television are bad and lead us to believe anything they need us to belive to sell us products and other things that do not serve us. I know that sounds exaggerated but try listening to classical music while eating and see what I mean.

    I leave you a kiss and good luck with everything

    --Excuse my bad english--



  6. Wow, I'm so glad I found your blog. I've had anorexia for two years now but have been in recovery for about a year and a half. Of course that doesn't mean that I'm recovered--I still think I'm fat sometimes and consider restricting again when I hear these triggers. For me, it feels strongest when one of my family members says something about my body that isn't saying I'm fat but to me, it sounds like they are. Or, if I eat more than usual, and someone comments, I feel like a failure. But I know that I need to keep eating.

  7. This was so beautiful blog. Thanks for sharing this informative post. Keep it up.