Why I don’t say I’m ‘better’

Anorexia recovery

2 Rainbows, dreamy

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

I overcame Anorexia – but my root beliefs were never addressed

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

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

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

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

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How does nutrition feel after an eating disorder?

Nutrition eating disorder

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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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A reminder that an eating disorder isn’t a choice

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

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

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

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

Why is an eating disorder not a choice?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Why 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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Christmas Survival Guide

 

Christmas is undoubtedly a difficult time for anyone with an eating disorder – because in essence it involves everything that sufferers find stressful. In fact, Christmas can set those who are recovering back – not just because of the annual obsession with food that everyone around us temporarily develops, but because of the pressure and constant barrage of comments, looks and poor treatment which is often directed at people with eating disorders at this time of year. I know myself that I developed other worse ‘habits’ (mental illnesses in themselves) around particularly stressful events like Christmas, using harmful coping mechanisms like self-harm to get myself through the season.

Please don’t turn to self-harm or any other destructive methods of coping – they will only make things worse for you and more deeply ingrain the negative beliefs you’re wrestling with. Even if you don’t feel you are worth it, it’s especially important that you look after yourself now, as the dark nights, cold weather and claustrophobic ‘trapped’ feeling of spending time indoors with relatives has psychological consequences for those who aren’t already struggling, let alone anyone with an eating disorder. Here are my tips for staying as safe and as well as possible during Christmas time – and remember, you can always get in touch or take a look at these charities for further help and support.

 

Try not to take comments to heart

It’s highly likely that (sometimes ‘well meaning’) people will make comments about your appearance and your behaviour. At this time of year families spend a lot more time together, which often causes fuses to shorten and results in judgmental, hurtful comments being made. Nobody in your family will be able to appreciate how hard it is for you to be surrounded by triggers – food, people, social gatherings, niceties, alcohol. They won’t understand the ‘torn’ feeling of being presented with gifts and plates of food which you feel you can’t eat, the voice in your head telling you you’ll be fat and hating them for eating whilst pangs of guilt hit your stomach for rejecting another meal or chocolate reindeer. Yet still they think it is appropriate to voice their misguided opinion – often because they believe they might be the one to make you ‘snap out of it’ (good one!). The only thing to do when this happens is to ignore what has been said and remove yourself from the situation. Don’t allow one comment to form an avalanche of others, or start an internal dialogue of self-hatred. Just walk away without explanation and keep yourself safe.

Have a ‘safe space’ to escape to

It’s important that you have somewhere to go and something to do which is safe which you can escape to if things all get a bit too much. Perhaps that’s your room, or maybe you can go outside for some air. Cabin fever sets in all too often at Christmas time – especially if you’re confined to a relatively small space with people who are constantly judging you. Have an activity (whether that’s a film, writing, sketching or playing a game) planned so that you can go up there and get straight to it. Distraction has been key to my recovery from anxiety and it was also an important part of my recovery from Anorexia. The best activity of all would be reading and contemplating your future and making a mood board – then putting plans in place so you can dream about something exciting and tangible to look forward to.

Know when everything is too much

Anxiety and stress can slowly creep up on you – until it all gets too much and results in a meltdown. It seems to come as a surprise to your family (or even to you) but actually the tension has been building with every meal, every comment, every time you’re forced to step out of your ‘safe’ zone. Keep a check on yourself and keep taking the time to make sure you’re okay (or as ‘okay’ as you possibly can be). This way you should be able to identify when you’re headed for meltdown and can put measures in place to ensure that you are not too badly hurt when it does come around.

Don’t allow yourself (or anyone else) to pile on the pressure

Christmas really is just a traditional holiday and the things which are made out to be the ‘be all and end all’ are actually unimportant. Christmas should be a celebration – or at least a time when family and friends gather round to support you, not to make you feel bad and cause you to be isolated. Even the loveliest of families will find it difficult to fully appreciate your situation, or to know what to do around this time when they are likely to be spinning lots of plates and trying to keep others happy. Just remember that the main goal is for you to be free from your ED – and in lots of ways Christmas could set you back a few notches because of the stress and pressure involved. Focus on your goal and ask for help and support. Don’t give in to pressure (one of the main factors behind EDs) piled on by family members or friends to eat a whole roast dinner or to drink alcohol. Don’t feel bad because you are ‘ruining Christmas’ or ‘aren’t happy’ – remember, this isn’t your fault, you are poorly. Make sure you feel safe and secure and take little steps you are comfortable with. Perhaps you will have a small roast dinner with your family. That’s a HUGE step. Don’t let anyone push you further or tell you otherwise.

Charities are open for support throughout the Christmas period, as is Tough Cookie. You can find details here: 

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Why I am against diets and dieting

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s a bold step to come out and denounce the diet industry like I do – partly because they are huge and very popular, with lots of money and a hell of a lot of influence. But I genuinely believe that they are damaging us mentally and physically – almost as much as junk food, which has been shown recently to be contributing to early deaths in human beings more than smoking.  

In all of my books, I talk about my hatred of diets. So for the benefit of anybody who hasn’t read them yet, I wanted to write a short post to explain why it is never a good idea to tell me you are on a diet!

Why do I disagree with diets?

When I was at secondary school, I was carrying a lot of ‘puppy fat’ (and some extra fat, too). I was small and round and podgy with greasy mousy brown hair, a blazer that was too big for me and a skirt hoisted up to my chest. It’s hardly surprising that I was bullied relentlessly – because even though it wasn’t deserved, I was undoubtedly an easy target.  So I started to think of ways to be liked. I tried everything. Eventually, I came to the conclusion (forgivably) that I was mainly disliked because I was fat – after all, this was one of the bullies’ favourite jibes. So I started to consume dieting advice like a sponge – absorbing information rapidly and soaking up every last little nugget of crappy information until I thought I had it right. Of course, I didn’t.

I went on a popular diet which involves counting points. I calculated my ‘daily allowance’ and vowed to undercut it consistently so that I would lose weight more quickly. I combined this with all the ‘useful’ information I’d gathered from celeb magazines, and my OCD 12 year old self soon became obsessed with counting points and calories – and more to the point, reducing them. It became addictive – feeling hungry, seeing the numbers reduced. I’d never liked maths, and I’d never been good at it – but suddenly adding and subtracting wasn’t a problem for me if it involved points and food. It wasn’t long before I developed anorexia – which nearly killed me. So you see, I have a very good reason for loathing diets – and a unique perspective when I talk to others about diets and their concerning motives.

A ruined relationship with food

As human beings, we’re not programmed to calculate our food intake to the nth degree. In actual fact, our bodies are designed to live in the wild, to hunt, gather and eat as and when we were able to. They are complex and intricate machines hosting a great number of processes every millisecond. And when you go on a diet, you fuck that up.

Diet companies encourage us to have a poor relationship with food by nature. It is the enemy to be controlled, monitored and reduced – with an end goal of being ‘slim’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘happy’. Of course we all know that this rarely follows – but we are so compelled by clever marketing (brainwashed, almost) to believe that by dieting, we are doing the right thing.

Healthy eating should be for life

Diets are not sustainable. Your body is not designed to live on sugary skimmed milk shake food replacements. Your body is not designed to be starved for hours on end. Your body is not designed to live on paltry offerings of dry toast and crackers to then be doused in alcohol at the weekend. Dieting for a short period of time damages your body in the long-term – especially if you go to the extreme. Adopting a healthy lifestyle for life however is different. And by healthy, I don’t mean eating diet food and living off low-calorie meals! I mean eating proper, wholesome food regularly when your body requires it. Plenty of fruit and veg, plenty of water, carbs, fat, the works.

It’s often too late that we realise we have forsaken what’s on the inside for how we look on the outside. I will always live with the consequences of anorexia – and whilst I don’t lay the blame solely at the door of diet companies and magazines, they played a huge part. I don’t want to see anybody else develop an eating disorder as a consequence of this misinformation – because I know I am lucky to have survived.

So please if you are unhappy with your weight, on a constant diet, have children or family members who care about you and depend on you – please take this post seriously and don’t diet. If you need any more convincing or would like to learn more about my story and how I eat now, you can read more about diets in my books, Tough Cookie, Tough Love, Nutrition in a Nutshell and Recipes for Recovery. 

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Anorexia: A positive perspective

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Here is my recent guest blog for fab UK charity SANE, who work to help people living with all kinds of mental illness. You can see it on their page by following this link, or keep reading below.

Anorexia is always shown in a very negative light in the media. Of course it is a terrible thing – a debilitating illness – I know, because I suffered from Anorexia in my teens. But I’m very passionate about being positive about Anorexia – because I did recover – and like many, I was let down by my local health services and providers.

Why do I want to be positive about Anorexia?

No, Anorexia is not a positive thing – but we can be positive in order to reduce the numbers of people losing their lives to the illness year on year. Instead of focusing on the negatives, I want us all to be more positive about Anorexia because I believe that’s the only way people will recover – by showing them it’s possible to recover and it’s worth it – that they are worth it.

If we constantly report NHS shortages, devastating stories about people who were let down, and phony ‘success’ stories which include photographs of desperately poorly people who describe in great detail how they came to be poorly, then we will not beat Anorexia.

I know that in this country and indeed the world over, Anorexia is widely misunderstood even by health professionals, and there are few resources on the NHS which means that an illness thriving on a lack of urgency is left to worsen until crisis point is reached. But I am living proof that Anorexia CAN be overcome even without conventional help – so it’s time we stopped focusing on loss of weight, emaciated figures and size zero and started instead to share the success of real people who have overcome Anorexia and now live free from fear or misery.

What can I do if I am suffering from Anorexia?

If you are reading this blog and are struggling with Anorexia, the biggest piece of advice I can give is to try and remember who you really are. By that, I mean stopping listening to the cruel voice in your head which tells you that you’re not worth it, and starting to take notice of your own inner voice – the voice which talks about all those things you want to do, the places you want to go, the person you want to be. Anorexia takes all these dreams and aspirations away from you – so starting to remember them and getting excited about them is an important first step. If you can do this, and use mood boards and visuals to feel as though you’re getting closer to your goal, the incentive to recover grows. You become distracted by how wonderful life can be, and in turn you stop listening to Anorexia, which tries to convince you you’re better off dead.

I know this is hard – but focusing on the future and believing it was worth living for really helped me to get through – especially on the hard days where I felt as though I couldn’t fight any longer.

What should I do if I want to help a friend or loved one with Anorexia?

It can be incredibly frustrating for people around someone with Anorexia, because you almost feel like a helpless spectator as the battle is waged inside that person’s own head. However it’s really important that they know they don’t have to go through it alone. Even though they have been ‘taken over’ by this demon – they are still in there somewhere, and although Anorexia will tell them not to, they need and want your love and support. Be there for them – and try to recognise what is Anorexia and what is not. For instance, if they fancy going to the cinema, then take them – but if they want to cook you a three course dinner then eat none of it themselves, you should refuse politely and explain why. Anorexia is often harder for family and friends because when you’re in the midst of it yourself, you’re so consumed by it you can’t see the effect it is having on others. Hang on in there and make sure you get some support for yourself so that you’re strong enough to stay by their side.

If you would like more help and advice on Anorexia, you can visit my blog www.toughcookieblog.co.uk, or take a look at my books which were written using my own experience to help others to recover and live the life they deserve to. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Rose-Walters/e/B00YARAPWW/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

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Coming out of an EDU – What Now?

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So you’ve been discharged. What now?

A friend inspired this post when whilst chatting about her recovery and her imminent discharge from the EDU she has been in for several months, she mentioned that her relationship with food was still far from ideal. She didn’t say it in so many words, of course – it slipped out – we’d been talking about what she liked to eat and she mentioned she had got really into Angel Delight recently. She liked to have cheese or ham sandwich at lunch and then have some Angel Delight. ‘But then sometimes I’ll have ham and cheese. If I have both then obviously I can’t have the Angel Delight.’

So I said, ‘Well, you can have the Angel Delight even if you have both sandwich fillings!’ Her face said it all and she shook her head. The concept of ‘going over’ her given allowance was too much and there was still immense pressure there to keep strict control over what she was eating – the fear of going over the specified amount.

This all worries me massively because after 6 months of intensive therapy and close monitoring, the core issue is still very much present. This isn’t her first time in an EDU, either. It makes me feel as though we are possibly not approaching this in the right way, as in an ideal world a person suffering from Anorexia wouldn’t be sent to fend for themselves when they are still struggling with the demon in their head which still likes (and is able) to take over. I feel as though my friend is being consistently let down, even though I realise that the longer you suffer with Anorexia, the harder it is to recover – as to put it very basically these are now habitual beliefs and behaviour which are hard to break one year in, let alone several. I realise that.

I can’t speak from experience on this one, as at the time of my illness, there were no specialist facilities I could go to – which is why I had to get better on my own with the help of my family. It’s daunting to say the least starting life outside the relatively safe confines of an EDU when you’ve still got that demon in your head knocking about somewhere. You’re only just aware of various strategies and disciplines which might help you to cope and to feel better.

So, I want to share some of the things I talk about in Tough Cookie here with you. When I thought about my recovery in depth later on, I realised that these were the things that had changed my perspective and ultimately changed my life, helping me to eliminate Anorexia for good. These are just short descriptions with bullet points which I hope are helpful – but if you’d like to learn more, you can see the book here.

– Focus on what you want (goals): To overcome Anorexia, you have to regain the goals it’s thrown away. It’s fine – you can retrieve them – they’re not gone forever! This can feel difficult when you have been so consumed with Anorexia for so long, however with a little help from others and a little consideration you can rediscover the things you wanted before you were poorly. I’m a visual person – so the best way to do this for me is to do a brain-storm or board on Pinterest or on large paper to properly see where I’m going and what it is I want to do. Have one list for short-term goals (attending a party, going on holiday) and another for long-term (having a relationship, getting a job, finishing your degree).

– Don’t be hard on yourself (or allow others to be): There’s an untold pressure on you to now recover or to ‘be better’ now you’ve spent a considerable amount of time in an EDU. Of course you and I know that this is a journey which is constantly evolving and can’t be defined as ‘Anorexic’ and ‘Better’. It simply just doesn’t work like that. You might experience pressure from family and friends who are so keen to see you well that they want to believe that this is the end of the road. You may also be putting pressure on yourself – but don’t forget that pressure was probably a contributing factor to your illness. Try to distract yourself with positive things and explain to family members and friends that this isn’t something which goes away overnight – and in fact the true ‘battle’ begins when you are back in your own home, as you are not supported or watched by EDU staff.

– Find some fabulous distractions: I talked above about ‘distracting yourself’. It’s a tactic I’ve used throughout my life for various reasons, and it’s a good one. What’s more, it helps you to feel mentally and physically better and can even get you working towards your goals. You may have forgotten the things you once liked, but have a think about some activities you could do which fill your days. There’s nothing worse than sitting around alone all day – that’s a recipe for Anorexia to creep back in and it’s frightening. Whether it’s reading a book, writing a novel, sketching, taking an arts or music class or watching a film with friends, make sure you’re slowly starting to fill your life with the things you love. Even better, spend time (no pressure!!) working towards one of your goals. For example, if you are still studying, spend a little time doing some research you feel you’d like to do or find interesting. If you want to start a blog, start drafting a few posts. If you’re into photography, research some books you could buy and a camera you could get to start on that path. Whatever your passion may be, fill your time with it.

If you’ve just been discharged from an EDU or are about to be discharged and are struggling, afraid you might relapse, then please continue to read the blog and don’t be afraid. You might feel alone coming out of an EDU – but you do have the support of me and Tough Cookie and the things you may have learnt during your time spent at the EDU. As always, if you have any questions you can always contact me.

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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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Pro-Ana becomes illegal in France

Despite controversy, this news earlier this week was so encouraging for me.

Now anyone found to be running vile Pro-Ana or ‘Thinspiration’ websites in France may be landed with a prison sentence (of up to one year) or at best a hefty fine of up to ten thousand euros. I’m really pleased that it is now being recognised that eating disorders can be influenced and started online, and I’m hoping that the threat of punishment may deter some sites from operating as they do.

Although this is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, I’ve got a couple of concerns. Why can’t we do something like this in the UK? And perhaps more importantly why aren’t internet providers (Google and Social Media sites) taking any responsibility in this globally? When I spoke to my MP he told me he had campaigned relentlessly in parliament to legislate against the internet providers themselves allowing harmful content to be seen online – but to no avail.

Charity Beat rightly said that really what we want to do is encourage people to pro-recovery sites (well, you’re already here!!) to feel understood and listened to rather than turning to sites and forums full of people who are poorly and may make you poorly (or worse) as a consequence. An eating disorder often thrives on tips and validation from others – both things which these sites provide.  “We want people to be influenced by pro-recovery sites instead” said Mary George. Of course I agree – that’s why I do what I do.

Another concern the charity raised is that many ‘Pro-Ana’ sites are run by people who are suffering themselves. Or rather they are run BY an eating disorder – which from experience I know can encourage you to try and enforce your way of living on others and look at people who are ‘normal’ as ‘fat’ and ‘weak’ for not ‘achieving’ what you have. It’s difficult for others (and probably for the law) to separate a person and their actions from their mental illness.

The thing is, I would NEVER have gone that far. I might have preached about calories and looked upon anyone eating a healthy-sized meal with disdain, but I wouldn’t have wanted people to be ill. Clearly there are other mental health issues to be addressed when it comes to people who run these sites – and there certainly has to be some malice recognised in the practise of making others poorly. Additionally (and more frighteningly) some sites are run by people who don’t have eating disorders. These people in my opinion are actually responsible for manslaughter – so this law does cover them in some way.

Whatever your opinion on this law, I think it’s important to be positive about the fact that action is finally being taken in some form. It’s a step in the right direction, even if you think that France hasn’t made exactly the right choice in what they are doing.

What I’d like to see is the UK (and other countries) taking Pro-Ana and Thinspo sites much more seriously – and recognising in the process that prevention is much better than cure. I’d also like to see Google, Twitter, Facebook and the like take responsibility and start removing harmful content – because whilst I’ve never been on a Pro-Ana website (and would never, ever go on one) all the time I’m bombarded with images on social media and in the news which make me feel bad.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your opinions on this.

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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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