Anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, ARFID and atypical eating disorders often result in isolating the sufferer and preventing them from enjoying new experiences. The physical consequences of eating disorders (low-energy, difficulty focusing, cold-sensitivity) can also limit sufferers’ ability to try new activities.
This is no longer true for me and I’m so grateful for the freedom I enjoy being fully recovered from eating disorders. I get to pursue my soul’s yearnings. This month I decided to finally give stand-up paddle boarding a try.
It was a warm day here in San Diego. I met my friend Larry (name changed for anonymity) at Mission Bay and after paying we were given a 3 minute tutorial that included, “Watch the wind. I recommend staying close to the shore. Paddle that way and then the wind will help bring you back.”
If I’m honest about it I didn’t really know what “watch the wind” meant. When my neighbor checked the wind for me a couple days before, she said, “Wow, it looks really calm. It’s not usually like that at 10am on a Saturday. That’s great!” So Larry and I innocently got on our boards and began paddling. As first-timers we were focused on getting a rhythm down and staying upright. We both caught on fast.
Although we were aiming for the coastline the wind had other ideas. It blew us away from shore. I didn’t think much of it. I said to Larry, “Let’s aim for that point of land over there.” And we paddled in that direction. But it was harder than I expected. We’d get closer only to be blown further away again. No big deal, right?
Part of me knew we weren’t in any real danger. Mission Bay is a relatively small body of water and boats passed by frequently. We could always ask for a tow. But as the wind blew us further and further out, the reality set in; I would have to paddle fiercely to get back to shore.
Negative, racing thoughts filled my mind. “Will my shoulders hold up?” “Will I hurt myself?” “What was I thinking trying this ‘at my age’?!” I felt the periphery of a panic attack as I looked around, acknowledging my naïvety. “What am I doing out here surrounded by water floating on an 11 foot board?” I felt out of control.
Thankfully, the decades I’ve invested in therapy and meditation kicked in. I began praying, “Please help me!” Immediately I was given the mantra, “Steady Progress. Arrive on Shore.” I repeated it internally and instantly felt better aka: more in control. My mind focused. I set myself a short term goal: reach the checkered buoy. I paddled my heart out. Sometimes it took 15 minutes to progress just 40 feet. If I stopped paddling, the wind blew me back. I silently repeated, “Steady Progress. Arrive on Shore.” My mantra had power; the power of intention.
When I reached the buoy, I set another goal — the 5mph buoy up ahead. Larry joked with me, “Crystal slow down! The buoy says ‘5 mph’”. I laughed and said, “I can’t stop paddling. I refuse to go backwards!” My mantra engaged my entire being, crowding out all negative thoughts and fueling me towards my goal.
Despite having a protein bar earlier, I could feel my glucose deficit; rubbery arms. Then two women paddled by and cruised towards shore. I thought, “If they can do it, so can I.” Another mantra arose, “Full speed ahead!” It too had tremendous power and carried me the rest of the way so I could finally push my board onto the sand and thank “Higher Power” for my safe rival.
Only when I got into my car to leave and noticed the time did I realize we had been on the water for three hours! Two-thirds of that was strenuous paddling.
Whether we realize it or not, most of us have mantras — repetitive statements — playing in our minds often. Eating disorder sufferers commonly have a voice telling them to not eat certain foods, exercise more, start a new diet, conceal difficult feelings, eat more, eat so-called “forbidden” foods and/or purge. There’s frequently another very critical voice finding fault with everything they do. Needless to say, these mantras aren’t helpful and I know from experience, they’re incredibly annoying.
What can we do about it? You guessed it: choose a better mantra! But how? It might not just “arise” the way mine did due to panic. That’s Okay. We can consciously choose mantras that work for us; simple ones that are easy to repeat. One way to create a mantra is to listen to what the eating disorder part is saying and come up with a mantra that challenges it. For example, if the eating disorder part is saying, “Don’t eat desserts, they will make you gain weight” you could say, “Balanced eating, natural weight1” or “Enjoying food, enjoying life”. If the eating disorder part says, “Go ahead and binge, you can start over tomorrow” you could say, “My meal plan is my feel-good plan” or “Recovering today for a better tomorrow”. Perhaps your eating disorder part is telling you that you cannot recover. Create a variation of mine, “Steady progress. Full recovery.” or “Step by step. Total freedom.”
Get creative! Paint your mantra and hang it in your space. Use Canva to design mantra memes and add them to your phone so they pop up throughout the day. Most importantly, repeat them internally (or externally) when those eating disorder thoughts come up. Think of your mantra as a vehicle, driving you to your destination: full recovery. Practice “Steady Progress” “Full steam ahead” and you will “Arrive on Shore.”