To The Bone: Yes, Another Review

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To The Bone is the hot topic right now in the eating disorder community: amongst those who are suffering, those in remission, and professionals who work with people with eating disorders. There are reviews being written about it left, right, and centre, and unfortunately I am here to throw my unoriginal opinion into the mix. I know that what I am about to write has been said already, but I wanted to join the conversation. Here are my thoughts on To The Bone below.

(GIANT SPOILERS ALERT FOR THE CONTENT BELOW)

What was wrong with it:

It shows an overly represented narrative

Eli is a straight, white young woman from a wealthy family, which is totally great, because I’ve just never seen that narrative be explored before. Not. How many times have we seen this in the media? Over and over and over and over again. Quite frankly, I’m bored of seeing emaciated white women counting their ribs in the mirror as their white panties hang off their hipbones. Not that their suffering is invalid, but because the suffering of others is just as valid and I’m not seeing them represented anywhere. Where are the black girls with anorexia? Where are the average weight women? Where are the men (I know, a man was included in To The Bone, but he was not the main character – it was not his story)? Where are the girls with bulimia (the one girl with bulimia got about a minute and a half of screen time) and the men with anorexia athletica, and the elderly? Or just anyone who isn’t white having any other eating disorder than binge eating disorder? We don’t see these people in leading roles, or talked about in magazines, or depicted pretty much anywhere, and they are a huge portion of people with eating disorders. The straight white wealthy female narrative is overdone. It is cliche, it perpetuates myths and stereotypes, and it is damaging for a large portion of those with eating disorders who do not see themselves represented anywhere, and therefore, feel that their pain is invisible, and that they are not sick enough to be noticed.

The lead actress – a recovered anorexic – starved herself for the role and then gave ridiculously problematic interviews about it

Lily Collins said that it was a “scary process,” but “I knew that, this time, I would be held accountable for it. I would be [losing weight] under the supervision of a nutritionist and surrounded by all these amazing women on set. So, I knew that I would be in a safe environment to explore this.” Do you know what is not safe in any environment? BECOMING EMACIATED. Do you know what is especially not safe in any environment? BECOMING EMACIATED WHEN YOU ARE IN REMISSION FROM ANOREXIA NERVOSA. The genetic predisposition for an eating disorder is triggered by energy deficit. A recovered anorexic cannot just lose weight and be safe. You cannot say that it is alright just because you are supervised by a nutritionist. Becoming emaciated always comes with risks, and becoming emaciated as a recovered anorexic opens the gateway as wide as you possibly can for the eating disorder to stroll right on through. Immersing herself into the role is also another huge risk factor for relapse. The point of this is not that I care about her health in particular, because after all she is an adult and she has the choice over what she does with her life. The point is that she is responsible for the way in which she takes care of herself and for the messages she gives out when she knows that a movie like this is going to attract a huge number of vulnerable people, most of them young. Saying that she lost weight in a healthy way to become incredibly underweight sends out the message to people with eating disorders that they can starve themselves and this is totally okay as long as they do it in a certain way – the “healthy” way. This is not helpful. It is damaging, and she should have been way more aware of the position she is in and how what she says will be heard by others. There is no way to starve yourself in a healthy way. Ever. She also said that she didn’t think she would fall back into it because she is “more mature”, as if that makes any difference whatsoever to the development and maintenance of eating disorders, or of the relapse into them. Eating disorders don’t just leave you alone because you grew up. Honestly, for someone who has had an eating disorder, she sure is giving interviews like she is entirely ignorant of them.

The director also said to PEOPLE that Lily Collins losing weight for the role was a conversation that they had and that part of it was “how do we keep you safe, and not at a dangerous weight that’s going to be triggering for you.” In what world was the weight she was at not dangerous for anyone? In what world was it not triggering for anyone with anorexia, let alone herself? I don’t know what planet these guys are living on, but it’s not the same one as the audience of this film.

The psychiatrist is an idiot

He is meant to come off as cool and modern with all the dramatic swearing (how scandalously hip of him!), “revelations”, “wise” and “meaningful” words, and trips to rain installations, but to me he just looks like he sucks at his job. For example, the first time is meets Ellen, he tells her that he is not going to treat her if she is not interested in living. Sorry, what?! Many people with eating disorders struggle to find reasons to live for and part of treatment can be helping someone to find them. He also dismisses family therapy after one session. Therapy is difficult. Family therapy can be a nightmare. But it is through this that many things can be explored and sometimes resolved. You don’t just give up on it in one session, and to me, it looked like that session brought up a number of issues that needed to be addressed. He also tells her that he doesn’t like her name and that it doesn’t suit her and tells her to change it. Maybe this was some sort of point about making a new identity for herself, but it came off as rude and inappropriate. And since we are on the topic of inappropriate, it is highly unlikely that a professional in his position, as a male, would be in her room alone with her at night. Just saying.

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The love story overshadowed the whole thing and was incredibly unhealthy

“I need you, Eli,” Luke, the love interests, says as Ellen leaves the unit after feeling completely overwhelmed. Luke puts Ellen on a pedestal and then continuously pushes responsibility onto Ellen for his wellbeing. He spends the entire time demanding things of her: things that often she feels she cannot do, and when he gets pushy and she snaps, he gets all upset and butthurt. This is not romantic, and this is not what should be portrayed as a good relationship. As their relationship grows, he insensitively (and that is putting it lightly) brings up the topic of sexual abuse and asks if she has been sexually abused, saying that it’s a thing amongst “us rexies” (seriously, rexies?!). He then proceeds to tell her that she needs to be touched by someone who cares about her. That’s right: needs. Nothing like a bit of sexual coercion to set a really good example to an audience of predominantly vulnerable young women. And don’t get me started on the idea that women just need to fall in love with a “great guy” in order to find a reason to recover…

There was a weird, psychoanalytical scene that came out of nowhere

Near the end of the film, when Ellen is coming to the end of her tether – or her life – Ellen stays in her mother’s yurt. Her mother starts to talk to her about her experience of postnatal depression after Ellen was born, and how she did not hold her enough and how her pastor suggested feeding Ellen like a baby in order for Ellen to heal from the neglect she had experienced in the past from her mother. Ellen wants to think about the idea, but as her mother leaves says “mom, please feed me.” Her mother then sits Ellen in her lap like a baby and proceeds to feed her from a baby bottle. The scene to me was uncomfortable and totally out of context. If more was explored and developed from this angle, I don’t think it would have come off as such a strange scene, but it was totally out of the blue. It also directly proceeded Ellen’s “revelation” scene, as if being fed by her mother was so healing that it led directly onto a pathway to recovery. It was completely oversimplified, as was the next scene which leads me onto…

Ellen’s revelation moment was ridiculous

Ellen has a dream about being a healthy weight in a tree. She looks down and see herself, curled up in a foetal position, on the ground, naked and emaciated. “Is that me?!” she asks, shocked. When she wakes, she has the drive to recover, and returns to the unit in order to get better. I know that this was an interpretation of the director’s experience, but as a director you must know that you are not just sharing your version of events but also sending a message to the world. This airy-fairy scene is, to me, undermining, and made the transition from wanting to stay sick to wanting to recover look as easy as switching on a light in a dark room, when for many it is months and months of indecision and struggle before they are finally able to give themselves permission to make the arduous but invaluable journey towards freedom.

It glamorises eating disorders

They did not seem to do too well in their quest for awareness with eating disorders let’s be honest, and just like nearly all media, it has also successfully glamourised eating disorders. Beautiful Ellen, with her smoky make up, cool clothes, and sarky attitude, who doesn’t give a shit and eye rolls at every given opportunity. She just doesn’t seem to make eating disorders seem all that bad, does she? Then there are the discussions of behaviours and weight loss strategies within the eating disorder unit that she stays in. There’s the quirky boy that she falls in love with, and the handsome psychiatrist, and almost no discussion about what actually goes on inside the head of someone with an eating disorder. All we see is Ellen pushing food around her plate; Ellen doing sit ups in bed; Ellen fainting; Ellen rejecting food; Ellen getting thinner thinner thinner. All we are seeing here are the physical symptoms and behaviours of eating disorders, and when you don’t see the torture going on in someone’s minds; when there is barely a conversation about it, then how is it going to look like the hell it is to vulnerable people watching it? How does it dissuade people from carrying on into darkness; how does it help people to seek help; how does it educate those who don’t have eating disorders themselves? The truth is, it doesn’t. Not in any shape or form.

It isn’t even interesting

To The Bone is – to put it bluntly – boring. It doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t challenge any myths or stereotypes. People who are knowledgeable about eating disorders haven’t learnt anything new, and neither have those who aren’t. It is a non-film: at best, people will watch it and come away with nothing new. But at worst, as discussed above, it sends out damaging messages to those susceptible to them.

So what’s right with it?

It acknowledges the effect that eating disorders have on loved ones 

During family therapy, and at other points in the film,  the affect that this pervasive and deadly illness has on everyone around them was depicted. This was a positive aspect of this movie, as often stories about people with eating disorders are very much focused on how the main character is affected and does not show the way in which it disrupts the lives of loved ones and the immense pain it causes them.

It acknowledges the hunger

“I’m really fucking hungry. Like two years worth of hungry,” says Luke at one point. I practically whooped at this small but important acknowledgement of the intense hunger that people in recovery often experience, and how this is quite clearly obvious. It is hunger from years worth of damages, and it is there for a reason. The body wants to heal!

It shows a tragic consequence of having an eating disorder

One of the women in the house is pregnant, but she goes on to have a miscarriage. I thought that this was the most moving scene in the film, and shows what eating disorders can do to eating disorder sufferers, outside of the usual symptoms that are often shown.

It did depict one male character with anorexia

Which is great. (But he was still an asshole).

So in conclusion…

Overall, this film to me wasn’t worth making. The only real positive that I can see from the making of this film is that it has provoked conversation across all social media sites. People are naming what is wrong with this film and that sparks debate: debate that will hopefully be educating people. Unfortunately, those involved with reading these sorts of articles will nearly always be those who are already well-versed in eating disorders, whereas the film will have a widespread audience and was a chance to educate people who would not otherwise engage on eating disorder topics. Whilst for many it will be a fleeting moment in their lives, for others it could have a negative impact that could be a factor in propelling them towards unhealthy habits with devastating consequences. Let’s just hope not.

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Are You Listening? How We Hear the Things that People Say About Our Bodies When We Have An Eating Disorder

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My partner and I are lying in bed. He’s got his arms around me and we are a tangle of limbs beneath the sheets. Then he speaks.
“You’re so soft,” he says.
He says this a lot. He also says things like “you’re so huggable” and “you’re so squeezable”.

I wonder what your reaction was reading those words. Imagine hearing them said to you. How would you feel? What would you hear? I know what my reaction would have been a few years ago. I know that I would have heard “you’re fat”.

The thing is, we listen to what people are saying and then we apply our own filters to the words; filters which have been created from a whole myriad of experiences. That is what our minds do, and when it is someone with an eating disorder, that filter is especially pervasive, vehement, and antagonistic in the most negative of ways when it comes to comments about our bodies. People’s words go through this filter and it gets translated, so that what we hear is not necessarily what was said.

In this instance, I did a little laugh as I realised that his words went through my “ED translator”, and then carried on through my “recovered translator”, meaning that it went through two stages: “you’re so soft” turned into “you’re fat” and then into “he means your skin is soft or maybe he does mean your body is soft and so what Sarah, a lot of it is, and that’s nice, and it is nice to hug soft things that’s fine stop acting like he told you that you look like a naked mole rat that went through a blender.”

Sometimes my partner even puts his hand on my stomach and gently squeezes the squishy bit. Yeah, you can see my face now:

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If it was me three years ago I would have had a meltdown and engaged in some drastic and incredibly harmful behaviours, and it would be something I would probably remember forever as a trigger point for self-loathing. However, I am not that person anymore and I am – thankfully – now not in that torturous place. Instead I asked (slightly incredulously):
“Are you squeezing my fat?!” to which he replied: “Yeah, sorry.” Again, three years ago I would have heard that answer as “yes you remind me of a beached whale and I am poking fun at your fatness and reminding you that you should probably do something about it because it is gross.”  But instead the translation that finally came out of my little two-staged system was “You have fat on your body and he squished it because he had his hand there and it is a part of you and it it something that squishes and that’s okay; he still finds you attractive and wants you to be naked 100% of the time.” Because I suffered from an eating disorder for ten years, and because I live in a society that highly values diet culture and thinness, my brain will always automatically put the words through a negative filter. But because I was able to fight tooth and nail for my life and succeed in claiming it back from my powerful and evil mental illness, and because I then went on to reject diet culture and embrace body positivity, I have a wonderful second filter in place that allows me to pause, rationalise, and try to really hear what people are saying when it comes to my body (and everything else).

The important thing in these situations is that the outcome is totally different depending on where your head is at and on your ability to hear what is really being said rather than putting it through your own personal filter. You want to be able to really hear what the speaker of the words means rather than ending up reflecting back your own insecurities as a response. If we hear things through a negative filter of our own, it can then lead to negative situations with that person or people, because we think that they are insulting or hurting us. It also leads to a spiral of negative thoughts and possibly subsequent harmful behaviours. It is important not to hear the words that people say as confirmation of our own insecurities. Your eating disorder is always looking out for ways in which to validate itself. Don’t let it cause distance and destruction towards others or yourself.

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If you are struggling with something someone is repeatedly saying, or even a one-off comment that affected you, then talk about it. Be calm; be open; be honest; and try not to use accusatory language. Instead use “I feel” or “my eating disorder hears it like x” as opposed to “you are doing x/you are making me feel x”. People’s defensive barriers go up when they feel that they are being attacked. Often what is being said is actually okay to say and is not intended harmfully, but it is the eating disorder that translates it into something else and then causes harm. Because of this it is more productive to talk about how the eating disorder is at fault rather than them, or you. Of course I am perfectly well aware that there are those who are disrespectful, insensitive, and malicious and do intend to cause damage or do not care enough not to, but I am for now talking about those who we assume are not saying the wrong thing per se, but are saying things that are triggers for the eating disorder, which then rears it’s ugly head and translates for us.

It is not an easy thing to change the patterns within our brains, but it is possible. It takes time, and patience, and perseverance. It takes determination. It takes persistence. It means having to challenge negative thoughts every damn minute of every damn day. It means working towards liking and respecting yourself as a person. It means taking steps towards accepting your body as it is at its individual natural and healthy weight. It means screaming “NO” to the eating disorder and fighting for your health and happiness. It means recognising that the people who love you are not out to hurt you. It means remembering that you might at this point in your life feel hatred towards your body and self-loathing towards who you are, but that that is not how other people feel about you. It means recovery, and it means going on a journey to the place you want to be; to the life you want to live; to being the person that has been suppressed by the eating disorder. It means taking the path that leads to being free.

Recovery Does Not Mean Compromise

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Recovery from an eating disorder is a fantastic thing. A long, arduous, torturous, fantastic thing. It is painful and it is terrifying and it is tedious, but it is the most rewarding thing anyone with an eating disorder will ever do, because it gives you your life back. It gives you back your freedom, and it gives you back your health. However, all too frequently I am seeing what looks like compromise in those who claim to be recovered from an eating disorder.

I want to state right now that the recovery journey in itself does often entail some compromise as we navigate our way from disordered to healthy. It does frequently mean swapping things in and out, finding that with challenging one behaviour another pops up more strongly, transferring fixations and focus from one thing to the next, and other such struggles as we learn how to overcome our sickness. That is perfectly okay. That is part of the journey. It is part of managing the initial trauma of recovery. But there comes a certain point where you have to challenge how you are recovering, and you have to move on from compromising with your eating disorder. There comes a certain point where you have to be aware of all those things listed above, and start to do something about it, because although at the start recovery may include it, recovery cannot be about compromise. Recovery has to be about getting rid of the disordered habits, not switching them up for more socially acceptable ones and calling it healthy.

I get it: it is easy to fool the world and it is easy to fool yourself that eating “clean”/detoxing/eating only “healthy” foods/being vegan/going Paleo/etc and going hard at the gym/training for marathons/attending multiple aerobics classes/etc is living a recovered life, but those sneaking eating disorder lies and manipulations only prevent you from living the life that you deserve to live: one free from the shackles of your eating disorder. We as a society can praise the woman who “recovered” from anorexia nervosa and became a bodybuilder all we like, but it doesn’t change the fact that she still has an eating disorder. We can applaud that man who went from having bulimia nervosa to being a fitness instructor whose muscles ripple and glisten in the sunlight, but that doesn’t alter the fact that he has just switched up one eating disorder for another. We can use the woman who “beat” her eating disorder and now stocks her kitchen with protein shakes, quinoa, and lentils, and exercises an hour every day as inspiration, but that doesn’t change the fact that her life is still dominated by rules and routines and fear.

Recovery means breaking free of that suffocating cage. It means tearing down the walls that keep you from dedicating your time and energy to your passions, hobbies, interests, and relationships. It means not worrying about your calorie or macro intake. It means engaging in physical activity that you actually enjoy when you want, not in a fixed, rigid routine. It means resting whenever, but especially when you are sick, tired, or having any intrusive eating disorder thoughts, however small (because being recovered does not mean being cured). It means throwing off the shackles of guilt and anxiety by challenging and overcoming every negative, controlling eating disordered thought and behaviour. You know what they are. Push away the convincing eating disorder voice, and listen to your gut. Do you feel free? Think about the life that you want to lead. Is this it?

It’s Summer Soon and Surprisingly, Fat People Get Hot Too

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Art by Jovanna Radic Eriksson

The summer is fast approaching and that means that the weather is cranking up and sweat patches are about to become a lot more common. It also is the season of self-consciousness as those with bodies that do not fit societal ideals feel unable to wear less clothes and therefore sweat in silence as their smaller counterparts breathe a little easier in mini shorts and tank tops.

There are many reasons someone who has more fat on their body than is deemed socially acceptable (or is only deemed acceptable when wearing less revealing clothes) will feel uncomfortable wearing less clothes. It could be the cellulite on their legs; the way their thighs rub together; the way parts of their body jiggle; the belly folds when they sit down; the softness around the tops of their arms; the back fat creasing around their bra strap; the curves of their hips…and the judgement they might receive for having a body that does those normal, natural, absolutely okay things.

This is a perfect time to point out that everyone of any weight, shape, or size, is allowed to feel physically and mentally comfortable in their bodies and in whatever clothing they choose to wear this summer (and any other season). Everyone deserves to feel safe from humiliation and judgement, and everyone deserves respect and consideration, regardless of what their body looks like. If you feel uncomfortable looking at someone else’s body, then you may want to have a good hard think about what makes you feel a certain aspect of someone’s natural body is unacceptable and why it is affecting you personally. If you are someone who makes comments about or towards other people in regards to their weight, shape, or size, you might want to take a moment to reflect on why you think that someone else’s physical appearance is any of your business and why you are treating that person with less respect just because of how their body looks.

If you are someone who does not fit society’s idea of the “perfect” body, and are struggling to know what to do this summer in regards to clothing, then I urge you strongly to…do whatever the fuck you want. If that means that you want to rock a short little number or feel more comfortable covering your curves in a floaty summer dress, then you do what feels good for you. If you want to strut your stuff in a crop top and leggings, or if you prefer to don a baggy t-shirt and harem pants, then you dress yourself in what feels right. If you want to strip down but aren’t at the stage where you feel confident doing so, then it is perfectly okay to cover yourself up, but please start/continue to work towards accepting and loving your (beautiful) body, because you deserve to feel comfortable in your own skin. Whether you want to get your body out or keep the layers on, you deserve to feel good about yourself.

Top tip: if you’re getting your legs out this summer and have issues with chub rub (those gorgeous thighs loving each other so much that it gives you friction burns), then pop some baby oil on your inner thighs before you stride down the street.

Enjoy your summer. It’s going to be beautiful, and you are too.

 

5 Ways to Manage Exercise In Remission From An Eating Disorder

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So you’re in recovery from an eating disorder, or disordered eating, or compulsive exercise, and you’ve used and abused exercise as a form of punishment/weight-loss/distraction/control/etc – whatever reason you’ve used it for, it’s come from your eating disorder or disordered thoughts, and it’s well and truly messed up your relationship with exercise. To be fair, with the society that we live in, you don’t even need an eating disorder to have the idea of exercise completely screwed around with and made into something that is a torment. Thanks, society! But whatever has caused your negative relationship with exercise to develop, and whatever you are recovering from, you’re now wondering…am I ever going to be able to have a healthy relationship with exercise again? How will I keep fit and healthy once I am recovered if exercise has such negative connotations for me?

Moving your body in life is part of general well-being, both mentally and physically, but it’s a totally different experience to forcing yourself to the gym five times a week because you want to lose 10lbs or get a six pack. It’s not the same as stressing over being at peak fitness, or worrying that if you don’t do x amount of exercise, you won’t be the healthiest that you could be. It’s about exercise being an enjoyable addition to your life; something that isn’t rigid or absolute, but something to engage in as and when it fits around the rest of your life. Here are 5 things to think about when trying to establish a positive relationship with moving your body:

1. Go Cold Turkey

If you want to change your relationship with exercise so that it is a healthy one, you first have to break your addiction to it. That means stopping exercise entirely. It means totally breaking all your compulsive habits; it means managing the anxiety that goes with that, and it means overcoming that anxiety, in order to be able to develop a totally new relationship with moving your body. You can’t just flow from a disastrous and destructive relationship into a positive and beneficial one without stopping the former, unhealthy relationship, and leaving it behind you before starting to form a new relationship in a totally different way.

2. Traffic Light Your Exercise

The first thing I did when I really got to grips with the reality of my situation with exercise was to traffic light each individual type of exercise. I was in recovery and I was failing in my attempts to cold turkey exercise. I would stop and start, stop and start, and each time I started, I without fail fell back into the addiction. And so eventually I decided that if I was ever going to be able to move my body in a healthy way without the compulsive element creeping back in, I’d have to first recognise that going back to it wasn’t working and that I’d have to cease it entirely for a while, and secondly, that going back to the same type of exercise was setting me up to fail. I decided that I needed to categorise each type of exercise in an honest way in an attempt to recognise exactly when things were headed in the wrong direction. For example, badminton I green-lighted: it’s a sport that I did not play at all when sick and a sociable sport that I enjoy playing. I know that my risk of abusing this is almost nil as I play it for fun with my friends. Walking and swimming I orange-lighted: both had been abused during the time that I was ill with my eating disorder, but are also activities that I take pleasure in. These are activities to keep an eye on; to assess myself now and again to make sure that they are being used in a positive and healthy way. Aerobics I red-lighted. Aerobics is a form of activity that I do not enjoy and used purely as a way of losing weight. I know that if I find myself doing aerobics, then something is very wrong, and I need to address it ASAP. Traffic-lighting your exercise only works if you are completely and utterly honest with yourself, and then continue being honest with yourself when you have your traffic light system. There are no excuses for those red-lighted activities. Those orange-lighted ones are going to be the trickiest to keep an eye on, because it will be more difficult to distinguish when it’s being used in a positive or negative way, and again, that requires 100% honesty from you, to you.

3. Move Your Body in an Enjoyable Way

Find recreational activity that you actually like doing that involves moving your body. This could be taking your kids swimming, walking your dog, riding your horse, or playing footie with the guys. It could mean taking photographs on a country walk, taking a sunset stroll to the pub with a mate, playing rounders with a bunch of friends, or taking part in the annual cheese-rolling contest (no, seriously, we have that here). Find something that is actually about enjoying yourself, rather than about exercise. Find something that is another hobby. This is not about exercise – that is secondary. This is not about changing your body – that is no longer the aim. This is about moving your body and enjoying it whilst you do it. There are no reasons for doing this any more other than pleasure and recreation: this is not about guilt, or burning calories, or altering your appearance. This has to be just another thing in your life that you enjoy doing, that coincidentally involves moving.

4. Don’t Have Set Routines or Rules

Do not get caught in the trap of setting routines for yourself that you find yourself unable to break. You don’t have to play tennis every Thursday. You don’t have to walk to town every time you need to go to the shops. You don’t have to swim 25 lengths every single time you get in the pool. Switch it up. Fit these hobbies around the rest of your schedule rather than fitting the rest of your schedule around moving your body. Try not to make it a priority – because it’s not. There are more important things than physical activity. Do it as and when. Do it because you have a spare couple of hours and you need some fresh air, or to let off some steam. When it comes to making something a set routine, you know as well as I do that they can quickly become compulsive time slots where you feel that you have to do that certain activity, for that certain amount of time. Check in with yourself about how you feel before doing an activity and go with how you feel, not how long you feel you should be moving for. If you feel tired, skip it for today. If you’re sick, skip it for today. And if you are feeling that there is a certain amount of time that you should be exercising for, then you’re probably not ready yet to reintroduce movement back into your life, and should go back to resting, and working on your relationship with healthy movement. When it comes to rules, I’m talking about that little voice that says: “I can eat x if I do a pilates class” or “I can have a nap later if I have an hours walk” or “I can rest all day tomorrow if I do a run today”. No, no, no no no no. If that is what is going through your head, then you need to check out number 1 again and cold turkey your exercise. You need to separate everything from movement food; weight; rest; everything – nothing should be linked with exercise other than the fun of it. If you are setting rules for yourself, you need to continue working through your issues with exercise and how you use it.

5. Assess Yourself…Then Assess Yourself Again

This is so, so, so important to do, and again, requires being transparent with yourself – always. It means checking in with yourself over and over and over again to see how you are feeling about the movement that you are engaging in, and your reasons for taking part in the activity in your life. The more stable your remission, the less you may find that you need to check in with yourself, but this takes time, work and patience, and however firmly you are in remission, you still need to take the time to reflect on the movement in your life and how that is going for you. If you are feeling uncertain about any type of activity that you are doing, then you need to cease it. Challenge yourself now and again to test yourself: can you go a week or two being sedentary? Doing this is one of the easiest ways to see what anxieties arise for you when you take time out and rest up (or even think about doing it), and is one of the easiest ways to identify problem activity. It means acknowledging and working through whatever anxieties you feel if you should feel them.

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Really, this all comes down to getting to a place where you love yourself as you are and don’t see exercise as a way to change your body. It comes down to not feeling the need to compromise your health and happiness. It comes down to always being honest with yourself so that you stay within the boundaries of what is healthy for YOU. It means coming at recreational physical activity with a totally different mindset. It means finding what is right and healthy and positive for YOU, and going with that. It means being able to not exercise at all, in order to then exercise in a positive way. It means taking time out whenever you want/need to. It means not having any anxiety around moving your body. It means loving yourself, and loving your body, and it means being free.

How To Cope At Christmas: A Rough Guide For Those With Eating Disorders

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We are just two days away from Christmas, and people are stocking up on food, wine, and last minute presents. This time of year is always filled with trepidation for those of you with eating disorders. It’s a holiday focused around alcohol, food, and family, and at least two of the former bring on that familiar rising panic for lots of people suffering or recovering from eating disorders, whereas for the rest of us, it’s generally just the one (family; I’m talking about family).

If you are someone with an eating disorder, and you are approaching Christmas Day with dread, you are not alone, and you can get through it. It is probably going to be a tough day, but there are steps you can take to make the most of it. Here are my suggestions on how to get through the day:

Focus on Family

Food is a big part of Christmas for most people, but you don’t have to let that be your main focus. Prioritise your family and/or friends and/or partner and enjoy their company. Catch up on the gossip, take part in the board games, and sing along to the carols with grandma. Spend time doing what is enjoyable for you. If your family can make this easier for you, let them know how. Maybe it means trying to keep the topic of conversation away from food. Maybe it means keeping food in the dining room and having the lounge as a food-free zone. Maybe it means going out for a walk with your siblings to get a bit of fresh air and space. Whatever you do, try to keep the focus on the company of those you love, and enjoying the time spent with them.

Set Boundaries with Loved Ones

This is a day that everyone should be able to enjoy to their very best, so do take the time to talk to the people that you will be spending your time with and set your boundaries for the day. This could mean asking them to refrain from talking about New Year’s diets, making food-moralising remarks, or reminding them not to comment on any of your eating habits. Do not be afraid to voice your needs. It is important to make clear what you need from them in order for you to enjoy the day.

Challenge Yourself…But Not Too Much

A huge part of the anxiety of the day is that there will be a lot of delicious food around that you will want to eat but also will not want to eat, and that’s the fight between you and your eating disorder. For a lot of people, this battle is going to go on all day, and that can make the day extremely stressful and anxiety-provoking (see Focus on Family for ways to minimise this). This is also a great time to challenge yourself, but a time to not push it too far: you don’t want to make the day even more stressful by pushing yourself to the limit. One way to go about using this day as a manageable challenge is to make rough plan of what you might eat that day. This will give you a guideline that might help you feel a little more contained, but could involve trying something new or facing a fear food. Try not to restrict yourself as much a you can, but it’s okay if you need to feel safe for a day that is so difficult already.

Take Care of Yourself 

You may be around people this Christmas that will not respect your boundaries or may be insensitive or ignorant to your recovery. They may talk about the triggering topics which I mentioned in the “Set Boundaries With Loved Ones” section above, such as complaining that they have put on weight/are going to put on weight, lamenting that they have eaten “too much”, are being “naughty” or “bad” because they are “indulging”, or moaning that they need to go on a diet because of that. Please ignore them. They are battling their own insecurities and are looking for reassurance that what they are doing is okay and that other people feel the same and that they are not alone. This is really, really sad, and something that no one should have to feel. Enjoying the Christmas food is part of the festivity, and no one should have to feel guilty for it. Know that other people’s worries are not a reflection on you, and you should keep in mind that it is not something positive that they are experiencing, but guilt, anxiety, and insecurity. So instead of letting their negativity impact on you, empathise with them, as guilt, anxiety, and insecurity are emotions that you are likely experiencing also (albeit on a much grander scale to those who do not have eating disorders). Keep moving forwards towards your goals. Keep moving forward on your journey towards health and happiness. Keep in mind your motivations, and remember that the way you respond to others affects you primarily.

Leave the room for a bit if you need to. Take yourself off for a relaxing bath or a nap or to read a book. Go for a stroll. Have a quiet word with that relative who keeps calling the chocolate yule log “bad”. Just take care of yourself and do what you need to do, for you, to have the best day that you can. Do not be afraid to speak up. You need this. You deserve this.

If you are someone who has an un-supportive, highly triggering family, do know that it is okay to decide not to see them at all. If you want to spend Christmas with yourself, your partner, your partner’s family, your friends, or your pets, do it. Do what is best for you. Do what you need to do to continue moving forwards. Do what you need and you deserve to continue working towards health and happiness. Make positive choices, and don’t feel guilty about them. This is what you need. This is what you deserve.

Move On

Christmas is unfortunately never going to be an easy time for those with eating disorders, and it often means that those people go into it with anxiety, and leave it with guilt. It is okay to experience those feelings: you are not alone and those feelings are not your fault. However, you have to keep remembering that these negative emotions are caused by your eating disorder and the control that it has over your life. Keep fighting the war against it, and don’t respond to those negative feelings. You are going to be okay and you can get through this. Christmas will be over in a blink of an eye, and then it is time to put it behind you and move on from that day. Don’t carry the stress from it with you. Let the day go. Remember that it is absolutely, 110%, super okay to eat more than usual, go outside your meal plan, eat “normally”, or respond to extreme hunger (this applies for always, of course). It is okay to put on weight. It is okay to enjoy yourself. The guilt of going against those eating disorder rules can be overwhelming, but it is important to remember that this is part of recovery. Going against your eating disorder and doing what you deserve is part of fighting the battle inside your head. Eating whatever you want, whenever you want, is the goal, and so if you were able to do that for a day, or two, or more, or even if you were able to eat a little more than normal, you are making small steps towards achieving that outcome. That is a wonderful thing.

If the anxiety is becoming overwhelming, check out my article on anxiety management here.

An Open Letter to the Girl I Saw at the Pool

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Dear girl that I saw at the pool,

I went to the pool a few weeks ago to mindlessly bang out some lengths and think about nothing as the water swirled around me. I got into a cubicle and changed into my swimming costume, and then emerged; towel slung around my hips, with my belongings gathered in my arms. As I stepped out from the cubicle, I saw you looking into the huge mirror at the end of the aisle with sad eyes.

“I hate how i look,” you said. The woman next to you – presumably your mother – said “don’t look then.”
I sighed.
You still looked sad.
“You’re doing something about it though,” the woman said.

I wanted to say something, but I hadn’t worked up the courage or formed the appropriate response in my head quick enough. I watched you walk past to the pool, and I went and found a locker. Then I got in the pool and swam. I decided that I would say something if I saw you after. However, you were long gone before I got the chance to say what I wanted you to hear.

I wanted to say that you deserve to love yourself whatever your body looks like; whatever your journey is. I wanted to tell you that you don’t need to not look into the mirror: you need your reflection not to define your worth. I wanted to tell you that you are inherently beautiful and that you worth is not determined by your weight. I wanted to tell you that I don’t know your story, but that you don’t have to lose weight to be happy.

I wanted to tell you not to use self-hatred as a motivation for weight loss. I wanted to tell you that I’ve been there and I’ve done that and it didn’t make me any happier. I wanted to tell you that it’s your choice what you do with your body but that weight loss is not necessary for self-love. I wanted to tell you that I wish your mum (if that was your mum) could say these things to you instead of telling you to hide from your own reflection. I wanted to tell you that you are worthy and you are beautiful and you are loved.

And to everyone ever – the same message applies. Your weight, shape, or size does not negative your self worth. It does not negate your strength. It does not negate your beauty. Never let anyone tell you otherwise, and know that you do not need to change your body in order to be happy.

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