Orthorexia- the “socially acceptable” eating disorder
My eating disorder like many, has been a shape shifter over the years, meaning at various times I would have met criteria for more than one diagnosis besides anorexia nervosa.
We are all human beings. Fitting into criteria or a neat little box isn’t congruent with being human. And so whilst diagnostic criteria can be useful to help identify or guide which treatments may or may not work for you, I think that’s where their relevance ends.
What is Orthorexia?
The Diagnostic & statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) does not currently hold a separate diagnosis for Orthorexia. Instead it technically fits under the diagnosis Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) , although not perfectly, we return to my point about us being humans and not fitting neatly under one set of criteria.
This is a disorder characterized by an obsession with eating “healthily” or “clean” foods. A person becomes fixated on eating only foods they deem to be “pure”, meaning they can adopt strict rules and restrictions around foods and how they are consumed. I called it the “socially acceptable” eating disorder because it can be hard to detect in a society that praises restriction and demonizes anything else. People often reward people for eating “cleanly”. No eating disorder is ok. Orthorexia is when a persons focus on eating healthily actually becomes detrimental to their health, as a result of the obsessions, restriction, nutritional deficiencies and effect on the body.
It wasn’t until I started recovery for anorexia I realised I needed to challenge this too.
Orthorexia complicated my recovery, as I mentioned eating disorders are shape shifters, my way of “coping” with recovery became focusing on nutrition for a short while. If you are trying to recover by eating only “healthy” foods, you need to challenge this.
You cannot recover from a restrictive eating disorder holding on to ANY rules around foods. My obsession with eating healthily also preceded my development of anorexia and at some points other ED symptoms.
It is generally accepted that people experiencing orthorexia are not always driven by a fear of weight gain or drive to be thin, unlike anorexia. It can result in body dissatisfaction but weight loss it is not the driving factor (usually). It is about feeling clean and pure. I have no doubt that it could lead to anorexia in those of us with the genetic susceptibility because it can result in energy deficit.
Some of the warning signs of Orthorexia may include:
Unhealthy obsession with checking ingredients or contents of food (not driven by a fear of weight gain)
Cutting food groups because they are deemed “unhealthy”
Rigidity, not being able to eat foods not prepared by themselves or consume foods they do not know the ingredients (again not as a form of intentional energy deficit)
Distress, obsession impairing well being
If you think you have a problem, any concern with disordered eating, it is always good to seek help. Talking to a GP, a health at every size aligned dietician or therapist would be a good place to start. You deserve to have mental freedom.
Weigh day in recovery This used to instil dread and fear into me and so I want discuss this further as I’m willing to bet it’s a common experience in recovery.
I’ve already talked about my tenuous relationship with the scales. However in early recovery when we are “ nutritionally rehabilitating” the scales can be important in therapy. Weight restoration can be an integral part of ones recovery.
I was doing my usual re-reading old journal entries and so many were about “weigh days”.
For me, I used to experience extreme anxiety leading up to weigh day and then days following.
Why is “weigh day”so traumatic for someone in recovery?
People with eating disorders tend to obsess over numbers, whether it’s calories, clothes sizes, or the frigging number on the scale. The numbers torment us. We live by them, we fear them. Therefore on the days I had managed to gain weight my eating disorder voice would throw a full on wobbly, if I’d lost it would throw a full on wobbly. You cannot appease an eating disorder.
For my family the “weigh days” were important to them, they were afraid it was one of the only ways the could tell if I was “doing ok” or slipping because of the secretive nature of ED. This reinforced the anxiety as-well, the concern of feeling like a failure or the threat of more focus being placed on me. But, I had lied before, many times and so I respected the validation they needed whilst I rebuilt trust.
The “target weight” issue
I personally don’t feel that “target weights” are helpful to most of us with EDs. I completely get why health professionals use them, but I personally feel that they have the potential to perpetuate trepidation and internal judgements that exceeding that target weight is to be feared or avoided.
Realistically most of us go way over. We go over because we need to, it’s called overshoot and it’s natural. It’s your bodies way of protecting you in case another famine arises. It’s why when people continually diet end up heavier because their bodies no longer trust them. However eventually when you let go of the diet BS, your body figures it’s shit out.But try rationalizing that with someone fighting an ED voice and going against an entire society who shares the ideology weight gain is a negative.
I believe holding on to my target weight kept me stuck, every time I got close to I’d bail on my recovery efforts, if I surpassed this arbitrary number I slipped. Until I let go of weighing and ate unrestricted. For some I imagine having a rough idea of a target may help them but for many like myself it can be a sticking point.
I know that, eating disorders love to hold on to numbers, to manipulate our thoughts and behaviors. Mine convinced me I needed to know my weight in early recovery to “monitor progress to “check”. Let’s cut through the crap, my eating disorder wanted to know the number as a “form of control” to ensure I wasn’t “gaining too much, too fast” it colluded with the numbers and therefore my behavior. This was continual until I was willing to accept my motives to know the number was not healthy.
Additionally certain values held specific connotations to previous relapses, or behaviors. For example the “target weight” hurdle was a huge trigger. I found it almost impossible to reach or pass when I knew the value because my eating disorder voice would get so much louder.
Recovery is hard enough, why make it harder for yourself by observing the scales? If you follow the recovery process, eating enough, not engaging in behaviors your body will recover and reach its natural weight without your eating disorder trying to complicate/ control things along the way.
For a while, I couldn’t know my weight, or (when agreed with my therapist) we reduced the weigh days.
There are pros and cons to this. Weight provides teams with anthropological information about recovery.
Regardless of whether it’s vital you are weighed you do not need to know your weight, you have the right when you attend a medical appointment to be blind weighed.
Fast forward to now, I’ve been in recovery for a while, there are days where I feel a draw to the scales. I know it’s never about the scale and I return to my recovery tool box to find what I need. I do not weigh myself. If I have to be weighed I would like to think it would cause little more than an internal stir.
If I have the situation where I have to be weighed:
I will likely follow my own healthy voice’s advice and ask for the number not to be made known to myself. Because, weight has no value to who we are. We do not need to know. It’s not worth giving the unhealthy part of my brain ammunition.
This post is not intended as medical advice and I am not an expert. I write this with lived experience, the intention of raising awareness and promoting self advocacy.
Have you lost your period?
Losing your period is never something that should be taken lightly, it can be a serious indicator that your body is functioning suboptimally.
What is Hypothalamic Amenorrhea?
The absence of a period for 3 or more months related to an problem with the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is situated in the brain it connects our endocrine system to our central nervous system. It has many roles- it basically acts as a regulator for many of our bodies systems. It is the main regulator of the pituitary gland which is the where central regulating hormones are released. Some of those hormones include reproductive hormones, needed for menstruation.
Hypothalamic amenorrhea- When the control centre of the brain that regulates hormone secretion– is turned off.
Why does this happen?
There are several factors that can lead to disruption to the hypothalamic signalling. This post is focusing on the reproductive aspects- hypothalamic amenorrhea. My intention is to give a brief outline to help you understand 1.why it happens, 2. Why doctors don’t necessarily consider it when they see someone in front of them.
Factors that lead to HA:
◦ Energy deficit, this is the biggest factor and can occur due to a plethora of reasons. One of those is dieting. Whether this is through intermittent fasting- where the regular signals are not being maintained, caloric deficit, or excluding specific food groups such as cutting carbs/ fats, they all disrupt the signalling from the hypothalamus.
◦ If your hypothalamus perceives energy deficit it shuts down non vital functions of the body. It keeps you alive, it’s like a book balancer. What you don’t “need” it cuts. Menstruation is a function of reproductive health. Therefore, it is not a vital component to staying alive. Therefore it shuts off this non vital function, in order to preserve other functions including keeping your heart beating. This is another reason why we tend to feel COLD ALL the time when we are in energy deficit or have HA- the generator shuts off the heater to conserve other functions.
◦ Weight loss regardless of your size. Youcan have HA at any BMI. Firstly, If you lose weight it’s likely related to energy deficit, however when you lose weight you lose important regulating hormones (leptin) which are in fat cells and this is part of the feedback system to the hypothalamus.
◦ Stress. Something that puts stress on your body can disrupt periods. This may be through emotional or physical stress. Cortisol turns off the hypothalamus. Therefore it can cause you to lose your period.
◦ For similar reasons to above- exercise especially high intensity exercise can raise your cortisol by placing stress on your body. Additionally it can lead to energy deficit and weight loss and so it’s continues the issue. This is part of “female athlete triad”
Unfortunately HA is a common issue, however it’s not always recognized. Partly because it’s not understood and there are many misconceptions around HA. For instance people inhabiting in larger bodies are often rewarded for their weight loss efforts and exercising, but we know that HA can occur at any size. But often we are not as open with healthcare professionals about our lifestyle and they often don’t enquire.
When women lose their periods they are sometimes then commenced on the contraceptive pill to “restart” their cycle, or in some instances diagnosed with Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Unfortunately this is a problem because the management of PCOS- is often the complete opposite of HA. The contraceptive pill does not address the underlying issue, energy deficit. A bleed induced by the oral contraceptive pill is not a real period. If you took the pill away likely the person would not bleed.
I lost my period for a long time, thankfully I have healed from HA personally.
When in the depths of my eating disorder I did not advocate for myself or share my situation with healthcare professionals. I was advised at times to take hormones, I was not advised to stop/ reduce my exercise or eat more for instance. Getting a diagnosis is challenging because one, we don’t share and two it’s not always on the healthcare professionals radar.
However sharing knowledge with health professionals can help raise awareness.
I am no expert, I write this purely from personal experience and getting to know people within the recovery community.
I encourage anyone who has lost their period to seek medical advice, there are many reasons for this not just HA. But if you are someone who could be at risk of this you may need to advocate for yourself here.
I’ll write a separate post about some of the myths and issues associated to HA.
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.
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?
Some things are not supposed to be controlled. They are not our personal responsibility. Weight is one of them. I repeat, your weight is not your personal responsibility or choice.
This may sound controversial because we have been taught that our weight is inversely correlated with health. But this is oversimplified and largely untrue.
We cannot “healthily” manipulate what’s not supposed to be manipulated.
Your weight, much like your height or eye color is predetermined, by genetics. But it’s influenced by environment, your health, your diet history, & both diet and exercise. The latter two are only small contributors. With all the other factors that you have no influence over, it’s futile trying to micromanage. If you go too far in one direction, your body will fight it to live in homeostasis. If you are genetically built to live in a larger body you will never have a “healthy” smaller body regardless of all the exercise or dieting you do. It just won’t work, the body will fight it and you will see all of the negative effects of this. The larger body you were born into was healthy.
What’s prompted this post is following announcements from the UK governement they may financially reward weight loss in a campaign to “fight obesity”. They talk about providing incentives with subscriptions to restrictive diets such as weight watchers and slimmers world. This is such a harmful campaign. Further more, this announcement was released in the middle of national eating disorder awareness week, the theme of this was Binge Eating Disorder (BED) (1). Binge eating disorder sufferers are already statistically less likely to seek help than any other eating disorder, despite it being the most prevalent eating disorder. 1 in 50 people in the UK are expected to be affected by BED. A staggering 40% of people in the US following weight loss programmes meet the criteria for BED (2). BED is a serious mental disorder with physical side effects. People with BED, consume large quantities of food quickly without feeling in control, it is NOT the same as “over indulging”. Patients often restrict heavily between binges which fuels the cycle. Often patients with BED do live in larger bodies, they are “obese” by societies definition. The UK government’s message is damaging and harmful to those with BED. Weight stigma is a huge problem in society and in healthcare. Patients with BED are stigmatised, invalidated and often do not seek help. They are too commonly prescribed restrictive diets as an answer. However evidence has proven time after time, binges follow restriction.
Campaigns like this, will have a ripple effect, making access to treatment all the more difficult. More patients are likely to develop eating disorders such as BED, following restrictive diets will not end well.
I anticipate- the “obesity crisis” will increase after everyone regains the weight they lose and more, furthermore it is encouraging disordered eating, which will raise the incidences of eating disorders. Without tackling the core issue of weight stigma, many of those eating disorders will go undetected. “Atypical anorexia” is another diagnosis used by the DSM-V ( diagnostic, statistic manual psychiatric disorders) to diagnose patients with anorexia but are not underweight according to BMI. However Anorexia can manifest in any body shape or size. The difference is the weight stigma those suffering with anorexia in a larger body experience. They are often congratulated for their disordered behaviours, not taken seriously making access to help more difficult.
Let’s discuss BMI. The BMI was invented by a Belgian mathematician in the early 19th century. Lambert Adolfe Quetelet was a mathematician, statistician, sociologist with an interest in anthropometric sciences (3). Anthropometric study is essentially is body measurement study. He had no medical training. He has since been heavily criticised for his population studies of BIPOC and labelling people of colour as “separate species”. One of Quetelet’s areas of interest was in the “average man”, he used data including height and weights to help him determine this. His studies were largely population based, cohort studies, mostly including white European males. He developed a formula to calculate a ratio of body weight to height squared, after an observation that there were weight and height variations within populations. More specifically that weight did not appear to be directly proportional to height, he discovered weight varied in proportion to height squared. This became known as the Quetelet index, before Ancel Keys renamed it the BMI in 1972. Ancel keys a famous physiologist, attempted to prove correlation with obesity, BMI and poor health. He did not succeed. The BMI was not used to determine health it was to show “population averages”. It was designed to track population’s weights. It did not measure adipose tissue, or account for muscle. Once again it primarily referenced white European men.
It can therefore not be used as a predictor of individual health status, at best it’s a population screening tool, particularly if that population is white, male and European. It identifies potential “population risk” of certain diseases such as diabetes, coronary artery disease. However an individual’s BMI, in isolation is not helpful, as a person can have a high BMI but very little visceral fat which has been associated as a greater risk factor. Muscle mass contributes significantly to weight and therefore BMI.
Interestingly, the optimal BMI for mortality is actually within the “overweight” category on the BMI scale. The most optimal BMI statistically from latest studies is actually 27 (4). Yet the BMI scale has not been updated to reflect the definition or risk stratification. Go figure.
The more I learn the less I know, but the more I want to know. Nutritional science is an incredibly complex field of science. It’s also a very difficult area to interpret. I am relatively confident in my ability of interpreting scientific papers coming from an oncology background, but I do not feel equipped to interpret and advise patients on nutritional science. The studies I tend to go to as my default for information and decision making in my career comes form the “gold standard” of evidence, which is data from meta-analysis of randomised control trials.
Meta-analysis analyses data from big randomised trials. (For anyone non medical or non scientific, randomised control trials (RCT) are the holy grail of investigating an intervention. It involves studying two groups, randomised to receive the intervention or a placebo. The difference in the two groups is studied. For example a group of patients with diabetes are randomised to receive a new blood sugar lowering drug. One group gets the drug, the other does not. The changes in their blood sugars are observed. You can control for variables because people are selected based upon specific characteristics, such as age, starting blood sugar levels for example.
Nutritional science is difficult to interpret, because, the studies are largely cohort studies (population based), i.e. you cannot ethically conduct randomised control trials in this field (i.e. you couldn’t restrict a particular nutrient from a group). You cannot control the variables that vary like you can in an RCT (you have no idea how much carbohydrate someone eats compared to the next or how their body actually uses it). Interpreting them is difficult. Therefore I feel uncomfortable ever promoting something I have little or no understanding in. Examples that have come from nutritional science are: the “carbs are bad”, high fibre diet and colorectal cancer risk reduction, ketogenic diet, vitamin E and reduced risk of developing alzheimers. But, unlike medical studies, we cannot control variables in the studies and then apply them to individuals or draw cause and effect. Vitamin E, has been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimers, but when you look at how, it is not actually understood. Therefore taking a supplement that is not that same as the vitamin E absorbed from a persons diet is just not generalisable.
At medical school we get minimal training on nutrition, yet we are asked important questions that I feel we are ill equipped to provide. I find it concerning when people advocate things such as low carb diets as a one size fits all, pun intended. It’s an issue, there are so many shades of grey. However I am confident in my knowledge and the evidence surrounding BMI, and weight bias. Weight bias is dangerous and our lack of understanding or inappropriate use of nutritional science is concerning. Nutrition is also a luxury and we do not acknowledge this. I am a white middle class female, I acknowledge my privilege, what this means is I am fortunate to be able to choose what I eat. Many people are not as fortunate and they eat what they can, therefore prescriptive diets by nature are also not available to a large population, and yet they are stigmatised for choices that are actually not really a choice.
The BMI was never intended to be used as the measure of individual health, that is is used for today. It is also not applicable to a wider population as it included a narrow cohort. Yet we base such importance on a number that never had any intention for medical use.
For anyone who has received weight stigma or bias, please understand you are not alone. Binge eating disorder is serious and everyone should be able to access help. We can be healthy at any size.
I recently shared a post on instagram after hearing a person with an eating disorder referred to as their disorder. “They’re bulimic”
It infuriated me. I wanted to remind that individual “they are not their eating disorder” It’s hard enough for the person to seperate themselves from this idea without it being fuelled externally. It continues the shame and stigma attached to these complex disorders.
I see this identity as the sufferer playing underdog to their eating disorder, but that does not mean they are that disorder. Most times the underdog prevails eventually.
This notion was something really important for me to hear when I first started the recovery process. From day one my therapist repeated this mantra, that I was not my eating disorder. Even when I didn’t see it or believe it.
We often attach our identities to the the eating disorder, because we have lost touch with who we truly are. That does not make the identity true or real.
Still not convinced? Picture this. You would not call a person suffering from cancer, “cancer”. The principle is the same for us experiencing an eating disorder. A person is not “cancer” anymore than a person is “anorexia, bulimia or Binge eating disorder” You have an eating disorder, it is not you.
When we embark on recovery, there maybe times where it is easier for the person to hold on to that identity whilst discovering who they are without that disorder. REGARDLESS, It is still helpful to be reminded that they are not their disorder. The disorder is acting as their safety blanket. Of course, early in recovery you will return to the safety of that blanket. But it’s a blanket, it is not part of you. Eventually you don’t need the warmth the blanket offers.
During recovery I think it’s important to explore who you want to become? Who is that identity?
Picturing who I want to be, what I want my life to look like helps me stay in recovery from anorexia. It helped me to see myself separately to the disorder I was fighting. Our values are completely incongruous. I don’t have all the answers and I’m still learning. That’s recovery and growth.
When we are amidst the throws of an eating disorder, for most of us our world becomes very small. There’s very little room for anything beyond- food, exercise and concerns with these. It’s all consuming and incredibly isolating. But- it’s not really what most people want from life.
Eating disorders restrict EVERYTHING.
Who wants to be 80 years old and look back on their life, and all it’s filled with is fear and anxiety over eating, body image, exercise. None of it matters. If we are lucky to reach an old age I want to look back on what my life was filled with, not an eating disorder. It is never too late to make this change. I don’t care if you have been the underdog to your eating disorder for 50 years, there is always hope you can recover.
My journal has been my haven for my recovery but also exploring who this recovered person is, what her goals, aspirations, values and worth are.
I promise you, my recovered self is not fixated on dietary restraint, exercise or control over shape. My recovered self is loud, doesn’t care for other people’s judgements, grateful for the process of getting from A-B and not just being at B.
That brings me onto my next point. G. R. A. T. I. T. U. D. E…
It is easy when we are having a tough time to focus on the negatives. But one thing I have learnt from recovery is there is always something to be grateful for. Even in the darkest of times when you don’t feel there is anything to be grateful about. There will be. Start small on those days. Gratitude, has really helped me ground myself and shift from the “all or nothing” thinking we so often experience with eating disorders. Black and white thinking is a prominent trait we share. I promise you, if you give gratitude practice a go, it’s very hard to stay in a negative space. I make it a daily practice now. I get it, you think I’m full of crap. I thought the person who suggested it to me was too. I thought it was hippy bull crap and I’d be making daisy chains. No.
Everyday for a week, think of at least 2 things you are grateful for. It can be as big as you want or small as you want. Aim to build up to more than 2. Some days this will feel harder than others. It’s these days you need to find things. The way you see yourself and the world around you will improve.
You will discover your life beyond they eating disorder even if you don’t see it now.
But for those who need to hear it again… “You are not your eating disorder”
I cooked with my husband last night, various curry dishes. This in itself for me was a milestone, I have always felt the need to completely take control in the kitchen. This was largely so my eating disorder could make shortcuts or calculate everything that was going in. It normally caused me great anxiety to deviate away from my “known” and safe meal choices. This I know is very disordered. But sometimes behaviours and thoughts are trickier to identify and hide from sight.
Once we plated the dishes we had prepared my husband just mixed all his together. Partly because it was completely underwhelming in terms of taste (which in itself would have been devastating to me not so long ago). What I mean by this, if I had allowed myself to eat and then it did not meet the standards or expectations I had for it, I would truly feel irrationally gutted.
This is disordered. I mostly felt like this when I was deep in restriction and giving myself permission to eat was near impossible. I celebrated last night that this bland food that promised more gave me no more than a mild irritation that it took so long to be boring! But there was no emotional attachment or reaction.
However the biggest thing I recognised for myself, when he mixed everything together, you could pretty much say it blew my mind. When I considered doing it, the ED voice really kicked in. And I realised the reason why it has been hard for me to do this. Eating each food item separately, especially when severely restricting gives a false sense of prolonging eating, savouring the food.
It gives a sense of enjoyment of each food, feeling more fulfilled. Which I see now is really disordered. And so, I forced myself to mix my food together. This was probably the first time I have done this in nearly two decades. It felt wrong. But enlightening.
It told me, that there are small things, that often go unnoticed and don’t get discussed in ED recovery. Things we can identify ourselves. I feel now once I notice something is disordered I have to do the opposite. Even if it’s a tiny behaviour or “quirk” that to the outside wouldn’t seem like anything. For my ED recovery it’s the difference of staying in the ED vs eventually being out, free.
I can’t tell you what your own weird tiny disordered things will be, but once you do notice something that, either going against, or stopping causes you anxiety then it’s probably disordered and you can work to change it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I believe there are many milestones in eating disorder recovery. For starters the first day of entering recovery, this is always going to be the biggest. Monumental. Then after that there are thousands of milestones (some more like marathon check-points). Like the first time we conquer a fear food, and then reach the check point of there not being fear foods. So many. Getting your first period (if you lost it/never had), then its recurrence becoming so normal and boring and moaning about it like the general population. But what about when ‘our formal support’ becomes less required?
For those of us fortunate enough to have quidance, follow a treatment plan or having a coach etc, maybe it helps path the way. But, regardless for the most part, your recovery belongs to you. Own it!
I graduated from “regular recovery support” today. Feel like I have my big girl pants (pun very much intended). I have completed CBT-E, MANTRA and have now reached a point with my therapist (OT) to move to “check-ins” rather than scheduled, regular sessions or following some kind of plan.
I know for some people navigating the world beyond regular support, is scary and daunting. I get it, it means YOU are accountable for the ongoing recovery process. But that’s pretty cool right? You have gotten far enough into recovery to be able to make healthy decisions for your recovery. You’re moving towards full recovery and this is another check-point smashed!! That’s the way I’m viewing it. Part of recovery is learning to “cope” in an informal way, that’s life.
Just because my ‘regular’ sessions are finished does not mean I can’t continue growing my support network or learning. One of the things I’ve recently found to be instrumental to my mental shift is connecting with others who have had similar struggles, are struggling or recovered. There is tons of support, whether it’s real connection, following people’s blogs, podcasts or joining a support group, they all help to validate how we feel and strengthen our healthy self. So I’m not nervous about not having regular appointments. I’m proud I’ve gotten here. I’m grateful. If I can get here, I believe anyone can, because I never believed it at the start.
However, I am anxious regarding the next challenge in my life. Something I think for anyone who hasn’t had an eating disorder finds challenging anyway. That’s getting pregnant, becoming a parent. This is another area I think in medicine that doesn’t get spoken about or shared much. What happens when someone in recovery gets pregnant? Is it wise? Should O&G teams be aware? Do they ask or look for history of eating disorders?
I wanted to wait until I was solid into my recovery and even still I worry. I worry if the child will be small, pre-term, miscarry. Will I stay on track?
For my partner and me, having a family has been something we have always wanted. For reasons not related to my eating disorder, fertility is a difficult issue which I won’t go in to.
We are about to embark on IVF. This is something I haven’t entered into lightly, I’m all too aware of what’s required in the IVF process, the follicle stimulation, multiple hormones. This I’m sure is hard in a normal setting, but for those of us with significant body image issues to begin with, these issues need to be factored into planning. Hopefully help prepare the person for the changes and enable them to remain accountable. Support, hopefully can help to prevent slips.
Next issue, if we are fortunate enough to get pregnant… avoiding energy deficit. Some people experience nausea (both during fertility treatment and then in pregnancy). Hyperemesis gravidarum (aka morning sickness) this is not a good situation for someone with a restrictive eating disorder. Breast feeding post-partum.
Our bodies change throughout pregnancy. This is a fact. Something I am trying hard to prepare for. I feel going through the weight-restoration phase of recovery helps this, perhaps. My body has changed beyond any prior recognition and that’s ok, and I don’t even have a baby to care for and love. Or to explain my pregnant looking belly, aka recovery belly. I like to think that having a child will mean that none of the ‘HH’ thoughts will matter, because that child will be the most important, most amazing achievement I will ever have. But I wanted to share this because people with eating disorders go through pregnancy. It never gets spoken about and I don’t know whether we look for it in medicine. I think people could have help and support. I expect there are many people with eating disorders too afraid to share their struggle with the medical team, for fear of judgement, lack of understanding. What will I do?
Not really sure what the point of this post is, other than I’m happy to be here. I hope if you’re reading this and perhaps your treatment has just ended and you’re freaking out, or you’re starting recovery alone or with help, you can just know that there’s support available. Support doesn’t have to be formal or structured and remember celebrate the milestones. Navigating this is like an ultra-marathon but with no clear finish line.
Should has no place in most daily language, but especially not in eating disorder recovery
Should implies rules, an obligation. That word is the reason I’m sat on my ass writing this. I was looking forward to going for a run, or joining my husband at boxfit tonight. However throughout the day at work I started to feel tired and that what I probably needed was to chill out with the cat.
Then that sneaky SHOULD word crept into the foreground. I heard my thoughts say “you should go tonight, you’ve not done anything all week”
That was the point I decided I will not exercise today. Exercise should be a priveledge/ pleasure, not a punishment.
This “SHOULD” demand was from my eating disorder, “HH” thinks I should exercise today, but that’s the very reason why not. A few months ago, I would have acted on this demand, the next day I would find it harder to eat or I’d feel more anxious about what I was eating.
Now I move my body because I want to, because it feels good, not because I feel I have to. The discomfort I used to feel if I missed a day of exercise was insurmountable before. I have to really listen to where the intent is from, whether it’s my voice, or ’HH’s.
I’m feeling proud, I can sit here and write this, instead of dragging my butt out to torture myself without enjoyment. Because I know when I truly want to move/ exercise it’s for me and not for the service of ‘HH’.
I have been a runner all my life. One of my favourite things even a a tiny child, before the days of my eating disorder was to go outside in the rain. As I got a bit older, if my athletics session was a wet session it was like Christmas for me! I loved the feel of the rain and being hot and the smell of it on the track or grass. Then ’HH’ showed up some years later. And my running, exercise was no longer for me, for the fun. It was all about targets, shifting goal posts that I would never be satisfied with.
It would be like the world ended if I had to miss a day, or I’d exercise when I was injured, sick and obviously that’s not fun. I’ve had to work really hard in my recovery to re-kindle my healthy relationship with movement, channeling that child who loved running in the rain and not the crazy person running in gale force winds/ all weathers all hours.
I took a period of abstinence, but not an extended period. I had a good support to help me workout where the intent was from. Some days I had meltdowns when I knew it wasn’t my healthy self and had to abstain. But doing that has got me here. If it feels wrong it is wrong. Exercise/movement is never meant to feel shameful, guilt driven (pre or post), like a chore. It’s a pleasure/ priveledge. Today was a day I know it was not for me, rather for ‘HH’. One day by continuing to listen to my healthy voice over and over, ‘HH’ won’t suggest I move when I don’t want to. The voice will be gone.
Challenge, Practice, Repeat…..Recover I hope.
Today was definitely helped by ‘Recovery Warriors” resources. Check out The Recovery Warriors app, website. They are currently holding a ‘holiday special” with lots of useful resources and videos etc. https://www.truewarrior.me/holiday-support
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?
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.