Strength in vulnerability.

“Strength in vulnerability” Sound like opposites to you?

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

From the wise words of Brenè Brown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

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

References:

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

2. Brenè Brown: The Gifts of imperfections.

You are NOT your Eating Disorder…

You are not “anorexic, or insert ED

It’s never been you.

You have experienced anorexia/ bulimia, BED

It has been with you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eating disorders restrict EVERYTHING.

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

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

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

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

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

Try this…

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

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

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

Please people stop it with the before and after pictures.

Before and after pictures are harmful on so many levels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health professionals are clueless around weight stigma…

Healthcare professionals are not infallible and have their own biases

Apologies in advance for probably a relatively ranty post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Navigating recovery…recovery beyond Eating disorder “treatment”

Navigating anorexia recovery

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.

Some online support groups and resources….

1. Beat eating disorders UK: https://www.google.co.nz/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwjxuaHD3a7tAhX2yDgGHUGiCXcQFjAAegQIAxAD&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.beateatingdisorders.org.uk%2Fsupport-services%2Fonline-groups&usg=AOvVaw2LpFetlZFjVyKJ6Sg1WWaX

2. Recovery warriors (Australia):eatingdisordersqueensland.org.au

3. Various options US: https://centerfordiscovery.com/groups/

4. EDANZ: New Zealand. Various resources. https://www.ed.org.nz/parent-carer-support-groups

SHOULD, is not a nice word..

Photo by Noelle Otto on Pexels.com

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

https://www.instagram.com/recovrywarriors/

Visit website
Photo by Karl Solano on Pexels.com

Clothes shopping in eating disorder recovery…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unrestricted, unfiltered

Chances are if you’ve stumbled upon this page, you’re like me. Searching for answers, help, validation, recovery from an unhealthy relationship with food, body image. Other wise you would not be here. Maybe you still tell yourself , you’re fine and don’t have a problem, but looking for recovery blogs/ sites is not normal. Or, perhaps you know you have a problem with food, exercise, restriction, body image and you want to RECOVER.

I have been there, in both camps. I am in recovery from a restrictive eating disorder. I developed an unhealthy relationship with food, exercise and my body when I was 15. This “hitchhiker” took the driving seat of my life until I entered my recovery journey at 32. I am not fully recovered but I consider myself well on the way, 1 year in. I believe full recovery exists and is possible for all. I intend to use lessons learnt to Quash the stigma of eating disorders and document things I wish I’d known.

So now we’ve got the background, if you’re thinking about recovery, in recovery, want to help someone recover or just curious about Eating disorders welcome to QUASH the STIGMA NOT FAT!