Eating disorders are about bodies. Duh. They’re about fat and losing weight and body image and skinny models and photoshop. Wait, what? That’s not right. Eating disorders are about the experience of being in a body, the limitations and lack of control that being embodied necessitates. Much better. I’ve been wanting to write about this article at Science of EDs on embodiment for quite some time, but I haven’t known exactly what to contribute beyond “yeah, that!” The article looks at a study of embodiment in which participants rated how much they experienced their body externally, through the feedback and sight of others, through objective measures, or through physical ways of controlling their bodies. Unsurprisingly, high scores on these measures were correlated with eating disorders.

When I read this, I felt a resonance with these experiences and questions: yes, what drove my eating disorder was a feeling of discomfort with having a body, an inability to imagine how my “self” fit into that body, a confusion about how my body actually fit into people’s conceptions of me, and a kind of certainty that the only time I really was in my body was when I was doing something to it or with it. But embodiment has always meant more than that to me. Having a body means you will die. That’s a pretty basic fact at this point in time (although there is the potential that through technology we will change it). Having a body also comes with a variety of limitations: you can only be doing one thing at a time, be in one place at a time, you are bounded by temporality and space. Even if you’re a highly capable person who can probably accomplish nearly anything they try, your embodied nature says that you can only try a limited number of things.

Bodies, and particularly bodily functions (like eating) are a constant reminder of these facts. For much of my life, I have not been able to stand being present in my own body (aware of my senses, my location, my body) because it was so limited. Some people are able to accept these limitations without struggle. Some people don’t find that being in a body is a constant reminder of their miniscule nature in the entirety of reality. But many of the people that I have met who also have eating disorders are the kinds of people who have been told their whole lives that they can do whatever they put their mind to, that they can do so at a high level of accomplishment, and that they can change the world. The perfectionism that this breeds hates limits, even ones that are utterly reasonable (like not being able to live forever).

Some people have certainly wondered why those with a high drive for control and perfection choose their bodies as the realm on which to enact their personal battles. The experience of embodiment as mortality and limitation gives a good window into this connection. It might seem that the whole world is not within our control, but the most basic level at which we have no control is the fact that we are embodied, our bodies do things we don’t want them to, we can get sick and die, and having a physical presence inherently limits the ways that we can affect the world.

It’s quite possible that few other people with eating disorders are consciously aware of hating their body because it represents the fact that they cannot do everything they’ve been told they could; I cannot cure cancer and reconstruct Proto Indo-European and become a bestselling author and be a feminist/atheist activist and play taiko for a living and learn neuroscience and solve the problem of consciousness and star in an amazing TV show. I have to pick and choose, and knowing that I am giving up on some potential opportunity is painful. But even if others don’t consciously recognize that the reason they can’t do all this is because they are physical beings, on some level I suspect they feel it: it comes out in the guttural anger at the body and at the failings of the body, it comes out in the unrealistic expectations of perfection in every way, it comes out in the unnaturally high achievements and the insistence that slack is for other people.

Embodiment might be at the heart of all eating disorders, but not because of bad body image or a struggle to reconcile self-image with the perception of others. Somewhere in there, all of us want to be little gods, capable of anything. Bodies will always remind us that we never can be.


Food As An Emotional Modifier

Photo on 8-30-14 at 4.53 PM
Some people eat when they’re in a bad mood. Most people, actually. Comfort food is a well known concept and we all have foods that are associated with home, safety, and good feelings. Some people don’t eat anything at all when they’re in a bad mood. Oftentimes depression can come with loss of appetite, and restrictive eating disorders are the extreme of “I feel bad I won’t eat”. Human beings use food to adjust and react to their moods.
For the most part this is considered unhealthy. Emotional eating is often at the heart of eating disorders, and many dieticians find that working with their clients to come to a healthy place with their emotions leads to a stabilization of diet. (FIND LINK) When we call someone an emotional eater, we don’t mean it as a compliment. Our thoughts/feelings are supposed to be radically separate from our bodies, and it’s unhealthy to seek out a physical solution to an emotional problem.
Except for the times when it’s not. Recently, I’ve started to try to regulate my emotions using food. “EATING DISORDER!” I hear you cry (or so I assume, I always cry out in distress when reading blogs). Well, not exactly. I’ve been trying to regulate my emotions using food by eating on a regular schedule, listening to what my body is craving, and eating until I am full. In addition to regular mealtimes, I’ve also been trying to notice when I’m getting cranky, anxious, sad, or otherwise unstable in some fashion and whether it has any correlation to how long it’s been since I’ve eaten. Guess what? It often does. I’m low energy and low happiness first thing in the morning, and I hit a low in the afternoon before dinner. Guess what these two time periods have in common? It’s been a while since I’ve eaten anything and I’m probably low on calories. Not having enough calories will make anyone more emotionally vulnerable.
Secret knowledge dropping time: our emotions are highly dependent on our bodies. Being tired, hungry, thirsty, cold, or sick will affect how you process what’s going on around you and what your reaction to the world is. Not all of these are things we can adjust immediately. If I’m having a bad day at work I can’t simply take a nap and feel more rested and thus stable. But I can go grab a snack or put on an extra sweater. I can use my body in a positive manner to influence how I’m feeling.
More often than not, things that are unhealthy for us are that way because they are extreme in some fashion. This doesn’t apply to anything (please do not go take moderate doses of arsenic), but for many things, we can use them positively if we understand how they actually interact with our bodies and minds. Exercise is another great example of this: too much or too little can throw us out of whack, but a moderate amount of exercise on a regular basis, and strategically applied exercise during times of stress can do wonders.
I don’t necessarily promote the view of the body that sees it as a machine (I think we’re far more integrated into our bodies than we will ever be with machines), but it can be a helpful metaphor when thinking of how to modulate your emotions. What kinds of things might this machine need to function better? Have I been getting too much or too little of any of the necessities? How can I make a small change right now to bring things back into balance. It’s not magic, but it is certainly a helpful framework for in the moment actions.

I Hate People Who Take the Elevator


A friend of mine made an off handed comment the other day. “I’m sick of lazy people taking the elevator!” To say that I was taken aback would be an understatement. I pushed him a bit, and he simply said he hated that everyone did it, that it was an engrained social structure, that obesity was an epidemic, and that it was a waste of energy.

I think it’s time to review both fatphobia and ableism 101, as well as how they’re intertwined. The first thing to note about something like whether other people take the elevator or not is that it’s none of your damned business because you know nothing about this random other person and their behavior isn’t hurting you (we’ll get to questions of obesity soon). There is nothing morally wrong about not wanting to be active right this instant. And in many cases, someone might be incapable of taking the stairs: some people have invisible diseases, and your assumption that everyone should take the stairs is part of the underlying cultural norm that other people’s bodies belong to us and they all have to be able and thin or they are doing something wrong. They are causing harm.

There are a lot of things wrong with the assumption that you should be able to tell someone else what to do with their body or that it’s any of your business what someone else does with their body, whether that’s how/when they have sex or their choice of diet and exercise. The moment we start deciding what the correct way for another person to treat their body is, the moment we’ve decided to try to take away their basic autonomy.  Everyone has the right to decide what to eat, how to move, where to go, and when you assume that their actions are fair game for your shame and criticism because you don’t like what someone else is doing, you’re implying that someone else’s body is public property. And that’s just really uncool.

There is nothing wrong with being fat. Spoiler alert: it is entirely possible to be healthy, happy, and active while being fat. The Health at Every Size movement has a great deal of information on this, but suffice it to say that genetics plays a huge role in your size, and that body composition makes a large difference. The “obesity epidemic” is based on the BMI scale, which does not take body composition into account at all and reduces many complex health problems down to “you’re a fatty, lose some weight,”. As this article points out, fat people often have to fight for the right to be able to eat food. Relatedly, they also often have to fight for the right to be inactive or rest. Any time we see an overweight person sitting down or watching TV or taking the elevator, we assume they’re lazy. We don’t do that with thin people, even though there’s not any law that says the thin person is more active than the fat person.

We tend to only accept a fat person as a “good fatty” if we see that they only eat salad or take the stairs every time. Fat people are by default considered unhealthy and lazy until they have proven that they do all the correct healthy behaviors and are still fat. Many people assume that if a fat person is engaging in any “unhealthy” behaviors, those behaviors are what has caused them to be fat (and thus a drain on society because all fat people are the worst ya know). Never mind that some people are fat because of disabilities.  Never mind that you literally have no idea whether or not that individual just came from the gym or not. Never mind that you have literally no evidence that taking the elevator is what caused this person to be overweight or whether or not this overweight person is unhealthy. Never mind that some people physically can’t take the stairs, even if they look able bodied.

It’s none of your damned business what anyone does with their body, what food they eat, and how they exercise. Bodies are complicated, and unless you’re someone’s doctor or intimately close to them, you don’t know even close to enough to make a judgment about whether or not they’re lazy. A lot of this is straight out concern trolling, and there’s good evidence that it’s not really about health in the fact that I don’t see any of these concern trolls telling me that they have a right to tell me to eat more and deal with my eating disorder because insurance! Public health! You need to be able to work! They’re not concerned with the state of my health and body because I am thin and able bodied and sometimes I rock climb and swing dance for hours. You cannot read someone’s health off of their body.

Maybe taking the elevator is an engrained social structure, and maybe we could do more to promote exercise. But any fat person or depressed person or sick person can tell you that they’ve heard it. They’ve heard it a thousand times. One more piece of shame is not going to help (it may actually make people fatter). There are more positive and more helpful ways to promote movement. I take the elevator because the stairs take longer and are boring. I’d rather exercise in a more fun fashion. So maybe that “just take the stairs” approach is alienating some people, and is actually an excuse to complain about fat, lazy people.

Yes, maybe it is more energy efficient to take the stairs. But we all make trade offs in our lives in terms of values and priorities, and how we treat our bodies is incredibly personal. If it’s so important to you, then take the stairs yourself, but stop haranguing others when you have no idea what their lives are like.


Depression and Dance


For quite some time I’ve noticed that my mental health and my ability to enjoy dancing interact in bizarre and often unpredictable ways. Movement is often quite good for depression and anxiety, particularly movement that requires just enough though to get you out of your head. Dance in particular has a way of turning into a kind of exhilarating protest against depression, and during some of my very worst times it has been the only way that I can find enjoyment in my life.

But oftentimes depression itself can keep you from finding any enjoyment in the activity because you’re second guessing yourself, you’re comparing yourself to others, and for me, I was even looking at how skinny other women looked in their nice dresses or cute shorts rather than paying any attention to my dancing at all.

I’ve often been left in a space where I contemplate going out to dance utterly uncertain whether it will save me from a bad day or leave me spiraling downwards even further. So why is it that sometimes dance is a lifesaver and sometimes it’s destruction? Perhaps even further complicating the matter is that I’ve noticed recently when I go out to dance and I’m in a decent mood, I am a much better dancer. I have better dances and because of increased confidence and the ability to play around with my partners, I simply have more fun. It’s left me questioning whether I was even capable of improving beyond a certain point when I was in the midst of depression.

As one of my coping mechanisms, dancing has been incredibly helpful. But how on earth do I figure out when it’s a good idea to hit the dance floor and when I should try to avoid it? How do I feel good about dancing when I’m down if I know that I’m not going to be my best dancer self? What is the point of dancing if there’s all this ridiculous complicated bullcrap going through my mind in a kind of calculus of “will I be ok” every time I go out?

These questions hit on one of the most difficult elements of depression across the board: it can be deeply unpredictable, and coping mechanisms are often unreliable. I keep dancing because oftentimes it’s the best I’ve got. Sometimes, the high from a good night of dance can keep me going for a week, looking forward to the next time I’ll get it. Considering the fact that when I’m in a bad place nearly anything can send me into a shame spiral, it’s certainly worth the risk if there’s even a chance that I might get the positive benefits.

The longer I’m depressed, the easier it becomes to match coping mechanism to mood, and paying attention to what sets off certain bad spirals can do a lot to make things like dance a more positive thing overall. I’ve started to get the feel for whether I have the energy to become fiercely pissed off at my depression and drop everything to dance, or whether I am trapped in my head and exhausted. For me, going out alone is the best idea when I’m in a bad place because it means I never have to try to converse, I just have to dance. This is part of using coping methods effectively: figuring out when and how to use them.

Part of learning coping skills is also learning when to abort the mission. This is one of the difficulties of using something that you love as a way to improve your mood. You don’t want to abort the mission. You want to find the good dance, the happy moment, the high. That isn’t always possible, and accepting that is hugely helpful to cutting off bad spirals. Sometimes you will go out and it won’t feel good and you’ll just have to leave.

But what about the interaction of my ability to dance and my depression? Well of course i’m better when I’m not body checking every few seconds. The dance that I do is about fun, so of course I can embody the feeling of swing music significantly better when i’m not in a mood directly antithetical to it. But that doesn’t mean that I’m a bad dancer or that I’m not learning anything when I dance in the midst of depression. It means that I’m learning how to navigate my body, learning steps, learning how to follow better, even if I can’t get into the musicality in the same way. I can focus on a different set of skills here. And in many ways that is fun. It’s a practice of getting out of my head and working on discrete skills rather than trying to work on the more artistic aspects of dance.

It is a fallacy of depression that one should only do things if one will be good or perfect at them, or that one must always be their very very best (or keep trying to be better always). Sometimes it’s ok to simply do something for fun with no eye to improvement (gasp). Sometimes it’s ok to just be where you are today rather than trying to be better or the best version of you. Improvement is a great goal, but it doesn’t need to always be the goal. In this case, I probably am improving something when I dance while depressed: my coping skills and my ability to manage my emotions. Points for me!

Swing dancing is really an expression of energy, body, and connection. These things are all incredibly hard when you’re depressed but when you can capture them they can go huge lengths to making things better. That’s why it’s just easier to dance when you’re in a better place, but why it’s so important to keep trying when things are bad. That’s also why it’s so complicated: all of these elements are deeply out of whack in the midst of depression and can change at any time. But this might also be a case where overthinking isn’t helpful: checking in with my emotions before I head out for the night, learning to accept where I am and  leaving early if I need to may be all the more tools I need in this toolkit.

Because seriously: I love dancing. I’m not giving it up to my mental illness anymore.

The Role of Exercise in Eating Disorder Recovery


For people with depression, anxiety, or really any form of mental illness, a common refrain from well-meaning friends and acquaintances is often “well just exercise. That will help you feel better”. It’s true that there is good evidence that regular exercise can improve mental health (although there are many problems with simply prescribing exercise). However trying to incorporate exercise into a recovery and treatment regime becomes infinitely more complex in the context of an eating disorder. Over exercise is often a symptom of eating disorders, and for many people trying to recover it’s also a trigger for other self-destructive behaviors.

Because exercise is an important element both in healthy weight maintenance and improving mental health, but is also a triggering and potentially dangerous activity for someone with a history of overexercise, people in treatment for eating disorders must walk a delicate tight rope when it comes to their exercise regimes. This has been a particular struggle for me, and I’ve been looking for ways to bring exercise into my treatment in a positive fashion.

There are a few techniques that I’ve had some success with, but if anyone has more suggestions, please share in the comments. The first way that I’ve found to improve my relationship with exercise is to stop using the word exercise to refer to movement. This opens the way for all kinds of “exercise” that don’t involve going to the gym and using equipment that loudly announces your calories burned to you every time you look down. I swing dance and I rock climb and sometimes I just throw dance parties in my room and sometimes I try to just go for walks or have squirt gun fights with my friends. The more that I can find things that I enjoy which also happen peripherally to involve movement, the better.

The reason I try to use this technique is because the moment my brain is convinced that I am “exercising”, it becomes convinced that I need to hit certain markers of acceptability: burn a certain number of calories, exercise for a certain period of time, stick to a certain regime. If I don’t use the label “exercise” to describe what I’m doing, but rather focus on “fun activity, preferably with friends”, I get a lot more mileage out of the activity and don’t fall into a negative spiral that tells me I am not acceptably fit. Looking for activities that fit this mold also lets me double dip on my activities: not only do I exercise but I also find some depression fighting positive activities, and potentially social time as well.

Something else that has worked well for me is to accept that sometimes a complete break from exercise is necessary. I find exercise extremely helpful with anxiety and don’t like leaving it entirely behind (especially as I’ve been pretty active my whole life). However when I’m compulsively exercising every day, it can be much harder to try to slowly lower the amount of exercise that I’m doing while still doing some. In many ways it’s easier to simply say that I can’t be responsible about my exercising at this moment in time and I need to take some time off. This has the added benefit of giving me LOTS of extra time to do other positive things with my day.

There are a lot of ways that cutting exercise out of  your life for a time can backfire. How do you deal with all the anxiety you worked off before? How do you accept loss of muscle mass or increase in fat? How and when do you begin to add exercise back in without swinging immediately into over exercise mode again? Especially if you’re doing this while you’re trying to increase your caloric intake, it can take a serious toll on your emotions and your motivation to continue treatment. Unfortunately, this is one of those places I don’t have the answers: I’m struggling to find ways to begin incorporating exercise again without it becoming unhealthy.

One helpful way to deal with feeling guilty about not exercising or feeling extremely compelled to started exercising again is to find some friends who aren’t big on exercise. This doesn’t mean you have to dump your friends who are extremely fit, but there are people out there who aren’t particularly interested in physical fitness and are perfectly happy with their lives. I am a big proponent of distract until you’re in a healthier place, and finding people who will encourage you to do other types of fun and interesting things, model other versions of healthiness and happiness, and generally not bring up exercise as something you have to do is a great way to build a life that doesn’t circulate around exercise.

The final, and perhaps most difficult thing to do if you’re working on overexercise is to make sure that you’re not paying any money for exercise. What I mean by that is if you’re paying for a gym membership or classes or a personal trainer: stop. I’ve found that when I’m shelling out money I feel obligated to “get my money’s worth”. You can always go to the local rec center and swim some laps or go for a run or a bike ride. But those ongoing expenses are a constant pressure to get to the gym and make it worth it and I’ve found that pressure nearly unbearable.

Of course all of these are just suggestions that I have found helpful, and won’t work for everyone. I’d love to hear other suggestions in comments, especially from those who have found an exercise regime that works for them.

Wealth and Health: More Complicated?

audre lorde

It’s no secret that the wealthy in America have better health outcomes than the poor. The disparities can be shocking. It affects quality of healthcare, food, lifespan, and can even affect whether someone will contract an illness after being exposed. There are many conclusions we can draw from this fact (the extreme wealth disparity in our country is not only unethical but is in fact contributing to illness and death, we need universal healthcare, America sucks), but the picture may not be as simple as some articles prefer to paint it as. In fact, the reason that the wealthy are healthier may not simply be because they have access to better healthcare and healthier food, safer environments and less violence, but it may in fact reflect the fact that our society is set up at every level to cater to their needs.

Those who are poor are most often those who are discriminated against for race, gender, sexuality, or disability, things which all contribute to poor health outcomes. Police brutality and the prison industrial complex come down most harshly on people of color. Oddly enough being beaten by the cops and sent to prison aren’t too good for your health. The mentally ill often have their diseases dismissed as “all in your head”, which can lead to loss of jobs, healthcare, housing etc. and bad physical health outcomes. These intersections get ignored when we simply look at class without reminding ourselves that class is affected by other identities.

One article points out that the marshmallow test is associated with positive outcomes later in life, and that those who tend to do poorly on the marshmallow test tend to be poor. But the marshmallow test has been criticized as measuring the skills that make you successful in a white, upper class world, rather than the skills that make you successful in a world where you can’t necessarily trust authority. Most of these studies seem to be indicating that the wealthy are taught the successful ways to navigate the world while the poor are hurt by the way society is set up.

So for those who are poor, you have every right to be pissed off. Society is set up to shorten your life span by creating food deserts, making organic and healthy food more expensive and more time consuming to prepare, by increasing your stress by taking away your choices, by housing you in neighborhoods that are more dangerous and houses that are less healthy, by making gym memberships expensive, and by continuing to not educate or miseducate the poor on what it means to be healthy.

But what can we do? If society is set up to see us fail, how do we take our lives into our own hands and decide WE WILL BE HEALTHY? One of the first things that I’ve found helpful is to reconfigure our conception of our own health: being healthy isn’t just a choice we can make for ourselves personally, it can also be a political statement. I’m sure I’ve posted my favorite Audre Lorde quote here before, but if I haven’t, here it is:

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

I didn’t mean to put that in big ol’ letters, but I’m going to leave it that way because I think it’s that important. When the poor and oppressed among us live longer and healthier, we actively resist the society that wants us to be so downtrodden we can’t resist. The more we can see our choice to be healthy as a gigantic middle finger to a shitty system, the easier it is to make good choices (or at least I think so). A big part of this is forming communities. Cooking takes time and energy as well as money. If you get together with friends and each cook something, then do a big swap so you have a variety of foods for the week, you’ve saved time, probably money (because bulk is awesome), and you’ve provided yourself with the added benefit of social interaction (shown to be good for your health!).

We can also inform ourselves: information is powerful. Know what kinds of foods make you feel good, understand what a balanced and healthy diet looks like (protip: it does in fact involve some fat and sugar), and understand what healthy exercising habits are (regular, but not compulsive). Share information with each other. If you find something awesome and healthy, tell other people about it (Rock climbing! Fun! Exercise! Woot!). Share resources like low cost clinics for physical and mental healthcare. Support those places! Spend some time volunteering for Planned Parenthood or a local clinic that provides similar low income care.

None of this can change the fact that your environment is out of your hands. But we can look out for each other: if one of us spots mold in another’s apartment, we can research how to get rid of it and the potential health risks. If one person works from home and has tons of friends who don’t have time to cook, maybe their friends can throw a few bucks their way and ask them to cook in bulk. Share EVERYTHING (ok maybe not everything, but recipes, tips, exercises, doctors, good apartments, job leads…your community will give back to you if you give to it).

Remember that statistics don’t mean all of us are doomed. They point towards trends but they can’t predict your individual life. If you want to fight those statistics, here are some resources for low-income healthiness.

1. Fitness resources for low cost




2. Healthy food for lower costs



3.  Low cost healthcare (this should be easier with Obamacare!). I’m going to put Minnesota resources since that’s what I know.



If anyone is interested, I am willing to host resources here and connect others who are interested in improving their health at a low cost. We can build our own communities that provide the same benefits that having lots of money does for the wealthy.

Values and Resolutions


New year’s resolutions are odd to me. No one ever seems to follow through on them, and they’re often forgotten within a few weeks of making them. Often they look like preening or attention-grabbing. However I do think that it’s a good idea to periodically take a good long look at your life and structure some goals or ideas to aim towards. Things have been a bit on the change-heavy side in my life lately, so this feels like a good time to assess and to try to understand why I set the goals that I do and how those goals fit into my values.


As I was working on writing my resolutions for this year, I really found myself struggling with what I felt were the resolutions I “should” be writing. It’s been obvious to me for a while that many times resolutions are a way for people to beat up on themselves about not doing enough, but in this case it felt more like a conflict of what my values were: did I really want to resolve to work harder to overcome my eating disorder this year, or did I want to resolve to lose some weight this year? This, in my mind is the important thing about resolutions: they force you to take stock of your values and then ask you how you can actually live out those values in concrete ways. I’ve had a very hard time with values, with identifying my own values, with truly committing to any set of values, for a long time, so this year for my resolutions I’m going to start each resolution with a value that I am choosing to commit to this year.


  1. Family: run a 5k with my dad for his birthday.
  2. Social justice and animal welfare: be better about my vegetarianism. No meat that is not produced ethically. Do not seek out meat.
  3. Intelligence/knowledge/curiosity: read more. This means taking some time out of each day to read a real book, not just blogs.
  4. Purpose and commitment: make a decision about what I’m going to do after I finish AmeriCorps. Commit fully to it. Actively work not to feel guilty or to continue revisiting the options I did not choose.
  5. Community/friends: be more social. Get to know more people. Actively reach out to the friends I do have.
  6. Self-reflection and creation: finish a draft of my book.
  7. Work, self-improvement: learn to accept criticisms without tailspinning emotionally. Work to incorporate criticisms actively into work.
  8. Life (yes life is a value that I have to commit to and it’s one I find difficult): find things that make me happy and excited. Engage in them often.
  9. Humility: spend some real time thinking about what it actually means to be humble in a positive way. Rethink the idea that self-flagellation is humility.
  10. Self-care: eat more cake. Both metaphorically and literally.