Guest Author: Ashley Voeller

Hi everyone! My name is Ashley Voeller, and I am Miss St. Charles County 2020. I am a student at the University of Missouri studying to be a registered dietitian. I am extremely passionate about food and am so excited to be collaborating with my fellow sister-queen Amanda on this blog! After reading this one, head over to my page at www.astrongergeneration.com to check out the blog Amanda wrote for me! 
I will be answering some great questions Amanda asked me about my future career path and how that relates to NEDA week. Let’s get started! 

Q: Why is NEDA week important to you?

A: When I landed on nutrition as my major, I had no idea where I wanted to go with it in the future. I began listening to podcasts, watching YouTube videos, and doing some reading to figure out a little more about the field of dietetics and where I could go upon graduation. I have always been interested in helping people and learned that there was a need for dietitians who could work with eating disorders specifically. I ended up taking a class on eating disorders as my professional elective last semester, and that’s what solidified my desire to work with eating disorders specifically when I graduate. 

Q: Why is diet culture so toxic, and why is dieting so dangerous?

A: This question is so important to talk about! Many people don’t understand just how much our current culture of dieting affects us mentally and physically. Diet culture is toxic because it feeds people the idea that they aren’t good enough unless they are restricting themselves from what our body needs desperately-food! This is SO UNTRUE! Because of this, many people find themselves severely undereating, which can lead to nutrient deficiencies that can cause serious long-term consequences. To counter toxic diet culture, I want to leave you with this; dieting is dangerous because it puts you in an endless cycle of unease around food. You start the latest diet trend just to fall off of it in a month, which leaves you feeling even more hopeless and stuck than when you started. Rather than wasting our energy restricting our bodies from having essential nutrients like carbohydrates and fat, we should be spending that energy finding out what foods fuel our bodies best and make us feel amazing both physically and emotionally. 

Q: For someone who has never heard of it, how would you describe intuitive eating and why it’s important?

A: Intuitive eating is essentially defined as this: eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. But it’s so much more than that! I actually wrote an entire post on this for my blog, which I highly encourage you to check out if you have an interest in learning about intuitive eating. This is a way of eating that has no “food rules” and strives to help you develop a healthy relationship with food and your body. I practice intuitive eating daily, and I believe it is important because it can completely transform your mindset around food and what your body really needs to keep itself going throughout the day. Here’s a little hint- it’s probably more food than many of you may think! 

Q: What would you recommend as a first step to finding food freedom?

A: Speaking from experience, I truly believe the first step to finding food freedom is letting go of all self-expectations. We are taught by society that we have to be the most productive, most “healthy” (which, by the way, does not have a specific look), or most accomplished person out there to be worthy of happiness, affection, and love. But what really traps us is letting these false ideals become expectations for ourselves. Once you decide you want freedom from food anxiety, you must release your white-knuckled grip on all of your mind’s ideas of what you have to do to make yourself “enough”. Reaching this point may take extensive help from others and utilizing many different resources, but you will not find food freedom until you find self-freedom in knowing you are enough just the way you are. 

Q: What would you say to someone struggling with an eating disorder who is scared of seeing a dietitian?

A: THEY ARE ON YOUR SIDE!!! It is perfectly understandable to be nervous about seeing a healthcare provider to aid in recovery from your eating disorder, especially a dietitian whose entire job is to look at your food intake and make suggestions to change it. But contrary to popular thought, dietitians want to help you not just with the food you are physically eating but with your attitude concerning it. If you are beginning recovery from an eating disorder and are on the fence about seeing a dietitian, please consider making an appointment with someone who has a history working with eating disorders and giving them a chance. You might be surprised! 

Q: What stereotype about dietitians do you want to break?

A: Oh my goodness, there are so many! But if I had to pick just one, it would be that they eat a “perfect” diet everyday. First off, it is so important to realize that there is no one way of eating that is “optimal”.  It’s different for everyone based on what foods they enjoy, caloric/nutrient needs, and what is available to them! I have spoken with many dietitians about what their daily food intake looks like, and I can say confidently that it varies tremendously depending on personal preference and convenience. As a current dietetics student, many times I eat what is most convenient to get me out the door and to class quickly. Sometimes that looks like a chicken salad, and other times it’s pizza! A common misconception is that dietitians are the food police, when in actuality they are just normal people who love food and chose to make it their career!

Q: Where do you see yourself after graduation?

A: I LOVE this question! I am on track to graduate with my Master’s degree in dietetics in May of 2024, and plan to move somewhere like Colorado, Chicago, or St. Louis to work at an inpatient eating disorder treatment facility. Although I love studying food and nutrition, I am definitely chomping at the bit to dive headfirst into my career and help change lives by teaching what I am passionate about! 

I hope you have enjoyed this blog and learned something beneficial and thought-provoking. I love food and want as many people as possibly to embrace the idea that you can be released from food anxiety and find freedom in nourishing your body! You can find me on Instagram @missstcharlescounty2020 or on Facebook: Miss St. Charles County 2020. Thanks Amanda for letting me write for your page, I love having you as a sister-queen and fellow intuitive eating friend! 

2020 Year in Review

“When you look back, remember how you stood so bravely in the face of uncertainty, the times you held on through the darkest moments, and each minute you’ve picked yourself up, weary and tired, to take another step. Remember how resilient you have been through it all.” – @stacieswift

If you’ve been following me for awhile, you know that I love reflecting, and I love lists! I decided to do my own version of a “Year in Review” found on pretty much every app now. While 2020 had a lot of negatives for all of us, I’m going to point out something I learned in each month of the year.

January – January started with one of the biggest surprises. I was crowned Miss Spirit of St Louis! I had done a few pageants with no luck, and was simply competing for more practice. Winning this pageant was so much more about the crown and sash. This was something I had wanted for so long and worked so hard for. I had to take a whole year off of pageants because I was too sick with my eating disorder. Being strong enough to compete was already a win for me. In my private interview with the judges, I got to showcase my true self, sharing my story of recovery and my passion for mental health awareness. That is why I compete – it is another way to get my story out there. My heart was already so full by the end of the day, I was sure it was going to explode when they called my name! 

February – February started a new journey I was not too excited about. My therapist of over a year was leaving for maternity leave. Of course I was happy for her and wanted her to have plenty of time with her baby, but I also hate change. Starting over with a new therapist is one of the hardest things to do. Luckily my therapist caught up the fill in therapist so I didn’t have to go through my whole story again. I saw her once and felt nervous, but hopeful. Then the office closed due to Covid, and we switched to virtual appointments. Someone who already felt like a stranger was now hidden behind a screen. We did our best and I’m thankful for the time I had with her, but I was relieved when my therapist came back a few months later! 

March – I had big plans for the month of March! (I’m sure you did too.) I was supposed to go to Chicago over Spring Break to visit one of my friends. In addition to celebrating my 21st birthday in one of my favorite cities, I was going to speak at Timberline Knolls about my recovery journey. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate one year of recovery, so you can imagine how upset I was when everything had to be canceled due to Covid. I was trying to be optimistic and told myself I could just reschedule for the summer when everything would be back to normal (ha!) 

April – Like most of you, April was not very exciting. I spent many hours on Zoom, attempting to pay attention. Going to college is hard. Going to college during a pandemic is even harder! This month taught me to appreciate my professors for how hard they worked to make the end of the semester successful. None of us wanted things to be the way they were, but we made the best of it. This turned out to be a theme in 2020….

May – Once the semester was over, I started diving into my Choose Harmony work. I decided to start my Wellness Weekly newsletter as another way to share what I’ve learned in my mental health journey. I also created a video about my mental health advocacy work for a contest. I was pretty upset when I didn’t win, but I had to remind myself that my work has nothing to do with winning. When I started sharing my story almost 2 years ago, I said that if I helped even one person, then it was all worth it. 

June – While the world was still pretty locked down, I was trying to find ways to stay engaged and take advantage of online connections. I was honored to speak twice for Timberline Knolls this month. I was featured on a Zoom call with TK alumni to share my story and answer questions. This is what I was supposed to do in March. Even though it was through Zoom, it made my heart full to help the place that helped me so much. A few days after that I joined my friend Kirsten for an Instagram Live on TK’s page. We talked about diet culture and myths society forces. Leading up to these events, I was pretty worried. Quarantine had been rough and I didn’t know if I would have enough to say. Luckily the words came, and it gave me some strength to keep going. 

July – In July, the quarantine blues really started to get to me. Some days I could barely get out of bed, which is not ideal when you need to eat six times a day! After much debate from my entire treatment team, I decided to start antidepressants. I don’t really know why I was so against them, but I fought them for a while. Although I still don’t love taking medicine every day, I look at it as another life experience I have to share with others. Taking medication does not make you weak, it shows how strong you really are. 

August – After being at school for just a few weeks, I got the news that my Dad passed away. I spent the next 10 days at home with my family. Although burying my Dad was the hardest thing we have had to do, the time we spent together that week was precious. As I went back to school, I gave myself more grace than I ever have. My therapist told me that I need to give myself all the space in the world to grieve and recover from what happend. I started saying no to everything I didn’t have to do. I focused on school, family, and being with my roommates. This gave me a new outlook on the semester, and for once in my life, I allowed myself to just be. 

September – September was the first time I was actually quarantined due to a Covid exposure. I had only been back at school for a week, and was quarantined for most of September. I learned a lot during those three weeks in my dorm room. It was the perfect time to put into place my new plan of allowing myself to rest! My previous years at school I would be in class from 8-5, and fill the evenings with practice, clubs, and homework. During quarantine I finally learned how to enjoy free time and made it a priority from then on. 

October – After losing my Dad in August and spending a lot of September in quarantine, I wasn’t doing so hot. I was burnt out on my classes and struggling to find things to look forward to. I’m sure this is a feeling we all experienced this year with everything being canceled left and right. My therapist suggested I join a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy group. DBT is a type of therapy that focuses on mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. The group meets weekly to study all of the skills in depth. I decided to make this a priority in my life over everything else. I had to move and change a lot of things to make this happen, but I knew I needed to do it for my mental health. DBT has already benefitted me so much and I can’t wait to continue with the program.

November – A common theme in my recovery is for my team to suggest something, me to fight them for a few weeks, finally giving in, and then benefitting from the event just like they said I would. Well this happened again in November. I finally gave in to scheduling an appointment with a psychiatrist. Like I mentioned earlier, I started antidepressants in July, but they proved to be a continuous struggle for the months after. While I am still new at seeing a psychiatrist, I am hopeful it will be beneficial. It’s another thing I will have under my belt to share with others.

December – December was finally the break I needed. After school got out, I decided to really rest over Christmas break. I have always been focused on being as productive as possible. I worked some over break, but enjoyed time with my family and friends. I played a lot of Animal Crossing and had lots of Milo snuggles! When I look back on it, December was one of the best months of the year. There were no expectations or rules. I simply enjoyed life in the moment. I hope this is a new concept I can take into 2021. 

I hate the saying “New Year, New Me.” I know it is said with good intentions, but it applies that the “you” from this past year is wrong and you have to do better next year. While this year was pretty rough for all of us, I don’t want to get rid of me for someone “new and better.” I’m pretty proud of 2020 me and all she accomplished. I’m happy to take her into 2021 and continue to grow and learn. 

Going to Therapy is Cool

When I saw this shirt on a random Facebook ad, I knew I had to have it. If I’m passionate about anything, it’s that everyone should go to therapy. I firmly believe that everyone in the world would benefit from therapy at some point in their life. While some may need therapy for a longer period of time than others, there isn’t a person alive who wouldn’t benefit in some way. I am very open about the fact that I go to therapy, and will continue to share my experience in hopes of fighting the stigma against mental illness. 

I was not always an advocate for therapy. I went to my first therapist in college, and absolutely hated it. I think I only went twice, but I was convinced it wasn’t for me. A year or so later, my eating disorder was pretty bad and I knew I needed help. I decided to give it another shot, and hated it again. Being the perfectionist I am, I  was so frustrated at myself for being “bad at therapy.” I finally decided to go to a new therapist, and start over. I really tried to have an open mind and find someone that would be a good fit. After that first appointment, my entire perspective of therapy changed. I knew it was something I needed to make a priority in my life. 

As wonderful as therapy is, it is not easy. The hardest part is making the decision to start. Then the process of finding the right therapist can be lengthy and complicated. Insurance of course doesn’t make the process any easier. If you can push through the dreaded research, insurance claims, and assessment phone calls, it is absolutely worth it. Since starting therapy in 2018, I have had 5 different therapists and learned something crucial from each one.

One of the biggest hesitations with therapy is the world’s view that we can handle things on our own. I know when I was clearly sick, I was still convinced I didn’t need help and could fix it on my own. This couldn’t be further from the truth. We need people, we need each other. Friends and family are great resources, but therapists provide an objective view that you may not see. They are bursting at the seams with coping skills and advice. I go to therapy to learn skills to make me the best version of myself so I can be the most present for myself and others. 

In the beginning, I went to therapy to be fixed. I was ashamed of my mental illness, and was searching for anyone or anything that could just fix me in a session or two. Instead, through therapy, I learned that it was not me who was broken at all. I didn’t choose to have a mental illness. Nothing that I did, or would ever do, led me to my eating disorder. Living with mental illness is exhausting, and sometimes I get so wrapped up in it that it is hard to see myself apart from that. Through therapy, I have learned how much life there is outside of mental illness, and my therapist spends every week reminding me of that. She reminds me of the progress I have made and will continue to make. I could go on forever with the lessons I have learned from therapy. One hour a week keeps me on track and ready to face the next hurdle. It’s not like I leave each session with all of my problems solved, but I leave with a sense of relief knowing that we will get through it together. 

To my therapist (She reads my blog, because she’s cool like that):
Thank you. Thank you for meeting me wherever I am, every single week. Thank you for never being disappointed, and always being focused on what is best for me. Thank you for pouring in to me and never giving up on me, even when I want to give up on me.  Thank you for telling me what I need to hear, even if I don’t want to hear it. I will never forget the first appointment I had with you. I was at rock bottom, and starting with a new therapist was not high on my list of things to do. Nevertheless, I left that session feeling supported and seen, and that feeling has never left. Thank you for laughing with me, reminding me it’s ok to cry, and encouraging me to keep writing. You laughed when I said therapy was the best part of my week, but it’s 100% true. 

If you have ever considered going to therapy, do it. Therapy is not lying on a couch while your therapist takes notes on a legal pad behind a desk. Therapy is self care, a relationship, and a safe space. You don’t even need a reason to go. Everyone needs therapy and everyone needs to know that going to therapy is cool. 

Staying 6 Feet Away from Diet Culture

One of the biggest things I have noticed in my recovery is the presence of diet culture in the world. Diet culture is more than someone being on a diet. The best definition I could find is “Diet culture is a set of beliefs revolving around the idea that “thin” bodies are the most desirable, valuable, and “healthy.” Diet culture also conveys that eating a certain way is “good” or “bad” – and that a person’s worth increases when eating “healthy,” or when living in a small body.” 

Once you notice diet culture in our world, you realize just how prevalent it is. Everywhere I turn there is an ad for a new diet, or someone making a comment about how eating a certain food is bad and they should punish themselves. I’d love to shed some light on the biggest myths surrounding diet culture. 

Myth #1: Thin is better
Everyone knows that society prefers thin people. The media has been pushing unrealistic standards for women for as long as the media has existed. We are making progress, but there is still so much work to be done. You are worthy, no matter what size your body is. Your body will grow and shrink throughout your life, but your worth will never change. I have recently become passionate about “Health At Every Size” or “HAES”. HAES celebrates all bodies from all backgrounds, and focuses on the idea that someone can be healthy or unhealthy at every size. Thinner bodies are not always healthy and bigger bodies are not always unhealthy. Celebrate where your body is at. 

Myth #2: Sweets, Carbs, and Fats are bad
Timberline Knolls is focused on the idea that all foods fit. There are no bad foods or good foods, food is just food. This might be one of the most common lies that diet culture pushes (and probably the one that annoys me the most). Here’s the truth: your body receives necessary nutrients from EVERY FOOD YOU EAT. Take bread for example. Many diets recommend cutting out bread because it is high in carbs. Did you know that fruits have carbs too? The bottom line is your body doesn’t see food as bread or a banana. Your body sees it as a carbohydrate and is excited to use it as fuel. Carbohydrates are necessary for survival. Fats are necessary for survival. Even sugar is necessary for survival. Don’t fall into the trap that food is bad. Or even worse, never think that you are bad for eating something. Never apologize for fueling your body. 

Myth #3: Diets work!
Any food plan where you intentionally avoid certain foods is a diet. (Of course I’m not talking about food allergies.) Avoiding sugar, cutting carbs, and counting calories are all forms of dieting. And they are all harmful. Aside from restricting your body of vital nutrients, diets can have a negative affect on your mental health. I have seen so many people make themselves absolutely miserable just to lose a few pounds. Did you know that avoiding your body’s natural cravings make them worse? If you intentionally deprive your body of your favorite dessert, that makes the craving louder. Instead, eat what your body is craving and go on with your day. If diets were so successful, then they would work on the first try. There would be no need to jump on the new diet craze because it would’ve worked the first time. 

I decided this post was relevant now more than ever with the amount of “Quarantine 15” posts I’ve seen. What seems like a harmless joke to some can be incredibly triggering for those in recovery. We are in a global pandemic. Gaining a few pounds is the last thing we should be worrying about. If you gain weight during quarantine, you gain weight during quarantine. That’s it. Our bodies naturally shift throughout our lives, and that’s ok. Society has brainwashed us into believing that weight gain is bad. Your ideal body weight is whatever number you are at when you are living your must fulfilled, happiest life. Why are you letting a diet decide when that is? 

I could go on and on about the lies diet culture feeds us. Just because diet culture is everywhere, doesn’t mean you have to be a part of it. I used to be a slave to diet culture and it got me nowhere. Since breaking up with diet culture, yeah, I gained weight. But, I also gained confidence, freedom, and joy. I gained a life worth living, and that was worth every pound. I am worthy because of who I am as a person, and that has nothing to do with my appearance. I’m choosing to stay AT LEAST 6 feet away from anything that tries to tell me otherwise. And I hope you do too. 

How to Stay in Recovery While in Quarantine

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” – Helen Keller

What a weird time we are living in right now. The world is pretty chaotic, everyone is experiencing some kind of anxiety, and the fear of the unknown is overwhelming.

About a month ago, my university decided to transition to virtual learning for the rest of the semester. We were told to go home for Spring Break and we couldn’t come back. It didn’t seem real at first. Instead of preparing for our upcoming spring band tour, I was packing up my dorm room and saying goodbye to my favorite place. Like everyone, my mind was racing with what was going to happen next. I was devastated to be leaving school so soon. I was disappointed that more things kept getting canceled every day. I was curious about how to get a music degree online. But none of those things were my biggest worry. I was the most nervous about my recovery. 
Things were going really well at school. I was sticking to my meal plan, I had a steady schedule with my treatment team, I was about to hit my 1 year of recovery and I was feeling so strong.

Then, everything changed. And I wasn’t feeling so strong anymore.

Change and I don’t really get along. When I experience a lot of change in my life, my eating disorder loves to swoop in and take over. It tries to convince me that letting ED be in charge will create stability and give me a sense of control. Spoiler alert – that’s not what happens. 
Even though the world is falling apart, I decided I wasn’t going to fall with it. (Plus, my therapist is on maternity leave and I promised her I wouldn’t fall apart while she was gone.) This is just another bump in the path. A pretty big bump in everyone’s path, but like I have said before, recovery is not linear.

If you have been struggling with your recovery in this season, here are a few tips that I have found helpful for me.

1: Stay in close contact with your treatment team
Don’t be afraid to check in with your treatment team more often. I was seeing my team every few weeks or so, but now I am seeing them weekly. Of course it’s not the same through zoom, but they will still do everything they can to keep me on track. Their support is something that will never change. Although we have to isolate from each other right now, don’t isolate yourself from your recovery.

2: Plan ahead
Planning is everything. The more you can plan ahead, the less opportunity the eating disorder has to dive in and try to take control. When I was in school, I didn’t have to do a lot of meal planning. I went to the dining hall when it was open and ate what they served. Now that the structure is gone, I’m trying to recreate that as much as possible. Every night I look at my schedule for the next day and think about when and what I’m going to eat. My dietician and I have made a list of meals that fit my meal plan. Of course it is important to be flexible with food choices, but having a list ready when the decision seems too overwhelming is totally ok. Planning ahead can alleviate that anxiety that comes up in the moment with a tough decision.

3: Don’t Give in to Diet Culture
It is so hard to shift your mindset from non stop thinking about food, weight, and body when society is so focused on food, weight, and body. Right now everyone is talking about grocery stores, food supply, and being afraid of weight gain during the pandemic. One of my favorite Instagram accounts, @jennifer_rollin sums up my thoughts perfectly: “Weight gain is NOT something that you need to fear. If it happens, it happens. All that means is that you’ve gained weight, nothing else. But try not to blame your body for any shifts that may occur. Our bodies will change and shift many times throughout our lives – and this is ok. You’ve been brainwashed to believe otherwise.” Don’t give in to the brainwashing. When this is all over, you’re going to be thankful that you continued to fuel your body.

4: Prioritize Self Care
When this whole quarantine thing happened, I expected I would be really productive, because what else would I have to do? Being in a global crisis is actually pretty exhausting for everyone. We need more rest right now, and that’s ok. I have started planning out specific time for self care every day. I even made a list of my favorite self care activities so I would have something to choose from. If you’re not as productive as you normally are, it’s ok. Never apologize for taking care of yourself.

I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know how long we’re going to be living like this. I don’t even know what next week looks like. But I do know this: Recovery is a daily action. No matter what is going on in the world, I have to keep choosing harmony with my body every minute of every day. Why? Because recovery is worth it. I haven’t worked this hard to only come this far. I deserve to stay in recovery. And you do too.

Recovery is hard. Recovery during a pandemic is even harder. When this all began I was afraid it would ruin my recovery. Then I realized that every day in recovery is still a day in recovery, and that should be celebrated. Celebrate your victories every day, no matter how small they may seem.

I’m proud of you. God loves you. You got this.

Journals from TK: Week 4

“Recovery isn’t easy, at first. It takes time. It takes more work sometimes than you think you’re willing to do. But it is worth every hard day, every tear, every terrified moment. It’s worth it because the trade-off is this: you let go of your eating disorder, and you get back your life.” – Marya Hornbacher

Week 4 was so bittersweet. After the hardest weeks of my life, I was finally given a discharge date. I was excited to get back to CMU, but I was pretty nervous. I wasn’t ready to leave this new support I had built. I had no idea what the “outside world” was going to look like. I tried to cherish the last week and plan ahead as much as I could.

March 19 – Day 22: I’m going to Disney World! 
Ahh today was such a good day! 100% a good day. After breakfast I was pulled for therapy. It went really well! We talked about a discharge date. She approved Tuesday the 26th! She just had to make sure the rest of my team was on board. 
After snack I saw my aftercare planner and she gave me the news. I’M GOING TO DISNEY WORLD! I started crying. I’m so excited. ED has taken so many things away from me and 1 by 1 I am taking them back. And it feels amazing. 

March 20 – Day 23: God is good. 
Today was such a good day! I got up and went to the room I’ve been having bible study in. I wasn’t feeling super optimistic since my 1 faithful member left yesterday. Well guess what, 4 people came today! I was shocked. It went really well! What an amazing way to start the day. I asked the spirituality leader if we could get more bibles to have on lodge for girls to use. The next thing I knew, she showed up with 7 bibles! So cool. 
It’s so weird that these are my last times in these groups. It feels like I just got here! 
Tonight I went to Celebrate Recovery. I have really enjoyed it. I think a church in Fayette does their own CR. I’m definitely going to go. 
I never would’ve imagined I’d be giving spiritual guidance. Or leading a bible study. Or willingly praying out loud for people. But I am. And my heart is so full. 

March 21 – Day 24: I am beautiful. I am strong. 
What a day. A lot of emotions today. 
After morning snack I was stopped by a nurse who had a few questions for me, nothing crazy. But I saw her clipboard. With my weight. That’s when things started to go wrong. It took a few minutes to sink in. I told a BHS as soon as I could. And of course she was right there and she was amazing. She actually took me to the mirror in my room and made me say “I am beautiful and I am strong.” She said I was doing so well and she was so proud. 
Lunch was definitely affected by me seeing my weight. It was very hard, but I did it. I showed up, I almost finished. And that’s enough. 
Tonight I had a really good check in with my favorite BHS (as usual). She encouraged me that I’m ready to go home. She said I’ve worked so hard and come so far. And my weight doesn’t matter. I’m going to miss everyone here so much, it’s actually pretty sad. Mostly unreal. But I can do this. 

March 22 – Day 25: It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later. 
Ok I know that was a cheesy heading, but it’s all I got. This morning (and all day really) was pretty relaxed. After breakfast I had a session with my therapist. We talked more about discharge and all things with that. I think I’m ready. I see her again tomorrow, for the last time. I just keep thinking about how I’ll never see these people again. It’s so crazy. 
Lunch was food challenge day. I was able to challenge myself (with the help of the ED program lead). And I didn’t cry this time! Major growth from last week. 
A lot of my friends have left, which is sad. It doesn’t seem real that I’m leaving next. 3 more full days. Disney World, here I come! 

March 23 – Day 26: Surround yourself with people you love. 
I’m 20! Today was definitely not what I wished for my birthday, but it turned out wonderful. They put a sign on my door for my birthday, super cute. 
I met with my therapist for the last time, which was sad. We made a relapse prevention plan. She also got me a birthday card, how sweet is that?! I really will miss her. 
We discussed having a party for me, but I wasn’t really expecting anything. One of the BHS called me for a check in. We went to the back hallway and chatted. She told me her supervisor found out about the party and said we couldn’t have parties during group therapy times. I tried not to be dissapointed, it was unexpected that they would do anything. After we talked, I went to the big group room to watch a movie with everyone. It was a surprise party!! I cried. They decorated the whole room with toilet paper streamers and flowers. And the best part, a sign saying “It is your birthday,” like on the Office. Omg. So so cute. Everyone was there. We listened to music and danced around. It was full of so much joy and so much laughter. Earlier I was kind of bummed to spend my birthday here, but it turned out being really special. Everyone here has been so sweet and so welcoming and I know they really care about me. It’s going to be really different not being here, but I’m ready. 

March 24 – Day 27: A little laughter goes a long way 
Today was another good, chill day. 
Our group this afternoon was relapse prevention. I’ve done so much work to prevent relapse, but man it makes me nervous. But I’m trying to stay positive! 
After dinner I hung out with some of my friends, which was really fun. 
Tomorrow is going to be very tough. Tomorrow is the last day with my 2 favorite BHSes. I’m really going to miss this place. I’ve made so many memories and new friends that I’ll probably never see again, which is super weird. 

March 25 – Day 28: I did it. 
Today was my last full day at TK. I can’t believe it is already here. It went by so fast. I had a sense of sadness all day today. I woke up and led my last bible study. I hope God will continue to work in the lives of everyone who came to bible study. That was one of the biggest blessings of my whole time here. 
Everything today was the last time. I spent as much free time with my friends as I could today. 
At Christian Process Groups, someone suggested I start a blog. I might do that, we’ll see. 
Before I knew it, it was graduation. That was crazy. I remember watching graduation the first week and dreaming about when  that would be me. I did it. My heart was full. 
It’s just crazy to think about my first few meals here versus my last. That’s the progress right there. 
The hardest part was saying bye to my favorite BHS. I pushed it off as long as I could. We went into a group room for the last time and I just cried. She has done so much for me, it’s just so weird I’ll never see her again. We talked and then finally said goodbye. 
Well TK, it’s been real. 28 of the hardest days of my life. But also 28 of the most important. You can either choose to live at war or in harmony with your body.
Just for today, I choose harmony. 

Journals from TK: Week 3

You may not be where you want to be, but at least you’re not where you used to be.

Week 3 already! Since TK is so isolated, we would say that we lived in “TK time.” With no connection to the outside world, it was hard to even keep track of what day it was. I love having my day planned down to the hour, so it was quite the adjustment for me to not even know what time it was. Before I knew it, it was Week 3.

March 12 – Day 15: Don’t give up on yourself
I still didn’t feel super great this morning. That bleh feeling from yesterday was still there. That wasn’t fun. Lunch was ok. I ate everything, which put me at 100% completion for breakfast, snack, and lunch. And honestly, I felt ok about it. My mood has really improved since this morning. 
Another 100% at afternoon snack! At group at 4:00 we filled out menus for the next week. I was able to fill out all of them! That was a major improvement. I used to not even be able to fill them out by myself.
I didn’t restrict today. Let me write that one more time. I didn’t restrict today. Omg. Today started out so awful, but is ending so positively. Thank God.
I can do this. 

March 13 – Day 16: “You are glowing today”
And that’s exactly how I feel. Today was such a good day.
I saw the doctor today. She said I’m doing really well and she doesn’t need to see me anymore! And I can go off safety! (Some groups were spread out around the TK campus, and your health determined if you were able to walk or if you had to ride) I was so excited, like my entire day was made. And just in time, the weather is getting so nice! Then I saw my dietician. She said she is so proud and I’m doing a great job! Then I went to snack and knocked out another 100%. Heck yeah. 
My heart is so full. 100% meals and snacks today! Ahh! And ED urges are almost totally gone. I know they’re not gone forever, but omg I am so excited. 

March 14 – Day 17: Be proud of yourself
Another good day! Today was day 1 of starting a morning bible study. It was just me and one other girl, but it was good. Who would’ve guessed I would lead a bible study at 6:15 AM in rehab? Alright God, I see you. Then I got to lead Community meeting today! Man, I’ve led a lot of things this week. Ahh! I’m killing this whole recovery thing. For the first time I’m really starting to feel proud. I’m starting to value this feeling more than I value the feeling of restricting. ED voice is so quiet, it might even be gone (for now). Not permanent, but it might be temporarily shut up. Which is an amazing feeling. I think I could get used to this. I’m feeling more and more like myself every day and I am loving it. 

March 15 – Day 18: It’s ok to have a bad day. You’re human.
Today was hard. It started out ok though. Oh, I forgot the most interesting part of this morning. I woke up and we had a new roommate! She definitely wasn’t there when I went to bed. So that’s interesting. 
Today was food challenge day. This time was Chinese food. I knew just walking to the dining hall that it would be rough. We got there and I started to panic. I had gone a few days with little to no urges and it was amazing. But that Chinese food ruined it. Every thought and urge showed up at once and hit me like a truck. It was awful. Total panic. 
Today has sucked. I’m getting more and more homesick. I’m not sure anymore.

March 16 – Day 19: Other people’s reactions are not your fault. 
I was extra tired this morning. Breakfast was fine. I wouldn’t let myself eat 100% though. I skipped morning snack. Not good. 
I had a good session with my therapist. We unpacked a lot. I feel better. 
Lunch was better! I felt much more optimistic. Back to where I was (almost). 
Dinner went much better too! A 100%. I hope I’m back on track. I know there are going to be hard days, I just wish it wasn’t from extreme to extreme, like a little more stable. Rachel and Erika are coming tomorrow! I am so excited. It’s gonna be amazing to see them. 

March 17 – Day 20: Today was a good day and here’s why
Today was Rachel and Erika day! And it was amazing. As soon as I saw both of them I cried happy tears. My heart was so full. Their visit was perfect. I can’t wait to be back at school with everyone. 
I did feel pretty self conscious today. Weight gain is uncomfortable. But overall I don’t think I had any ED urges today, which is amazing. 
I did an entire 500 piece puzzle today in 3 hours. I am a party animal, let me tell you. 
My heart is full tonight. We’re planning my birthday party! I don’t know if it’s just talk or if it’s actually going to happen, but it’s fun to think about. I really think I’ll be ok having my birthday here. Overall, today was really, really good.

March 18 – Day 21: There’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
Breakfast was good, cinnamon rolls! I was actually hungry before breakfast. And not mad about it. Progress.
Lunch was actually really good! I had no trouble eating all of it. 
After dinner I decided to look at my theory textbooks. It took a little bit to get my brain thinking about music again, but it felt so amazing. It felt so good. 
Then I led ABA (Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous). I love leading that group! It just continues to spark my joy for starting my own ED support group. 

Week 3 had its ups and downs, like weeks 1 and 2. What is so significant about week 3 is the length of the challenging times. March 15 was a bad day. Normally bad days would knock me out for the next 2 or 3 days. By week 3? I was able to recover in about 24 hours. That’s growth.

I journaled a lot in week 3 about ED urges being almost gone. A year later, the urges are not 100% gone, but they are so much less frequent. And when they do come, I can usually recover in time for the next meal.

Life is not about getting rid of everything negative. It’s about reducing how it affects us and finding the balance. Find the harmony.

Journals from TK: Week 2

“Sometimes falling down is part of the process. That uncomfortableness is where change happens. Where we evolve. Where we turn that weakness into strength. This struggle that you’re going through is part of the process. And you will make it through.” – @nourishandeat

Week 2 started out really strong! I had a heart to heart with my favorite BHS that changed my entire perspective on treatment. Check out my blog post from back in June, “Progress over Perfection.” That explains the whole conversation in detail. Week 2 was also where I first encountered “Choose Harmony!” There’s a blog post on that one too, one of my very first posts 🙂 In week 2 I was pretty used to my new routine, including an hour of quiet time with God at 5:30 AM. I began to understand what this DBT thing was that everyone was talking about. My family came to visit and I was showered with mail. Seriously, the other residents hated me because of how much mail I got. I was able to talk to one of my professors on the phone and figure out a plan for school. Week 1 was survival, week 2 was diving into this new life.

March 5 – Day 8: 1 Week Down. 
Today was a good day. And for once I actually mean it. I had a really good talk with a BHS last night. We talked about baby steps. I realized part of the pressure I was putting on myself was just from me, not everyone else. I was telling myself I had to eat 100% of my food at every meal and snack. So of course that led to discouragement because it was unrealistic. So then I felt hopeless because I could never meet my goal. We talked about how no one expects me to do that. They understand I can’t do that yet. So we lowered the expectation, then I’m more likely to accomplish it and maybe more. 
My morning intent was to focus on the baby steps. I actually think I did that today. Meals were ok, groups were good, I got mail, just all good. I had 2 morning groups that were ED specific and I got a lot out of both of them. 

March 6 – Day 9: You are more than what you’re feeling right now.
My 4:00 group today was Awakenings. I was a little unsure, but it was so good. We basically had free time to connect with God however. So I journaled a prayer. And I came to a lot of realizations. The biggest being that I would rather have God than my eating disorder. I feel very hopeful. 

March 7 – Day 10: Live in harmony.
Today was another good day! I’ve felt pretty positive and optimistic all day. This morning was yoga! It was so good. I really want to get back into yoga when I get back to school. I missed it. I went to yoga feeling pretty relaxed, and then yoga made it even better. After yoga we went straight to lunch. I wasn’t thrilled, but I ate a burger and both sides. They were right, every time I eat, the guilt goes down. And I’m starting to feel good about it. 

March 8 – Day 11: I am loved.
I had a lot of good revelations today! I started the day with about a full hour of Jesus time. That was really special. I even woke up feeling more positive. 
Lunch was ok. It was just a lot of food, there was no way I could eat all of it. But I did what I could and didn’t get discouraged. There was a little guilt, but significantly less than what it has been. 
I ate the whole sandwich at dinner. And I don’t really know how to feel. I should be proud, but I know I’m not. I don’t feel as guilty as I used to though. 
Today I went to every meal and snack and at least had something. I’m not sure how to feel. 

March 9 – Day 12:  It’s okay to have a bad day. 
Today was a long day. 
Lunch today was mac and cheese! Yay. They gave us really big portions, but I made my commitment to not focus on portion size and just enjoy one of my favorite foods, and I did. 
This afternoon words started attacking my brain and they were strong. ED brain kept telling me that I’ve gained weight and look fat. I went to the mirror. Bad choice. Definitely made me more upset. ED voice was fighting and it was so strong. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to eat anything. We decided to have my dinner brought down to lodge. I still was not feeling it, I was pretty upset. I sat in the kitchen while everyone else ate. I could not do it. I had both voices in my head and they were both screaming. But ED was louder. I couldn’t even open the food box. It was really tough, especially since the past few days were so good. I want to feel like the past few days, not like this. 

March 10 – Day 13: Put on your game face. 
Lunch was pretty good. I didn’t think I would eat much, but I ate all of it. I noticed something interesting afterwards. Usually I go straight to guilt. But this time I was fighting it. I felt conflicted. ED voice was telling me to feel guilty, but healthy me is starting to fight back. 

March 11 – Day 14: Coping is not the same as healing. 
I feel like I’m disappointing everyone. I just don’t think I can do it anymore. Everyone has been so supportive today, telling me how much they love me and what a good job I’m doing. And I just can’t take any of it. I’ve felt very down today. I don’t know why. I’m just overwhelmed with the thought that I can’t do this anymore. I can’t handle it. I really miss everyone. I don’t want to be here anymore. But I don’t have any other options. I’m stuck here. I’m afraid I’m not going to recover. What if I never recover? What if I disappoint everyone? I just can’t do this anymore.

Yikes. Week 2 ended just like week 1. How did that happen? It started out so great. Week 2 is a perfect model of recovery and really shows the battle between the voices in my brain. As much as we all want it to be, recovery is not a straight path. There are good days and bad days. And some days that feel like you’re starting over. That’s why it’s so important to keep going. Embrace the uncomfortable. Keep pushing through the hard days. My last words for week 1 were “I’m stuck.” My last words for week 2 were “I just can’t do this anymore.” Spoiler alert: I wasn’t stuck. I could do it. And you can too. No matter what the voice in your brain is telling you, there is a healthy voice down there waiting to rise and take over.

Journals from TK: Week 1

“Bad news: You’re growing and it’s uncomfortable.
Good news: It’s uncomfortable, but you’re growing.”

I’ve mentioned before that I kept a journal during treatment and wrote in it every day. After posting my entire entry from Day 1, I decided to continue sharing some of the most vulnerable entries I wrote, just as I wrote them. No edits, no censoring. I have chosen a few paragraphs from each day that I will share over the next 4 weeks. You’ll be able to read details about everyday life at TK, struggles I went through, and breakthroughs I made. My hope for this series is to give an even deeper look into how that month in a random town in Illinois changed everything.

Feb 27 – Day 2: Let go and let God. 
Meals here are even more stressful and hard. I wish every meal could be drinking something. I was going to go to group at 9, but was pulled out to meet my dietician. I felt good about our meeting, but we didn’t really accomplish anything. Like we didn’t get a set plan. I guess she just expects me to eat everything and I can’t. She said she’d start with less portions. I can’t just be expected to jump into all meals. Totally unrealistic. 
Dinner was terrifying. So much anxiety. It was the first meal in the dining hall instead of on lodge and I didn’t know what was going on. I need more help and support for meals. I don’t know what exactly that looks like, but I need something. I ate almost a full piece of pizza, but that’s it. I felt so sick for awhile after that. After dinner I went to Celebrate Recovery. That was a Christian group provided by a local church. I loved it. It gave me so much peace that I should be here.

Feb 28 – Day 3: Progress is progress.
Today was my first process group. Girls were so vulnerable about their experiences. It made me feel awful because I haven’t had anything close to that. It made me question again if I really deserve to be here. 
My next group was application of DBT skills. That could’ve been more helpful if I knew some DBT skills. I don’t even know what DBT stands for. 
Then lunch. Definitely a low part of the day. I could not eat. I didn’t want to eat. I ate about half a sandwich and yogurt. Then I felt really sick. Meals are absolutely miserable. I’m miserable before, during, and after. I’m not ready to give up ED. ED is so comfortable. ED is familiar.

March 1 – Day 4: Recovery is a process. Relapse is part of it.  
I don’t like going to snacks. I usually just don’t go. But this morning I was called out, which is what I needed. A BHS (Behavioral Health Specialist) asked if I was coming to snack. I couldn’t say no. I told a BHS that I need someone to practically drag me to snack or I won’t go. I’m learning to stand up for myself. I was frustrated in the first few days because I wasn’t getting the help I deserved. Then I realized they don’t know I’m struggling if I don’t tell them. One thing I can thank ED for is teaching me to advocate for myself. 

March 2 – Day 5: Give yourself grace.
Today was a hard day. The hardest since Day 1. But that’s ok.
Every meal today was really hard. I didn’t complete any of them. Today was full of tears and food related anxiety. Not fun. I didn’t go to a lot of groups today.
After lunch, my therapist was here. That was much needed. We talked about possibly having all of my meals brought down here instead of going to the dining hall. I don’t want to do that, but I might have to. It will feel like a failure to me, but the dining hall is just too much.
After group was afternoon snack. I wasn’t going to go, but a BHS encouraged me. I was totally panicked and all sorts of anxiety. I just cried. Hard core. A BHS was there and we talked about baby steps and how it was good to even go in the kitchen.
Dinner was the worst. I could’ve been more mindful going into it, but some days you just can’t. I was anxious from the start. I went in and immediately sat down. I didn’t even get food. A BHS came and talked me through it. We decided to at least get food and try. I wasn’t feeling very optimistic.
I went to 3 meals and 3 snacks today. I went to all of them. I didn’t eat at all of them and I cried a lot, but I went.

March 3 – Day 6: God bless the BHS’.
I really tried to be open minded today. Put yesterday behind me and start fresh. It worked for a bit.
We went to church today. It made me think of NAVS and CMU and then I got sad. I miss them. I’m not homesick, I’m schoolsick. 
At snack I was overwhelmed and stressed and upset, then a BHS brought in a bouquet of flowers. For me, from my friends at school. I don’t know what I did to deserve them. Yesterday and today were incredibly hard and I somehow still got support from everyone back home. 
Dinner, oof. I got my food, sat down, and cried. Luckily, my 2 favorite BHS were there. They talked me through and I ate like half a sandwich. It was so hard. I barely made it through. I felt so defeated and like such a failure. Very discouraging. There’s no way to win. If I eat, I’m disappointing myself. If I don’t eat, I’m disappointing everyone else. ED Voice is strong. It knows it’s being extinguished, so it’s fighting back so hard. But I’m gonna fight back harder. 

March 4 – Day 7: Everyone’s Recovery Matters.
Breakfast is getting easier. It’s a lot of food, but I’m usually able to eat most of it. My first group for the day was process groups, which is basically group therapy. I don’t think I’ll ever share in there because I don’t have any problems significant enough for that. 
I saw the doctor today. She suggested me eating down at the lodge for meals. I just don’t know, that feels like such a failure. It makes me feel weak and embarrassed. 
Lunch. Ugh. It was actually a food I liked, but I couldn’t let myself eat it. Not all of it anyway. They asked me to eat more, but I couldn’t. 
4:00 was graduation. That was really sweet. It was kind of inspiring, really. I want to be up there with everyone showering me with love and saying how proud they are. But that feels so far away. 
I’ve just been in a weird mood tonight. It just got progressively worse. I went to snack. I tried, but panicked. I just got up and left, without saying anything. I had never done that before. I just went to my room and totally shut down. I couldn’t even cry. I just feel like such a failure. Thers’s so much expectation to get better and I’m just afraid it won’t happen. I’m not getting any better. If anything, this is getting harder. I don’t feel like myself. I feel like I don’t belong here. But I don’t have a lot of other options. I don’t have any other options actually. That’s where I’m stuck.

Week 1 at TK was a whirlwind. Looking back, I don’t remember it being so hard. I remember the whole month as such a positive experience full of support and growth. Rereading entries from week one reminded me of how much I struggled in the beginning. I ended week one feeling more discouraged than I went into it. But, slower than I would have preferred, things started to get easier. It took a few days, but I started to believe that I deserved to be at TK and I deserved treatment. After a few weeks my stomach got used to food again and I could eat without feeling physically sick.

Even on my hardest days, I was able to find something positive to title the journal entry. No matter how bad things may be, there is always something positive.

1 week down, 3 to go.

Journals from TK: My Goal for Recovery

I’ve started rereading my journal I kept at TK. I found this entry from March 4, 2019. I had been at TK not quite a week. That first week was pretty rough. One night I had a check in with a BHS and I was expressing how frustrated I was. It wasn’t what I expected and I thought I wasn’t doing a good job. I felt like I was disappointing everyone. She encouraged me to think about why I wanted to recover. Not why anyone else wanted me to, but what it meant to me. That night, I wrote this:

My goal for recovery is to get my life back.
ED has taken over everything. I want to be able to go to meals with friends and not panic about how much I can eat or what exactly I’ll eat or where I can restrict without it being obvious or where I can hide food or worry about everyone looking at me and judging me. I want to sit there and smile and laugh. I want my life back. I want to have the strength to go to meals on my own, without people forcing me. I don’t want to lie when someone asks if I’ve eaten. I want a life free of guilt and shame. I don’t want to sit in pain after every meal, telling myself I shouldn’t have done that. I don’t want to have to stay at dinner an extra 30 minutes just to ride out the urge to go back to my room and throw up. I want my life back. I want to give everything I have to school. I want to be excited about music. I want to get through a piano lesson without crying. I want to be able to memorize music again. I want to get through a choir concert without having to worry about fainting. I want my life back. I want to look in the mirror and smile. I don’t want to worry every time I walk in a room that people are staring at me and thinking I’m fat. I don’t want to only wear clothes that “make me look skinny.” I don’t want to suck in in every picture, hoping and praying I look skinny. I want confidence. I want my life back. I want to go 5 minutes without thinking about it. I want to think about whatever I want. I don’t want it to constantly pick at my brain, reminding me what I’ve done. I want to give my full attention to things. I want my life back. 

I want my life back

I want freedom
Happiness
Confidence
Joy
Health
I want a future
My future 

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I wrote this. My biggest wish for recovery was to get my life back. Well, that didn’t happen. Instead, I got a better life. Just a year later and I have been blessed more than I could imagine. Of course things aren’t perfect. After all, recovery is a journey, not a destination. Looking in the mirror and smiling is still a stretch. Eating what I want without anyone caring is a little bit of a stretch (shoutout to my dietician and weekly meal logs). Sometimes meals are still hard. But I found laughter again. I found the joy of music. I can give my full attention to new passions. I have a future.

It is so important to make recovery about you. Don’t do it just because someone else told you to. Do it for you. You’ll be amazed at what will happen.