#BOAW16: What Naked Female Bodies taught me about Beauty

Naked Female Bodies. Probably the most competitive arena in the Western world. So much so it might as well be an Olympic Sport. At least then the standards would be objective and not left up to the eyes of the beholder, forever wondering if this body is ‘good enough’.

Our bodies are either too fat, too thin, too soft, too hard, too round, too flat, too tall, too short. We’ve adopted the Goldilocks syndrome, except we can never find the resting place of, our body, or her body, is ‘just right’.

I am guilty of being Goldilocks. For years I judged every pair of legs, arms, abs, and cheeks (both pairs) that passed me by. And as with all forms of judgement, I was my own worst critic. Displacing my judgement on to her body was easier than accepting my own frailty and flaws.

When I was 18, I was exposed to more naked female flesh than I bargained for. The locker rooms in my university had showers that were reminiscent of Auschwitz. One big, square, stark, concrete room; empty except for shower heads peeking out from the walls. No cubicles, curtains, or any gesture of privacy.

And so after track practice, I’d be butt and breast naked with at least 10 other women as we washed off that day’s sweat and grime.

A perfect opportunity for the dissatisfied Goldilocks in me to take over. Her legs aren’t cut enough. Her bum isn’t round enough. Her thighs aren’t toned enough. Her breasts aren’t firm enough.

I was always comparing each body to some idealistic vision of what a woman’s naked body should look like.

The reality: no one in that room made the cut. Least of all myself. Because none of us had cracked the code of how to surpass the unreachable standard of perfection.

For years I’ve had the wool pulled over my eyes about what a woman’s beauty is; caught in the harsh cycle of comparison, judgement, shame; resulting in trying to hide my own flaws and compensate, in order to meet aesthetic standards.

Here’s what I know now, that I wish I knew then.

Aesthetic beauty is not uniform.

Aesthetic beauty is not the defining factor of a woman’s beauty.

A vivid memory I have from those locker room days was noticing the variety in breasts, nipples, and pubic structure. In the first 18 years of my life, the only naked female body I was familiar with was my own, and I naively thought that all breasts and vaginas were created equal.

Equal? Yes. Identical? No.

Why this was a shock to me, I’m not too sure. Clearly our eyes, noses, and ears were all different. Why wouldn’t the most intimate parts of our bodies be different too?

While this was news to me, I didn’t understand the symbolism of this fact until more recently. I was too busy looking for similarity, conformity, and sameness, missing the point those naked bodies were trying to tell me.

No one body has a monopoly on beauty. Beauty is variety.

No two bodies have identical features (OK, except for twins), even down to our most intimate parts which are usually hidden from sight.

When we are clothed, we hide our differences. It is in our nakedness, that we see our uniqueness.

And while one body may have individual features that can be labeled attractive, or pleasing to the eye, it is the collective, the combination that is beautiful.

Consider a painting. A canvas that is painted solid purple may be nice to look at, a pretty color. But it isn’t until the blue, green, pink, red and yellow are splashed on and accentuate each other, that you have something beautiful.

And so it is with the beauty of a woman. To think that you or I alone define beauty, destroys its essence. Alone, you and I can be pretty, nice to look at, and yes, carry pieces of beauty.

But, it is in standing naked next to another that is beautiful.

It is in our differences, our variety, the fact that no two of us have the same exact same shape, size or coloring, that we create the beauty.

And while this stands true aesthetically, our beauty extends beyond our physical.

Last week I made a comment in The Nourish Circle, reflecting on the experience of coming together for a group call the day before. I wrote, “The vulnerability and shared wisdom that each of us brings is beautiful.”

Hmmmm…. That has nothing to do with how hard, soft, round, flat, tall or short we are.

It was the sharing from the heart, letting others in on the secret heartaches and joys of our souls that was beautiful. Getting emotionally and spiritually naked with each other.

That was beautiful.

And just as in our physical self, while we each have a similar make up and can relate to much of each other’s stories and experiences, no two of our souls are identical.

We are individual, yet the sharing of our individuality and differences creates connectedness, relatability, and no longer are we alone. Like a single strand of a spider web, each strand serves a purpose, and once connected, you have a work of art.

And just like a spider web, where one strand on it’s own can easily be broken but a web can carry an immense amount of weight, keeping one’s ‘weaknesses’ to oneself will break you, but sharing them generates strength.

The beauty of sharing the intimate corners of our hearts, the parts of ourselves that we usually keep close, covered up and clothed, because showing those parts would be too embarrassing, shameful, or inappropriate, is something that I now crave and seek out.

Although at the time of the naked showers, I allowed myself to be physically seen, I kept my emotional and spiritual self, buttoned up and buried deep. And I too, broke.

I could not see that my differences, my so-called flaws, both physically and emotionally, contributed to a collective beauty. And so I fought to change myself and my body. So much so, it led to an eating disorder.

It is only now, through my healing that I can see what I missed. That our beauty, and strength, comes from our differences, ‘weaknesses’, and surrender.

Ah, the Surrender.

For years I thought that I knew better than my body. That I could mold, sculpt, and whip it into shape. Turn it into a machine.

Except it already was a machine. I just didn’t understand how it works.

Within our naked bodies lives wisdom that lays dormant until ignited.

The key that turns the ignition? Surrender. Not Control, as I naively believed.

Surrender and trust, that the same body that pumps blood, creates a baby, and gives and receives pleasure, without having to micro-manage it’s every move, also knows what we need to emotionally and spiritually survive, create, and freely give and receive.

When your body is aching for a run, go for a run. When it is knackered beyond belief, sit still and rest.

When something inside of you craves a catch up with your best friend that you haven’t spoken to in months, a book that you’ve just heard about, a visit to certain part of the world, a good wail and a cry…

Listen to that craving.

Chances are there is something waiting for you. Something that you are ready to learn, a door or window ready to be opened, a gift.

Your body knows where you need to go and what you need to do before you do.

But it won’t tell you if you can’t see it’s beauty.

When you are judging, controlling, and disconnecting from your body, it goes silent.

Instead, we have to be grateful for how it functions, regardless of it’s shape, size, or shade.

We have to care for it, as we would any machine.

And we have to listen to what we are sensing, feeling, and hearing, even when it doesn’t make 100% sense and we can’t be certain of the outcome.

By learning how to relate to our bodies in this way, we learn how to relate to the world.

When we learn to love and surrender…. That, my friends, is beautiful.

So here’s what I finally realized was staring right at me all those times in the shower:

When our hearts are filled with love and surrender, and we stand naked next to another,  exposing our differences and ‘weaknesses’…

that is the beauty of  a woman.


Thanks to August McLaughlin for inspiring and inviting this post. For more Beauty of a Woman blog posts and a chance to win prizes, visit www.augustmclaughlin.com/beauty-woman-blogfest-v/.

To join a group of open-hearted women sharing their vulnerabile beauty with each other, visit www.thetrueyouproject.com/nourish.

#bu29days: Day 29: Go be your Quintessential Self

aka What does Positraction have to do with bulimia?

aka Why would I turn myself ON?

Nine years ago my sister and a friend were visiting me in London, and after we watched ‘My Cousin Vinny’, for the umpteenth time, I remember looking at my sister and exclaiming, ‘There is positraction in my life!’

I don’t remember what it was that I was actually referring to, and to be fair I had probably had a glass or two of wine.

But the idea that ‘My Cousin Vinny‘ can explain my life and my story with bulimia is once again proven true.

This blog series started with the idea that we can get stuck in the mud sometimes, and that part of the answer is to go be your quintessential self. Today it ends with Positraction.

If you don’t know what positraction is (don’t worry, I didn’t either at first), picture this scene (bold emphasis mine).

Marisa Tomei’s character has been called to the witness stand and she’s explaining how you can tell which car made the tire tracks that were being used as evidence against the defendants.

Mona Lisa Vito: The car that made these two, equal-length tire marks had positraction. You can’t make those marks without positraction, which was not available on the ’64 Buick Skylark!

Vinny Gambini: And why not? What is positraction?

Mona Lisa Vito: It’s a limited slip differential which distributes power equally to both the right and left tires. The ’64 Skylark had a regular differential, which, anyone who’s been stuck in the mud in Alabama knows, you step on the gas, one tire spins, the other tire does nothing.

[the jury members nod, with murmurs of “yes,” “that’s right,” etc]

Vinny Gambini: Is that it?

Mona Lisa Vito: No, there’s more! You see? When the left tire mark goes up on the curb and the right tire mark stays flat and even? Well, the ’64 Skylark had a solid rear axle, so when the left tire would go up on the curb, the right tire would tilt out and ride along its edge. But that didn’t happen here. The tire mark stayed flat and even. This car had an independent rear suspension.

Now, I am not a mechanic and have absolutely zero interest in the inner workings of a car other than knowing they get me from A to B.

But here’s what I can appreciate about her testimony:

Positraction: Provides balance and keeps you from getting stuck in the mud. 

Independent rear suspension: Easily gets you over the bumps.

When it comes to bulimia, there is both mud and bumps, and we need our own version of Positraction with an Independent Rear Suspension to find a way out.

If you think back to that Layer Cake I talked about the other day, about what actually lies beneath the surface of an eating disorder, the muddiest place is in that trifecta of Shame, Fear, and Vulnerability.

What kind of Positraction is needed here so you don’t get stuck in the mud?

  • A sense of worthiness. A deep knowing that ‘I am Enough as I am’, regardless of any perceived lack.
  • A heavy dose of Love. Understanding what love actually is, and making choices that come from a place of Love instead of Fear; Because Love Never Fails.
  • The courage to Let Go. To let go of expectations for our lives, To let go of outcomes having to look a certain way. To let go of needing certainty and control. It’s OK to Let Go and learn to dance comfortably with vulnerability instead.
  • And with all of that, embracing the truth that I’m Free to be Me.

Even out of the mud there are bumps, and so you need an Independent Rear Suspension made up of the following.

  1. Truth Sets Me Free. The Truth of who you are inherently created to be. Accessing your vulnerable truth, whether that’s uncomfortable feelings or confusion about what you believe. And being able to sift through the should’s, have to’, need to’s, goods and bads, that get thrown at us daily, and find the truth instead.
  2. I am not Defined by What my Body Looks Like. Because your heart, mind, and soul is beautiful. And your body is beautifully and wonderfully made even it is doesn’t look like the airbrushed supermodel on the cover of a magazine.
  3. I Choose Me. Because your dreams, wants, and desires matter. Because you need to refuel before you can fully give to others. Which is critical because:
  4. I am Here to Shine. Your gifts, passions, talents, interests, personality, and quirks are uniquely yours. And the world needs them. It needs you to turn your light on and Shine.

Put all that together and you get another layer cake that looks something like this:

Cake (1)

And it tastes good too.

These principles, I call them True You Truths, helped me find a way out from bulimia, and they now help me stay connected to me on a daily basis.

It’s OK to Let Go: Then, I had to let go of fitting into a size 4 pair of jeans. I had to let go of being ‘a runner’. Now, I have to let go of how many people turn up to a workshop I am hosting for the first time, or how many followers there are (or aren’t) on my blog, or how clean or messy my house is, or what my marriage looks like compared to what I think it’s ‘supposed to’ .

I am Enough as I am: Then, I had to accept that even if I was still binging, the fact I had chosen to stop purging was enough. I was enough even though I wasn’t perfect. Today, I remind myself that my heart is enough. That my efforts are enough, even when there are still items on the to-do list. Another form of letting go.

Love Never Fails: Then, I had to face the fear of getting fat. I had to accept myself, and give others the opportunity to accept me even when I gained weight. I had to be kind to myself when I ate more than I wanted to, instead of punishing myself and make up for my ‘sins’. Now, I ask myself what is driving my actions, or the words I am choosing. Is it because I am afraid someone will say No? That I will be rejected and therefore I am trying to get them to say Yes? Or is it because I am genuinely excited for them and the possibilities for their life?

Free to be Me: Then, I had to start doing things that reflected my likes and interests. Buying blue suede shoes, taking Italian lessons, playing soccer again. Even if that didn’t fit the mold I thought I had to fit into. Now, this means creating a life and business my way. Finding places that light me up and meeting people there, even if it might seem somewhat unconventional to meet with an eating disorder client in a Food Emporium. Oh well, that is me.

Truth Sets Me Free: Then, I had learn to feel my feelings. Acknowledge that a relationship wasn’t right for me anymore. Acknowledge that my roots weren’t planted anywhere. I also had to realize that ‘fat’ in and of itself is not bad. Accept the truth that my body needs fat in order for my brain to function properly; that eating a piece of chocolate does not mean that it will automatically get taped to my thighs. Now, it still means connecting to my feelings and my most vulnerable truth. And it means that when I see a SHOULD barrelling down the street, I ask myself, what is true for me right now? As in, I *should* go out with a bang on the last day of the #bu29days series. What is true for me right now? I am relishing in the fact that I still have something to say and I want to celebrate that with you with a nice big slice of purple cake! Hehe.

I am not defined by what my body looks like: Then, this meant I could embrace my body as the number on my jeans kept getting bigger and bigger. And that I could bask in what it let me do regardless. ie play soccer, ride a bike, do yoga, swim in the Med in a string bikini. Now, this lets me forget about how much I weigh. If I am getting up on stage to give a talk, or meeting a client, or climbing into bed with my husband, it doesn’t matter if I’ve gone for a run, or exercised, or done yoga that day. I can turn up and focus on who I’m with regardless of what my body looks like.

I am here to Shine. Then, this helped me to realize that I was making my life all about me. It helped me break a habitual cycle where my free time was spent either running, at the gym, food shopping, eating, or thinking about any of those things. It helped me to focus on what I could give to others; tutoring, leading recovery groups. Today, this reminds me that I am here for a purpose. And that I can either bury my talents in the sand or share them with others and spread some light. This especially helps on days when things aren’t going as planned. Another reminder that It’s OK to Let Go.

I Choose Me. Then, this looked like me choosing to stop purging and start praying on those two bathroom floor moments. It looked like buying self-help books, talking with my doctor, seeing a shrink. It also meant choosing those shoes and Free to Be Me activities. Today, this looks similar. Any choice that nourishes me and/or brings me pleasure. Choosing my wants and desires. Listening when I am plugged in. Including writing this #bu29days blog series.

In any given moment, there is the potential for that muddy trifecta to show up, and so part of Choosing Me is making space in my life for tune-ups, otherwise I get stuck in the mud or I hit a bump and get thrown sideways.

Those days are never pretty.

So I make sure I have time to be still and connect to what’s true. I used to cram my schedule with plans. I’d go out every night of the week, and if I didn’t have plans, there’d always be the fallback of working late.

I didn’t want to be alone with myself.

Now, if I don’t spend alone time with myself, everything goes pear-shaped.

The impact isn’t just on me, but it bleeds to those around me too.

Like breeds like. If I bury my head, feelings, truth, light, love, in the sand, those around me are likely too as well.

If I practice the True You Truths, then everyone around me gets a chance at being their Quintessential Self too.

We all can be Free to be Me, without shame or fear of how others react.

Imagine a world where everyone was out there, doing their thing; acting out of love, letting their light shine, instead of dimming it ‘just in case’.

Just in case their brightly shining light wasn’t accepted. The idea that ‘I’d rather be OFF, or dimly lit, and accepted’ than ‘fully turned on and snuffed out’.

How about another 3rd option?: Be fully turned ON, AND turn someone else ON in doing so!

Inspire someone with your light.

You are here to Shine.

Go do it.

Go be your Quintessential Self.


That’s All Folks. Thank you for following along the #bu29days blog series. I hope you got something out of it even if you’ve never been bulimic. And if you have been or are bulimic, I hope it’s helped you wherever you’re at in your journey.

If you’d like to connect about anything you’ve read, email me at kendratanner121[at]gmail[dot]com.

And stay tuned for opportunities to explore the True You Truths further.

Lots of love.

PS If you still haven’t watched ‘My Cousin Vinny‘, what are you waiting for? 🙂

 

#bu29days: Day 27: The ultimate Trust test

aka Why do you walk when you run? I thought real runners don’t walk.

aka How will you feel about your body if and when you put on weight?

One thing I haven’t talked much about is how my relationship with my body has changed. I have gone from trying to turn it into a machine, running every day, freaking out and potentially binging if I didn’t, routinely lifting weights and doing situps and pushups, to a much more intuitive way of working with my body.

I hardly run at all anymore. If I do, I usually walk part way through.

Gasp! This is sacrilege!

Trust me I know. I have definitely had the thought, and admittedly said outloud, ‘real runners don’t walk.’

That was my MO when my identity was that of a ‘runner’. Call what I did a ‘jog’ and you got ‘the look’ from a pair of devil eyes.

Runners RUN. They do not jog. And they most certainly do not walk.

This was my mentality when my self-worth was tied to how far and how fast I ran. Stopping to catch my breath was a sign of weakness. Stopping to smell the roses, not an option.

As I started to slowly lighten up with food, I similarly did about running. By the time I moved to the UK I was less rigid about running. I was playing soccer, going to spin class, and yoga.

While I was mixing it up, running was still my go-to activity for weight management and I suppose, grounding me.

When I moved to London, I quickly learned that ‘running’ and ‘working out’ is a whole different thing compared to NY. The city itself has a different vibe. The energy is different. People aren’t so driven, Type-A, on a mission.

In NYC pretty much every Manhattanite I knew had a gym membership. Its what you did, no question. Like paying City taxes.

In London, if pub memberships were an option, every Londoner would have one.

In NYC, as a runner, you had to be tight and toned; low percentage of body fat, cut muscles, as well as having the latest gear. Running around Central Park was like performing on a catwalk.

In London, people wobble and jiggle when they run. This was literally a foreign concept to me.

The only time I had known anything different was when I met this one woman in NY who carried probably 20lbs more than the average runner. Her legs were stocky and muscular, vs sleek and toned. Her arms had very little definition and her belly had fat rolls.

Yet she kicked my ass in every race we ever entered, including the marathon.

This challenged my whole paradigm. You could be fat AND a runner?

Not that I embraced the idea. Guilty as charged, I was extremely judgemental of other women’s bodies. Finding faults in others helped me feel better about my own body. Not something I’m proud of but true.

I remember walking to work one morning with my boyfriend at the time and asking him if my ass jiggled like HERS did.

Jiggles, wiggles, and wobbly bits did not fit into my idea of ‘acceptable’ for a runner, and for me. I was on a mission to eradicate any evidence of cottage cheese remnants on my body.

I jiggle all the time now. As my hardened attitude towards my body has softened, so has my body.

As my patterns with food changed, I ended up gaining weight. At first due to binging without purging. And I kept some of the weight on as I learned how to eat ‘normally’ again ie have an inclusive diet where everything was permissible. Be able to eat donuts, cheese on pizza, and burgers and fries without fear of gaining weight.

While you might not want to hear that weight gain was a part of the story, the reality is that by the time it happened, I was OK with it.

Letting go of the fear of fat, and letting myself put on weight was an integral part of my recovery and healing. I believe I had to experience the weight gain so I could fully believe the True You Truth of ‘I am not defined by what my body looks like.’

Saying that, for many years I still had this idea that I had to be running or working out consistently. It became less about my weight, and more of a habit, part of my identity that this is ‘what I did’. I would wake up each morning with the thought, ‘I have to go for a run today’, even if I had no intention of actually fitting it into my schedule.

But, like an addiction, the thought was still there, and I still saw myself as a runner. Even when I barely ran 15 miles a week.

8 years ago when I was living in London, and was one of the few Londoners I knew with a gym membership, I was running home from the gym and I had to stop and walk because I was in so much physical pain. My right knee couldn’t take the pounding without sending a lightning bolt charge through my body.

Turns out I had/have loose cartilage in between my knee and femur. The doctor said if I strengthened my quad muscles enough I’d be able to run again, but the immediate prescription was stop running, stop cycling, and do static strengthening exercises, like lie on my back and hold my leg in the air (yawn).

I was devastated at first, what? No more running?

Funnily enough though, my desire to get to the point where I could run again wasn’t strong enough to keep up with those boring exercises. I gave it a go at first, but quickly put them to the side.

I found satisfaction in what my body could do instead. Walking. It was my first foray into ‘slowing down’. Noticing the detail of the world around me that I used to whiz by.

I would cycle to work occasionally, but for 3.5 years, my physically activity pretty much came to a halt.

And I didn’t care.

I wasn’t worried about what I was eating, or how much, or trying to make up for the lack of exercise. I stopped having the false expectation that I would run today.

Another aspect of the healing that came after the bulimia was gone.

And crazily enough, I lost weight.

It was as if my body knew what was best for me, literally bringing me to my knees, to get me to give up trying to control it. And once it took over, it knew exactly what was best for me then too. It found it’s natural set point, with me literally doing nothing.

Leading up to our wedding, I did a 6 week yoga course.

The classes were very slow paced, the focus on settling into one pose at a time vs moving through a series of poses. The whole point was to slow down and be still, an idea I still hadn’t fully embraced, especially if I was paying to go to a class.

I wanted to be paying for exertion, sweat, and a raised heart rate.

But it was exactly what I needed. It set the foundation for me to reconnect to movement with my body. To listen in to what it wants, needs, and craves.

I now choose activities that my whole being is craving.

Sometimes, although rarely, it is a run. Or should I say jog. Because these days it is most definitely a jog 🙂

Sometimes it’s a bike ride, challenging my cardiovascular system and my thighs over the undulating hills where I live.

Often it is a walk outside, filling my lungs with fresh air and my mind with fresh ideas.

And each week, if not day, it will involve some degree of yoga.

What I love about yoga is that I end up connecting to parts of my body that I never knew existed before. I never knew I have little tiny muscles in between my ribs!

I love doing a simple forward bend, and feeling the ripple effect from my hamstrings, to my lower back, to upper back, shoulders, and my neck. 

When I first started doing yoga, I didn’t have an experience of this level of connection. I would do a ‘hamstring stretch’ before or after a run and I wouldn’t notice anything else going on in my body.

My understanding of my body was one of isolation. Everything working separately.

The connections I feel while doing yoga help me to connect to the shell I had been living in for almost 30 years. And whenever I am feeling tight in my body or my soul, you will find me doing one pose or another to feel again.

I’ve also found dance as a liberating form of movement. But for me, dance is less about connecting in and more about expression, and a form of play.

If you asked my 25 year old self to describe my 35 year old body, I would probably tell you that it is ‘out of shape’ right now.

Such a funny expression.

Out of shape? What shape, pray may I ask, am I actually supposed to be in? Square, rectangle or triangle?

How about, I am in the shape of my body. And the shape and fitness of my body is enough for it to do what it needs to do today.

I am happy with my body right now. I like the way it looks, even though it’s less muscle-y than it used to be.

I like the way it works, even though I get out breath quicker than I used to.

I’m also aware that the shape and size of my body is generally seen as attractive by the world’s standards, and so I  often wonder, how will I feel about my body if and when I put on weight again.

My answer is: I don’t know. But I hope that, so long as I still stay connected to my body, that I will still love it.

And I know I will be reminding myself of how my body got me to where I am today.

Of how it knew best about what I needed to let go of control, over the years.  Of how it has adapted to different levels of physical activity since then, and how it seems to intuitively know what kind of movement it needs on any given day, including some days where there is very little movement at all.

The word trust comes to mind:

I can’t say how I’ll feel, but I will continue to trust my body.

Whatever shape or size.


Something to think about: What is your relationship to your body like? What do you want it to be like? How can you let go of some control over it and let it do its thing? What does trusting your body mean?

Your story matters. As part of ‘Bulimia Uncovered: 29 days to being your Quintessential Self’ we want to hear from you. How can you relate to what you’ve just read? Leave a comment below and share your related stories and pictures however you do best. If using social media use hashtag #bu29days and tag me so we can follow. We’re also inviting stories to feature on The True You Project. Email kendratanner121@gmail.com if you’d like yours shared there.

Feb Food Fun giveaway! Want more tools to overcome judgement and shame, and be your quintessential self? Join the True You Project community and you’ll receive Your True You Journey, an 8 week self-coaching e-guide that will give you the tools to navigate through the mud and peel back the layers covering up your True You.

#bu29days: Day 26: What the recovery road looks like

aka Life as an Artichoke

aka So what did getting better look like? You talk about forgiveness, it being spiritual journey, etc. Details please!

Yeah, sorry, I’ve gotten sidetracked with all the juicy stuff 🙂

So here as some key highlights:

There was bathroom floor moment #1 where I decided I wasn’t going to live like this anymore. The key here to note is that it was a choice.

Over the next 18 months, the conflicted feelings and obsessive thoughts about food was there, but with additional decisions to do more things that I actually liked to do (eg wear blue-suede shoes and study Italian) I was starting to feel better about myself and my life, and sustain the decision to not purge anymore.

Bathroom floor moment #2 came 18 months later and that’s when I realized will-power wasn’t going to cut it and some deeper healing was needed.

This is when I started praying, started reconnecting with God, and participated in a recovery course that helped me realize there was a lot more going on than just bulimia to recover from.

It was shortly after this period of time that I moved to the UK. I was living on my own for the first time, no roommates. This was a real test on the food front because I had no one to hide any weird food behaviours from. I could easily binge, or binge and purge, and no one would be the wiser.

There’s another part to this story that is quite telling. Part of the reason I was so keen to move to the UK was that I had re-met a British guy that I knew. We carried on a long-distance relationship while I was back in NYC in the hopes I’d get a transfer to London. By the time I landed and got off the plane and settled into my one-bedroom flat, he had met somebody else.

This was the real test: How would I handle being jilted at customs? The rosy picture I had painted of my new life in London with a guy by my side, just had some of the pink erased.

Thankfully the healing that I’d received up to that point grounded me. I had a deep inner peace that I had made the right decision to move here, regardless of the outcome of that relationship, and that I would be OK. Sure, it wasn’t the adventure I was expecting, but it was still an adventure.

I spent a lot of time on my own in those first few months. Lots of reading spiritual self-help books. Journalling a lot. I didn’t have TV or internet hooked up in my flat, so it really was just Me time.

There were still nights where I would have mini-binges. I say ‘mini’ because I would stop after maybe half a sleeve of crackers or half a loaf of bread, as opposed to continuing on just because I had ‘broken the seal’. The good news was, I wasn’t trying to make up for the extra calorie consumption anymore.

I was still trying to maintain my running routine, although this was starting to change too. One, because it rained non-stop that year from May through August and Two, because I couldn’t run from my office like I used to in NY. I had to go home first, and by the time I’d gotten off the 20 minute tube ride and 20 minute walk to my flat, a lot of times I wasn’t in the mood anymore, and I was listening to that.

I started to practice what I call ‘eating normally’. Grocery shopping with meals in mind and then cooking them when I got home.A meal like stir-fry, or pasta with chicken. Not just snacking or grazing on food that didn’t need much preparation like fruit and peanut butter, or a sandwich, or a salad. This was a conscious decision to change my eating habits.

This new exploration with food and my body was a reflection of the changes going on inside. My confidence was growing, I was shifting my idea of self-worth, and I was consistently putting myself into new, vulnerable, experiences and I was surviving. I was more connected to me.

Having community was a big part of this too. I’ve had an on-again off-again relationship with the church over the years and during my time in London it was very much ON. I found an awesome newly planted church in my neighborhood where I met a lot of people that I clicked with right away. Plus they served wine after the Sunday evening service and they met in pubs. This was my kind of place.

It was here that my faith was re-kindled and I realized that a lot of the strict rules that had been enforced in the church community that I grew up in (like no dancing or wine at weddings) were outed. I was able to move past a lot of the shame I was carrying about how I was living my life and that maybe God wasn’t such a control freak after all.

Within a year of moving to the UK I very much felt that my bulimia was behind me. I was talking about it in past tense. And I also had a desire to help others who were struggling. I felt that I had something to give in that front, although I didn’t quite know what or how.

I came across a sister church in London that was holding a course called New ID, created by a woman who had overcome anorexia, and I attended in the hopes that I could run the course at my church.

I think of attending that course as the final balm of healing of my bulimia. Even though I thought I was better before attending, there was a new freedom that I felt afterwards.

I know this because shortly afterwards I met my now-husband. And I was able to eat burgers, chips, drink pints of beer, make nachos, Welsh-cakes, and spinach-artichoke dip together, enjoy them together, and I didn’t bat an eye-lid. I wasn’t worried about calories, what would happen to my stomach or my thighs.

I was able to enjoy me, him, and our budding romance without the 3rd wheel of a bulimia-hangover.

It was a beautiful gift.

So at that point, I knew for sure, the bulimia was gone. And I knew it wouldn’t be coming back because, due to how a past relationship of his had ended, there was just the right amount of uncertainty to test me. And food never became the answer.

Journaling, prayer, having open and honest conversations with him, and having a good friend by my side to support me, did.

And of course, just when I thought all my ‘work’ was done – because I was pretty sure I was living a ‘normal’ life now, it became clear there was more.

This is when I realized my relationship with sex wasn’t right. I was struggling with the no-sex-before-marriage doctrine that I had literally signed my life away too in a No-Sex-Before-Marriage seminar when I was 16, and I realized I had no idea what I actually believed about sex and my own sexuality.

I realized that I was once again using sex for self-worth, validation, love and acceptance. In the same way I had been using food.

So I went to see a therapist.

That was over 7 years ago. What I have learned since then allows me to say that 7 years ago, when I could hand-on-heart say I’m not bulimic anymore and I thought I just had this little sex issue to sort out, I had only just uncovered the tip of the iceberg.

It has been in the past 7 years that I have learned and AM LEARNING what it means to not be in a codependent relationship. This was the pattern with men my whole life, except I never realized it until I went on the recovery course.

Thankfully, my husband and I promised each other that we wouldn’t carry this into our relationship (he had been in this pattern too). This meant both of us upholding boundaries with each other; not rescuing each other even when the other person wants us to. I am still guilty of the ‘wanting him too’ more often than not.

So yeah, healing from codependency, learning to set boundaries, learning to say what I mean in the moment, learning to express my wants and desires, learning to be able to think about my sexuality without embarrassment, disgust, or confusion, learning to detach my self-worth from money.. oh gosh, THAT has been a huge one too.

That has been the past 7 year journey that I’ve been on. On the outside this has looked like a lot of arguments, tears, loving embraces, having conversations at work where I speak my possibly unpopular truth, and other times where I’ve been too fearful and have held back. It’s looked like resigning from my 10 year career, following a dream to backpack in foreign and exotic places, starting two businesses, failing miserably at certain aspects, succeeding in others.

In a nutshell it’s been a rollercoaster ride.

An adventure.

I liken this adventure, from that first bathroom floor moment 12 years ago to now, to the idea of peeling back the layers of my favourite food, the artichoke, or like the more commonly known analogy, the onion. Each year, month, day, moment, another layer gets peeled back.

There is no straight path, a series of boxes to tick off, and then you’re done.

It’s a continuous cycle of revisiting the same principles and capital-T truths over and over. Each time you get to go deeper.

And maybe it’s just me, but it really is fun! I have never laughed so hard at myself, and I have never cried so hard.

Life peeling artichokes is good.


Something to think about: How can you celebrate moments that prove your own growth? What do you think about life being about peeling artichokes and onions? Would you rather be a head chef than a sous chef? 🙂 What expectations do you have for your own life and recovery?

Your story matters. As part of ‘Bulimia Uncovered: 29 days to being your Quintessential Self’ we want to hear from you. How can you relate to what you’ve just read? Leave a comment below and share your related stories and pictures however you do best. If using social media use hashtag #bu29days and tag me so we can follow. We’re also inviting stories to feature on The True You Project. Email kendratanner121@gmail.com if you’d like yours shared there.

Feb Food Fun giveaway! Want more tools to overcome judgement and shame, and be your quintessential self? Join the True You Project community and you’ll receive Your True You Journey, an 8 week self-coaching e-guide that will give you the tools to navigate through the mud and peel back the layers covering up your True You.

#bu29days: Day 24: The Layer Cake

aka What do you mean, the experience can be different but the feelings the same?

aka Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with your cake.

I started out writing this post with one end in mind, but the story took a twist in the middle, so now there’s a couple different endings you can choose. Just like my favourite detective books when I was a kid 🙂

So here’s a concept to think about: eating disorders and disordered eating live within a spectrum. At a certain point, the mindset, feelings and behaviours, add up to a diagnosable eating disorder.

But that doesn’t mean that less extreme mindset, feelings, and behaviours in the rest of the spectrum are ‘off the hook’. As I was saying yesterday, the external behaviour and experience might look different, but there can be room for healing in the core thoughts and feelings.

Here is my creatively expressed version of what exists at the core within the disordered eating spectrum. And since we’re talking about food here, you’re looking at the picture of a layer cake.

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At the bottom you’ve got You. A source for love and connection to all creatures great and small, but that isn’t always connected.

The next layer of Shame, Fear and Vulnerability that I’ve been going on about for the past 3 weeks is a given.

However, here you could potentially start building one of two cakes.

If you haven’t learned healthy responses to these basic human experiences, you end up in the green layer, doing the trying and hiding dance. It’s a survival mechanism. An adaptation of yourself to create certainty in life and for your identity. It’s where the seeds of the good/bad mentality are planted.

Stick with that for long enough, and it manifests into the yellow layer. This is where the deprivation of desires, wants, and needs, lives; even in little things like not replacing underwear with holes and threadbare socks, or always buying the wine that’s on sale even though you really want the bottle that’s only £1 more.

It’s where it’s difficult to find the words to say what you want, when you want, to who you want, without spending a number of stomach-wrenching hours on the email.

It’s where the idea of spending time on anything other than work-related, achievement oriented, tasks seems frivolous.

And it’s where you are never happy with what, and who, you see in the mirror.

If you’ve never experienced this, there’s a lot of tension in that yellow layer.

And after awhile it busts itself out and oozes all around the cake as an attractive looking orange color of icing (OK, to be fair, I’ve never seen an attractive looking orange-iced layer cake, but that’s what happens when you create like your 5-year-old self used to. Purple elephants can fly!)

The orange icing is where the behaviours with food live. This layer tries to make the rest of the cake taste good, except that all the tension, the deprive/indulge, the good/bad, and the controlling and comforting going on underneath, manifests itself with food, and while it initially tastes sweet, there’s a bitter after taste.

Depending on how caught up you are in the mire of the blue layer, will determine the shade of orange icing; where you fall in the disordered eating spectrum.

In my book, if you are eating any of this cake, you might want to put the fork down, push the plate away, and go look for a different kind of cake.

I’ve looked at my mom’s life and I’ve always assumed she was eating this cake.

While she was nowhere near any of the extremes of an eating disorder, her outside relationship to food and body looked like this:

-Count calories and try to eat ‘healthy’. She would make conscious food choices about which brand of cereal to buy that had the least amount of sugar etc and her not-so-secret vice was and always will be chocolate. A lot of controlling and depriving with occasional indulgences.

-She wished she could be a few pounds lighter but after me and my sister was born, didn’t have time to prioritize that. But we always knew she wished she were lighter. In recent years she’s been going to spin class and pilates and we know she chagrins her ‘old lady arms’. Evidence of body-dissatisfaction.

This actually sounds quite normal, right?. Don’t most women wish they were 5 lbs lighter and could stop the love affair with chocolate?

But here’s what else I picked up on when I was a kid.

Identity & Self-worth: My mom met my dad when she was 15, she was married at 20. Her self-worth and identity during some critical formative years was heavily influenced by her relationship with my dad. They are still happily married, but even she will tell you that it took years for her to begin to see herself as separate from my dad.

Self-expression: I remember my mom saying things like, ‘I wish I could talk with you about this better.’ ‘I don’t really feel equipped to have this conversation with you.’ To be fair that is a vulnerable truth of hers that she was able to express so to that end, she was self-expressing what was true for her, eating bites of a healthier cake. But she still felt blocked from communicating freely in a way that she wanted. A lot of times she would channel my dad too. His decisions outweighed her opinion in our family. Sometimes when I look back at who mom was in our family dynamic, she was the executor. She executed on decisions to make the family run smoothly, but you never really knew how much of that was her true self, or was she just doing her job?

Body Love: As I shared before, it was as if a whisper of a wish was always hanging in the air when it came to her body. She was always striving to improve it. And I only remember one time when she put on a sun dress one summer evening before my dad came home where I remember thinking, ‘Wow, mom looks really pretty in that.’ It must have been their anniversary. Normally mom was in cleaning clothes or church clothes. Neither which are very sexy. Practicality and the household budget was the driving force behind clothes shopping.

Food rules: You could tell she had her own paradigm to live by. In addition to counting calories, she’d always serve herself the smallest portion at dinner, take the smallest slice of cake, comment on what she had for breakfast ‘I only had a yogurt and an apple for breakfast so I guess I’ll have one more cookie.’ It was as if she had to earn the right to have a treat.

Her story has a lot of necessary precursors for an eating disorder. I talked with her about all of this and asked her why she thought this combo didn’t turn into one.

Her answer was this:

  1. She didn’t know it was an option. (Wow, that really makes me think about how to go about raising awareness and how eating disorders are talked about because perhaps the less you know, the better!)
  2. She recognized that there is only so much in life that she could control. She embraced the belief that we regardless of what happens around you, we only have control over our reactions. And I guess she chose to react with a Pollyanna smile. 
  3. Pre-pregnancy she was happy with her shape. She didn’t internalize comments about her teen body as shaming. She took them as motivation to be healthy. Post-pregnancy, at first she worked to get her pre-pregnancy body back but at some point accepted that it was ‘OK’ as it was.
  4. She knew that a sense of humour fixes everything and laughter is the best medicine out there. Even better than chocolate.

While I see a lot of external overlap between my mom’s relationship with food and body, and mine, I’ve also noticed the differences at the core.

There is a presence of more self-acceptance and love for herself and a penchant for joy. The blue layer of her cake wasn’t as big.

Another big difference is that part of her quintessential self has led her to behaviours that look similar to disordered eating behaviours.

This year at Christmas, we all took an abridged version of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test (yes, I do geek out on this stuff), and it was no surprise when my mom’s Type description came out as ‘content to enforce “the rules,” often dictated by tradition or handed down from a higher authority.’

Following the rules feels natural to her. (Get this, she even wanted to get the facts straight for a fictional short story she is writing. I had to remind her about little thing called IMAGINATION 🙂 )

I’m realizing that some of my mom’s behaviours with food and her body were a reflection of her ‘True You’; the following the food rules, and advice from authority figures about her body. That is just her being her quintessential self vs her trying to control.

The opposite of yesterday’s message, today’s message is: You can have similar experiences, but different feelings on the inside.

I come out as a much different personality type on the Myers-Briggs scale; more of a rules, schmules kind of person.

Understanding the innate differences between me and the rest of my family has helped facilitate healing.

To understand that what I saw modelled as a child was never going to be right for me, has given me some space to breathe.

Duh, there is going to be some disconnect when they are all J’s, and I am a P!’

It also explains some of the trying I’ve experienced in the layer cake. I can stop trying to be my parents.

I’m sharing this example about my mom for the following reasons:

  1. Don’t underestimate the influence that your parents have on you as an adult. You are not your parents. How you live your life, clean your house, relate to your partner, and parent your own kids, is best done when you are being You, not channelling them.
  2. You can not change your parents. Their quintessential selves are not going to change just because you feel you need them to.
  3. The most important thing about your relationship to food and your body is that it reflects your True You. If you count calories because that is just how you naturally think, and not because it’s a behaviour being driven by shame, fear, or control, then go for it.

So here’s the two endings to the story that you get to pick. If you’re looking at the layer cake and are noticing some behaviours that fall into that spectrum, ask yourself why.

Is it because like me, they are rooted in the blue layer and you were doing the green trying and hiding dance? (If yes, turn to Day 29.)

Or because like my mom, that’s part of being your quintessential self? (If yes, The End.)


Your story matters. As part of ‘Bulimia Uncovered: 29 days to being your Quintessential Self’ we want to hear from you. How can you relate to what you’ve just read? Leave a comment below and share your related stories and pictures however you do best. If using social media use hashtag #bu29days and tag me so we can follow. We’re also inviting stories to feature on The True You Project. Email kendratanner121@gmail.com if you’d like yours shared there.

Feb Food Fun giveaway! Want more tools to overcome judgement and shame, and be your quintessential self? Join the True You Project community and you’ll receive Your True You Journey, an 8 week self-coaching e-guide that will give you the tools to navigate through the mud and peel back the layers covering up your True You.

#bu29days: Day 23: Why your story matters

aka Why do I sometimes think my eating disorder wasn’t ‘good enough’

aka The audacity of shame

Over the years, and as I’ve been writing this blog series, I’ve noticed a big gaping hole.

Where’s the sob story? The trauma? The drama?

So I got spat on; big deal.

And a so-called friend called me ‘the thing’; yeah, and?

My dad questioned whether or not a I looked good in a bikini.  I felt different from my peers and wanted to stand out in a sport. 

Whoopty-doo.

When I saw that therapist in NYC and her diagnoses was,’ you’ll grow out of it,’ I assume she was thinking the same thing, ‘Where’s the childhood trauma I can pin the bulimia to?’ And since she couldn’t find a good enough reason why I ended up as I did, presumably, she thought I’d grow out of it in the same way I grew into it.

I’ve listened to the stories of others with eating disorders.

Some were physically beaten.

Some were pimped out by their mom, or experienced some other form of sexual abuse.

Some were neglected by an alcoholic parent and were passed around to family members.

Some have been in and out of inpatient care for 20 years.

Some have been binging and purging on a daily basis.

Some have had multiple stomach staples to shrink their stomach and control their weight.

 

I hear these stories and immediately two thoughts come to mind:

  1. My childhood wasn’t traumatic enough to lead me to an eating disorder. What was/is inherently wrong with me that got me there?
  2. My eating disorder wasn’t ‘good enough’. It wasn’t extreme or dramatic enough to warrant me really bringing any attention to it.

This is what’s so f*cked up about shame. It can make you feel shame about your shame not being shameful enough.

Yeah, you read that right.

But this is what makes any shame-based living so isolating.

We think our story isn’t ‘bad enough’.

And our reactions not extreme enough.

Neither are headline-worthy news.

Once again proof that we, as a person, are not enough.

That is a lie.

To quote another Liberty Bain gem, ‘We can have very different experiences, but it’s in the feelings that we’re the same.’

Shame is shame, regardless of whether or not you end up with an eating disorder, addiction, or you find a healthy way to respond.

The same with fear and with vulnerability.

Each of us experience these things at one time or another. Some are able to respond in a healthy way. Brene Brown calls this ‘wholehearted living’. Others of us haven’t learned how to do that. Yet.

What I would ask of each of you reading this today is this:

Regardless of how much drama or trauma you have or have not experienced in your life, accept that you are the same as the person next you.

Stop comparing and judging your story, your external experience. You are not better than someone else because you didn’t ‘go there’ or get ‘that bad’, and they are not better than you because they did.

Our stories serve a purpose. They are windows into our souls. And from a meeting of souls, healing can happen.

Your story counts for what it is. It is enough. It is the exact window that somebody else needs to access and heal their own soul.

Own it. Share it. Tell it. Stop hiding from it.

Your story matters.

 


To find and heal your soul through some more windows, check out The True You Project’s Real, Raw & Related interview series and Angela Barnett’s FABIK blog.


Your story matters. As part of ‘Bulimia Uncovered: 29 days to being your Quintessential Self’ we want to hear from you. How can you relate to what you’ve just read? Leave a comment below and share your related stories and pictures however you do best. If using social media use hashtag #bu29days and tag me so we can follow. We’re also inviting stories to feature on The True You Project. Email kendratanner121@gmail.com if you’d like yours shared there.

Feb Food Fun giveaway! Want more tools to overcome judgement and shame, and be your quintessential self? Join the True You Project community and you’ll receive Your True You Journey, an 8 week self-coaching e-guide that will give you the tools to navigate through the mud and peel back the layers covering up your True You.

Nourish your Quintessential Self. The Nourish Circle, a private group for women to support each other’s journeys with food, body and self, is starting soon. Join Liberty Bain and I on Wednesdays from wherever you are. A place to experience first hand that your story matters. Join us this February.

#bu29days: Day 22: Are you really better?

aka What does freedom mean?

aka Do you still think of yourself as disordered?

I answered this question for the interview I did with FABIK (aka Fucking Awesome Bulimics [Angela Barnett] Knows) and in my typical vacillating fashion, my answer was sometimes no, sometimes yes.

I’ll explain.

No, from the point of view that when it comes to food, I can hand on heart say that my relationship with food is not disordered. I no longer look at a buffet table in simultaneous fear of what it will do to my thighs, and longing salivation, as a dog drools over a bone.

I am excited by food, curious about food, enjoy food.

It doesn’t control my thoughts and my life anymore.

I feel ‘normal’ with food, whatever that actually means.

I suppose more importantly, I feel free.

Free to be able to stand in my kitchen and munch on a bag of crisps that my husband left open when I get home later than planned and haven’t eaten since breakfast.

Free to be able to have three meals a day with a few in between snacks.

Free to have cheese and crackers and wine for dinner; no veg in sight.

That feels damn good.

I wouldn’t claim that my eating habits are ‘perfect’. They don’t follow any rules out there. But to be honest, I’m glad my eating habits aren’t ‘perfect’ because if they were, it would mean I am once again more worried about someone else’s version of life, and I’m disconnecting from what is true for me.

Right now I’m connected to when I’m hungry, when I’m not, whether or not something actually looks appetizing, what I’m in the mood for, what my body is asking for, and why I’m eating something.

If I strive for perfection, I lose that connection.

So Yes, I really am better. I really am not controlled by food anymore, and No my relationship to food is not disordered anymore.

For those of you reading this who can’t say that, have hope. Freedom really, truly, is possible.

On the flip side, when I look at all the layers that lie beneath disordered eating, the underlying causes and the sister disorders, I am very much still a Work In Progress.

Shame rears it’s ugly head more often than I wish to admit. Even in preparing to write this blog series, Mr. Dick took on the persona of the cross-examining prosecuting lawyer from My Cousin Vinny:

Shame: Does being an ex-bulimic necessarily qualify you as being an expert on eating disorders?

Me: No, thank you. Good-bye.

But then that other firm, deep voice from within, the ultimate judge said, ‘Sit down and stay there until you’re told to leave.’

And the voice of Truth spoke: Your Honor, her expertise is in general life knowledge. It is in this area that her testimony will be applicable. Now if Mr. Dick wishes to voir dire the witness as to the extent of her expertise in this area, I’m sure he’s gonna be more than satisfied.

Once again My Cousin Vinny’ explains my life.

Embracing the truth of ‘I am Enough as I am’… It’s one of those things that I know it in my head. Believing it in my heart? I’m not 100% there yet.

Fear? I still freeze or flight at first glance. It takes me time to work up the courage to make the phone call to the newspaper editor, put a date in the calendar for the workshop, get business cards made.

And that’s because I’m still learning to dance with vulnerability. We’re still stepping on each other’s toes.

The worst is when I’m face to face with someone.

‘What do you do?’ ‘What’s the event for?’ Nightmare.

I have no problem hanging a poster on a wall. But TALKING to someone face to face about my work? INVITING someone in the moment?

I clam up, stutter over my words, look down at my shoes or at the wall. Talk really quickly and try to wrap up the conversation as soon as possible.

No dialogue, questions, engagement or connection.

That whole, Free to Be Me thing? Flies right out of my head.

‘What do I say? What will they think?’… that takes over instead.

I’m learning to forget about me, and in the moment, hold on to the truth that I am Here to Shine; (So turn on the friggin light girl!)

It takes practice to undo years of ‘I am here to be Perfect’ conditioning.

While a work in progress, the beauty is that in these moments, I’m not running to the kitchen anymore. Nor am I running through the park for an endorphin high or stress release.

I’m feeling the feelings. Putting a name to them. And then practicing responding in a way that puts love and truth front and center.

Some other manifestations of the Tom, Dick, and Harry trio that I am working through:

  • People-pleasing
  • Setting healthy boundaries
  • Receiving beauty and abundance into my life
  • Fully expressing myself, including creatively and sexually
  • And I’m still working towards balancing the Nourish and Pleasure pair of scales instead of the Binge & Purge, Deprive & Indulge cycles across many areas of my life.

That’s the short list.

But unlike 10 and 12 years ago when I had those life-changing bathroom floor moments, I’m not trying to ‘fix’ myself.

I’ve learned that we can approach our faults with some grace. Instead of rejecting that part of me, beating myself up when I get it wrong, and putting it on the top of the to-do list, I’m learning to surrender.

And with that, comes freedom.

Yes, I wish I was more articulate on the fly when there is a difference of opinion. Yes, I wish I could find the words to take a stronger stand for what I want. And for sure, it would be nice not to say no to money when people offer it to me (I know, that seems like a no-brainer. I’m workin’ on it.)

But this is where I’m at. The surrender is to keep accepting that I am Enough as I am, even at this point. Even at ‘not perfect’.

It was easy for me to say that I’m glad I’m not perfect with food. It’s harder for me to say I’m glad I’m not getting it perfect in the rest of my life. While I can accept that’s not the point, another part still wants to ‘get it right’.

When I can wholeheartedly stop worrying about ‘getting it right’, when I can fully surrender, that is when I am free from the ‘disorder’.

I find that it is not a permanent state of being. I’m not sure that’s meant to be in this lifetime.

But when it happens, I hold on to the moments, celebrate, and have hope that there are more to come.


Something to think about: Do you believe that it is possible to 100% be free from an eating disorder? What does freedom mean to you? What does recovery mean to you? How easy is it to accept that you are enough as you are?

Your story matters. As part of ‘Bulimia Uncovered: 29 days to being your Quintessential Self’ we want to hear from you. How can you relate to what you’ve just read? Leave a comment below and share your related stories and pictures however you do best. If using social media use hashtag #bu29days and tag me so we can follow. We’re also inviting stories to feature on The True You Project. Email kendratanner121@gmail.com if you’d like yours shared there.

Feb Food Fun giveaway! Want more tools to overcome judgement and shame, and be your quintessential self? Join the True You Project community and you’ll receive Your True You Journey, an 8 week self-coaching e-guide that will give you the tools to navigate through the mud and peel back the layers covering up your True You.

Nourish your Quintessential Self. The Nourish Circle, a private group for women to support each other’s journeys with food, body and self, is starting soon. Join Liberty Bain and I on Wednesdays from wherever you are. A place to explore and accept all of you. Join us this February.

#bu29days: Day 14: Love never fails

aka What were some key turning points for you?

aka Where are your roots planted?

After that initial decision on the bathroom floor to stop purging and change my life, it was slow going.

I used a lot of willpower that first year. That was hard. It takes up a lot of energy. I think that’s why that year is so blurry to me.

I have vague memories of having plans to go out with friends, but as the day went on, and time got closer, I’d cancel my plans. Either because I felt fat, had eaten too much, or just plain and simply, because it was too much to be around others when I was dealing with myself.

One time I ate through a box of really nice muesli/granola type cereal from Whole Foods when I was at my parent’s house one weekend. I felt so guilty, I bought them a new box the next day. When I gave it to them, I told them why I had bought it and they graciously said I didn’t have to do that. But for me I did. I had to make up for what I had done.

Self-inflicted Retribution. There was a lot of that going on.

I remember going shopping for jeans. Now, this is a nightmare for any woman, let alone someone who is constantly battling with their body.

Remember when Joe’s Jeans and 7 for all Mankind were all the rage?

I really wanted a pair of 7’s. I went to Saks, Bloomie’s, and all the cool boutiques in the West Village, trying on every pair of 7’s there were. None of them fit right. Either they fit over my thighs and my bum but were too big at the waist, or I couldn’t get them over my thighs.

I finally ended up with a pair of Joe’s. They weren’t quite right… wrong color, not flared enough at the bottom… but they had to do since they fit my thighs, ass, AND waist.

Jeans shopping can be traumatizing. Shopping for those Joe’s did nothing for my self-esteem. Especially since, with the decision to stop purging, came inevitable weight gain since I was still binging on a regular basis.

I finally realized that this ‘food thing’ wasn’t just going to go away and I started to reach out for some additional help.

I talked to my doctor. He tried to hypnotise the fear of fat out of me. It was an interesting experience although didn’t quite work.

I went to see a shrink. She dug around in my past looking for some trauma to explain why I was bulimic, couldn’t really find anything (jeans shopping apparently doesn’t count), and her prescription was ‘You’ll grow out of it.’ While it was predictive, not so helpful at the time.

I turned to Barnes & Noble. I picked up the book, ‘Overcoming Binge Eating’ by Dr. Christopher Fairburn. I don’t remember the details of what it said, but I remember diving into it with gusto.

The most profound moment was when I was sitting at a sushi bar with a good friend of mine from college. I don’t know how the conversation got there, but I started telling her about my food issues.

She responded with, ‘Me Too.’

This blew my mind. I had known her since before my first purge! How did we just start talking about his now!? 5 years later!

She had been there all along yet we both struggled in silence. Which makes the struggle even worse.

That night, we didn’t have solutions for each other. We didn’t become accountability partners or anything like that. But in sharing a common pain, we bonded. We knew we’d be there for each other.

I suppose knowing that a friend of mine was in similar shoes, gave me the courage to start to open up with strangers. I went to a Body Image class that a church nearby was hosting. This was in hindsight, one of the best moves I made.

The instructor shared a story of how she had struggled with accepting her body the way it was, and had been talking with a counselor who had drawn the picture of a tree. She recalled the parable about how your fruit will reflect where your roots are planted. And she asked the question:

Where are your roots planted?

This question shook me.

One, I had no idea.

Two, I assumed no where good since my fruit consisted of dependency on exercise to feel good about myself, and indulging in food when I didn’t. And an internal battle to not make myself throw up afterwards. Maybe my roots are planted in a psychological war zone? The Gaza Strip of my mind; who’s going to own it today?

Three, it brought up a lot of guilt about my spiritual life. ‘I should be going to church. I haven’t read my Bible in years. Crap! This is God condemning me!’

At the end of the day though, I realized, that wherever I was planting my roots, wasn’t really serving me. It was too temporary, too focused on receiving the approval of others in the now.

I knew I had to stop worrying about what other people thought, and do what felt right for me.

If at the time I had asked my 35 year old self, where are my roots planted and where should I plant them instead?, this is the answer I would’ve got:

“Your roots aren’t planted anywhere. You look like a solid tree, but you can be easily moved by the wind. And, you use people and the environments around you to dictate what kind of tree you will be. You’re a Chameleon Tree. Whatever little buds of a root you start to sprout, is planted in the opinion of people around you.

So start planting real roots, and go plant them in Love. Planting them in Love and planting them in God may be the same thing, but not if you plant them with the God of your childhood that comes with harsh judgement and condemnation.

Stop judging and condemning yourself. Open yourself up to having a whole new understanding of Love, and God, and plant your roots in that.”


 

As I am writing this, it is a Sunday and it is February 14th, Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate Love (and chocolate.)

I am reminded of that infamous verse about Love that is often recited at weddings. Love is patient, love is kind, etc.

I am going to take a crack at adding to that list, based on the things I have learned about love over the past 10 years. This is what I would tell my 25 year old self about Love. 

Love is surrendering to the idea that you don’t have to have it all together.

Love is giving yourself what you want.

Love is receiving what you want.

Love is accepting your birthright to receive love.

Love is engaging with beauty.

Love is finding courage to face fears.

Love is being vulnerable.

Love is speaking your truth.

Love invites in. It creates connection.

Love does not judge.

Love does not condemn.

Love is gentle.

Love accepts what is in the moment.

Love forgives, even yourself.

Love says, come as you are.

Love says, you are worthy.

Love says it’s OK to let go of what you’re holding on to; I will catch you.

Love says you don’t have to have it all figured out today.

Love speaks to you like you would a friend.

Love doesn’t give up.

Love Never Fails.

3 love never fails 900x900

Something to think about: Where are your roots planted? How can you start planting them in Love? What is love to you?

Your story matters. As part of ‘Bulimia Uncovered: 29 days to being your Quintessential Self’ we want to hear from you. How can you relate to what you’ve just read? Leave a comment below and share your related stories and pictures however you do best. If using social media use hashtag #bu29days and tag me so we can follow. We’re also inviting stories to feature on The True You Project. Email kendratanner121@gmail.com if you’d like yours shared there.

Feb Food Fun giveaway! Want more tools to overcome judgement and shame, and be your quintessential self? Join the True You Project community and you’ll receive Your True You Journey, an 8 week self-coaching e-guide that will give you the tools to navigate through the mud and peel back the layers covering up your True You.

Nourish your Quintessential Self. The Nourish Circle, a private group for women to support each other’s journeys with food, body and self, is starting soon. Join Liberty Bain and I on Wednesdays from wherever you are, and see if this could be your next life raft. Join us this February.

#bu29days: Day 13: What I wish they taught me in Psych class

aka How my future child saved me.

aka How long were you bulimic for?

aka So how did you go from pre-meditating binges and purges to not making yourself sick for the past 9.5 years?

That my friend, is a long story with many twists and turns.

It started though one Saturday afternoon when I was kneeling on my bathroom floor with my head over the toilet bowl. I was on meant to be on my way to catch the ferry back to Staten Island for some family event that evening. My original plan was to catch a mid-day ferry. That got pushed pack to 2pm, then 3pm, then 4pm as I couldn’t get myself together to leave my apartment. I don’t remember why, but I was binging and that was stopping me from getting myself home to spend time with family.

I think by the time I had made myself sick, it was 2pm or so. I and remember sitting there thinking, what the f*ck Kendra!? What are you doing with your life? You are so messed up that you can’t even stick to your plans and catch the ferry on time! This is a SATURDAY AFTERNOON!!!!! Why aren’t you enjoying yourself? Why are you at your lowest? What is wrong with you?

I know those weren’t the kindest words I could say to myself, but they got my attention.

Followed by: How are you going to ever have a family? How are going to raise kids if you can’t control yourself and you end up here in broad daylight? How are you even going to birth a child if you can’t keep your food down? What if you vomit up your baby while you’re pregnant?

Now, I know from a biological point of view, that would be impossible because my uterus and stomach are not connected. But that Saturday afternoon, it seemed highly likely that they were.

And something clicked. I vowed to myself that I was going to change.

Magic didn’t happen overnight. But that one moment, that one choice, was pivotal.

And with that decision to change, and more specifically, that I wasn’t going to make myself sick anymore, I took my first steps down a different road.

This happened sometime in the winter of 2004. I don’t remember exactly when, but I know was I training for the Boston Marathon at the time.

The events of the next year was a blur for me. Partly because I still had one leg in the Denial river.

I had previously accepted that I was bulimic. It was the year before that I first told anyone; my boyfriend and my parents. You can read about that here.

But, since I stuck to that decision not to purge anymore, my logic for a good year or so was this:

Zero throwing up + Zero use of laxatives = Bulimia Free

For the record: this is the faultiest logic I have ever come across. And unfortunately, it is pervasive in the world of eating disorders and disordered eating.

The accepted medical definitions of anorexia and bulimia at the time, laid out very clear behavioural criteria that had to be met in order to wear the label of anorexic or bulimic. I clung to those criteria for dear life.

I skimmed over the caveat (and slight fine print): It is important to remember that someone can still have an eating disorder or body image issues and not meet the diagnostic criteria.

As I mentioned, I first heard about eating disorders in a psychology class. We learned about them according to the DSM-IV, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, published by the American Psychiatric Association. It is commonly used as a guide by doctors and psychiatrists to diagnose a person with a mental health issue.

The criteria at the time that I held on to, was that bulimia meant you had to purge twice a week for at least 3 months.

When I first experimented with binging and purging, this gave me license to proceed, because I knew that so long as I didn’t do it twice a week for 3 consecutive months, I was good to go. No problem to address. I had it all under control.

And on the flip side, when I made that decision on my bathroom floor not to purge again, it was back to ‘all is well’. No diagnostic behaviours present, meant no problem present. 

(Again, this is not how it works!!!)

But that is how I was still floating down Denial and making steps to recovery at the same time.

Except I didn’t really see it as recovery at the time. What was I recovering from? All I had to do with stop some (pretty messed up) behaviours, and I was back to an even playing field with the general population.

I didn’t have the Acceptance or Awareness that there was anything to recover from. It also somehow served me and empowered me to believe that everything was OK.

That belief served as a life raft that I was willing to hold on to. If at the time you had offered me a life raft for Low Self-worth, People-Pleasing, Co-Dependency, Sex Issues, Money Issues, and a variety of other self-worth related issues painted on it, I’m not sure I would’ve grabbed it.

Stop Purging. Yes, that one I could wrap my head and my arms around.

So for a year or so, I was holding on to that life raft, trying to stay afloat. Trying to go about life as if everything was hunky dory because the problem had gone away.

What I didn’t know at the time, was that the other life raft was the one I’d eventually have to hold on to. The first one could only take me so far.

I have no judgement for myself then, and neither for you if you need the simple and specific life raft right now. Stop Purging, Follow the Meal Plan, Run More, Eat Less, or some other tactical change might be your saviour right now. And if it is, hold on tight.

I would just ask you this: don’t let it seduce you into thinking that it can carry you forever. And when it loses its buoyancy, don’t freak out. It doesn’t mean that you’re back to square one again, it just means you have to find the next one that is going to carry you a little bit further.

I want to acknowledge that the DSM-5, published in 2013, has changed the criteria for bulimia to purging only once a week for 3 months at a time. It’s also added in new category that is essentially a catch-all in case you don’t quite fit into any of the other ones. It’s called Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder (UFED) and is defined as this:

‘According to the DSM-5 criteria this category applies to where behaviours cause clinically significant distress/impairment of functioning, but do not meet the full criteria of any of the Feeding or Eating Disorder criteria.’

The funny thing is, I’m not sure I’ve ever met the bulimia criteria for either DSM-IV or DSM-V. Three months is a long time for me to do anything consistently once a week, let alone twice a week, without missing a beat. But that’s just me.

I don’t remember what the longest stretch of time my consistent purging covered, and I don’t remember the most intense frequency. I do know that the fall of 2000 marked my first purge and August of 2006 my last (with an 18 month break in the middle, does that count?)

I also know that for at least 4 years leading up to my first episode, I was restricting and controlling with food and my body to get a desired outcome, and that from 2006 until 2008 I still had binging episodes, was restrictive with my diet, and was using exercise for weight management.

To quote Liberty Bain, ‘You can have an anorexic mindset, and not be anorexic.’

My bulimic mindset carried on past my bulimia. To be honest, I am still recovering from a bulimic mindset, and I learn more about its impact every day. (And I’m actually grateful for it too. It’s helped me learn how to live. More on that later.)

So to answer the question, how long were you bulimic for? My answer could range from never (according to the DSM), to my whole life (according to my mindset).

Personally, I wouldn’t worry about meeting or not meeting the criteria.

The only benefit that I see of the criteria, is for that time where you’re not sure what’s going on, you feel really alone because you’re not sure if anyone is experiencing the same thing you are, and you’re asking yourself, ‘What the heck is wrong with me?’ Then you can google what your behaviours are, or how you’re feeling, and now you have a name for what you’re going through. And now you’re not alone anymore.

Point being: Use the label if it helps you. There were times when it helped me.

But really, the thing I invite you to ask yourself the following:

  • Does your relationship to food, body and self cause you distress?
  • Do I adopt a control/release indulge/deprive mindset at all?
  • Does shame, vulnerability, and fear, lead me to try to change who I am and what I look like?

If yes, regardless of whether it is 1% of the time or 100% of the time, there is room to grow.

I wish those questions had made it into my Psychology of Adolescents class curriculum. Maybe I could’ve taken the shortcut, instead of the long way round.


 

Something to think about: What defining choices have you made in life? Would a label help or harm right now? What life raft would serve you best? What areas of your life cause you distress?

Your story matters. As part of ‘Bulimia Uncovered: 29 days to being your Quintessential Self’ we want to hear from you. How can you relate to what you’ve just read? Leave a comment below and share your related stories and pictures however you do best. If using social media use hashtag #bu29days and tag me so we can follow. We’re also inviting stories to feature on The True You Project. Email kendratanner121@gmail.com if you’d like yours shared there.

Feb Food Fun giveaway! Want more tools to overcome judgement and shame, and be your quintessential self? Join the True You Project community and you’ll receive Your True You Journey, an 8 week self-coaching e-guide that will give you the tools to navigate through the mud and peel back the layers covering up your True You.

Nourish your Quintessential Self. The Nourish Circle, a private group for women to support each other’s journeys with food, body and self, is starting soon. Join Liberty Bain and I on Wednesdays from wherever you are, and see if this could be your next life raft. Join us this February.

#bu29days: Day 11: Floating down Denial

aka So was that it? For a few months you binged and purged, travelled around Europe, and was good to go?

Oh dear me no. That was just the beginning.

For April, May and June of that year I was OK. I didn’t purge and I’m pretty sure the binging was under control. The guy I had said goodbye to in Miami was coming out to see me. We had kept the long-distance thing going and I suppose part of what kept me from binging was wanting to look good for him ie not put on any weight.

That summer though, it started up again. I was working as a camp counselor at my university. I don’t remember how I was with food overall, but I do remember one incident where I had plans to run with my track coach one afternoon. I had been staying in the dorms to monitor the camp kids but this day I must have had off, so I went to the house where I lived when school was in session.

I don’t remember what came over me, but I do remember going through at least a pint of ice cream along with whatever else I found in the cupboards, within hours of meeting up for a run. I had to get rid of the food because, as any runner will know, going for a run on a full belly is a recipe for disaster. It will come out one end or the other.

So I tried to pre-empt the situation, made myself sick before going for the run, and still felt miserable during the run.

The next vivid memory I have was that fall. It was two nights before our division’s championship meet. I had had a decent season so far. My best one yet and good thing considering it was my last.

My time in the season’s kick-off workout made it into the all-time top 10 list, which was supposed to be an indicator for the rest of my season. I ran an 18:30 5K, my goal time, although it was on the flattest course ever so I didn’t really think it counted.

I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to close the season strong.

One thing I have noticed, and I probably knew then… I am not a good closer. I pick people off in the middle of a race, but I would always peter out at the end. The last three-quarters to half-mile of a race, my legs would get heavy, I’d feel like I was in slow-motion, and in my head it was a combination of ‘go faster, c’mon you got this’ and beating myself and my body up. Shame would show up with ‘Should’ve done more miles, eaten less, more squats etc.’

It was never pretty, as you can tell.

HEPS 2001
On the left: The face of shame. On the right: Quiet confidence.

 

I used to have nightmares where I looked and felt exactly like I did in the picture.

I recently read Gay Hendrick’s book, The Big Leap, and I can see now that what I was doing was a form of upper limiting. I inherently didn’t believe that I had what it took to win, place, beat the other girl, and so I subconsciously self-sabotaged, even though consciously I wanted to perform.

Talk about an internal tug of war.

And so that night, two nights before the championship meet, I binged on God-knows-what and had my head over the toilet bowl. For the record, that is NOT the best way to prepare your body for a peak performance. I don’t remember my time for that meet, but I don’t think it was even my best for that course.

The rest of my senior year I don’t remember specifics. But I know by the time I graduated and started my first job, I was at it again. The night before the interview, the night before the first day at work.

My mom had bought me my first suit that spring, and I was so afraid that after I graduated college and stopped running 60 miles a week and training so hard, I’d put on weight and wouldn’t fit into it.

Guess what, that fear came true because the only way I knew how to regulate my weight was through running. I grew out of it quickly. It became my benchmark though. On a good day I could fit into the skirt without it being too tight around the waist. On a bad day, I couldn’t even bear to try it on.

This is when I started having two wardrobes. The set of clothes that were between a size 4 and a size 6 for when I was ‘at my best’ and another set between size 6-8 for all the other days.

It was this first year out of college that the binges and purges became more frequent. A pattern started to form too. I was officially living at home at my parents on Staten Island but my boyfriend had an apartment in the city that was a 20 minute walk from my office.

Let me see, a daily 90min-2hour commute twice a day, or a 20 minute walk in the morning and a jog through Central Park in the evening? 

I think I’ll go with Option B.

When I was at my boyfriend’s place, I wouldn’t make myself sick. It was only when I was home. So my bulimia developed a bulimic pattern. 

I’d be ‘fine’ for days at a time, while staying with him, but I had to control my urges to binge. We’d get pizza for dinner and I’d always get the veg one even though the pepperoni one looked really good. We’d go to Gristedes and get ice cream or Pringles to snack on and I’d be terrified of eating what we bought and at the same time craving it. I’d try to subdue that internal battle and just act ‘normal’, whatever that meant. 

But then when I was  home, I could binge eat in secret. I could finally satisfy that craving and release all of the tension that had been building up from trying to control and hide my urge to binge.  I’d binge on binging. It was the epitome of the deprive/indulge model that I had learned oh so well.

These were dark times and it’s hard to find a silver lining.


 

The message that I’d like to highlight today is that while it’s not easy to hide in broad daylight, people around you are.

I’ll quote an amazing kindred spirit that I just met, Angela Barnett, who summed it up perfectly in a blog post; ‘Bulimics are cagier than Her Majesty’s Secret Service.‘ #truthbomb

We’re not the only cagy ones though. Anyone who has a vested interested in hiding shameful behaviours will go out of their way to keep their secrets safe and try on an act that makes everything look hunky-dory.

And this trying and hiding will make you a basket case. The dis-integrity of looking like you got it all together on the outside, meanwhile WWIII is going on inside. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re going for a run with a promising athlete, or interviewing someone with a great CV for a job, or welcoming a new employee wearing a beautiful suite on their first day of work, or filming someone for a prime time TV program (sneak preview for tomorrow). That person could be suffering inside.

They could be caught in a destructive cycle that is ripping them apart and you’d have no idea.

Except now you do have an idea.

I ask myself, was there anything that people around me could’ve done to help or to stop me at the time?

My honest answer: I don’t know.

I don’t know what would’ve gotten my attention then because I wasn’t at a point where I recognized that I had a problem. And as we’ve all heard, the first part of any recovery to so stop floating down the river Denial.

For sure one option is NOT to bash them over the head with a stick until they give up and say, ‘OK, OK, I’ve got a problem!’

And the other option of ignoring that there’s potentially a problem? Not really helpful either.

Third option?

For all of us to come out of denial.

Come out of denial that people you know and love could be struggling. And this isn’t just limited to eating disorders. We all have our struggles.

Accept that this is the case, and then raise your Awareness.

And then from Awareness, show up with Love.

Create a non-judgemental space for someone to just be in. Someone who is in denial and is doing their best to cover their tracks, needs to know that there is somewhere safe to turn when they are ready to get out of the river.

The presence of judgement and an expectation-oriented environment makes this difficult. It’s as if the alligators are on shore instead of in the water.

But creating a space for vulnerable honesty (which means you might have to show some of your mud first), and of acceptance, regardless of the mud the other person brings…. that is the best option.

We can each make a decision to practice living from a place of love. Consciously look to prevent and negate the impact of shame, courageously face our own fears, and start to dance with vulnerability.

Then we’re doing our part in helping someone who is still in Denial, come ashore.

Something to think about: Are you floating down da’Nile in some area of your life? What would help you come ashore?

Your story matters. As part of ‘Bulimia Uncovered: 29 days to being your Quintessential Self’ we want to hear from you. How can you relate to what you’ve just read? Leave a comment below and share your related stories and pictures however you do best. If using social media use hashtag #bu29days and tag me so we can follow. We’re also inviting stories to feature on The True You Project. Email kendratanner121@gmail.com if you’d like yours shared there.

Feb Food Fun giveaway! Want more tools to overcome judgement and shame, and be your quintessential self? Join the True You Project community and you’ll receive Your True You Journey, an 8 week self-coaching e-guide that will give you the tools to navigate through the mud and peel back the layers covering up your True You.

Nourish your Quintessential Self. The Nourish Circle, a private group for women to support each other’s journeys with food, body and self, is starting.Join Liberty Bain and I on Wednesdays from wherever you are and receive support for your own dance with vulnerability. Join us this February.