Lived Experience..in ED Recovery.

Lived experience is one of the most valuable assets to recovery.

You can read about eating disorders in as many text books as you like and on some level you will understand them. Cognitively you may get it, but unless you’ve walked in the path it’s difficult to “really get it”

When you have lived that experience, You get it on a whole other level. People in recovery “get it’ on a level that reaches them to their core.

This makes people with lived experience such important allies in a person’s recovery journey and can be crucial alongside treatment.

I will never be able to express the gratitude I feel for my therapist, I know she saved my life, literally. Therapy was huge in my starting recovery and breaking free from the ED. But the most transformative part in my own recovery has been through connecting with those who have lived it.

At all stages of my recovery lived experience has been influential and important in my own growth.

Reading blogs, listening to podcasts/vlogs and following pro-recovery accounts on social media has really assisted me in the process.

There’s a deep level of trust that develops, knowing that others who have fully recovered, or are in a strong place in recovery helps us to feel connected, validated and most importantly gives us HOPE.

I reflect on the times I listened to people like Jessica Flint, Tabitha Farrar, Mia Findley and Millie Thomas sharing their stories, their wisdom and experience and aspiring to reach many of the milestones in recovery. Believing through sheer faith in their stories that recovery IS POSSIBLE for everyone. Even in some of my darkest moments in the throes of the ED or difficult moments in recovery, trusting what those who have lived and come through the other side has felt comforting and at most motivating.

Connecting with others in recovery seemed terrifying to me when I first started. If I had have been offered group therapy or any form of treatment that meant connecting to others, I would have ran a mile. In fact, I did. I was so ashamed of my eating disorder and terrified my “sordid secret” would become common knowledge. But through listening to others, joining platforms or groups a lot of this shame began to disappear, because there was nothing in this community that was judged, hadn’t been felt, said or done before. I started to see I was NOT ALONE, that there were millions of us who have experienced eating disorders.

A common theme I began to understand was the level of shame we all suffered. The more I read stories, listened and talked the more the shame began to dissipate.

Things I felt I could never share with another living person, suddenly felt like no big deal in the recovery community. The nuances that we believe are so shameful and not to be brought out into the light of day, are everyday struggles we share and is part of non-judgemental wonderful conversations. They say shame is fuelled by secrecy, I believe this is so true.

Following other’s journeys enabled me to find my own voice. I refuse to be ashamed of something that has made me who I am and helping me to connect with my true self.

I used to say I wanted to recover to the person I was before the eating disorder. I no longer wish this, because recovery has made me someone else, someone bigger than I was ( pun intended), but the level of growth that comes from choosing to recover & surviving an eating disorder is such that I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m becoming more connected with myself with every recovery orientated decision and becoming aligned with who I want to be. I’m grateful to those who were brave enough to share their experiences, that motivated my own recovery and helped me keep faith.

People recovering from eating disorders have to do this in a world that still challenges many of the beliefs we have to unlearn and to be able to recover in this society is so hard. For some this society can be incredibly cruel and the more people who share their struggle, experience the better this will be one day, especially for those who cannot find their voice. Lived experience is becoming a much bigger part of recovery, with the ever increasing resources available, recovery coaches becoming mainstream and peer mentorships, this can only be a good thing alongside traditional recovery. These people have experienced the struggles, the up’s downs and navigated their way out and are so valuable in helping others do the same, with compassion and sensitivity that is as authentic as it can get.

I’ll share some resources that have been so imperative to my own recovery below.

  1. https://www.recoverywarriors.com/ From blogs, to podcasts and online community platforms such as the “Courage Club” this has been huge in my recovery. Jessica Flint is fully recovered from her eating disorder and has now founded a recovery community that has reached thousands of people in recovery. This has introduced me to some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met.
  2. https://www.instagram.com/lindseyhallwrites/?hl=en Lindsey Hall has herself recovered from anorexia and she shares incredible insights
  3. https://tabithafarrar.com/ Tabitha is a recovery coach, who has fully recovered from her eating disorder. She’s very direct in what she believes recovery is, but she has shared some amazing blogs, podcasts and now mostly posts video content on youtube. I followed her avidly when I first started recovery. She posts about things from “extreme hunger, weight gain, and neural rewiring”
  4. https://www.instagram.com/millietnz/?hl=en & https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/end-eating-disorders/id1534539219 End Eating disorder recovery Podcast.
  5. https://www.beyondbodycoach.com/ Mia Findley- is an Australia based recovery coach, who has fully recovered. She posts videos and podcasts with her experiences.
  6. http://maintenancephase.com/ This is a great podcast that promotes HAES, diversity and is anti-diet
  7. https://www.instagram.com/drheatherirobundamd/?hl=en

Celebrate The Small “Wins”In Eating Disorder Recovery

How often do you hear “It’s The Small Things”



WELL NOW I BELIEVE, DURING RECOVERY FROM AN EATING DISORDER, GREATNESS COMES FROM CELEBRATING “THE SMALL THINGS”
 

After a minor set back a few weeks back, I write this with a newfound sense of self confidence.
 
I am here, writing this because of thousands of little victories. I cannot take credit for this idea, I share this after a recent interaction with the founder of The Recovery Warriors, True Warrior, Jessica Flint. Jessica introduced this principle to me and I feel it’s incredibly empowering. https://www.recoverywarriors.com/

This morning as I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, instead of the familiar self-loathing and negative chatter, I heard myself say, ‘you look good today‘. I celebrated this. I don’t recall the last time I heard myself pay myself a compliment.
 
Another example of  a “small win”, yesterday after a migraine, I embodied the definition of a ‘self-care goddess’ and practiced it as if it were some kind of art. I ordered comforting foods that would leave me feeling nourished and happy, I stepped onto my yoga mat for five minutes and did a simple sun salutation. I celebrated it afterwards, “Yey, go me I did yoga”, instead of my adopting my eating disorder  (ED) voice that is harsh and critical that would normally tell me “this did not count”. Instead, I celebrated the fact I stepped on my mat. It does not matter how short it was.
 
I felt a sense of pride, accomplishment that I had honoured my body rather than “I hadn’t done enough, I didn’t deserve to eat XYZ” It felt victorious whilst I sat eating my salted popcorn. I also celebrate this because the guilt was gone. One week prior would have been a whole other story and I would not have been celebrating this little victory if I hadn’t celebrated each individual victory last week. Take credit for your wins and use them to motivate you.
 
We all know recovery is not linear. I have shared posts on lapses and relapses and prevention previously. However, even in setbacks, celebrating victories is incredibly empowering. Three weeks ago, I started to notice ‘that voice’ becoming increasingly noisier. It appeared to come out of the blue. One day I felt like I was almost ready to “hang up my recovery shoes and call myself fully recovered” and the next I was unable to trust a single thought.
 Today, I feel stronger mentally, physically, emotionally than I have probably my entire adult life. I celebrate I got back on track rapidly and far more easily than even a year ago when I went “all in” after my last major relapse. It was the small victories that helped me pull myself out of the vacuum that appeared in front of me.
Choosing the difficult option time after time, riding the ED anxiety waves. It is amazingly simple I had inadvertently restricted when I lost my appetite and had fallen into energy deficit. The warning signs were there.

Lesson learnt, eat more even when I lose my appetite, enlist help. That voice became almost crippling during the week that ensued and I celebrate I did not engage in its demands. I celebrated that although I felt like I had fallen from a great height, I was able to recognize it, I did not bury my head in the sand or isolate, instead I asked for help at the point I recognized things were slipping. I relished this triumph because previously this would have been extremely hard, highlighting how far I have come in recovery, all was not lost. Every bite, every opposite action I made against my eating disorder voice I chose to recognize and celebrate.  
 
Since I started this process, I have a much deeper understanding of how my brain became sick. Each set-back has provided me with valuable information and it was so much easier to pull myself out.
Pausing. This is something so simple. Yet, if I were to ask you, when did you last pause, and slow down? When did you take a deeper look at your thoughts or emotions? Developing an awareness around my thought patterns has been a gift in recovery.
 
One of the things this setback demonstrated to me, was just how important it is to me to be with myself, to listen to my thoughts and become curious about my actions. This for me often involves my yoga mat or my journal. Both things had been neglected for the weeks leading up to the setback. Self-care should never be an afterthought, or “if I have time” instead it needs to be part of our lives in order to have a healthy mind and body. Reframing can be an incredibly valuable tool. The times where we feel we don’t have time or the actions are too small to count, try reframing them to “I did well today because despite being busy, ‘I still stepped on my mat’, just the process of stepping on it and giving time for you counts. Same principle with exercise, perhaps you go for a short run and normally your brain would tell you it’s not good enough, how about ‘go me, I ran today’
 
It is incredible how we can ignore such seemingly small moments or deem them as insignificant or unimportant, yet they often hold such empowering insights or lessons. Leaning in, acknowledging, and celebrating the small things is how we grow.  Do not ignore or just brush aside these important moments. Celebrating the small stuff makes a BIG difference.

What win will you celebrate today?

For the days where you are feeling nostalgic towards your eating disorder…

During the recovery process, I believe it’s common, even normal that many of us feel some kind of nostalgia towards our eating disorder. 

The times in recovery where our ED comes knocking and tries to lure us back, nostalgia is a tactic it uses. 

I found this crazy, why would I ever want to return to something so destructive, yet I experienced a sense of wistfulness for it at times. 

Your ED will not remind you of your darkest days in the depths of it, it will tell you mistruths, altered memories- such as, “it wasn’t that bad, you didn’t really have an eating disorder, not every day sucked, you still ate xyz, you didn’t miss” bla bla. But it will not be reminiscent of the rules you had to allow yourself to do that, the guilt and shame you felt and the resentment from others when their concern fell on deaf ears. No, it will not remind you of any of this. 

It will recollect and romanticize the euphoria you felt on occasion, but not the crashing low points that always followed and were the majority. It is deceptive and the memories are modifications.

Your eating disorder has been a maladaptive coping strategy. It’s not surprising it tries to draw you in, at a point in your recovery where you are experiencing so many challenging emotions, new experiences, loosening of support, why wouldn’t your eating disorder try and lure you back, romanticize its role in your life?

 It might be on a bad body image day; the voice whispers a reminder of old compliments you used to get. It will not remind you of the days where you missed out on happy events in order to follow the ED demands or how the compliments left you feeling conflicted and confused. 

Nostalgia is natural in recovery, but do not dwell in it and do not believe the romanticized picture your ED paints, your ED was not a happy place.

On the days where your ED tries to convince you otherwise:

I find reminding myself of the many things I DO NOT miss about my eating disorder helps snap me out of it.  Here are some of those things I do not miss…

  • My entire brain being consumed by nothing but thoughts of food and numbers.
  • Being “bone cold” all the damn time no matter what the temperature was.
  • The deception, the constant lies and shame that accompanied.
  • The isolation, the missed social events and memories 
  • Not being able to eat with company, not being able to eat alone.
  • Not having a period
  • Feeling lightheaded most of the time 
  • The pain, and many injuries through not allowing my body to rest.
  • The inability to laugh the inability to cry real tears. 
  • The crippling fear when faced with a “fear food.” 
  • The incapacitating supermarket, menu, choice “blindness.” 
  • The brain fog and difficulty to concentrate and apply most of my brain.
  • The sore throat 
  • The bloating and constipation 
  • Never getting a full night’s sleep, sleep being haunted by fear foods.
  • Not being able to eat out without planning a year in advance. 
  • Having to move 24/7. The unbearable discomfort of being still.
  • Being boring because I had nothing to talk about
  • Feeling like a constant failure no matter what. No number, image or achievement was ever enough. 
  • Feeling like I wanted to crawl out of my skin all the time. 

The list is not endless. I could continue

However, I feel it is important to remember a few things:

Nostalgia towards your eating disorder is nothing to feel ashamed about, it makes a lot of sense in recovery. We should normalize it. 

Nostalgia is natural in recovery, but do not dwell in it and do not believe the romanticized picture your ED paints. Bit by bit this nostalgia will dissipate and become replaced with the truth so long as you keep addressing it. 

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!

Surviving Christmas diet speak in eating disorder recovery…

I love Christmas. I used to start getting excited for Christmas in September. The air smells different, the trees change and nights get shorter and staying in on a cold winter’s night with a festive movie is magical.

I still love Christmas. But Christmas can be a challenging time for many people especially people with eating disorders or recovering from eating disorders. It can invade every waking second, robbing the joy and replacing it with fear and dread. Let me be clear it is NOT just about food. Eating disorders are not just about food. They are so much more complex than this. People with eating disorders feel so much pressure, and that they cannot share this because it’s not festive or worry about disrupting the joy.

It’s a time of year where celebrations continue for most of the month (covid aside). Even in isolation the social media, the promotions during this time and messages about new beginnings in the new year etc.

Eating socially becomes more prominent. But at the same time people start discussing New Years resolutions, which inevitably involves shitty diet talk. This is so hard for people in the midst of their eating disorder or working hard to recover. Where it’s normally easy to excuse yourself from the bull shit diet speak, or judgement around food it’s harder. Often it can include spending time with people you haven’t seen for a long time (probably not so much this year) but that can be daunting and the fear of comments even when well meaning can be hard! If you are in that situation, try and be kind to yourself and see it as a positive. And the comments such as “you look well” probably are genuine and mean you look well and that you just simply no longer look like you’re dying, it’s not saying you look fat or whatever else your stupid ED tells you.

You are bombarded with conflicting messages, unhelpful quips, comments that even for those of us who are solid in recovery can be really fucking hard. The classic I will have to run this off, I’m going to be so fat, is that all you’re eating, you’re eating so much are all likely. Be ready for them and choose to stay on track. How you respond to the comment is up to you.

I have noticed myself this last couple of weeks, I’ve had to work really hard to check myself as thoughts have slowly crept in about ‘how much I should be eating, moving, what’s not “allowed”’ all bullshit and all because of the time of the year and the inevitable society pressures.

In a way it’s helpful, because although frustrating as it is to be experiencing the thoughts and anxiety return, It highlights there’s still work to be done. Clearly I still have a lot of re-wiring to do. I still clearly have an irrational fear of weight gain, which I thought I was passed. But that’s what it is, an irrational fear. It’s a phobia and it’s ingrained through the years and years of inappropriate reinforcement. It’s not surprising that events ignite these brittle pathways. I have not engaged in behaviours for close to 5 months, but it shows how easily old pathways can be re-ignited by old habits, reminders. Which is why it is so vital to continue to recognize triggers and continue the work.

For me, this means, not allowing myself to compensate for the Christmas period/ holiday (event restricting). Not entering into diet behaviour or allowing myself to be drawn into other people’s diet talk, fears and plans. Not engage in ridiculous exercise regimens because society expects it. I love you Joe Wicks BUT please stop the constant before and after pictures!

Not allowing myself to demonize food because other people are. NO FOOD is bad.

You do not have to compensate for food or inactivity ever. People’s biases around food and exercise, new years resolutions are their business and serve no place in recovery no matter how uncomfortable you feel. Be kind to yourself, ask for support and keep talking. If it helps, set boundaries before the event and if it’s too much to be in control yourself ask a support person with decisions etc.

There are tons of resources online that serve as toolkits/ survival guides for holiday.

The purpose of this blog however is not so much to share tips for how I have managed Christmas or will manage Christmas. Although I appreciated podcasts, vlogs, resources myself to help me. Rather this purpose of the blog is for people in the midst of their eating disorder, or recovering and just a simple understanding. That’s what I have found the most useful. So if you are in this situation, I see you I understand.

If you are a friend or a family member of someone with an ED, my thoughts are it’s tough on you too. Please, think about how you talk about diets, your own fear of weight gain in front of the person. Be their advocate as they may not be able to speak up so divert unhelpful conversations where you can. Maybe ditch the unhelpful comments about calories.

Ask the person (if you are in a position where you talk about the eating disorder) what the eating disorder is telling them. What they are thinking. But be warned you might not like or understand the answer. But if someone does feel comfortable to share this with you, show them support without judging them. No one expects you to get it, we don’t get it most of the time ourselves but feeling supported is huge.

Happy Christmas everyone. Stay strong

Shifting the narrative in eating disorder recovery….

Recovery is millions of little challenges

My husband and I were hiking yesterday. We had hours of trail ahead and in between goofing around, talking about our plans for the week ahead we talked about the last year, 18months. So much has happened in this time, like for many people. We talked about people missed. Career paths, life plans and we made jokes about previous events. One event, now an often feature of his jovial mockery and light hearted goading is one of our darkest moments. Often making a situation that was once very unfunny can flip it on its head, make it more bearable. You see that a lot in the healthcare setting, jokes that someone from a non healthcare background would shudder at, is often daily practice. Why? because it makes pain and darkness more bearable and shareable.

This situation we were joking about was one of my biggest meltdowns, i’ve ever had. We were in New York exactly a year ago. I wasn’t really in recovery at this point, although I was fooling myself I was. We had been taking in sights all day, darting all over the place. I had done, what I did a lot at this time. Bargained with myself. I was “allowed” to eat whatever I wanted in the evening because I had been so active during the day. Fucked up beyond all reasoning, but this is how the eating disorder often works. Often that bargaining never actually leads to “eating whatever you want’ but we were looking for a restaurant that would suit us both. I didn’t have much input in restaurants at this point, so it was usually down to my husband to select somewhere. He talks about how incredibly stressful this was. I have no doubt, it must have felt like he was checking for poison for some medieval royalty. I would quash most selections before they had left his lips. However this particular day, it was 1 week from Christmas, we hadn’t booked. So the stress for him was ridiculous. Before he found a place, we spent an hour with us scanning menus, me rejecting. It got to the point where we retraced our steps and chose one at random that would allow us without a reservation. What came next, I don’t really remember. But he does very clearly.

It was a steak & lobster restaurant. There were no other options. There were chips and meat. That was it. After looking at the menu for all of 30 seconds, I burst into full blown tears, sobbing in a packed restaurant. I cannot describe what was going through my mind at this point. Except it was like the world had just ended. I had built the meal up, I was going to eat. Then I was presented with two things I hate, red meat and shellfish. I was petrified of chips at this point. A menu had reduced a 30 something to full blown tears. Inconsolable, snotty ugly tears. We stayed. ‘HH’ screamed that my opportunity had been ruined bla bla. I struggled through the dinner eating chips. Both of us shocked at how irrational I was. I had had moments like this at home but this was in the middle of New York. It’s obvious now, this was plain and simple fear.

But whilst cringing at this event, we chatted about the narrative now.

Eating disorders are not rational.

My world didn’t end. I didn’t die. I just looked totally mental. Now after lots and lots of little moments, challenges, meltdowns I can laugh at how absurd this moment was.

The point of this, recovery doesn’t happen over night. Recovery isn’t a case of going to bed one night and waking up recovered. It’s full of obstacles and challenges. If it’s not challenging it’s probably not recovery and doing jack shit.

Today, he asked me if I wanted an Ice cream. I heard myself say ‘no thanks’. This is a response ‘HH’ has trained to become my default. I am changing this narrative to ‘Yes, please’. Some days yes please is easier than others. But it felt uncomfortable, spontaneously having an ice cream. ‘HH’ certainly did not approve. This is another moment, challenge towards recovery. It was a world apart to the lobster joint. I felt uncomfortable, I got on with it and used to distraction techniques I’ve learnt along the way after. ( Today was repotting some of my veggies, other times breathing techniques can help) But if I’d said no thanks, it would have been a missed opportunity. Without challenges, nothing changes. In recovery discomfort is action. I don’t think I would sob in a restaurant now, unless the world genuinely was ending. I don’t bargain with ‘HH’ any more. There is no bargaining with an eating disorder, that’s an argument you won’t win unless you decide to do the complete opposite of what it’s telling you.

Useful breathing technique: https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/-/media/CCI/Mental-Health-Professionals/Anxiety/Anxiety—Information-Sheets/Anxiety-Information-Sheet—08—Breathing-Retraining.pdf

Food is more than just food.

Best biscuit ever……

Yesterday, I had a strange realisation. It’s taken me almost 30 years to get to it, but yesterday I realised food is not just fuel. Food has no rules, no moral value and no foods can be ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Whilst reflecting about my relationship with food, I craved a chocolate Hobnob. I heard ‘HH’ stipulate, ‘but you’re not hungry’. It was this thought, I rewound and re-framed my life-time’s thinking. Food, although important for fuel and nutrition is also part of connection and ENJOYMENT. It’s always blown my mind that people have just been able to easily eat something, just because. But yesterday, I understood food can be eaten whenever. Whether we are hungry or not. If we want to eat something we can, without judgement, without compensating, because it’s just food.

I was feeling particularly reflective yesterday, because I felt really fucking sad. The fact the I felt sad, set off a whole chain of thoughts. But what made me grateful amongst it all, the fact I could acknowledge and identify that emotion. For years I have numbed my emotions, to the extent when I started to feel again, it took me a while to recognise what I felt. That’s pretty common I think amongst us who have eating disorders. I no longer associate with the nickname I have had for years and use to value, ‘the ice queen’. This is not me now. Nor do I want it to be. The fact it became at one with my identity is quite disturbing to me now, as I am a compassionate person. But in the depths of ‘HH’s grips I was an emotional void. I’d get angry, anxious & irritable if my routine was disturbed, or challenged but these were pretty much the extent of my emotions. Instead of returning to my old behaviours yesterday, exercising to the point of exhaustion, pain or restricting to the point of false euphoria, to numb out the events. Instead I went for a walk out in nature listening to a podcast and then had a cup of tea with a Hobnob.

I felt grateful. Grateful I have reached a point of mental freedom to enable me to feel. Being numb is not living. I was grateful I could feel sadness and sit with it. Feelings pass and are not permanent. But eating disorders are. Recovery although hard, is also temporary.

The next thing I’m working hard to reach, is body neutrality. There is so much talk about ‘body positivity’ at present. I believe the premise of this is great, but I also feel it’s a double edged sword. It’s general concept to love and accept your body, sure. Promoting acceptance by society of shape, size, gender or race is the main aim. But, I feel there’s pressure with ‘body positivity’ as a concept. It over values of the body image itself, rather than appreciation of the body’s functions. For me, I don’t know if I’ll ever ‘love my body’ but I love the things my body enables me to do. I think very few people eating disorder or no eating disorder love their bodies. So for me, getting to a point where I do not care, or have any value from my appearance will be sufficient, beyond that a bonus. But I feel it’s healthier to see our bodies as a vessel, a vessel that allows us to do what we desire. It does not matter what that vessel looks like. That’s what I believe the social media message should be, that’s what body positivity should be.

Interestingly my ‘negative body image’ didn’t truly start until I was in the depths of my eating disorder. Sure there were things I had insecurities with, but I think most people on this planet do have hang ups. But I can say, the negative body image spiralled and it took so much value. This value is incongruent with my own true values, i’m not a shallow person, I couldn’t give a rat’s arse what someone looks like if they are a good human being. But the world becomes so small, consuming and out of alignment with our own beliefs. I really struggle with this aspect of my eating disorder, because on a bad ‘body image’ day it still has far too much space. Space that’s not relevant or part of me. However this is part of the divorce from diet culture and unlearning so many untruths that are so engrained in society. Most days now fortunately I am neutral towards my body, but i’m not where I want to be yet. I’m not where I want the whole of society to be, where body image is as relevant as yesterday’s weather. But rejecting diet culture and accepting ourselves is a start towards remodelling society’s beliefs . Ultimately change starts with yourself.

‘Portion sizes’, re-learning to eat like a ‘normal human-being’, anorexia recovery..

Re-learning ‘normal eating’ ED Recovery

I say normal, loosely. Because the majority of the population has some form of low grade restriction going on. Whether they realize it or not, any diet behavior is restriction. This is not normal eating. But it is ‘societies normal’ This is not an option for us.

When we restrict, our body adapts, by lowering metabolism and a whole heap of other changes like disrupting hunger cues. (This is partly why diets don’t work, restriction leads to a response known as ‘hyperphagia’ (increased hunger) to counteract this unnatural behaviour. Our bodies function in equilibrium and so will adapt or correct the perceived famine. For anyone who is interested like me, in evidence or scientific explanations, the ‘Minnesota Starvation experiment, led by Ancel Keys’ is the closest we will ever get to depicting what happens to humans when starved, both physiologically and psychologically. It would never pass an ethics committee today but the evidence still stands. This was a practice changing study from the forties that still helps to shape nutritional rehabilitation. It provides explanation for experiences such as hyperphagia.

In early recovery most of us experience “extreme hunger”, hyperphagia. For me this wasn’t so much physical hunger, for the most part, but it translated more as mental hunger or feeling off. Regardless it’s still hunger, if we are obsessing about food it’s because our bodies are needing fuel. I was constantly thinking about food, when I was next going to eat, what I could eat, worrying about whether it was ok/ not enough, even dreaming about food, obsessing about food, reading recipes the list goes on. It felt relentless and really intrusive. It was hard to think about anything else. During this period, I would also find it hard to leave food on my plate, even if I felt full, I guess it was my brain freaking out, fearing that I was going to return to a state of famine again. I’d feel almost a compulsion to finish everything. I never felt satisfied early on, I would be painfully full but still thinking about food. This has gotten better with time. I don’t feel the need to finish everything in front of me. This obsession with food was different to that in the depths of my eating disorder, where I would obsess over food then. When under the grip of ‘HH’ I would control everything around it, I’d cook for others, but never eat what I’d made. I’d bake a lot at this point, now I bake if it’s someone’s birthday, I’m just not interested or obsessed like I was. This is common I think, now we have a rule in my house if I make it, I eat it. Some days, if I haven’t eaten quite enough, I find my extreme hunger can return the next day, but this is getting less and less.

This is terrifying when it first happens. If it is happening to you, or someone you know, extreme hunger is normal, it’s a healthy response to energy deficit and reintroducing nutrition. It showed up for me months later in recovery, after I got back on track from a relapse. I didn’t experience it prior. Bingeing is normal in this setting. It’s distressing, it feels it’s going against everything the eating disorder believes. But the only way I found it improved was to listen and respond to it. Restriction remains the enemy for this.

Some-thing I still find difficult, is what’s normal. I also think, there probably isn’t actually a normal, because what’s normal for one person is not for another. However serving sizes is a tricky one, I can under-eat some times because I have done so for so long and my perception of what a ‘normal portion’ is warped.

I have found asking for help with this, although humiliating as an adult and at time unbearably uncomfortable, I often run my lunches past my husband and if he tells me it’s not enough, I don’t argue, I add more. I am trying to re-learn normal eating.

Another thing that helped me, although at the time I hated it and argued until I was blue in the face was relinquishing control around food. By this I mean, I was lucky my partner took complete control of what I ate, when I could not make healthy decisions geared towards recovery without ‘HH’ sabotaging. I was not allowed to cook, prepare meals, or enter the kitchen when meals were being prepared. It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life and there were times when I would argue, shout, cry, throw, he would force me to eat what was in front of me. I was like a child. But worse, I was an adult having a meltdown. But this role was necessary for a short time, because if left alone, I would skip ingredients, make smaller meals, substitute ingredients ‘for healthier’ alternatives etc.

But it was important for me to regain independence quickly (for me and my partner) and the only way I could was to suck it up.

I cannot express the grattitude I have for my partner, I think people who support a person through eating disorder recovery are saints, they see the worst side of a person imaginable, because a caged animal will always lash out. I have apologised more times than I wish I’d ever have to in a life time. I think this is where it’s useful to seperate the person from their eating disorder. We are not our eating disorders, and the non-negotiations are with the eating disorder, not the person being over shadowed by it. This does not give a free pass to be a dick, it’s just to help understand why you have to keep fighting for recovery. Thankfully this wasn’t needed for long.

For a short while, I followed the principles from Gwyneth Olwyns, homeodynamic recovery. I like evidence and this is evidence based. I will link this below. I do not count calories and find doing so to be detrimental, however this principle sets minimums and it helped me for a short period when trying to become independent again.

One thing I’ve accepted is, comparing what we need to eat in recovery to someone who has not just waged war on there body is never going to be helpful. We need more than most people to heal. Healing doesn’t end at ‘weight restoration’, we still have a nutritional rehabilitation, inner repair, mental healing beyond this. Who knows how long this will take. This, Is hard for someone with a restrictive eating disorder, but I believe it’s true and giving yourself permission to eat whatever, whenever and often ‘more’ than people around you is an important step. Letting go of the judgment. I’ve only recently gotten to this point, I used to find it really really hard to eat in front of, or with others. That’s isolating and something a lot of us have to overcome. So ignoring comments about food is important, hard but totally achievable.

1. The Minnesota Starvation experiment: https://archive.wphna.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/2005-Mad-Science-Museum-Ancel-Keys-Starvation.pdf

2. Gwyneth Olwyn, Homeodynamic Recovery Method: https://edinstitute.org/blog/2013/3/31/homeodynamic-recovery-method-guidelines-overview

Wading upstream…

Recovery tight-rope ED recovery

Anorexia recovery

Recovery doesn’t have to be complicated. But I think it can be made easier.

Yesterday I got my haircut. ( I know lucky, in non lockdown) But I didn’t appreciate HOW LONG it was going to take! 4.5 hours, Two things firstly, I was able to sit an do nothing for this period. Something I have found really hard to do before, giving myself permission to be still, not fidgeting, standing, on the go or doing something productive. Because our ED’s tell us this is the worst thing a human could do, and it’s lazy. So that’s a victory that this was easy, outside of the boredom of being in the hairdressers on one of my only days off!

But…..today is harder. Why? Because I didn’t plan ahead very well. I always make an effort to eat 3 meals, and normally 2-3 snacks between, because I don’t have hunger signals yet so I eat regularly.

Second…I thought I’d be out in time for lunch yesterday. I wasn’t. I took a few crisps with me * also a win, would have never eaten anything before and I used to envy the people who would sit and snack care free. But I ended up missing lunch. Doing this feeds ‘HH’. I normally plan to have stuff with me at all times. Because missing a meal whether it’s intentional or not leads to energy deficit, which opens up pathways to old thoughts, behaviours. I cannot afford to do this. I expect with time, the odd unintentional meal miss won’t be an issue but early in recovery when there are neural pathways that are so brittle and easy to ignite it’s not a good idea.

I can feel when I haven’t eaten enough, or have allowed myself to get into energy deficit. I don’t have to be hungry to get this, it’s a feeling, and I am grateful I can now recognise it because I avoid it like the plague (or COVID to be more to relevant) But life happens. Like yesterday.

I ate as soon as I left, but I could already feel I felt out of gear. I made an extra effort to have a ‘big’ dinner and a snack before bed. I was not going to let ‘HH’ in. But just to explain how brittle recovery is in the early parts. I went to bed. I woke at 2:00 wired, with a feeling of what I guess was hunger. I felt empty. A feeling I was way to familiar with and “HH’ was there, ‘I remember this feeling it feels clean, now we need to do something, move, we don’t need to sleep’

Insomnia was a huge issue for me when I was sick, possibly the worst part, that and being bone cold all the time. Now for the most part I sleep like a baby, except if i’ve got the balance wrong. So its a warning for me. I got up and had a biscuit, because ‘HH’ thoughts were creeping in and demonising anything. So I ate my hobnob and slept through.

I knew today would likely be a bit harder, this morning questions of ‘ isn’t that too many oats, too much almond butter’ were there. So I added extra. But this is the thing, this is how we can either carry on moving forward, or a slip can happen after a simple innocent incident. Something that someone who has never had an eating disorder never has to think about, or likely understand. But for us, it’s something we cannot be complacent with it’s a tightrope. But again, the rope becomes more like a bridge than a rope with time, because now although the thoughts are louder today, I’m not acting on them. Before I would have and that’s all it would have taken to knock me off my rope. But through repeatedly getting back on the rope, it’s wider, stronger.

I know for next time, I will take my lunch, just in case. Recovery is learning, growth. Prepping like a boss for all the things that knock you off that rope is key. But getting back on the rope is vital no matter how many times you fall.

Recovery bridge Pexels.com

Resources:

  1. https://tabithafarrar.com
  2. https://edinstitute.org/blog/2013/3/31/homeodynamic-recovery-method-guidelines-overview and Gwyneth Olwyn’s book, also available at this site.

Re-reading old journal entries, anorexia recovery. What language does your ED voice use?

Reframe negative eating disorder thoughts

I’ve been journaling for a long time. I was re-reading an old journal, one I started in early recovery. I found there was a theme to the language I used to describe how I was feeling, or when journalling about behaviours.

It was all self critical. Extremely negative.

Common words I used: ASHAMED, DISGUSTED, LONELY, ANGRY, FAT. This was even when I’d documented small positive steps to change.

“I feel ashamed, I want to crawl out of my skin, I feel trapped, consumed & powerless. I’m disgusted I’ve allowed myself to get into this predicament. I don’t feel I deserve the help. It’s a spell I cannot break no matter how hard I try I’m stuck”

This was an entry I made a few weeks into recovery.

Comparing this to more recent entries, there’s none of the negative language. It’s incredible how consuming our eating disorders are, they overshadow us, they thrive on secrecy and feed the feelings of isolation and shame grows and grows.

Now that I’m much further into recovery, I can seperate this unkind voice from my own, kinder, compassionate in built healthy self voice. I do not allow myself to use language such as ashamed, disgusted, instead I reframe them and ask myself what I’m needing. Why the ‘HH’ voice is spouting these terms. If I have a thought that sounds hypercritical I know it’s coming from ‘HH’ and not me, and serves no purpose in driving my recovery.

Self compassion is difficult in early recovery because we are listening to the negative thoughts. But as we grow stronger in recovery it’s easier to be kinder to ourselves. Something we have to re-learn to do. After being the opposite for so long. It feels uncomfortable. But anything in recovery that’s uncomfortable is good.

I found it hard to do NOTHING. Or pause have a cup of tea when I felt tired, or allow myself to feel emotions. But with time, one of my favourite pass times is to sit and literally do nothing with a cup of tea ( and most often a chocolate hobnob) Yes I am English and do believe this solves everything. I never thought that weekend early in recovery I would be able to to do that. I thought ‘HH’ would berate me for sitting for a second. Sure, there are days where I do hear the negative utterances. But the difference is now I don’t turn against myself, I don’t tell myself I’m ashamed of myself, not deserving etc. I tell myself I am worthy, I can live however I want and I don’t have to listen to the thoughts. I am not those thoughts. What thoughts do you need to re-frame?