Sometimes I'll be sitting on the bus and a song will come on that makes me want to sing, laugh, dance and cry all at the same time. That is what recovery feels like.
Sometimes a mound of ice cream looks like a mountain and other times it's the reward that gets you through the day. But here's the cold, raw truth that took me four, exhausting years to realize—it will get easier, and, oddly enough, food can help you get there.
Disclaimer: this post is in no way intended to trigger or set off any person's mental illness. I simply have words I would like to say, am grateful for the ability I have to speak on the matter, and will do so in the name of mental illness awareness.
However, this is your trigger warning: I do advise you to stop reading now if you are at all suffering from anorexia or mental illness, and to seek help. There are resources available and you will find a way to combat what ever demons you are struggling with.
And on that note, here is a small fraction of my story.
It’s not fair. Drug addicts can hide their needles. Alcoholics can hide their booze. But anorexia, that’s on display for everyone to see. Everyone knows why you politely said no to a cookie. Everyone knows why you bring your own food. Sit? I’d rather stand. Eventually they just stop asking, knowing you'll already have an excuse for not attending an event.
I was deluded by anorexia until I acquired a certain BMI. I’m surprised I even had the strength to sit up in my lofted bed. I remember coming home from work one afternoon, delicately laying my body on the couch, feeling every ounce of heavy breath rise and fall from my chest. I was afraid to go to sleep. I called my parents for what I thought would have been the last time. My voice was grave. My breathing, shallow. My words, short.
“I’m scared” I told them. "This time I am going to make a change." This time I wasn’t lying. Every second of silence was a stab at my shrinking heart. My dad brought me home the following Friday. Looking back, I don't think I'd be writing this if he had not.
There is so much I missed out on in the past four years. Rediscovering foods has been an enjoyable, scary, enlightening process. I noticed something unique after I allowed myself to have the food I rarely, if ever, had in years.
My mood was elevated by the neurological effects of certain food and the fact that my body was finally getting the nutrients it so desperately needed. I want to share with you the foods that are not only restoring my body, but my mind too—because a stable state of mind is half the battle.
It's a triple threat: dense calories, delicious and healthy. Can be smeared on toast, added to salsa or eaten on a burger. I'll add it to salad to give it some bulk, and–I kid you not–in two hours or less, my brain will have soaked the serotonin up like a sponge.
What do you gain from good mood food? Moments of your old self.
Or in my house, more commonly known as "brain food." Whether smoked, seared, or cooked in the oven, it gives me the brain power to remain calm and stay strong during a meal. When my anxiety's at bay, I have more of an appetite.
Salmon also has a smooth texture and buttery taste. These sensory factors all contribute to why it makes us feel good. Some of my favorite ways to eat salmon is roasted in the oven with lemon, or tossed with fettuccine in a cream sauce.
One of the first things I made at the beginning of my recovery were banana muffins. I prefer baking muffins over bread because I can just take one at a time out of the freezer. This recipe is simple and fast enough to do before class.
The more ripe your bananas are the more flavor and gooeyness they'll have. Try it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and drizzled in chocolate fudge sauce, it will be the happiest dessert to ever come out of your freezer.
Similar to salmon but has less fat and more protein. Which is good for rebuilding muscle. The fish oil found in tuna also strengthens hair and fights the low moods sometimes felt at times during recovery.
It's not just for Thanksgiving anymore. One of the perks of living on my own is that I have been able to try recipes I wouldn't normally try at home. I knew if I wanted to recover that I would need to have high amounts of good protein, and being a full-time student, my mind immediately went to these mini turkey meatloaves.
It's a simple recipe—I added a clove of fresh garlic and fresh thyme—that can be added to several nights of dinner. I'll eat them in a wilted kale grain bowl with golden raisins and a maple vinaigrette, or on the side of roasted acorn squash and a blend of wild rice.
Typically I'll save these for dinner because some nights I'm too tired to cook after a long day, plus I've found turkey makes me rather sleepy.
Walnuts on salad. Walnuts on oatmeal. Walnuts ground into pesto, or baked into bread. I can't say enough about the humble, heroic nut. Similar to the other foods mentioned on this list, it can naturally lift our mood. The "brain nut" is calorie dense, which helps me meet daily nutritional needs easier, without the bloating.
Last but not least on the list of good mood food is not a food necessarily, but a spice. You might be thinking how can a sprinkle of cinnamon in my oatmeal turn my whole day around?
Well, it turns out cinnamon has been linked to alertness, and I've found this to be extremely beneficial if I have class right after eating. If I'm alert, I'm focused on the material in front of me, instead of falling into a pit of anxiety. Sprinkle some on your peanut butter toast before heading off to class, it may just help you focus better.
I'm not there — yet.
Returning to food has given me such a different perspective on what nutrition is. It's not only fueling the body, but the mind too. Recovering isn't just a physical block, but a mental one.
To anyone who is struggling with anorexia, I want to leave you with this: there will be hard times. There are times where I am elated by food and times where I'm disgusted by the sight of it. Swallow your fear. Be brave. Be bold. Don't fool yourself. Our time here is not infinite. I'm finding that—at the core of my battle with anorexia—it's about accepting myself and life's uncertainty.