Monday, 7 October 2013

Fast Forward on Moving Forward - Part Two

So then I went on a healthy eating plan - a diet, if you will.

Which still sounds pretty bad, given all that I've said previously about the damage I have done to myself by dieting. It sounds like I did a complete 180 overnight, I know, but in truth, it was a difficult decision to make.

I felt guilty for contemplating yet another weight loss plan. After all the advice, guidance, information and knowledge, I've gained through years of recovery work, how could I find myself back here again? I felt as if I might be throwing away all my hard work thus far to overcome disordered eating by engaging with behaviours that hurt me so badly last time.  I didn't quite trust my own motives for wanting to diet in the first place. I felt confused as to whether I was trying to fix something else with food. Was it my body which was really an issue, or was I getting mixed up again with something going on in my head?

Being entirely honest with myself, I couldn't be 100% certain of anything. I didn't, and still don't, totally trust myself when it comes to my relationship with what I eat and how I see myself. I had to ask other people I trusted for their advice, and luckily for me, the people around me are generally kind and sensitive to my issues with food (why have people around who aren't?!). Objectively speaking, my then weight made me obese; it gave me physical pains and contributed to my losing confidence in myself. People I loved could see this, too, and they wanted to support me in whatever way I chose.

So I decided to go ahead with a healthy eating plan. It was a diet, in the sense that I wanted to steadily lose weight and get back to a healthy body size for me. I felt guilty for taking this route and I guess a bit hypocritical for going back on my word. Yet without reducing my food intake, I wasn't sure I'd make it back to healthy on my own because I wasn't getting to grips with intuitive eating, as much as I'd like to have done. I was still eating emotionally and was getting lost in it.

I hoped that having a plan would help me re-learn, in practical terms, what it is to eat "normally" and change my practical eating habits in a way that my previous self-reflections hadn't managed to achieve.

However I planned for the worst, putting special measures in place to help keep me from falling into disordered eating and thinking again. I promised to eat sensible amounds of food with no cutting or skipping on meals. I promised not to eliminate junk food or particular food groups. I promised not to let my eating plan to get in the way of joining in with meals out or celebrations. Trusted friends and family were told of my plans, and I invited them to interfere if they felt I was getting out of line.

And it has worked for me. I'm back to a healthy weight and size. I no longer have pains in my body. I feel more like myself and feel confident and able to wear clothes which reflect who I am inside. I feel more relaxed around food than I have done in a long time, largely because I feel able to say no without feeling as if I'm being deprived (whether or not I actually want what's being offered). I possibly eat more than I did before, and definitely as far as fruit and vegetables go that is the case. I've been swimming and I enjoyed it. People who know me have seen me in a bikini and I haven't run away.

Saying all this, the process has not been perfect and it's definitely not been easy. It took time for my body to adjust. My mind took time to get over the fear of even trying to eat a little healthier. Sometimes, I still get the disordered thinking and it can feel even more real because my body is once again going through the weight loss process. Other people aren't always supportive and sometimes, they change around me as I look different. My life isn't any more exciting and I still get down at times.

I want you to know this because losing the weight I'd gained ultimately as a result of disordered eating has been a really important part of my recovery. And even though I know that it would be totally wrong for someone else in my position, it has worked for me. Losing weight never fixed my problems before, and it still doesn't fix things. I guess the difference now is in me; I don't expect it to do anything more than change the shape or size of my body. And that's it.

By doing this, I'm essentially putting myself back together again in a way which works for me, and me alone. My body and my mind are slowly coming closer. I'm not always sitting in the back of my own head, watching and waiting for life to happen. I'm a little bit more "here" and I am glad to be back.

Fast Forward on Moving Forward - Part One

It's been a while since I've been here. Okay, so it's been a long while; much longer than I thought it had been. If anyone has been reading this, I apologise for leaving things so... unfinished, I suppose. It feels a little awkward even being here, writing again, if I'm entirely honest. I'm not really sure what I'll be writing, or where I'll be going with this blog. It just feels like a good time to write again. Where have I been since late 2011? I can't even remember properly since it all seems so long ago. Life-wise, work-wise, I'm in the same place; working a 9-5, living with my partner, same friends, same family stuff. Food-wise, I'm in a somewhat different place. Having issues with food, eating and body image feels a little like living in a hall of mirrors, or being thrown down Alice in Wonderland's rabbit hole: I never quite know what I'm going to see, or what to expect, of either myself or the world around me. I just get used to one new "normal", and then seem to move towards another, my feet having barely touched the ground in-between. Okay, so what's happened since then? I stopped attending the eating disorder support group sometime later in 2011, or maybe early 2012. I started to feel as if the group couldn't offer me the support I needed as someone who felt pretty much recovered from an eating disorder. The focus seemed to be on those new people who were only just acknowledging they had a problem with food, and I'd been over that ground too many times before. I carried on over-eating, which didn't bother me too much, really. I'd never gone back to the way I'd eaten before developing an eating disorder. Which makes sense really because it wasn't something I thought a lot about until I had the eating issues, and then it was all I could think about... You can't un-know what you now know, right? I just ate the way other people seemed to eat; often over-indulging in "treat" eats, and slowly gaining weight without really noticing. Having struggled for so long with the disordered eating, it was kind of a relief to not really think about it at all for a while. I just ate and then put it out of my mind. I figured that this was a part of recovery, and maybe it was being recovered itself. Fast forward to the start of 2013 and I wasn't feeling too great in my skin. I started to see what I looked like in the mirror, and I didn't like it too much. I was much heavier than I had been pre-eating disorder days, and over the previous year I'd gained a little more. My knees hurt when they'd never bothered me before. I got random pins and needles sometimes. My clothes were tight and didn't really fit too well anymore. I felt sad, and a bit ashamed of myself. I think what bothered me most was that didn't really look like me anymore. I don't think I had for a while, but it took me until then to really look and see, objectively, and without kicking myself so hard I'd look away again. I was slipping further inside myself, hiding in the back of my head. And I was angry with myself. Frustrated at the way in which I repeatedly self-inflicted pain through over-eating. Despite knowing so much about my issues with food, I had been acting them out, over and over. I saw what I was doing and I still didn't stop myself. I just let myself hurt me, making me slip further away from myself, and go deeper inside. And I'd had enough. Turns out, that this was what I needed to start making some changes.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Difficult Conversations

I'm learning to accept that moving forward means that I have to acknowledge the need for, and then have those difficult conversations that I've been avoiding for most of my life.

There are some conversations I'm not sure I will ever be able to have. As such, those relationships may never be what they could be. Some relationships are too important for them not to be given the chance to be everything they can be. Even if it is the thing that scares me most.

Rewind to this weekend, and a conversation with the person I love most. For weeks, or even a couple of months, I have been spending more time inside myself than I have been with him. I've been consumed by destructive thoughts; thoughts I recognise, and know, to be the Critic in me but thoughts I've still been unable to shake. The feelings of self-hatred, and disgust, and shame that have come from this thinking had put a barrier between us. I couldn't be myself with him in the way I've always been. My heart's been breaking, and I've been afraid of losing him, and it's essentially been because of my own making.

Neither of us had spoken of it until this weekend. He didn't want to make it real, but it has been real to me for a while. I'd been with it, alone, in my head. He didn't want to hurt me, but I have been hurting myself. Alone, in my head.

My fear of losing him by being me. Me, being someone who I've been thinking is totally unacceptable; too sexual, too needy, too fat. I didn't even realise I still think of myself as fat. That hurts me, because I thought I was past this (despite knowing that we don't get past these things, but work with them). I figured because I can weigh myself without falling apart, because I can accept that my weight may be overweight, but that I am still loved, and because I've read a million books and put the hours into therapy and self-help... It'd just go away.

It has not gone away. I am still a work in progress.

I have everything I have ever wanted: A man who loves me and whom I love in return, the prospect of a happy future together, a job which pays the bills and leaves me some to spare. And yet here I've been, pushing it away because I don't think I deserve it and I don't know how to cope with having what I want. It sounds ridiculous, said out loud. How can a person not be able to accept what they want?! And then I think about when I Was very thin, and had the body I wanted, and couldn't cope, so binged back to being big. Being what I knew how to handle.

He told me he loves me for me; for the funny, open, sexy, intelligent person inside. He tells me, and for the first time I hear him when he says he doesn't love me for what I look like, but for who I am.

And, in one conversation, I am able to see what's really been happening, all these years. I am loved, and I am valued, by everyone and everything but me. It is me who has been struggling to accept myself. No one else. It is me who has been struggling to accept that I have so much, so much to be happy about - right now. I've put up the barriers that give me something familiar to worry about (being rejected, for my body or for me).

In one weekend, and in one difficult conversation, I have been given permission - by myself - to start taking down the walls.

It is scary. And it is wonderful.

I am overwhelmed with love, and hope. And yes, some fear of change.

This, I think, is maybe what recovery is all about.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Not Giving In

Apologies for the lack of posting. I've been away, on holiday, and part of that is escaping from the computer. My day job pretty much has me glued to the thing, so it's a welcome break for me.I hope I haven't disappointed anyone in my absence here, and am happy to be writing again!


Whenever I've felt low of late, I've heard a familiar phrase pop up in the back of my mind.

Why don't I just not eat? I could just stop eating...

The red flag phrase that I imagine pretty much everyone who has had prior dealings with an eating disorder has encountered during recovery. I know that this is my warning; that something is wrong and that I need to look for what that thing is and deal with it directly. It happens when I am overwhelmed; with life, with choices, with all kinds of emotions, positive as well as negative. It happens when my thoughts become overpowering, my mind spinning with words and phrases, alphabet soup/

It's not that I want to re-discover anorexia, or bingeing, or even diet. It's not even that I want to be thin.

Except it can feel like I do and this feeling, it can be completely overwhelming, even now. It can feel like a desperate, greiving cry for a person - and a body - I once was.

Why don't I just not eat? I could just stop eating...

... and eventually, I'd be thin
... and I'd only have to think about food and my body
... and nothing - or no one else - will matter
... and everything else would go away
... and I will be happy

The hope - the unspoken promises tagged on the end - is what draws me to it, I think. None of these statements are factually true. Most I have previously proved to be wrong. Life continues, things happen, people change. My anorexia didn't stop it before. It just put things on hold and I had to deal with them later. My anorexia didn't live up to all it promised me. It left me worse off than I was before.

So when I am at my worst - when I am crying to my boyfriend because I think want my eating disorder so bad or asking my Mum to reassure me that I'm doing okay - I will not give in.

I will not resort to my eating disorder. I am past the point of return, because, in my heart, I know the truth: I cannot unknow the destructive, negative - even life-threatening, and yes, disappointing - reality of an eating disorder.

I'm still greiving for myself - the girl that developed the eating disorder, the one before her and the one that's writing to you here and now. I'm greiving for my eating disorder - for all I got out of it and for all the desperately-pinned hopes of the life I willed it to bring. I will continue to work hard to move through this.

I am coming out the other end. I am no longer eating disordered, as I have written about in earlier posts. It is scary, and there are still dark times where it is tempting to return to old ways, but I am starting to believe that perhaps I can live in the world without my eating disorder.

And this is happy news indeed.

Monday, 18 July 2011

The Fatness Barometer

(Or That Post about How we Drag Ourselves Down by Thinking 'Fat')

My eating disorder inevitably made me super-sensitive to the notion of 'fat'. 'Fat' was the word I used to describe a particular body size and shape (with this becoming notably smaller as the anorexia grew) and a way of being (namely lazy, unattractive and sweaty). I’m saying this and cringing; however it's pretty much accepted as fact in our society and so it's hardly surprising that in the midst of my eating disorder, I too accepted this as truth.

I spent so much of my time looking for proof of my ‘fatness’. In my anorexic state, it was in the numbers my anore recorded in my little book of what I ate; it was in the tags inside my clothes; it was in the amount of exercise I'd done that day or how much I'd sweated at the gym. When I was bingeing, it was obvious as my clothes no longer fit; it was in the depression that seemed to grow as my body did; it was in every bite I took, rebelling against the restrictive months prior. Evidence of my 'fatness' was in everything I did, said or felt. Fatness and 'feeling fat' eventually became so common-place, it ultimately became synonymous with anything I didn't like about myself.

Despite moving forward with my life and not actively considering myself to have an eating disorder, this whole 'fatness' thing hasn't quite disappered. I am still struggling to break the ties from those things that I’d use as measuring sticks as proof of my fatness. Hence the Fatness Barometer.

So how does it look? Well, here's a perfect example I took from this morning that, in the spirit of raising awareness, I'd like to share:

Monday mornings and I don't have a great relationship. It's my anxiety peak of the week. So this morning's arrival at work, already hot, flustered and generally angry at the world for the very existance of Mondays, was not unusual. It started off fairly well for a Monday. I had packed my lunch (and enough snacks so that my snack drawer runneth over) and got out the door only slightly late.

And here's where it went wrong. Realising at the last minute I'd neglected to put on a wash before racing out of the door, after already consciously deciding that no, there was no time to take out the rubbish, I felt like a failure.A knot formed in my stomach.

I locked my door, checking, re-checking and checking again that it was indeed locked. I clocked the OCD-like behaviour and the anxiety kicked up a gear. I spent the whole journey fumbling in my handbag, checking I hadn't forgotten random items (mostly those I could have lived without for the day. I clung to my bag, worrying about what may become of my beautiful new uninsured (as-of-yet) Netbook nestled inside its wrapper. The knot in my stomach just multiplied.

I arrived at work to the realisation that I'd forgotten my work key. I kind of thought I knew where it was (on the kitchen top, possibly now on the floor if it had been on top of the tea towel I'd grabbed to dry my hands). I just couldn't be sure... The knots tighten again.

My hair's stuck to the back of my neck, and what’s not stuck starts to frizz. So much for that blow-dry before I left the house. What's the point in trying to look nice?! I feel the heat rise to my ears and forehead. Sweat prickles at my hair-line.

A colleague has to open the door for me, as I've forgotten my key. What an idiot I am!?! I am (self-)conscious of the redness that surely must be visible. How embarrassing... If I wasn't red before, I am now as I blush, furiously, ashamed of myself and of my body for giving me away... Knotty stomach again.

The make-up I so carefully applied this morning; it might as well never have happened, I think despondently, as it slides down my face. I stick my desk fan on, hoping to perform some kind of damage control. But what’s the point?! I must look pretty awful once I get to work.

I gulp at the air when aware of the tight feeling across my chest, as if I’d purposefully been holding my breath. I know I never stopped breathing, yet it feels as if I can’t get enough air in! I am careful to try and breathe as quietly as possible, thankful for the fan muffling my laboured breath. Anyone would think I'd done some actual exercise! Yeah right... The shame slaps me across the face.

I feel fat.

Pretty ugly, right? The feelings of self-hatred, shame and frustration that wash over me whenever I experience intense anxiety (or panic attacks, in the worst case) suggest to me that the Fatness Barometer is still hanging around.

So how can I look to move forward and break this?

First, I can acknowledge its existance here and I can acknowledge to myself that certain situations seem to trigger this negative reaction in me. For example, I struggle to disassociate exercise from anxiety; a hang-over from its role in my eating disorder. I notice it most when I am rushing to get to work in the morning. The walk to the tram stop is always rushed and then walking to work, up an incline, brings me out in a fluster that can sometimes lead to a 'mild' kind of panic attack.

Next, I can make myself a promise: I will use the tools that helped me with critical thinking in therapy to stop the fatness barometer from taking readings. Using something called subpersonalities, in therapy-speak, I learnt to seperate myself from the critical voice within. I can then choose how I want to look at things, which allows me to choose the path of least anxiety. I can choose to be realistic; even positive.

Finally, I can remind myself that in my moving forward, I can choose not to participate in anything that is detrimental to my physical and mental health.
I have chosen not to participate in the dieting culture. This has been crucial to moving forward and away from disordered eating. I don't join in with dieting (or diet-based conversations) because I don't believe that my whole worth, as a person, is tied into my body and how I look. I am more than that. The whole concept of 'fatness' is just another way we're pushed into thinking, talking and behaving according to the dieting scene's rules. I don't want a part in it.

You are worth far more, too, than what your "fatness barometer" tells you.

What do you use as your "fatness barometer"? What steps do you take, or think you might take, to break free from it?

Thursday, 14 July 2011


I am at a place in my moving forward* where I'm in limbo. I'm not someone with an eating disorder any more. Nor am I in a place that I'd consider entirely 'recovered' either.

There are clearly other people out there in a similar situation. I know this because there's a market for books like Jenni's; those for people who aren't quite ready to totally let go of the eating disorder/recovery world, and yet aren't in that place where this is at the centre of their lives.

At this point, living what I have learnt in the "recovery journey" - in my moving forward - is probably the most effective method of my keeping moving on. For me, as it seems was with Jenni when she had to act and 'just eat' - I must act. My specific actions may be different from yours, but the message will be the same:

Put into practice all that you are learning every single day. We have a choice. We always have a choice, because every action is a choice in itself.

This is hard. Seriously hard.

I've clung hard to the idea that changes in my relationship with food will come when I change my relationship to myself, my body, others, my emotions... Essentially, when my life changes, I figured that my relationship with food would do, too.

And it has changed in many positive ways, as a result of other changes:

*I eat meat and steak is my favourite dinner!
*I can try and eat a wide range of foods
*I can cook for myself
*I am not frozen by my fear of food
*I've stayed the same size for maybe three or so years
*I don't judge myself on what I eat
*I binge very rarely now
*I will not diet, no matter what

These changes have got me to where I am. They've helped me to be who I am today.
I am someone who has had eating disorders. I am someone who is still working on developing a healthy, "normal" relationship with my food and my feelings.

I am someone who does not have an eating disorder today.I am someone who does not have an eating disorder today.

This is hard to write, and even harder to accept fully, though I know that it is true for me now. I've worked so hard to get to a point where I wouldn't have an eating disorder anymore and now I'm here.... Now what?

Well, accepting that I no longer have an eating disorder is something I plan to work on. It'll take time to get used to, because it was my life. But that's it, isn't it? It was my life. It's just not now.

I've also still got plenty to work - and act on - with respect to my eating. My focus can change to actively putting in practice those things I know will work for me. These are things I've learnt in therapy, from books, from wonderful bloggers, from friends, family and what I know in my heart. Intuitive-eating, my way.

For me, this involves:

*Checking in with my body and rating my hunger, before and after eating. If my hunger is less than 4, I need to eat. If it is higher than 6, I need to stop eating. My body will give me clues as to what it is I want to eat. The more I do this, the easier and more natural it will get.

*Planning home-cooked meals for most evenings, planning a variety of lunches and starting to break my set-in-stone habits at breakfast time.

*Putting the time in to get a shopping list together each week and committing to go to the supermarket. Even when I'd rather do something else - or nothing at all. It keeps me relaxed with food and if it helps my anxiety, then it's healthful for me right now.

*Making the time to do a little exercise. Building a little jogging into my schedule each week. It's good for my mental health (and my body - though this isn't the reason I do it).

*Make the effort to slow things down. For me, I find myself race through to the eating bit without any of the thinking. Like I did with challenging the negative thoughts, I will need to slow it all down and give myself the chance to choose differently.

These are things that many people have to work on each day. I know that for me, overeating and eating 'just in case' are issues I've struggled with most of my life, so to expect them sorted straight away is unrealistic.

As is letting go of those things that really helped me when I did have an eating disorder. It was scary to stop therapy. I might go back to it at another point in my life, but letting go of the support from this was very, very scary. Starting a new job allowed me to do this, providing a 'natural' stopping point. Stopping attending support group will be another milestone. It's proving less helpful to me personally as time goes on. At the moment, it's still something I get something from - if only that I am not as ill as X,Y,Z anymore and that I can see how far I've come. Handing over the reins a little more with our own self-created support group is another thing I'm working on.

However the next statement is still true.

I do not have an eating disorder. And this is down to my actions and my actions alone. I hope the same proves true for you, too.

*For those who don't know what I mean, I'm essentially talking about moving forward and away from disordered eating. Moving forward with my life.

Just Eat?

Today I was reading Jenni Schaefer's book "Goodbye Ed, Hello Me!" and came across a section intriguingly headed with the words 'just eat'. (If you haven't read or heard of Jenni, then I would very much recommend you check out her web pages via this link. She's a really positive example of someone who's really moved forward with her life - and away from disordered eating).

ost people who have issues with food have probably been told to 'just' eat, at least once (if not many times). I can recall two particularly painful incidents of this happening to me.

The first happened when I was first began to binge, after the cracks began to show in a year's worth of restrictive eating behaviours. I'd managed to achieve what, by responses of those around me, I intellectually knew to be a slim figure (I couldn't entertain the idea that I was actually thin - not me, I thought). And here I was, eating (bingeing - I didn't know the difference back then), and ruining it. I was sure I was going to be caught out and would be huge the moment I ate anything. My friend and flatmate at the time found me, upset, over a teaspoon of vegetable spread, in our kitchen. In a frustrated tone (that I took to be angry and jealous), she said "why can't you just eat, like a normal person?!"

This was the start of the end for our friendship.

Today, I can see that perhaps this comment wasn't meant to be mean, or critical, or even jealous. It could have been the result of a frustrating, confusing year in which her friend changed before her very eyes. Literally. Knowing what I now know of how our friendship went up in flames (hindsight's a bitch), it was most likely a combination of these reasons. At the time, I blamed her entirely, whilst punishing myself with food. Today, I know that relationships are far more complex than that. And unfortunately, there are some which are unhealthy for all concerned.

Being told to 'just eat', in this case, proved a pivotal lesson in moving forward. Moving away from disordered eating will sometimes mean being prepared to move forward - and away from - disordered relationships. And it can be painful.

The second 'just eat' incident that comes to mind was with my Mum.I've been able to talk about my issues with food far more openly in the past few years. For the most part, this has proven to be a really helpful tool in moving forward. It's made me feel closer to my Dad and boyfriend, as well as friends and even strangers. Yet just because I am able to speak honestly and openly about my disordered eating history, doesn't mean everyone else can.

When I tried to broach the subject with my Mum, she asked me, in a puzzled tone why amorexics just don't eat. It was a real conversation stopper, and made me fill up with tears that I swallowed back the best I could.

There are so many answers I could have given to that question:

*People with anorexia are all different, and there are as many reasons for why someone develops this particular illness as there are people who have it

This would have been my diplomatic answer; an educated and considered response appropriate for someone who was genuinely curious about why someone might develop the restrictive behaviours associated with anorexia.

But this wasn't what my Mum was asking.

*I developed anorexia partly because those very people who were meant to see that I was unhappy and lonely and ill chose to ask me instead how I was losing all this weight - MUM.

This would have been my angry response; the deep-seated anger and frustration I held because my mother could not be the mother I wanted and needed her to be the most. I knew this would not get me the response I wanted (i.e. an apology - and a mother). So this one was out. Unfortunately, my Mum's own disordered eating and mental health issues, and my own disordered relationship with her, where I feel responsible for her made saying what I felt too complex.

So what did I do?

I left it.

Sometimes, people say things to cut conversations off. Sometimes, there are things that are so painful to address, other people in our lives might not be able to handle them themselves.

And it's okay.

Honestly? It didn't feel okay at first. I was upset at first; angry and frustrated with her. And with me, for bringing it all up. It took me time and therapy to figure out how I would move on from this.

What I learnt was that I needed to work out how I could change to make this relationship manageable for me. I couldn't change her and I couldn't make her want to change with me. What I could do was try and get away from feeling responsible for my Mum. We cannot be responsible for the choices other people make in our lives. This is true even for the people closest to us; those who ironically were meant to be caring for us.

I finally let go when my Mum got re-married. I did it with my boyfriend next to me. Only he, my then therapist and a few trusted friends knew. It still saddens me that I may never have the mother I needed, but I no longer allow myself to be in a position of taking responsiblity for her.

So....what's the point of me telling you this?

I wanted to highlight how seemingly off-hand comments can spark a whole range of thoughts, feelings, behaviours and changes. When moving forward, we can learn to make them positive for us. We can take the good from a situation that would've once seemed to be nothing but negative.

And we move forward each and every time we do this. So yeah, we could just eat - only now we're learning to do so much more as well as eat.