this time last year from coming up with the domain to customizing the site to planning out the recipes, then baking and photographing them. It’s fortunate we’re both extremely organized, or else this project could have had a very different outcome!
Our year-long mother and daughter pandemic project is coming to an end. It was important that we created this collection of recipes and stories of how we found balance in eating amid an eating disorder. Balance, I have learned, is not something you find; it’s something you create. And that is exactly what we were ultimately able to do. I realize that our story is unique to our set of circumstances, yet at the same time, I strongly believe that all of us can improve our way of eating to better ourselves, and equally importantly, to better the world.
Recovery. It means something a little different to everyone. I’ve been on this long and winding journey to conquer my trifecta of mental illnesses for the past eight years, yet only recently have I begun to experience certain feelings and freedoms that I’d associate with being “in recovery.” Feelings like excitement about life and the future, joy from my hobbies and pastimes, and desire to live independently, meet new people, and put anorexia, depression, and anxiety behind me once and for all. Freedom from the disordered thoughts that consumed my mind for too long. Freedom from urges to restrict, count calories, and hurt myself. Freedom from the assumption that my worth is dependent upon a number on a scale. Freedom from self-loathing and body dysmorphia. Freedom to eat whenever and whatever I please and genuinely enjoy food too. Freedom to be my authentic self and feel proud of who that person is.
Every post I have written on Nourish about what it was like helping Julia survive anorexia has been both difficult and liberating. Some of these last ones before our one-year project ends are the hardest. Julia is in this place called recovery, which can be kind of nebulous since it’s not clear what defines recovery. All I know is that it was the goal when she was diagnosed in November of 2013. “This disease can be extinguished,” I remember her very first program therapist telling us, and I believed him. The statistics for achieving recovery from anorexia are grim—and the ones for staying in recovery aren’t great either. Despite this, we are here, and I couldn’t be happier for Julia. She gets a second lease on life; a chance to be the person she wants to be free of mental illness.
Tomorrow is my birthday, the big twenty-one (and no, I won’t be celebrating with a drink). In the past, birthdays and similar celebratory events were stress-inducing occasions for me. I’d spend the days and hours leading up to them worrying about what food would be offered, where that food would be from, how much I’d have to eat, if I’d be expected to indulge in dessert or if partaking in the main course would suffice—the list goes on. In fact, from age thirteen to eighteen, there was no such thing as a “happy” birthday for me.
The impact mental illness has on a family is extraordinary. As parents, we were challenged every day for years as we struggled to understand anorexia, depression, and anxiety and find a way to stop it from destroying our daughter’s life. We had her to protect and, equally as important, her younger brother. He was caught up in the chaos and confusion like the rest of us, and he was only eleven. How could we help him understand what was happening to his big sister when we didn’t fully get it ourselves? Our love for both of them dictated our path moving forward. We decided not to shut him out or protect him from the truth; instead, we chose to do our best to meet his needs, openly communicate what was going on with Julia and include him in her treatment, get him personal counseling so he could ask questions and share his feelings, and always make sure he knew he had our unconditional love and support.
Many of us have heard the phrase “intuitive eating” before on social media, in conversation, or, if you’re like me, from a dietitian or other nutrition and/or eating disorder specialist. But what exactly does it mean? Simply put, intuitive eating is an evidence-based approach to eating that encourages making food choices without guilt, honoring hunger cues, respecting fullness, and enjoying the pleasure of eating. It was introduced in 1995 by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch and in eating disorder treatment is considered the “gold standard” and the ultimate goal in recovery.
Julia was only thirteen when she was diagnosed with anorexia, depression, and anxiety: the trifecta of mental illness, as I called it. I spent far too much time trying to figure out how and why it happened; after all, I was the stay-at-home mother by choice and with all that daily love and experience I was giving my children, I should have seen the signs and intervened. But more often than not, parents aren’t to blame for mental illness, as was the case for my wife Susan and me.