Why is it so hard to ‘be yourself’?

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

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

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

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

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

Being yourself involves letting go

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

Being yourself forces you to check your motives

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

Being yourself requires a leap of faith

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

Being yourself means not caring what others are thinking or doing

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

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

Being yourself is liberating and exciting

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Responsible reporting

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Why I never share pictures of myself or my lowest weight

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

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

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

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

Why are these articles so unhelpful?

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

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

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

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

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

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5 things Anorexia won’t tell you

water_01Anorexia (and Bulimia) will tell you all sorts of things. Cunningly they force you to believe them without you noticing, until your life is unrecognisably altered and you find it difficult to regain what you once had. I could run through a list of these things, but I’m pretty sure you already know them by now! Instead I think it’s much more important to share the things your eating disorder won’t tell you – because these are the true things, the things which will help you to recover.

How beautiful you are

If I had a pound for every time I told people eating disorders are NOT about how you look, I’d be a very rich woman! It’s not always an aspect of it for some, but for others (like me) the way I looked (and a dissatisfaction with my appearance) was a very important part of my illness and bullying was the catalyst that led me to be ill. But whether you’ve been bullied for your appearance or are self-conscious or not, Anorexia will never tell you that you are a beautiful person as a whole. When I say beautiful here I mean every part of you – of course this includes what’s on the outside, but most importantly it includes what’s on the inside, too. Anorexia assassinated my personality and made me feel as though I was a bad person, a person who was hated and disliked and wrong in every way. Why should I deserve to live? Now I know that this was a lie. Eating disorders are vicious and they will make you feel as though you are not a beautiful person, even though you are. Then by their nature you find people around you are upset with you, concerned about you. The guilt mounts and adds substance to what you’re being told. Don’t be fooled by this. Focus on your future and don’t let your eating disorder allow you to dwell on the past.

That you are clever and intelligent

You are a brilliant, clever person – no matter what you might have been told. I strongly believe that we all have a talent – each and every one of us is intelligent in some way. I have dyscalculia and was on target to fail my maths GCSE – but my teacher sat with me every week and drew pizzas and cakes to get me through algebra and fractions. But I’m not embarrassed to say that I even struggle to count in my head now – because I also run a successful copywriting business and have published 7 books. We can’t be good at everything – there will always be something we’re bad at! If you can’t find your ‘thing’ or can’t think of anything, then consider what you love to do. Often, we are very good at or incredibly knowledgeable about the things we are passionate about and interested in.

That life is worth living

Anorexia often opens the doors to other mental illnesses – or sometimes, these issues are already with us when we develop an eating disorder. I always say that an eating disorder is in my head a type of self-harm, because it is similar yet more long-term in that you hate yourself so much and have a total disregard for your own safety or wellbeing. You are hurting your body in the most serious way. I was severely depressed whilst I had Anorexia and suffered from OCD, but nobody picked up on this. Anorexia was partly my way of punishing myself, and as I did so I started to believe that I wasn’t worthy of life like other people were. Slowly but surely, my parents and a couple of the nurses at the hospital I stayed in convinced me otherwise. They helped me to talk about the future, do the things I liked, distract myself from the fixation I had on each coming mealtime. Eventually, I believed I was worth it – but before that, I believed that life was worth it. Everything wasn’t bad – and wouldn’t always be difficult. And I’m so grateful that I did.  

That you don’t have to be ‘the best’ at everything

Pressure and perfectionism both have large roles to play when a person develops an eating disorder. Lots of people I speak to with Anorexia or Bulimia tell me that they became poorly as a result of internal or external pressure during exam time at school or college, or in their career, or just generally competing in life – something which I think has become more prevalent since the dawn of social media. Whatever it is that you feel you aren’t ‘the best’ at, know that it isn’t as important as you make it out to be. Also know that you are much better at it than you think! Being the ‘best’ or ‘perfect’ is impossible – it’s immeasurable. You can never be subjective when you are looking at your own life. Just focus on small, manageable and achievable goals – when you reach them, you can feel proud and move on to another goal. This means you are achieving a lot rather than working towards one huge, unrealistic goal – because you’ll always feel inadequate never having reached the top – especially when you keep moving the goalposts.

You haven’t failed

Failure is another aspect of eating disorders which is underestimated. After all, when we feel like we have failed, we feel bad about ourselves and inadequate as a result. There are SO many things to fail at now – because we’re more exposed to what everybody else is doing. Be aware that whilst your eating disorder thrives on failure ‘you could have eaten less, you could have exercised more’ – you can’t. The failures your eating disorder taunt you with aren’t real failures – and they won’t have any effect on your life as a whole, even though an eating disorder will convince you otherwise.

When you’re having a bad day please think of these. These are the truth – you are beautiful, intelligent, successful – you are a wonderful person with a life ahead of you and lots of things to do and achieve. For more first-hand advice and support keep following the blog or take a look at my books here. 

If you enjoyed this post you can find more Anorexia blogs here. 

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Interview with That’s Manchester

Now vloggers and YouTube stars are all the rage, I am conscious that I’ve not jumped on the ‘video’ bandwagon and I’ve concentrated my efforts into writing to help people rather than ‘putting myself out there’ in the flesh. Part of the reason for this is that I’m only just starting to promote what I do properly now I have released all of the books – and secondly, I still have body dysmorphia and anxiety, which means I can understandably be fairly pedantic and more than a little self-critical when it comes to appearing on camera!

I’ve been doing a lot more keynotes, talks and presentations lately and I’m used to standing up and talking to people about my experiences, but going on the telly is a whole new kettle of fish. But when brand new local channel That’s Manchester dropped me a line and asked me to come in and share my thoughts with them I took the opportunity with both hands. It’s really important to me to be able to share my message of positivity with as many people as possible – and this was a fantastic way to do it and something which I hope I will be able to do more!

So here it is – this aired last week but in case you missed it or live in another part of the UK (or the world!) you can take a look now:

 

That’s Manchester

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Local Press Coverage for Tough Cookie

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I was so pleased and proud to be featured in a local newspaper here in Manchester to spread my message of positivity around anorexia and better body image.

It’s really important for me to be able to get my message out there, because I feel that in general press don’t really share truly inspirational recovery stories in the way that they should. Instead, they focus on the lowest weight of the person, post emaciated photographs, include detailed (and unhelpful) descriptions of what they did and didn’t eat. What newspapers and magazines who share this type of content don’t see (or perhaps do see, but don’t care about) is the effect this has on people who are vulnerable to developing anorexia – or those in the early stages. These articles actively encourage them and even hand them tips to ‘help them’ to become poorly. I’m passionate about changing this because these types of articles definitely influenced me when I was developing anorexia.

Local press coverage for Tough Cookie is just as important as national and international exposure – so a big thank you to the Manchester Evening News and Stockport Express for sharing my positive perspective on anorexia – and hopefully allowing me to reach more people to show them that there are people out there who want to help and support them.

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Khadi Review – Hair Loss

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Now, I have to be the first to admit that after a few weeks, despite fabulous results for my hair, the powdered shampoo routine was wearing a little thin. I’m also under a lot of stress at the moment and until that subsides, I know that unfortunately my hair is going to be at risk. When it started falling out again the other week I decided that a) clearly whatever shampoo I use is probably not enough at this time to save my hair and b) why not find something which was still nourishing but less hassle?

Ah, but I’d already tried that before, right? I felt like I’d already trawled Google but I did so again – and this time I used a few different terms and discovered natural brand Khadi.

Khadi hails from India and all products are SLS (Sodium Laureth Sulfate), Paraben and Silicone free. Instead they feature the exact same ingredients I’ve been using on my hair (Shikakai, Amla, Bhingraj) but in a handy liquid-gel formula which is easy to apply, wash out and doesn’t make my hair as tangled afterwards, either.

Word of warning: there’s loads of choice. I’m not good with choice and decisions because of my anxiety so it took me a few days to send off for one! I (finally) chose the Aloe Vera  shampoo – as I’ve heard fabulous things about its benefits for hair.  This shampoo also contains extracts of the Indian herbs mentioned above in addition to pure water and aloe vera.

The shampoo lathers soo well when I apply it that it makes me massively suspicious as to whether the ingredients are as they say they are (paranoid, much?) However on further inspection the bottle does only state that the ingredients listed are KEY ingredients, leading me to then panic about what I have just put on my hair.

Khadi’s website claims all products are free of chemical nasties, but I have emailed them to ask exactly what is in this particular shampoo as others simply say ‘Ingredients’ with an equally short list.

Anyhow, I’m really impressed with the smell, the texture and the cleaning power of the shampoo. As you know I only wash my hair once a week – so I’ve only used it twice now – but I’ll certainly keep you posted as to how I’m getting on.

Has anyone else tried Khadi?

 

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Khadi Review

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Soap Nut, Shikakai and Rhassoul clay shampoo for hair loss – Recovery hair

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You might have seen that recently in my hair loss quest (I lost a considerable amount of hair for the third time last year) I’ve gone all-natural in my quest to find a solution. I’m very lucky in that my hair is growing back thick and strong (although this hair is only 3-4 inches long at the moment!) but I want to maintain that growth, in addition to the health of my hair and scalp, to hopefully ensure no further hair loss takes place.

I posted about Rhassoul Clay and its benefits for the hair and scalp a few weeks back – and although I loved it as a shampoo I did feel it was a little drying and that I needed something more than just Rhassoul in the mix. On further research I discovered that a basic Indian shampoo is comprised of Soapnut and Shikakai – then often mixed with Rhassoul, Henna, Amla or other ingredients to further benefit the hair. I read a lot of good reviews online, so I decided to give it a try.

What is Soapnut (or Reetha) powder?

Soapnuts are used as a natural cleansing and conditioning agent which have been used for centuries in Indian culture for washing the hair and body. It effectively cleans the hair without stripping the scalp, restoring softness and shine. It’s great for hair loss and an unhealthy scalp because it’s all natural and contains vitamins A, D, E and K. Because of these aspects, and especially when combined with Shikakai, Soapnut helps to strengthen, lengthen and encourage regrowth of hair – keeping the scalp AND the hair happy is a powerful tool in combatting hair loss.

The powdered form is SO easy to use. Some do say they boil the nuts and make shampoo that way but honestly I don’t have the time, patience or attention span for that!!

What is Shikakai?

Shikakai strengthens the hair and cleanses just as Soapnut does – but where Soapnut (and Rhassoul especially) can cause the hair to become knotted, Shikakai combats this with detangling properties. It softens the hair whilst giving it lots of healthy volume and shine – plus it stimulates hair growth and nourishes the scalp preventing dandruff and flakiness.

Together, Soapnut, Shikakai and Rhassoul provide a perfect pH and a powerful combination of hair and scalp loving vitamins and minerals to aid in combatting hair loss. Without any moisture they can be a bit drying, so they’re really best combined in a recipe for optimum results.

How do I use it?

I mix a dessertspoon (around half a tablespoon) of Soapnut powder and Shikakai powder in an applicator bottle (you can get these from eBay for £1 or just use a plastic bowl) with about the same amount of Rhassoul (your bowl and mixing implement need to be non-metal as this reacts with Rhassoul clay) and then add a little boiling water and mix or shake until I have a foaming paste. It looks a lot like a runny, creamy shampoo consistency which is good (If you’ve tried Rhassoul on its own, you’ll know that it’s a little like cement dissolved in water – you get none of that with this!)

Then I add a few drops (I’d say around a teaspoon) of Argan Oil or Almond Oil (I use pure organic oil from Argan Liquid Gold). The shampoo does have a funky, ‘spicy’ scent but it’s nothing you don’t get used to after a while and it doesn’t linger on your hair once it’s dry. I love using essential oils in my shampoo – I usually add rosemary essential oil as it has fabulous hair-loving properties which help to repair and soothe the scalp but Cedarwood and Peppermint oils are also good and you can also use essential oils just for the scent, like Orange and Rose (I use pure Rose essential oil from Thailand – it’s TO DIE FOR!).

So, now for the application. I apply mine like a spa treatment in the bath so that when it goes everywhere (which it inevitably does!) it goes into the bath and not on the bathroom floor. Then I soak and leave it on for around half and hour then wash it off still sitting in the bath tub. I won’t lie, it’s incredibly messy. But so worth it!!

The good thing about Soapnut is that it foams and lathers up a little bit like conventional shampoo. I scoop it out with my fingers and apply to directly to my scalp, gently massaging my hair over the covered areas. I make sure my whole scalp is covered – I usually just pour the rest of the mixture over my head. I don’t bother too much about the ends of my hair, because they tend to get covered in the mixture by default and of course the ends of your hair don’t need washing as the scalp does. The Shikakai does make it quite gritty, so it’s a little like rubbing in and washing mud and gravel out of your hair (well, that’s exactly what it’s like),

The BAD NEWS about this shampoo is that it is an absolute NIGHTMARE to use and wash out if you’re used to ‘normal’ shampooing and hair washing. The GOOD NEWS is that you only have to wash your hair once a week – because your hair is returning to its natural state and is not getting greasy so quickly. Also the less you wash your hair the better it will be for the health of your hair and on improving hair loss.

I just stick my head under the shower for at least 5-10 minutes until the water runs clear and I can’t find any grit. I always find at least one little piece when my hair is dry but that’s fine as they come out easily.

Once your hair is rinsed clean, wrap it up in a warm towel and leave it to dry (don’t use heat when you’re suffering from hair loss!!). As always, don’t brush until it’s dry.

There you have it – the method seems lengthy when you first read it, but I promise that after one or two gos you will be sold as I was and won’t mind the slight hassle when you see the incredible effect it has on your hair. Go on – give it a go – and let me know how you get on!

 

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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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Natural cocoa dry shampoo for hair loss

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When I first stopped using chemical shampoos and started only washing my hair once a week to help my hair grow, I relied on dry shampoo about once a week to keep my hair looking fresh. Then I realised with horror that my ‘natural’ dry shampoo was full of chemicals too!

With that in mind, I scoured the internet for a natural alternative. A lot of these included baking powder which as we’ve already discussed is not the best thing to put on your hair. After a little while I found this recipe using cocoa – and it sounded good and simple enough to try!

All you need is:

  • A pot to store the shampoo in
  • 2 tbsp Arrowroot Powder, Cornflour or Rice Starch
  • 2 tbsp Cocoa Powder

Pop a spoonful of each into a bowl and mix them well. Then use your fingers to apply it to the roots of your hair where you feel it is needed. It’s that simple!

If you have blonde hair, you can omit the cocoa or put less in so that it doesn’t discolour your hair.

More natural recovery beauty here!

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

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Hair Loss – What NOT to do

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

  1. Don’t panic

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

  1. Don’t overbrush

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

  1. Don’t go buying expensive shampoos

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

  1. You don’t have to cut it all off

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

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

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

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

  1. Don’t leave it unchecked medically

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

  1. Don’t overstyle it

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

  1. Don’t use tight bobbles and clips

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

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

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

  1. Don’t use harsh chemicals on your hair

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

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

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

 

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

Any tips I’ve missed here? Share them!

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

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Struggling to access help? Turn to Mind

It’s a well-known fact that urgency (or rather lack of it) is contributing to and exacerbating mental illness in this country. GPs are often clueless as to where to refer their patients, that is if they are able to diagnose or recognise what the issue may be. Lack of understanding of many mental illnesses and stigma, especially surrounding eating disorders, unfortunately appears to still be rife in the NHS as well as in society as a whole.

Not being referred for the help you need makes you feel like you are not being taken seriously. Perhaps you are lying, perhaps you are overreacting? Maybe you aren’t worth the help? Damaging feelings for those who already have a negative mindset.

I don’t believe that bashing the NHS will bring any positive change – that’s not what this article is about. It’s about identifying and sharing other avenues which are open to those suffering who don’t feel they are being listened to or are getting help quickly enough – other avenues which do exist but aren’t always widely known about. Avenues which your GP probably also does not know about – therefore you simply don’t hear about them.

Over 11 years, I’ve tried to access help on the NHS several times. Sometimes it was voluntary and elective, at others it was something that I was compelled to participate in. Each time, I was let down. I decided each time I was poorly that if I was going to feel better I had to do it alone – as I always had done.

At the end of this year, I was under a lot of stress and pressure and my family asked me to go to the GP. I refused because I knew no good would come of that – and a few weeks later someone came back to me and said that a friend at work had been talking about the charity Mind, and how they had helped them. I was sceptical at first, but I agreed to give it a go and called my local Mind. They called me back and arranged a one-to-one with a member of staff who could direct me to the right place for support.

I was so impressed with this service. For the first time, I felt properly listened to, and the staff member I saw completely understood that I felt demoralised and had actually been made to feel worse in the past by not having been taken seriously or receiving the treatment I had urgently needed on several occasions. She was incredibly efficient and printed off a self-referral form there and then (this exists in my borough but obviously may differ depending on which region you live in). I have been recommending Mind to all my friends who have felt let down or who are disgruntled because they are consistently ignored by their GP, or those who are desperate for help and stuck on endless waiting lists for therapy.

If you are struggling to access help through your GP, then I would encourage you to speak to your local branch of Mind. They can listen to you completely impartially, and share with you the local resources which may help you. They may also be able to help you to get referred – so it’s definitely worth a trip. They also run workshops and therapies themselves, so there’s lots of ways in which they can possibly help.

Have you accessed help through Mind?

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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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