Growing

I have a history of liking shorter guys. Not necessarily, shorter than myself, but shorter in general. Beginning with a crush in my tweens who acted as a bully against me. Following him, there was a variety of people, I guess, some taller and others shorter. Overall, I got along best with–and felt better about “Laura” around–the taller people. I less easily got (automatically) meshed in with him and kept a more clear sight of myself. Not only is this person taller, though, but different; I don’t feel like I’m turning my own life around to get impressed over him.

I do not hold anything against shorter people. However, I have worked in fitness, where in my experience guys are very into themselves and their muscles. He’s consistently struggling to compensate in some way as if to make up for a (previously) smaller size, which only makes me feel little!

I’ve always desired to be taller myself. When I walk outside, I want to feel tall. I want the people I spend time around to make me want to grow and not hold back.

Too many sinews

I used to weight train impressively–thirteen or fourteen is when I first got started. In fact, my entire existence revolved around fitness and healthiness, hence the title of my book: In The Name Of Being Well, I Made Myself Sick.

Since stopping conventional training almost four years ago and changing my approach to intensity, I’ve been able to menstruate on a regular cycle. This is excellent, I think, and more important for my well-being and sense of rhythm than having big or even attractive muscles. Actually, in my experience it is still possible to achieve nice or fair muscles without weights through diligent self-care and regular massage. I don’t have as many guy “friends” or men impressed, but would rather be cozy alone in my writing cottage anyways!

Today, I have the freedom to move my body whenever and however I feel like, without feeling confined by the need to exercise or even follow a certain “recovery” regimen. I keep focused on growing spiritually and energetically through nature and the physical, as opposed to finding “Laura” solely through this body, “personal” life, relations with humans…

Nevertheless, I did benefit from becoming a personal trainer at age eighteen. There’s far more to training than weights. I know all about foam rolling, which I do everyday, for instance. I walk outside, stretch, dance, take baths and inevitably do weight bearing exercises. I helped a lot of people when I worked at gyms, especially those who needed more confidence in their balance, wanted to build strength and improve flexibility.

People who had eating disorders that work in health

I fall under this category in a way. Almost everyone with an eating disorder works in fitness, food or some related category. Based on personal observation, of course.

There are two “extreme” types.

The folks who are bluntly open like myself.

The folks who talk about some secret, mysterious bug from the past because they feel too threatened by a label.

(Then, of course, the people who are probably still sick and deny it all together…)

Here’s the thing. I’m open about my experiences with an eating disorder but I don’t specialize or work with people who have eating disorders. There are two separate paths here. My own story as a writer and speaker, and working in health with the general American population where I am trained to.

The ladies who talk about some strange disease thing–I’m not a fan. She doesn’t want to lose certain types of clients who are scared off by the term eating disorder. This means there is still too much shame, so she compromises truth and makes a kind of sensation story out of something that is in fact quite real and concrete. Because being labeled (once, now, forever, whatever) kills the fun and romanticism out of it all.

“The” self-absorbed people

Self-absorbed people.

How do you deal with self-absorbed people?

Sometimes we find them in the most surprising of places, in environments that are supposed to be educational, therapeutic and safe. Challenging, yes, but not dangerous.

A good teacher doesn’t make the class about showing off or criticizing students. A good teacher remembers what it is like to be a student and is open to becoming better. The teacher is getting paid; it is wrong to take advantage.

Working in the field of fitness, it is easy to imagine the self-absorbed people; those people obsessed with their own bodies and working out; the woman who blasts about “my gross arms” to the world without even noticing she’s the leanest person in the room. But there are a surprising amount of self-absorbed people beyond regular fitness in practices like yoga that teach, ironically, about the pitfalls of ego. For instance, the yoga teacher who posts images of herself online doing the craziest of poses (supposedly for “her” students) that, in my opinion, are unnecessary and not really what yoga is about. A lot of people who join the fitness, yoga and movement worlds have professional backgrounds in performance and competition. It is important not to lose yourself and fall prey to their “impressive” moves, insecurity, and need to hog attention. As a person with over six years of experiences working in the field of wellness and a degree in health promotion, I realize the negative impact being involved in this world has had on my self-esteem, relationship with my body and “eating disorder.” People use terms like “anorexic” lightly and talk about the physical in disrespectful, jealous ways.

I love to learn, to teach and to move. Nothing can change that. When it comes to self-absorbed people, I’m not afraid to stand out and be the only person to keep on a somber face when everybody else is laughing at someone else’s sick joke. I don’t hold things in anymore or try to put on a smile when I don’t feel that way. Even if I don’t express my opinion, I don’t have to participate in shallow games. I stay focused on what I want and why I’m here. Self-absorbed people are everywhere. Sometimes you’ve got to just suck it up and deal.

Five of my favorite health-related “things”

1. Nature. I love nature. Generally, I prefer moving in nature as opposed to working out indoors. I feel very fortunate and grateful for the environment.

2. Walking. This goes along with nature. Walking is centering and grounding. When I walk in nature, I listen to the sounds. When it’s not such a good nature day, I play music and go more with my emotions.

3. Foam rolling + free stretching, dance and singing. This can include jumping on a trampoline/rebounder or simply getting up and walking around the house. I used to push through and ignore the little signs my body gave me. I’ve reached a point, now, where I just want to be happy. I want my body to feel good. Usually, that doesn’t mean I have to go super intense. If I find a way to be with the movement in my mind and enjoy it, calculating and competing are unnecessary. Sometimes, though, at least in my personal experience, you’ve just got to burn and push because that’s what feels good. The challenge is not to set yourself up in such a way that encourages the illusion of overpowering the body–as if it is separate from who you are! For some people, setting more specific fitness goals is beneficial. These people may like to train for races and competitions. I’ve been there, done that and for the most part prefer the freedom offered by a more creative mindset. With that said, I also have strong discipline; I value the body, I value movement and believe that exercise should be the highlight of the day, not something to dread.

4. Massage. I hope to begin massage school fall 2014 or in 2015. Massage has helped me so much! I received my first massage at nineteen. I discovered it from yoga. In my world growing up, the general stereotype was that massage was for spoiling yourself. But, for anyone who has experienced a good massage, you feel the benefits of regeneration. For me, massage has been so helpful in understanding and connecting with my body. I think it is natural to want to share something with other people that has helped me.

5. Esthetician or do-it-yourself beauty. To me, an esthetician is a teacher. I visit her every few months. I am interested in organic and natural products. I love learning things, asking questions and experimenting at home. Personally, I feel much better about myself since I began this quest. Taking care of appearances isn’t a chore or something necessary, it should be fun. You do it because it makes you feel good.

My experiences writing a book and being a college student at the same time

By summer 2010, I knew I wanted to write a book on my experiences with an eating disorder. People often ask what got me started in the process, or how I became a writer. I started writing because I stopped “therapy” and craved a safe outlet. I was already in school and working as a personal trainer. At the gym, I started writing notes in my phone. Short notes on breaks, which evolved into note taking on the train, in a parked car, while waiting in line at the store, etc. I additionally started blogging. I shared the blog with some people. But blogging was difficult. What I wrote was of a very personal and exploratory nature. So, I stopped blogging and started writing for myself. That was where the challenge began!

I dropped my job at the gym then undertook a new position for school credit. I did not take summer classes and lived at home, which gave me an opportunity to write. In the fall, I continued with my “new” position (not for school credit) and an additional independent study along with taking classes at school and online. I actually took quite a few classes of the master’s level such as food policy and behavior change, alternative medicine, anatomy/physiology, behavioral medicine and advanced online courses in nutrition. There were also various classes in health communication and programming plus women’s health.

Overall, it was the motivation to write my own story that kept me focused and interested in school. Through my college education I studied eating disorders from a variety of perspectives ranging from beauty ideals to eastern philosophies and ultimately realized sharing my own growth and experiences connects with me more than continuing to study or becoming a scientist or social worker, for instance. Thus, by senior year I mostly had electives to fulfill, general education and lower level courses. At this time I stopped all other outside work to focus on my book and enjoy new movement forms rather than train others.

The last semester of college, I took six courses, including electives in cross training, walking/jogging (which was really running), fitness or aerobics plus a night class in stress reduction. My general education courses were in anthropology and literature. Thankfully I got “honors” statistics out of the way my first semester at school. Still, I thought I might drop the honors program then ended up receiving credit for it through the grad-level classes I took. I had no idea I was going to graduate “summa cum laude” and did not quite know what that meant until my dad made a deal of it. This type of distinction is cool; it makes me feel more competitive than confident.

Outside of school, being in the gym and working with women a lot I realized how much of an issue body image is. Before turning twenty-one, I did not wish to talk about my experiences with an eating disorder. I felt people would judge me or not want to work with me anymore. Some clients even joked around about eating disorders, but I never said anything. This is part of the reason why coming out with my book was difficult, albeit glad I did! I’ve changed so much over the last few years and imagine that without writing there would still be so many secrets and so much pain and more holding in. I harbor respect for my self as a storyteller. I think there’s a lot of pressure, though, like more “higher” education somehow makes you a better person but I am creative, disciplined and hard-working enough on my own.

During the time period of writing my book and being in school I spent time in nature often. I also walked quite a bit outside or foam rolled in the fitness center between classes to clear my head. Today, I likewise focus on keeping my body happy and functioning well. When I get too caught up in my head or spend too much time on the computer is when I start to “get OCD” as some people say. Keeping a nice environment for myself at home tells me I care. I also eat when I am hungry and keep food as simple as possible.

Generally, I did not find a spark with guys at school. Numerous girls in my classes were athletes or involved in campus activities I wasn’t. In many of my classes I was open about my book and eating disorder. Being opinionated related to health issues that are important to me personally kind of made me stick out at times, but not in bad ways. Thankfully, I also met people through blogging and my career field. Education hasn’t necessarily purified my intelligence; that is however my intention.

Sometimes it can be hard to realize school is over; I don’t need to think in terms of academia. The need to measure up to standards is a huge theme in Sick, along with feelings of inferiority. I don’t want to look back or be caught up in this world anymore. I did good things in school, like creating a support group for a project and being open about my history with anorexia nervosa. When I chose to major in health promotion my dad didn’t get it and now, ironically, he’s coming out with his own book inspired at least in part by the fact that I wrote my story.

Lizette’s story by Lizette Ayala

Living in a small apartment by myself gave me enough time to dwell.  That’s what happens when you’re alone – you remember, reflect, brood – you dwell.  Well, at least I did.  Believe me, there was a lot to dwell about.   Mostly, it was about stuff that happened to me in the last 20 years.  Never mind that I was barely 30 years old at the time.  Never mind that the eating disorder I suffered from during that time reinforced my need to hide from the world.  It was, after all, the only coping mechanism I had.  The only way I knew how to deal with the anxieties of my health, jobs, relationships, life.

Alone in your own head is a dangerous place to hang out for a long period of time.  It gives you the illusion that you are alone in the world, even though you see other people every day and may, on occasion spend time with “friends.”  If you’ve ever felt misunderstood or unable to transfer your thoughts to a meaningful outlet, you know what it feels like to be alone in your head.  For some, this is an every day, 24/7 experience and a progressively frightening one.

If you can’t release all the stuff that makes you, well, you, how are you to feel safe in this world?  How can you feel like you belong?  We have our own grace that we come into this world with, but if we’re not safe in the expression of them, life may seem to be slowly suffocating us.   So, our craving for self-expression leaves us vulnerable, reaching for something, anything to help rip the straightjacket of emotions off.

Some run to cigarettes, alcohol, gambling, or anything that has the potential to love and punish simultaneously.  My outlet was food.

When and how it started doesn’t matter as much as why.   That was simple – because it was there.  Fast, cheap, easy and always surrounded by lots of seemingly positive energy, I learned how to use it to stuff what I didn’t want and (many times) wasn’t allowed to express.

Thank goodness that’s all in the past.   I’m better now, no thanks to the numerous diets, short stints at a (few different) therapist’s office, or countless psychotropic drugs.  No, it wasn’t a magic potion either.  What saved me was energy healing, that ancient technique of moving energy through and around the body to help it accomplish what it does best, heal itself.   The premise is simple; our bodies communicate clearly all that it needs for optimal health and well-being.  Of course, we must be willing to understand its language, and that’s exactly what you get with energy healing, including how to stay present (instead of dwelling about the past), what to eat (more like, how to listen to your body when it’s hungry and know the difference between real hunger and emotional hunger) and how to heal yourself and your loved ones from stressors that can potentially lead to unhealthy outlets.

It is no wonder that I chose Energy Healing and Holistic Fitness Coaching as a career to help others out of their straightjackets.   It works.   Many times, it just slips off as they learn to feel present and at ease in this world.  Feeling is believing.

Thank you Lizette Ayala for sharing your story! Learn more about Lizette and her work in energy healing and holistic fitness coaching at bodyrules.com

Five tips for taking care of yourself

1. Make yourself feel with music.

I love music. It has the potential to change my mood, take me back to a place I want to be, or help me think about the future I would like to create for myself. It is easy to get stuck listening to the same songs all the time and get in a funk. For this reason, whenever I hear a song I like on the radio, I write it down and would encourage other people to do so too. Later, I listen to this song again, and I am surprised by how inspired it makes me feel to write, move my body, or just meditate and feel.

2. Warm your heart with an animal.

I am very fortunate to have a sweet dog named Rocky. He is incredibly cute and looking at him always brings my attention to my heart. I love walking Rocky and feeding him, yes, but best of all are the times I spend with Rocky that do not involve chores. Doing so challenges me to put my work away and come back into the beauty and peacefulness of the present moment.

Do you have an animal you like spending time with at home? Next time, pay attention to the sensations in your body spending time around an animal brings up for you.

3. Play…in the water!

I do not often go to the pool, but I love taking baths. I add salts with aromatherapy oils and do gentle swimming motions in the water. Usually, I follow up by doing some self-massage. If you are more curious about self-massage, I learned the idea from an Ayurvedic practitioner, who introduced to me the concept of “Abhyanga.” Later, I did a school project in which I talked about self-massage and the role touch played in helping me heal from an eating disorder.

4. Spend time by yourself.

Sometimes relationships with other people can be draining. In order to realize which relationships in your life are more draining to you than uplifting, spend some time alone and assess. Do the people you spend time around value you for who you are? To what extent do you feel the need to uphold an image in order to be wanted?

5. Experiment with movement.

Movement can be a wonderful tool to come in touch with yourself and feel all different kinds of emotions. That said, exercise can be detrimental and dangerous—especially depending on the individual situation—when it becomes overly routine and encourages a self-defeating mentality.

My advice: Step out of your comfort zone if you want, but I prefer to shift the focus to getting comfortable moving whenever/wherever…no matter the zone! One of my favorite things to do is dance in my room to music when nobody is looking. I prefer to move throughout the day rather than pressure myself to “get it all in” in a short period of time.