What Defines You?

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A few months before I quit skating, I saw a sports psychologist for the first time. Within the first few minutes of our session, he asked me to draw a circle and then to divide the circle up based on the various parts of my identity.

I paused for a minute. I was confused. 

I was a skater.

That was my identity. My sole identity. That was all I could remember being—“Jenny, the skater”—for the past decade. I was “Jenny, the skater” throughout middle and high school. Whenever anyone asked me about myself, my answer was always, "I'm a skater." That t-shirt that said “Skating is life. The rest is just details”? 

I lived that t-shirt. 

But that was also why I was sitting in this guy’s office. My sole identity as a skater was making me hate the sport.  Skating had become my everything and the only thing. The rest of that stuff, the details? I didn't let myself think about them. 

I was twenty years old, and the thought of doing anything in my life besides skating terrified me. My family was the skating community. I was dating a skater. My best friend was a skater. My days were defined by how many jumps I had landed in my long program run-through. If I was having a bad triple lutz day, I was having a bad day.

Skating was my everything.

Yet, over the past two years, I had begun to resent this identity I had created for myself. I felt guilty any time I did something that didn't coincide with what I felt I should be doing as an elite athlete. If I stayed up too late or made "normal" friends, I worried that it was going to negatively affect my training. I had created a life for myself where I felt trapped, and to venture away from skating to focus on a different part of my identity just felt impossible

In reality, I was so much more than a skater; I just couldn’t see that at time. I couldn’t see that balance was what I needed.  This can happen to so many athletes. It usually doesn't happen overnight, and it starts with good intentions: to be the best at the sport you love. But slowly, you may start to feel like you can’t do anything that goes against your athletic identity, that you feel could threaten your focus. This may mean declining invitations to parties and sleepovers, not going to the prom, spending less time time with friends and family. It may mean pushing aside hobbies or convincing yourself that your education doesn’t matter. Your days are suddenly defined by how your training is going. Results at each competition start to define your worth. 

A little bit of this is okay. As an athlete, you need to put your all into your sport. And, even after skating, there are going to be times in life when one part of your identity is going to hold more weight than all the others. That’s necessary from time to time. But too much focus in one arena—whatever that may be—will lead to burnout and resentment.  As a human, you need balance. You need variety in your life. You need to see that you are a full, well-rounded individual. This will make you a better athlete. It will make you a happier person.

To do this isn’t always easy. It also goes against what so many young athletes are taught. When you grow up in a sport like skating, it's easy to think that more hours on the ice will automatically yield better results. Sometimes, homeschooling is a more favorable scheduling choice. Your friends become your training mates. Family vacations become competitions. Often, much of this is necessary—and totally okay. Yet, skaters also need a life outside of the confines of an ice rink. Exploring identities, friendships and hobbies away from the ice is a good thing. It will help a skater’s career and make them value their time on the ice.

Skating is a wonderful part of a young athlete's life, but it cannot be the only thing in their life. While it would seem that more focus and time spent on something is automatically going to yield better results, this doesn't always ring true. Too much time spent doing any one thing can lead an individual to feeling confined and boxed in. When the weight of your whole world, your very identity, rests in one thing, the pressure becomes too much—and unnecessary. 

When I left competitive skating, I was terrified. I had zero clue who I was outside of an ice rink. I was essentially leaving behind myself. I suddenly didn't have the thing that defined how my day went, how I was as a person. It was up to me to create a new path. And, bless, did I stumble. But in that process, I blossomed. I realized that I am so much more than a skater—and I always was. I learned to see that my time as a skater will always be an incredible part part of my life, but it doesn't define my life.

If you're an athlete, you need to put everything you have into your sport, and I think it’s good to have that one thing in life that you love. But that one thing can’t be the only thing; it doesn't need to be at the expense of the other facets of who you are.  Every identity you hold is just as important as what you do. That thing that you're going all in amazing, but also remember that it's just a part of you. It does not need to define you. 

After a Binge: What To Do

Binge

Yesterday, I shared some tips that helped me when I was recovering from binge eating disorder. 

Very briefly, let’s discuss a truth about eating disorders—and perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind: Recovery is a process. Whatever eating disorder behaviors you're engaging in are there for a reason; they’re serving you in a some way. A huge part of recovery is learning new behaviors to replace whatever the eating disorder has been providing you. With that, it’s 100% okay to stumble along the way. New behaviors don’t often stick overnight. There are going to be days when you take a few steps backwards on the road to recovery, and this is okay. What matters is how quickly you get back on track after one of these stumbles.

With that said, here are five things that worked for me the morning after a binge— 

Get Moving

I used to binge in the evenings, right before bed. I'd wake up the next morning bloated, frustrated and sad. My first thought was aways to reach for more food to make those feelings go away. My thinking went, I've already messed up, so I might as well continue with this binge

This did not serve me.

As hard as it was, over time, I learned to force myself to get up, make the bed and get my butt moving. If you can, I highly suggest getting in a light workout the morning after a binge. Rather than burning off the food from the night before, focus on moving your body with the goal of changing your emotional state. The workout can be something as simple as a 10-minute workout in your room, some sun salutations or a brisk walk around the block.

The purpose of the morning-after workout isn’t to rid yourself of the excess calories; the purpose is to generate positive energy. When you begin a binge, your brain is flooded with dopamine from that initial rush of sugar. After a binge, you're depleted, dragging and disappointed in yourself. Through exercise, you're getting back that dopamine in a healthy and positive way. This in turn will change your energy state and improve your mood.

Eat When Hunger Strikes

The biggest mistake we tend to make when we’re trying to recover from binge eating is restricting what we eat after a binge. This never works. I remember trying to push my next meal after a binge as long as possible, but what would inevitably happen is that I’d be so ravenous once I finally let myself eat that I'd end up binging again. 

Don't be like me. When you get hungry after a binge—which I promise you will—eat. Even if part of your brain is screaming at you to push aside your hunger, make yourself eat a well-rounded meal, and let yourself enjoy it. You want to get back on your regular eating schedule as quickly as possible, and there is no need to punish yourself.

Explore Your Triggers

Here’s the thing: There’s something that led you to binge, and whatever that trigger is, it’s likely going to come up again. For example, if you were home alone, it was a Friday night, your ex sent you a text, you were feeling a little bit restless and decided to eat some cookies, which turned into a full-blown binge, all of this is data. Write this down. Examine what happened; examine what you were feeling. 

Binging is a way to take care of yourself. We binge because we’re needing something that in that moment that we don’t know how to give to ourselves. Whatever we’re feeling, whatever situation we’re facing just seems too overwhelming, so we choose to check out. The binge comforts us and makes the feelings go away—temporarily. Figuring out your triggers are is HUGE. Once you know what sets off your binges, you can track the pattern and start to understand yourself better. Sometimes forcing yourself to sit down and write out the stuff that lead to a binge isn’t fun, but it’s really rewarding when you realize that binging isn’t something that just happens to you out of the blue; it’s triggered by a set pattern.

Write Down What you Could Have Done Differently

Once you’ve explored what led you to binge, rewrite the experience. Take a few minutes to write out what you could have done differently—but write it as if it actually happened. So, instead of saying “I could have XYZ,” write, “I love that I XYZ.” Write it as if this alternative reality was real.

As you’re rewriting the experience, allow yourself to feel the emotions that go along with this alternative story. Allow yourself to experience how good it feels to give yourself something other than food in that situation. Write about how good the rest of your evening/day/week went without the binge. You want to make that reality as vivid as possible, so you start to truly believe that this is how you can respond the next time you're presented with a similar situation. You can make yourself feel this way in the future!

Reward Yourself

Okay, so here’s the thing. After a binge, we tend to beat ourselves up…a lot. But the truth is, you can’t shame yourself enough to stop binging. If you could, the binges would have stopped a long time ago.

You must be kind to yourself after a binge.

The abuse that the binge put your body through is punishment enough. The most important thing after a binge is to show yourself that you can trust yourself. Rewarding yourself doesn’t mean you are rewarding the binge; it means that you are taking care of yourself in a way the binging could not. Take a long bubble bath. Watch your favorite movie. Do something that is going to comfort yourself in the way that the binge was trying to but didn’t. You must be kind to yourself—even if it’s the last thing you want to do. The binging is a coping mechanism—albeit faulty—and you have to keep in mind that your binges are an attempt to take care of yourself. 

When I was recovering from binge eating disorder, I stumbled…a lot. There were times when I could go weeks without binging, and then I’d fall back into the habit of binging for nights in a row. It felt like the binges would never end. What I learned, though, is that what you do after a binge is vital when it comes to getting back on track and ridding yourself of the disorder. The more you can show yourself that you can take care of yourself without turning to food, the quicker the binges will stop.

And remember: There’s no shame in binging. The only shame comes from staying stuck in the disorder through self-blaming and giving up. The binges are trying to tell you something, and you must listen to yourself and realize that you have the ability to overcome this. Be patient when you stumble, pick yourself up and keep the focus on where you're going.

You can overcome this. 

Enjoying Halloween When Recovering from Binge Eating Disorder

BingeEating

I am someone who loves candy.

Like, the kind of person who would eat candy for every meal if it had the nutritional value to sustain me for the rest of my life.

It’s a serious love.

So Halloween, a day devoted to candy, is my holiday. But when I was struggling with binge eating, Halloween became a nightmare. There were years when I vowed I wouldn’t touch any candy, and sometimes I’d make it all way through October 31. But then, on November 1, not wanting the leftover, half-priced candy to go to waste, I’d buy multiple bags and binge until I couldn’t breathe.

Other years, I’d start early, and the month of October would turn into a month-long candy binge. Day after day I’d find myself at CVS, buying another bag of fun size Skittles or Snickers.

I felt completely out of control.

Since recovering from an eating disorder, Halloween looks much different. There’s no more dread as September and October approach. And while I’m still tempted by the candy aisle, I’ve learned how to indulge just enough, without my love for candy turning into an out-of-control feast.

Here are some tips that have helped me—

Have a Plan

Rather than avoid candy—which will likely lead to a binge later on—it’s super important that you give yourself whatever you’re craving. That said, if you struggle with binge eating, having a huge bag of candy in your house can spark a ton of anxiety. In this situation, I suggest planning ahead. For example, whenever you buy a bag of chips, candy, whatever might be a common binge food for you, make sure you give yourself permission to eat a little bit more than you might actually want the first night. Doing this signals to your brain that this food isn’t a scarce commodity. It also allows the novelty to wear off a little bit.

When it comes to Halloween candy, it also helped me to make sure that I ate a piece after every meal—even breakfast. Again, this allowed me to relax and realize that I was allowed to give myself candy multiple times a day. Knowing that you can have another piece of candy at the next meal calms your mind and lets it focus on other things other than food.

Create More Pleasure

One of the main reasons why anyone binges is because it’s pleasurable…until it’s not. Those first few bites of food are divine. They make all your problems seemingly disappear; all you can focus on is how good the food tastes. 

So when you’re working on stopping the behavior, it’s vital that you add more pleasure into your life—even if it’s only for a few minutes every day.

I’d often binge at night. Overeating was a way for me to relax after a long day. To combat this, I started to string together 3-5 activities that would give me a similar sense of calm that food gave me. I’d go for a walk outside right after dinner, take a long bubble bath, watch some reality TV, do my nails, call a friend.  Although in isolation none of these activities produced the instant rush that binging gave me, when I did these activities one right after the other, they created enough pleasure that I didn’t find myself reaching for candy as often. There were still times when the habit of binging took over—even after doing the activities—but I knew that what was driving the binge was just a habit, not a need for pleasure that I wasn’t giving myself. The ability to differentiate between the two helped me to stop binging because I could see that a habit was something that I could replace; it was just up to me to choose differently.

Delay Gratification & Track and Reward Progress

One of the side effects of adding a routine that will bring more pleasure to your life is that it allows you to delay a potential binge. Throughout the recovery process, I made a point of telling myself every night that I could binge if I wanted to—but only after I had done my 3-5 pleasurable activities. While the option to binge was always there, more of than not, by delaying gratification, I found I was already satisfied and didn’t feel the need to reach for food after my new nightly routine. 

Coupled with this, I made sure to track my progress. It doesn’t have to be anything big, but I’d put a little star next to the days on the calendar when I didn’t binge. Seeing my progress on the calendar gave me incentive to string together as many "star" days as possible. At the end of every binge-free week, I’d reward myself with either a new item of clothing, a manicure, a pedicure or a massage. And, on the weeks when I wasn’t as successful with my goal of not binging, I didn’t beat myself up; I promised myself to shift my focus to the next week. If you’re recovering from binge eating, there’s going to be many ups and downs. The kinder you can be to yourself, the better. This is a process, and you have to know that even during the downs, you will overcome this.

Figure Out What’s Eating at You

Binging doesn’t just happen. Usually, it can start after you’ve been restricting for a long time and your body desperately needs more calories. Sometimes, though, there isn’t any restricting involved; the binging may be a way to protect yourself or a way to give yourself attention that you're not receiving in another area of your life. There's always a good reason why you’re binging; this disorder is serving you in some way. Figuring out why you’re binging—getting to the root of the emotional reason—is important. Journaling, seeing a therapist and meditating helped me immensely during the recovery process. Eating disorders are never about food. Your obsession with food is just a symptom of what’s going on emotionally. It really helps to keep that in mind.

Give Yourself Permission to Indulge

Finally, give yourself permission to eat a little bit more than you might physically need to on Halloween. This circles back to the first tip: plan ahead to give yourself whatever candy you want on the actual holiday. Overeating is quite different from binging. When you're binging, you've lost control. Planning an evening to indulge means that you might end the evening more full than usual, but you haven't hurt yourself with the amount of food you've chosen to eat. I think as long as you’re in control, it’s okay to overeat from time to time; in fact, it’s quite healthy. And, one day of overindulging doesn’t mean you’ll gain weight or lose progress when it comes to recovery; it just means you’re letting yourself indulge in something that gives you pleasure. 

There's no right way to recover from an eating disorder. Every person's recovery process is different. In the end, you are the one who knows your body best. Binging is incredibly frustrating and defeating, and unless you've been through it, it's hard to understand how challenging this disorder can be. If you're in the midst of it, just know that you have the ability to make it through the other side. Be patient with yourself, and reward yourself for every. little. victory. 

Defining Self-Care

SelfCare

When I started my MSW last year, nearly every class began with the same question: 

What are you doing for self-care? 

Uhhh...I definitely knew the phrase, and I vaguely knew what it meant, but I always pictured self-care in same way:

Drinking a glass of wine while getting your nails done.

While this can be self-care, I now realize the true definition of self-care is much more than this. 

Self-care means becoming your own parent and looking out for your best interest.

Self-care extends beyond manicures and pedicures, bubble baths and having a glass of wine to relax after a hard day. Self-care means ending a toxic relationship. It means making sure you get enough sleep the night before a big day. It means going after the job of your dreams and giving yourself a day off when you need it. Self-care is having your own back.

Often, we think self-care equals self-indulgence. Eating a pint of ice cream (or two) after a breakup or sleeping until noon every Sunday becomes justified because it’s our self-care. Sometimes this is necessary and can be classified as self-care, but when your self-care isn’t contributing in a positive way to the person you’re aspiring to become, it may just be a bad habit in disguise

Conversely, when you’ve spent most of your life in competitive athletics—or are still competing—the self-care needed for a balanced life is sometimes pushed aside in favor of work or training. Spending time with friends, developing hobbies away from your sport or taking the necessary day off when your body is screaming that it’s had enough seems indulgent. No pain, no gain can become your go-to phrase, making slowing down to listen to your body seem “soft.” 

Indulging when you need it, and, conversely, pushing your body to the max can, at times, be necessary. But it’s also necessary to pause to make sure you’re actually giving yourself what you truly need and not just falling back on your go-to patterns of behavior. Pushing yourself to get out of bed and tackling the tough stuff in life is part of looking out for your best interest. Likewise, taking a break from training and listening to your body as an athlete doesn’t make you soft; it makes you smart. 

Self-care is an ongoing, daily practice, and it can be challenging at times. It requires you listen to yourself and think long-term, to the person you aspire to become. It requires you to take control of your life and own that you are worth being kind to. Practicing self-care means you might have to challenge old beliefs and push against your natural inclinations. But it is the main ingredient when it comes to living a full, well-rounded life: the life you deserve. 

Ditch the Diet

IntuitiveEating

Whenever someone sends me a message sharing that they’re tired of living consumed by thoughts of food and weight, I always tell them to read Intuitive Eating by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole. This book changed my life. There are ten principles of intuitive eating; these three are the biggest takeaways (in my opinion):

Eat Whatever you Have a Taste for

So, maybe the book doesn’t list the principle in this exact wording, but this is how I view it :)

Basically, whatever your body wants, whatever food you’re craving, eat it. If it's 9 am, and you can’t stop thinking about cake, eat a slice of cake. There are zero rules in terms of when and what you can and cannot eat when it comes to intuitive eating; truly, the only rule is that you listen to yourself and give yourself what you're craving. While knowing exactly what you want after years of following a diet can be challenging, stick with the process. When you first start to eat intuitively, you may end up binging on all the foods that you weren’t allowed to eat when you were following XYZ diet. This is normal. Stick with it. Even though it might initially feel like you’ll ever stop eating the cake or donuts that you’re suddenly allowed to eat, there will come a time—usually far sooner than you expect—when your body will get tired of sugar and you'll crave more healthy foods. 

Giving yourself permission to eat whatever you have a taste for is how you gain trust back with yourself. Gaining that trust back requires you to look out for your best interest. This means you must—

Plan Ahead

As a general guideline, if you’re not physically hungry, it’s probably best not to eat—except for a few situations. Say you’re heading some place where you know you won’t be able to eat anything for the next four hours. In this situation, I’ve found it’s helpful to make yourself eat a little snack beforehand even if you’re not physically hungry.

With this, make sure to always have a snack or two on hand, so when hunger does strike, you're ready to take care of yourself. This means having an extra stash of energy bars, almonds, anything easy that won’t perish in your car, office, purse, wherever you spend your time. By planning ahead, you're showing yourself that you're never going to be without food. Psychologically, it rids you of the food scarcity mentality, which leads to binging. Having food on hand, whenever you may need it, enables you to relax and realize that food isn't a sparse commodity. Food will always be there.

Honoring your hunger

When hunger strikes, let yourself eat!  It sounds so basic—and it is—but this is probably the hardest principle at first to adopt. When you’ve restricted what you’ve allowed yourself to eat in the past, there’s this little voice in your head that may want you to push hunger aside. Acknowledge it, and eat anyway.  

If you’ve been emotionally eating or overeating for years, you may have lost sight of what true hunger feels like. Maybe you’ve learned to confuse hunger with sadness, anger or happiness. Honoring your hunger means getting in touch with what experiencing hunger is like for you. You might feel a hollowness in your stomach; your stomach might start making noises; you might feel lightheaded. For each person, hunger feels a little bit different. A good rule to follow when you first embark on intuitive eating is to eat every 2.5-4 hours. Checking in with myself every 2.5 hours to see if I was experiencing hunger helped me immensely after years of erratic eating.

Whenever you’re following a diet, you're following someone else's rules. With intuitive eating, you get to make the rules. Once you start eating intuitively, you begin to listen to and trust your own voice. Only you know what your body truly needs. Only you know what’s truly best for you. And if that’s a donut and a salad for dinner, or chicken noodle soup in July, eat it! Without apologizing. Without judgment. Eat it, and enjoy it. Your body will return to its natural shape, and there will be no more fluctuation in your weight due to food. Your intuition is guiding you in all aspects of your life. And when you give yourself permission to follow it, you will always be lead in the right direction. I promise.