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!

My first Eating Disorders lecture

If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that I want to spend my time doing things that help people and make a difference. Things that are more worthwhile.

This week I got the opportunity to present to a group of Child and Youth Studies students at the University of Derby about eating disorders in young people.

It was brilliant!

I used all of my own experience and resources from the charity I work with and put a presentation together to help the group understand these complex conditions better. I learnt a lot of new facts along the way too.

We covered the visible and less common signs that someone might be struggling as well as misconceptions and created a toolkit of skills to support a young person.

The class was so engaged, asking thoughtful and insightful questions. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

It was such a rewarding experience and the feedback was really positive. Everyone learnt something from my time with them and I really felt like I had made an impact.

I love days like this!

G x

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

Comparison is the thief of joy

It’s quite sad that comparisons often play a huge part in eating disorders and recovery.

Many feel unworthy of support because they don’t consider themselves to be ‘sick’ or thin enough compared to others.

They may think they’re weak for eating more or less than someone else, exercising at different levels, weighing more or being smaller than other people. They might also worry that because they’re considered ‘better’ or ‘healthier’ than someone else, they won’t be taken seriously and get the help they need.

I’m completely guilty as charged, forever comparing myself to other people and what stage they’re at in life or their recovery journeys. I put off seeking help for months, citing ‘I’m not ill enough‘ and ‘weigh too much.’

I often worry I’m too slow, too fast, weigh too much, don’t weigh enough, bigger than that person or smaller than I was a few months ago…it’s non-stop!

I also struggle with body image issues so automatically assume I am bigger than others around me. I once tore myself up for weeks because I worried my thighs were too big and began comparing them to my friend’s whose seemed much slimmer. I drove myself crazy!

I brought it up in a therapy session once and it helped me to slowly see sense. As my view of myself is skewed, it was likely that our thighs weren’t that dissimilar.

Yet, even if mine were bigger, why would that matter? Does that make me a lesser person? Or undesirable in some way? Would my friend be a better person if hers were in fact smaller than mine?

All of these questions led me to really think about the situation I found myself in. I realised that in becoming obsessed with my friends thigh shape I overlooked other characteristics that I did not want to share. I failed to realise my worth, my popularity, my close relationships with family and friends, my skills, my ambitions and the other elements of my appearance that I do like.

It sounds completely backward now but I thought I was somehow less worthy of being supported through an eating disorder because my thighs were bigger than somebody else’s.

It shouldn’t be like this, everyone is individual and no two cases are the same and therefore don’t deserve to be treated as such.

Different people find what works for them and their own pace to be able to make improvements.

We cause ourselves so much anxiety and depression by engaging in comparisons and it’s so unnecessary.

The world will do that for us without us doing it to ourselves!

If your body shape is different, you still deserve help. If your pace is slow or fast that’s fine. If ripping the plaster off and taking the bull by the horns works for you, that’s great. Or if you’d rather go steady and adjust to the changes gradually then that’s OK too.

You do you! No one else is living in your body or head, every path is unique.

Be the focal point of your own journey and the best version of yourself instead of a second-rate version of someone else.

G x

Becoming body neutral

Try to imagine a world where you don’t think about your appearance.

You don’t spend your days looking in the mirror, honing in on those thighs you wish were smaller or torturing yourself about the size of your waist and curves. 

Nor do you waste your energy wishing you were thinner, more toned and defined, or pounding the gym to alter your shape.

You just wholeheartedly accept your body for what it is – no love or hate. 

Welcome to body neutrality!

Believed to have started in 2015 by a US fitness instructor, it is fast gaining traction around the world with more fans now than ever. Just look up #bodyneutrality on Instagram and you will find over 100,000 posts encouraging this incredible new way of being.

At its core, body neutrality aims to encourage you to fully accept your body for its achievements as opposed to its appearance. The overall goal is to reduce the enormous focus on physical attractiveness in our looks-obsessed society and remove the idea that beauty has a bearing on a person’s worth. 

So how is it different from body positivity?

Body neutrality challenges the constant ‘feel-good’, I-love-my-body movement that some people find too difficult to adopt.

Whilst it’s great that some sectors of society love the skin they’re in and flaunt their assets all over social media (I’m looking at you, Kardashians), sadly we’re not all in that extrovert headspace. That’s why this new mindset exists to counteract the hype of body positivity – the concept of loving your body no matter what it looks like.

The term ‘body positivity’ was originally coined by a group of self-confessed ‘fat-acceptance’ campaigners, who joined to promote the idea that all bodies, not just slim stereotypically attractive ones, are beautiful.

Body positive followers traditionally encourage conversations around unapologetic weight gain and celebrate plus-size individuals whilst opposing the unhealthy ‘thinspiration’ body image notion often championed by the media. 

Body neutrality, in contrast to all of this, values the facts of what your body does on a functional level for you over how it looks.

How do you do it?

It’s all about altering the way you think about yourself. 

Somebody who is body positive would say:

“I feel good about myself because I know that I look good.”

Whereas, a person who strives for body neutrality believes:

“My appearance has nothing to do with how I feel about myself.”

There are many ways you can try and adopt this approach, starting with self-talk and reflection.

Ask yourself some of the following questions to get a picture of your character and values, unrelated to appearance:

Am I a good friend?

Am I kind to others?

Am I driven and ambitious?

What are my strengths?

What do I enjoy most in life?

How would my nearest and dearest describe my personality?

Once you can build a narrative around your answers you will probably see that your appearance is one of the least interesting things about you and what’s on the inside is much more important.

Good luck!

G x

2020: the worst year ever?

“I thought 2020 would be the year I got everything I wanted. Now I know 2020 is the year I appreciate everything I have.”

A friend sent me this quote last week and it really resonated with me.

I knew it wouldn’t be the year I got everything I wanted (who ever does?), but it’s certainly given me a slap around the face and made me see how blessed I truly am.

I’ve been far too guilty of ‘why me’ syndrome this year. Why did I get made redundant in a pandemic? Why do I have to stay at home every day when it makes me anxious? Why are my parents having to shield? Doesn’t Covid know I have an eating disorder and all of these changes to my routine are making it worse?!

It certainly hasn’t been easy, rationalising all of my worries with so many terrifying headlines around. The pandemic has impacted so many elements of life I struggle to recognise our former ‘normality’. Going to shops, drinking coffee in café’s, working in a busy office and enjoying my hobby of ballroom dance. When will it ever be deemed safe to get within two meters of my partner to learn the Cha Cha together again?!

It’s so hard to deal with grand-scale change like this. Not being able to solve everything makes me incredibly anxious…but is it completely terrible? Has this year been a total write-off?

Well, no. I don’t think so, and here’s why…

Food

Managing eating disorder recovery in a pandemic is like pushing water up a steep hill. It’s not going to go well! My safe foods weren’t available in shops (cheers panic-buyers!), I had big changes in routine, there was reduced access to support services and a big dollop of inability to control any of it for good measure. It did not a happy mind make!

I managed though. I reparented myself around mealtimes at home, endeavouring to eat at least something three times a day and progress to introduce snacks. I developed a heightened appreciation for my appointments with the ED service and gained much more from them as a result. I learned that when the world around me changes, I must still prioritise food and nourishment to deal with it effectively and noticed my body function better as a result. It was quite a turning point.  

Relationships

I spent the majority of 2020 at home with family and even though we drove each other crazy at times I would not have had it any other way. I felt supported, comforted and like no matter what horrifying things were happening in the world, I was always safe and protected. My Dad has spent much of the year shielding making homelife tense but we’ve certainly come out much stronger as a result.

There was nothing sadder than not being able to meet with friends and relatives as much as I would have liked. Thankfully technology connected us when face-to-face gatherings were too risky and for that I’m super grateful. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I now value those friendships even more than I did before. I can’t wait to see people properly again!

Change

‘I don’t like change, I’m rubbish at it’ I would often say. I’m a creature of habit and live a very routined life to keep my anxiety at bay.

If you’d have told me a year ago that 2020 will see a killer virus sweep the world, forcing us all into our homes, meaning I wouldn’t be able to go out anywhere for fear of catching it – I’d have had a meltdown there and then. Nevertheless I’ve survived it. I’m still here and still (mostly) smiling. Everything has changed and it’s been completely terrifying but I’m proof that it’s possible to get through it. I’m so proud of my resilience. I didn’t know I had it in me.  

Lack of direction

I believed that losing my job to a Covid restructure was a one-way ticket to hopelessness and ‘what-the-heck-now’ land. I’ve worked since I was 14 (before it was even legal to be paid!) so how on earth would I cope with being unemployed?

Well, pretty wonderfully as it turns out.

I realised my job had become a noose around my neck and kept me rooted in ED behaviours. Without it I felt free, like I had a chance to really explore my options and work out what I’d truly like to do in life. I turned the empty days into opportunities to write, become a freelance blogger and communications project manager from home which gave me more fulfilment than I’d had in years. I also got onboard the online course hype by enrolling on a counselling skills programme which taught me so much about myself and helping others. I’m absolutely loving it!

I don’t know what’s going to happen long-term, but instead of being terrified I’m surprisingly excited!

2020 has taught me that I can deal with change, don’t need a job to feel valid and have so much good in my life that I needed six months of sitting at home to fully appreciate it.

I couldn’t see my friends, so I realised how much they meant to me and valued our precious meet-ups even more. I feared for my family’s health and wellbeing and grasped the huge importance of their presence in my life. My therapy became less frequent so I truly understood the positive impact it has on my well-being. I didn’t need to buy clothes, gadgets or beauty treatments because life’s about so much more than that. I swapped shopping trips for walks in the countryside and gained a fresh appreciation for nature and all of it’s wonder.

It wasn’t easy, far too many tears were shed and frustrations acted upon. I felt whole new levels of hopelessness and like giving up on various occasions. But I have honestly never learned so much about myself, the true meaning of happiness and being grateful for the little things that mean a lot.

And for that, 2020, I thank you.  

G x

Five ways that 2020 impacted eating disorders

Hands up who had a great 2020?

…that’s a collective no-one then.

It’s been a unique year full of challenges and uncertainty. The word ‘unprecedented’ has now lost all meaning.

When we stayed up until midnight to welcome in 2020, could anyone have predicted what was in store for us all? Certainly not me.

Without a doubt, it’s been a terribly difficult 12 months for anybody with a mental health condition as fear and anxiety swept the world, causing even the hardiest of characters to wobble. Those with eating disorders certainly weren’t exempt.

It’s been the perfect storm for both those in recovery and ones who manage their ED unaided. A pressure cooker with all of the right ingredients to wreak havoc!

Each individual sufferer will know which elements of lockdown caused them the most difficulty, but on reflection, I think the following five tripped me up the most…

Stockpiling

Nothing induced panic like fearing my ‘safe foods’ would be unavailable.

Rice, pasta and tinned goods are staples of my daily trusted edibles and unfortunately also popular amongst the stockpilers.

Going food shopping is stressful enough without worrying about my safety items being out of stock and I would feel apprehensive about finding appropriate alternatives to satisfy my needs. Similarly, when we were told to only visit our local supermarkets, I missed the foods I usually bought from other shops further afield. A friend was kind enough to post some to me as she lived closer to those stores than I did. What a bonkers time!

However, I coped. I built those alternative foods into my daily plan and hardly bat an eyelid about them anymore. It’s funny how something so initially scary can turn out to be absolutely fine.

Nothing to lift mood

I don’t know about you, but when I feel like my ED voice is in the driving seat, it helps me to go out and take my mind off it.

I try to socialise more, I make an effort to say ‘yes’ to invitations to do things (rather than politely decline as per) and attempt to make myself feel positive and worthy in other ways.

It was impossible to do that for several months of 2020 – even illegal at times! I felt the effect of losing those social distractions and lifting my mood by spending time with people I love. It helps you to see the world outside your own bubble and get a broader perspective to keep your worries in proportion.

I felt that without those comforts, the demon voices shouted louder and I had more time to ruminate on my fears, food choices and weight. Not ideal.

Lack of control

It is common for people with eating disorders to feel they need a sense of control over something, namely their shape, food intake and exercise levels. This overwhelming instinct usually kicks in when there are elements of our lives we feel powerless over or that seem much bigger than we are.

Throwing a highly contagious, novel virus that is wreaking havoc all over the world and killing people in their thousands creates a breeding ground for those out of control feelings to run riot.

I found myself becoming even more obsessive over daily exercise totals and calories as the result of little else being within my circle of things I could ‘sort’. Not properly anyway.

My therapist did some work with me on the locus of control – a tool that demonstrates what is in your reach to have control over and what isn’t, and it really helped. I actually learnt I could control more elements of life than I first realised and was able to let go of those other things more as a result. It’s worth a google!

Restricted access to support

As I’ve said in previous posts, I have a fantastic therapist and I rely on her a great deal.

I’ve often told her that she is like a ‘fixing machine’ and that my chaotic, irrational, disordered thoughts and worries tumble out of me and into her much more logical way of thinking. She literally transforms and retrains my brain and I’ve improved so much as a result of my appointments with her. She’s quite remarkable.

It’s the great relationship we have that made it so tough to lose touch a little this year when arguably more support than ever was needed. I was fortunate to have phone calls and the odd socially distanced, face-to-face appointment in the summer but it hasn’t been the same and I feel progress has stalled somewhat as a result. I’m hopeful that some regularity can resume when the vaccine is rolled out.

Fear

When you’re living in near constant fear, it can feel pretty hard to focus on recovery and stamping out disordered behaviours. Eating difficulties commonly manifest as a coping strategy and we’ve all needed lots of those this year!

I’d have days when my anxieties and worries were so huge, I couldn’t have eaten if you’d have paid me. I also felt that I often wanted to eat but my thoughts were so negative I couldn’t allow myself to. It was quite hard to navigate my way through such uncertainty at times. I have to be in the right head space to eat properly and on very few occasions this year was that possible.

With any luck, 2021 will provide more hope and an exit strategy from the hardship of the pandemic.

I’m sending lots of positive vibes and good wishes to everyone reading this. I hope you’re well and finding ways to self-care at this turbulent time.

G x