Five great things about support groups

“I think a support group could help me but I’m too scared to go” thought I, in the run up to attending my first ever group for support with my eating disorder.

Some friends had told me about this brilliant local charity that helps those with disordered eating so I researched them online and, whilst they looked like exactly what I needed, I still had doubts.

“Will they understand what’s happening to me?”

“Is my problem severe enough for me to go?”

“Will it be like Alcoholics Anonymous?!”

Yes, I genuinely did think that last one! But I needn’t have worried – it was all I could have hoped for and more and remains one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

As soon as I walked through those magic doors, I felt instantly welcomed and included. I had never been in the company of so many people who not only understand my difficulties with food, but who have actually experienced them first-hand. It was like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

Five years on and emerging from Covid restrictions, our face to face groups are gradually returning which is so good to see and incredibly reassuring. Some are still taking place virtually which is helpful as it makes for a good mix and something to please everyone.

Here are my top five reasons to give group support a try if you think you or a loved one could benefit…

The staff

Each group I have attended was run by a member of staff who has first-hand experience of eating disorders or caring for somebody with one. Their expertise shines through all they do and they are the best people to listen, understand and advise those in the group. Peer support is incredibly key and visible in this environment and it really helps us to feel less alone.

The topics

Each group topic is selected by staff, volunteers or service users themselves and is a relevant, important factor in the eating disorder recovery journey. They focus on goal setting, identity, emotions and relationships amongst other subjects and really help us to understand our situation more deeply. We also do fun activities like crafts and quizzes and occasionally go out to nearby parks and events.

The people

Not only are the staff great empathisers but the other attendees in the group are some of the most understanding and supportive people I have ever met too. We all listen to each other without judgement and offer tips and advice from our experiences. I’ve learnt so much from the people I have met at the support groups and best of all, made friends for life.

The positivity

You would be forgiven for assuming that an eating disorder support group could be a pretty dismal place but that could not be further from the truth. The staff ensure the mood is light and whilst each topic is delivered sensitively, they appreciate we all need some light relief from our difficulties sometimes. We always leave on a positive note, feeling motivated to try something new and really glad that we came.

The feedback

Most organisations run regular feedback sessions to make sure the support groups are in line with the service users’ needs and requirements. These can take place in the groups themselves and evaluate everything from the topics covered, the timings, the delivery and format of the groups. The staff leave the room to allow everyone the opportunity to discuss freely and without hesitation, ensuring the true feelings of the service users are aired and acted upon.

It’s completely understandable to feel daunted but I would urge anybody struggling to consider group support as an option for recovery. It may be the most reassuring, heart-warming and inclusive thing you ever do.

G x

Keeping motivated in recovery

They say patience is a virtue and you certainly need it in spades during eating disorder recovery. 

I recently attended a workshop where the facilitator announced that the average recovery time for an individual with an eating disorder is seven years, making them one of the longest lasting mental health conditions. 

It’s common for us to suffer both physical and mental hardship, with the challenging symptoms and effects needing a great deal of time and commitment to improve. 

When someone experiences a restrictive disorder, there’s a high chance they will need to spend months weight restoring before they are healthy enough to engage in a structured recovery programme. Lapses and relapses can also sometimes occur, meaning the sufferer goes through a setback and must spend time rebuilding to get back to where they were before. 

It can be a cyclical process that demands endurance, resilience and bucketsful of love and support from those around us. 

Of course, each set of circumstances is unique and not everybody will spend that amount of time in treatment, but how can we keep positive through the ups and downs? How can we stay on the right track if our brains are screaming at us to revert? What are the most effective ways to remain motivated during recovery?

Remember the reasons you started 

It can be really helpful to make a list of reasons to recover and use it as a reference point when you feel like pulling back.

You can include the negative impact your eating disorder has on your physical health, the space it commandeers in your head and everything that it prevents you from doing. It might also help you to write down what you would like to do once you have progressed on your recovery journey and the things you can enjoy more if you weren’t being restrained by your condition.

Surround yourself with positivity

It can be hard to stay motivated when there are negative people and influences around you. These can be friends and family members, colleagues and online channels.

Whilst it’s very difficult to distance yourself from people, you can choose which profiles to follow on social media and who you engage with digitally more easily and ensure your down-time is not spent being drained by unnecessary comparisons and feelings of inadequacy. If your networks aren’t uplifting and inspiring you, it might time to seek some healthier ones.

Incentivise yourself

It can really help to have an incentive or something to reward your progress with if you start to feel directionless. Whether it’s material like a new item of clothing or gadget, or an experience such as a holiday it can really boost your morale and keep you on the right track. 

You may also benefit from planning to undertake a new qualification or make a lifestyle change like a different career path once your health improves. Whatever feels exciting and motivating, try and factor it into your recovery goals. 

Keep talking 

If you’re finding it all too much or dipping in motivation then it’s key that you confide in someone you trust.

Whether it’s a friend or family member, colleague or medical professional, they can support you to stay on track and remind you of the benefits of recovery. Talking can take the power away from the temptation to revert and this could in turn help to prevent a relapse. 

Self-care 

It’s a massive change that you’re undertaking, trying to improve difficult thoughts and behaviours that have become engrained over the years, so it’s important to look after yourself.

Try to factor 20 minutes into each day to do something for yourself that you will enjoy. It could be a gentle walk outdoors, colouring or crafts, reading, listening to music or a podcast, or taking a warm bath. If it resets your mind and makes you feel calm then that’s going to really help you when it all gets too much. 

Hopefully you can take something away from this blog and use it on your recovery journey.

Remember – resilience is key, setbacks are temporary, and a better life awaits you on the other side.

G x

It’s OK not to be OK…

Today. Tomorrow. Any day.

This week may be mental health awareness week but that doesn’t mean we should stop speaking out when it ends.

The louder the conversations, the more likely we can incite positive change and make mental health services more accessible to the many not the few.

Keep talking and spreading the word.

G x

The very unglamorous and expensive side of eating disorders…

It’s not easy having an eating disorder.

For many of us sufferers we lack certain nutrients that we don’t get from food so supplements are the best way to keep as healthy as possible.

I’ve lost count of the different types I’ve tried over the years and this photo is just a snapshot of what I’ve got on the go at the moment.

There are vitamin drinks, calcium and magnesium tablets and probiotics to help keep levels high.

Digestion can commonly be all over the place too so having high fibre supplements and colon cleansers is essential. Oh the joy!

If that’s not fun enough, there are tablets and soothers for tummy cramps and bloating and some hormone regulation meds too. Not to mention the classic Fortijuices which are pretty unpleasant tasting high calorie drinks to help with meal replacement.

I dread to think how much I’ve spent on stuff like this over the years. I know it’s for the best to get in the key nutrients I don’t always get from food but not ideal or particularly sustainable.

Great motivation to get better though!

Why we should all #DumpTheScales!

Imagine being told that your leg wasn’t broken enough to warrant treatment, despite you being unable to walk.

Or that you weren’t yet deaf enough to require hearing aids even though you could no longer make out what people were saying to you.

Eating disorders are not just about weight loss and low BMI yet people across the UK are being refused treatment for not meeting the criteria, forcing them to get worse to access much needed help.

It’s not right and action is needed!

When my problems with food started, I distinctly remember my GP saying that usually you have to join long waiting lists for therapy but given that my weight was low they might be able to see me faster.

I wasn’t yet at crisis point but I was underweight, and I had a six month gap between my initial assessment and my first appointment.

Fast forward to the present day when I sadly relapsed and went down that all too familiar path of food restriction and over-exercise, my friends were telling me to get some help quick.

“There’s no such thing.” I said, “it’s all based on your BMI and mine won’t be low enough to qualify.”

Well sadly I was both wrong and right – patients do have to meet an incredibly low BMI criteria and unfortunately I now had, allowing me to access some much needed support in a very short space of time.

Whilst there’s no doubt that the help I am now getting has been invaluable in stopping my difficulties worsening and slowly turning my thoughts and behaviours around, no-one should have to be that thin and unwell before they are taken seriously.

I know people that have long battled their eating disorders in secret and finally plucked up the courage to speak out only to be told their BMI is too high to be eligible for therapy.

Such news often leaves them with no alternative but to lose even more weight, putting their health at further risk and causing potentially irreversible damage.

Thankfully there are third sector organisations that don’t discriminate and help anyone facing difficulties with their ability to eat, body image and exercise levels. They do invaluable work and bridge the gap that NHS services commonly leave.

It goes without saying that physical health is hugely important, and when patients are either at, or fast approaching, a very low weight they clearly need urgent care. But the treatment of eating disorders should not be solely based on someone’s BMI as it so often is at the moment.

Anorexia sufferer and campaigner Hope Virgo has long fought for fairer treatment for those experiencing eating disorders and commenced her ‘dump the scales’ petition three years ago in support of this.

She needs 150,000 signatures to encourage further debates in parliament, asking the government to ensure that nobody is turned away purely on the basis of their weight.

I fully support Hope’s endeavours and encourage others to do the same here.

Please consider signing her petition to make a difference to those suffering eating disorders.

G x

This week I was on the radio!

It’s not often you find yourself being interviewed on the radio – but not every week is dedicated to eating disorders awareness either!

Last Tuesday, I was privileged and honoured to be invited onto Derby Sounds radio station to talk about Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW) and how the charity I work for is marking the occasion.

I’ll let you listen for yourselves, but I was asked all about the wonderful First Steps ED and the many services they offer as well as our campaign to highlight this year’s EDAW topic of binge eating disorder and how the community can get involved.

I really enjoyed the experience and was surprised by how quickly I forgot it was actually an interview not a general chit-chat! The presenter Jayne was lovely and so easy to talk to – she made it a pleasure of an experience.

If you’d like to hear the interview and find out more about First Steps ED then please click here to listen .

Positive affirmations for recovery

This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week so I thought I’d share something positive and uplifting to inspire hope for the future.

My eating disorder support group has really kept me going through the many lockdowns of this pandemic. I’m so grateful it adapted to online delivery and continues to be a huge source of help and guidance at this very tricky time.

One of the recent group topics I attended was on Positive Affirmations and it really gave me a boost.

We explored the value of positive statements and how to incorporate them in our everyday lives to truly believe and reinforce them.

I usually write such things in notebooks or journals and others in the group said they put them on post-its around their mirror or in frames in their bedrooms. Fab ideas!

Towards the end of the session, we each had to write two or three of our own affirmations in relation to eating disorder recovery and share them in turn.

I thought it might be helpful to print them here, so you can hopefully feel as inspired as I did following the group…

My happiness does not depend on my weight or size, but on who I am and what I do

Today I will abandon my destructive behaviours and start using behaviours that are good for me

I am a survivor and I am a warrior. I don’t need my eating disorder to be good enough

I am courageous and from today I will stand up for myself

My life is just beginning, not ending

I will not define myself by my past

How I feel about myself has nothing to do with what I eat or don’t eat

The process of recovery may be challenging, but it’s worth it and I know it

I deserve to be happy and I deserve to fulfil my dreams

I deserve to treat my body with respect

I will love and appreciate myself

I don’t need to do excessive exercising to deserve food

Everyday I become stronger and healthier

I forgive myself for not being perfect because I know I’m human

The past does not equal the future unless you live there

I am more than what people think of me

Be gentle with yourself

Love yourself as you would your loved ones

I’m doing the best I can with the knowledge and experience I have so far

I’m not a victim of my past experiences

I have survived this before I can do it again

I will not be hard on myself today

I am worthy of self-love and the love of other

I am strong

Just because I think it doesn’t mean it’s true

My worth is not dependant on my weight

I cannot see the outcome of the journey, but I can take the next step

I do not need to exercise excessively to deserve to eat, it’s a basic human need. I deserve to treat my body with respect.

Did anything in particular resonate with you? Can you think of any others?

Do let me know in the comments below.

G x