The Hummingbird Approach

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hummingbird with NEDA symbol in wing

I decided to call this blog the hummingbird approach instead of a name that played off of something do with food or anything bouncing off the eating disorder (ED) acronym. Where did I come up with it? The name primarily stems from what a hummingbird symbolizes and how they have—for me—become a source of inspiration in recovering from anorexia.

Ancient traditions and some cultures today perceive the hummingbird as deliverer of joy and an overcomer of great feats. They also are said to symbolize resiliency, flexibility and are believed to help lift negativity and bring back the lightness of life. Some feel that the hummingbird brings an individual back to the present moment and encourages the practice of being more present in one’s day to day life.

So how exactly do I find the hummingbird so symbolic to the recovery of an eating disorder? Well, it started once I remembered—from my childhood obsession with everything to do with birds—that the dietary and migratory facts about the birds could be likened to recovery from any of eating disorders. The hummingbird, despite weighing less than a nickel and being one of the smallest discovered birds, is known for some pretty amazing things. The Ruby-throated hummingbird, for instance, migrates just over 500 miles, nonstop, in the spring and fall over the Gulf of Mexico. Imagine being smaller than a dwarf-mouse and making that trip—let alone—flying it. That’s quite the feat, at least in my opinion. Now, if you are recovering or thinking of recovering from an eating disorder, the journey of getting back to health most likely seems as daunting as trying to fly non-stop over water for 500 miles. The migration from a state of living dominated by an Eating Disorder won’t be, and hardly ever is, an easy ride. Though, I like to believe that a more welcoming and habitable place exists at the other end.

The trip from ED to health requires a barrage of things such as psychotherapy and medical supervision. Though, most of all, food—and let me repeat, food—Is one of the most critical facets to a successful recovery. As much as anyone struggling in recovery wants to deny the importance of food, food is so vital to the recovery of our bodies. In most cases, years’ worth of damage has accumulated in all of our body systems such as our hearts, brains, bones, organs, and our hormonal systems. A normal person doesn’t have nearly the extent of needed repairs to make as an individual with an eating disorder does. So naturally, a healthy person eats enough to fuel their daily activity and maintain the balance their body regulates. However—despite common denial over this fact among sufferers—an individual battling an ED does not fall under the “healthy person” category and thus requires much more energy (aka food) than a healthy person does. To start, the bones, muscle, and organs need to be rebuilt. On top of that, the mineral stores of the body need to be restocked and the nerves all throughout the nervous system need to be re-myelinated. Also, don’t forget that the metabolic and endocrine functions need to be re-regulated and that, over all of the repairs just mentioned, we still need enough fuel to maintain a daily activity level. Hummingbirds are the same; their needs do not match that of normal birds. In fact, hummingbirds need to sustain a significantly higher intake of energy.

In order to be able to properly function, hummingbirds must consume approximately half their weight in sugar (most primarily in the form of sucrose) every day. On average, they will feed five to eight times per hour. Additionally, they are able to convert the sucrose for their body’s energy with-in about 20 minutes with incredible efficacy.  Where does all this energy go? Well one: hummingbirds are almost always flying rather than perched and a hummingbird’s maximum forward motion speed is about thirty miles per hour. Take their diving speeds into account; they can reach up to sixty miles an hour. Two: their wings flap anywhere from 50-200 times a second depending on the direction they’re flying and the wind speed. Third: the birds take an average of 250 breaths a minute and have an average heart rate of over 1200 beats per minute. All of these processes require a constant and consistent source of energy. If a hummingbird is unable to obtain its needed intake, its metabolism has the ability to slow down to 1/15th of its usual level. Where also have you heard of slowed metabolisms? You guessed it, eating disorders.

So there you have it, an explanation of the theme of which this blog will take root. I am only in the first initial stages of recovery but I am determined to adhere to what I call the hummingbird approach as I move along in my recovery.


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