It took me a while to register that what she had said was a compliment. The eating disorder lodged in my brain saw an opportunity and cried out “Healthy?! Healthy?!What she really means is fatter.”
The above image is me before and during recovery from atypical anorexia. I didn’t even realise that there was a difference in the way I looked then and now bar that I had gained weight until I was at a friend’s house over Easter and on her wall were two photographs that included me: one at a healthy weight and one when I was underweight. I was in shock. I never realised how pale and sick I looked.
My hairdresser had been cutting my hair in Manchester since my first year at university. She saw my drop weight to my lowest, and she saw me restore it again. That’s how I know that her compliment was so sincere.
One thing that I’ve noticed since being in recovery is that even though sometimes I am unable to act on my own opinions, those opinions about food and weight and body shape have become so healthy that they’ve moved way over to the other side, as far away from disordered as possible, and past even most “normal” people’s views. My views have become so healthy that when I am having coffee with my friends at Starbucks, and one of them says “Oooh, do you think I should get a cake with my coffee? It’s kinda a lot of calories…” I look at her disapprovingly and say “Of course! If you want it, you eat it! Stop asking me for validation, that chocolate cake looks so damn good that you should get TWO SLICES.” Another of my friends said that she had eaten loads that day but “haha it was okay” because she would just work out for double the amount of time. To which I shouted “No, no you will not! Our bodies are not mathematical machines that have specific countable amounts going in and our like our diet culture would have us believe. You do not have to double your work out just because you over ate for one day. GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK!”
Having an eating disorder and trying to recover from it has ruined a lot of my life and had me existing in constant misery. What it has done for me though is introduced me to blogs like Fyoured, TheFuckItDiet, and Youreatopia , which opened my eyes to the actual truth rather than the lies that our money-grabbing, body-shaming diet culture would have us believe (I suggest that you check them out). I began to learn that being healthy means making the right choices for you and your body. It means going swimming if you genuinely love going swimming (but not before being in remission, or nearing it). It means having a second helping at dinner if you still want more. It means playing badminton with your best friend if that is what makes you smile. It means sitting down with a friend to watch a movie and sharing a whole tub of ice cream if that is one of your favourite foods. It means eating whole foods if that makes you feel great. It means spending the day in your pjs in bed blogging and watching TV when you want to relax. Being healthy means doing with your body what makes you happy. Genuinely happy. Without that eating disorder voice having any say.
In addition, exercise doesn’t have to be exhausting, or stressful. You don’t have to dread it. In fact you can exercise without even having to take much notice of it, and that’s the way that it should be done. Exercise should not ever be about changing your body. What it should be about is genuine enjoyment. In fact, I have talked about this topic extensively on my YouTube channel (Here, here, and here are my videos on exercise in recovery, and exercise in remission). It does not mean you have to spend gruelling hours at the gym or engaging in high intensity aerobics, gasping for air in your living room. It can mean taking a walk in the countryside with your dog/friend/camera. It can mean splashing around with your mates in the pool. It can mean getting competitive and enjoying a game of badminton in the sun. It can mean getting on the trampoline with your siblings. It can mean walking in the fresh air to town to do your shopping rather than catching the bus. It’s about what works for you.
Health is eating the right foods for you and nourishing your body and your soul. It’s about eating whatever you want, whenever you want. It’s about trusting your body and it’s cravings; whether it is calling for doughnuts or broccoli, you should respond to it. Being healthy is being happy, and the happier you are the more it will shine through your skin and your eyes and in the way you hold yourself. Knowing that is how I overruled the voice of my eating disorder when my hairdresser complimented me with those words: the knowledge that I was shining the most I had done for going on two years.