Your Inspirational Recovery Stories – How I Overcame Anorexia with Spirituality

EDRECOVERYGRAPHICTRUSSTORIESwithlineThe following story was submitted by an incredible lady from America who would like to remain anonymous. When she contacted me to share her inspirational story I knew I had to share it with all of you here on the blog, as it demonstrates that recovery is possible for all of us, however dark or difficult things become. Her feelings of self-hatred and that all-consuming feeling of worthlessness really resonated with me, and I know a lot of people reading this will feel the same too. I’m not a religious personal at all but I am very spiritual, and it’s so interesting to see that this lady kept her faith even when times were difficult.

I hope this motivates and inspires anyone who feels like there is no way out (THERE IS!!) – and for those of you who are in the later stages of recovery I hope it makes you realise just how far you’ve come 🙂

 

“Learning to love myself unconditionally after a near death experience” – Anonymous

“It is selfish to only think about yourself.”

“You will never amount to anything good in life.”

“What is the purpose of life, to suffer and die?”

These used to be the thoughts I had in my head growing up. I grew up in a not so loving household and have dealt with all kinds of abuse at a young age.

I used to stifle all my feelings as a way to cope with everything. I didn’t realize that in time this manifested into self-hatred and a full blown eating disorder by the time I was 13.

All I saw when I looked at my reflection was someone that is worthless and not worth loving or living. This is what I deserve. I couldn’t see what my purpose was. I didn’t see the reason for living another day.

I had a spiritual near death experience (NDE) when I was 24 years old after battling on and off with anorexia for 11 years.

Near death experience

I had become severely depressed at the time before my NDE. I had gotten into a car accident a year ago and suffered short term memory loss. My neck and back was also under a lot of pain and my left eye would twitch at times.

I was asking God why another setback, another trauma? Family life was unbearable, dealing with school, mom’s chronic illness, dad’s neglect and gambling addiction, and brother’s focus on himself. My sanity and patience started to dwindle.

My moods were up and down. The only way I knew how to cope with all the stresses in my life was through starving myself. I began to eat less and less and los t a lot of weight. My stomach was always in pain and I had no energy to do anything. I was very fatigued and hanging on by a thread.

I began to see many doctors: a cardiologist that diagnosed me with heart arrhythmia, a gastroenterologist that only diagnosed me with IBS, a psychologist that diagnosed me with depression but all the medicines they gave me seem to make me feel worse.

As the days go by, my will to live began to fade. What’s the point of living if I were to continue to suffer like this, haven’t I been through enough?

The night of my NDE, my heart palpitations were getting worse but I just brushed it off as another symptom. I had no appetite and my vision became blurry. I cried for a few hours and collapsed on my bed.

Laying on my bed, I asked in my head ‘Why am I suffering so much, how is there a creator, a benign God that would allow all this to happen to me?’ I closed my eyes with tears on my face, but when I started to fell asleep, I felt like my breathing was slowing down and I began to gasp for air after asking that question.

What happened next was the strangest feeling. I saw myself, my soul, lift out of my navel/belly button. I was looking down at my own body and I was perplexed. I went what the heck, I can still exist out of my body? My essence traveled through an umbilical cord/tunnel that was white and grayish with wave like patterns. I was so distraught, I didn’t know what to do.

Was I dying? My spirit was traveling super fast like the speed of light. On my way to this never-ending tunnel, I yelled at God to save me. I was so scared that I yelled out at God to help me. I was desperate because I didn’t know where I was heading. I said I would miss my family and my two cats.

Healing

The tunnel then reached to this luminous white dome-shaped room that didn’t blind my eyes. But before I could go further, my spirit quickly traveled back down the tunnel and fell back into my body. When I woke up I felt instantly refreshed. I had a sense of peace and happiness than I ever felt in my life.

I also had healing from my anorexia. I had a lot more appetite and gained weight. I had more energy and was genuinely grateful and happy. Things that used to bother me did not bother me anymore.

I have more compassion and tolerance to everyone. I used to be judgmental and materialistic. Now I don’t buy as much and like to help others more. I felt as if we are all ONE.

If I’m in pain the other person absorbs my pain, If I’m love, the other person receives my love. I began to be more spiritual, more praying and meditation. I felt connected with source energy and felt protection and love for me.

What I know now is that we should love each other and everyone’s flaws, we are all here to learn, to make mistakes, to grow. We should serve humanity, be less selfish and self absorbed, and do more acts of kindness without asking anything in return.
What I have learned

Growing up I didn’t understand what love really is. It seems that love meant giving up on yourself to take care of everyone else.

Now I realized that almost everyone we come across is a wounded child at heart. And that in order for us to change our reality we must heal our internal wounds that has been there since childhood.

What if I told you the most i mportant thing you can do in life is to fully love yourself, imperfections and all.

And that it is not possible to love another unless we take care of ourselves.

I’m sure most of us who have battled an eating disorder know how hard it is to find hope in midst of struggling to survive.

But I’m here to tell you that it is possible and that brighter days are ahead of you. All it takes is that first step.

Music was really healing for me. Here are some songs that helped me through my experience:

 

 

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Why I don’t say I’m ‘better’

Anorexia recovery

2 Rainbows, dreamy

Most people in the public eye who discuss past/previous difficulties like to paint themselves as ‘great now’. Gurus (especially those who release self-help videos and books) tend to portray themselves as ‘the solution’ in a fairly patronising way, talking about the ‘past’ and discussing their rosy life as it is now, and telling you how you can be like them (for a fee). The problem with this is that NOBODY’s life is perfect – and many of these people run the risk of being ‘outed’ when it turns out they shouted at a parking warden, or had a momentary lapse in their ‘strict vegan diet’ as they’re snapped tucking into a McDonald’s. This of course is all pretty embarrassing and undermining – but the main reason I tell the truth about who I am and how I feel is because that’s the only way I feel I can help people – by being honest, and by sharing my journey as I go.

I overcame Anorexia – but my root beliefs were never addressed

I was lucky enough to be able to recover fully from Anorexia without relapse. But that doesn’t mean that since that time I’ve been issue-free. Unfortunately I didn’t have psychological support before, during or after my eating disorder – so the core beliefs which caused it were never addressed or treated. If I’d had that support then I honestly believe I may have been able to get away with a life without mental illness – as I was still young. However those beliefs were left to exacerbate silently over the course of a few years, and I developed several difficult mental health conditions in the years that followed. Each time I never had adequate support, so the thoughts and feelings I have about myself deep down have been allowed to compact and strengthen to a point where they’re hard to just ‘undo’. The complicated belief system behind it all has never changed – instead it has manifested itself in different ways over the years that have followed since my recovery. I think it’s important to be honest about this, not to scaremonger people who are embarking on their own recovery, but to emphasise the importance of proper therapy and psychological care for people going through an eating disorder. I also want to be clear that I am not an idol and I still deal with my own struggles each and every day – as all of us do.

I share what I learn as I go, or I discuss my previous experiences in a positive and open way

I do what I do because I want to use my own experiences to help people. So I can talk about previous experiences and how I overcame them, but I can also discuss the things I still struggle with now and the things I do which help me to live with myself day to day and more than that to live my life to the full. I’m different because I never make out as though this isn’t the case, and I always make sure I’m positive and helpful rather than just being ‘doom and gloom’ or sensationalistic.

For more on eating disorders, body image or nutrition, take a look at my books or related blogs here.

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How does nutrition feel after an eating disorder?

Nutrition eating disorder

coconuts_high_res

Maintaining a healthy relationship with food is hardly easy in today’s society. We’re constantly bombarded with ‘eat this, don’t eat that’ articles, advertisements featuring ‘perfect’ bodies and dubious celebrity endorsements for diets and fitness regimes. This makes loving your body (and treating it well) really difficult – and it complicates basic nutrition beyond comprehension.

Eating disorders aren’t about food (you can read my article on this here), and they’re not strictly about how we look (another article on that here!). But food is undoubtedly a large element of an eating disorder, and body image can be an issue for many sufferers.

I developed Anorexia primarily because I was in a very bad place. I was being bullied relentlessly (mostly for how I looked, but for pretty much everything else too) but I’d also had a family bereavement which had been pretty traumatic for all of us. Because I’d been bullied for over three years at that point I’d developed severe OCD and had become incredibly depressed – but I also had massively low self-esteem. It’s fair to say I hated myself – inside and out. Whilst I tried desperately to fit in I didn’t feel I could change my personality – but I did start to feel that it could be possible to change my appearance as I became more exposed and aware of advertisements and articles largely aimed at young adults.

I was overweight before I developed Anorexia and had an incredibly poor diet – so I had absolutely no knowledge of how my body worked and how I should eat. This was a dangerous combination – as my ignorance meant I absorbed the false information I read and heard and saw like a sponge. I went on various diets before settling on one (a diet which is still prominent and popular today) and combined it with various other well-known ‘weight loss’ methods. I became obsessed with counting ‘points’ and ‘calories’, good and bad. Soon I was incredibly poorly with organ failure and seemingly no way out.

My perspective on food has been shaped by this experience – but I only developed it recently. My relationship with food continued to be poor (and confused) for nearly ten years following my recovery from Anorexia. And this is why I’m so passionate about denouncing diets and talking about nutrition in a positive, truthful way now – as well as discussing how important and precious our bodies are.

Diets are the worst thing you can do to your body

If human beings needed diets to function, we’d have died out a long time ago. We naturally instinctively know how and what to eat – just like many species of animal. But unfortunately as we’ve evolved the choice of food we have to eat has widened. And in recent years the natural foods we called staples for years have been replaced with second-grade, inferior alternatives – made in factories from chemicals and harmful preservatives. Our busy lifestyles make it increasingly difficult to accommodate food as it should be accommodated – and these things in turn have caused an obesity crisis.

Diet companies might appear to be the ‘solution’ to the crisis, the saviours here to ‘fix’ us and get us fighting fit again. But they’re actually exploitative (and lucrative) business, making money out of the bad choices we make and the poor habits we’ve developed. They’re not interested in emphasising the responsibility of the individual, caring for our self-esteem or ensuring our bodies (and minds) aren’t harmed as we desperately try to be ‘slim’. They don’t address the questionable motives many people have behind a diet – mostly to be aesthetically acceptable to others, not to be happy and healthy from the inside out. They’re temporary, rather than promoting balanced, healthy eating for life. And studies have shown that aside from the physical and psychological damage many diets cause, they often result in participants getting bigger (and unhappier) as a result.

For all of these reasons I believe diets are toxic. They emphasise our weight and appearance and nothing else – even the supposedly ‘holistic’ and ‘responsible’ ones. They promote disordered eating and make many people much more unhealthy as a result when they’re trying to achieve the complete opposite! But more than that I think they contribute to a climate of self-loathing that makes body image issues and eating disorders much easier to develop. And they make money from all of that – lots of it.

I believe that nutrition and self-esteem are linked

Good nutrition goes hand in hand with positive self-esteem. I believe that when we improve one, we improve the other naturally. Since I developed a healthy relationship with food, my relationship with myself as a whole person has improved. I know my mind better than I ever have done. I appreciate now that starving myself, living off crappy expensive diet foods and depriving my body of nutrients like fat is abusive and makes me weaker mentally and physically. And most of all I understand that I only have one body, and I need to look after it if I want to live my life and do the things I want to do.

If you’re on a diet or are considering one, I hope this article has stopped to make you think about the consequences of that – and the alternatives. Although we’ve not all been through something as perspective-shifting as an eating disorder, we can all learn to understand our bodies and love food so that we can treat ourselves better.

For more on my perspective, diets and body image you can take a look at my books and related blogs here.

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The trouble with ‘I can always be better’

Body image blog

Body image blog

 One of the biggest problems for me over the years has been chronic perfectionism. It’s what led to me developing Anorexia, and it’s had a significant impact on my life ever since, leading me to struggle with my self-esteem and body image for over ten years.

A few years ago I realised a few things about myself, and one of them was how this relentless perfectionism really affected me when it came to being at peace with how I look. I noticed that whenever I was complimented, straight away I thought of what I could be or lacked, rather than accepting it and feeling good about myself as I was.

For example, I get ‘you’re exotic’ – well I could be more exotic. ‘Your hair is long’ well it could be longer. I rarely think ‘Ah thanks, yes it’s nice.’ ‘You have a lovely figure’ well my arse could be bigger, my boobs could be slightly bigger, my stomach could be flatter…you get the picture.

It could be better. That’s the root behind all the statements above. ‘Ah well yeah it’s okay, but I could be better.’ Roughly translated, that means ‘I’m not perfect.’

But NONE OF US ARE PERFECT! Absolutely nobody is perfect. And it comes back to this perfectionism I have, which I see more and more people struggling with now that we are so obsessed with how we look and often expected to conform to society’s ‘ideal’ image of beauty.

The trouble with ‘I can always be better’ is simply that we can’t. And we shouldn’t want or need to be, either.

It places a heavy emphasis on how we look rather than taking into account all the things that make us who we are. And that’s a dangerous game to play, because inadvertently you can cause yourself so much damage by striving for perfection (I know I have).

So how can we prevent or at least minimise need for perfection? It’s not easy, but it starts with a few small steps:

Stop comparing

This is a biggie. Comparison is what drove my eating disorder – and it defined my self-loathing ever since. I’d always look at other people and wish I had what they had, try and work out how I could get it too. But this is a pointless and dangerous exercise. The worst thing about comparison is that most people don’t even know they’re doing it – and if confronted deep down they know it’s futile, because we have to be ourselves. More precisely, we have to learn to be okay with being ourselves (more about this here hard to be yourself and here how I’m coming to terms with not being able to change who I am).

 Minimise exposure to other people

 In order to stop comparing it’s sometimes necessary to simply cut out the trigger, as I have done. Some people might say this is ‘cheating’, but if you’ve suffered with body image issues for a long time it’s hard to reverse your negative beliefs overnight. The core issues still need to be addressed, but in the meantime if you remove the trigger you’re going to feel better and more able to tackle the reasons deep down why you feel you’re not acceptable as you are.

Recognise your positives

This might feel impossible but have a go! Find just one thing you like about yourself, however small. This could be your nails, or your brows, or how tall you are. Whenever you feel bad remember that and focus on it. This is especially useful when you find yourself comparing, because more often than not you’ll find this so-called ‘perfect’ person is lacking in something you have. Also ask yourself, would you really like to be in their shoes? Do you want all of them, or just the one element you’re focusing on? If it’s one element, remember that there are lots of good things about you that you forget or take for granted, and these are things you wouldn’t want to give up just for the sake of ‘better’ hair or a different eye colour.

Focus elsewhere

When we focus on how we look we forget about everything else – especially if we’re perfectionists or have body image issues. So how about focusing on something different which doesn’t make you feel bad?

I noticed that when I focused on building my business and writing the books, I cared less about how I looked. I actually think now that it wasn’t necessarily that I cared less, I just didn’t have time to think about it as I did before because I was so engrossed in what I was doing – and my time was taken up with something positive and productive.

Want to learn more about better body image? Take a look at my Golden Rules here:

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A reminder that an eating disorder isn’t a choice

Girl with Tape over Mouth --- Image by © Corbis
Girl with Tape over Mouth — Image by © Corbis

Recently comments were made by broadcaster Joan Bakewell, who outrageously claimed that ‘you don’t find people with Anorexia and Bulimia in Syria’ and went on to say that they are caused by ‘narcissism’ as people are now very self-concerned and self-absorbed, meaning these self-inflicted, self-indulgent eating disorders are inevitably now a ‘modern day’ illness. She’s since apologised after plenty of backlash from sufferers and those who have been through an eating disorder like me, who kindly pointed out to her that she was way, way off the mark with these wildly inconsiderate allegations.

The problem with this is that people with eating disorders already face plenty of backlash from ignorant people in their day-to-day lives. This ‘well you could just eat so don’t be so bloody selfish/ungrateful’ mentality is unfortunately shared by lots of people, young and old, who don’t properly understand what an eating disorder is like and how it affects someone. In fact, many mental illnesses are misunderstood in this way, because people think there is an element of choice involved. I often was told to ‘just eat’ or that I was being ‘selfish’ or ‘self-obsessed’.

Although Bakewell has since apologised and says she recognises that actually the things she said were hurtful, false and far from reality, the damage has already been done. What public comments (made by prominent people) like this do is reinforce the mistaken beliefs people hold about Anorexia and Bulimia, so they believe they’re justified then to try and ‘guilt’ a person into recovery by saying things like ‘you’ve got lots of food here, but they have nothing in third world countries, don’t be so wasteful’, or ‘you could eat and you choose not to, but think about all the people who can’t’ ‘people are so concerned with how they look these days’. The saddest thing for me is that her opinion mirrors that of many of a certain generation who inadvertently make recovery very difficult for someone really struggling with Anorexia or Bulimia.

Why is an eating disorder not a choice?

These mistaken opinions all come from one root cause – ignorance. And where eating disorders are concerned ignorance often manifests itself in the form of people assuming an eating disorder is a choice, or that the person involved has a choice in the matter and therefore wilfully decides not to eat – much to the inconvenience and frustration of everyone round them. And then they go taking up resources on the NHS and make themselves incredibly poorly. How selfish.

An eating disorder, like any other mental or physical health issue, is not contracted through choice. Nobody decides to get an eating disorder. They’re deadly and they’re a horrendous thing to go through – with lasting consequences for many. The idea that people are ‘playing up’ or ‘being selfish’ is just plain wrong – and it’s not something that should be publicly voiced to a large audience by someone who knows absolutely nothing about what it’s like to go through an eating disorder first-hand.

Anorexia and Bulimia aren’t ‘new’. Like many mental illnesses, learning difficulties and conditions such as Autism and ADHD, eating disorders are often made out to be ‘new’, when in fact they’ve afflicted people for hundreds of years, yet back then they weren’t recognised officially or treated appropriately. Years ago people with acute mental illness were packed off to asylums and concealed from the outside world, and those who could hide it did so for fear of being ostracised. And I’m pretty sure that there are plenty of people in refugee camps struggling with all sorts of mental illnesses, including eating disorders, as a consequence of the trauma they have been through and the dire living conditions and situation they are in.

So a little more consideration and sensitivity please Ms Bakewell. And a reminder that when you don’t know what you’re talking about, it’s best not to open your mouth at all.

 

If you liked this blog, take a look at When will people realise eating disorders aren’t aesthetic?

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Why is it so hard to ‘be yourself’?

how to be yourself

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‘Be yourself’. It’s one of the best pieces of advice ever given – yet how many of us dish it out then fail to adhere to it ourselves?

At the end of the day we will always have different ‘sides’ of ourselves for different people or situations – you wouldn’t behave in the same way at work as you do when you’re out with your friends and vice versa. But on the whole we are one person, with likes, dislikes quirks and foibles. What is sad is that many people try to hide themselves, their true selves, in order to be liked by other people (just as I did for far too long). They project an image that they think other people want to see, in the hope that they will be accepted. But take it from me – this is a dangerous and pointless exercise.

Over the past ten years or so, I’ve been on a constant journey of self-discovery and concealment. I ended up with Anorexia because I was desperately trying to be liked and I knew that the person I was wasn’t somebody the people I went to school with wanted to be around. Even when I tried to be something else, I still wasn’t liked – but I was still sure that this was the way forward. It was only once I left school and discovered that not everybody is cruel and small-minded that I learnt it was okay to show my real self. But even then, I sometimes struggled to really express who I was and how I felt for fear of being ridiculed or ostracised for it.

Over the past few years and particularly over the past 12 months, I’ve learnt that being myself is the key to success in all areas of my life. It’s incredible to think that I have spent all of my adult life so far wishing I was someone else, feeling as though I wasn’t good enough, wanting to be more beautiful, more successful, in order to achieve my goals – when in actual fact doing all this was driving me further away from my goals and made me ill. My obsessive, perfectionistic nature and anxiety meant I’d manically search for ways to better myself or be the person I desperately thought I ‘should be’. These thoughts would keep me awake at night. I constantly strived for this ‘holy grail’ but never reached it – instead, I was unhappy. When my carefully constructed world (as I knew it) collapsed and I lost my job I was forced to rebuild myself and start all over again – and the mental and physical struggle I experienced forced me to re-evaluate what I was doing, why I was doing it and the way I was thinking – in the end, it truly was a blessing in disguise.

I feel so sad when I see people trying hard to be somebody they’re not. It isn’t always obvious – but little things they do and say give them away because it takes one to know one! Being someone other than who you are is exhausting – a waste of your energy and a waste of your life. It’s not until you unapologetically spend time being yourself that you really start to live your life. So why is it so difficult to ‘be yourself’, what have I learned so far, and how can you do the same?

Being yourself involves letting go

Letting go is increasingly difficult to do when you feel as though you want to control everything in your life. I developed a need for control when I was bullied and carried that through my eating disorder and even have it to this day – although I’m able to live with it now without it taking over my life. Many of us seek control because we live in a world which is unpredictable and fast-moving – we’re always ‘switched on’, always encouraged to be ‘better’ by clever adverts which deliberately tap into our existing low self-esteem. But letting go doesn’t mean you’ll completely lose control – it doesn’t mean you won’t do the things you want to do. Of course, if the things you want to do are really important to you, deep down…

Being yourself forces you to check your motives

I realised when I started to let go that it was difficult because I had an image in my head of ‘how life should be’ and ‘who I was’ in that life. That life was perfect, of course, and so was I. That meant that it didn’t exist!! The life was also someone else’s idea of perfect. Being an Instagram model and plastering details of my personal life all over social media aren’t actually high on my agenda – in fact, I just want to travel the world and live somewhere where the sun shines and the sea sparkles. I’m not materialistic – I like to spend more time than is normal in hoodies and pyjamas and I like to spend it with the people I love. Yet here was the so-called ‘perfect life’ I was striving for – complete with Louis Vuitton luggage and a Victoria’s Secret body. I realised that in reality, being the person I ‘thought I should be’ was no fun. It involved ruining every moment by taking endless selfies to get the right one, worrying needlessly about how I looked and revealing intimate details of my life in a narcissistic fashion – all things I just wasn’t comfortable with. Why was I beating myself up for not participating? Then I started to see that life could be amazing if I could let go – and when I realised that the motive wasn’t worth holding on to, that became easier.

Being yourself requires a leap of faith

Because self-loathing very easily becomes a habit, trying to reverse your negative mindset and the behaviours it encourages requires a venture into the unknown. At the moment you know how you react when you see a photograph of a model, you know how you feel scrolling through endless ‘perfect’ images on social media – and although you know it’s harmful you stick with it, because it’s familiar. I went cold turkey with the things that I found triggered my appearance-related anxieties – one by one. Gradually I cut out the things which I knew caused me to compare and be generally unhappy. At first I was tempted back into the familiar way of doing things, and sometimes I did, but it wasn’t difficult to see that they make me feel bad, when by comparison ignorance really is bliss.

Being yourself means not caring what others are thinking or doing

This is one I think we all find difficult. Even the people who say ‘oh I do my own thing, I don’t care what other people think’ definitely care a little bit, otherwise they’d walk around with nothing on speaking their mind all the time and pissing people off. It’s obviously not a good thing to really not give a shit what anyone else thinks – so this is more a task of caring less than not at all. The first hurdle is caring less about what other people think – about how they perceive you. It really, really doesn’t matter. I spent far too long believing that how I was perceived by others shaped me – if I wasn’t liked, then I couldn’t be happy and needed to improve. It’s impossible to please everyone, and it’s impossible to know if you’re liked or not, so I fought a losing battle for ten years. Then I realised that as long as I was true to myself and genuine I would be well received, and if I wasn’t, the problem was with the other person and not with me. I also realised that I was liked by a lot of people – people who knew me as I really was, not as a carefully constructed image I projected out like propaganda.

The second hurdle is not caring what other people are doing. That may feel impossible given that you are constantly exposed to other people’s lives, bodies and possessions on social media and television. So that’s the first step – ditch it. Ditch the social media – it’s poison. Stop scrolling through other people’s lives (which have been majorly exaggerated, by the way) and comparing yourself – it’s a sure fire way to unhappiness. Just get rid. I did, and I’ve never looked back. Now I only use social media for business purposes. Sometimes I have this niggle in the back of my mind and I worry – ‘Shouldn’t I be sharing all of this on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram’? Or a friend shows me a photo of some model on Twitter or Instagram and the urge to follow them and then compare and wish I could copy every single one of their photos returns. Then I remember that a) my private life is private and I don’t wish to share it, it’s fine just between friends and family, and b) I will never look like that model, who lives a privileged lifestyle and has probably had surgery (not to mention the clever editing software used on every image). Nor do I need to look like her – I’m fine just as I am. Getting rid of social media is a huge step. You may (like me) need to have a word with yourself now and again, but that’s normal.

Being yourself is liberating and exciting

Here’s the good bit. Once you stop living someone else’s life and start living your own, things start to fall into place. Good things happen because you’re genuinely passionate about what you are doing – you’re doing things because you WANT to – not because you believe you should. You wear the clothes you want, wear your make-up however you like, leave your pyjamas on all day (okay, maybe that’s just me). You suddenly become free to live life however you want and do whatever you like without worrying you’ll ‘mess up’ your perfect plan for a life you’d never have enjoyed anyway.

Being yourself allows you to live life the way you want to

Now you can plan for the future without irrelevant, superfluous stuff in the way. You can spend your time on energy on things you truly love. You can create memories and have experiences instead of collecting things (and photographs of things). I find I have so much more time (and a lot more positive energy) which I can then spend properly enjoying the time I have (non of us live forever, it’s limited!). For example, I used to spend all my holidays in beautiful places worrying about the amount of acceptable selfies I’d taken to post on social media, which led to me panicking about the colour of my skin, the size of my arse (you get the picture). When I wasn’t doing that, I’d compare myself unfavourably to most other women in the vicinity because in my opinion their figures, faces, hair and even bikinis were better than mine. Now I go on holiday and I hardly take any photos. I don’t share them on social media (because I don’t even look at what other people are doing on social media!). I eat, I laugh, I swim, I lie in the sun and I LIVE my life rather than wishing I was in someone else’s (there’s more about these experiences in Tough Love).

 

Being yourself is about more than just caring less about the way you look. It’s a state of mind which you develop about every part of yourself until you stop being ashamed and start living so hard you don’t even have time to think about what other people are doing! For more on why we think this way and how you can change things around you can take a look at my book Tough Love here.

For more on how to be yourself, take a look at my other body image blogs here. 

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Responsible reporting

news anorexia

news anorexia

Why I never share pictures of myself or my lowest weight

One thing I publicly discuss quite often is my positive perspective on eating disorders, body image, self-esteem and mental health in general. That means a lot of things, but where eating disorders are concerned in particular it means being responsible.

We don’t need to sensationalise eating disorders to raise awareness

I campaign for responsible reporting because most press coverage of Anorexia we are exposed to is negative in some way. Headlines screaming ‘I was left to die’ or ‘I ate an apple a day’ or ‘I was 4 stone’ are not designed to help people – they’re designed to sell newspapers. The worst thing about this (other than fuelling the fire of confusion surrounding eating disorders) is that many vulnerable people find inspiration in these articles. I did when I was developing an eating disorder. I saw the numbers and the competitive Anorexic mind within me latched on to them – ‘you’re not thin enough.’ I saw the pictures and thought ‘your bones don’t show enough’. I saw the ‘shocking’ ‘one apple a day’ headlines as tips.

They’re unhelpful for a number of reasons aside from this – including their omission of any tangible useful information for sufferers to use to inspire hope, and the negative reviews of EDUs and the NHS with no alternative offered – which seemingly gives people no option but not to bother with recovery. Whilst they think these ‘recovery’ stories featuring people who now live ‘wonderful lives’ are inspiring and positive, in fact they’re never a true representation with a wholesome message behind them. People with Anorexia already understand what’s contained within these articles – it’s nothing new. It’s time some were written with them in mind.

Why are these articles so unhelpful?

I find it so upsetting and frustrating to constantly see articles in prominent publications featuring ‘before and after’ images. They’re sensationalistic and even though they and their subjects often claim to be sharing the story to help people, they’re doing anything but. In fact it shows ignorance and an absolute disregard for anyone vulnerable or currently suffering with an eating disorder who may see that and feel ‘inspired’ or ‘driven’ – and not in a positive way.

This is exactly what happened to me – and many people currently battling an eating disorder agree with me and message me to tell me they find these articles frustrating too as they exacerbate the thoughts they’re trying to get rid of. These articles make a battle which is already difficult worse – and they’re certainly not helpful.

I do what I do to help people – and sharing photos and certain details of my illness isn’t helpful

Everybody who has or has had Anorexia understands all too well how horrendous it is. How emaciated and horrific you look, how empty you feel. How shocking your appearance is to others. Most know that their weight has plummeted far below what is healthy or acceptable – to a figure which lots of people will find equally shocking. So sharing photographs and weights only serves one purpose at best – to satisfy the sick curiosity of people who’ve never had an eating disorder, and to sell more papers. At worst it encourages vulnerable people in the early stages of an eating disorder to continue when the right sort of publicity could deter and strengthen them, improving their mental wellbeing rather than continuing to destroy it and encouraging the types of thoughts which harmful and negative behaviour feeds off. Often Anorexia and Bulimia become an internal competition – constantly feeling as though you’re not ‘thin’ enough or your weight isn’t low enough.

Aside from that they’re not a helpful representation of eating disorders or recovery.   (‘everything’s better now’ don’t often go into detail about how the person recovered , or consistently negative about the NHS ‘I was left to die’ . The message this gives to people struggling right now is that they might as well not bother – give up now, because there’s nothing out there to help you – without offering the tools or an alternative they can take hope and inspiration from. That’s why I’m careful about how I share my story – because often ignorant publicity can be so harmful.

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Telling your eating disorder where to go

Taken in Townsville Qld 2010.© I retain copyright.

If you’re reading this, you’re taking a really positive step. The very first important thing in recovery is admitting that you think you have a problem, but then when you want support and need support how do you find it – what do you do? I’ve been there, feeling so helpless and desperately wanting to change, but at the same being unable to stop listening to the voice that compelled me to continue.

I often say that the most encouraging and important step in a person’s recovery is the point at which they say ‘I think I need help’ or ‘I don’t want to live like this anymore.’ If your experience is anything like mine, this happens in small bits to begin with, where the ‘real you’ inside voices concern over your health, dares to think for a moment about the future you could have, or feels a pang of guilt over something you said or did to a loved one whilst you were caught up in the stress of having to eat something, or being interrupted when you rushed off to make yourself sick.

But ‘I don’t want to be like this anymore’ or ‘I want to fight this’ isn’t necessarily the same thing as ‘I’m ready to fight this’. You’re able – you’re strong enough, but you might not be fully equipped – perhaps you don’t feel you have the right support or don’t know where to start. Eating disorders are persuasive, secretive, obsessive and compelling. They don’t slide away into submission. You need some support to fight them.

When I was at the point where I felt I might want to live and didn’t want to be poorly anymore, I found myself without the support I needed. I desperately wanted to speak to someone who had recovered from Anorexia, but I had no real example of somebody who had been through what I was currently going through and who could offer guidance, advise and above all empathy.

That’s why Tough Cookie exists – because I want anybody who is in that place feeling so in despair, without hope or struggling to know that it is possible to get better and that there is support out there for them. That’s why I run the blog and wrote the books. Here are a few things I learned during my journey – by sharing these I hope you won’t feel so alone and will know for sure that how you feel is just a natural part of the recovery process.

Try not to feel guilty and don’t beat yourself up

The problem with eating disorders is they get away with none of the pain, whilst you feel all the hurt and the guilt. Family members and friends often mistakenly think that they can ‘guilt’ you into eating, because they don’t see that it isn’t you behind your actions. Even without their input, you might feel naturally guilty anyway because you know that people around you are concerned and if you are in the first stages of overcoming your eating disorder, might feel as though you ‘aren’t doing it quickly enough.’

I can’t describe the guilt I experienced when I was at a point where I felt I wanted to ‘get better’. I could suddenly see the hurt I appeared to have caused and the difficulty, stress and strain I was putting my parents through. I didn’t care about myself – but I did care about them – that’s why I decided I wanted to try in the first place.

If you do find yourself feeling guilty, try to remember that none of this is your ‘fault’. Just like a physical illness, you aren’t responsible for the things you did or said, just like somebody with cancer isn’t responsible for upsetting people around them with their emaciated appearance, or somebody with a stomach bug isn’t responsible for throwing up everywhere. Guilt is a natural feeling and it actually shows that you give a shit – you care about things and that is a powerful and important thing. Try not to let guilt eat you up inside and hamper your progress – instead try to distract from it and focus on building your future.

Relapses happen

It isn’t a smooth ride for everybody. In fact most people find that recovery is a journey full of ups and downs. Some days you’ll feel good and do well – other days you’ll find yourself in the clutches of your eating disorder again unable to drown out the cruel voice which is angry because you haven’t been doing what it has been telling you to. But please know that gradually the bad days lessen and you find yourself with more and more good days. You start to fill the void created by the lack of noise your eating disorder makes with all the things you love – doing the things you want to do and enjoy again. You begin to dream about the future and take positive steps towards it – a future that an eating disorder doesn’t and cannot have a role in. All of these things ultimately help you to become the person you really are again.

Ask for (and take advantage of) as much support as possible

It’s difficult to go through this alone – and you don’t have to be alone, even if your family don’t seem to understand or you have no friends or professional help. I know that there are few resources online – but if you’re reading this you’ve found what I hope is a helpful and valuable resource. You can find details of charities I have personally heard are helpful here, and read more blogs and take a look at my books on this site. Sometimes you’ll find conventional healthcare services can’t (or are unable to) help you – but that’s okay – they didn’t help me either. With or without them, you can do it with other types of support by your side.

If you need further help and support on fighting Anorexia from a positive personal perspective,  you might find these articles helpful:

Coming out of an EDU – what now?

5 things Anorexia won’t tell you

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Why do you weigh yourself?

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Weight is an increasingly prevalent issue in society, not just for anyone with an eating disorder. As we become more anxious about the image we project to others, we naturally wish to be slim as the celebrities and advertisers tell us we should be. As a result so many people weigh themselves every week or even every few days – but what benefit does this bring (if any), and most importantly what harm can it cause?

I did a radio interview and phone-in last year in Ireland and one of the ladies spoke openly about her lifelong obsession with her weight. She didn’t believe it was a problem – although as she described the way she’d starve herself if she found she’d gained a couple of pounds I listened horrified and waited for my opportunity to speak. I told her what I’m about to explain in this post – that although stepping on the scales may appear to be an innocent and healthy habit, sometimes it can become a controlling obsessive compulsion which results in harmful behaviour.

Regularly weighing yourself doesn’t necessarily indicate that you have a problem with eating or with your appearance. It’s often suggested it is a healthy thing to do – and for people who are overweight, it certainly is one of the only ways to monitor progress. I talk about weighing ourselves in Tough Cookie and Tough Love – and I discuss how I feel it’s a harmful thing for ‘healthy’ people to do for all sorts of reasons. It’s not the action but the motive that concerns me. That’s because lots of women and men now weigh themselves constantly.

I know that January is the ‘height’ of the diet season – and that’s partly the reason behind me putting out this post. As an important part of dieting, we are encouraged to weigh ourselves to ‘monitor progress’. But most people who embark on these fad diets (mentioning no names) aren’t morbidly obese. They’re just dissatisfied with themselves and are influenced by advertisements filled with ‘bikini bodies’ and encouragement to diet. They feel ‘fat’ because they’ve eaten more over the festive period and are inactive because it’s so bloody cold. In fact, diets have ruined our relationship with food and our own bodies systematically for years – you can read more about my view on that if you don’t know already here.

Part of the reason I’m passionate about sharing my viewpoint on weight is that it is something which shackled me for a long while. It meant such a lot to me to weigh myself – but now I never do it anymore. Originally out of fear, but now because I have realised how unhealthy it is for me. I don’t need to weigh myself. I was always within a bracket of half a stone, and whatever end of the spectrum I was at, I looked the same and felt the same – that is until I stepped on the scales and realised I’d put on a pound. Then I’d spend a day (or even a week) panicking and stressing until I weighed myself again and surprise surprise, discovered it was just a fluctuation. After all, a pound is a miniscule amount of weight to gain or lose.

It consumed a fair amount of energy as I panicked about which number would pop up this week, orchestrating my eating and toilet habits around this 1 or 2 minute ritual. It was one of the things which stayed with me since my eating disorder – a (pretty bad) habit. When I was poorly, I’d weigh myself once or twice a day. Then I went to once a week eventually and stayed that way throughout recovery because it was essential for me to monitor my weight gain. After a few years however I was still weighing myself once a week on a Friday morning every single week, but now I got panicked as I stripped off to step on the scales and felt sick and fat all day if I’d gained even a tiny bit of weight.

The reason I’m discussing weighing habits is that I know that I wasn’t alone in this and that so many people still weigh themselves even though it’s fruitless and makes them feel unhappy. Monitoring weight gives us control – something which Anorexia craves. Therefore it’s very easy for all of us to change our habits to fit in around the number on the scale because we become addicted to the feeling of control it gives us – whether we have an eating disorder or not.

I speak to lots of women and men who constantly weigh themselves – something which makes them miserable and dictates the way they live their lives. It also distorts how they see themselves based on the weight – so putting on a pound or two suddenly reveals every inch of ‘extra fat’ on their bodies and their clothes feel tight. Lose a couple and you feel like a supermodel. Or (worse) you feel so good that you’re compelled to continue – even though you’re fine as you are.

Many people also have a fixation with their ‘ideal weight’. This isn’t something a doctor has calculated for them – it’s not even based on how they look and feel. It’s based on how they think they look and feel. I used to have an ideal weight, too. But now I’m probably half a stone over that and I look and feel the same – I’m happy with my body and I don’t need to know how much I weigh. At the time you could have told me that and I’d have been horrified. Occasionally of course I’m hit with the urge to get the scales out – but I never do because I know that it’s the wrong thing to do. I’m sure there are plenty of you reading this who are similarly feeling frightened as I was at the thought of going over your ‘perfect’ benchmark weight.

It’s difficult for people who haven’t been there to understand obsessive weighing – but I have. That’s the reason I’m asking you today to try letting go. Try to remember that your body is constantly working for you to keep you alive. This means that things change from day to day – levels of water, hormones, chemicals. Your weight also changes. The way you see yourself and your body in relation to your weight has been cleverly implanted into your mind by diet companies who don’t care about you or your physical or mental health – they want your money. By treating your body as a wonderful thing which deserves to be looked after, and realising that you are often a static, steady and healthy weight with fluctuations as part of that process, you can begin to enjoy life without having to worry about stepping on those scales every morning.

For more about diets and weight, take a look at my books Tough Love and Nutrition in a Nutshell here.

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Surviving New Year

As eating disorders (and several other mental illnesses, including OCD, depression and anxiety) can be caused or contributed to by external pressures, I think it’s important to cover NYE here on the blog, because around 90% of people I speak to in the run up to New Year are feeling negative, fearful and under pressure. Encouraged (and even persuaded) to ‘go all out’ and plaster photos of themselves having an ‘amazing time’ all over Facebook, with the addition of the impressive, unrealistic plans and ‘resolutions’ required to see in the new year with, many people end up forced into a new year that doesn’t represent anything near what they hoped or felt it should.

But despite this societal pressure and what your friends, family or the media might have you believe, new year doesn’t have to be ‘incredible’ and ‘spectacular’ to be a special and important time of reflection and positive change. If you do it in the right way and shun the norm, you may find yourself having the first new year you actually enjoy – and what’s more, it may even be a productive time and contribute to your wider recovery.

So why am I writing about this?

I was always one of those people who secretly disliked New Year. I felt like it was a ‘big deal’ and however much I’d done or however I decided to celebrate it was somehow never enough. I always started the following year feeling depressed, inadequate and anxious. But this year for the first time I am approaching New Year festivities feeling fine. It’s no big deal – and I feel okay.

The reason for this is that I have spent the last year working on my outlook and I’ve dramatically changed my perception of the world around me, which has in turn altered my behaviour. Instead of planning ahead obsessively and trying to control every single part of my future I’ve spent a lot of time training myself to let it go. ‘Taking each day as it comes’ is a time-honoured piece of advice – but it wasn’t until this year that I actually understood the true meaning (and importance) of it. I also realised that I was looking at the past in an exclusively negative light, rather than focusing on the many positive things that had happened during the last twelve months.

New Year always represented failure for me. I always felt that I should have been better, more like someone else, should’ve done more, seen more, been more. I looked back on the last twelve months and counted the things I hadn’t done, forgetting about the things I had achieved and the places I’d been, the memories I’d made with the people I loved.  Whilst everyone else celebrated and posted photos of themselves at lavish parties, I’d get so drunk I couldn’t remember the last half of the party or of the 1st January – or I’d lie in bed and shake with sadness, anger and frustration, going through everything I hadn’t done in my head and comparing my life to other people’s.

That is no way to spend any time of the year – let alone the beginning of a new one. No-one should have to spend new year alone (and by that, I mean you don’t have to be physically alone, just psychologically isolated. As Robin Williams once said, ‘the worst thing in life is not being alone, but ending up with people who make you feel alone’). Whether you’re struggling with an eating disorder or just feel down at this time of year, please take a look through my post and read about the things that helped me to feel fine about the coming New Year rather than poorly. They’re important things I’ve learnt both through years of self-loathing and finally taking charge to enjoy every part of my life for what it is – not what I’m told it should be or feel it should be. You can do the same – no matter what your situation may be or how bad you’re feeling right now.

It’s all out of your control – so you have to go with the flow

You should be present, in the present. Forget about the future and stop focusing on the past. At the end of the day we can’t control the future – not for ourselves and not for anyone else. We can’t control the outcomes of our actions, even if we change our behaviour, we can’t control the consequences. We can’t plan for outside interference with our carefully laid plans. So we need to stop trying – and ignoring the people who tell us we can and should try to control every last detail in the life of our future self. This new year, create an environment which enables you to make plans for the future without feeling pressure. Know that there is no ‘big start’ to your future – you can start now.

Take care of yourself and make manageable plans for the months ahead

Write down three manageable goals for yourself for next year. Then break them down into the smaller goals you’ll need to accomplish to achieve them. Maybe you want to get a new job next year. That’s the main goal – so underneath that, you could include ‘writing a CV’ and ‘contacting recruitment agencies’. If you achieve just one of those important goals, you have done what you set out to do.

Look back on this year’s achievements and positives

There WILL be at least one. Maybe that was that you had a home to live in, or family around you who tried to support you this year. It’s very easy in a society where everybody strives to have more and we are actively encouraged to have more to forget that if we had less, we’d be unhappier than we are now.

Life is not measured by achievements. Now social media has pitted everyone in ‘competition’ with each other, lots of people feel pressure to live a ‘better life’. But actually there is joy in the ordinary. We ignore so many small blessings every single day, like having clothes to wear, living without fear, finding clean running water in our taps. That’s not to say you’re ungrateful or a bad person – you’ve just been conditioned to forget what you have got and focus on what you haven’t instead. Spend time consciously thinking about one thing in your life you love every day. At New Year, think about ten things – or more. Your life is wonderful just with you in it, being alive – and you don’t need to have climbed Everest, invented a cure for cancer or been voted America’s Next Top Model to be important and special.

Don’t be so busy worrying about next year’s achievements and the things you haven’t done that you forget about how far you have come.

New Year isn’t the big ‘new beginning’ it’s supposed to be – you can start again at ANY time

Just because you don’t address your thoughts, feelings and health now, doesn’t mean you can’t tomorrow, or the day after that, or sometime in March next year. In fact, ‘addressing’ things can involve something very small – like making the decision to read a book or not to drink to excess. You can start now and build – there is no ‘epiphany’ moment just like the movies where you wake up and your life is great.

This philosophy is actually central to my friend and colleague Geraldine Hills’ teachings – and her book, Second Chance Day, is all about the importance of giving yourself a second chance, anytime, anywhere, however small or large. When we met we realised that we had lots in common – and one of those things was the fact that inadvertently, however bad we felt about ourselves and however low we’d been, we’d always given ourselves a second chance. We’d always persisted, come out fighting, been determined to succeed – and to do that, we have to give ourselves second chances, like getting out of bed and brushing our teeth, stopping smoking and being kinder to ourselves.

You don’t have to celebrate

Everyone (me included) seems to feel as though this time of traditional celebration should be spent at a party, event or family gathering to be worth recognition. But for me, being comfortable and feeling happy and content is the only way to spend New Year – and being around a load of strangers getting wasted isn’t my idea of fun (anymore!) I’d much rather stay in – and despite the   , I don’t feel bad about that – and nor should you. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad because you’re not attending a lavish ball or watching fireworks from the London Eye. These things are often overrated and greatly exaggerated thanks to clever photography and social media. As long as you are safe and happy and are surrounded by the right people (or alone, if you want to be), it’s fine.

If you’re still struggling please check out my accompanying post about New Year here, and if you need extra support or someone to talk to over the coming days Samaritans are available for impartial advice and support.

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