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

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

Thought of the day…

You can’t heal in the same environment that made you sick.

I recently heard this quote and it really struck a chord with me. How true is it?!

I think so often we wonder why we get stuck in a cycle of poor mental health and can’t break free from it.

We try therapy, mindfulness, self-care, distraction techniques and even medication to rid ourselves of our demons but we don’t look at our immediate circumstances to spot the problems.

I remember once saying to a friend that whilst all the things that caused my difficulties were still there I couldn’t ever get better. Not properly anyway.

It wasn’t ever going to be possible to change my habits and coping strategies whilst surrounded by the situations that started them.

I stand by that. I was in a toxic work environment with challenging people around me everyday. I had some triggering friends, hardship at home, a deliberate lack of professional support and secrecy weaved into my daily routine. I had to break away from all of those things before I could even start to make improvements. It just wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

So if anyone feels that they are static, unable to progress but wishing they could…maybe think about whether you can truly make changes whilst remaining in the same environment that caused you problems in the first place?

The limbo of quasi recovery

Have you ever heard the phrase: “I’m not where I need to be, but at least I’m not where I was.”?

That’s the current definition of my life in recovery from an eating disorder. And it’s really tough!

Last year my food restriction was the worst it’s ever been, my thoughts were incredibly distorted and my weight was the lowest yet. I was truly in the grips of my battle with anorexia.

I was losing around a kilo every week, too underweight to legally drive, having bi-weekly appointments and calls with the ED team and supported meals with a wonderful eating disorder organisation in my city. It was intense but it was necessary to turn things around and stop me getting into dangerous territory – hospital.

Fast forward a year – and a crazy year at that – I receive less support and am no longer in the danger zone weight wise. My relationship with food is better, I can manage three meals on certain days, I exercise less obsessively and don’t feel as tired and weak. On paper I’m doing much better.

But that only tells half of the story. The rest isn’t so rosy.

One of the most difficult things about trying to beat an eating disorder is quasi recovery – a limbo-like state where you aren’t relapsing into your illness but you aren’t experiencing the benefits of true recovery either.

My weight may be higher, but my thoughts are still plagued with food and exercise routines, awful body image and the daily longing to be back in the driving seat – restricting my intake and feeling less heavy!

It’s pretty exhausting and can make me feel very hopeless. Like having an angel and a devil on each shoulder.

Each time I feel motivated enough to improve, it’s accompanied by an awful sense of guilt for defying the disordered voice in my head and desperately unhappy about my increasing size. I then revert to compensating by reinstating some of my old rules and curse myself for thinking I could ditch them.

It’s like the physical progress is not matching the mental progress leading me to feel that my weight is spiralling out of control and my head isn’t catching up. I’m still over a stone away from my healthy weight but I worry I’ll reside in a weight-restored body yet keep my disordered mind which frightens me.

I know it’s common and I have been told by both professionals and fellow ED sufferers that the discomfort of progress can be drawn-out and unpleasant. I have been supported to find coping strategies and distractions which, whilst helpful, don’t always mask the torment.

The solution?

I guess I have to keep going in order to get to a point where the daily stresses around food loosen their tight grip on me and I find a way to make peace with my body again.

I tell myself:

It’s like pulling a plaster off – peel it back slowly and you drag out the pain, but rip it off and whilst it hurts more at least it’s over quicker.

I’ll keep going, because I didn’t come this far to only come this far, but it’s a huge challenge and I have great sympathy for others who are in the same boat.

We’re all in this together x

Body image and baggy jeans

I used to hate baggy clothes.

When I was younger, if something wasn’t skin tight I had no time for it. I guess I thought loose fitting stuff somehow made me look larger.

Nowadays it’s my saviour! Especially having spent the majority of 2020 in hoodies and joggers.

The thought of returning to my skinny jeans fils me with dread and more insecurity than I can handle. I’m struggling to accept my shape at the moment so really don’t want any one to see it through my clothes. I need garments to hide in.

Enter the humble ‘mom’ jean (or ‘boyfriend’/‘girlfriend’ depending on which shop you’re in).

I love them!

I’ve wanted some for ages and finally plucked up the courage to enter a shop and buy some this week.

I haven’t felt confident enough to purchase any new clothes since lockdown started. My body image is at its lowest and I’m worrying about clothing sizes and how I look in different garments and fits.

These jeans have combatted a great deal of that.

They’re perfect for my needs and luckily fashionable enough to get away with. They’re so comfy and loose and I don’t feel remotely revealing while wearing them.

Thank the denim heavens!

G x

Five lessons I’ve learned from therapy

I’m very open about my positive experiences with therapy for my eating disorder.

Some people turn their noses up at the notion of telling your innermost secrets to a stranger, but I feel it has benefitted me massively.

The biggest challenge is finding the right person for you, someone who can listen, empathise, challenge you and ultimately gain your trust.

It may have taken me a few years and various attempts with different therapists, but I feel I have met my match and it’s amazing to experience the difference it makes.

To truly release your inhibitions and reveal your biggest fears is the first step to altering your mindset and that’s where I currently sit.

This week, I wrote a blog for The Recovery Club about the top five lessons I have learned from therapy so far.

I would love for you to take a look and see what you think.

Read the blog here.

G x

Dealing with anxiety

Anxiety and I have a colourful past.

It first noticeably impacted my life aged 14 when I found my nervous system going into overdrive at the smallest of things. I remember offering to cook dinner for my family and feeling so panicky that I had messed it up and was going to make everyone ill.

I also got very nervous at the prospect of going to parties and social events and had a big anxiety attack at my own birthday meal in front of all of my friends. It was horrible!

It came to a head during the dress rehearsal for a school play when mid-performance I completely froze. I couldn’t speak, the lights made me so hot and the faces of the other students watching me became a blur. I managed to utter that I felt unwell before running outside with palpitations, struggling to catch my breath and an overwhelming numbness in my hands.

My friends came to find me and brought our teacher who managed to slow my breathing down and get my fingers moving to get the feeling back. It was such a frightening experience and I went home in tears, unable to do the actual show.

My Mum took me to the doctors and I was referred to CAMHS for CBT which helped me to understand what anxiety was, what triggered it and how to re-train my brain so that I became less fearful.

Fifteen years on and it still affects me daily. Some occasions are easier to rationalise than others.

I’ve worked with multiple therapists for various difficulties over the years and anxiety always crops back up as it lies at the centre of so many different mental health problems. It’s still hard to nail even all of these years later, as it sneakily creeps up on you faster than you can tell yourself there’s no major threat.

If this sounds familiar and you struggle with anxiety too, I have put together a short list of five key tips that have helped me most over the years. Please read on and comment some of your own below if you would like…

Breathe

Breathing techniques are incredibly helpful in lowering the heart rate and preventing the panic from taking hold.

When I feel my anxiety levels rising I kick start my slow breathing and find the process of exhaling at a reduced speed really calms me down.

I don’t know the medical technicalities but I believe that hyperventilation (the act of breathing very fast and not taking in enough oxygen whilst gasping) can exacerbate an anxiety attack so making sure you take long, deep breaths helps to counteract that.

Another major plus is that you can do it very subtly in public too, without those around you noticing what you’re doing.

Educate

Something that has helped me enormously is learning what anxiety is and how it actually benefits the body. Yes, benefits!

I’m sure we all know the basics – the ‘fight or flight’ response from the caveman days and how adrenaline prepares us to either face our perceived danger or run from it…but when you truly drill down into the effect it has on the body it makes so much more sense.

I don’t know about you, but I find the physical symptoms of anxiety pretty scary. My heart races, I feel sick, I get flushed, my tummy starts to flip, my fingers tingle – none of it is at all pleasant and adds to my fears. It’s a vicious circle.

I’m still not brilliant at it, but now that I understand what is happening and that it’s origins are actually to HELP not hinder me I can rationalise it more and relieve some of the fear.

I tell myself ‘anxiety is not harmful, just very unpleasant right now.’

Self-care

Anxiety is relentless and exhausting, so it’s important to take some time to look after yourself when you’re struggling.

When I’m apprehensive about something, my nerves will be elevated so I have to use calm distraction techniques to settle myself back down. For me that’s walking, yoga, breathing techniques, meditation and guided relaxations or speaking to family and friends. Keeping my mind occupied allows less time for the negative thoughts to creep in.

It’s also a priority to take care of yourself when you’ve recently experienced an anxiety attack as you’ll be feeling vulnerable, tired and low in mood. I always feel a little sad once I’ve calmed down (and a tad emotionally battered and bruised) so simple things like having a hot bath, early night and listening to music I enjoy helps me to recover. You deserve to focus on feeling better when you’ve been through a traumatic ordeal.

Meditate

Now, this one doesn’t work for everybody but I find it really helpful and calming.

Meditation means something different to each individual, but for me it’s phsyically stopping still, practising breathing techniques, focusing on the present moment and listening to guided imagery and audio relaxations.

This isn’t always possible in the heat of an anxiety wave and actually, it was never intended for that purpose either. Meditation practice is most effective when you have time to yourself, away from your stresses and usually in the comfort of your home or in an instructed class.

The more you are able to gain the benefits of this chilled downtime the lower your general levels of fear and tension will become.

Many people find it helpful for them to meditate first thing in the morning as it makes them calmer ahead of their busy days. Personally I find it more restful to engage in at night but whatever works best for you is fine. I really noticed a difference.

Monitor triggers and patterns

When you make a note of your anxiety triggers you will begin to see patterns of thoughts that lead you down the panic path.

Whilst attending CBT sessions, the therapist tasked me with the below exercise to track my anxiety levels and identify the key events that activated the ‘alarm response’ in me.

It was very revealing, and I noticed a few trends – mainly in the cause of the anxiousness and the negative thinking that prolonged it. I also couldn’t help but spot that I usually always recovered from it and noted that I was catastrophizing each time, fearing the worst and realising it didn’t happen.

Once I was able to learn from this, the anxiety lessened in severity and the perceived threat diminished.

I hope that helps. Please leave me a comment if you have other techniques that work for you.

G x

The A-Z of eating disorders (part two)

Welcome back to my A-Z of eating disorders (part two). I hope you enjoyed reading the first half of the alphabet, and that my thoughts and opinions resonated with you.

Please read on for the next instalment…

N – Nutrition

In all of the seemingly crazy obsessiveness with eating low calorie or ‘strictly healthy’ foods, it’s easy to forget that food is nourishment and needs balance. I look back at the days I only ate dry cereal, dry crackers and dry vegetables and wonder why I felt so rubbish! I’m still quite limited in the foods I will eat but I have a better nutritional equilibrium now and feel remarkably better for it. Nutrition education is very key in recovery.

O – Obsession

So many elements of ED’s are obsessive. The food restriction, calorie counting, body checking, compulsive exercise, bingeing and purging… it’s a condition that’s riddled with rituals that vary depending on the diagnosis. Tackling each of these one by one and reducing the urges gradually has worked best for me so far. It’s hard to stop them cold turkey and it isn’t sustainable to do that either as you’ll risk becoming even more obsessed.

P – Paranoia

Sadly, eating disorders are riddled with paranoia. You fear people looking at you, judging you, thinking you’re overweight, underweight, eating too much or not enough. You become deprived of rational thoughts and bend the world around you to fit your narrative. I’m still experiencing paranoid and negative thoughts on a daily basis so can’t say I’ve beaten them yet but I am getting to realise that is my irrational and illogical brain saying these things to me, not my true ‘Georgie’ brain.

Q – Questioning

Questioning my condition has helped me no end in my ED treatment. Being educated about the reasons why you feel the way you do helps to challenge the way you think and the behaviours that have become part of your everyday life. I now go to my therapy sessions armed with questions to ask, I have so much interest in understanding this multi-faceted problem so that I can hopefully beat it off for good.

A person standing on weighing scales.

R – Restriction

Food restriction is a huge part of my eating problem and something I tackle daily. It’s not a battle I always win, and I find myself giving in to the side of my brain telling me I should skip a meal in order to keep the world on an even keel. There’s an emotional high that comes with depriving yourself of food – it’s like you’ve won a competition or achieved a big goal, and sadly the feeling is addictive. I’m still in a place where the high keeps me motivated but I am finding myself questioning this more and enjoying the food restriction process much less.

S – Secrecy

Eating disorders are shrouded in secrecy and so many of the rituals and behaviours remain known only by the sufferer that is carrying them out. It’s the act of keeping everything to yourself that fuels the ED and gives it the power to continue as it slowly takes over your mind, convincing you you’re doing the right thing. Once you break down it’s walls and ‘out it’ to others it loses its grip and you begin to regain the freedom of your life.

T – Triggers

Many factors can trigger eating disorders to not only start, but also continue. The diet talk in the office, filtered-to-perfection influencers on Instagram, seeing your reflection in a mirror and longing to look different – it can be very hard to avoid these detrimental prompts and every trickier to ignore them. I know my triggers now, so I work hard to build my life away from them by limiting my exposure to certain profiles online and reducing contact with those individuals that have a negative effect on me. It really helps.

U – Uncertainty

Uncertainty is incredibly common with ED’s and you’re left constantly doubting and questioning yourself. Your mind is plagued by negative thinking, wondering if you’re making enough progress, or maybe if you’re recovering too quickly or not fast enough. I’m awful for comparisons, looking at those around me and worrying that I’m much bigger or smaller than they are and thinking that perhaps I should be more like them, whoever they may be. You start to doubt your own mind. Therapy certainly improves this, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still struggling with the thoughts.

V – Vicious circle

There are many negative thought patterns involved in living with an eating disorder and it’s difficult not to fall down the traps. My main cycle at the moment is: ‘I want to recover from my ED’ > ‘I have to gain weight for that to happen’ > ‘I am now gaining weight and it’s making me feel unhappy’ > ‘If I lose weight I will feel happier’ > ‘I need to lose weight now’. It’s an exhausting merry-go-round of torment and I’m yet to find the solution but identifying the habitual thought-loops is definitely the first step.

W – Worthiness

Everyone is worth recovery, no matter how underserving they may feel. I put off getting support for such a long time because I believed I didn’t need or require it. I thought people with eating disorders were much thinner and sicker than me and I truly couldn’t comprehend a diagnosis of anorexia because ‘that’s what really ill people have’. The truth is, regardless of your weight or appearance, it’s how you feel, think and behave that determines your right to support – not what you look like.  

X – xxx

Let’s face it, X was always going to be the trickiest letter. I’ve fudged it a bit by going with ‘xxx’ as a representative of love. ED’s require a tonne of love, support and kindness from people around you and professional services. Knowing that people love you is such a strong motivator for getting well, as is remembering all the reasons why you are loved and what a great person you are regardless of your illness. Love conquers all!

A neon sign saying 'love'

Y – Yearning

Not a day goes by when I don’t yearn to be better. Or wish that mental health problems had never shown their ugly face at my front door in the first place! It’s a deep longing that keeps me awake at night, wondering how different my life could have been if I’d never become unwell. In many ways it’s heart-breaking but it’s also a great motivator to improve and get life back on track before any more precious time gets wasted.

Z – Zest (for life)

Nothing zaps your enthusiasm for life like an eating disorder. They’re a breeding ground for low mood, minimal energy and a total lack of motivation or interest in doing things that you used to enjoy. If you’re not careful it can reduce your life as much as it reduces your food intake or body shape. Slowly but surely, I have noticed that desire to truly live a fulfilling life again coming back to me with the strong will to kick the ED into touch for the last time.

Let’s all keep going – we’re so worth this!

G x

The A-Z of eating disorders (part one)

Eating disorders are commonly defined as a group of psychological conditions characterised by abnormal and disturbed eating habits.  

Although the term ‘eating’ is in the name, these disorders are always about more than food. They’re complex mental health conditions that often require the intervention of medical and psychological experts to alter their course.

I have struggled at the hands of eating disorders over the past ten years and although my difficulties have evolved and manifested themselves in different ways, my issues are still quite prevalent.

So in the interest of raising awareness of these debilitating difficulties in an easily digestible and light hearted manner, I thought I’d present my A-Z of eating disorders…

A – Anxiety

Eating disorders are riddled with anxiety. Whether you already struggled with it before the ED or if your eating problems cause you great anxiety, the two are very closely linked and treatment will focus on ways to calm your mind and anxious thoughts.

B – Bloating

One of the trickiest elements to increasing food intake after periods of restriction is the challenging bloating. It feels uncomfortable, looks unsightly and makes you even more body conscious than you already are. I try to remind myself it’s very common when increasing consumption and doesn’t last forever. It’s also vital to note that no matter what my mind tells me, it isn’t fat. Bloating is not fat!

C – Calories

Sadly, very few eating disorders would be complete without a daily obsession with calories. It can take years of treatment and therapy to allow sufferers to eat intuitively and respond to natural hunger cues with zero regard for the calories that are in their meals. A key part of ED treatment is relinquishing control over calorie intake and working to a point whereby eating becomes instinctive rather than regimented.

D – Diet

I’ve heard it said that ‘diets are just socially acceptable eating disorders’. If your friend tells you they are dieting, you probably wouldn’t be alarmed, but if they said they felt they had an eating disorder, you’d have a much bigger cause for concern. Diets can commonly lead to disordered eating habits so try to remember that if the dieting behaviours are the same as the ED behaviours, it is not just a diet. It’s a disorder.

E – Exercise

Exercise and restrictive eating often go hand in hand when suffering with an ED. For me, it’s about controlling my size and weight with food and exercise routines that mean I am burning off a high percentage of what I take in each day. I have an app on my phone to tell me how many calories I have burned and that makes me feel ‘better’ although can be quite obsessive to check. Therapy often tackles this level of compulsive exercise by slowly reducing it and understanding the cognitions behind the urges.

Young woman running in wood, training and exercising for trail run marathon endurance in morning sunrise.

F – Family and friends

Those around you play a massive part in your recovery process. I’m very lucky as my family and friends are incredibly supportive and I know I can rely on them to help me both practically and emotionally. My immediate family are caring and loving and would do anything they could to make me feel better. I also have a strong circle of friends who are understanding of my difficulties whilst challenging me in equal measure. An absolute lifeline!

G – Guilt

There is an incredibly high level of near-constant guilt involved in day to day life with an eating disorder. I feel terribly guilty when I eat what I deem to be too much, or more than I would normally have, and that can lead me to be restrictive for the next few days, or to over exercise to compensate. I will then usually feel equally as guilty for giving in to the urges and not tackling them for the good of recovery. It’s a relentless battle, and pretty exhausting.

H – Hope

No matter how tough the going gets, you must remain as hopeful as possible that much better times are just around the corner. I still consider myself to be a long way from fully recovered, but when I look back at far I have come it’s astonishing to think of all of the improvements I’ve made. I have learned so much about myself and it’s helped me to rebuild time and time again. Keep going!

I – Insecurity

Eating disorder sufferers are often riddled with insecurity and have low self esteem and confidence. Feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness are very commonplace and that is all too often where eating disorders begin. One of the best ways to combat this is to remind myself of all of my achievements, the compliments I’ve received in my life and the impact I’ve had on those around me.

J – Justification

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to justify myself and my actions over the last few years. Whether that’s trying to describe my behaviours to my family who weren’t familiar with ED thoughts and feelings, or worming my way out of trouble with therapists who saw straight through my excuses…I’ve had a lot of explaining to do!

A plate of food being consumed in a restaurant.

K – Kindness

They say a little kindness goes a long way…and they’re not wrong. The only way to recover from an eating disorder is to be kind to yourself and accept kindness from others. That means forgiving your own mistakes, accepting your struggles but resolving to push through them anyway and being patient with yourself. Similarly, when others show you care and compassion, remember to accept it with grace and use it to your advantage.

L – Laxatives

Not a very pleasant topic – and certainly not an easy one to discuss, but alas most of us have had experiences with laxatives. They weren’t usually very positive experiences either! My therapist told me that they don’t actually lead to weight loss or make you lighter, but for me the reliance on them was to do with feeling empty. I had a desire to feel internally empty each day and if my body wasn’t able to do that naturally – because let’s face when you mess with your eating you play havoc with your digestion too, I needed something to make that happen! I’m less reliant now, but can’t go cold turkey just yet.

M – Measuring

Whether it’s measuring your food or body, eating disorders are massively consumed with various numbers and sizes. It’s common to measure amounts of food and calculate calories on a daily basis alongside a deep urge to step on the scales and weigh yourself too. True recovery lies in the freedom to eat and exercise intuitively with no regard for the numerical value of everything.

Come back next week for part two…