How does nutrition feel after an eating disorder?

Nutrition eating disorder

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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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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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My first Youtube vlog!

diets bad for you

So I finally bit the bullet and moved (just a little bit) into the 21st Century today. I posted a video on my Youtube channel!

diets bad for you

It’s a bit rough around the edges and my editing technique definitely needs work (as does my Google profile) but hey – it’s my first go! You can take a look at the video 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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Why I stopped counting calories – and why you should, too

counting calories

 counting calories

Although lots of popular diets now shy away from counting calories (dressing up the obsession they cause us to have with food in the form of points, sins and other bullshit), calories are still an issue for lots of men and women. Subconsciously I hear lots of people saying they assess the food they’re eating based on how many calories they think are in it – or worse, they look it up and check. But a calorie is not a measure of how healthy a food is – or how nourishing it is. And an obsession with calories could cause you to become very unhealthy – in more ways than one.  

What counting calories looks like

If you think counting calories keeps you slim, you’re wrong. What it does do however is cause you to obsess over food and be fearful of it, seeing it only as numbers which will make you ‘fat’ or ‘thin’ depending on whether they’re high or low. Do any of these sound familiar?

       Worrying about what you’re eating in case it’s ‘high calorie’

       Checking the back of packets without realising it

       Grouping foods into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ based on the calorie content

       Believing that if you limit your calorie intake you’ll be ‘healthy’ and ‘slim’

 

What not counting calories looks like

You probably already knew what counting calories was like. I did too – even after recovering from Anorexia I still had a vice grip on my daily calorie intake and believed that this was the key to being ‘healthy’. I associated ‘healthy’ with ‘thin’ – and worse than that I believed that the only way to be ‘thin’ was to limit my calorie intake as much as possible.

But three years ago I stopped counting calories. I started to read about nutrition and realised that the way I’d thought about food was all wrong. So what is it like not to count calories?

 

       I eat what I want without worrying about it

       I concentrate on the quality of my food, not the quantity

       I have no idea how many calories are in my food

       I don’t care how many calories I consume per day

       I’m healthy and happy

 

 Why are you counting calories?

I know a lot of people who are obsessed with calories know that it’s wrong – but I also know from personal experience that it can feel impossible to stop counting them!

The first thing to do once you decide to get healthy and start loving your body is to realise why you’re counting calories in the first place. Perhaps like me you were introduced to ‘nutrition’ by irresponsible diet companies and magazine articles – maybe you’ve been on yo-yo diets for years and have adopted their mentality. Whatever the reason, it’s definitely possible to stop – I did after a decade of thinking about food and my body in completely the wrong way. I did this because I knew why I thought the things I did – and eventually I understood why that way of thinking was wrong.

 

How can you stop counting calories?

Knowledge is power – and learning about nutrition (and crushing the false information I’d learnt over the years with fact) was the number one thing which helped me not to count calories or bother about the content of my food anymore. Reading blogs and articles written by qualified nutritionists (not irresponsible salespeople), I slowly learnt about how my body worked and how food was important if I wanted to live life to the full. I started to realise that the health issues I had were related to my poor diet and the damage I’d done over the years through unintentional abuse.  

It took me a year or so to formulate the more balanced, factual view of food and nutrition I have today – and that’s why I wrote my book Nutrition in a Nutshell to share the things I’ve learnt and offer my unique perspective on food and diets as someone who suffered from an eating disorder and various body image issues, but also to offer all the advice I gathered in one place.

 Start with knowledge and you’ll finally get there. It may take a week, it might take 6 months – but slowly you’ll undo the unhelpful, harmful things you’ve learnt and replace them with the good. And then you’ll be able to enjoy what you eat and be healthy without counting calories.

 

Have you got your own nutrition story to tell? I’d love to hear about it!

 

Want to learn more about nutrition and health? Take a look at Nutrition in a Nutshell here.

 

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The camera CAN lie – why photographs are different from real life 

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Photographs caused me endless self-inflicted pain over the years (see my post here why I hated these photographs). Even though I modelled part-time for over 5 years, I often hated the pictures taken of me.

The problem for me was two-fold. On one hand I had a very rigid image in my head of how I should look – and somehow I created this picture in my head which then of course didn’t match up to the end result. I’d then feel bad, realising that in real life I looked far from how I wanted to. The second issue was trickier to understand, but easier to remedy – and this involved the way cameras process information, and how that differs from our own eyes (and other people’s).

If like me you struggle to love the photographs people take of you, let me explain these things and how understanding them can help you not to be affected so much by negative feelings caused by images of yourself.

You’re scrutinising them in a different way than others would

So, the first thing to address here is your own perception of yourself, and how that differs compared with what other people see when they look at you (or a photo of you).

I am often told that I have ‘nothing to worry about’ when it comes to how I look. But whilst I recognise that I’m lucky not to be horribly disfigured, don’t have poor skin and am not overweight, I find it very difficult to look at myself through the eyes of others and believe that I am ‘beautiful’ or ‘acceptable as I am’. I struggle not to feel as though I need some sort of improvement – regardless of what other people think or say (I cover this in more detail in this post here).

Maybe you have this too – your friends and family are often complimentary, but you always feel as though something’s missing. This could be better, that could be better. So you pick holes in yourself and identify the things you don’t like which need changing – and those are the bits which jump out at you when you look in the mirror or at a photograph of yourself.

It’s important to remember that although it’s difficult (but not impossible) to improve your perception of yourself, you can recognise that other people will see you more favourably. They’ll see the whole you – not just the bit you hate. So next time a picture of yourself makes you feel insecure, use this to help you to let it go and move on rather than dwelling on it and beating yourself up over your perceived ‘faults’.

Cameras process much less information than your eyes do

I could never understand why sometimes I’d get all ready to go out feeling great, only to be met by disappointment when someone took a selfie and my bronzed, carefully-contoured face ended up looking like a big white balloon. This was also true of photoshoots – when I’d spent hours in hair and make-up and felt confident, only to look at the images and wonder who the hell was looking back at me.

My lovely friend and photographer Neil cleared this up for me at a recent shoot for publicity shots for Tough Cookie. I’ve been working with Neil for years and he was one of the first photographers I worked with when I started modelling. We soon became friends and he has a good understanding of what goes on in my head, or at least the insecurities I struggle with in a photo situation (as well as unlimited tolerance and the patience of a saint when it comes to me choosing and liking images!) On this shoot in particular I was pleased with my hair and make-up and felt I looked good in the mirror. We started shooting and halfway through he let me peek in the back of the camera – and I was upset and disappointed by what I saw.

I looked pale, my face looked plump, my body seemed an odd shape – I just didn’t look like the ‘me’ I’d seen in the mirror just a few minutes earlier. What was going on? I asked Neil, who could see I was tearing myself to bits inside and didn’t like the photos, why this was happening.

Neil explained that a camera is only able to process a fraction of the visual information our eyes are able to (the human body is incredible and never ceases to amaze me!) Therefore my brain was displaying all sorts of information in the form of the image I saw in my mind, from the colour of my eyes and brightness of my skin to the definition in my face and thickness of my hair, that the camera simply couldn’t. This resulted in a flat image which only showed a small amount of the ‘me’ I’d seen in the mirror – hence why I wasn’t happy and didn’t recognise the same merits. Getting me to look like me was down to editing, placement and composition, he said.

Neil was using a top-range camera with a massive lens on it – so imagine how little information your smartphone or digital camera processes compared with your eyes. With this in mind don’t lose heart when you’re feeling great and suddenly a quick snap on a night out or on holiday gets you down. It’s likely you don’t look like that – so there’s the answer to your ‘do I REALLY look like that?’ question you’re beating yourself up with.

 What about models?

 As above, taking a flattering photograph is down to many elements of visual trickery – hence why photographers are so talented. And don’t forget that just because you think someone looks great in a photo, doesn’t mean to say that they feel the same (someone could be thinking that right now about a picture you hate!) I DO like some of the photographs taken of me whilst I was modelling. But there are many more that I dislike – and I’m sure lots of models and celebrities are just the same as you and me.

Like this? Check out Why selfies are toxic here.

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‘Real women’ come in all shapes and sizes

body image

body image

Since I had Anorexia, my lovely mum has developed a habit of pointing out very thin people and saying they look ‘ill’, and pointing out fuller-figured women and saying they look ‘great.’ In her defence this has become a habit which I think was originally designed to help me to feel better about myself, but as I’ve grown up it’s become something which I don’t feel is helpful for anybody – her included.  

The idea that a thin person is ‘ill’ or ‘Anorexic’ purely judging visually alone is incredibly unfair. ‘Anorexic’ should never be used as an adjective in my opinion, let alone an insult. Meanwhile, ‘curvy’ women (who may be a size 16-18, yet have killer curves) have come to represent the ‘alternative’.

My mum isn’t alone in this perception. Since the ‘size zero’ debate and public backlash against the ‘skinny model’, ‘curvy’ women are ‘in’. It’s a trend which certainly helped me to feel better about myself, as I’m naturally not built straight up and down. Now Kim Kardashian, Amber Rose and Nicki Minaj are hailed for their tiny waists, rounded behinds and fuller thighs. Whilst I’m all for celebrating all body types, this trend has actually started to exclude women who aren’t typically ‘curvy’, and throws a whole host of new insecurities at those who aren’t ‘perfectly shaped’ into an hourglass – all of which is equally damaging compared with the ‘size zero’ and ‘ultra fit’ trend promoted by high fashion outlets and lingerie brands like Victoria’s Secret.

Harmful new phenomenons like the waist trainer (which has been known to hospitalise users due to the undesirable side-effect of organ rearrangement) and bum implants (many a dodgy implant has landed a hapless girl in surgery) are emerging to help us all to achieve this ‘perfectly curvy’ body shape. These have even been known to cause death – so aren’t they just as bad as slimming pills, laxatives and diets promoting self-starvation?

I’m looking at this from both sides of the table – so I wrote this post from my perspective to encourage others to do so too. Next time you hear someone say ‘oh she’s got a ‘proper figure’’, remember that if you don’t fit that bill, that’s okay. Because everyone’s body is a ‘proper body.’ Every woman is a ‘real woman’ – curves or no curves, size 2 or size 20. 

Saying someone has  ‘proper figure’ is just as bad as saying ‘skinny is the only way to be.’ Everyone is acceptable, as they are. Coveting the ‘hourglass’ and praising ‘curvy’ girls is unfair to women who are born naturally slim. Lots of body image campaigners forget about this.

Although I’m all for plus size, I’m more concerned with acceptance – of others and of ourselves. And that starts with scrapping ideals – and stopping senseless judgement of a person based on their body shape.

Like this post? You’ll love these.

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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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The mirror doesn’t lie – but your brain does

body image

body image

We all know the well-known phrase ‘the camera doesn’t lie.’ But as I discuss in this post, the camera doesn’t always give us a true representation of how we look – especially not in the eyes of others. Mirrors however are an altogether different matter.

What we see in the mirror is real, right? Not necessarily. Far from simply being a ‘reverse’ version of us, mirrors can distort our perception of ourselves beyond belief. Mirrors become a pretty big issue for anyone with body image problems or body dysmorphia. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years ignoring mirrors, or spending time in them scrutinising my faults, or simply staring in disgust feeling bad about what I see staring back at me. It’s safe to say that my relationship with mirrors isn’t the best.

Since I’ve been living with myself in a better way a mirror has become more of a tool (for putting on make-up) and decorative item than an aggressor for my mental health problems. But even then, I often wonder why I still look ‘different’ in mirrors from one day to the next. One minute I feel positive about how I look, the next I feel shit. Does the mirror lie, then? No. This is down to what’s going on in my brain.

The tricky thing about our eyes is that the information they send back to us is interpreted by our brains. That’s how magic and ‘trick of the mind’ shows work – they distract us or exploit loopholes in our brains which make us see reality in a different way. However this also has consequences for the way we see ourselves. The information our eyes take from the mirror goes through our mental filter first. Naturally those of us with body image issues have some pretty negative shit lurking in our mental filter – shit that’s built up over time after we were bullied, or criticised by others, not to mention years spent loathing ourselves on top of that.

It’s important to bear this in mind the next time you’re looking in a mirror. It might appear as though this reflective piece of glass couldn’t lie – how could it? Unless you’re in a circus you’re looking at a factual representation of your own reflection. But most of us forget that what we see is influenced by our inner beliefs, it’s instantly warped negatively by that thing we hate, or that worry we have,  the comparison we’re making with that model on television, or the nasty thing somebody said.

No, we can’t tackle this overnight. But just recognising how your brain distorts your self-image is a first step. And it can go a long way towards helping you to feel better about yourself, as you start to appreciate that you might not be ‘that bad’ after all.

Like this post? You’ll love these.

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Why I stopped weighing myself

weight body image

 weight body imageAre you always weighing yourself? Do you weigh yourself regularly?

Does your weight dictate how you feel?

It’s just over a year since I stopped weighing myself – and here I explain why.

If you’ve read my post Why do you weigh yourself? or my book Tough Love you’ll understand why I don’t believe weight should be an emphasis in anyone’s lives – however ‘fat’ they feel. Weight means nothing. It only represents one part of ourselves – it’s impossible to get a measure of someone’s overall health simply using their weight alone. For this reason focusing on it and calculating your worth and beauty based on it can be very dangerous and misleading.

Of course, this principle is easy to preach – but it wasn’t always so easy to live by for me. Until January 2015, I was weighing myself religiously every Friday morning.

 I’d weighed myself every single week since the age of 11 or 12 – so roughly 12 years. During the time I had Anorexia I would weigh myself more frequently. I laid a lot of store by how much I weighed, because that’s what I’d been told by the people around me and the media we were all watching and reading – the diet companies, the magazines, the television programmes. It was unthinkable that I could consider not weighing myself.

Most of the time I felt good weighing myself. It was actually a confidence boost as well as a way to obsessively monitor my weight. I normally maintained at a static weight or lost, so I always felt pretty good about myself. On a Friday or Saturday I’d stuff myself with rubbish as some kind of ‘reward’ for having kept my weight the same.  

But the good feeling was always short lived – because then I’d worry frequently about whether what I was doing (or wasn’t doing) could result in weight gain. The feelings grew towards the end of the week, when Friday rolled around again. Even though I knew that I’d done nothing different, I’d still dread stepping on those scales. This meant I was also stuck in an unhealthy cycle of eating poor quality food and eating too little, choosing the same things (at the same time) time and again because I worried that choosing something different could end up in me piling on the pounds. Sometimes even though I’d religiously stuck to my strict regime, I’d find that I’d gained a pound. This caused me to feel fat for the rest of the week (or few weeks depending on how long it took) until I’d lost that one pound. I’d starve myself and beat myself up. I never recognised fully that the ‘excess’ weight could have been water retention or something perfectly innocent. It certainly wasn’t enough to worry about – and probably didn’t represent a pound of fat. And this was all long after my eating disorder – behaviour which is often considered normal by lots of people – especially women.

 At the end of 2014 I’d been through a stressful time. I lost my job after my employers bullied me, and the whole experience had left me struggling with anxiety and crippled by its physical symptoms. Amongst the shaking, the headaches, the insomnia and the panic attacks were two key issues – nausea and loss of appetite. My weight plummeted and within a few weeks I’d lost just over half a stone. For someone who was on the lower side of a healthy weight this obviously wasn’t good. Physically I was weak and exhausted – mentally I was emotionally drained. Although I knew the weight loss was a bad thing, a small part of me felt good about it. I took concern as compliments. Although I’ve never relapsed, these parts of my ED have stayed with me and used to resurface when I was vulnerable. They’d never lead to anything, but they certainly didn’t make me feel good. After a while I began to eat a little more again. But when I did, something strange happened.

My weight started to slowly creep back up again. I wasn’t too bothered by this as I knew I needed to gain more to be healthier. But as it passed the lower end of what I’d decided was acceptable, I began to worry. I was even more distressed when it started to rise past the weight I’d been before everything had happened a few months before. I couldn’t understand why – I’d gone back to my strict way of eating. How could this be happening? I started to question everything. I felt sick worrying about it. I couldn’t understand why this was going wrong when everything I was doing appeared to be right. I couldn’t eat any less than I was now – I’d be ill. I just couldn’t understand how to slow the weight gain and initiate weight loss again too.

I spent a few weeks in this state of anxiety until I realised something. This was all ridiculous. I’d been through a lot and here I was beating myself up over something completely stupid. I could never know why the weight was going on. It couldn’t be fat – I looked the same. I knew that weight was only a rough guide and could be mysterious, influenced by many factors. I’d put on over half a stone after originally joining the gym, and I’d come to terms with that eventually. I didn’t look bloated or puffy – so it couldn’t be water, either. Whatever it was, I was just torturing myself if I thought I could pinpoint the cause. So even though I was frightened that the weight gain would never stop and I’d end up obese somehow, I made the decision to stop weighing myself, and to stop the emotional distress that came with it as a result.

I thought that the anxiety would increase. But actually things started to improve for me. I started to enjoy food more. I felt so liberated not worrying so much about what I was eating. I loved not getting up on Friday morning with a sense of dread in the pit of my stomach. Slowly my IBS improved a little as I recovered further from my difficult few months.

Although I’m not fully liberated from this idea of ‘weight’ meaning something, you can see that it’s made a considerable difference to my mental wellbeing and directly influences my opinion of my own beauty in a positive way. I no longer panic every week in anticipation for the regular weigh-in, change my routine before I step on the scales or starve myself for days to get my weight back to what I felt was ‘acceptable’ after a higher reading than normal.

 I hope you can also see that I’m sharing this post because it wasn’t easy for me to stop. And even now, I still wobble sometimes because I feel as though by not knowing my exact weight, I’m not in control. When these times come, I remind myself:

       Weight means nothing – it doesn’t indicate your body composition, so a ‘high’ weight doesn’t mean you’re fat

       If I step on the scales now and I don’t like what I see, I will undo all the hard work and positive steps I have taken since I stopped weighing myself. Doing this to myself achieves nothing!

I’m going to set you a challenge: go cold turkey with the scales. Every time you have a wobble, remember those three things. Keep going until the wobbles become less frequent. Soon you’ll forget that you used to dread every Monday or Wednesday or Thursday. You’ll forget the misery of the diet groups where you were publicly forced to step on the scales and were praised it pitied depending on the result. Most importantly, you’ll be healthier mentally and physically.

 

For more on body image click here.

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