Tag Archives: Anorexia

The Food Thing

2 Mar
So last week I posted how I had fallen off the sugar wagon dramatically. Ever since, I have been thinking about what’s going on inside and why food has, of late, become such an issue for me. Combining this with a very painful conversation over the weekend with someone who told me I could lose a few pounds to be at my best (I know, I know, unhelpful. But it’s probably true. That’s what so annoying about it.) I’ve been reflecting on how I can change.
Because what I’m dealing with now is emotional eating and that needs to be tackled head on as part of my recovery. Weight is one factor of course, but emotional health is another one. Doing what I’m doing is making me feel rubbish.
What I can’t wrap my head around is how someone who was once so controlled around food has lost it entirely. I’ve observed recently that many of my friends who have also come out the other side of an ED have put on a few too many pounds, and I wondered whether I might not be alone in this. Because at a very first look, it doesn’t make sense, does it? Woman with eating disorder who has been absolutely terrified by the idea of being fat gets, well, a little fat. Logically it sounds absurd, but for many psychological and emotional reasons it makes absolute sense.
I started looking around for evidence of whether my experience is common online and came across the below article by Charlotte from The Great Fitness Experiment who I’ve followed on and off for years. And she reaffirmed what I suspected; being in the position I’m in and wanting to shift a little of that extra ‘recovery’ weight is completely normal. What struck even more of a chord is her observation that many many women who recover from an ED tend towards bulimic episodes or turning to alcohol to help them transition out of their ED. Well that was entirely my experience as readers of this blog well know. It has made me feel SO MUCH BETTER about my behaviours and also given me the beginnings of the tools to change.
As ever, it’s not about the substance it’s about the emotions. And this is what I needed to realise once more.
I’ve posted the full article below because it’s incredibly helpful to me (especially the image, which made me LOL!) and I hope might help some of the others who are in recovery from an eating disorder AND alcoholism who want to change something in their current behaviours….

What Happens If You Need to Lose Weight and You Used to Have an Eating Disorder? [Reader Question]

Warning: May be triggering for those with sensitivity regarding eating issues, food or eating disorders. Actual numbers are not used nor are diet tips but you know what you need right now – please take gentle care of yourself today.

stress

Here’s a dirty little secret about anorexia: You can’t do it forever. They won’t tell you that on the pro-Ana boards and there are even some celebs that make “functional anorexia” look like a viable life choice. But it isn’t. It doesn’t work. Some people, heartbreakingly, die of the disease. But what of the rest of us? The human body has a powerful life force and eventually it will rebel against starvation. For us champion dieters, food restricters, obsessive compulsives, perfectionists, we eventually have two choices:

1. Do our best to make our peace with our bodies and free ourselves from the tyranny of dieting and weight worries by learning healthy habits to replace the demons one by one.

2. Stop restricting but turn to other diet techniques and/or eating disorders.

Obviously choice #1 is optimal and what we aim for in recovery but I’ll be honest: I know very few anorexics who haven’t boomeranged into bulimia (whether purging by chemical, physical or exercise methods) and/or substance abuse (alcohol, diet pills, amphetamines, cocaine) as a means to try to regain control over their weight and bodies.

From the outside an eating disorder may look like the ultimate expression of self-control and willpower but I can tell you from personal experience and from years of hearing other people’s stories that it is about one thing and one thing only: pure, unadulterated fear. And I wouldn’t even say it’s a fear of getting fat. It’s that, yes, but really it’s a fear of being unloveable, of being imperfect, of having powerful needs and desires, of not measuring up, of failing. So many, many fears. An eating disorder is a terrifying roller coaster of highs filled with delusions and lows marked by denial. For awhile we have the illusion of control – food is so passive! So easy to push around! So obedient! – but eventually we realize that our entire lives are being controlled by something that’s not even sentient much less very nice.

So we give in and eat. And for a body so used to restriction this temporary lifting of the bans leads to a bottomless desire that we’re sure can’t be filled and will consume us instead. We eat and eat and eat. There is no balance – when everything is forbidden then that means it’s all equal, apple or apple pie. The body is trying to stay alive even while the mind is trying to kill it. But if we keep eating eventually we gain weight. Often this is a good and necessary thing for healing and recovery. But here’s another secret about eating disorders: They don’t always make you skinny. Moreover, you don’t have to be skinny to have one. Lots of anorexics don’t look “anorexic.”

In an ideal world, we’d all be able to immediately get right back in touch with our hunger cues and eat exactly enough to gain just the right amount of weight and live happily ever after. It didn’t work that way for me. I daresay it doesn’t work that way for a lot of people. Instead, after years of dieting and restricting and other unhealthy habits, suddenly we’re supposed to be the picture of health to be “recovered” and yet we have no clue how to do it. How would we know? I personally have been dieting in earnest since I was 10. Which means that some of us gain more weight than we are comfortable with.

I’ll wait while you laugh.

Actually we all gain more weight than we’re comfortable with. That’s ED treatment in a nutshell. But some people gain more weight than is deemed “necessary” or “healthy” which is such a fine line to walk. How do you talk about what is appropriate or healthy with someone who has no concept of either? And what happens when – if – you end up in a position where you legitimately need to lose a bit of weight? Dieting is just another trip down the rabbit hole. And you’ve worked so SO hard to recover! Plus, by this point, you may even think that dieting is anti-feminist or unsocial or simply unkind. Are you even allowed to think you need to lose weight?

I don’t know the right answer to that question but I do know a lot of us think it, as evidenced by a letter I got from Reader K recently:

I do realise you must get about a zillion of these questions per day, but I would really appreciate it if you found time to answer this.

I am an almost 20-year old girl (gosh, I should probably start saying “woman” by now…) with some history of disordered eating and exercising. I was never diagnosed and wouldn’t say I was ever bulimic/anorexic, etc. but I certainly dropped too low in my weight and exercised too much for quite some time (from sometime around 12 years old to about 18, is my best guess).

I am XXXcm high and the lowest I ever was was about XXkg, which put me in the high end of underweight. What followed were major arguments with my parents about my not eating enough, my feeling exhausted and cranky 90% of the time and secondary amenorrhea. I did pull myself together though (most probably because I absolutely LOVE to eat – ah, the irony – but I guess that was the reason for my being a chubby kid and being made fun of in school, leading to the dramatic weight loss).

I was diagnosed with mild osteopenia [charlotte’s note: that’s bone loss, the precursor to osteoporosis], but otherwise my health is in good condition now. I am fully weight restored and apart from occasional low body image bouts, I am OK. (An aside, the funny thing is that I started liking my body more after I gained weight, how weird is that?)

But here’s my problem:

I am eating normally, trying to follow my hunger cues and eating what I like. I try not to count calories because that leads to restrictive behaviour for me. The thing is that I have only time for exercise 3 to 4 times per week, sometimes less, as I am extremely busy. After I got to my senses I started gaining weight… to XXkg. I am not comfortable at this weight – bot aesthetically and how it makes me feel.

And finally, here’s what I really want to ask – do you have any suggestions/advice as to what I should do, given I cannot increase my activity level, to lose weight the healthy way? It’s driving me nuts because I already eat extremely healthy, following my hunger, but seem to keep gaining!

Advise would be strongly appreciated

If I were any good at the metric system I’d swear I’d written this letter to myself, that’s how much I relate to what K is saying. As I’ve mentioned here before, after starting outpatient treatment for my eating disorder several years ago, I gained a certain amount of weight back and eventually it stabilized at a point which I maintained for two years. While I didn’t ever lose the latent wish to be ten pounds lighter, I did grow to accept and even love my body at that weight. I got comfortable with it and ditched my crazy clothes and bought ones that fit. Most importantly I did it while practicing Intuitive Eating (Geneen Roth style) and so I ate almost everything. My recovery wasn’t perfect but I felt good about it.

And then about a year ago for reasons I still can’t explain I gained a not insignificant amount of weight. I weigh more now than the day I gave birth to Jelly Bean. It changed my clothing size and suddenly I was right back to loathing my body. I felt like a total failure and not just because I had to go buy all new pants. Rather I felt like I was a failure at my ED recovery, at Intuitive Eating, at showing body acceptance – all of it. And so I know quite well how Reader K is feeling. So what’s a girl who’s still recovering from an eating disorder (because recovery is going to be a lifelong process for me, I think) to do when she thinks she might need to lose weight?

I have a few suggestions for K – and for me – but I hope you guys will help out too! This is such tricky territory for me.

1. Get professional help. I spent a long time in therapy. Not only did I complete my eating disorder therapy but I also did a lot of personal therapy. You mention that you never got help for recovering from your ED and it might be helpful, even now. One of the things ED therapy taught me was about proper nutrition. It sounds silly to someone who can spout the caloric content of any food from memory but I learned a lot about what a proper portion looks like, how to balance meals and – most importantly – what “normal” eating looks like. It helps.

2. At least see a nutritionist or dietician. And be honest about your history with disordered eating! He or she can not only help you devise a healthy plan but also serve as a person to be accountable to – not for the weight loss but for the healthy habits part.

3. Get an objective opinion, preferably from a doctor you trust, on whether or not losing weight is really in your best interest. Body dysmorphia is part and parcel with an eating disorder and we’re often not the best judge of what we look like.

4. Focus on what you can eat, not what you “can’t”. I recently cut out sugar for a while in an effort to help my mental state and it was a lot easier when I focused on how my body was feeling and all the yummy foods I enjoyed, rather than torturing myself thinking about all the forbidden treats. Whether or not you lose weight, mindful eating and staying positive will help in a lot of ways.

5. Eat some more protein. I hesitate to make any specific recommendations but I’ve found through personal experience that when I get overly hungry and munchy or crave junk food it’s often because I haven’t had enough “real” food earlier, usually protein and healthy fats. Note: I’m not saying that’s ALL you should eat. But rather that adding in a bit more high-quality grass-fed meat or eggs or coconut oil can help head off a cookie bender. (Also, from looking through your daily meals that you sent me, you do not seem to get much protein…)

6. Do things for yourself that you enjoy and make you feel happy and confident, no matter what you weigh. Being super busy is hard on the body in so many ways, weight being only one of them. I love hiking, skiing and skating – those things always make me feel better about myself. And I love realizing how my strong legs carried me up a mountain rather than focusing on how much they rub together. Reading, painting, piano playing, photography – anything that gets you out of yourself and using your body in a creative way!

7. Accept that life circumstances change and your weight does too. You’re at a really busy time in your life! But things won’t always be this way. Sometimes we weigh more, other times we weigh less. It doesn’t mean that we’ll keep on gaining weight forever and ever.

8. Meditate. It sounds silly I know but a few minutes a day of quiet contemplation/prayer/meditation can do wonders for bringing us back in touch with what we need to nourish ourselves on many levels.

9. Get enough sleep. Stress wreaks havoc with not only weight but also mental state and one of the single best things we can do for our health is to have a good bedtime routine of going to sleep before midnight and getting a solid 7-8 hours, every night.

This is such a touchy topic and I hesitated to broach this on here but eventually I decided I needed to because I know that Reader K and I are not the only two recovering ED’d people to be in this situation! I’d love it if you guys have any other suggestions, advice or even corrections!

P.S. I’m not a doctor and this is just my opinion and all that!

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Weight Weight Weight

14 Feb

Since I wrote about my body image struggles the other day, I’ve felt so much better. I’ve been so focused on alcohol of late, I haven’t had the mental space to get to grips with the noise that’s going on in the background about food and weight. I don’t want to focus too much on it and get distracted from the really important work, which is staying sober, but I think it’s important to start to address.

The therapist I go and see actually specialises in food and body image issues, and I started seeing her to deal with those problems, all the while opting to ‘forget’ to mention my alcohol problem to her. Since I came out about how much I was drinking, all our work has been focused around that. For me, the two problems are so interconnected, exploring the reasons why I drink also helps me explore why get caught in the starve binge cycle, or chronically under ate and overexercised.

I don’t want to over-simplify a very complex issue, but for me my preoccupation with weight comes down to 2 key things: a lack of self-care and a preoccupation with what other people think. I’ve realised throughout this whole crazy getting sober journey that I have NO IDEA how to be kind to myself, how to rest and be still and nourish myself properly. I’ve always been addicted to over-achieving and staying busy. I was an academic over achiever and studied round the clock all the way through school until I graduated. When I started running I fell head over heels in love with it and went crazy on that. I learnt the power of being thin, the attention and admiration it got me and took it to extreme lengths. And then: drinking.  My drinking was secret to preserve the external image that I wanted to portray, to look like I had it together whilst secretly falling about.

All of this behaviour wears me down emotionally, but on the outside, makes me feel like I look successful, driven and accomplished.

I love having this blog and AA because for the first time, possibly in my life, I can let the mask slip.

I wrote the other day about how I had a real mental wrestling match going on between feeling strong and healthy and feeling like a whale. I think this is in part because I’ve got two dialogues going on: what I think of my weight and what I imagine other people think of it.

I REALLY care what other people think about my size. Weight has always been a huge area of discussion for my family. My dad was very overweight when I was young, and then lost a lot through running. My mum has always been stick thin, but really prizes being thin highly. Every time we go to a family event they appraise everyone in the room “ooohh Tina has lost a lot of weight, James is looking a bit big isn’t he?!” etc etc.

I have so many specific memories of comments made around my size when I was younger. I was very slim- I did ballet 4 times a week and played lots of sport at school, but my Dad used to jokingly call me “thunder thighs.” Once I commented on my weight to him, looking for reassurance that I was slim, and he said “well cut back on the Mars bars then.” I didn’t even eat bloody Mars Bars.

When I was between 16 & 18 I exercised less and went on the Pill, both of which resulted in me putting on weight. Not tonnes, but enough to look bigger than I was. My mum was quietly horrified, and made comments about my stomach on several occasions. I was being fitted for a ball gown whilst in my first year at university, and she said I had “quite a bit of back fat.” When I look back at the size I was then, I was a UK size 10-12, (US 6-8) and not as athletic as I am now, but by no means fat. Slim but not toned.

When I discovered running and healthy eating, the weight steadily came off, much to the delight of my family who showered me with praise. My sister who has always been naturally big has received lots of teasing about it and comments on her weight and has recently fasted herself slim. She received the same plaudits from my parents. I get insanely jealous when I look at her…

That’s an aside. Back to the chronological story…. So, taking up running coincided with me meeting my (now ex) boyfriend who was very preoccupied with weight. I got slowly thinner and more restrictive with my food over the years, and he loved it, pinching my hip and proudly saying “there’s nothing there!”

When my eating issues got really bad, and my hair started to fall out, he used to call my “baldy”, faux affectionately. He once said to me “I don’t understand how you’re not thinner, bearing in mind how little you eat.” I was having CBT for my eating issues and he didn’t engage with it, didn’t acknowledge there was anything wrong.

My parents by this time were really worried, but he didn’t see there was anything unhealthy about my behaviour and weight.

When my boyfriend moved away for 6 months, I started drinking, as I wrote about in a recent post. I also started eating again, and getting back to a healthier weight.

My boyfriend was horrified- I remember us being on holiday and him walking behind me, giving me the once over and saying- “wow, you’ve got bigger.” “Where?!” I asked. “All over” he told me.

But I didn’t care enough to do anything about it. I was enjoying drinking too much, and it was hugely liberating to be able to eat again.

I left my job and had a month long holiday before I started my new one. I went off on a trip to the other side of the world where I ate normally, drank shitloads and had a ball.

I came home maybe 4 pounds heavier (and looking at photos, slim still) and again, my boyfriend was horrified. He started instigating weekly weigh-ins, saying “you just need to get back to the weight you were before holiday.” When I eventually refused to do them, he called me a quitter.

Meanwhile, my mum told me they’d cheered when they saw me after this holiday, because my weight was up.

I split up with the boyfriend, the weight issue being a major factor, and still see him occasionally, always worrying that he thinks I’m fat. He’s really thin now, and looks drawn and weak.

Enough on the details, but is it any wonder I feel like I’m constantly being weighed up by the eyes of others?! When the most important people in my life valued weight so highly? And in the case of my parents, still do.

One of the questions I’ve been asked by several family members over the past few 6 months is “how did you put on so much WEIGHT?!” as if I was the size of a house. I’m a toned, fit, UK size 12. I could lose some body fat, yes, but seriously, I’m not overweight. Just not skinny.

Society is a bit fucked, isn’t it, if loved ones feel it’s appropriate to make weight seem so important that it’s easy to believe that the love of others is contingent on you maintaining a certain size. I struggle with the idea that any new man will love me unless I’m thinner, which is bollocks, because if he doesn’t, he’s not worth my time.

Phew. It feels good to get that all on paper and out of my head.

For me, my sober journey is all about finding out how to be unashamedly me. No booze, no starving myself, just working out who the natural me is. If I’m designed to be around the weight I am now if I eat well and keep up my exercise, then that’s something I’ll have to come to accept. If I’m honest, I don’t want to accept it, and may not have to, but hey, I didn’t want to accept I’m an alcoholic and that’s worked out ok so far!

Strong Women

29 Oct

Image

 

Today I’m feeling really strong. REALLY strong. 

Something has changed in the last week, since I last got drunk and started on Day 1 again. When I’ve stopped drinking before, I’ve either not truly believed I can do it, or not really wanted to, or felt a victim. Something has shifted inside me, something that makes me believe I will see this 100 days through this time. 

As you may guess from the title, when I set up this blog, I intended it to be about my love for fitness, for healthy food recipes and for blogging through feeling fatter (read: recovering from anorexia). Well, it turned into a revelatory experience that has led me to conclude that I’m an alcoholic. I display all the signs of someone who has become addicted to alcohol, it has just been a very slow process realising this. 

The bloggers I used to follow were athletes, weight lifters, strong women who inspired me to better myself, push harder and marvel at the brilliant physical sports my body can do. With the unexpected journey this blog has taken, I have found a whole new set of women online whose success in completing Belle’s 100 Day Challenge, in making a commitment to sobriety and sticking to it through thick and thin, have inspired me. 

Thank you to all the strong women out there blogging, commenting and supporting others at the start of this journey. For the first time I feel that one day, I might just become one of you. 

 

 

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