To the ladies (and gents) out there trying to get a “summer body”

It’s SWEATING SEASON.

Boston is finally starting to heat up and I am looooooving it. As if I don’t go through laundry quickly enough, I am wearing multiple outfits a day now to accommodate my perpetual sweatiness. Actually, I am perpetually sweaty no matter what season it is, but now it’s profuse perpetual sweatiness.

Not that you care.

Someone on Instagram asked me last week to talk about my fitness journey a little bit, to which I agreed. I have talked about it a few times here on the blog, but I am always happy to share my story (which is ever evolving anyway) with any new friends (hi!).

For those who are returning readers (ily) familiar with my fitness journey, perhaps you can appreciate this post’s current perspective, which is in light of “summer body” season.

I made a little collage comparing pre-college and graduate school Alison. This will serve as a bit of context for the rest of my story.

D i s c l a i m e r: Please understand that every BODY is so uniquely different. There are some of you who currently look more like “pre-college” Alison who are perfectly healthy (i.e., no disordered thoughts around food or exercise, regular menstrual cycle, happy gal). There are some of you who look more like “grad school” Alison but may struggle with disordered eating and exercise, etc. And then there’s every type of body in between and beyond. Please do your best to know thyself. ♥︎

I won’t dive too deeply into how my fitness journey started, because I recently wrote a post about how it started very humbly with a Beyonce dance video and 15 minutes per day on the elliptical. Essentially, I am a naturally lazy person who was motivated to start working out by the will to lose weight in my high school years.

My story follows a relatively common narrative seen in many young women’s lives. She starts having an obsessive eating/exercise disorder because of sports or an innocent (or not) desire to get “toned”/less fat/whatever ➔ she has a deeply cutting revelation of her health state and embarks a long but beautiful push-pull journey of recovering (e.g., needing to take breaks from intense exercise in order to get menstrual cycle back) ➔ sometimes revisits old habits in times of stress and insecurity ➔ overall remains 99.9% recovered.

In no way do I mean to minimize anyone’s unique story, nor my own, but I am simplifying the narrative as a testament to how easy and common it is to fall into the trap of disordered eating and exercise.

(Here is a post about when I felt I truly stopped becoming obsessed with exercise and here is a peek into my undergrad workout routine, which is kind of similar to my routine now, except I am currently more lax.)

In all transparency, I do still go through phases during which I struggle with my body image and wonder if X, Y, or Z will help me feel better about myself. I attribute this to being a human who uses social media. However, fitness has slowly but surely become something that is first and foremost FOR function, mental health, and happiness. It is NOT FOR (or I avoid at all costs to make it for) a certain physique, weight, or “summer body.”

Back to the photo above. I had ripped abs in high school. You could perhaps say I had a nice “summer body.” True, I did a lot of core work, but the main reason my abs were so prominent is that I had very little body fat due to restriction of calories and overexercising.

I was chronically tired and unhappy.

I would like to draw your attention to my wrists in the first photo. I have genetically tiny wrists in the first place, but at that time, even I would think they were on the brink of snapping at some point. I don’t look incredibly unhealthy in the rest of the photo; some would say I look great. I remember people commenting on how fit and strong I looked (again, just because you could SEE my abs). But recalling how skeletal my hands looked, and, above all, recalling how unhappy I felt within, I know now that no external appearance made summer any better for me.

My workouts at that point had to make me want to die or else it wasn’t really worth it. I must admit that I did grow a lot in my general fitness and strength this time, because I pushed myself more than I ever did in my life (remember, I am a naturally lazy person). However, I could only improve to a certain point. There was very little rest and very little fuel to keep me going.

Refer to some of the above posts if you are interested in the interim between pre-college Alison and grad school (current) Alison. It’s been a long journey!

As the photo caption says, I have since gained 40-45 lbs in both fat and muscle (and maybe bone honestly; I was a late bloomer). You can no longer see a 6-pack. Who knows what you can even see; I don’t like posting my midriff on social media now (for modesty reasons, not due to any sort of shame for what my abs do or do not look like).

I am a pear-shaped, lower-body-heavy person who is consequently challenged by any sort of leg raise exercise. People (usually older Asian folks) have commented on how large and bulky I look. I have also gained weight pretty much every single year since I entered college (although my weight is probably at its happy point currently).

However, I am stronger, faster, happier, and healthier than I was in the first two photos, and I genuinely look forward to working out. And this freedom and joy in moving my body is worth so much more than a photo of ripped abs could ever capture.

Regarding my current fitness routine, quarantine has of course made me get creative. But even if the gyms were available, I like to think that my routine and mindset would be the same. 9/10 times I make up my workout the day of, and I frequently modify the workout as I’m doing it, whether it’s too easy or too difficult.

I could not report to you the number of workouts I do every week, because I don’t log them or premeditate the number (although I have been posting some of my workouts on my Instagram story recently to share ideas, so I guess you can check there to approximate).

I have learned a lot from physical therapy school, which helps me to think about different muscle groups and exercises that are for far more than an aesthetic.

I also have come to appreciate intentionality during workouts (thanks to the knowledge of some cool women like Natacha Oceane and Tanya Poppett). In other words, whatever you are doing, do. it. well. If it’s supposed to be explosive, explode for every rep. If it’s supposed to be slow and controlled working every tiny muscle you never knew you had, then do that. If you’re stretching, focus continually on the positioning of your joints. Adjust the reps and time as needed to make it quality > quantity. With this change, every movement session is an opportunity for improvement in fitness (note: not necessarily improvement in physique), because all my brain power is going into something particular, even if it is just the positioning of a stretch, for example.

More intention = better form = better motor patterns = better movement. And get sufficient rest in between! I guess this is how I always wished I approached fitness. If I could give advice to those trying to build up their fitness in a healthy way, this would be it.

So to all the ladies and gents out there tryin’ to get a summer body: I’m not here to tell you to stop your fitness or food regimen to get shredded for the summer. There are plenty of people who can do that happily and healthfully. I will just, as always, implore you to reflect honestly about the motivations, the goal, and how happy and healthy you are in the process.

A practical self-check is asking yourself how much time during the day you spend think about how you can achieve a certain physique goal. I can’t give you a certain percentage of the day, but if it’s “most of the day”, that could indicate the need for re-evaluation of your current habits.

You might not be “one of those people” who can get shredded without compromising mental/physical health. I am here to tell you that I understand the frustration of that deeply, and you are not alone. But the freeing happiness to which you are called is worth more than a “perfect” summer body.

My “summer bod” (whatever that means for 2020) is a short and stocky conglomerate of all the cells that are uniquely me. I’m enjoying fitness right now and I feel rested and well. I hope you feel rested and well, too. Ain’t no time for summer stressing.

(Disclaimer #2: All my recommendations are coming from my own anecdotal experience, as well as from others with whom I have spoken. However, I am not a medical doctor nor an eating disorder specialist. Please speak with other trusted healthcare professionals if you are seeking personalized help. As a resource, my friend Lauren Bickford, RD, aka the Food Fight RD, is a certified intuitive eating counselor.)

The Food and Fitness Relationship is Like Any Other

…for me, at least.

And I’m sure many others. Hence the existence of blogs / Instagram accounts similar to mine that were created for the purpose of she struggles of striking what is called “healthy balance.”

The food and fitness relationship is like any other inherently good relationship — lifelong, important, often fun, sometimes frustrating, at times hurtful, evolving, dependent on other factors in life, but always able to be healed / improved.

I would consider myself fully recovered from my eating disorder. But thoughts like these still pop into my head: Belly is fluffy today. What if I just ate half of what I normally do for dinner? What if I cut my daily calorie intake but a couple hundred? Maybe I’ll do burpees when I’m digested from dinner. I’m definitely not as shredded as her. I bet I’m heavier than that guy over there. 

To be clear, these can all be thoughts that are associated with disordered eating, hands down. However, it is the result of these thoughts that matters; what is it that you do when you have thoughts like these? Do these thoughts manifest as behaviors?

Thanks be to God, although these thoughts exist every dang day, I don’t think they ever manifest in behaviors that are harmful. But I’d be lying if there is not a little bit of a fight against impulsive restrictions or even just preoccupation with the layer of fat over my belly some days.

A photo of myself in a bathing suit from approximately 6-7 years ago (wow) came up on one of those Facebook “memories” (the best and worst thing there ever was on my facebook feed), and my jaw nearly dropped. I was like, “HECK, I had a dang 6 pack!” I was approximately 40 lbs. lighter then than I am now.

This is where you might be expecting me to say, “But I’m soooo much happier now!” THAT IS VERY TRUE, 1000%. But I am also at a point where I could afford to lose a couple pounds, and I would still be healthy and strong. I haven’t been able to do pull-ups in a while due to lack of practice but also a change in my body proportions so them lower limbs are hefty little fellas. So what do I do?

Option A: Intentionally cut some calories and lose some weight, because I’d likely be just as healthy as I am now. Who knows? I might even get those pull-ups more easily.

Option B: Do nothing about it.

Option C: Honestly evaluate my overall eating habits. Rather than saying, “I wanna cut X number of calories from my daily intake,” I could try asking myself: In which circumstances do I know I tend to stuff myself more than I’d like? Which emotions make me want to eat even though I’m not hungry? Am I sleeping enough? In which situations do I feel like I want to restrict? In which circumstances is the social/celebratory aspect of eating more important to me than my hunger/fullness cues?  And then, without judgement(!), I can address those instances where my relationship with food and fitness is a little rocky. Because any relationship needs consistent and constant evaluation. Some people’s relationship with food and fitness requires a little more effort and bickering back and forth than others’ and that is o k a y.

I’ll choose option C and see where it takes me.

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the usual suspects like oats and avocado egg toast are in there because I ♥︎ them, but you bet your bottom dollar we ate a boat load of sushi and several sweets on my birthday and we continue to explore new treats every weekend *drool*

Fitness has been pretty steady and level-headed. I don’t really count rest vs. workout days, and I’m varying workouts and still getting stronger / faster (besides the fact that I sprained my ankle last week while running).

Food always seems to be the kicker. Oh how I wish I could eat to my intuition with little to no thought in the world. Sometimes that happens! But not always, and that’s what this post is aiming to iterate; no matter where you are in your relationship with food and fitness — whether you are still recovering from an eating disorder, you are kinda sorta distressed about it sometimes, or whether you face unhelpful thoughts every day like I do — it’s okay to be fighting the good fight for a long time.

It’s not okay to be consumed by an eating disorder, and that fight truly requires the help of others who are qualified to help (i.e. a registered dietitian or a counselor/psychologist who specializes in EDs). But like any other relationship, it is okay to not have a perfect relationship with food and fitness.

So tell me: Thoughts?

You Are Enough.

This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. As a woman and as someone who has experienced disordered eating, I wanted to write a post on this topic.

Yesterday’s situation:

I woke up and ate overnight oats for breakfast at 7:30am.

I sat in class for 75 minutes.

I came back home and contemplated going on a run or doing yoga, but I instead took a 45-minute nap instead.

I ate a super early lunch at 10:30am of avocado toast with two extra large eggs + veggies with hummus + a clementine.

I sat in class for another 75 minutes.

I ate another clementine before gross anatomy lab, which involved sitting and some standing.

I ate a granola bar + three cheese sandwich crackers after lab because I was hungry (apparently formaldehyde makes people hungry? weird).

I studied, went to a meeting, and went to Mass, all of which involved sitting.

I ate [white] pasta with meatballs, lots of parmesan cheese + salad for dinner at the Catholic Center. I also went back for a piece of garlic bread and another meatball.

I studied some more and sat some more for retreat reunion.

I came home and finished the last of the PB&J ice cream I bought for Rachel’s birthday. And for one last hurrah before Lent, I ate some yogurt with pb and banana.

I sat some more to write this blog post.


Yesterday involved lots of sitting, little movement, and lots of food (much of which was processed and not “real”). But yesterday involved so much joy as well. First of all, that nap was much needed. Additionally, I had wonderful conversations with people I love. God made Himself present to us in the Mass. I had energy to focus and learn in class. I was satisfied.

Five years ago, or maybe even four, I would have been on the verge of tears if this day happened as it did. Actually, I would not have let it happen. No way in hell would I have eaten before a specific time, eaten white carbs, or eaten ice cream AND yogurt before going to sleep, especially if I didn’t work out to the point of exhaustion that day.

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2013, the year I started this blog

No amount of exercise was enough.

No amount of calorie cutting was enough.

No number on the scale was enough.

No space between my thighs was enough.

No reassurance from a friend or family member was enough.

No truth about God’s Love for me was enough.

Nothing about me or the world around me was enough.

When food, exercise, and exterior features became the center of my life, every concept of my self-worth crumbled. The things we eat, the ways we move, and how we look all change every single day. It takes a great deal of energy just to keep those things constant, and even then, constancy is impossible. That is why it was so taxing for me to reach the point of “enough” fitness/thinness/muscularity/strength; once I reached a satisfactory point, I either wanted more, or I declined and became dissatisfied again.

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My worth rested in fleeting and terribly exhausting things of the world. This disordered way of thinking caused me to close myself from the world, to look at what I didn’t have, and to chase endlessly after those things.

The truth that I knew but did not internalize until I started recovery is that there is no measure of our worth except that we are unique human beings who have been loved into creation by God. This makes each of us infinitely valuable and deeply, infinitely loved.

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You are enough.

This a truth, and this is a truth that will set you free. Free to love, to serve, and to thrive.

However, although this is a truth that your loved ones and I can tell you over and over again, you may not believe it, no matter how much you want to believe it. An eating disorder attacks a person’s physiology and soul relentlessly, and it is not an issue that can be solved after reading one blog post. Eating disorders are a serious health issue that are prevalent in our society, and the healing process is a long and treacherous battle. But recovery is possible and it is worth it.

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I Thirst for You. Yes, that is the only way to even begin to describe My love for you. I THIRST FOR YOU. I thirst to love you and to be loved by you – that is how precious you are to Me. I THIRST FOR YOU. Come to Me, and I will fill your heart and heal your wounds. I will make you a new creation, and give you peace, even in all your trials I THIRST FOR YOU. You must never doubt My mercy, My acceptance of you, My desire to forgive, My longing to bless you and live My life in you. I THIRST FOR YOU. If you feel unimportant in the eyes of the world, that matters not at all. For Me, there is no one any more important in the entire world than you. I THIRST FOR YOU. Open to Me, come to Me, thirst for Me, give me your life – and I will prove to you how important you are to My Heart.

-St. Teresa of Calcutta, I Thirst For You Meditation (written as if God is speaking to you)

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, please:

  1. Find professional help. Eating disorders are not to be taken lightly, and proper health care is necessary in order to fully recover.
  2. Find support. Having trustworthy people who you can talk to in person is essential. There is also an incredible community of bloggers who I know are more than willing to lend support and resources.
  3. Keep persevering every day, every hour, every minute. Every decision you make around food/fitness is an opportunity to triumph over that eating disorder. This does not mean that every decision will be a triumph, but just keep adding drops of water into that large bucket, and one day it will overflow.

On that note, today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent. As always, if you observe Lent and have an eating disorder, please talk to a priest/religious sister and your doctor about what you can do besides fast from food.

Whereas restriction in eating disorders is often done out of self-loathing, fasting is (or at least should be) done out of love for God and certainty in God’s Love for us.

Never hesitate to contact me with questions, concerns, or prayer requests.

I love you.

 

 

The Great and Small Things I Learned This Semester {Study Abroad}

It’s hard to put into words how I feel about my experiences in Ireland, but I will do what I’ve done every semester before this — write up a list of…

the great and small

[freshman 1 ~ freshman 2 ~ sophomore 1 ~ sophomore 2]

…study abroad edition 🙂

  1. Ireland is underrated for its beauty.img_3103
  2. The grass really is greener in Ireland and there really are sheep everywhere.img_5538
  3. Aer Lingus has delicious food.img_2858
  4. How to use the Dublin Bus, aka one of the least user-friendly public transportation systems in the world.
  5. A little bit more about booze and how to drink it. I despise Rosé and red wine; I can tolerate light beers, hard liquors, and white wine; I can only tolerate Guinness at the Guinness Storehouse; I like “baby Guinness” shots; I am not willing to pay for the amount of alcohol it takes to make me even tipsy. (#BoozeAndGrooves)
  6. “Slagging” is when Irish people tease you and give you a hard time, but it’s supposedly a way to break the ice when you first meet someone.
  7. How to share a kitchen with over ten people.
  8. No matter how many times you might politely ask people to wash their own dishes, there will always be those who just. don’t. get it.
  9. How to take charge with travel plans, directions, and public transportation.img_4695
  10. How to not panic when I get lost in a foreign country
  11. It is indeed cloudy and rainy most of the time in Ireland (although we had mild weather this year!).img_5556
  12. Tea breaks are a real thing in the Irish workplace.
  13. I love the said tea, scone, and biscuit culture.14462810_1188492134507275_7641167688898127242_n
  14. But Megan and I also make some great scones that we like even more than the ones at the bakery…img_5595
  15. What dry needling entails and what it feels like.
  16. How to give bomb massages.
  17. I LOVE HARRY POTTER. I am a Hufflepuff with Slytherin undertones.img_6308
  18. I don’t get that homesick, but FaceTiming friends every week also helps.
  19. What black pudding and haggis are and how they taste (not bad!).img_6196
  20. How Airbnb works.img_3493
  21. I can just make it through Italy with my minimal high school Italian language “skills”.
  22. Assisi is the best place on earth.
  23. Heck, all of Italy is the best place on earth.
  24. How to better identify when my funky mood is due to lack of sleep.
  25. I can get fitter in four months without a gym.img_4291
  26. People feel most loved when you listen to them. Truly listen. This is something that I need to work on.
  27. What retrocalcaneal bursitis is and how it forces you to just RELAX and stop walking so much.img_5634
  28. 100% recovery is possible.
  29. Dublin is a fantastic brunch city.
  30. Megan loves brunch, loves dessert, and questions the purpose of coffee and alcohol as much as I do. And she’s an awesome travel buddy 🙂img_4765
  31. Irish dairy and beef are superb.
  32. Potatoes really are served with everything in Ireland.img_4214
  33. How to ask more questions.
  34. Irish sociology, culture, healthcare ethics, and insurance.
  35. How to play Gaelic sports (and that I royally suck at 2/3 of them).
  36. Names like Colm, Caolon, and Niamh exist, and they are not phonetical whatsoever.
  37. I don’t get sick of overnight oats.img_5698
  38. I don’t know how to do bars and pubs.
  39. Brown bread/soda bread is one of those “this-is-like-cardboard-but-somehow-delicious” foods. It’s all in the generous spread of butter.img_5533
  40. How to challenge my faith and to not be afraid of doubt.
  41. How to live with, get along with, and love a vastly diverse group of peers.
  42. How to have good craic (pronounced “crack”; means “fun”).
  43. I can’t believe I ever disliked the idea of studying abroad.
  44. How to fall in love with God (whomp whomp, so Christian-girl-mushy, sue me).
  45. God will truly lead you to where He wills you to go. Just ask Him.img_4935

I want to thank my parents, brother, friends/family at home and abroad, and all the staff and faculty at Boston University and Dublin City University who made my study abroad one of the best experiences ever. It is you who make my experiences full.

So tell me:

If you are college student, three things you learned this semester!

If you are not in college, three things you learned this fall! 

The Last .01% of Recovery

Remember when I posted about 99.9% recovery?

I posted it in the summer of 2015, examining the question: “Is full recovery [from an eating disorder or any disordered eating] even possible?”

My answer at the time was:

More often than not, I don’t care about calories, I eat what I want, and I can skip a workout without any problem. However, there are days when eating more or skipping workouts doesn’t come easily or without thought.

Maybe you can reach 100% recovery, or maybe you have! I am so genuinely happy for those who do. This post is just my two cents based on my experiences, and I have concluded that I might be at 99.9% for a while.

I believe that I was in a healthy place last year, mentally and physically, and I don’t think that there have been groundbreaking changes in my mindset since then. Yet somehow I feel that I’ve tasted that last .01% of recovery.

I say “tasted” because our mental state is transient— it is constantly shifting and wavering depending on our environment, experiences, and seasons of life. Maybe there’s something about being home that triggers more inner demons. Maybe there’s something about being abroad that has forced all those demons away.

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God has granted me the incredible opportunity to study abroad this semester, and these past 3.5 months on a different continent has helped me develop as a person in many ways, including my mental health. Being in a completely different country with an unfamiliar culture and new people has forced me to adapt in every way—intellectually, emotionally, physically, and mentally. I don’t have my familiar surroundings to fall back upon when I’m stressed or bored or whatever, which can be either disastrous or fruitful. I’m grateful to say that it has been the latter this semester.

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The main things I have noticed in this last .01% recovery are that:

1) I don’t remember everything I’ve eaten in the past week, and I don’t feel the need to share it all with everyone on the blog.

I’m definitely NOT saying that people who share what they eat at every meal are in a bad place (hello, I’ve been doing it for the past three years on this blog), but for ME, there was always safety in knowing pretty much everything I ate in a week as a subconscious “balance” check.

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Showing you these dates with peanut butter, because a lot of you recommended it. 10/10. 🙂

Now it’s more of a day-by-day, or even a meal-by-meal, evaluation. It’s a little more present and future-focused than past-focused.

Past-focused: “What did I eat earlier today/this week? What should I eat now, since I ate that before?”

vs.

Present-focused: “What will satisfy me right now?”

Future-focused: “What do I need to make me feel better later?”

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In other words, there is little to no room for regret or compensation these days.

2) I’m not afraid of meals that make me think of “something I would eat in my disordered eating days.”

This one sounds strange, but I used to be slightly afraid of eating a meal that was very light or extra “healthy” during recovery, because that would make me think that I’m heading backwards. I feared that I might fall into the mindset of cutting calories again.

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But I know that I have zero desire to cut calories consciously or to restrict myself. Zero. Therefore, I can trust myself to eat a small box of salad or a small breakfast and know that I’m not trying to restrict or compensate. When my body is ready, I will naturally eat more later. Does this make sense?

3) I’m not afraid to be lazy.

THIS ONE. This one was hard for the longest time. Detaching myself from calories and food restriction was the easy part, but detaching myself from a mindset of constant activity and fitness has been the most difficult part of recovery.

Move, groove, walk everywhere, yoga, don’t take the bus, have a constant desire to be active.

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Don’t get me wrong, I still love moving and grooving, walking, etc. a lot! But listen, at the end of the long day, I just don’t want to walk 1.5 hours home, even if I have the time. Sometimes I don’t want to get off three stops early just to get in more steps. Sometimes I don’t want to take an active 5 minute break every 25 minutes while I’m working at my desk.

In other words, I trust myself to be lazy. I’m not going to spiral into a pit of sedentariness forever and ever if I’m lazy every now and then. It is indeed possible to enjoy sitting on your butt and to also love fitness, and I think this has a lot to do with the fact that I truly do exercise in ways that are enjoyable to me.


To answer the original question: Full recovery is possible. I think initial recovery can and should be pursued vigorously, but 100% recovery (in my eyes at least) is mostly reintroduced to us over time. 100% recovery finds YOU, but you have to be willing to be uncomfortable, whatever that entails for you. Over and over again.

For me:

  • sitting for very long periods of time without exercising beforehand
  • sitting for very long periods of time after eating a lot
  • eating salads that have more dressing than I would have wanted
  • going a whole day without a whole grain

Those are just some examples of discomfort for me. Does this mean I force myself to feel this discomfort every day? No, not at this stage (earlier in recovery, I did). But these discomforts must be welcomed and embraced, and honestly, just passed over with as little thought as possible, which you can only accomplish if you allow them to happen a few times. Only then might you find that they aren’t as uncomfortable anymore.

I have come to the conclusion that 100% recovery does not mean that we don’t care about my body image at all or that we disregard calories completely. It doesn’t mean we act oblivious to all those things, because that’s impossible. Instead, I think 100% recovery means that we have an abiding sense of peace in ourselves that cannot be budged by external factors (missed workout, more sweets than usual, someone else working out when you can’t, etc.) NOR internal factors (feeling tired, feeling extra hungry, etc.).

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be more like St. Francis

As always, I must remind you that I am not a professional by any means. I share all this from my own experience only. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please find help from a registered dietitian (you can reach out to RD bloggers like Robyn or Kylie even!). 

So tell me: 

Any thoughts! 

Have you learned anything more about what does good for your mental health recently?