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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When’s it due?

This weekend I was asked if in pregnant (I’m not!) – here’s how I stopped it from destroying me.

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‘When’s it due?’

It’s probably the worst thing you can inadvertently say to a woman who feels self-conscious about her weight – or any woman for that matter. Whilst on the surface it’s well-meaning and harmless, it horrendously backfires when it transpires that the woman in question is actually not pregnant at all. Then immediately your kind, caring curiosity is transformed into an ugly insult which can cause instant damage to the recipients self esteem.

I discuss briefly in Nutrition in a Nutshell and Tough Love that I struggle with constant IBS. Anyone who has or has had IBS will understand that dealing with chronic stomach pain and bloating day in, day out is no fun (especially when people think you’re making it up, are over-exaggerating or are being awkward). Over the past 4 years I’ve come to terms with the fact that I rarely have that much-coveted ‘flat stomach’. I’m pretty much always bloated.

This used to be a REAL problem for me. My stomach (along with my thighs) was a focus point whilst I had anorexia, and ever since I longed for the VS body (until I started to change my perspective and finally learnt how to love my body the way it is). Now I just accept it and make the best of it – and I get better at managing my IBS all the time (although it’s still difficult due to anxiety). The only time I feel self-conscious at all is on occasion in a bikini and on nights out – and clubbing is something I rarely do anymore.

My best friend’s hen do this weekend involved such an occasion – and as I’d tried the dress I’d bought especially for it on a week before with no issue I didn’t expect to get into it and feel like a whale. But unfortunately I did. My stomach was inexplicably round and hard – even though is been careful as usual with what I ate. The problem with anxiety linked IBS is that it strikes when it wants without your say – so I put the bloating down to some subconscious apprehension about the weekend as is normal for me.

We went out and I forgot about the bloat (as I’ve become used to dealing very well with my insecurities and no longer let them bother me too much). I put it to the back of my mind and we set off to the club.

Yet halfway through the night I was paid the ultimate backhanded compliment. As I stood washing my hands at the sinks the toilet attendant smiled, pointed at my stomach said to me: ‘Pregnant?’

In fact the tone of her voice was less ‘posing a question’ and more ‘Aww!’ Shocked I smiled back (as you do) and replied ‘oh,..no, actually…’ before scuttling out in disbelief feeling embarrassed as the queue of women waiting looked on.

Of course I went to tell the hen party crew who were all just as shocked as I was. None of them could understand why she’d said what she’d said – but in reality I could. When I’m particularly bloated I can look a couple of months pregnant – I’m just not use to people other than my inner voice pointing that out.

I could have done two things at this point. I could have gone home crying and feeling fat and ashamed, or I could shrug it off. The new me shrugged it off. The old me would have laughed it off, only to punish myself continually afterwards and embark on some harsh diets or IBS treatments to ensure it never happened again.

Yet it’s not just what we do in the immediate aftermath that matters. Comments can cut deep and still effect us even if we managed to stick a plaster on them at the time. And I soon found myself feeling a little more self conscious than usual about my middle area – both the bloating, and the fact that my rear has been slowly expanding for a few months now.

Now I’m nowhere near as bad as I have been in the past – feeling nauseous when I look at myself, kneading my stomach critically wishing it was slimmer. But I do generally opt for baggy clothes, only wear leggings and sometimes. But even then I felt a little fatter. I looked at the photos from the night with more critical eyes. I realised I was letting my anxieties and insecurities over how I looked rule me again – and I haven’t allowed that in a long time.

So how did I make sure I felt better and didn’t let the comments bother me further? And how can you do the same after a similar blow to your self-esteem?

The criticism could be one of two things. It could be that you already recognised the ‘flaw’, so now you feel a lot fucking worse about it. Or it could be something you’d never considered before, and now you’re thinking ‘Oh my god it’s worse than I thought. Now I have to sort that out too.” Either way, you’re left feeling bad. Here’s how you can stop.

I realised when I was feeling bad that I was allowing clever psychological tricks my brain used to play on me to slide into my life again. For example, when I used to weigh myself and I discovered I was a lb over my ‘perfect weight’, I’d feel fat for the rest of the day. I’d actually feel it – my clothes seemed tight, my face looked puffy in the mirror. This would carry on usually until the next day, by which time I’d forgotten. The tight clothes, the mystery bulges of fat and the puffy face were all in my imagination.

And so too were these ideas I was having about having ‘gained weight’. Since I don’t weigh myself anymore I panicked because I decided I must have got fat without realising it – but when I sat down with myself and rationalised it I realised I looked exactly the same. Just on that night I was bloated, my dress accentuated it and that lady made a misguided comment. That’s all there is to it.

Often how we feel is 100% in our mind – it’s not actually the product of anything factual or tangible. Don’t throw away all the good things about yourself for one perceived ‘bad thing’ – especially when someone else points it out to you. More often than not they have their own motives behind saying something thoughtless or unkind – so don’t forget that often it’s them, not you.

 

I would have literally fallen apart if someone had said that to me a few years ago. But now I’m able to live with myself better – and I can handle curveballs because I’ve developed tools to help me to deal with my poor body image and insecurities. Fancy taking your first steps to living your life to the full without body image issues? Take a look at Tough Love and my Golden Rules here.

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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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Why I had to ban myself from Pinterest (sad face)

Banned from Pinterest

Banned from Pinterest

I talk a lot about social media and how I believe it affects our collective self-esteem negatively through constantly promoting ‘perfect’ bodies, faces and everything else, causing us to compare and compare ourselves until we feel inadequate. For this reason I banned myself from social media other than using it for business and Tough Cookie (you can read about this and my self-imposed boundaries to protect my self-esteem here). In the original post I discuss Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in particular – but recently I realised that one of my much-loved social networks Pinterest was just as harmful as the others, and I forced myself to step away.

I generally dislike social media on a personal level. I think it breeds a climate of toxic one-upmanship which encourages us all to be in competition which each other whilst we post about our so-called ‘perfect’ lives. Many people now measure their worth or interestingness through ‘likes’ and ‘shares’. It’s ironically a fantastic way to waste your life, because although it makes you feel important and as though your life is better than everyone else’s, the people who are really living aren’t scrolling through other people’s rants or sharing what they had for breakfast – they’re out enjoying their lives.

 So it wasn’t difficult for me to quit Facebook and Twitter (in principle – I still have profiles which I rarely use or use for business). Apart from rare times when I’m drawn in after accidentally seeing posts and think ‘oh my god I should have been sharing every selfie and every event in my life for all this time!’ I generally don’t miss it. But one social network I do like is Pinterest.

I’d spend hours on Pinterest every night a couple of years ago. After work I’d lie in bed scrolling through, pinning beautiful homes to my ‘House’ board (I don’t have a house yet!), pinning stunning images of various idyllic holiday destinations to my ’Travel’ board (I’ve not even scratched the surface of my travel list) and most worryingly pinning photographs of other people because i wished I could look like them. Whilst the ‘Quotes’ boards helped me immensely, I inadvertently often undid the good work they did and crushed my positive thoughts by going back to the boards which made me crave more in my life rather than appreciating what I currently have.

 But by nature Pinterest is aspirational. You rarely see an image that does’t represent life perfection on there – and if you do it’s for a post telling you how you can get that perfect life/body/hair/face. And it’s all fake. Eeks.

I didn’t realise how harmful Pinterest was until I was sharing photographs at shoots and with my bestie/hairdresser and people started to point out that without a face transplant (and a lot of extensions) I wasn’t going to achieve this ‘ideal look’ I’d formulated for myself, which naturally went with my ‘ideal life’ living in a beautiful house, travelling the world and running a business. And I started to see images on there that had made me feel bad on Twitter and Instagram (mostly models and ‘perfect’ make-up and hair photos) and realised that the old issues were creeping back in. The comparing, the fretting. I’d even created boards filled with pictures of people I wished to emulate, and I’d scroll through the images uncontrollably until I felt horrendously bad, fixated on what they had, what I lacked and how I could fix that. 

Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be aspirational and ambitious. Those boards helped me to achieve a lot, namely starting my own business and living life the way I want to. Travelling more. But it’s when we start to feel bad inside as a consequence that the trouble starts – because we can never move forward if we’re stuck in the past or worrying about the future in the present rather than enjoying it for what it is.

How many people reading this post have done a similar thing subconsciously with Pinterest or another social network? I bet a lot of you have without even knowing it. Banning yourself from social media (and in particular Pinterest, or another site you love) can be difficult, but the rewards are significant. You might feel as though you ‘need’ social media, but it’s only been around for less than ten years. i remember that life before social media was much simpler – and even then, i had issues. So if you also struggle with your self-esteem just imagine what damage social media is doing to you right now. Remember that social media encourages comparison – n fact, it’s almost unavoidable. for me comparison is like a drug – it makes me feel good at first and I can’t help but look at those images of ‘perfection’ (which have been tampered with and styled to the nth degree), but then I just feel bad, really bad. and as I ‘come down’ from the high I feel even worse. Recognise the pattern when you’re next online, and realise that there’s more to life than this.

 Need help quitting social media? Ready to feel better about yourself? Read my Golden Rules 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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This time last year…

This post isn’t specifically Anorexia-related. In fact, it’s a post for anyone who feels as though ‘looking forward’ to the next year is pointless – the people the words ‘New Years Eve’ fill with dread.

For about twelve years, I dreaded two annual events – my birthday, and New Year. Both had the same outcome and difficult thoughts attached to them. Every NYE I’d spend a considerable amount of time thinking about all the things I hadn’t done. I’d contemplate all the things other people had done that I wished I’d done. I’d beat myself up for not doing things differently so that I could have had a ‘better year’. I’d go over all the ‘bad things’ that had happened in my head until I was numb, then I’d start making negative assumptions about the year ahead.

This of course was VERY unhelpful and did nothing for my confidence or self-esteem, let alone my mental well-being as a whole. Most years I’d get blind drunk and wouldn’t even see the first half of the New Year. Some years I’d self-harm. Others I’d spend in bed asleep because I couldn’t cope with facing the merriment and endless boasting of parties and ‘new beginnings’ on TV and social media.

If any of this sounds like you, then I have a simple solution which turned things around for me. In many ways I changed my whole life with the shift in perspective I experienced late last year – but one of the biggest things I found useful was being more positive. I don’t mean this in a sparkly, patronising, self-help book kind of way. I mean positivity in its realest, rawest form – knowing that you can genuinely apply it to yourself and your life when you never thought you could before.

Positivity for me is not about reading flowery quotes and being ‘holistic’ and ‘spiritual’. It’s about being really honest with yourself and recognising that your brain sometimes tricks you. It tricks you into believing that everything’s bad and that you have no-one and nothing – when in fact, the opposite is true.

I want to demonstrate the power of positivity with my own story – and offer a handy tip for anyone dreading New Year festivities.

Things can change SO much in 12 months

This time last year, I was in a real mess. No job, no money, no career or future prospects (as I saw it then). I had lost a lot of weight as I couldn’t eat and my anxiety was worse than it ever had been before – I struggled to sleep as obsessive thoughts invaded my head at night and I’d lie awake having panic attacks until the small hours without knowing the real reason why. I didn’t see a future for myself because I couldn’t understand how things could possibly get better – how could they improve from the way they were now? I threw my dreams down the toilet and listed in my head the reasons why I wouldn’t get a job, wouldn’t have money anymore, counted the odds stacked against me. I didn’t have to think very hard – things were difficult and my situation wasn’t straightforward. I was in the middle of a rather nasty legal battle with my former company because they had treated me so badly which made me incredibly anxious, I was noticeably unwell, and I had no reference to support the hard work I’d done for them during my time in their employment. I had no money at all because they refused to pay me my last wage. Job interviews seemed to go well but nobody called me back. The weather was dark and depressing and my health was deteriorating. I was fearful of going back to work, but I knew I had to try and get a job again quickly.

Now, things are better than I ever could have imagined. I’d never have believed anyone who told me a year ago that I would be running my own business now and that I’d have written and published books. I look back on that time now and I know that I genuinely believed I couldn’t turn things around. But I did, and so can you.

Being ‘positive’ involves checking yourself and turning things on their head

Things were at an all-time low for me when I decided I needed to change who I was and how I felt in order to see a positive outcome in my life. I regained my fire (a determination which is always within me – and it’s likely you have it, too) and decided that no, this was not the way I wanted to live my life. I wanted (and deserved) to be financially stable, even successful. But to do this, I had to change my outlook.

I started with the small stuff – recognising my luck when I got a job interview, feeling grateful for kind words or the support of my parents and friends. When I really looked at my life, I realised that it wasn’t bad at all – and actually, I had plenty of opportunity to turn things around. I started to distract myself from anxiety by planning for the future with tangible goals which made me excited and passionate. Instead of manically shaking and going over the events of the past year I sat down and started to finish my book. I decided to offer writing services to tide me over whilst I was out of work and set up a Facebook page – and within a month, I had two clients. Now I have a successful copywriting business and I’ve worked with companies I could never have imagined I would back then.

Most importantly than all of that, I recognise that if I lost everything again, I am still lucky. I have my family and lovely friends who stay with me and support me even when I am going (literally) crazy. I have a house and I have food to eat, I have running water, I have possessions. I also have opportunity and freedom – the opportunity to change things if I want to and the freedom to do so. The best of it is, you have these things too.

Think about what you HAVE achieved, how far you’ve come in the past year

New Year encourages us to look forward, but also to look back and have a big think about all the things we haven’t done. This is useless and incredibly unhelpful, not to mention harmful for your mental health. Instead of listing the things you wish you had done, list the things you did do. Remember to include the small ones – like spending time with your kids or seeing friends. Although social media would have you believe that lavish holidays and fancy cars make life remarkable, it’s actually these things, the smallest things, which make your life amazing. Often we realise that far too late – so celebrate it today.

 

If you’ve read this and are thinking ‘that can’t be me’ – it CAN. Believe it can if you want things to change. I was at rock bottom – but within 12 months I have never been better or healthier mentally and physically. I’m excited by the year ahead, not fearful of it – and you can be too with time. You don’t have to wait till New Year to make a change and shift your perspective in a positive way. You can do it at ANY time of year – so don’t feel as though you’ve ‘missed the boat’ if you’re not able to tackle things right now.

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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YASP

National UK mental health charity Mind have always been one of my favourites. That’s because I see them actively doing things to help people in this country with a variety of mental health issues – unlike other charities who have funding ploughed into them only to squander it or not to offer valuable and important help to the vulnerable people they should be supporting (I’ll name no names here!)

Recently I got involved with Manchester Mind’s YASP initiative – which specifically works to improve the network of help available for young people in the North West of England. Whilst I do go into schools, colleges and charities independently to talk about my experience and share advice on nutrition, body image and eating disorders, I am currently also go in with the YASP team to talk about mental health and wellbeing in general.

As part of what I do in schools I also speak with teachers, peer mentors and pastoral staff to help them to be aware of the issues which can contribute to somebody developing anorexia, signs to look out for and things they can do to help.

If you find yourself with nowhere to turn to, I really do recommend looking up Mind as well as other charities who specifically deal with eating disorders. If you’re based here in the North West, YASP in particular offer counselling, activities, work experience and mentoring – all of which can be really helpful if you feel as though you are helpless or struggling without anything to do or work towards. If you’re in another part of the UK or Ireland, (or overseas) you can find a list of helpful charities below.

Whatever you need support with, you can find more details about helpful charities here.

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5 tips to feel better NOW during recovery

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Bad day? No problem!

Talk to someone about themselves: Yep, anyone! It can get really tiring just talking about ourselves and our situation all the time, especially if it is in a negative capacity. Go and ask someone a question – not only will it make them feel good, but you’ll get to know lots about that person and may even be able to offer them advice or learn something new. It’s really refreshing to talk about something you never normally would – especially if your daily dialogue usually revolves around health care and food.

Go out and spend some time in the sunshine: I am a self-confessed sun fiend (I actually NEED it to function properly at all!) and even now I always feel better for a little time spent with its warm rays on my face. When I was poorly, a couple of the nurses would wheel me out into the sun because they knew how much it benefited me – physically and mentally. The sun has been shown to help lift mood and also restores vital vitamins in the body such as vitamin D which is very much needed during recovery. Obviously too much sun exposure is bad for us so if you’re sensitive make sure you’re wearing protection and don’t lie in it all day!

Do something which you enjoy: Even if you don’t feel like it. Read a book, paint a picture, sketch, play a computer game, have a go on the drums or the guitar (whatever floats your boat – I’m just guessing!) Take a long shower, or if you’re able to, a bath is also great for relaxing and uplifting. Go all out with candles and your favourite smellies – paint your nails, indulge in a face mask. Just half an hour out of a crappy day giving yourself a break can often be enough to change it around.

Have a go at havening: I’m really interested in how techniques such as NLP and havening can help recovery – not just for eating disorders but also for anxiety, depression, body dysmorphia and more. My lovely friend Geraldine has used touch therapy and NLP extensively in her own life and with her family and it has really made an incredible difference. I’m only just learning more about it, but if you’re interested check out this simple article in which Paul Mckenna introduces havening and shares an easy ten minute technique you can try.

Watch an inspirational video or film: I know it sounds a bit silly but honestly, it’s remarkable how uplifting and inspiring some movies can be. It doesn’t have to be heavy or intellectual or spiritual – just a film that makes you feel good! Perhaps it’s a film from your childhood, or even a TV show. If you want to try something new, take a look at some of the inspirational videos on Youtube. There’s lots of them – many of them have beautiful photographs and offer a new perspective on life which you might be able to take something away from.

 

We all have bad days – and it’s completely understandable that you may be having more than most at the moment. Remember that one bad day isn’t a setback, it’s not a failure, it’s simply a bad day. Give yourself a break, remember how far you’ve come and focus on your future goals – you’ll get there 🙂

If you’re into beauty, why not have a look at these simple uplifting beauty rituals to brighten your day?

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Tough Cookie is a blog for support and inspiration during recovery from Anorexia. Eating disorder recovery can be tough – but so are you!

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Reiki for Anxiety and Eating Disorders

Holistic therapies are still treated with a degree of mistrust and incredulity by some health professionals, but when it comes to matters of the mind, we all know that extra stress is damaging and relaxation can be really effective as a complimentary treatment. Some improvements in health can even be down to holistic therapies – even if this is simply the work of placebo, surely any improvement is good, no matter what the reason is!

At the end of last year I was going through a very stressful time which had exacerbated my anxiety to breaking point. My mum said she had heard Reiki was good for anxiety and said it had actually helped a friend of hers – so I decided to just give it a go.

I really loved Reiki and it made an instant difference to the way I was feeling, not necessarily physically, but I was most definitely lifted mentally.

What can you expect?

It’s difficult to say exactly what you will get out of the experience ,and they vary from practitioner to practitioner – but my own personal experience of Reiki is that it is so deeply relaxing – like being almost asleep. My practitioner has a heated bed covered with soft, scented towels – so it’s a really multi-sense experience.

Even though its psychological and medical benefit may not be proven, I genuinely believe that Reiki has a significant place in the treatment of mental illness, for nothing else if not its calming qualities. I would really recommend it for anybody with anxiety disorder, depression, body dysmorphia or an eating disorder because for that time you are there, you are in a warm, comfortable bubble and if you are additionally spiritual you feel very safe and protected. Because it’s a non-contact therapy, it’s suitable if you have an eating disorder as obviously massage and acupuncture can be painful and dangerous.

I feel so uplifted and happy when I have had my Reiki, feeling positive as though I could do anything. It’s definitely worth a go!

Tips…

  • Find a good practitioner who you feel completely at ease with – as with any therapy or profession, there will be a select few who aren’t that great or who maybe just aren’t the right fit for you. If you’re not completely at ease with the person doing your Reiki then you won’t relax and you won’t enjoy it, so it is essential. Try to go with someone who has been recommended as I did – then you won’t be as apprehensive and there’s a better chance that person will be a good practitioner.
  • If you don’t like it first time, then don’t give up – try a different person. I did go for hypnotherapy once and the guy told me to ‘be a tree’ and ‘feel my roots’ – frankly I thought it was stupid. I’ve since heard that hypnotherapy isn’t always like that – so sometimes it’s important to give things another go with a different practitioner.
  • You don’t have to spiritual, but it helps. I’m spiritual, but not to any particular degree, and I still love Reiki and embrace it fully when I have it. In fact it’s probably made me more spiritual as a consequence.
  • If you’re not into ‘chakras’ and ‘energy’ and ‘crystals’ that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy and benefit from Reiki – just enjoy the relaxation of it. Reiki works on the principles of energy, Chakras and colour but if you don’t believe in any of that, then simply listen to the music, take in the scents and sounds and take benefit from being lay down in a warm, dark room for an hour. It can work wonders.

What are your experiences of Reiki? I’d love to hear from you if you have tried it!

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Tough Cookie is a blog for support and inspiration during recovery from Anorexia. Eating disorder recovery can be tough – but so are you!

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Hair Loss – What NOT to do

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There are so many articles on what to do when your hair starts falling out – what products to use, what to eat, how to style it. From experience these can be a little bit mind-boggling and of course everybody has different hair types, different types of hair loss and therefore widely varying opinions on products and methodology. Here’s my run down of the top ten things NOT to do when your hair starts falling out:

  1. Don’t panic

This one comes under the category ‘easier said than done’ – I know. Stress and anxiety is a massive cause of hair loss – at best it exacerbates existing hair loss. It’s difficult not to be distraught when you start losing your hair and start obsessing over each lost strand, staring longingly at everyone else’s hair and feeling generally crap and upset. Our hair is often our comfort blanket , our crowning glory – your hair (or lack of it) can make a huge difference to how you look and ultimately, how you feel. I know that. Try your best to distract yourself from what is going on with your hair. Make a plan of action and feel assured knowing you’re doing everything you can to help your hair.

  1. Don’t overbrush

Brushing your hair can be therapeutic and distracting; yet it can also become an obsessive ritual of seeing how much you have left and how much comes out when you do brush it. Some hair loss advice calls for regular brushing but experts say it is possible to over-brush your hair, and especially where hair loss is concerned over-vigorous brushing will only cause more harm than good. Use a natural bristle brush to distribute your hair’s oils evenly and minimise breakage. The same goes for washing – try not to overwash your hair even if it gets greasy and even if you are using a hair loss shampoo. This strips the oils and increases exposure to chemical nasties which do not do your scalp or hair any good. Using your hair loss shampoo twice a day won’t make any difference to your growth compared to if you were using it every other day – but it may damage your hair and have the reverse effect instead.

  1. Don’t go buying expensive shampoos

Sadly, there’s lots of people who’d like to cash in on your hair loss because they know how upset and vulnerable you are, and that most (me included!) are desperate to try anything, no matter what the cost, to get their hair back as quickly as possible. Please don’t be drawn in by anything which appears ‘too good to be true’. Equally, don’t go buying every single hair loss shampoo and product out there. They all work differently, they are different for different people, and their efficacy also depends on what sort of hair loss you have. Read reviews (you can read my post on Hair Loss Shampoos here) and make a decision on what is best for you. Give it a good month or two to see if it is working; you won’t see results in days or even a week or so no matter what anybody says. If it still isn’t working, try something new. I’ve made this mistake before and the best thing I did was eventually to buy one shampoo and conditioner and stick to that regime for over a month – that’s when I saw amazing results. Equally, I’ve tried shampoos, given them a month or two, and realised they are not working, kicked them to the curb and tried something new. Perseverance is the only way to be sure of what works and what doesn’t.

  1. You don’t have to cut it all off

When my hair fell out after my eating disorder, my hairdresser categorically told me to cut it all off. The best solution, she said, was to cut it all down to at least shoulder length and keep cutting it until it reached the length of my baby hair. That way, it could all grow at the same rate. 14 years old and recovering from an eating disorder, I was desperately clinging on to the hair I still had left. Losing it had been a shocking additional blow a few months into my recovery. There was no way I was going to cut it off.

My hair admittedly looked awful for at least a year. I lost mine from underneath, so stringy strands hung over bald patches which were gradually filled with lots of wispy baby hairs. As they grew they formed a fringe on my forehead and a fluffy ‘do beneath my old hair around the rest of my head. It wasn’t the best look, but it allowed me to keep my hair and eventually 3 years later my hair looked incredible. For a year or so I’d worn clip in extensions which helped me to feel more confident and forget about the state of my hair, and one day, I realised my hair was exactly the same without them. The baby hair had matured and was long and thick and as a whole it looked fabulous.

Since then, I’ve found some hairstyles and a few techniques you can use to help ‘mask’ hair loss whilst you are – of course temporary extensions, wigs and hair pieces are also handy. You can read about them here.

Of course if you’re brave enough to have it all cut to one length then this is good for hair health and growth and will ensure even regrowth – it is completely your decision. But know that if, like me, you are very attached to your hair, you can hold onto it!

  1. Don’t leave it unchecked medically

Hair loss is becoming more common in women especially due to the increased stress and pressure in our lives. Therefore it’s easy to put it down to stress or hormones. But there are other medical causes of hair loss which should be noted and it’s important to be vigilant for in case your hair loss is caused by an underlying health problem. If your hair loss is persistent, make an appointment with your doctor just to be sure there’s nothing else going on. They may even refer you to a trichologist for help with your hair loss.

  1. Don’t overstyle it

We all love our hairdryers, curlers, straighteners, rollers – but it goes without saying, these are NOT good for your hair, especially when it is in a weakened state. I made a conscious decision to stop using the hairdryer (unless it was an emergency – you know we all have those) and I rarely use straighteners or curlers but these were vetoed too. It may well be torture but it is worth it to help your hair to recover and alleviate the anguish that comes with seeing clumps of hair all over the floor after styling. There are lots of nifty tutorials on Pinterest for creating curls (and other hair styles) with no heat and little pulling or breakage on the hair, so if you are naturally curly embrace them and take a look online for inspiration.

  1. Don’t use tight bobbles and clips

Bobbles are the worst thing for your hair. Even ones without the metal clip which can snag hairs pull on your scalp and hair follicles and can accelerate hair loss. I only wear clips or loose slides when my hair is falling out and if I really want a bobble in I use a trick Iwas shown on a shoot by my lovely best friend and renowned hairdresser Mark – attach two bobby pins one either side of your bobble – scrape your hair into a pony then slide one clip through the centre close to the scalp. Wrap the other around a few times till it’s tight then slide the other bobby pin through the centre of your pony. Home-made bungee! So much less damaging for your hair and 0-expense, 0-hassle.

  1. Don’t forget to eat (and drink) for your hair

A few of you won’t like this one and will be sick of hearing it but honestly, good skin and hair health comes from the inside. What happens on the outside of our bodies in often an indication of what’s going on inside, so if your hair is falling out, it indicates a problem whether that’s mental, physical or perhaps a deficiency somewhere. If you’re not at the stage where you feel ready to address your diet then that is understandable, however without a good diet, your hair will struggle massively to recover. The real you will care more about your hair than what an eating disorder cares about, so concentrate on that and try really hard to follow that desire rather than any other false ideals that will be in your head. I really wish I had known what to eat to help my hair all those years ago – I was recovering and I’d have eaten anything to stop it from falling out. You can read my post on food for hair here.

  1. Don’t use harsh chemicals on your hair

Most commercial shampoos, whatever they claim to do, will be full of chemicals which are less than healthy for your hair. The ‘worst’ of these is sodium laureth sulfate, which is what makes shampoos and shower gels lather nicely. Experts say it strips the scalp of natural oils and can also leave hair brittle and dry. Once you know this, you’ll know that finding a shampoo without this in it is very difficult.

  1. Don’t feel alone, embarrassed or suffer in silence

More women than you realise will be suffering from hair loss but will not have told anybody about it out of shame or embarrassment. So many will be covering it up on a daily basis and feeling bad about it alone. Don’t feel like you are alone in this – take a look online and you’ll find lots of friendly women ready to discuss hair loss with you; forums where you can share what works and what doesn’t. And of course, you have this blog J

 

Hair loss is an awful thing to experience but at least now you know what NOT to do and can concentrate on getting your hair, and yourself, back to the best health possible.

Any tips I’ve missed here? Share them!

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Tough Cookie is a blog for support and inspiration during recovery from Anorexia. Eating disorder recovery can be tough – but so are you!

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