Eating Disorder Recovery: When “healthy” is a lie.

TW: If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, please care for yourself. None of this is meant to upset you, but if you’re sensitive to photos or talk of disordered behaviors, maybe skip this one. We’ll return to your irregularly scheduled sass soon enough.

There’s never a convenient time to talk about eating disorders. Trust me, I’ve been waiting on it for years. There’s always something: What will X new friend think? What will X future employer think? What if X potential suitor googles me (bigger threat: what if he DOESN’T? What kind of sociopath are we dealing with here?), freaks out and says gurl, bye?

Short answer: GURL, BYE. I need people in my life who can deal. Easy to understand, harder to implement.

The bigger issue is that nearly five years after entering treatment for (what started as) bulimia, I don’t consider myself recovered. Recovering, yes. I go days, weeks, even months feeling like I’m over it. Spoiler: I’m not. Recovery has been far from linear and is complicated by the fact that my ED followed a sizable weight loss. I have no normal to return to. Instead, I have these:

the overweight overeater

the frustrated yo-yo dieter

the out-of-control bulimic

the hyper-controlled health nut

the food-obsessed waif

the gluten-free vegan

the compulsive gym rat

the anxious, run-down shell who said, holy shit, this could go on forever.

And now I’m…what? Tired of thinking about it. Tired of hiding from it. And kind of wanting to talk about it, even if the words are as clumsy and circuitous as the journey has been.

Unless you’re being force-fed in a hospital — and often even if you are — recovery is rarely a simple prescription. I sought salvation from bulimia in “healthy living”: If what I ate was good for me, I could commit to keeping it down. I developed a love of wholesome cooking and got into running and weight training. My binges got fewer and further between. My weight stabilized and actually dropped. I figured out how to incorporate the odd baked good or rich meal, and got a real kick out of publicly Eating While Thin.

Double-fisting Shake Shack! …Followed by a slice of watermelon for dinner.

What I didn’t know is that I was way underfueling my body type and activity level. For YEARS. I wasn’t consciously restricting, but I look back and do a quick tally and guys. It was just not enough. I knew I sometimes went to bed hungry. I knew I kept a food journal and planned all my meals in advance. I knew spontaneous eating stressed me out and my rigidness interfered with my relationships. I knew I spent all day lusting over recipes and restaurants. I thought I was just, I dunno, really into food.

Dead eyes + bones = you’re doing it wrong.

I was fine until I wasn’t. I hit a wall a little over a year ago. I couldn’t understand why despite eating “healthy” (read: tiny portions of so-called clean food), I felt sick all the time. Exhausted, edgy, foggy, bloated, plagued by dry skin and acne I never got as a teen. I was a model of health…and I looked and felt like shit.

“So I says to the guy, ‘Sternum? I hardly know ’em!'”

I confused the bloating with weight gain — unacceptable, since my self-identity had come to revolve around Eating While Thin. God forbid anyone see me looking a little squishy. I cancelled plans and eventually stopped making them, convinced that what little social life I had left was pulling me away from my “healthy” routine. The good times could resume once I got things under control.

Me on a fat day. Def.

I saw a doctor, who basically told me it was all in my head. He said I should focus on reducing stress and give up gluten despite testing negative for Celiac. I realized I could control the bloating by basically never eating more than a few bites at a time. My energy temporarily spiked, which is a biological response to starvation (…so you can find food). Then it got 10x worse.

(Could it have been because I was barely clearing a thousand calories on top of a rigorous workout regimen, and my organ function and hormone production had slowed to a crawl?! Dammit, Emma, you with your spoilers.)

Much swoll. Very muscles. I could barely carry those eye bags.

I spent all my free time googling symptoms and digging through forums for answers. Then I did a few things at once. I quit caffeine, knowing it wound me up tight. I adopted a totally gluten-free, vegan diet — by that point, my digestion was so suppressed that I was convinced I had real intolerances — and I told myself I could eat as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted, as long as it was “healthy.” While plenty confining, it was a system I’d never trusted before. Whole avocados instead of anemic slivers. Almond butter feasts straight from the jar. Full-fat coconut milk with raw cacao and honey every night before bed.

And something wild happened. I gained weight. Not a ton — maybe ten or fifteen pounds — but it came on quickly and settled evenly. Wilder still, I didn’t become hideously unattractive. Quite the opposite. The bloat deflated, my skin calmed down, and my face and curves filled out. This was not the unflattering layer of water that had settled under my skin in response to a chronic deficit. This was straight-up fat – honest and womanly, firm to the touch, and just what my body needed.

My eyes brightened. My cheeks flushed. I had never been hit on more in my life. More importantly, I felt relaxed and silly and social and sensual — like myself for the first time in longer than I knew.

Selfie-improvement.

Unfortunately, I didn’t quite get it yet. I gave my narrow diet’s contents more credit than its flood of usable energy. Upon realizing I couldn’t do the gluten-free vegan thing forever, I fell back into restrictive patterns: small portions paired with a serious cardio habit. Pretty standard — maybe fine for someone without such fraught digestive and nervous systems — but not nearly enough for my barely-healing body. The weight fell off, and my symptoms returned with a vengeance. I couldn’t leave the house without throbbing headaches. I couldn’t run without swelling up with stress-induced water weight for days. Are these my choices? I wondered. Chronic inflammation or morbid obesity?

Well, as it turns out, no.

I’ve arrived at the final frontier: permission to eat, full stop, “healthy” or not. Recovery 2: 4 REALZ THIS TIME finds me trying to reset my metabolism and get to my body’s natural weight on what is, for me, an unprecedented amount of food. On top of my regular meals (which have doubled in size), I’m trying to eat when I’m hungry, even if I just had a full meal an hour ago. The more I resist, the longer it will take for my body to trust me and use that energy for good. There’s science to back it up, but it goes against every tenet of mainstream diet culture — a hard sell for someone not underweight by the scale.

It’s incredibly daunting to eat like a teenage boy after being so careful for so long. But once I stopped suppressing my hunger, I was shocked by how much of it I felt. Far more than I could physically fill with my old staples. I’ve had to embrace fats and simple carbs — which make me feel great — and avoid anything with too much fiber, which makes me want to explode. Instead of overthinking it, I’m taking my multivitamin and hoping my body is smarter than me. As first world problems go, there are worse things than eating a lot of cheese.

I’ve been doing it for about two months — no cardio, to boot — and it has not turned me into Jabba the Hutt. It’s that same fifteen pounds, and that same vitality I lacked as a paragon of “health.” Even without the pristine diet. I can and do eat everything, and my skin and mind are mostly clear. The weight is honest and womanly. I know that it is good.

Not every day is good, though. Water retention can be unpredictable and drastically change my appearance in a matter of hours. I’ll catch sight of an old photo or something that no longer fits and think, Maybe I was just doing it wrong. If I tweak my macros. Load up on fruits and veggies. The “Bad Blood” music video, while epic, was triggering as fuck. I went to bed hungry three nights in a row in pursuit of uber-svelte Swiftyness. Lo and behold: Headaches! Joint pain! A fresh crop of zits! My body simply will not do it anymore, and neither will I. Anyone who judges the weight gain does not have my best interests at heart. I am not letting myself go. I am letting go of a compulsion that kept me from living fully.

My body feels awkward right now, but I’m finding my peace with it. I also know I may need to gain more, and I have to accept that too — even if that weight comes from eating cake for breakfast, or having three snacks in the time I’d have formerly allowed myself one. The definition of “healthy” changes after an eating disorder. Finding that mental freedom — challenging my fears and my systems — is so much more important than a little bit of vanity weight. The best thing I can do is focus on developing value markers outside of my size and surrounding myself with people who couldn’t care less.

No witty bow to tie up this one, friends. Thank you for letting me share. I hope for your sake you can’t relate, but if you can, I hope this spurred you toward a positive change, or at least made you think. If you want to talk more, I’m only an email away.

Mexican Chocolate Granola.

I am no baker. Dessert got me into the kitchen — which speaks more to my love of sugar than anything else — but I have little patience for recipes and rules, both central to the delicate reactions that turn butter and flour into cookies and cakes. When I bake, I bake like a cook: impulsive and sloppy, eyeballing measurements and swapping ingredients at will. Baking is science, and I’m the bad kid who shows up on exam day and passes on sheer probability.

Mainly, I stick to utility baking: bread and granola. Both are fairly forgiving canvases that let me operate on taste and touch. There’s less sugar involved, but no less love of the process. And nothing like knowing I gave birth to the base of my basic-ass avocado toast.

What I miss is the generosity involved in conventional baking. Precious few can survive on cookies alone (though I seem to be following a disproportionate number on Instagram), so when we bake, we bake to feed. I think of the batches I used to churn out for classmates and coworkers: YOU GET A CARB! AND YOU GET A CARB! How natural and rewarding it felt to share. I miss that feeling. Granola, however fortifying, doesn’t carry the same allure. Cooking for one, however gratifying, can be a lonely gig.

I don’t always DIY. I get lazy and shell out for bougie artisanal granola. But even if some anonymous oat master nails the grain-to-nut-to-sweetener ratio, all those maple-glazed pecans eventually start to taste the same. And it starts to feel demeaning that all I contributed was $12 for the bag (oof).

So I bake. Granola! One of the easiest things to make at home, and one where we stand to gain the most from doing so. If I’m going to call it dinner — as I have on more than one occasion — I can at least know that I gave birth to my bougie-ass bowl. And then I’ll tell you about it, in hopes you’ll agree that eating faintly spiced chocolate for breakfast (or dinner) is a commendable life choice. And I’ll know that, if only from a distance, I did my part.

Mexican Chocolate Granola

Warning: Your home will smell like a churro factory for a torturous length of time, and I will not apologize. Cooking it low and slow keeps the little bits from burning in the time it takes for the oats to crisp up. This makes a dainty batch for those who (ahem) cannot commit to a whole box of cereal and also cannot be trusted with granola. Feel free to double, triple, and send whatever you don’t finish to me.

1 1/2 cups oats (or buckwheat, pictured here because I Can’t Be Tamed)
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1/4 cup pepitas
1/4 cup cacao nibs
3 tablespoons coconut oil
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Generous pinch of cayenne

1. Preheat oven to 225. Whisk together coconut oil, honey, cocoa, vanilla and spices in a medium saucepan over low heat. Stir in dry ingredients.

2. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for about an hour, stirring and/or taste-testing every 20 minutes. Let cool completely. If it’s still chewy, pop it back in the oven and dry that sucker out.

Cha-cha now, y’all.

One of the first articles I ever published was a pseudo-inspirational rant called “Hello, My Name is Emma, and I’m a Quitter.” With all the confidence of 19 fairly knock-free years, I recall abandoning piano lessons for dance class (because “no preteen girl in her right mind would choose tea-length dresses over sequined hot pants”) and urge my peers to turn from their colorless lives and walk it out. I end with this clincher:

“I give you all permission to quit. Quit your job. Quit your major. Quit your relationship, if you have to. Do a little soul-searching and discover what it is that makes you happy. The only one you’ll have to answer to is yourself, and I’m sure you’re the harshest critic that you know. In the immortal words of Rihanna, just live your life. Ay, ay, ay.”

RIHANNA, Y’ALL.

I read this and feel like a shadow of my 19-year-old self. I still back this advice, but I’m really bad at acting on it. Where my soul is concerned, I’m all search and no rescue, letting pride and fear of discomfort cockblock action. Rude.

I just turned 26, and I’m trying to Benjamin Button my way back onto the dance floor. So in the spirit of embracing my inner quitter/cocky 19-year-old, I’m pleased to share that I’m valiantly failing my New Year’s resolutions and mostly pretty stoked about it. Sometimes taking two steps back means INVENTING THE CHA-CHA SLIDE. Hey, it beats piano.

Dear January, You’re Full of Shit and Here’s Why

No headphones on the train. This was a nice idea meant to help me connect with my surroundings and minimize time on autopilot. It’s still a nice idea – in fact, I’m writing this in a notebook on the train right now, which I probably wouldn’t be doing if I hadn’t accidentally left my headphones at the office. It’s just not a realistic everyday rule. Trashy EMP is the only way I can get it up some days, and I forgive myself for that.

What I HAVE done is adopt a ritual that makes my commute less of a slog. Instead of taking my caffeine to the face when I wake in the 5 o’ clock hour, I try to wait and either bring (LOL) or buy (yep) something to sip on my way into work. It’s extremely pleasant to hold a fancy beverage and plan my day or stare at babies or whatever — even if Krewella is still providing the soundtrack — and it helps me arrive in a state of peak phreshnezz (read: aggressive caffeination). It also means I drop some dimes at the Pine Tree Natural Organic Land bodega, but my buddy there gives me free bananas, so I’m pretty sure I’m breaking even come snacktime.

Up my manicure game. Okay, yes, but do you know how much I cook and how many dishes I wash/toss in the sink and think about washing?! Many many dishes, which means my manicures last maybe 24 hours and my hands look twice as old as my face. So I guess what I’m saying is that my new resolution is to buy rubber gloves.

Commit to life after bangs. WTF. Why. I look so good with bangs. I am not your sad friend who chopped off her hair to get over a breakup. I keep going back to them because they work. They soften my features and hide my weird hairline and signal that I don’t take my cheeseburger-print dress too seriously. Let’s stop pretending I want a grown-up haircut. You can’t fight destiny, because her child will avenge you and f*cking Beyonce plays for that team.

Run 13.1. I’m in pretty great shape, if I do say so myself. I have my soft spots, because I enjoy housing carbs and cooking while tipsy, but I sweat almost daily and the meatheads at my gym ask my advice on muscle splits. Here’s what doesn’t interest me: achieving ~peak fitness~, whatever that means. The second exercise stops feeling constructive or voluntary is the second I am OUT.

Whatever cocktail of mental and physical stressors aligned in my half marathon training was not doing this body good. I was undertraining and panicked about it, prone to insomnia that I dealt with by carbo-loading myself to not-sleep before runs I would skip because what I really wanted was a strength circuit or trendy cardio class, which I wouldn’t do because I needed to save myself for runs. Dumbest loop ever. It was a mess and I was a mess and furious that so many people could force themselves to do this and I COULD NOT, especially after announcing to literally thousands of people that I would.

In that sense, it was hard to quit. But once I did, I felt nothing but 100% relief. For me, exercise has always been about feeling happy and fit and the opposite of everything I felt while forcing myself to be a distance runner.

The awesome part was remembering how much I love staying active in other ways! I am pumping dat iron and lip-syncing my heart out on the elliptical! Casual runs on sunny Saturdays that involve cross-training on swing sets and refueling with doughnuts: I love you! Do not come near me with a training schedule and a race number for several years at least!

UGH CATHARSIS LIKE LEGIT I AM REBORN.

Eat sandwiches for lunch. This one is going really well!

Get outta town. Also fruitful! I did the L.A. thang in February and I’m off to Sonoma next week for work! Basically I flee to the West Coast every chance I get and it’s only a matter of time until I just don’t come back…!

Wear pants on the weekend. It’s been more of a sundress situation, but it’s progress!

Ulfilter myself. Well, I made it back here eventually WHADDAYAWANTFROMME.

Pistachio-Walnut Baklava Butter (or, the cookie butter of baklava).

These is lean times in Chez Embry, my very fancy 400-square-foot home. I’ve never been great at saving in a world where J.Crew and cold-pressed juices exist, and this year, the holidays rolled around and I just. Went. Nuts. I mean, nuts. If you invite me to do anything before March, just know I’ll be eating beforehand. And probably walking from central Brooklyn.

January is blessedly lame and therefore an ideal time to ease up on the nuts. Meaning literal nuts, meaning no $15 jars of MaraNatha Raw Organic Almond Butter (I know but you guys, their texture game is on point). Necessity breeds invention and yadda yadda, and Chez Embry is never without le nut butter. I was out of le almonds, though. So I gave their sassy green brothers a conspiratorial wink, and Baklava Butter was born.

First, a shoutout to Nuts.com, the reason I have the whole world in my pantry. They offered my company a 10% discount and, being a lunatic, I promptly ordered $350 worth of ~superfoods~ (see: spending problem). Dare I say it was worth it, because I’ve been coasting on that stash for months, and I now know that kale granola exists and spirulina is aces mixed into brown rice. I’ve used Nuts.com a few times since; my order always arrives the next day, with an extra sample or two tucked inside. Everything’s top-notch and fresher than Beyoncé. Even the eco-friendly packaging is delightful. No front here, I just honestly love Nuts.com and I want you to put spirulina in your rice, too. And when you finish, there’s baklava for dessert.

Pistachio-Walnut Baklava Butter

I straight-up high-fived myself upon tasting this. It is spreadable baklava, plus all the goodness of B vitamins and alpha-linolenic acid, which I’ll let you google if you’re someone who cares about that. You could probably get away with two tablespoons of honey, but I have a sugar problem as well as a spending problem, so this is the version I’m putting my name on. It’s barely a recipe, but order and timing do matter, and toasting the nuts makes all the difference in flavor.

2 cups raw pistachios
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
3 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup raw walnuts

1. Heat oven to 375. Toast pistachios until fragrant, about eight minutes. While they cool, do the same to the walnuts.

2. Dump pistachios into a reasonably capable food processer. Forge past flour and into butter consistency, when the oils release and you have to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

3. Add honey and spices. The mixture will seize up briefly, but don’t freak out! Let it get that out of its system so you can get it into yours (ha ha ha am I a food writer yet?).

4. Once the mixture is smooth and sticky, add the walnuts. Pulse for a chunky finish, or whip it good for a smooth one. Do not share.

Basic before basic was basic.

I bought the most amazing pajama suit last summer. (Pause for effect.) It’s Steven Alan, 100% silk, white with a subtle triangle print. It’s trendy…but so bedroom-to-boardroom versatile (logic)! I can break up the separates for double the fun (math)! I’ll wear it once a week for the next five years (desperate lies)!

I’ve worn it twice. Two and a half times, actually. Math!

Three years into my New York life, I’ve all but fallen to the cult of black on black. I don’t mind the idea of color — I’m just busy living the dream, okay, and I can’t be bothered with things like matching my clothes/checking my seat on the subway/doing laundry more than once a month. Black is chic. Black is easy. Black is kind to those who frequently slosh hot liquids down their fronts.

Black is harsh. I’m a very white human, physically speaking, and high-contrast isn’t always the most flattering move. Gray is good, but surprisingly tricky — I wind up buying all different shades and don’t like how they look together. Camel makes me look seasick. Navy makes me look waspy. White’s a win until lunch, after which I find myself trying to convince people that, what, I’ve been wearing this statement necklace all day, no, it is not made of office supplies and that stain is intentional, God, don’t you people appreciate art?

Black is chic. Black is easy. Et cetera.

You know what’s not too chic, though? Black plus any other color. It seems like it should work, but more often that not, it’s a one-way ticket to frumptown. Black plus print is fine, solid plus solid is a choice, but black plus solid? It’s like what you were ordered to wear to your choir concert, the kind that was too low-budget to spring for sparkly uniforms.

All due respect to the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus.

I snark having made this mistake over and over, and wondering why such a basic look comes off looking so basic (logic!). It just is. That’s the problem. This combo just is so aggressively. Like, commit to black or put together a real outfit, you asshole. Or get onstage and shake what your mama gave you, because there’s a good chance she dressed you and drove you here.

So um, I guess this is me committing not to do this anymore (and also to wear my pajama suit). Black is a choice. I choose my choice. Choices, you know? Am I alone here? Do you dig this look? (You basic.)

Gluten-Free Tortilla Soup for a Southern soul.

My grandmother, Leah, died in August. Let’s get that out there right now. It was sad in the way that losing grandparents is sad and watching parents lose parents is sadder. It was also okay, in that she was old and possessed the kind of fire better suited to a snuff than a slow fade.

We weren’t close. In fact, we were nemeses at the holiday table, my family’s nervous eyes on me through her railings against social leftism and women who work outside the home. I could barely be bothered to snort. There was no point, I thought. We had nothing in common, I thought. I wrote her off and swore I’d never become so bitter and out of touch.

Leah was a product of her time. It’s not an excuse, but it’s an explanation. And the truth is, if she’d have been born 60 years later, I think she’d have been a lot like me. She was sharp-tongued and stubborn. Charming when it suited her. Loved to entertain; then loved to be alone. Type A to a fault. A regular card shark. And as no one, least of all me, would argue: a damn good cook.

A southerner via the southwest, Leah had a way with Mexican food. Her tortilla soup tastes more definitively of childhood than things I ate on a daily basis. It’s what always appeared the first night of a visit, a restorative tonic for jetlag and tension. What we slurped before trick-or-treating on Halloween, the calm before the sugar rush. A stab at comfort on Sunday nights at my Dad’s house, drowning the strangeness of packing to leave a “home” that never quite felt like ours.

I flew to Arkansas for the service and came back with a recipe box. The hits are all there: her biscuits and gravy, her scalloped potatoes, her carrot cake. Lots of alarming Jell-O salads and tuna casseroles. I had my mind on one thing.

I made her version first: all-purpose flour, stick of butter and all. Then I made our version: that same sultry Southwestern flavor with a whole-grain base and a hit of veggies, as is my way. The result is something that would have been laughed out of a potluck 60 years ago. But times are different now. We get our comfort how we can.

Sorghum Tortilla Soup with Collard Greens

You can sub all-purpose or corn flour, but don’t sleep on the sorghum. It’s a super-nutritious, gluten-free grain whose mild flavor plays well with the smoky ancho chile. Making a paste with hot broth helps the flour melt into the soup, eliminating the need for a roux; if you skip this step, you’ll wind up with clumpy sorghum “dumplings” instead of the voluptuous broth that makes this bowl so soul-soothing. Serves 4.

2 tablespoons neutral oil or lard (I used duck fat)
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup ancho chile powder
4 cups chicken broth
1 can white hominy, drained and rinsed
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
A handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sorghum flour
1 bunch collard greens, thinly sliced
Avocado and/or corn chips, for serving

1. Heat fat over medium-low. Add onion and cook until soft, about five minutes. Add garlic, and cook for another minute or so. Add chile powder. Stir to coat, and add one cup of water.

2. Add broth, hominy, beans, and spices. Bring to a boil. Skim a few tablespoons of hot broth off the top and set aside. Add cilantro to pot and reduce to simmer.

3. Whisk flour into reserved broth to form a paste. Make sure there’s more flour than broth, or you’ll have a hard time getting it smooth. Return flour paste to pot and stir to incorporate. Simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, slice your greens. Extra-thin, because collards are as tenacious as Ms. Leah. Add to pot and simmer for another 10 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

5. Spoon into bowls. Top with avocado and corn chips. Slurp and be soothed.

Hacking the small stuff.

Once upon a time, I had a motto: Don’t sweat the small stuff (and it’s all small stuff)! I didn’t invent it, but I made a great evangelist back in 2009, right around the time I titled a Facebook album “My Life Is In Shambles But Here Are Your Damn Photos.” Term papers? Sorority rush? Costume designing three shows? Small stuff! Here are your damn photos!

I still don’t believe in sweating the small stuff. But I don’t believe in ignoring it, either — precisely because it’s all small stuff. If everything doesn’t matter, then…nothing matters. The itchy business of living is all we’ve got some days. The small stuff will absolutely undo us if we let it. And for no good reason, because small stuff is usually easy to fix.

As someone who chronically stresses over abstract ideas like Maintaining Balance and Finding Love and Designing My Career, I think the small stuff is a fine place for me to direct my attention. Instead of sweating it, though, I’m hacking it — systematically scrubbing until it figures out how to scrub itself. If I flick away the sweat before it drips, I’ll never wind up with a soaked shirt and eyeliner on my chin. And now I’m very much regretting this metaphor.

Small Stuff to Sweat Hack in 2015

No headphones on the train. Without a sense of hearing, I enter an eerie state of half-consciousness. I’m less likely to stare at adorable babies, admire a girl crush’s denim-cuffing technique, read the book I’ve ambitiously tucked in my bag or work through whatever’s on my mind. Instead, I just…zone. It’s not meditation, it’s dead time, and I don’t need two hours of it a day. Saying no to “headphoning it in” will make my commute more engaged and productive.

Up my manicure game. This is one of those things that speaks volumes about where I’m at with self-care. It’s a bit of a hamster wheel, yes, but I feel infinitely more pulled together when my nails are painted. I can spare 20 minutes twice a week to feel pulled together.

Commit to life after bangs. Growing out bangs is the worst, and I’ve now tried and failed on three separate occasions. This time is the last time (meaning, last time was the last time). Suffer the interim shag — like, two months, max! — and ye shall be rewarded with the ability to rock a sloppy topknot on days you DGAF (but it’s fine, cuz you painted your nails).

Dress myself the night before. Not another vanity hack — this is straight time management. My morning routine is quick and dirty, except that I’m horribly indecisive and spend 25 minutes shuffling in and out of various half-outfits before realizing I will be fired if I don’t show up for work and racing out in whatever I’ve land in at minute 26. Somehow I don’t see myself agonizing into the night if I lay out clothes when I’m in a less harried frame of mind. Doing so will also help facilitate early workouts, which is key because…

Run 13.1. I’m not the first twentysomething to run a half marathon, and I won’t be the last. But it’s a big deal to me! I’m registered for the Pittsburgh Half on my birthday weekend (in May), meaning it’ll be the first workout I complete in my second quarter-century. Happy new year, indeed. I’m calling this a preventative hack against small stuff like brain fog and body angst that creeps in when I start slacking on exercise. I’ve got time for long runs, but ain’t nobody got time for that.

Eat sandwiches for lunch. Literally nothing hits that sweet spot of satisfied-but-not-sleepy for me like a sandwich. Not salad, not soup, not souped-up fiber-fied grain bowls (I get gassy, okay?). Every few months, I attempt to go raw/go Paleo/break up with gluten and, after a brief placebo-induced reckoning, find I’ve cured nothing except my ability to function after noon. Stop the madness! Sane amounts of gluten and I are A-OK. Sandwiches are my happy place. And if I wind up back there in March, there is gluten-free bread I can pretend to like until I come to my senses.

Get outta town (and, if possible, the U.S.). I love staycations. I live in an amazing city, and bopping around at a leisurely pace and then coming home to cook in my own kitchen and sleep in my own bed makes me happy. I did so for two full weeks in 2014. But…I need to travel. For my own growth and, once I shake off my control-freaky roots, enjoyment. I’ve already got a few trips to look forward to — five days in L.A., a weekend in Philly for the 1989 tour (h8erz gunna h8!!!!!!!), the aforementioned half marathon — and I’m into living dat nomad life insomuch as my sanity and wallet will allow.

Wear pants on the weekends. Would you judge me if I told you I often go two straight days without putting on clothes? Good, because I judge me a little. As much as I need “me time” to function, weekends can and should consist of more than lounging all morning, forcing myself to the gym, showering, putting on fresh PJs and climbing back into bed at 2pm. I swear I enjoy the outside world — I just get sucked into things (like, um, things made of spandex) until it feels too late to bother getting dressed. Pants would be a game changer.

I’ve also had some frumpy growing pains transitioning into my Adult Look (it’s a thing), and I’m bound to pull it it together more quickly if I get all the terrible ideas out of my system when the stakes are low. More trial = more error, followed by NO ERROR EVER AGAIN. That’s how that works, right?

Unfilter myself. I wrote way more than I published in 2014 (good, but could be good-er), and a big part of that was psyching myself out over images. It’s dumb. I’m not a photographer. If I have a relevant photo, I will certainly throw it up here. But I trust that anyone who jives with my blog can figure out what I’m saying with out a dubious Instagram illustration.

What small stuff are you hacking this year?