But when life is challenging , you won’t have an eating disorder to contend with as well.
Rather naively, I think many of us hold this notion of “if I could just fix my ED, my life will be perfect”. So let me get in there early and save you the “aha” in months/years to come, set your expectations now, be realistic .
This is something I have come to realise throughout my recovery. The many times I’ve contemplated what recovery means, how I define it, what life will look like beyond my ED.
As I’ve gotten further into recovery and shifting away from my eating disorder, it’s become increasingly apparent that recovering from an eating disorder does not mean life will ultimately be all rainbows and flowers once the ED is conquered. No. That’s just not possible. But, life’s so much better, just putting this out there early.
But, the big thing here, the “aha” moment for me, was recognizing recovering from an eating disorder means we have tools to help us when life throws us a curve ball and returning to the eating disorder does NOT have to be an option.
Additionally when something in life happens out of our control, not having to contend with an eating disorder simultaneously, means we are better equipped to handle the stress.
An eating disorder is a big problem, not a solution. It may feel like it gives you control and comfort around times of difficulty but I promise you, that is the mask of the ED. It is definitely an added problem that you do not need.
Recovery will not mean that when you have a stressful time in your life, a loss or lots of change you won’t experience human reactions such as anxiety, low mood or whatever else we all feel according to life events. Recovery doesn’t make you some kind of super hero that doesn’t feel or get rocked by anything- but it does mean you don’t resort to dangerous/ maladaptive coping mechanisms that you have relied upon until this point. Learning to feel has been a skill I’ve developed in recovery and how to respond to these feelings.
It would be unrealistic to believe you will never have a day of insecurities, or god forbid a bad body image day. Because even people who have never experienced an eating disorder experience these human emotions. But if you’re recovered you won’t obsess over them, you will be able to deal with them and it won’t “ruin your day your week or even your year”! Yes I did just do that.
Recovery is a beautiful thing and it means something different to everyone. The recovery process is not the same for any of us, but I do believe it is important to consider your expectations of what it will mean for your life.
Personally, it has led me to an understanding that beyond ED Recovery work, in order to remain in recovery, l will need to put work into ongoing stress management, imposter syndrome and work anxiety. For me they are interlinked.
It is highly likely this will mean continuing with therapy of some kind to help me work with these issues, because I want to protect my health legacy.
One thing I know, life stressors are not something that are going away because it’s part of life, everyone has problems. BUT don’t let having an ED be one of them or believe that once you have recovered you will be a unicorn and NEVER have another issue.
Recovery involves a great deal of self exploration and a deep development of self -awareness, a level that most people will not their entire lives. This is something to be grateful for.
When I first started treatment for anorexia, I remember my therapist drawing out two pie charts. She asked me to fill in the blank circles with what was important to me in life and as a person. Her point was to show me how warped our thinking becomes when we are living with an eating disorder.
My pie at the time is a world apart from the one I would draw today.
The original pie was occupied by over valued pre-occupations with food, fear of weight gain and then tiny snippets of other aspects such as family, friends, career, “hobbies’ (at the time it was labelled as hobbies rather than individual interests because I didn’t have many besides controlling my food and shape) now this would include things like, creativity, art, writing, yoga, running, being outdoors, travelling, my veggie patch, puzzles, learning and discovery. My point being it’s a lot bigger and I have reconnected with individual interests and no longer struggle to think of what my “hobbies” actually are. Recovery involves increasing self awareness and discovery.
I wrote a blog on “you are not your eating disorder” some months back. Whilst I still believe this to be true, it is somewhat simplified because much of our identity is unveiled to us as we move through recovery.
When I was first asked, “what are your values?’, by my therapist I had the default answers, but they weren’t the core. I’d long lost touch with what they were. I suppose I identified as my eating disorder.
I had my values I would spurt as if off of a script because I felt they were what they “should be” I had my values that came from my eating disorder, but truthfully at the time I had no clue what my “true” values were.
Personally discovering and reconnecting with “my” virtues and traits has been instrumental in my recovery. There’s a sparcity in research pertaining to the use of connecting with values and eating disorder recovery but I believe for many of us it could be the missing link.
We know that eating disorders can be ego-syntonic ( we believe our actions, beliefs to be appropriate and congruent with our central personality, in contrast to ego-dystonic). Meaning many of us “value our eating disorder, see nothing wrong with it” and it helps to explain the resistance to give it up. This is where the whole rhetoric “you are not your eating disorder comes in, but to begin with we often view this as synchronous with our identity. Through the self exploration we bring the ego-syntonic values into question, essentially resulting in dissonance between the contradicting values.
I’ll use my own example, when I used to turn to restriction, I’d escape the negative emotion I was trying to avoid and feel a sense of mastery of control, in the early days anyway. All of these appeared congruent with my core values; self control, self discipline, hard working, dedicated. But the more I explored what my true values were, I could see there was an incongruence. It was bringing these values to the surface that helped me move past the ambivalence I felt towards recovery.
Some of my own values and how honing them helped motivate me in recovery..
1. Honesty and integrity. I don’t think I need to expand, I became extremely deceitful in order to protect my eating disorder. I could see that lying was causing a great power struggle. Giving myself permission to become my authentic self, learning to communicate with myself and support helped me to align with these values and realise living with anorexia was not living as my authentic self
2. Compassion, forgiveness, courage, perseverance, curiosity are some of my core values. Part of my self healing work has been to learn to set boundaries, to have an “off” switch, developing the compassion towards myself that I show others and practicing self forgiveness.
3. Solitude is important to me, I can be at home in my own company. I try and nurture this by following my morning routine where I get up slightly earlier and have 30 minutes to myself. I often use this time to journal and check-in. Expanding on this further I’m someone who needs routine to keep grounded
4. Connection is important to me, although I need time on my own, I thrive on connecting with others. My family, friends, other people in this community. This was incongruent to how I was behaving with my anorexia, I become isolated, withdrawn. I believed my behaviours were helping me connect, enabling me to control anxiety around social events for instance. However, what actually happened is I avoided the social events, I pushed people away. Highlighting the conflict of the ED value and my own.
Some food for thought…perhaps journal prompts
If you’re in a place where you are still trying to figure out your values, something I found helpful to start with, was thinking of people I admire. What is it about them that I admired?
What are some of your character traits? How do they help you or hinder you?
What are some things you believe in?
Identifying our core values helps us make decisions about the future, they shape our relationships are central to who we are. They help us to understand that when we are acting out of alignment to our core values it brings about distress and often maladaptive behaviours. This is why I truly believe connecting with our core values assists us with developing coping skills for situations and finding inner peace.
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.
When I started this blog, I had simple objectives. First of all I wanted to share my lived experience of recovering from anorexia nervosa. Blogs were a really instrumental source in my own recovery. Secondly I wanted to debunk myths and stigma attached to eating disorders, especially from a perspective of someone working within the healthcare profession. However as time has gone on, I still have these intentions, but I also wish to be a voice in the health at every size movement. It has become increasingly apparent how much fat bias exists within healthcare. Now I am more aware of it than ever, I do not intend to be quiet about weight stigma.
People are being harmed every day by weight stigma. The issue here is, weight stigma is not widely recognised yet. How can something change when it’s not recognised as a problem? We keep talking about it.
We aren’t even taking steps to reduce it within healthcare, because we don’t know it exists, even amongst ourselves.
Just yesterday a fellow doctor posted a question on social media asking for weight loss advice for her and her partner. The doctor went on to describe all the various diets both she and her partner had tried over the years. Further more she described her thin privilege but then “menopause occurred and I gained an unacceptable amount of weight”. Most of the responses to the post disappointingly were encouraging various other diets, only one of my colleagues responded encouraging her to explore HAES, discouraging dieting.
If those of us working within healthcare have such implicit biases, how can we expect to provide non discriminatory care to “fat patients”? I do not use the term obese as obese implies pathology, it’s a medical label for “fat” and fat is not a disorder or pathological problem in isolation. It’s a deep seated belief that has infected our entire society that fat is directly related to health. Though correlations can be present in certain conditions, it is not causation and not the sole indication of health. I repeat, correlation does not equate to causation.
I would be very hesitant to receive eating disorder treatment from a provider who was not health at every size aligned. I believe biases here potentially harm our recovery, comments such as, “we won’t let you get fat in recovery” this to me should be a red flag. You might get fat, if you are supposed to, if your body needs to and so harmful statements like this perpetuates the fear of weight gain and does not address the core beliefs that need to be rewired.
We need to be shifting the rhetoric of weight = health. If we move away from this paradigm healthcare becomes a lot more accessible and non discriminatory.
Why does it matter?
One of the fundamental lessons from medical school is to provide holistic care, individualised to every patient. Doing no harm to our patients. Yet, we try to treat every “fat person” like they are one person. There is a lack of individualised care. We are not providing holistic care when we have a “one size fits all approach” as long as that size fits within a certain range on the BMI chart. This in itself causes harm and is not practicing the fundamental principle “do no harm”. Patients do not receive the appropriate treatments to many conditions because of weight stigma, whether it is surgical procedures, access to eating disorder treatment it’s all discrimination.
What can we do?
Educate ourselves. If this is the first time you have even heard the concept of health at every size, or weight stigma I encourage you to check out some of the links below.
Leave weight out of the picture, not every patient needs to be weighed every visit, consider if it’s necessary. Ask if the patient wants to know the number before you do it, some people prefer or need this to be blind.
Address your own implicit anti fat bias.
Learn about the negative consequences of dieting.
Everyone has the right to weight inclusive care. I just want to say now, these are my own views and opinions. I’m a doctor sick and tired of hearing weight loss is the answer. I have had to work on my own biases in eating disorder recovery. I am fully aware many will not agree with my opinions, colleagues, peers and friends included and this is intended as a conversation starter.
Some days feel like you are cruising along. But I want to talk about the days where you feel exhausted by recovery itself, when motivation wavers.
I feel it’s important because without acknowledging, this “burnout” has the potential to hinder one’s recovery, through frustration, boredom or just sheer mental fatigue.
Burnout has been defined as a state of complete mental and physical exhaustion resulting from prolonged stress, where a person’s ability to meet demands is impaired. Often, through feeling overwhelmed and/or emotionally drained. Not surprising the pandemic has resulted in high levels of this and likely far more to come.
This definition is also applicable to recovery don’t you think?
When I was all consumed by my eating disorder, if I’m honest, I found every day exhausting. Living by the constraints of so many rules and behaviours made every waking minute punishing , not to mention the insomnia. Oh my god the insomnia that results from a starving brain, it’s like a waking nightmare, you’re haunted by the food “you won’t allow yourself” and all the while your brain is trying to scream at you to eat. Your brain wants you to live and in doing so constantly reminds you about food, 24/7 it doesn’t sleep and so you don’t sleep.
Life with an ED was sapping, but I didn’t appreciate this at the time, partly because I was permanently living in a high state of stress all the damn time, my body didn’t allow me to feel it. It’s the fight or flight mode, the product of an overactive sympathetic nervous system. But I was tired.
When you enter recovery your body has the chance to pause and take a breath when you finally stop. It begins to heal. Healing hurts, when you injure yourself, it’s the inflammation and body’s response to healing that’s sore.
I’m not going to sugar coat it, this moment of stopping, everything might hurt. All the injuries, the pain your body has concealed from you, just so you can “keep going” hits all at once. It’s a wall like I have never faced before and barely have words for. This fatigue and pain gets better as you feed yourself, rest & heal.
Early recovery is exhausting. There’s so much healing and adjusting to do, but the anticipation of better days ahead kind of pushes you through. You and most people around you expect tiredness in the early days, it makes sense from what your body has been through.
It’s what I’m going to discuss next that I think has been a difficult concept for me to grasp or allow myself not to become overwhelmed by.
Recovery is boring. Really fucking boring at times. Realising you will likely need to deal with recovery each day to varying degrees. Recovery still has to fit in your world. It has to so that you don’t fall into a pithole.
For example as we get further along in recovery, so many things change, mostly positive let me just get that out there now.
However…as your world starts to get bigger and your eating disorder brain is taking up far less of your mental space, you start to see who you are and what life without your ED can be. You start to have goals and dreams that are “normal” people dreams, not unrealistic eating disorder standards. You don’t want your ED to even factor in, but for a while to protect your future it has to.
You know in order to realise these aspirations you still have to have recovery goals, because how can we dream of a life without an ED if we don’t put the work in to recover?
It’s more like an irritation on these days where you are mostly free, without the constant barrage of intrusive thoughts, you have room to deal with life, “normal” thoughts & goals. Here, I try to reframe my thoughts to be grateful for these days because the alternative of not being bored, sucked.
There are days like today, when I have lots of things I am focussing on, career progress, my job in hand, family, where we will be living in a few months etc that it irks me that I have to spend any extra energy thinking about recovery. Today this meant a bit of extra attention to meal structure because I’ve lost my appetite. I can’t afford to fall into that trap and I have to focus on fueling myself properly on top of the other things. Frustrating as it is, that recovery still has to fit into that world and those future plans, it’s helpful to reframe this thought process, I am happy to inhabit a big world that my recovery has made possible.
Other times where I think recovery can become arduous is when we ruminate on the past. I often experience regret for lost time to my eating disorder. I no longer feel ashamed about it for the most part, but I do feel sad. I find this regret prevents the resentment to recovery orientated thinking/ behaviours when I’m feeling “over it” because I don’t want it to be my future as well.
This can be emotionally draining. I think it’s important to return to your self care toolkit on these days. I think becoming tired of dealing with recovery is real but I would choose to be here, rather than be a slave to it any-day. Recognising how you feel and that you can’t make massive progress EVERYDAY is ok, Burnout is ok. Be kind to yourself. Acknowledge that this is a good sign.
If you’re feeling the recovery burnout I hear you. One day you won’t have to use as much energy to protect your health legacy. So be grateful for the boredom and keep going
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?
Whether you are just starting recovery or have been on the the path for some time setbacks are inevitable.
It’s okay. It doesn’t mean you can’t recover, I absolutely believe recovery is possible.
But not preparing for setbacks is setting yourself up to fall. After all perfectionism is part of the issue right?!
I am happy that I will one day consider “succeeding at anorexia” as my biggest failure. A setback or relapse does not mean you have failed at recovery.
Setbacks teach you things and pave the way for what might be ahead. They prepare you for a fulfilled life without your eating disorder.
I’m hoping my latest setback will help you.
I’m not ashamed I momentarily took my foot off the recovery pedal. It happened, I’m back in control and wiser for it.
Why did it happen?
Well if you’ve read any of my previous posts you will know I am a firm believer that eating disorders have a strong neurobiological component fueled by energy deficit. Energy deficit being the match to the flame if you like. The physical and psychological symptoms that follow being the fire that is contributed by everything else such as environment, stress etc. The important thing is the match in the genetically vulnerable.
I have just finished a set of night shifts. Night shifts to the average person without a history of an eating disorder can reap havoc on health, both physically and mentally. They disrupt your natural circadian rhythms, they can be socially isolating and routine can become difficult.
I’ve worked shifts for years. I know it’s a time where previously I have allowed my eating disorder to thrive. Therefore, armed with this knowledge I planned to avoid falling into the trap of my eating disorder.
Knowing I cannot allow myself to slip into energy deficit I made preparations to attempt to combat this. I ate more before work and before I slept, I planned out snacks to take with me.
But life happened. I missed some breaks and a few snacks. I was lacking sleep and so my appetite was lacking, I hadn’t made self care and routine a priority.
I didn’t think much of it in the craziness of the shifts, but when I found myself unable to eat 3 meals a day when I came off my shifts I knew I had slipped.
I haven’t had “fear foods” for sometime.
I haven’t thought about engaging in disordered behaviors such as concealing what I was/ or wasn’t eating, for months.
I haven’t listened to the voice tearing me to shreds in the mirror for the longest time ever.
But suddenly it was all there I was right back in it. I found myself wanting to control my intake, to compensate for every “ unhealthy” choice I was making. I recognised a familiar welcome feeling of emptiness that in truth I had actually forgotten. The emptiness euphoria made me contemplate giving up on recovery. After all if I’ve fallen so easily after so long, what’s the point in continuing? The intense draw to the scales returned, I had to fight to not give in to the temptation. I know that no number on that scale would have had any importance, but to my eating disorder it would have been used as firewood.
I danced with the temptation of a full blown relapse. However, I reminded myself it was all lies. If I didn’t put this match out I’d be amidst a wild fire that only wants to destroy.
I needed help. I needed support. I’m not ashamed of that.
My eating disorder tried to make me carry the weight of shame. But that’s another reason I knew I needed to put the match out.
I enlisted support from my support network. I chose to let them in. For the few days following, making decisions around eating felt like an impossible task. The thoughts were so loud. I have now reinforced routine, I challenged the “fear foods” that re-emerged and I prioritised taking care of myself by resting, talking and eating. Instead of pulling myself apart and focusing on “failure” I’ve chosen to treat myself with compassion.
I feel back on track. Ive bounced back. With more knowledge and information for my next set of nights- I need to prepare further. I will carry more snacks on my person. I will increase my intake. Self care, such as yoga, journalling and talking each day will be a priority and not an after thought.
My tool kit is more substantial.
Recognising a slip is vital to enable you to seek help and the support you need.
Recognising it early can help you get out quickly.
It’s obvious to me these slips came from:
⁃ Skipping meals (no matter how innocent)
⁃ Eating in isolation.
⁃ Blasè attitude “no big deal”
These are known triggers for me. Knowing your triggers can help you prevent and identify potential setbacks/ relapses.
Preventing setbacks is not always possible.
But planning what to do in the event is key.
Make your relapse prevention plan. Update it with each learning experience.
Most of all- choose to get back on track. Choose to put the match out, don’t start the fire. A moment of struggle doesn’t mean failure. Be kind to yourself and keep going
A trip we made to Sri Lanka in March 2019. My final wake up call before seeking help for my eating disorder.
It was not the wonderful experience that it should have been, or our pictures from our travels captured. They say “a picture paints a thousand words’, but most of what you see is what my eating disorder did for years, fake an exterior. It was this trip that I for the first time in 15+years, began to see how much of an issue my eating disorder really was.
For years my eating disorder had concealed the negative impact it was having on me.
My eating disorder was slowly killing me. If you are starving, you’re slowly dying. My friend if you need this sobering reminder, people die from eating disorders. We forget this when we are dancing with the devil. Or perhaps, we no longer care, when it’s painful to sit, or our body is covered in fine hair because we can no longer keep ourselves warm. We ignore message after message from our bodies until, if we are lucky we WAKE the FUCK up. It’s not just us that our eating disorders impact upon. Truthfully when engaging in behaviours and driven by the numbers, I didn’t worry about the effect each action could have on my partner, parents, brother, friends. But our actions do matter, If I had have continued I would have likely ended up as a stark statistic. Remember, YOU matter, your life matters and you affect many people’s lives. Please wake up.
That trip I felt completely lost and trapped in my relentless behaviours that had been by my side for years. I had no idea how I was ever going to step outside of the grips my eating disorder held on me. But I knew something needed to change or I would slowly but surely die.
What made me wake-up?
I realised I wasn’t living. If I wasn’t living, what was I? It became so obvious to me on this trip because Sri Lanka is full of beauty, but I felt nothing but cold.
I was done with the comments from peers and concerned looks. I hated it.
I was done with feeling nothing but bone cold, ALL OF THE TIME. Even in 30 degrees heat. I wanted to see past the brain fog and constant chatter.
I didn’t want to live like that anymore. I couldn’t live like it anymore.
This was not the first time I had had a moment of clarity, a few years prior I knew things were far from in control, but I didn’t seek help. I thought I could fix myself by eating a little more. Things got better for a time, but without support things soon descended back to the familiar chaos and calm of my eating disorder.
But this trip was different. Something needed to alter. I had reached “rock bottom” and I had to crawl out.
I wanted to be present, to share the experience but my eating disorder bled into everything. It was all encompassing. I was afraid for the first time. I was scared this was either going to be my life, or it would take my life.
It was the first time I realised how much stronger the eating disorder voice had become and how buried I was. I feared I had lost myself forever, I couldn’t recall when I was last in the driver’s seat of my thoughts. This was a sobering moment, at the same time I felt powerless to do anything about it.
These moments of clarity would pass again, and my eating disorder would begin to fool me once more that I was in fact fine, convinced me I wasn’t “sick enough” or that I even had an issue. However my healthy thoughts, were desperate to be heard and me listen. And so, it was this trip, I shared with my partner some of my story, although by this time it was hardly a secret.
Even though this trip was incredibly painful, I remain grateful for it, because it was like a wake up call and it kickstarted my true recovery process. Seeing pictures of the trip makes me sad for memories and experiences my eating disorder stole from me but I’m so thankful to be where I am now. Writing this.
If you’re in this dark place, THERE is always hope, It is never too late to seek help. And, you don’t have to go at it alone. You don’t have to have answers. Choosing to reach out of help is the biggest step, the rest will follow if you trust in the process and take that massive leap of faith.
There are stages we go through prior to starting recovery and then during recovery itself. I think we flip flop between them whilst we go to war with the two voices in our head. But we can all win, it is possible.
To me the stages look something like this:
◦ The “I’m fine. I’m just super healthy. I’m totally in control” stage.
◦ “Something’s not quite right with what I’m doing, but it’s ok right? I know I can stop if I want to. But I don’t want to” stage.
◦ The “Shit, I can’t stop. Well better just keep going. It will pass. It’s not that big a deal?” Stage
◦ The, “Ok, I think this is probably a problem. Not sure I want to do anything about it. But not sure how long I can keep going on like this” stage
◦ “Ok, I’m so done with this, I can’t keep living this way. But I don’t feel I have any control. I’m not sure I can stop” stage. This is the point I got to when I sought recovery. It’s one of the scariest decisions I’ve ever made.
◦ “Let’s try this recovery malarkey out. What do I have to lose? But I’m so scared of the thought of change”. Stage
◦ The, “Oh my god, this is way too hard. I’m never going to recover. Why even bother trying” stage. I think it’s common here, we often resort to old behaviours intermittently whilst making small changes in recovery. But the small changes matter and count.
◦ Then something clicks/ it’s like a switch. Recovery becomes easier. It’s still bloody hard but it’s less of a monster than the one that’s been dictating your life. This stage, you start to question your eating disorder thoughts, your own thoughts start to become clearer and in the foreground more frequently.
◦ It doesn’t take much for your ED to lure you back, a slip or relapse happens. But you learn from them and each slip you get wiser. Recovery gets stronger, you get stronger.
◦ Now you really want this, recovery feels achievable . You begin to see who you really are, what your life can be without this hitchhiker. You remain vigilant and know how recovery can look and you make it your mission to not go back. You’ve got this. Your actions and thoughts are all protective of your recovery, you have worked harder than anyone will ever know to be here.
Recovery is always possible, no matter how deeply trapped, lost or afraid you feel. Wake up, and rejoin the world, you deserve a full life and the world deserves to have you in it.
Check out the links below for seeking support/ starting the conversation:
We have just returned from a few days holiday, which I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do for numerous reasons, 1. We live in a place we can travel at present and secondly my eating disorder was not allowed to dictate my behaviour for the first time in many years.
Why are holiday’s so hard for people with an eating disorder? Often in the midst of an eating disorder we use behaviours to cope with uncertainty, change or triggering situations. Firstly, you are away from home, your regular environment. This can be full of uncertainty and planning can go out of the window. Tonnes of food challenges can arise. Challenges you may not have foreseen, such as not being able to follow a regular schedule, a meal plan. Eating out and experiencing new dishes. All of these things can be extremely triggering. It’s hard to imagine if you’ve never experienced an eating disorder.
Here’s how a holiday for me used to look like:
Weeks leading up to vacation:
Enormous anxiety and dread. Escalation in behaviours in response to increased thoughts and fears regarding the uncertainty of said trip. I would buy into the “ prepare for the summer body diet culture crap” and it would set my eating disorder into a frenzy.
Then the event would arrive, no matter how much “ event restriction/ compensation” I had undertaken I would still feel ridiculously out of control and fearful that my constant was about to change. I would not be able to predict every meal and therefore calculate my intake. Holidays can be inactivity. This used to terrify me, how was I going to hide my “craziness’, fit in my ridiculous workouts in new territory? All the while Hitchhiker ‘HH’ would be telling me I was disgusting. How can anyone be present and relax on holiday when this is going on?
Changing experience of holidays’ with time and at various points in recovery;
Once I commenced recovery the anxiety around the trips shifted to a different kind of anxiety. When you start recovery, especially early on, you need to eat very regularly. Holidays can make important established routines very tricky to follow. I would worry if I would be able to eat the food available. Eating in front of people can be immensely anxiety provoking and largely, trips involve eating out. It’s a point where you are challenging ‘fear’ foods and there’s all kinds of food challenges that can happen on trips which for the person experiencing an eating disorder is overwhelming.
Some restaurants very unhelpfully have nutritional values on their menus which can be a minefield for those of us trying to recover from an eating disorder. Trying to do the “ right thing for recovery” when in an already stressful situation and then presented with your demons on a plate, in every sense is really freaking hard. I used to use one hand to block out the numbers. Or ask someone I trusted to look at the menu, find something I’d like and pick until I could deal with this. Until I got to this point, my eating disorder was too strong and it would not allow me to choose what ‘I desired’. This adds to the stress, feeds the eating disorder and makes the time really challenging. It gets better, I promise.
You can’t switch your calculator of a brain off overnight. It takes time and practice and many situations and repeated actions until your brain doesn’t equate the numbers with relevance. But it can be helpful to go to places you don’t know the nutritional value, because your well trained brain sometimes doesn’t switch off for familiar items. Now I can go to a restaurant with the nutritional values and choose what I desire without coercion. It irritates me that the diet industry even seeps into the catering industry and influences our choices. (I spent ages in recovery with a black marker pen scrubbing out nutritional values on boxes etc) Now I don’t automatically read or know the content of EVERYTHING. IT is possible to train your brain to stop paying attention with effort. Black marker pens are brilliant for this.
ALSO, FOR THOSE WHO NEED TO HEAR THIS, I’M GOING TO SAY THIS ONCE: CALORIES IN DOES NOT EQUAL CALORIES OUT. OUR BODIES ARE WAY MORE INTELLIGENT THAN THE PEOPLE WHO CAME UP WITH THIS LIE.
What my life would look like after I returned from a holiday:
A completely false sense of guilt for the “loss of control”. I say false because, I was not in control on any of the trips. I had abided by my eating disorder rules and stipulations. I might have eaten something slightly outside of ‘HH” rule book and paid an enormous price of guilt, shame and most importantly regret for all the things ‘HH’ made me miss out on because I listened.
I would return from holiday, unhappy, compensate for my warped view of the trip and over value I placed on it and nothing would change because an eating disorder is a constant event planning, life of restriction.
A Vacation now:
Leading up to the holiday, the old neural pathways are fragile and the ‘HH’ thoughts do get louder. The thoughts around compensating return. But the big difference now, I know these thoughts are lies. The do not lead to me feeling happier, more confident on my holiday, more relaxed and present. No the complete opposite. Therefore, I have to be vigilant I have to make an effort to do the opposite.
Vacations are a trigger. Knowing triggers, helps you plan and prevent slips or relapses or in the event of either recover from them quicker.
My husband and I talked about the trip prior. He knows my triggers pretty well now.
For me, this meant, making sure we always have ample snacks around incase we get caught somewhere ( we spent 6 hours driving and quite remotely at times).
We knew some of the foods would be challenging- so I set myself some food challenges. Like eating spontaneously on the road, eating foods that are deemed as “unhealthy”. When realistically no food is unhealthy it’s all fuel.
It was going to be the first time on a beach in my togs since I weight restored. This was a huge one. Putting on swimwear for the first time, since weight restoring is a whole new chapter in recovery. I’ve gotten used to wearing larger clothes to my previous weight restored body. That was a challenge in itself. But putting on swim wear is next level discomfort and vulnerability. Society tells us, to go to the beach we need to be “bikini/ beach/summer body ready”. Just putting it out there now, “bikini/summer body’s” do not exist. It’s a societal fat phobic term, the body you inhabit in, is beach ready whenever. If it can get you to the beach, it’s ready!
Learning to adapt. This has been a massive one for me. Whether it’s adjusting to body image, which is something that naturally creeps in on vacation. Being surrounded by different body sizes, it is important to feel as comfortable in your skin as you can. Wearing clothes that make you feel comfortable helps. My body is very different now in recovery, feeling confident and comfortable is hard. It is possible my friend, you shift your focus to the activities you are participating in, rather than the body you are in. I am grateful to this body because it’s this body that allows me to enjoy rather than fixate and agonise. No matter what body you are in in the midst of an eating disorder you won’t be happy.
But for the body image stuff: I tried to think about it this way..
Why is it, the least interesting thing about someone, their appearance is what we judge them on so heavily?
Personally, I think I have nice eyes, but that is one of the least interesting things about me.
There is nothing interesting about your, shape, weight or appearance. I don’t care how much you weigh or size jeans you wear.
This has helped me this week when I found my thoughts drifting to judging my recovering body. Instead I know I was mean on a paddle board, I am funny and a kind person, that’s way more interesting than worrying about the other crap.
I’m at a place in my recovery where I can eat out, and this can be regularly. I found this really difficult previously. Even so, my old thoughts were there on occasion but each meal I challenged them and moved on. That doesn’t mean I found the holiday as easy as someone who has never experienced an eating disorder. I still had to choose recovery at least 3-6 times a day and not let those decisions impact upon my plans or activity. But I did not engage in the ‘HH’ thoughts.
The holiday was more free and flexible. I felt present. I wasn’t bone cold in 25 degree heat. I wasn’t calculating. Goofy yes, calculating no.
This level of flexibility and freedom is something that has come with persistence and time.
Holiday’s are a time for rest and recuperation from the craziness of our day t day lives, for people with eating disorders they can instil extreme anxiety which diminishes any prospect of relaxation and enjoyment. But there are ways of managing them. As outlined above I think some of this will depend on the stage one recovery to the extent of planning and support required around them. But they should not be as stressful, so I hope if you are someone with or supporting someone with an ED, you can find someways of reducing the anxiety.
Things that I have found to be helpful when planning trips:
1. Talking with your treatment team before (and after)
2. Planning for potential triggers
3. Identifying potential triggers and a plan in the event of trigger-what’s in your toolkit
4. Planning food challenges for the stage of recovery, with appropriate support.
5. If following a meal plan, how the trip might be helpful or detrimental and planning around this
6. Wearing clothes that make you feel good.
7. Making sure you always have appropriate fuel available
8. Do you need to know where you are eating? (again I think very individual) I did at some stages.
9. What activities will you be participating in
10. Who are you going to be travelling with, are you supported/ triggered by them.
All of these are or have been part of my own trigger prevention and plan. This is growing/ changing as I encounter potential triggers or progress through recovery. You might have some similarities but you WILL have your own.
“Strength in vulnerability” Sound like opposites to you?
I have lived my entire life holding this belief. With the sense that showing vulnerability was demonstrating weakness. How incorrect this belief is.
From the wise words of Brenè Brown:
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy,courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” (1)
This concept is a difficult one, when we have spent our entire lives believing weakness and vulnerability are one of the same.
But for me, I didn’t truly understand the meaning of vulnerability. Why is it such a difficult emotion for us to experience, why do we numb it?
Brenè Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure”.(1) I feel this depicts eating disorder recovery in one sentence, it’s beautiful; and it’s true.
People in recovery are anything but weak, I am yet to meet or speak to someone with an eating disorder who I consider weak. The people I have come across are some of the strongest, kindest, most resilient people I’ve encountered on all parts of my life.
Eating disorders are encompassed by guilt, shame and fear of being vulnerable. Feelings and emotions are viewed as weakness. During recovery, emotions that had been buried, lost or numbed are reclaimed and owned. Sometimes, all at once!! Some days in early recovery it’s a cluster fuck of emotions. Recovery is learning to tolerate these emotions and not numb out. This is embracing vulnerability.
Vulnerability for me has been, fear of being perceived as weak, judged, failure or a disappointment.
My eating disorder numbed everything,including these feelings but at the cost of all my positive emotions.
Exploring vulnerability has opened up my authentic self. I have never felt so vulnerable than these past 18 months, admitting my imperfections, my shadows.
I don’t see vulnerability as a negative now. It’s neither positive or negative, it’s just part of what makes us all human.
“Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.”(2)
Why shouldn’t we show vulnerability if it’s the foundations of how connections are made, creativity and passion is discovered? Connection can overshadow shame.
Yesterday I did something I would have never imagined myself doing, even a few months ago.
I shared my experience with anorexia publicly on my personal facebook account. It’s National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) week in the US, which will be followed by the UK and Australasia next week. And So I decided, why not share my most “feared” secret with the hope of encouraging others to seek help, de-bunk myths and stigma and challenge attitudes.
I’m not going to pretend it was easy. It was more terrifying than either of the bungee jumps, sky dives I’ve done. Not nearly as scary as starting recovery, which is why I felt so compelled to do this . I know I am not alone but I am lucky, so lucky I have had help and support. It took nearly 2 decades to seek the help, which is sad, because this is not uncommon.
If my share changes one attitude, helps one person reach out for help then a little bit of fear is nothing. I’m fortunate I have found my voice. Many people remain struggling in silence. I’m not advising everyone to share their stories. It’s taken a long time for me to reach a place of acceptance and resilience. I know there will be some negativity from sharing such. It will come from ignorance. I feel equipped to deal with these because the majority of responses have been positive and most importantly I didn’t do it for the external validation. I am happy enough with who I am, I did it for those who are not. Those battling stigma and shame everyday.
There’s tons of ways to raise awareness for a subject, not everyone will comfortable with sharing personal accounts and that is ok. Have a look at some of the links below, NEDA and BEAT of how we can raise awareness and fight stigma.
For a deeper look at vulnerability, shame and guilt I recommend checking out:
Statistically people with eating disorders are more likely to experience co-morbid diagnoses, such as depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, borderline personality disorder. There’s a lot of research investigating whether they are biologically, genetically connected.
When I was six it used to take me almost three hours to go to bed. I developed obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). There are many overlapping features of OCD and eating disorders. I’m not sure that my OCD at times was separate from my eating disorder. I think it was like a shape shifter that adapted to fit my eating disorder.
The DSM-5 characterises OCD by negative repetitive thoughts that are intrusive and often result in compulsive behaviours to pacify the anxiety evoking obsessions. Common obsessions include ‘cleanliness, tidiness, numbers and many others.
My OCD was not your stereotypical “super clean and tidy” kinda picture. No it carried many similarities to my eating disorder compulsions but it did not relate to food. It began after several people close to me passed away before I was old enough to understand death or process emotions. I developed an intense fear of anyone else around me dying, or becoming sick. I began engaging in ritualistic behaviours. This involved counting, repeating certain phrases, running on the spot, avoiding certain numbers, turning light switches on and off and many more. I would perform these rituals or act out compulsions until I felt a sense of calm. The common denominator between my OCD and anorexia was the intense dread or fear of something happening if I did not perform X behaviour. (Fear in childhood death, fear from eating disorder weight gain). The only way I could silence my eating disorder voice was through compulsions and rituals.
It took a lot of child therapy to reduce these behaviours and challenge the thought patterns. Exposure therapy, similar to that in eating disorder recovery. I would cut a ritual a week until I was free. (A bit like reducing eating disorder behaviours). The exposures were ranked in order of fear and challenged with support.
But….. even though I was only six, I knew the thoughts were nuts. They were not ego-syntonic unlike the intrusive eating disorder thoughts where I believed my thoughts. For example, with an ED thought I truly believed my thoughts such as I “had to eat X number of calories or purge a chocolate bar” it wasn’t until these thoughts were challenged in therapy I could see they were disordered, I would not expect a friend to exist on the little I was eating, nor would I expect them to purge a chocolate bar. I could see after these challenges how distorted my thinking was around myself. I continue to use this, if I wouldn’t expect a friend to do something then why should I expect myself?
Another disparity between my ED and my OCD, I was far more resistant to giving up my eating disorder cognitions than I was my OCD thoughts and behaviours, even though I was just a child. I can make sense of this, neuroplasticity is much harder as an adult. But I do believe this is a distinction between my OCD and my eating disorder.
I feel it’s highly possible that having the predisposition and the appeasement provided to me by rituals definitely contributed to my developing of an eating disorder.
I believe they are both shape shifters. I can draw separations from the two disorders however there was some symbiosis within. For example, there were aspects to my anorexia that from the outside would be very difficult to draw a distinction from OCD. I had ritualistic cleaning behaviours “I had to engage in” to allow me to eat. I would clean the kitchen, from top to bottom prior to consuming anything. If I was interrupted I would start again. This may have been a part of my restriction, although I think more likely it was a separate entity to cope with the anxiety of eating. I don’t feel the thoughts surrounding this were related to the eating disorder.
Eating with very specific cutlery, is a completely different scenario. People with eating disorders often develop strange obsessions around cutlery. In my opinion (and I am only speaking from experience and talking to others who have had the same weird obsessions) this is very eating disorder driven. It serves several functions in the eating disorder. 1. Using a teaspoon (crazy) is a form of restriction. Small bowls, plates all the same. We have to stop. Using the same cutlery can feel “clean” this is an overlap.
My compulsive exercise is driven by my eating disorder. But personally I believe the compulsions and pathways were ignited and learned in my childhood. I would run on the spot or up and down the stairs for hours to feel my heart beating to feel alive. I imagine, my eating disorder reactivated this preformed pathway and used it. My drive to move when in the depths of my eating disorder was very different to when I was a six year old terrified of mortality but it still pacified my anxiety. The two disorders numb emotions that clearly I needed to find more constructive ways of coping with. My anxiety from my eating disorder was fear of weight gain, I was not afraid of this when I was six. The result of movement however, was the same, it appeased the discomfort short-term and clearly I had learnt this subconsciously as a child. This is just my simpleton thought and explanation. They both distract my brain, when I’m worrying about food or washing my hands, clearly I’m not worrying about the thing my disorders are protecting me from. But neither are healthy.
For me, overcoming my eating disorder has been so much harder than OCD. Again some of this will have been my easier to sculpt paediatric neural pathways, rather than my years of entrenched adult pathways. But I also feel it’s the eating disorder itself. We don’t want to recover, not initially from an eating disorder. This is very unlikely to be the case with someone suffering from OCD. I doubt there’s few people who decide that they want to keep their OCD, or that it’s a ‘friend’.
Cognitive behavioural therapy, has helped me with both. I guess that’s the good news about the two coinciding disorders, they are sometimes treated together. But I think it’s been more beneficial from an eating disorder perspective, because those of us with eating disorders have very distorted cognitions that can take some convincing. Whereas, I know that no one is going to die if I don’t wash my hands 37 times, I know it’s a ridiculous thought even though it causes similar anxiety. But I would have argued until I had no more breath that some of my eating disorder perceptions were not unhealthy. For the previous, it was more a case of changing my relationship with the thought- for example, when I get the thought “everyone is going to die if I don’t wash my hands 37 times” I have confronted not participating in the behaviour and “urge surfing, delaying or distracting” so many times now that I don’t feel the same anxiety and I am committed to not performing the action of washing my hands 37 times. No one has died. My brain knows this. For the latter, I have had to develop an extensive toolkit that is ever growing. When I experience a disordered thought, like; a food is “good or bad” and resultant anxiety I challenge the cognition, food does not carry moral value. And to avoid the behaviour I use a skill from the toolkit, self compassion, opposite actions.
Same same but different….
My eating disorder meant I had to eat the same things, same time, I would chew everything a specific amount of times (this was not OCD). It could easily have looked that way. I would eat in the same order. But these all served the eating disorder and were part of restriction.
I was extremely rigid with my rituals and compulsions. These were common to both.
My OCD did not cause my eating disorder but I strongly believe there is a connection, that is biological, genetic and psychiatric. I do not feel that my OCD diagnosis was important in my recovery from anorexia. I’m not sure I even really discussed it with my therapist but I think it is useful to understand the possible connection as not addressing co-existing disorders may make recovery more difficult. The treatments are similar but with variances. We are all complex individuals and so it’s possible for some not drawing a distinction may be ok in recovery but for others it may require addressing them together and with focus on specific aspects.
One thing I know for sure, the anxiety is never about the donut or the heart beating.
“8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder” WORKBOOK by Carolyn Costin, this is so helpful it has lots of exercises, to challenge healthy self vs eating disorder self. https://www.carolyn-costin.com/books
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”
Before and after pictures are harmful on so many levels.
Firstly you see the diet industry, so called “wellness” industry’s using pictures to market their false products.
The premise of the so called before and after picture in this setting, suggests that image and weight is the marker of health. Which people, if you have read any of my blogs or IG posts you know this is bullshit. Like the Bullshit Mass Index (BMI).
None of these elements reflect a persons health and the idea that manipulating your body, or image is a way to get healthy in most instances is simply ludicrous.
Before and after pictures in the eating disorder community are extremely dangerous. They are often posted on social media. Without a trigger warning, monitoring and to the most vulnerable of audiences. They serve no place in recovery. Why?
1. It promotes the unhelpful myth that eating disorders affect only the emaciated. Sadly this is still the image the media portrays of someone struggling with an eating disorder. Which is not helping to raise awareness, reduce stigma or educate about Health At Every Size.
2. They inadvertently promote ‘thinspiration’. For those of you not familiar with this colloquialism it’s a term well recognized in the eating disorder community that encourages thinness and can lead to very unhealthy comparisons and behaviors. For this reason alone no matter how well intentioned before and after pictures are dangerous.
3. Just because someone has gained some weight, or lost it’s not reflection of health status. You have no idea of the physical or mental state behind the picture.
4. The can invalidate a person’s recovery. Seeing someone’s pictures may make an individual question their recovery and why they haven’t “recovered” like the post. The pictures do not portray the enormous effort, energy and mental struggle involved in recovery. They are not true depictions.
I have written on previous posts, mentally I was at my most screwed up, difficult place when I first weight restored. To show a before and after picture at this point declaring my “recovery” would have been incredibly inaccurate. This is not helping to raise awareness that weight restoration is only part of the recovery process. Mental recovery takes far longer.
When all consumed by my eating disorder there was barely a day went by that I didn’t take a photo to “check” my progress. It was almost a big of an issue as the scales and weighing. People with eating disorders use the camera as a form of body checking. Body checking is not a healthy behavior and does not help in recovery.
Photos-are personal. For some people keeping photos of themself at their sickest can maybe act as a reality check, or reminder of why they recovered. For others I can imagine it would be detrimental, like holding on to “sick clothes” regardless the photos should never be shared to show ‘before and after’.
Social media is a mind field for ‘before and after photos’ and it’s feeding the fat shaming, stigmatizing society we live in. So please if you’re thinking of posting a before and after pic, think before you do.
Why and who are you really doing it for, what message are you really trying to convey? If in doubt don’t share.
Eating disorders are secretive, preoccupying and feel extremely shameful. They are rarely openly discussed and stigmatised.
Below are things I would have never felt able to share with others before I found my voice in recovery. However I wish I had said them sooner to help you understand. Hopefully this might give voice to other’s experiencing recovery and wish they could share some of the things going on in their heads.
1.Weight restoration does not equate to recovered. In fact, this part is probably the toughest, most brittle part of recovery. On the surface I may appear “well, healthy or recovered” but I am just about holding it together. You have no idea based on my appearance how I am. Likely I am fighting strong thoughts and urges to undo this courageous work. Mental recovery takes so much longer than the physical recovery.
My eating disorder was at its loudest when I reached my “target weight” and then exceeded. Regaining weight, gaining weight is harder than you will ever know for someone who is recovering from an eating disorder. They are fighting every thought, every second, every minute of every day waiting for a moment of inner peace. Weight gain is a small part of recovery, but possibly the toughest part. Once we regain weight, (weight we should never have lost) often people assume we are recovered and support lessens. This is arguably the point we need your support the most, please help to encourage us to keep going. And so I implore you, please do not comment on my appearance. Well placed comments can fuel this cruel deceptive eating disorder voice that I am trying so hard to move away from.
Statements, however true and well meaning, such as “you look healthy or better” can really harm someone’s recovery. Comments such as have you lost weight? Can ignite the path to destruction or send my brain into a frenzy that I have failed at recovery. I cannot win when it comes to body shape comments. So please keep them to yourself.
2. Recovery is a choice I have to make, every minute of every day. You cannot make me recover or do it for me, but I value your support. My recovery is my responsibility. My choices, my decisions are what keep me on the path to recovery. It is a full time job. One incorrect decision can set me back. BUT….. If I do slip, please do not give up on me. Recovery is not linear. Hope is a very important value of my recovery. I will very likely get back up again and continue on my journey to recovery. Please help me to see that a small slip does not mean I have failed at recovery but if I need reminding how far I have come, help me to see past this lapse. Hold hope.
3. Things you do not pay any thought to such as trying something new to eat, eating out at restaurants may be very hard for me. People with eating disorders are ridiculously good at hiding what’s going on beneath the surface, but know that just because I appear cool calm and collected there is likely a tornado rushing around in my brain. Sometimes I just want a distraction, I always want to hear you and not what’s going on in my brain and being present with you.
4.Never, ever comment on my food choices, volume or timing of food. You do not know how hard it is for me to eat 5-6 times a day or alongside others. Likely if I am eating with you, I trust you. Comments like, are you really going to eat that?, congratulating me for eating, Don’t you like XYZ?, are only going to feed unhelpful thoughts and make eating and decision making more uncomfortable than it likely already is.
5. I do not ever want to hear about your “weight loss attempt, diet”. If you are someone close to me, know that sharing this with me is insensitive, unhelpful and extremely triggering. I have worked incredibly hard to reframe my implicit biases and unlearn this detrimental cognition.
6. I do not want my eating disorder to be an elephant in the room. I want to be able to be open with you. Talking about it as you would any other medical problem will help break the shame cycle. I do not wish to be defined by my eating disorder, there is so much more to me than this, however my recovery is an important part of my life. I want you to be part of my life, my authentic life.
7. Shame is something I feel very deeply, it fuels my problem. I feel frustrated and angry I am in this position and it makes it hard for me to ask for help and talk openly as much as I wish I could. I am grateful that you show up for me especially when I am finding it hard to show up for myself.
8. I do not think everyone else is fat. I do not see myself how you see me. Regardless of how much weight I lose I will never feel satisfied. But it is not about weight and food. The sicker I became the more warped my view of myself became, making it really hard to see myself and the crazier and more lost I felt. We are fully aware of the self destruction but that makes it harder to think rationally because we do not understand why we cannot stop. The impossible standards my eating disorder held for me, are not the same standards I hold for everyone else, so no I do not see everyone else as “overweight, or fat” I just simply cannot see myself.
9. No one would choose to have an eating disorder, Choosing a life of rules, unhappiness, isolation and emptiness is not a choice anyone would make. I did not choose to develop an eating disorder, I didn’t wake up one day and decide to have anorexia it’s not how it works.
10. It’s not as simple as eating and that being the end of the story. I have many neural pathways and thought processes I have to unlearn. I believe in full recovery. I need to believe in full recovery. But I do not know how long it will take. Right now I see myself in recovery, meaning for me I have “disordered thoughts” which can disappear for days and then return out of the blue. In certain situations, I can still feel extremely distressed at times.
I’m not sure that recovery is a destination, I think it’s a process where these thoughts and associated emotions do disappear with time and effort. But likely remaining “recovered” and preventing the cognitions from returning will require much less energy. I believe this effort becomes like second nature, similar to riding a bike. Once you’ve learned you don’t forget, its more like protecting yourself from falling off at times of risk.
During recovery from an eating disorder you require at times “abnormally” large amounts of food.
Makes sense when we have deprived ourselves for so long. When you start to eat again and repair the damage it requires energy. Food is that energy.
I’m writing this because fullness was something I avoided at all cost in my eating disorder. I feared it. I felt “cleanest, euphoric” when I was empty. But that’s not clean and it’s not healthy.
I’ve talked about extreme hunger on previous posts. But I think it’s something that is really feared because as a society that breeds “clean eating or orthorexia” as normal eating it makes the process of nutritional rehabilitation even more frightening and shameful. It’s harder to learn to eat intuitively when “wellness blogs”, magazines, platforms are subtly promoting orthorexia. Orthorexia is not healthy. It’s a disorder in itself. Obsessing about eating cleanly and healthily will not help you to recover from a restrictive eating disorder.
I am wary of any social media platform or magazine that calls itself “wellness or healthy living” because they focus on eating and exercise as if they are the only things that factor into a person’s health. I feel anyone from an eating disorder background should steer clear of the information from these types of platforms because it’s 1. Not helpful to our recovery, 2. Feeds the obsession with numbers, 3. Reinforces false beliefs that you have to micromanage your body and lastly they promote the societal stigma around shape.
I have just come off a set of nights. Nights have always been a playground for my eating disorder behaviors. The altered routine, long hours and busyness has allowed my “HH” to justify restriction, skipping meals, compulsive movement. This set of nights I was adamant “HH” would not get to dictate.
Knowing that old situations tend to stir up old pathways I wasn’t surprised I suddenly felt I was wading upstream and the “HH” voice became louder. But I was better equipped to deal with the bullshit.
The old voices of “walk the long way, count your steps, you don’t need to eat, are you seriously gonna eat that?, that’s disgusting” played like a broken record.
I made myself a contingency plan: I took in lots and lots of snacks meaning I could not be in a place without food.
I ate between walking to cases.
I knew the days after nights would be a bit trickier because of the old neural pathways. Therefore I enlisted support early. I told my husband. We planned out our meals, my snacks. I think this is helpful because in the midst of my ED, I wouldn’t have shared, I would have struggled on and likely engaged in the behaviors ending up deeper.
Therefore identifying potential triggers is a big thing in recovery. Something that deserves a post in itself. It’s unsurprising old memories, situations activate entrenched pathways. We are creatures of habit. Most of recovery is unlearning old habits. Exposure to old situations, places that are tied to unhealthy behaviours has been an integral part of my recovery.
My nights finished yesterday and last night we had takeout. I felt full, uncomfortably full. This caused a few moments of turmoil. However I know having eaten “a lot” of food in the early stages of recovery, fullness settles on its own. You do not need to do anything, it passes. It is normal. My fullness last night was just because I had eaten a little extra. Big deal. Don’t judge your fullness. In the early phases of recovery, fullness can be excruciating because of the gastroparesis. Gastroparesis is basically where your gut is so out of practice at digesting and undernourished the emptying is really slow. Often your gut can’t keep up with your mouth and brain, but like all things in recovery it gets better. Eating is the medicine.
You eat, repeat and move on.
Normal eating is sometimes over eating, sometimes eating slightly less. Fullness is not something to fear or avoid.