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. 

Journaling #1 ED recovery

Journaling can be a game changer in eating disorder recovery. It has been for me.

Your journal can become one of your most powerful allies, it can become a well honed tool from your ever growing recovery toolkit. It’s versatile and you can scribble anything you like anywhere. There’s no right or wrong way to journalling. Journals can be sculpted to wherever you are at in your recovery. Journals can be used for outpouring your thoughts or completing specific activities.

If you’ve not tried the whole journaling shizzle out yet, I highly recommend you give it a go.

Why?

Journalling gives us a safe space to churn our thoughts on to the page in all their ugliness or beauty depending how you view it. Thoughts you wouldn’t otherwise exorcise.

The journal itself can be used as a recovery tool, through various journalling exercises and practices you can solidify some of the groundwork from therapy sessions etc.

Sometimes the journal can be as simple as your listening ear when your struggling with an urge. Often the time it takes to write out the thoughts and feelings around a behaviour or an urge is long enough for the urge to pass and you’ve got written evidence of what led to the feeling or thought to help you next time it occurs. Win. Win.

We often take progress we’ve made for granted, but re-reading journals can really help you see each tiny step you’ve made even when you feel like you’re stationary.

I’ve never been a “big sharer” of my thoughts or feelings (until I was well into recovery and now I write a very un-private blog with all my craziness laid bear). However journalling helped me to share some of my most shameful thoughts, fears and emotions without judgement. Part of the eating disorder problem is the inability to share, or express difficult emotions or the feeling that what we have to say is wrong etc. It’s this rhetoric that keeps us locked in. Journalling releases a lot of this and makes it easier to begin to talk outside of the pages.

Keeping a journal can help us to identify recurring themes, thought patterns, processes especially those that occur around our eating disorder “self”.

Although my eating disorder is not your eating disorder we all share some common thoughts patterns that make us similar, which is why I write this blog in the first place. If it resonates with one person I’m glad I write. I find reading about what has helped others in recovery not only inspires and motivates me it actually strengthens my recovery. I remember reading about journalling on NEDA and completing some journal prompts from the “8 Keys To Recovering from eating disorder recovery workbork” and they really helped get me started in journalling in early recovery. Now journalling is part of my daily routine. Mostly in the form of gratitude practice, but I will elaborate on gratitude later.

Once I have written the thoughts out on to page, it becomes so much easier to see them for what they are; THOUGHTS. Just because we have a thought does not make it true.

For example, an old entry of mine in June 2019:

I couldn’t make a single decision about what to eat for dinner, I stood in the kitchen for ages agonising over whether to add oil to the pan, all I could hear was how fat I’m becoming and how unhappy I will be

I reminded myself restricting has never resulted in happiness, I was not able to add the damn oil tonight, but I know I am capable of making hard choices and I will find the courage to do it”

After writing thoughts like this out on paper over and over, I began to believe my healthy voice again. Restriction doesn’t make me happy, neither does endlessly pursuing “skinny” They are just thoughts and my truth is I can be happy living an unrestricted life at any size.

My next post I’ll share some journal prompts that have helped me.

But for now, perhaps try and think about if you were to go to bed and wake up recovered ( I know I wish right?!) what would that look like, what are some of the things you would do and feel as someone without an eating disorder? How would your life be different?

Can you scribble somethings you have learned this week? What is helping you, what’s holding you back. What have you discovered about yourself?

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

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.

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?

Reflecting on Christmases past, present and Christmas future in anorexia recovery

Rockerfeller tree. ED freedom

This time last year, I was getting both excited and off the chart anxious about surprising my family in the UK for Christmas, with a holiday on the way via New York.

So much has happened over the past 12 months. We couldn’t go and do this now even if we wanted to. COVID-19 has changed everything for everyone.

We were lucky we could make this trip last year. However I think we become increasingly reflective in our recovery. We have to I believe, to make sure we don’t become complacent and let the foot slip off the gas of progress and allow ourselves to slip backwards. SO naturally this means we reflect on where things lie. I have been thinking about last year’s trip a lot these past few weeks, partly because my family bring it up at every zoom chat and partly because we are making plans for this Christmas.

I can see how far I have come during this time. I felt more dread and fear around the whole trip than I did excitement. How fucked up is that?! I have always loved Christmas and a massive dream was to visit New York at Christmas time. My family Christmases have always been epic and I hadn’t spent Christmas with my family for 8 years so it was going to be special.

Uptight and not present…

Seeing the Rockerfeller tree, snow in Central Park, Macy’s displays was magical. But something still felt missing. ME. I wasn’t really present. It was like I was observing someone else experiencing what I’d always dreamed of. I sat feeling the coldest I had ever felt at a Soccer game, worrying about what we’d eat, how I’d compensate. Fixating on what my families reactions would be having not seen me for ages. Worrying about the Christmas dinners, socials it went on and on.

Then the Christmas itself- I felt numb and empty and so sad. It was not the reunion, surprise I envisioned. I was stressed the whole time, controlling everything. I wanted nothing more than to make last Christmas special, happy. But I hadn’t really committed to recovery at this point, so I had set myself up for a difficult time. Which was unnecessary.

Reflecting on progress…Now fast forward 12 months- I don’t act on ED behaviours, we are spending Xmas with friends this year. I have worked hard to be here, I have so much more freedom with each day. I’m not worrying about this Christmas, I’m looking forward to it. Looking forward to being present, being relaxed and not a controlling freak who has to micromanage everything. But this brings me sadness too. I cannot share this with my family. I cannot show them how things have changed. I hate that, the memory that should have been really special I allowed my ED, yet again to dominate, dictate and taint.

This brings me on to my next point, I know in order to get here, to keep moving forward so that I will be able to share happy holidays with my family again, I have to make a conceited effort every day to make positive steps. If you had have asked me 12 months ago, what does recovery mean, I didn’t really have a clue. I remember my therapist asked me to write down what recovery meant. However, I think at the beginning of recovery we don’t know because we are still overshadowed by our ED personality. Not so much our healthy self. I think it’s important to think about this early on, but I’m not surprised my list is different now. For starters 1 thing that is on my list of full recovery means, being able to spend time with family without any ED anxiety, complete freedom. Being able to travel without any compensation, anxiety about eating a different routine. Not being bothered by other peoples comments pertaining to my food, appearance, diets bla bla. So many more.

But in the early days it was two dimensional and clearly written by “HH”: I.e I don’t want to be cold, develop healthy relationship with exercise etc.

I think we grow in every sense as we recover. I have a far better understanding of who I am now. So in short reflection helps us to continue forward.

These would have given me so much anxiety a year ago. Now they’re just yum.

Clothes shopping in eating disorder recovery…

Phases of clothes shopping through recovery is Like “the origins of man” demonstrated by this spongebob gif!

I went clothes shopping last week. No one tells you how hard this experience is in recovery.

I decided to charity shop my “skinny” clothes. I will never need them again. It’s almost like a grieving process. I never liked how I looked at my lowest weight. I was self conscious. But buying small clothes was something my ED used as targets. Although I never felt better when I met them. I actually felt worse and worse, especially when nothing actually fit. When I started gaining weight, “HH” freaked out. Suddenly nothing fit and I felt self conscious all over again.

EDs will try and make you hold on to old behaviors or reminders of it. For me it was keeping these clothes “just in case” but they were holding me back. How can you recover with the thought you might one day fit in the clothes that fit when you are nowhere near your natural body shape or size. You can’t stay there. Not healthily anyway.

Buying clothes throughout the “weight restoration phase” is traumatic. I would recommend if you’re going through it, you don’t do it alone. It’s triggering no matter how far in you are or how committed. I would say this corresponds to the third picture in the gif. You are in no mans land. You’re not in the emaciated shell, you have fat in weird places so it’s hard to find things that fit and feel comfortable.

I went with a friend I could trust and my husband. I asked them to ask me questions like, how I felt in the clothes rather than making comments about appearance or fit. I looked for clothes I’d feel comfortable in at this stage in my recovery where my weight isn’t evenly distributed. Clothes that would accentuate other features that I’m less insecure with. For me this was flowy dresses. I have spent a long time in clothes hiding my weight for the other reason. I don’t want to hide my shape at all now, but I do want to feel comfortable. ‘HH’ longs for the old clothes but healthy me sees it a triumph of how far I’ve come.

You don’t have to like your body, I have become relatively neutral towards it. However uneven distribution, clothes shopping with size tags, mirrors is not fun. I also only bought a few things I really needed rather than a whole new wardrobe.

I didn’t do it all at once and checked in regularly. I talked through my HH thoughts with my psychologist.

Last week I went shopping on my own. It wasn’t that hard. It doesn’t need to be hard. Plan what you need, check in with your support and look after yourself.

Reckon this stage 4th sponge bob on the gif. Powering through, accepting the changes. Grateful for what you can do in your body and with your recovered body. Don’t think it’s necessary to love your body but if you do that’s a win and definitely the last sponge bob on the gif.