Vacationing with an Eating Disorder..

Vacationing then vs Now

We have just returned from a few days holiday, which I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do for numerous reasons, 1. We live in a place we can travel at present and secondly my eating disorder was not allowed to dictate my behaviour for the first time in many years.

Why are holiday’s so hard for people with an eating disorder? Often in the midst of an eating disorder we use behaviours to cope with uncertainty, change or triggering situations. Firstly, you are away from home, your regular environment. This can be full of uncertainty and planning can go out of the window. Tonnes of food challenges can arise. Challenges you may not have foreseen, such as not being able to follow a regular schedule, a meal plan. Eating out and experiencing new dishes. All of these things can be extremely triggering. It’s hard to imagine if you’ve never experienced an eating disorder.

Here’s how a holiday for me used to look like:

Weeks leading up to vacation:

Enormous anxiety and dread. Escalation in behaviours in response to increased thoughts and fears regarding the uncertainty of said trip. I would buy into the “ prepare for the summer body diet culture crap” and it would set my eating disorder into a frenzy.

Then the event would arrive, no matter how much “ event restriction/ compensation” I had undertaken I would still feel ridiculously out of control and fearful that my constant was about to change. I would not be able to predict every meal and therefore calculate my intake. Holidays can be inactivity. This used to terrify me, how was I going to hide my “craziness’, fit in my ridiculous workouts in new territory? All the while Hitchhiker ‘HH’ would be telling me I was disgusting. How can anyone be present and relax on holiday when this is going on?

Changing experience of holidays’ with time and at various points in recovery;

Once I commenced recovery the anxiety around the trips shifted to a different kind of anxiety. When you start recovery, especially early on, you need to eat very regularly. Holidays can make important established routines very tricky to follow. I would worry if I would be able to eat the food available. Eating in front of people can be immensely anxiety provoking and largely, trips involve eating out. It’s a point where you are challenging ‘fear’ foods and there’s all kinds of food challenges that can happen on trips which for the person experiencing an eating disorder is overwhelming.

Some restaurants very unhelpfully have nutritional values on their menus which can be a minefield for those of us trying to recover from an eating disorder. Trying to do the “ right thing for recovery” when in an already stressful situation and then presented with your demons on a plate, in every sense is really freaking hard. I used to use one hand to block out the numbers. Or ask someone I trusted to look at the menu, find something I’d like and pick until I could deal with this. Until I got to this point, my eating disorder was too strong and it would not allow me to choose what ‘I desired’. This adds to the stress, feeds the eating disorder and makes the time really challenging. It gets better, I promise.

You can’t switch your calculator of a brain off overnight. It takes time and practice and many situations and repeated actions until your brain doesn’t equate the numbers with relevance. But it can be helpful to go to places you don’t know the nutritional value, because your well trained brain sometimes doesn’t switch off for familiar items. Now I can go to a restaurant with the nutritional values and choose what I desire without coercion. It irritates me that the diet industry even seeps into the catering industry and influences our choices. (I spent ages in recovery with a black marker pen scrubbing out nutritional values on boxes etc) Now I don’t automatically read or know the content of EVERYTHING. IT is possible to train your brain to stop paying attention with effort. Black marker pens are brilliant for this.

ALSO, FOR THOSE WHO NEED TO HEAR THIS, I’M GOING TO SAY THIS ONCE: CALORIES IN DOES NOT EQUAL CALORIES OUT. OUR BODIES ARE WAY MORE INTELLIGENT THAN THE PEOPLE WHO CAME UP WITH THIS LIE.

What my life would look like after I returned from a holiday:

A completely false sense of guilt for the “loss of control”. I say false because, I was not in control on any of the trips. I had abided by my eating disorder rules and stipulations. I might have eaten something slightly outside of ‘HH” rule book and paid an enormous price of guilt, shame and most importantly regret for all the things ‘HH’ made me miss out on because I listened.

I would return from holiday, unhappy, compensate for my warped view of the trip and over value I placed on it and nothing would change because an eating disorder is a constant event planning, life of restriction.

A Vacation now:

Leading up to the holiday, the old neural pathways are fragile and the ‘HH’ thoughts do get louder. The thoughts around compensating return. But the big difference now, I know these thoughts are lies. The do not lead to me feeling happier, more confident on my holiday, more relaxed and present. No the complete opposite. Therefore, I have to be vigilant I have to make an effort to do the opposite.

Vacations are a trigger. Knowing triggers, helps you plan and prevent slips or relapses or in the event of either recover from them quicker.

My husband and I talked about the trip prior. He knows my triggers pretty well now.

For me, this meant, making sure we always have ample snacks around incase we get caught somewhere ( we spent 6 hours driving and quite remotely at times).

We knew some of the foods would be challenging- so I set myself some food challenges. Like eating spontaneously on the road, eating foods that are deemed as “unhealthy”. When realistically no food is unhealthy it’s all fuel.

It was going to be the first time on a beach in my togs since I weight restored. This was a huge one. Putting on swimwear for the first time, since weight restoring is a whole new chapter in recovery. I’ve gotten used to wearing larger clothes to my previous weight restored body. That was a challenge in itself. But putting on swim wear is next level discomfort and vulnerability. Society tells us, to go to the beach we need to be “bikini/ beach/summer body ready”. Just putting it out there now, “bikini/summer body’s” do not exist. It’s a societal fat phobic term, the body you inhabit in, is beach ready whenever. If it can get you to the beach, it’s ready!

Learning to adapt. This has been a massive one for me. Whether it’s adjusting to body image, which is something that naturally creeps in on vacation. Being surrounded by different body sizes, it is important to feel as comfortable in your skin as you can. Wearing clothes that make you feel comfortable helps. My body is very different now in recovery, feeling confident and comfortable is hard. It is possible my friend, you shift your focus to the activities you are participating in, rather than the body you are in. I am grateful to this body because it’s this body that allows me to enjoy rather than fixate and agonise. No matter what body you are in in the midst of an eating disorder you won’t be happy.

But for the body image stuff: I tried to think about it this way..

Why is it, the least interesting thing about someone, their appearance is what we judge them on so heavily?

Personally, I think I have nice eyes, but that is one of the least interesting things about me.

There is nothing interesting about your, shape, weight or appearance. I don’t care how much you weigh or size jeans you wear.

This has helped me this week when I found my thoughts drifting to judging my recovering body. Instead I know I was mean on a paddle board, I am funny and a kind person, that’s way more interesting than worrying about the other crap.

I’m at a place in my recovery where I can eat out, and this can be regularly. I found this really difficult previously. Even so, my old thoughts were there on occasion but each meal I challenged them and moved on. That doesn’t mean I found the holiday as easy as someone who has never experienced an eating disorder. I still had to choose recovery at least 3-6 times a day and not let those decisions impact upon my plans or activity. But I did not engage in the ‘HH’ thoughts.

The holiday was more free and flexible. I felt present. I wasn’t bone cold in 25 degree heat. I wasn’t calculating. Goofy yes, calculating no.

This level of flexibility and freedom is something that has come with persistence and time.

Holiday’s are a time for rest and recuperation from the craziness of our day t day lives, for people with eating disorders they can instil extreme anxiety which diminishes any prospect of relaxation and enjoyment. But there are ways of managing them. As outlined above I think some of this will depend on the stage one recovery to the extent of planning and support required around them. But they should not be as stressful, so I hope if you are someone with or supporting someone with an ED, you can find someways of reducing the anxiety.

Things that I have found to be helpful when planning trips:

1. Talking with your treatment team before (and after)

2. Planning for potential triggers

3. Identifying potential triggers and a plan in the event of trigger-what’s in your toolkit

4. Planning food challenges for the stage of recovery, with appropriate support.

5. If following a meal plan, how the trip might be helpful or detrimental and planning around this

6. Wearing clothes that make you feel good.

7. Making sure you always have appropriate fuel available

8. Do you need to know where you are eating? (again I think very individual) I did at some stages.

9. What activities will you be participating in

10. Who are you going to be travelling with, are you supported/ triggered by them.

All of these are or have been part of my own trigger prevention and plan. This is growing/ changing as I encounter potential triggers or progress through recovery. You might have some similarities but you WILL have your own.

Strength in vulnerability.

“Strength in vulnerability” Sound like opposites to you?

I have lived my entire life holding this belief. With the sense that showing vulnerability was demonstrating weakness. How incorrect this belief is.

From the wise words of Brenè Brown:

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy,courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” (1)

This concept is a difficult one, when we have spent our entire lives believing weakness and vulnerability are one of the same.

But for me, I didn’t truly understand the meaning of vulnerability. Why is it such a difficult emotion for us to experience, why do we numb it?

Brenè Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure”.(1) I feel this depicts eating disorder recovery in one sentence, it’s beautiful; and it’s true.

People in recovery are anything but weak, I am yet to meet or speak to someone with an eating disorder who I consider weak. The people I have come across are some of the strongest, kindest, most resilient people I’ve encountered on all parts of my life.

Eating disorders are encompassed by guilt, shame and fear of being vulnerable. Feelings and emotions are viewed as weakness. During recovery, emotions that had been buried, lost or numbed are reclaimed and owned. Sometimes, all at once!! Some days in early recovery it’s a cluster fuck of emotions. Recovery is learning to tolerate these emotions and not numb out. This is embracing vulnerability.

Vulnerability for me has been, fear of being perceived as weak, judged, failure or a disappointment.

My eating disorder numbed everything,including these feelings but at the cost of all my positive emotions.

Exploring vulnerability has opened up my authentic self. I have never felt so vulnerable than these past 18 months, admitting my imperfections, my shadows.

I don’t see vulnerability as a negative now. It’s neither positive or negative, it’s just part of what makes us all human.

“Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.”(2)

Why shouldn’t we show vulnerability if it’s the foundations of how connections are made, creativity and passion is discovered? Connection can overshadow shame.

Yesterday I did something I would have never imagined myself doing, even a few months ago.

I shared my experience with anorexia publicly on my personal facebook account. It’s National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) week in the US, which will be followed by the UK and Australasia next week. And So I decided, why not share my most “feared” secret with the hope of encouraging others to seek help, de-bunk myths and stigma and challenge attitudes.

I’m not going to pretend it was easy. It was more terrifying than either of the bungee jumps, sky dives I’ve done. Not nearly as scary as starting recovery, which is why I felt so compelled to do this . I know I am not alone but I am lucky, so lucky I have had help and support. It took nearly 2 decades to seek the help, which is sad, because this is not uncommon.

If my share changes one attitude, helps one person reach out for help then a little bit of fear is nothing. I’m fortunate I have found my voice. Many people remain struggling in silence. I’m not advising everyone to share their stories. It’s taken a long time for me to reach a place of acceptance and resilience. I know there will be some negativity from sharing such. It will come from ignorance. I feel equipped to deal with these because the majority of responses have been positive and most importantly I didn’t do it for the external validation. I am happy enough with who I am, I did it for those who are not. Those battling stigma and shame everyday.

There’s tons of ways to raise awareness for a subject, not everyone will comfortable with sharing personal accounts and that is ok. Have a look at some of the links below, NEDA and BEAT of how we can raise awareness and fight stigma.

For a deeper look at vulnerability, shame and guilt I recommend checking out:

1. Brenè Brown: TED-Ed https://youtu.be/iCvmsMzlF7o

2. Brenè Brown: Book; https://www.amazon.com/Daring-Greatly-Courage-Vulnerable-Transforms/dp/1592408419

3. NEDA awareness week: https://www.integratedeating.com/blog/2021/2/22/national-eating-disorders-awareness-week-2021

https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

4. BEAT: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/edaw

References:

1. Brene Brown (2017). Daring Greatly : How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group.

2. Brenè Brown: The Gifts of imperfections.

OCD and anorexia…

OCD and eating disorders…

Statistically people with eating disorders are more likely to experience co-morbid diagnoses, such as depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, borderline personality disorder. There’s a lot of research investigating whether they are biologically, genetically connected.

When I was six it used to take me almost three hours to go to bed. I developed obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). There are many overlapping features of OCD and eating disorders. I’m not sure that my OCD at times was separate from my eating disorder. I think it was like a shape shifter that adapted to fit my eating disorder.

The DSM-5 characterises OCD by negative repetitive thoughts that are intrusive and often result in compulsive behaviours to pacify the anxiety evoking obsessions. Common obsessions include ‘cleanliness, tidiness, numbers and many others.

My OCD was not your stereotypical “super clean and tidy” kinda picture. No it carried many similarities to my eating disorder compulsions but it did not relate to food. It began after several people close to me passed away before I was old enough to understand death or process emotions. I developed an intense fear of anyone else around me dying, or becoming sick. I began engaging in ritualistic behaviours. This involved counting, repeating certain phrases, running on the spot, avoiding certain numbers, turning light switches on and off and many more. I would perform these rituals or act out compulsions until I felt a sense of calm. The common denominator between my OCD and anorexia was the intense dread or fear of something happening if I did not perform X behaviour. (Fear in childhood death, fear from eating disorder weight gain). The only way I could silence my eating disorder voice was through compulsions and rituals.

It took a lot of child therapy to reduce these behaviours and challenge the thought patterns. Exposure therapy, similar to that in eating disorder recovery. I would cut a ritual a week until I was free. (A bit like reducing eating disorder behaviours). The exposures were ranked in order of fear and challenged with support.

But….. even though I was only six, I knew the thoughts were nuts. They were not ego-syntonic unlike the intrusive eating disorder thoughts where I believed my thoughts. For example, with an ED thought I truly believed my thoughts such as I “had to eat X number of calories or purge a chocolate bar” it wasn’t until these thoughts were challenged in therapy I could see they were disordered, I would not expect a friend to exist on the little I was eating, nor would I expect them to purge a chocolate bar. I could see after these challenges how distorted my thinking was around myself. I continue to use this, if I wouldn’t expect a friend to do something then why should I expect myself?

Another disparity between my ED and my OCD, I was far more resistant to giving up my eating disorder cognitions than I was my OCD thoughts and behaviours, even though I was just a child. I can make sense of this, neuroplasticity is much harder as an adult. But I do believe this is a distinction between my OCD and my eating disorder.

I feel it’s highly possible that having the predisposition and the appeasement provided to me by rituals definitely contributed to my developing of an eating disorder.

I believe they are both shape shifters. I can draw separations from the two disorders however there was some symbiosis within. For example, there were aspects to my anorexia that from the outside would be very difficult to draw a distinction from OCD. I had ritualistic cleaning behaviours “I had to engage in” to allow me to eat. I would clean the kitchen, from top to bottom prior to consuming anything. If I was interrupted I would start again. This may have been a part of my restriction, although I think more likely it was a separate entity to cope with the anxiety of eating. I don’t feel the thoughts surrounding this were related to the eating disorder.

Eating with very specific cutlery, is a completely different scenario. People with eating disorders often develop strange obsessions around cutlery. In my opinion (and I am only speaking from experience and talking to others who have had the same weird obsessions) this is very eating disorder driven. It serves several functions in the eating disorder. 1. Using a teaspoon (crazy) is a form of restriction. Small bowls, plates all the same. We have to stop. Using the same cutlery can feel “clean” this is an overlap.

My compulsive exercise is driven by my eating disorder. But personally I believe the compulsions and pathways were ignited and learned in my childhood. I would run on the spot or up and down the stairs for hours to feel my heart beating to feel alive. I imagine, my eating disorder reactivated this preformed pathway and used it. My drive to move when in the depths of my eating disorder was very different to when I was a six year old terrified of mortality but it still pacified my anxiety. The two disorders numb emotions that clearly I needed to find more constructive ways of coping with. My anxiety from my eating disorder was fear of weight gain, I was not afraid of this when I was six. The result of movement however, was the same, it appeased the discomfort short-term and clearly I had learnt this subconsciously as a child. This is just my simpleton thought and explanation. They both distract my brain, when I’m worrying about food or washing my hands, clearly I’m not worrying about the thing my disorders are protecting me from. But neither are healthy.

For me, overcoming my eating disorder has been so much harder than OCD. Again some of this will have been my easier to sculpt paediatric neural pathways, rather than my years of entrenched adult pathways. But I also feel it’s the eating disorder itself. We don’t want to recover, not initially from an eating disorder. This is very unlikely to be the case with someone suffering from OCD. I doubt there’s few people who decide that they want to keep their OCD, or that it’s a ‘friend’.

Cognitive behavioural therapy, has helped me with both. I guess that’s the good news about the two coinciding disorders, they are sometimes treated together. But I think it’s been more beneficial from an eating disorder perspective, because those of us with eating disorders have very distorted cognitions that can take some convincing. Whereas, I know that no one is going to die if I don’t wash my hands 37 times, I know it’s a ridiculous thought even though it causes similar anxiety. But I would have argued until I had no more breath that some of my eating disorder perceptions were not unhealthy. For the previous, it was more a case of changing my relationship with the thought- for example, when I get the thought “everyone is going to die if I don’t wash my hands 37 times” I have confronted not participating in the behaviour and “urge surfing, delaying or distracting” so many times now that I don’t feel the same anxiety and I am committed to not performing the action of washing my hands 37 times. No one has died. My brain knows this. For the latter, I have had to develop an extensive toolkit that is ever growing. When I experience a disordered thought, like; a food is “good or bad” and resultant anxiety I challenge the cognition, food does not carry moral value. And to avoid the behaviour I use a skill from the toolkit, self compassion, opposite actions.

Same same but different….

My eating disorder meant I had to eat the same things, same time, I would chew everything a specific amount of times (this was not OCD). It could easily have looked that way. I would eat in the same order. But these all served the eating disorder and were part of restriction.

I was extremely rigid with my rituals and compulsions. These were common to both.

My OCD did not cause my eating disorder but I strongly believe there is a connection, that is biological, genetic and psychiatric. I do not feel that my OCD diagnosis was important in my recovery from anorexia. I’m not sure I even really discussed it with my therapist but I think it is useful to understand the possible connection as not addressing co-existing disorders may make recovery more difficult. The treatments are similar but with variances. We are all complex individuals and so it’s possible for some not drawing a distinction may be ok in recovery but for others it may require addressing them together and with focus on specific aspects.

One thing I know for sure, the anxiety is never about the donut or the heart beating.

Check these out:

  1. https://www.amazon.com/What-When-Brain-Stuck-What/dp/1591478057 This is written for kids, but it has some really helpful principles
  2. “8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder” WORKBOOK by Carolyn Costin, this is so helpful it has lots of exercises, to challenge healthy self vs eating disorder self. https://www.carolyn-costin.com/books

You are NOT your Eating Disorder…

You are not “anorexic, or insert ED

It’s never been you.

You have experienced anorexia/ bulimia, BED

It has been with you.

I recently shared a post on instagram after hearing a person with an eating disorder referred to as their disorder. “They’re bulimic”

It infuriated me. I wanted to remind that individual “they are not their eating disorder” It’s hard enough for the person to seperate themselves from this idea without it being fuelled externally. It continues the shame and stigma attached to these complex disorders.

I see this identity as the sufferer playing underdog to their eating disorder, but that does not mean they are that disorder. Most times the underdog prevails eventually.

This notion was something really important for me to hear when I first started the recovery process. From day one my therapist repeated this mantra, that I was not my eating disorder. Even when I didn’t see it or believe it.

We often attach our identities to the the eating disorder, because we have lost touch with who we truly are. That does not make the identity true or real.

Still not convinced? Picture this. You would not call a person suffering from cancer, “cancer”. The principle is the same for us experiencing an eating disorder. A person is not “cancer” anymore than a person is “anorexia, bulimia or Binge eating disorder” You have an eating disorder, it is not you.

When we embark on recovery, there maybe times where it is easier for the person to hold on to that identity whilst discovering who they are without that disorder. REGARDLESS, It is still helpful to be reminded that they are not their disorder. The disorder is acting as their safety blanket. Of course, early in recovery you will return to the safety of that blanket. But it’s a blanket, it is not part of you. Eventually you don’t need the warmth the blanket offers.

During recovery I think it’s important to explore who you want to become? Who is that identity?

Picturing who I want to be, what I want my life to look like helps me stay in recovery from anorexia. It helped me to see myself separately to the disorder I was fighting. Our values are completely incongruous. I don’t have all the answers and I’m still learning. That’s recovery and growth.

When we are amidst the throws of an eating disorder, for most of us our world becomes very small. There’s very little room for anything beyond- food, exercise and concerns with these. It’s all consuming and incredibly isolating. But- it’s not really what most people want from life.

Eating disorders restrict EVERYTHING.

Who wants to be 80 years old and look back on their life, and all it’s filled with is fear and anxiety over eating, body image, exercise. None of it matters. If we are lucky to reach an old age I want to look back on what my life was filled with, not an eating disorder. It is never too late to make this change. I don’t care if you have been the underdog to your eating disorder for 50 years, there is always hope you can recover.

My journal has been my haven for my recovery but also exploring who this recovered person is, what her goals, aspirations, values and worth are.

I promise you, my recovered self is not fixated on dietary restraint, exercise or control over shape. My recovered self is loud, doesn’t care for other people’s judgements, grateful for the process of getting from A-B and not just being at B.

That brings me onto my next point. G. R. A. T. I. T. U. D. E…

It is easy when we are having a tough time to focus on the negatives. But one thing I have learnt from recovery is there is always something to be grateful for. Even in the darkest of times when you don’t feel there is anything to be grateful about. There will be. Start small on those days. Gratitude, has really helped me ground myself and shift from the “all or nothing” thinking we so often experience with eating disorders. Black and white thinking is a prominent trait we share. I promise you, if you give gratitude practice a go, it’s very hard to stay in a negative space. I make it a daily practice now. I get it, you think I’m full of crap. I thought the person who suggested it to me was too. I thought it was hippy bull crap and I’d be making daisy chains. No.

Try this…

Everyday for a week, think of at least 2 things you are grateful for. It can be as big as you want or small as you want. Aim to build up to more than 2. Some days this will feel harder than others. It’s these days you need to find things. The way you see yourself and the world around you will improve.

You will discover your life beyond they eating disorder even if you don’t see it now.

But for those who need to hear it again… “You are not your eating disorder”

Please people stop it with the before and after pictures.

Before and after pictures are harmful on so many levels.

Firstly you see the diet industry, so called “wellness” industry’s using pictures to market their false products.

The premise of the so called before and after picture in this setting, suggests that image and weight is the marker of health. Which people, if you have read any of my blogs or IG posts you know this is bullshit. Like the Bullshit Mass Index (BMI).

None of these elements reflect a persons health and the idea that manipulating your body, or image is a way to get healthy in most instances is simply ludicrous.

Before and after pictures in the eating disorder community are extremely dangerous. They are often posted on social media. Without a trigger warning, monitoring and to the most vulnerable of audiences. They serve no place in recovery. Why?

1. It promotes the unhelpful myth that eating disorders affect only the emaciated. Sadly this is still the image the media portrays of someone struggling with an eating disorder. Which is not helping to raise awareness, reduce stigma or educate about Health At Every Size.

2. They inadvertently promote ‘thinspiration’. For those of you not familiar with this colloquialism it’s a term well recognized in the eating disorder community that encourages thinness and can lead to very unhealthy comparisons and behaviors. For this reason alone no matter how well intentioned before and after pictures are dangerous.

3. Just because someone has gained some weight, or lost it’s not reflection of health status. You have no idea of the physical or mental state behind the picture.

4. The can invalidate a person’s recovery. Seeing someone’s pictures may make an individual question their recovery and why they haven’t “recovered” like the post. The pictures do not portray the enormous effort, energy and mental struggle involved in recovery. They are not true depictions.

I have written on previous posts, mentally I was at my most screwed up, difficult place when I first weight restored. To show a before and after picture at this point declaring my “recovery” would have been incredibly inaccurate. This is not helping to raise awareness that weight restoration is only part of the recovery process. Mental recovery takes far longer.

When all consumed by my eating disorder there was barely a day went by that I didn’t take a photo to “check” my progress. It was almost a big of an issue as the scales and weighing. People with eating disorders use the camera as a form of body checking. Body checking is not a healthy behavior and does not help in recovery.

Photos-are personal. For some people keeping photos of themself at their sickest can maybe act as a reality check, or reminder of why they recovered. For others I can imagine it would be detrimental, like holding on to “sick clothes” regardless the photos should never be shared to show ‘before and after’.

Social media is a mind field for ‘before and after photos’ and it’s feeding the fat shaming, stigmatizing society we live in. So please if you’re thinking of posting a before and after pic, think before you do.

Why and who are you really doing it for, what message are you really trying to convey? If in doubt don’t share.

What we want to tell you about our eating disorders, but find hard…

Eating disorders are secretive, preoccupying and feel extremely shameful. They are rarely openly discussed and stigmatised.

Below are things I would have never felt able to share with others before I found my voice in recovery. However I wish I had said them sooner to help you understand. Hopefully this might give voice to other’s experiencing recovery and wish they could share some of the things going on in their heads.

1. Weight restoration does not equate to recovered. In fact, this part is probably the toughest, most brittle part of recovery. On the surface I may appear “well, healthy or recovered” but I am just about holding it together. You have no idea based on my appearance how I am. Likely I am fighting strong thoughts and urges to undo this courageous work. Mental recovery takes so much longer than the physical recovery.

My eating disorder was at its loudest when I reached my “target weight” and then exceeded. Regaining weight, gaining weight is harder than you will ever know for someone who is recovering from an eating disorder. They are fighting every thought, every second, every minute of every day waiting for a moment of inner peace. Weight gain is a small part of recovery, but possibly the toughest part. Once we regain weight, (weight we should never have lost) often people assume we are recovered and support lessens. This is arguably the point we need your support the most, please help to encourage us to keep going. And so I implore you, please do not comment on my appearance. Well placed comments can fuel this cruel deceptive eating disorder voice that I am trying so hard to move away from.

Statements, however true and well meaning, such as “you look healthy or better” can really harm someone’s recovery. Comments such as have you lost weight? Can ignite the path to destruction or send my brain into a frenzy that I have failed at recovery. I cannot win when it comes to body shape comments. So please keep them to yourself.

2. Recovery is a choice I have to make, every minute of every day. You cannot make me recover or do it for me, but I value your support. My recovery is my responsibility. My choices, my decisions are what keep me on the path to recovery. It is a full time job. One incorrect decision can set me back. BUT….. If I do slip, please do not give up on me. Recovery is not linear. Hope is a very important value of my recovery. I will very likely get back up again and continue on my journey to recovery. Please help me to see that a small slip does not mean I have failed at recovery but if I need reminding how far I have come, help me to see past this lapse. Hold hope.

3. Things you do not pay any thought to such as trying something new to eat, eating out at restaurants may be very hard for me. People with eating disorders are ridiculously good at hiding what’s going on beneath the surface, but know that just because I appear cool calm and collected there is likely a tornado rushing around in my brain. Sometimes I just want a distraction, I always want to hear you and not what’s going on in my brain and being present with you.

4. Never, ever comment on my food choices, volume or timing of food. You do not know how hard it is for me to eat 5-6 times a day or alongside others. Likely if I am eating with you, I trust you. Comments like, are you really going to eat that?, congratulating me for eating, Don’t you like XYZ?, are only going to feed unhelpful thoughts and make eating and decision making more uncomfortable than it likely already is.

5. I do not ever want to hear about your “weight loss attempt, diet”. If you are someone close to me, know that sharing this with me is insensitive, unhelpful and extremely triggering. I have worked incredibly hard to reframe my implicit biases and unlearn this detrimental cognition.

6. I do not want my eating disorder to be an elephant in the room. I want to be able to be open with you. Talking about it as you would any other medical problem will help break the shame cycle. I do not wish to be defined by my eating disorder, there is so much more to me than this, however my recovery is an important part of my life. I want you to be part of my life, my authentic life.

7. Shame is something I feel very deeply, it fuels my problem. I feel frustrated and angry I am in this position and it makes it hard for me to ask for help and talk openly as much as I wish I could. I am grateful that you show up for me especially when I am finding it hard to show up for myself.

8. I do not think everyone else is fat. I do not see myself how you see me. Regardless of how much weight I lose I will never feel satisfied. But it is not about weight and food. The sicker I became the more warped my view of myself became, making it really hard to see myself and the crazier and more lost I felt. We are fully aware of the self destruction but that makes it harder to think rationally because we do not understand why we cannot stop. The impossible standards my eating disorder held for me, are not the same standards I hold for everyone else, so no I do not see everyone else as “overweight, or fat” I just simply cannot see myself.

9. No one would choose to have an eating disorder, Choosing a life of rules, unhappiness, isolation and emptiness is not a choice anyone would make. I did not choose to develop an eating disorder, I didn’t wake up one day and decide to have anorexia it’s not how it works.

10. It’s not as simple as eating and that being the end of the story. I have many neural pathways and thought processes I have to unlearn. I believe in full recovery. I need to believe in full recovery. But I do not know how long it will take. Right now I see myself in recovery, meaning for me I have “disordered thoughts” which can disappear for days and then return out of the blue. In certain situations, I can still feel extremely distressed at times.

I’m not sure that recovery is a destination, I think it’s a process where these thoughts and associated emotions do disappear with time and effort. But likely remaining “recovered” and preventing the cognitions from returning will require much less energy. I believe this effort becomes like second nature, similar to riding a bike. Once you’ve learned you don’t forget, its more like protecting yourself from falling off at times of risk.

See a post I recently wrote for recovery warriors magazine: https://www.recoverywarriors.com/how-i-broke-the-rules-by-ordering-movie-popcorn/

If you find this helpful, feel free to share!

Fullness. Is not the enemy.

During recovery from an eating disorder you require at times “abnormally” large amounts of food.

Makes sense when we have deprived ourselves for so long. When you start to eat again and repair the damage it requires energy. Food is that energy.

I’m writing this because fullness was something I avoided at all cost in my eating disorder. I feared it. I felt “cleanest, euphoric” when I was empty. But that’s not clean and it’s not healthy.

I’ve talked about extreme hunger on previous posts. But I think it’s something that is really feared because as a society that breeds “clean eating or orthorexia” as normal eating it makes the process of nutritional rehabilitation even more frightening and shameful. It’s harder to learn to eat intuitively when “wellness blogs”, magazines, platforms are subtly promoting orthorexia. Orthorexia is not healthy. It’s a disorder in itself. Obsessing about eating cleanly and healthily will not help you to recover from a restrictive eating disorder.

I am wary of any social media platform or magazine that calls itself “wellness or healthy living” because they focus on eating and exercise as if they are the only things that factor into a person’s health. I feel anyone from an eating disorder background should steer clear of the information from these types of platforms because it’s 1. Not helpful to our recovery, 2. Feeds the obsession with numbers, 3. Reinforces false beliefs that you have to micromanage your body and lastly they promote the societal stigma around shape.

Rant over.

I have just come off a set of nights. Nights have always been a playground for my eating disorder behaviors. The altered routine, long hours and busyness has allowed my “HH” to justify restriction, skipping meals, compulsive movement. This set of nights I was adamant “HH” would not get to dictate.

Knowing that old situations tend to stir up old pathways I wasn’t surprised I suddenly felt I was wading upstream and the “HH” voice became louder. But I was better equipped to deal with the bullshit.

The old voices of “walk the long way, count your steps, you don’t need to eat, are you seriously gonna eat that?, that’s disgusting” played like a broken record.

I made myself a contingency plan: I took in lots and lots of snacks meaning I could not be in a place without food.

I ate between walking to cases.

I knew the days after nights would be a bit trickier because of the old neural pathways. Therefore I enlisted support early. I told my husband. We planned out our meals, my snacks. I think this is helpful because in the midst of my ED, I wouldn’t have shared, I would have struggled on and likely engaged in the behaviors ending up deeper.

Therefore identifying potential triggers is a big thing in recovery. Something that deserves a post in itself. It’s unsurprising old memories, situations activate entrenched pathways. We are creatures of habit. Most of recovery is unlearning old habits. Exposure to old situations, places that are tied to unhealthy behaviours has been an integral part of my recovery.

My nights finished yesterday and last night we had takeout. I felt full, uncomfortably full. This caused a few moments of turmoil. However I know having eaten “a lot” of food in the early stages of recovery, fullness settles on its own. You do not need to do anything, it passes. It is normal. My fullness last night was just because I had eaten a little extra. Big deal. Don’t judge your fullness. In the early phases of recovery, fullness can be excruciating because of the gastroparesis. Gastroparesis is basically where your gut is so out of practice at digesting and undernourished the emptying is really slow. Often your gut can’t keep up with your mouth and brain, but like all things in recovery it gets better. Eating is the medicine.

You eat, repeat and move on.

Normal eating is sometimes over eating, sometimes eating slightly less. Fullness is not something to fear or avoid.

Giving less F*cks

Giving less f*cks has been very important in my recovery. I feel giving less f*cks is liberating.

I do not mean, I don’t care about anything. Far from. I have learned that giving too many f*cks is part of my problem. So learning what to get rid of in my giving a f*ck bucket has been energy freeing. Freeing up the genuine give a “f*cks” like my family, friends, career, running, sketching, my cat, helping others.

I care a lot about my job, my career and everything it represents. However my profession is a breeding ground for perfectionism and comparison. Both things I have had to work very hard at challenging for my eating disorder recovery. Right now recovering from my eating disorder is priority so that my future self can be my best version in all areas of my life including my career. That has meant some things I have given too many f*cks about previously I simply cannot afford to anymore.

As part of my core values and self worth it is important to me to work hard, be good at what I do. But how that’s defined does not have to rely on single peer comments or being aware of every statistic from every journal ever. It comes from so much more holistically.

Another thing I have found to help me in recovery is to “let go of comparison”

There is a popular phrase, “compare and despair” which I believe is very relatable.

I believe it is innate in us all to compare ourselves to our peers. But what we compare is what I believe causes us harm and dis-regulation. It can come at a huge detriment in recovery.

Body comparison is common and meaningless. For instance, I recall early on in my recovery my therapist at the time challenging this very process. I used to compare my body to other people’s bodies all the time. She explained, that we carry biases. We tend to only see what our brain filters and we have a very selective attention. Therefore I remember one of my challenges was to walk through a crowded street, take notice of the diversity. Sure enough we all come in many shapes and sizes and our appearance is irrelevant.

This exercise made this particular comparison easier to stop. Knowing the bias I harboured meant I could be accountable and when I found myself comparing, I could call myself out on it. Additionally challenging why I was trying to compare. Realising that what you see externally does not translate to what’s beneath the surface and so we are comparing to a false ideal we have created. How do we know the richer, slimmer person is any happier than ourselves.

Your eating disorder will never tell you you are as good as the person you are comparing to. Importantly, why would we want to be anyone other than ourselves?

Getting out of other people’s business..

I had a massive problem with comparing what I was eating to what everyone else was eating. I was in everyone’s business. But just as what I am eating is no body else’s business, it is of no relevance to me what anyone else is eating. I no longer could tell you what every single person at a social gathering did or didn’t eat because it doesn’t matter!!!

Comparing your eating disorder to someone else’s, completely futile and not comparable even within the same diagnostic label. Comparing others’ recovery and feeling you’re doing it wrong or not as deserving or vice versa. Just stop it, this is the eating disorder. Your recovery is your own. Your body is your own with it’s own requirements. Letting go of this has made recovery much more free.

There are many situations we can find ourselves drawing comparisons, status, aesthetics, character traits, possessions, families, sporting prowess, holidays, weddings, education, careers the list is endless when you think about it. It’s problematic when it’s black and white and impacts upon our thinking style. I’m not saying you will never compare yourself to someone again, I believe it’s ingrained in us all from an evolutional perspective, where historically it would have been a survival advantage. However there are ways I have learnt to lessen the unhelpful comparisons.

We live in a competitive society

We are told on a daily basis on many platforms to be the “healthiest’, richest, most successful. Women are made to compare themselves to other women constantly. It’s all external measures and rewards. Competition can be healthy, but recognising when it’s a problem is important.

For me, as long as I know am performing at my best, whether it’s at work or any other aspect of my life, I do not need to compare myself to my peers.

I know when I’m doing ok in this, because I don’t feel like I’m constantly striving and never achieving, I can feel grateful in little wins. This is not the case when perfectionism is in the foreground and unhealthy competition, then I never feel satisfied or recognise achievements big or small.

Gratitude:

Practising daily gratitude has really helped with this mindset shift. Seeing celebrations in the small things, there is something to be grateful every day, even on days where it’s hard to feel gratitude. This helps me filter my ‘Give a f*ck bucket”.

In my profession, I am yet to meet someone who in their final moments, talks about how much money they made, or how gorgeous they were in their youth. No they always talk about what matters, family, friendships and experiences.

Stop basing how you see yourself by comparing yourself to others. One thing is guaranteed is there will ALWAYS be someone who appears to be ranking better than you on some standard. You are good enough just as you.

Feel free to share

Things to remember on a bad day in recovery..

Iv’e been in recovery some time now, I can’t have a bad day right? Sound like a familiar thought? Bad days happen, shit happens.

Today, I was caught off guard. So I wanted to share for anyone else who had found themselves, feeling they “should be further than they are in recovery or should not have a bad day”

It was at a colleague’s farewell lunch which was a buffet to celebrate and wish her well.

But as I sat amongst my peers, the familiar thoughts and noise returned to, how am I back here again? How can it be so hard to put a piece of damn food in my mouth.

Panic swept over me, as the noise got louder and louder. The harder it became for me to pick up the single piece of sushi I had put in front of myself. Why couldn’t I just eat? “Seriously are we really back here after all this time? You should not be finding it this hard.”

Willing myself to pick it up and take a freaking bite. It became a battle. A battle I was all too familiar with but had felt very distant. I had almost forgotten what this absolute feeling of being overwhelmed and petrified of food was like. It was a battle.

The thoughts, “how are you suddenly paralyzed by a simple buffet? You look crazy, people are going to notice, you can’t eat that now it will look even weirder, pick something up, hide something”. JUST NOISE.

Everyone else had finished.

I realized if I was going to win this battle I needed to find and-listen to my healthy voice, the kind voice that was thinking about our future, where my life won’t be defined by moments like these, but what I will gain from listening to this voice. Not this “HH”.

Through the time in recovery, my voice is much stronger now than the noise of “HH” and can be found if I listen.

Another thing that has helped me move through today has been, accepting ok, I’m here today. It’s not where I want to be but it’s not where I was either. Before that I was criticizing myself for having “a moment of weakness”, feeling overwhelmed, but I realised, that’s not helpful or what got me moving forward and in tune with my healthy voice. This has taken practice and perseverance but it’s why I am here, now.

Finally, as we were clearing up I took some deep soothing breaths and I shoved the piece of sushi into my mouth. I picked up another piece and I repeated.

Beating myself up blaming myself for “not being further than I should” in recovery, is not serving my recovery. Some of life’s greatest lessons come from experiences and slips like this. So I am grateful for constant learning and growth.

Struggling is a standard part of recovery. I felt crushed when I was in that moment, it felt too acute and raw. I was terrified I was back to square one. Experiencing challenging moments doesn’t mean my recovery is “failing”. When we look past a particularly difficult experience, we can see actually how far we have come. We tend to focus on the negatives, what we do “wrong” and often get swept away in our unrealistic expectations. But if we take a step back and show ourselves kindness there’s something positive to be taken from every experience good or bad.

I have felt like I have been running along, but when we are running we often trip/ stumble at some point and that is normal. Recovery is no different.

I am grateful for this reminder how far I have come, but also that recovery really is a process of ups and downs.

So for anyone feeling they are failing at recovery for having a bad day, or should be further along, give yourself a break and see how far you have come. It’s ok to not be where you want to be yet.

Not playing the blame game is a game changer.

It’s been a shit day. I haven’t failed because tomorrow I get back up and carry on with recovery having gotten through a bad day, that much stronger.

What is self compassion anyway?

Being unproductive is productive in eating disorder recovery

“I have achieved nothing this weekend”

This would have been completely unacceptable to me a few months ago. But learning being unproductive is actually productive to our mental health and recovery. This nuance has been a huge step forwards for me.

I still found it uncomfortable i’m not going to lie, the idea of sitting and literally doing nothing but listening to a podcast or watching a video is not something that has ever come easy to me.

In the depths of my anorexia I had to be “constantly productive”, driving my perfectionism to extremes. Often it led me to my becoming more unproductive because I couldn’t focus on a single task and the thoughts were constant and in conflict. Which led to exhaustion and frustration.

But, this weekend, I felt a bit off. I tried to do some work, I attempted to write a blog, but I just couldn’t. I felt so tired and I ended up doing, nothing. The ‘HH’ thoughts were there in the background, “this is so lazy, such a waste of time” However, I ignored them and did what my body was telling me to do and that was, nap and eat! I realized after I stopped fighting myself, that this is actually another recovery lesson. This is productive for recovery. And the most productive thing I can do for my future is to recover fully.

Being “unproductive or lazy and doing things without an end result, is near impossible and like torture for some of us with eating disorders, especially with a strong perfectionism component.

What do I mean by this?

When I was in my eating disorder, everything I did had to have a purpose, an end result, a target. If it didn’t it wasn’t worth expenditure of time or energy (even if it was something I wanted to do) I just couldn’t give myself permission. Things like reading a non work related book, or watching a movie etc

Now, sure the voice was there muttering away that I’m lazy bla bla but I don’t have to engage. I don’t ignore it, but I choose to not participate and try to reframe my thoughts.

This is where self compassion comes in.

Self compassion is integral to our mental health.

I like to think of it as, treating ourselves how we would treat a friend if they were suffering.

Why is it relevant in eating disorder recovery?

People with a history of eating disorders or living in it, tend to be very self critical and self compassion is not something that comes easily. I have always been hyper-critical of myself. Often we are very compassionate people, but when it comes to ourselves the thought of treating ourselves with a kindness is just simply alien and something that has to be practiced or learned. This is certainly the case for myself, when my therapist introduced the idea of trying to be more self compassionate I scoffed initially. Many times in fact before I became curious and open to exploring.

So what is self compassion really?

It’s a practice, with a ton of research behind showing that treating ourselves and others with kindness allows us to make positive changes in our lives. Pretty important for someone with lots of negative thoughts, distortions and behaviours associated with an ED. Also important in general.

I like to know things are evidence based, that’s my science brain. Kristen Neff is one of the frontline researchers of this movement and she has essentially outlined 3 major components of self compassion. I’ve linked her YouTube video summarizing below.

1. Self kindness. ( this one is probably the most obvious but also the most difficult for those of us who are very self critical) This is where the friend analogy comes in to play. On a difficult day, it’s listening to ourselves and soothing oneself, recognising difficult feelings or emotions and allowing ourselves what we need in that moment. Whether it’s just acknowledging the feeling, or doing something that we enjoy or is comforting. (This does not include using eating disorder behaviours for comfort because this is not self care).

We can become our own best friend, number one supporter.

2. I am only human. Recognizing common humanity is the second component. Accepting our faults, shortcomings and knowing it is not unique to just ourselves, rather we all suffer, we all have imperfections and that’s what makes us human.

3. Mindfulness: not suppressing or numbing unwanted thoughts or emotions. Listening to thoughts without judgement. In the depths of ED I tended to focus on the negative thoughts, rather than meeting them without judgment and often it led to escalating or destructive thoughts. I’m still working on this, for instance- I find it very difficult to call in sick from work even if I’m really unwell because I criticize myself, judge myself rather than experiencing the discomfort of the thoughts. But this is not how I would treat a friend if they were in the same situation. We all have areas we can work on.

Self compassion is not, judgmental, self indulgent or selfish. It is an important aspect of our well being. Sometimes doing something for the hell of it or enjoyment is good for us. Recovering is the most productive thing we can do and that involves learning to be “unproductive” at times.

Kristen Neff: self compassion YouTube video: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=11U0h0DPu7k&feature=youtu.be

Relationships in eating disorder recovery..

For anyone in a relationship with someone with or recovering from an eating disorder it can feel like there’s a third wheel in the relationship.

This is hard. Quite often the person you fell in love with disappears before your eyes. Quite literally at times. Eating disorders change our personality’s. Often we are very good at putting on a facade and this means intimacy and connection can suffer. It’s difficult to let people in.

My eating disorder had a huge impact on the relationship with my husband. I will expand a little on how shortly. However, navigating recovery together has strengthened our relationship.

Relationships are based on trust. They need honesty, vulnerability, availability and intimacy. But eating disorders chip away at each one of these values.

Honesty is important to us both. But eating disorders thrive on secrecy and shame. The longer time went on the more secretive it became and more shame I felt. As I fell deeper, vulnerability was replaced with a false exterior.

For pretty much the entire time my partner has known me, I have had some form of disordered eating. For a very long time I kept it secret. Which is preoccupying in itself. Navigating how to hide this part of me, prevent it being part of our relationship, inevitably meant with time it became the third person in it.

Why do we keep our eating disorder from you?

I hid my disorder, firstly because I thought I was in control and it “wasn’t a big deal” and secondly because I was afraid of his reaction. We often talk about our “disordered eating” to friends or colleagues by that I mean dieting, but it’s boring and so it was also something I didn’t think should be discussed at home. Diet talk is boring, so we probably spare our partners from this, until it escalates. I guess there was a part of me that did not feel open to the kindness he later showed me when I did share. It felt incredibly shameful. The longer it went on, the more shameful it felt and impossible to admit. Externally like many, I felt like I was doing ok until I wasn’t and so to admit “the failure” I was experiencing was too much. I saw myself as a high achiever, my relationship was part of this achievement. And so part of the secrecy is fear, which is complex and deep routed. But he has been patient. So so patient. Like saint status in terms of patience and that has given me space and time to be vulnerable again.

I count myself as incredibly fortunate, that once I shared what was going on with my partner he worked really hard to educate himself about eating disorders . He was so understanding and not once did he use unhelpful terms or statements such as “why can’t you just eat” This helped so much.

Obviously I can’t share his side but I can share what he did that really helped me with the hope it helps others finding themselves in a similar situation.

I think it’s important to know, it was not ever about trying to look good for him.

It is rarely about that, if you are a partner reading this. We are not starving ourselves, or whatever dysfunctional behaviour for anyone else. The never ending strive for perfection is for our own sense of control. If you’ve read my about page you’ll know it was a perfect storm that started my eating disorder and really about ‘control’.

I would compare myself relentlessly to others, colleagues, celebrities, public figures on tv, people in the street, friends or family members and ask him to assess (this was a big telltale of my body dysmorphia and preoccupation). It was infuriating to him, because even when he told me I was perfect, I never measured up to that image internally.

Now comparison is something we do not engage in. He does not entertain it if I ask a stupid question. He has responded with very helpful challenges such as “who am I speaking to, you or HH, what’s driving that” which often diffuses the thought. Helping me to see it’s disordered.

Even at my most resistant times towards treatment or moments where anosagnosia were prevalent, he never judged me. He saw me for me, and that I was being overshadowed. He separated me from my eating disorder which I reckon is hard at times. Not feeling judged is huge fear this. He probably did judge me at times internally but externally he never did.

Living with a partner with an eating disorder, poses many challenges. If I were a child, living with my parents, I would have likely been force fed. This dynamic is very different in an adult setting. Instead I had to be my own parent and he was my biggest support when I was literally shaking putting fork to mouth. He was brilliant at distraction. Distraction is a great tool. He would sit and chat rubbish, or make me watch something to grab my attention. Or just hold my hand.

We have navigated the challenges as a team. So I wanted to share the things that have helped me, because there is a paucity or resources or information for people living with someone as an adult with an eating disorder.

I know, I am lucky with my husband but if you’re reading this as a someone wanting to support someone there are things you can do to help. But also if you are that person, good luck and don’t lose hope.

Recognising small, subtle disordered behaviours, that keep us tied to our ED…

I cooked with my husband last night, various curry dishes. This in itself for me was a milestone, I have always felt the need to completely take control in the kitchen. This was largely so my eating disorder could make shortcuts or calculate everything that was going in. It normally caused me great anxiety to deviate away from my “known” and safe meal choices. This I know is very disordered. But sometimes behaviours and thoughts are trickier to identify and hide from sight.

Once we plated the dishes we had prepared my husband just mixed all his together. Partly because it was completely underwhelming in terms of taste (which in itself would have been devastating to me not so long ago). What I mean by this, if I had allowed myself to eat and then it did not meet the standards or expectations I had for it, I would truly feel irrationally gutted.

This is disordered. I mostly felt like this when I was deep in restriction and giving myself permission to eat was near impossible. I celebrated last night that this bland food that promised more gave me no more than a mild irritation that it took so long to be boring! But there was no emotional attachment or reaction.

However the biggest thing I recognised for myself, when he mixed everything together, you could pretty much say it blew my mind. When I considered doing it, the ED voice really kicked in. And I realised the reason why it has been hard for me to do this. Eating each food item separately, especially when severely restricting gives a false sense of prolonging eating, savouring the food.

It gives a sense of enjoyment of each food, feeling more fulfilled. Which I see now is really disordered. And so, I forced myself to mix my food together. This was probably the first time I have done this in nearly two decades. It felt wrong. But enlightening.

It told me, that there are small things, that often go unnoticed and don’t get discussed in ED recovery. Things we can identify ourselves. I feel now once I notice something is disordered I have to do the opposite. Even if it’s a tiny behaviour or “quirk” that to the outside wouldn’t seem like anything. For my ED recovery it’s the difference of staying in the ED vs eventually being out, free.

I can’t tell you what your own weird tiny disordered things will be, but once you do notice something that, either going against, or stopping causes you anxiety then it’s probably disordered and you can work to change it.

Health professionals are clueless around weight stigma…

Healthcare professionals are not infallible and have their own biases

Apologies in advance for probably a relatively ranty post.

I am not considered overweight, I have been at the complete opposite end of the spectrum and have been often rewarded by health care professionals for being “healthy” when I was slowly killing myself.

When I was considered emaciated this positive reinforcement shifted, I met a lot of stigma from healthcare professionals.

Today I have just experienced horrific weight bias whilst at a medical appointment. A nurse who had my medical record on screen, open in front of us displaying my history: Anorexia nervosa.

Whilst I sat there she began to discuss how next week brings the onslaught of patients booking in for weight maintenance, counselling after “over indulging in the holidays”. She was clearly ignoring this history. She continued with her opinions and judgements regarding patients eating “bad foods” and expecting to lose weight.

My response was somewhat blunt, probably rude. I wish I was brave enough to point out my history but instead I shared my very anti-diet views. Explaining I do not believe in the multi million dollar industry that promotes dieting. I explained if there was a diet that genuinely worked the industry would not be in business. If people successfully reach their goals and stayed there there would be no diet industry. But I explained that simply doesn’t happen and leads to obesity. She went on to demonise foods. To me.

She started talking about a group of people who exercise every day “and aren’t overweight” and do not lose weight. She stated it’s because they aren’t dieting with it. “You can’t do one and not the other” if you cut out rubbish you will easily lose weight she went on to express. She told me how cutting out “unhealthy food, sugar” it’s easy to lose weight.

At this point I was like, are you fucking serious. You’re sat telling a patient in recovery from anorexia about losing weight and demonising foods and promoting the idea that weight gain is to be feared by anyone.

Again, I wish I had felt stronger to call her out. But there’s still a part of me that can’t quite do this in an non anonymous setting. I will get there.

It got me thinking and really feeling for patients. If someone with a history of anorexia, not that long in recovery and not overweight can be subjected to this. Then people who are considered “over weight” according to a BULLSHIT MEDICAL INDEX scale, aka BMI then this is horrendous. We are terrible in the health industry and really under educated in this area. This is one of the reasons I started this blog. To educate and reduce biases in health, society and reduce stigma.

Stigma does occur in very low weight too. When I was very unwell, doctors told me I was irresponsible, like it was a choice. I was marched across busy waiting rooms and made to step on the scales in front of audiences and then condemned publically if I’d lost weight or not gained. I remember one occasion being made to walk up and down a corridor (waiting area) by a GP to make sure my heart wasn’t failing, and saying aloud if you don’t put on weight by the next review you will be forced to be admitted. This is fucking awful when I think about it now.

Scales can be terrifying to someone with an eating disorder ( or no eating disorder)

If you are a healthcare professional: keep your own biases and fear of weight gain to yourself.

If you are knowingly looking after someone with an eating disorder it is highly inappropriate to make them step on scales with an audience, if you must weigh someone keep it neutral without judgment. Scales are one of the scariest things you can ever imagine for someone with an eating disorder, underweight or overweight. In my opinion scales in a hospital or doctors should not be in a public area.

If you have ever experienced stigma, judgement by a healthcare professional I am truly sorry. One day I hope we can shift the narrative. If you feel brave enough and you find yourself in a similar situation to that of mine today, please speak up. I promise I will try to myself next time.

Your eating disorder is a liar.

Eating disorders manipulate

Eating disorders pretend to be your friend. They are anything but a friend. The lies an eating disorder tells, or criticism it shouts at you 24/7 are far from what a friend would say. It is a contrast to how you would talk to or treat a friend. In fact you’d probably wind up in prison if you treated a friend how the eating disorder treats yourself.

But yet, they are seductive and mendacious.

Eating disorders are sly and cunning, and often start out with subtle changes “to be more healthy” etc.

But at some point, a switch gets turned. Your healthy voice dissapears and the Hitchhiker that is the eating disorder takes front seat, planting lie after lie in your brain.

Initially your healthy voice challenges this Hitchhiker. But to no avail, and soon this healthy voice gets lost and almost forgotten about after constantly losing the inner battle. 

You may not even recognize this is happening until you start recovery, to bring back this healthy voice in an epic battle of the voices. The healthy voice, although silenced is still there.

Instead you have spent so long believing the lies and deceptions of this hitchhiker.

But, your eating disorder will always lie to you. Some lies my eating disorder told me:

1. If I control my intake to the finest detail I will be healthy and clean

2. “You are fat”

Even though at heart I knew this was a lie and didn’t care about size the constant bombardment eventually made me believe it and not see through the distortions. It’s like a smoky mirror. It’s a deception and becomes increasingly distorted . When I used to challenge this lie, I was met with you need to lose more. The “HH was never satisfied. It never will be satisfied not matter how much you lose”. The Eating disorder wants to kill you, that’s it’s end game.


3. “I am not sick enough” to need help/ I do not deserve help.

The eating disorder will never allow you to see how grave things are. Additionally there is no such thing as “sick enough” if thoughts are consumed by rules, obsessions and you are not mentally free you are sick enough. If you do not believe you are sick enough, this is a symptom- you are sick enough and being lied to by your ED. Any disordered behavior or thought is harming your mental health and physical health. “HH” had me believe that because I had gotten through college, Med school and was working I didn’t have a problem, but my life would have been so much easier if I had more brain capacity and stopped believing the deceptions.


4. “Food has to be earned”

Food is a basic human need. No one ever has to earn or compensate for food. But my “HH” told me I could only eat under very strict, rigid circumstances. When I ate I had very explicit rules about compensating. All because I was being LIED to. This still bleeds into my recovery now. I have rid myself of behaviours but periodically the lies creep back about what I should do to “deserve” or make up for. For me this shows up at unknown situations (holidays, Christmas, or trying new things) I have to work hard to challenge this. Otherwise you will never be free of the rules (lies)

5. “Recovery will make you fat

Recovery will make us many things, free and alive being the most pertinent. But the lie that my eating disorder tells me- “your therapist and family will make you fat”.

Now, realistically who gives a shit if this is actually the case? The eating disorder. Fat is a disordered, unkind word. So let’s challenge ourselves. It’s fat phobia and it is wrong. We should be promoting the Health at every size concept.

Aside from this our bodies have a set weight it likes to sit around- we can’t choose it. It is what it is. Some of us may temporarily “overshoot” this set point because it’s necessary to recover. But the body will work shit out when we stop listening to the lies.


6. “Recovery means losing control.”

I believe many people with eating disorders will identify with this fib. And let me affirm it’s a massive lie. It’s a way the eating disorder is trying to hold onto you. Having an eating disorder means you have lost control, it gives you a false sense of control. People don’t lose control when they start to recover. Our eating disorder makes us think that controlling our body shape and intake is a form of control but it’s far from control it’s controlling us. I feel far more in control now than when I was meticulously trying to control everything, because you can’t control everything. My anxiety has never been higher than when my days were led by rules constant lies and trying to see through the fog.

If I had of been in control there’s no way I would have missed out on social engagements for fear of eating or life events to sneak in that extra workout to make up for having to sit an extra 30 seconds in a meeting? No, don’t be fooled the eating disorder has control until we take it back.

7. “Eating in front of people makes me weak”

This is the eating disorder thriving on secrecy and shame. Eating is a normal behaviour and often social building connection. Connection’s something the ED fears.


8. I am a failure if I give in to hunger, break a rule

I doubt in 10 years from now I will give a flying f*ck about the biscuit I just ate, but I will remember the years I missed out on them and the part of my life I gave up for it. Hunger is normal, ignoring it does not make us super human or strong. It made me fucking miserable.


9. “Bad things will happen if I break my rules/ rituals”

I have co-existing OCD. So my eating patterns followed strict rules and breaking these or not carrying out rituals provoked immense anxiety. If I messed my routine up or someone interfered I would go into full blown turmoil. I had specific utensils, cleaning rituals etc. On one occasion my mother in law came to visit, unknowingly used my “special spoon” and I had an absolute shit fit like a crazy person because she had used it. No one could use it except me and I couldn’t eat without it!!

The more lies I heard the more rules I developed. Now in recovery, having broken the rules, nothing bad happened, no one died and I don’t blow up over someone using a spoon! I don’t have to clean the kitchen from top to bottom before every single mouthful.


10. “You look better the thinner you are”

The truth is we are not defined by our appearance or number on the scales. You will never be thin enough for you eating disorder until you’re dead. It would have you to shrink until you don’t exist.

11. Food is either “good or bad”

I had list after list of condemned food. My “good” food list became almost non existent where all good became terrifying. No food is good or bad. It’s just food.

12 “Emotions and feelings should not be felt or shared”

This was a huge one for me and I believed showing emotion or vulnerability was a flaw rather than an attribute. I defined myself by this. Without realizing, for so long I had turned to this destructive force to numb out any difficult emotion as a maladaptive coping mechanism. The eating disorder convinced me this was strong and desirable rather than an avoidance mechanism. But by acting on the lies and behaviors eventually you fall into a trap of further despair living life bound by rules and fear. Everything is numbed. It’s an existence not a life.


13. “All exercise is good for you”

This for the majority of the population is not an unfair statement taken at face value. But when you are lied to by your eating disorder and made to believe that you must exercise to compensate, debt, whether injured, tired, unwell or to punish yourself maybe not so true. I’ve shared previously compulsive exercise is one of the biggest things I am having to over come. I didn’t think this was a problem or real. But compulsive exercise is very common in Eating disorders and very real.


There are so many other little lies my eating disorder proclaimed, but I feel these are the biggest and worth sharing. I imagine some of the lies your eating disorder tells you will be similar and there will likely be others. The important thing is knowing they are lies and can be challenged to reclaim your truth.

Social media and eating disorders…

Social media is part of our every day life.

For some people their work relies upon social media. It has so many roles and uses in today’s society.

Social media can be helpful to us in our recovery, but it can be a minefield. I actually removed myself from most social media accounts early in my recovery. I don’t believe there is a right or wrong solution to this, but I believe an awareness of the impact social media has on you personally and whether it is helpful or detrimental in your recovery is the most important question. Your motives for following particular accounts, whether they serve you, or your eating disorder.

If you look for it, there are tons of recovery orientated social media platforms. But, it’s not always easy early on to identify motives of some and whether they are 100% pro-recovery.

Some platforms, target our vulnerability. Ads, pop ups etc all follow your history and if you are trying to move away from certain paridigms it can be really hard being constantly reminded about the latest fad-diet or exercise programmes etc! You get my point. Equally you can’t control what people post/ talk about. Your friends, family and colleagues may post things that are particularly sensitive for you. So sometimes taking some time away from this can help at least until you are in a stronger place.

Social media can be anxiety provoking, for those in lockdowns, isolation the conflicting and unhelpful messages can impact upon mental health. It’s not surprising around the world the new diagnoses or relapses of eating disorders that have occurred during the pandemic. Social media I believe plays a large part in this. Adding to pressure around health, diet and exercise. As well as the change to routine and access to normal resources. Knowing that not everything on social media is real, or as it appears on there I think can help.

I am glad I didn’t grow up in the ‘Tik-Tok’ era, and facebook/ instagram was only really around when I was late teens. I feel for teens and young people now with the pressures of social media. This really worries me for future of their health.

It’s the time of year where the diet and fitness industry try their hardest to sell their products. So social media is swamped with diet culture and all the shit that goes with it. I am now in a place where I can mostly see this for what it is, selling a product. This industry generally targets a vulnerable population too, people like myself. However I am aware of it, and I’m aware of the impact it can have on me. I will not be deleting my social media accounts this year. Last year I needed to, to escape this onslaught. Instead I am using my social media to promote the ‘fuck it diet attitude’, following positive influences that are pro-recovery. If an ad pops up, I will simply reject it. Friends, family and colleagues dieting that’s up to them, I can choose to ignore this. But if you are in a place where this is going to be damaging to your recovery, a social media holiday can help. I found it quite liberating and realised how reliant upon social media we are. Returning to social media has been a big test in my recovery.