Category Archives: health

Extreme Hunger – What Is It, Why Is It Happening, and How Do I Handle It?

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It has come to my attention that I have not yet addressed one of the biggest topics of recovery from a restrictive eating disorder in any of my articles on this website (shame on me!). I’m not sure how I managed to miss it but it may be because I have a comprehensive video on the subject, and also refer to Your Eatopia’s articles about it. It was, after all, Gwyneth Olwyn who did coin the term “extreme hunger” (as far as I am aware). But let’s get started.

Extreme hunger is a rather controversial subject in the recovery world. It is rarely recognised by professionals regardless of the clear logic that shows us that it is totally normal and expected to experience a surge in hunger after a period of starvation, not to mention the sheer amount of people that talk about extreme hunger being part of their recovery (or “binging”, which is actually the same thing, but we will get to that later).

Extreme hunger is a very rational experience when you look at the facts. A body that has been starved has a large energy deficit, and therefore calories that are needed for daily expenditure are not going to be enough to get an energy-deficient body back to its energy-balanced state. This is because it will need calories for daily expenditure and calories to make up for the energy deficit. This energy deficit in itself will have resulted in damages to the body, and it can also result in weight loss which also causes harm to the body – and frequently the more extreme the weight loss the more severe the damage. Damages like that require energy to heal, and that has to be energy on top of daily energy needs, as that is expended in – you guessed it – the energy that you use up in your daily life.

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So if you imagine that energy-balanced is the number 0 – a neutral place with a healthy body, and let’s say you need around 2,750 calories to stay in this energy-balanced place. Then starvation brings you to -10 on that scale, which means that you are in an energy-deficient place. Let’s say you now enter recovery and bring your calories up to 2,750 again (after increasing gradually because of the risk of refeeding syndrome). Your metabolism is probably very suppressed, so for a while, 2,750 may cause weight gain either slowly or rapidly as your body will store as much energy as it can rather than burning it, to get you to a healthier weight. The metabolism will then speed up and you might a) experience hypermetabolism and end up dropping weight or maintaining a fairly low to low BMI (or a BMI too low for your personal body), which will mean that you will need to increase your calories until you are gaining again or you may b) find that you maintain a certain weight or that your weight gain slows down. This does not mean that you need fewer calories. This means that your body is now able to maintain its weight on those calories. It does not mean that it is done healing the many internal damages done through starvation, so if you experience hunger or cravings for more than the 2,750 your body (theoretically) needs, then it is really important to respond to those signals and eat. Your body is your team mate; your best friend; your rescuer. Listen to it. It if it telling you that it is hungry, then it is hungry. I know – this is ridiculously difficult, and I will talk about that in a moment.

Now let’s say you are recovering on a sub-optimal amount of calories and have stopped gaining weight. My body must be recovered! I hear you say. It must only need this amount of calories! Wrong. Let’s say that you are recovering on 1500 calories. Your body is maintaining a weight that is not its natural or healthy weight because it needs more energy to repair and gain weight. In order for it to gain to its set point and heal the internal damages done to your body, it needs adequate and consistent energy, and that is much more than 1,500 calories (or whatever your sub-optimal is). Let’s say you are recovering on a sub-optimal amount of calories and are gaining weight. Well clearly I don’t need any more calories if I am gaining weight on this! I hear you shout. Wrong. Giving your body an inadequate amount of energy means that it is extremely likely to keep your metabolism suppressed and therefore will continue to store more energy as fat rather than burning it like it would if it had a normal-speed metabolism. To find out how many calories you need (base level, without extreme hunger), check out my recovery guidelines here. Remember that activity level also factors into being energy-balanced, and that if you are engaging in excessive exercise, this will put you in an energy-deficient state too. It is also important to note that whilst your body is healing, any energy put into exercise will put a strain on a body that is desperately trying to heal a multitude of damages, and exercise will eat into much-needed energy for repairs. This is why it is important to rest during recovery (and for more on that  herehere, and here are my videos on exercise).

You may be experiencing extreme hunger right now. It may be something that you will experience in the future. It is something that most likely makes you feel terrified beforehand, and extremely guilty after. It is something that may be heavily weighing on your mind (excuse the pun). You may think that you have lost control; that you are spiralling into a different eating disorder; that this is binging and you are never going to eat like a normal person ever again! You are not alone in those fears. I had them too. Extreme hunger is utterly anxiety-provoking. It feels as if it will never end, and it evokes a multitude of negative emotions and thoughts, including shame, terror, and disgust. The eating disorder will scream and scream and scream at you inside your head. It will do anything to stop you eating what you need to eat, and the more you eat, the louder it will usually scream.

This is an extremely chaotic time inside the mind of someone recovering, and you are not alone if you feel completely overwhelmed by your hunger and your eating disorder’s reaction to it. The eating disorder hates anything that goes against its cruel, life-threatening rules, so for something like extreme hunger to hit and be responded to is something that will enrage it. People also have fears that it is binge eating disorder – and these fears are understandable, given the volume of food that might be consumed. Yes, you will be consuming a large amount of energy. You might eat anywhere from 4,000 calories to 10,000+ (although the latter seems to be quite rare – but again, not unheard of and if you are experiencing this you are not the only one). This would be a lot of food for an energy-balanced body. But you do not have an energy-balanced body. You have a starved, damaged, energy-deficient, nutrient-deficient body that needs far more energy than a healthy, energy-balanced body, to get it back to that state of equilibrium again. This is okay. This is necessary for your body. You are not alone.

You may experience extreme hunger at the beginning of your recovery. You may experience it in the middle, or near the end. You may find that it comes and goes throughout your recovery. You may never experience it at all – and that is okay too. This could be because you may need less energy to repair internally – this does not negate your need to recover. It may be that you may have repressed hunger cues and find that you struggle to even eat your calorie guidelines let alone have any desire for more. Extreme hunger may come to you later, or it may not come at all. It may be that you are someone that finds that you eat a little more than what your body needs as an energy-balanced body for a long time and your healing is done more slowly.

It can also be that during extreme hunger you find that you are eating a certain type of food: sugar, carbs, and fats are generally the types of foods that are most highly restricted, and because of that, the body needs and craves foods high in these things. It is also easier for the body to quickly process and get energy from these types of foods. Those who are highly lacking in fats may find themselves eating jars of peanut butter – this seems to be quite common so don’t freak out if you are eating whole jars of peanut butter, nutella etc, and strange combinations also seem quite frequent during extreme hunger or recovery in general. You may find yourself chomping on lots of meat or iron rich foods. You may find yourself digging into ice cream, milk, cream, and cheese because you are deficient in fats or calcium. There is a reason for the foods you crave. Listen to your body and respond to it.

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The message that I want to get across is that if you have been through a period of restriction, experiencing a raging hunger is totally, absolutely, 100% normal. I want you to know that it is not forever, even though it feels like it could be, and even though that is your greatest fear. Your body will become energy-balanced (or close to energy-balanced) and the intense hunger will dissipate as your body gets healthier. Your extreme hunger may taper down, or it may vanish from one day to the next, but you will not have extreme hunger forever. Everyone I know who has gone through the entire recovery process has experienced extreme hunger, and they have come through it and out the other side. They have eaten whole cakes for breakfast, or pints and pints of ice cream, or whole cheesecakes, or whole large Thortons chocolate boxes (that one was me), and they have all been horrified; ashamed; fearful. They have all been scared witless that it would never end. They have all questioned whether they had gone from one extreme to the other and developed Binge Eating Disorder. And they have all, in one way or another, either come across information on the topic and been a little soothed until the hunger calmed down, or have freaked out and then, in time, found that the hunger normalised. If you (unsurprisingly) need help with anxiety management, check out my article on it here.

Why more research has not been done into this topic, I don’t know. I have talked to thousands of people in recovery since I began my journey over four years ago; on the Your Eatopia forums, on my blog, on this website, on my Youtube channel, and on my Instagram account, and one of the most frequent topics is extreme hunger. I don’t know why it has not been researched or recognised by many health professionals, and it is one of the most frustrating and saddening things for me when people are told not to respond to these very natural, obvious signals from the body. But I can say with conviction that if you are experiencing this, you are far from alone. You are okay. You are healing. Work with your body, not against it. Be strong, and patient, and kind to your body and your soul. What you are experiencing is normal, and expected, and you can get through this.

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Celebrating the Day that I Chose to Live

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TRIGGER WARNING.

This article contains before and after photographs of someone who has previously suffered with an active eating disorder, and also names eating disordered behaviours that they previously engaged in. This article could be triggering for vulnerable people, those with eating disorders, and those recovering from eating disorders.

Today holds an extortionate amount of significance for me: four years ago today I made the decision to make the first steps towards recovery from my mentally and physically destructive and severe mental illness: atypical anorexia. It didn’t feel like much would come from the vague, half-hearted decision, but it was a monumental moment that put me on the road to recovery. That moment has gotten me to where I am now: a healthy, happy woman who has been in remission from an eating disorder for over one and a half years, after an intense two and a half year battle in which I emerged victorious.

I’m well aware that I wrote a post last year which will probably be very similar to this one, but the topic isn’t an insignificant one: this day four years ago saved my life in many ways, and celebrating it is, in reality, celebrating the day I decided not to die slowly, and to fight tooth and nail for my health, my happiness, and ultimately, my life.

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Four years ago today I was entirely, unequivocally, weary of being sick and miserable. I was weary of being in a living hell. I was weary with the despair and the darkness and the anger and the devastation. I was weary of watching my hair fall out in clumps in the shower; of watching it become thin and dry and brittle; of being dizzy; of living in a grey world where my senses were dulled as if my brain was smothered in cotton wool. I was fed up of the insomnia; of the nightmares; of the calories circling around my head all day and all night, leaving little space in my mind for much else. I was tired of counting down the minutes until I was “allowed” to eat; of the starving and compulsive exercising, and eventually, the purging; of the intense fear I felt at going anywhere near food; of the absolute and utter desolation of my mind and body that meant that I lived in a starving shell that could not function, and a mind controlled by  a single focus: lose weight lose weight lose weight. A focus that meant I could not think about anything else; could not deal with anything else. A focus that meant that I did not have to confront the emotions and experiences that had caused my eating disorder in the first place. A severe mental illness caused by a combination of genetics and my environment was my way of handling the world and myself, but finally, after 8 years, I had decided that this could not go on. At first, I viewed death as the only escape from the torment my eating disorder wreaked upon me, but moments of clarity started to push their way to the forefront of my mind, until the possibility of recovery developed from rejected thoughts to cautious actions. And over time my strength grew, and grew, and grew.

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I know: you’ve heard it all before. You’ve read my posts or the posts of others, you’ve watched a loved one battle an eating disorder, or you’ve experienced it first hand. But today I also want to talk about where my recovery took me and how it might differ from that of others.

I have come across a lot of people who live under the title of “recovered”. It may be a title they have given themselves or a title a professional has given them. It doesn’t matter. What I see are a lot of very slim people who use the word “recovered”. Some of those people will be naturally slim – people whose natural, healthy weights are down the lower end of that “healthy” BMI category. And that’s great! All weights, shapes, and sizes are fab, as long as the person is at their natural, healthy weight and is healthy and happy. However, I tentatively would suggest that there are those that maintain a certain weight by closely monitoring and restricting their intake and controlling their exercise. And if that is where you end up at in recovery because you are unable at that point in time to go any further or feel that that is all you can manage, then I applaud your progress and your strength and bravery in getting to that point – you are amazing and strong and wonderful. Some people will manage their eating disorders and live with it in a state halfway between being free of their eating disorder, and being utterly consumed by it. That is absolutely okay, and if you want to call that full recovery, who am I to decide that it is not by your own personal definition? But I also want to stress that that is not where you have to be if you want to choose differently. You can push further. Whether that is now, or in the future, there is the option to press on forwards to a life where you live pretty much entirely free of your eating disorders influence. I know, because I decided to take the path to that place.

I decided to reject the idea of an “ideal” body. This took me a very long time. It took years of research into health at every size and weight set point theory. It took getting involved with feminism and the body positivity movement. It took learning about the impact of diet culture and how the diet and weight loss industry intentionally make us hate ourselves for profit. It took deciding to be as healthy and happy as I could possibly be in both body and mind. It took deciding to let go of the importance that I had placed on being a certain weight.

I turned out to be one of those people who naturally have a higher body weight than others. It can mean dealing with increased stigma around weight and size, and comes with knowing that I am at a weight where some people will look at me and decide that I am unhealthy/lazy/greedy, whilst knowing nothing about my lifestyle, or indeed myself as a person. Some people will look at me and see me as a weight/shape/size. I am also aware of my own weight privileges in that there are people at far higher weights than me that suffer a hell of a lot more stigma and discrimination. I am aware that although I am far from society’s “ideal” body weight, shape, or size, I still wear “acceptable” clothes sizes (as in, the clothes stores that I shop in cater for my size, even if it is a size some feel shameful about). It is also a size that I maintain effortlessly eating a balanced diet (and by that I mean I eat what I want, when I want, which leads me to eat a wide variety of foods from all food groups), and with physical activity that I do for enjoyment rather than to alter my weight, shape, or size, or any other disordered reasons. It is the size that I can live my life as a healthy and happy person. If I wanted to be smaller, I would have to focus on calorie restriction and possibly an excessive amount of exercise, and we all know where that would lead. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not going to lie and say that if I had to option to do all this at a smaller size, then I would choose not to. Because of the importance society places on our bodies, being at a smaller size would mean not having to think about or deal with the discrimination of being at a higher weight, and I would rather choose not to deal with that. But my body and its weight/shape/size is not at fault for those stigmas, and nor am I. I accept my body. It is everyone else accepting my body as happy and healthy and beautiful that is the problem, because not everyone does. But that’s okay, because I choose my health and happiness over the approval of others. I choose me.

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To get to where I am now, I chose to reject the ideas and ideals that are so entrenched in our culture and our society. I chose my actual health over the idea that you have to be a certain weight, shape, or size to be healthy. I chose my happiness over the absolute lie that you have to be a certain weight, shape, or size to be happy. Those lies are fed to us all day, every day, everywhere we look, but I just don’t buy it any more. I’ve seen enough evidence of all kinds to call bullshit. And I have decided to live my life in a way that means working with my body and letting it be whatever weight, shape, or size it needs to be to enable me to be healthy and happy. I will not change that for anyone. I choose me.

Exercise (pt 1): Is it Part of Your Healthy Lifestyle, or Are You Waging War on Your Body?

personal-exercise

My first ever blog post was on the dangers of exercise addiction, but I wanted to reboot this topic and do it over in two parts, focusing more on exercise in recovery from an eating disorder (in part 2), as well as exercise in the general community (part 1 right here), and the effects it can have on both sets of people.

Exercise is something that those with eating disorders use and abuse to lose weight, change their bodies, and deal with negative thoughts and feelings in a negative and unhealthy way, but it is also something that has become a toxic part of many people’s lives in the community at large. It has become something that is unhealthy for many people who are engaging in it.

“Exercise…unhealthy?!” you gasp in disbelief, “How can something that is clearly part of a healthy lifestyle be a problem?”

The issue with exercise in our society now is the way people exercise. The issue is why people exercise. The issues are the mentality: the thoughts and feelings behind what is driving someone to exercise, and the outcome that they are looking for.

If you look around at the media, at health food blogs, at doctors recommendations, at magazines, books, and website articles, then you will see that women primarily, but also men too, are constantly being told that they should be exercising in order to lose weight or become toned, or in some way alter the way that their bodies look. I frequently see my friends updating their Facebook statuses letting us all know they have had an intense session at the gym, or tweeting about how they don’t want to go out for a run because it’s cold but that they need to. I see “healthy” lifestyles which include clean eating (eliminating all processed foods and extra additives from your diet, and only eating whole, unrefined foods) and regular exercise all over blogging sites. I can’t seem to avoid fitspo. Society has become obsessed with it.

There are people who genuinely enjoy the physical activities that they pursue as hobbies. There are people who don’t like the physical activities that they choose to do but feel that the results are worth it.  There are people who cannot stand to do the physical activity that they force themselves to do but feel like they have to do it because of whatever the driving force behind their exercise is – which is usually body hatred.

In my opinion, only the first of the three types of active people that I mentioned should be exercising. The others should cease exercise and heal their relationships with their bodies and themselves before resuming any physical activity. They should find physical activities that they genuinely enjoy that are primarily focused on having fun and/or socialising rather than changing the way their bodies look.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not condoning a lifestyle of sitting on the couch eating Chinese takeaways and playing videogames forever after (but if that’s what makes you happy, by all means, go for it! No judgements made), as I believe movement is part of a healthy lifestyle, but I do not think that anyone should be forcing themselves to do a workout that they don’t find any enjoyment in. I do not think that anyone should be wasting time engaging in activities that they do want to do purely because they are driven by a society telling them that their bodies are not good enough as they are and/or that they are lazy and unhealthy if they do not engage in x amount of physical activity doing certain types of exercise.

“I really don’t want to go the gym today, but I know I need to/have to/should,” is a common comment that I hear from colleagues, friends, and strangers, and this is a result of the insidious and toxic system that is diet culture. Nobody has an obligation to engage in physical activities that they don’t enjoy. Nobody should.  These days we see exercise as something we don’t want to do, but something that we have to do. Doctor’s orders. Exercise has become something we associate with gyms and aerobics and gruelling runs, which most people don’t really enjoy. We’ve lost touch of recreational activity: doing things that we enjoy that involves physical activity. The enjoyment part is primary, and the activity secondary.

Being active is great, but only when you have found something that you actually enjoy. This could just be leisurely strolls through the countryside, or hikes in the hills. This could be swimming with your kids, or challenging a friend to a few badminton games. This could be finding a team sport that makes your heart race and your grin wide. It could be practising mindfulness through yoga, or getting competitive with a colleague whilst playing squash. This could be once a week or once a day. Whatever makes you happy. Not whatever makes you lose weight, or whatever gives you abs. Not whatever gives you a tiny waist or bulging arm muscles. Not whatever burns the most calories. Whatever makes you happy.

Physical activity should be done only if it adding to your life, not something that comes at a cost. Not something that you dread. Not something that you have to make yourself do. Exercise is something that is pushed on us as categorically healthy, but it’s just not when it comes at the expense of someone’s mental or physical health, and it’s not when the drive behind it is body dissatisfaction, or downright body hatred. On the extreme end of the spectrum, exercise can also turn into a dangerous addiction, and in the case where exercise becomes the focus of someone’s life it needs to be taken very seriously, and this is something that I will talk about in my next article in the coming weeks (part 2).

If you are exercising not because you want to, but because you feel that you should, or have to, then I would highly suggest that you take time out, stop the exercise that you have been engaging in, and take the time to evaluate if what you are doing is actually benefiting you. Assess your reasons for exercising, and start building a positive and healthy relationship between you and your body. Because you need it, and you deserve it. Your body is perfect just as it is. Learn to love it, not to wage war on it. Then find movement in your life that makes you smile. Find movement in your life that you look forward to. Find movement that brings you positivity, and never expend energy in the name of diet culture ever again. You are beautiful, and this is what you deserve.

 

Why Do We Find it So Hard to Accept that Our Weight is Not as Within Our Control as We’d Like to Think?

bridget jones

Most of us have grown up in countries preoccupied with weight. We have grown up being told that it is down to us what size we end up at, that we have control over what weight we are, and that it’s about having willpower and making the “right” choices about what we put in our mouths. We’ve been told to count calories, exercise at the gym, resist cake, fill up on fruit and veggies, and even to curb hunger with glasses of water. We’ve been told to ignore hunger, wage war on our bodies, and to trust the information given to us by the media and the weightloss and dieting industry. Even our doctors have gotten on board with the “healthy is only for the slim” message, regardless of evidence to the contrary.

But recently, health at every size and weight set point theory are finally starting to become recognised as fact. Information about our bodies having varying, individual, healthy weights that the body will attempt to stay at regardless of what you eat is at last wedging itself into the media. Information about the fact that you can be fat and be healthy is now getting noticed, rather than being swept under the rug and buried by the pharmaceutical and weight loss industries that benefit hugely from the majority of the population trying to alter the way that their bodies look.

But even though this evidence is coming to light, people still seem to be having a hard time accepting it. By people, I mean healthcare officials and others who get to make the big decisions about what information is given as guidelines for health. By people, I also mean the public. Even though the evidence showing those who are in the “overweight” BMI category are living longer than any other BMI category (yes, including the “normal” category) was so overwhelming that it was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, people are still trying to find reasons to why this could be other than it actually just being the obvious: that it’s healthy to be “overweight”, and that “overweight” is not overweight: that we have to accept this as reality, like we would with any other comprehensive scientific study. Even the medical community keep trying to bury their heads in the sand and subtly hide or erase the information that the (many) studies have given us.

Other studies show that you can be any shape, weight, or size, and be healthy (this becomes less likely with the very morbidly obese and the underweight, but that is not to say that there are not those in both categories that are healthy), and many, many studies show that food and weight is not as correlated as we have been told it is (for more information on weight set point theory go to “Weight Set Point Theory!” under my links section). In fact, it probably doesn’t play much of a part at all, unless you are starving yourself so that your body cannot maintain its weight because of the lack of energy, or you are stuffing yourself to the point of nausea every time you eat so your body cannot cope with the excess energy. The latter is not a common occurrence, except for those with binge eating disorder (which is far less common than you think it is, but that’s a conversation for another time), whereas, unfortunately, the former is – because of the influence the dieting and weight loss industry has had on us, and the prevalence of restrictive eating disorders. The body actually has it’s own system for regulating body weight when you are listening and responding to it properly, not ignoring hunger, and following cues from the body to eat whatever it wants, whenever it wants. If you are in touch with your body and can eat an amount comfortably within your day, then you’re not eating too much, and your body can regulate the energy it is being given so that you still maintain within your healthy weight range that is individual for your body.

So why, even with all the hard facts and evidence, it is so hard for us to accept that a) you can be fat and healthy and b) if you want to be healthy, you have to let your weight be what it is supposed to be naturally?

It’s something that I’ve had to think about, because this is a topic close to my heart and one that helped my recovery from atypical anorexia, and because I’ve come across people on the internet and in my life that have point blank refused to even look at the research showing them that the misinformation that has been drilled into us from our fatphobic, thin-obsessed diet culture isn’t actually reality. It’s frustrating, and it’s sad. I am lucky that most of my friends are at ease around food, and – even though they have their own insecurities about the way that they look – accept their bodies as they are. However, I have a few friends that include those who go on and off diets, desperate to find a way to feel better about their bodies, those who flit between diets and disordered behaviour whilst loathing the skin they live in, and those who battle eating disorders (and before I end up validating the myth that diet culture is a common cause of eating disorders, it’s not, but it sure as hell makes recovering all the more difficult). It’s these people that I feel so sad for, and all the billions of others that are at war with their bodies, that don’t know about – or can’t accept – the fact that their natural, healthy weight is not under their control. And I feel sad for all those who are naturally in the overweight or obese BMI ranges, whose natural, healthy weights are where there bodies are at, but are constantly shamed and abused for those bodies that they are in. And I feel sad for those who have spent their life yo-yo dieting, only to see their weight go up and up and not understand why (side note: it’s because your metabolism slows down during the diet because your body is being starved, and then it stores energy as fat when you go off the diet and so you subsequently gain weight, so you end up back on a diet again, and the cycle continues, rather than letting your body heal and settle back at its natural, healthy weight range). And I feel angry at those who remain wilfully ignorant and keep judging and condemning those who are overweight or obese.

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But back to the question: why is it that we find it so hard to accept that maybe body diversity is great, and that people can be healthy at any weight, shape, or size,  and that we can’t dictate what our weight is if we want to be healthy and happy?

The first, most obvious reason to me is that we have had misinformation drilled into us for so long. We have grown up being told fat is bad and that we are responsible for saying no to so many of the foods we want to eat, responsible for exercising frequently, and responsible for maintaining a slim body. To then hear such opposing information means that our world turns upside down. Food and weight are such integral parts of our culture and society that to have what we think we know turned on its head is disturbing. It’s confusing. It’s shocking. It means we have to rethink everything about that topic. For some people, that’s just too much, so they refuse to believe it: they reject the new knowledge outright. People don’t like change. It’s scary and it makes people feel uneasy and unstable. It also means that if you accept that we are being lied to, then it makes it hard to know what information to trust, and that makes life a hell of a lot harder.

For some people, making choices about food and maintaining a certain weight through those choices are a form of control. People generally like to be in control. And even though we associate food and control being two parts of an equation that results in an eating disorder, those without eating disorders often engage in what is called “disordered eating”, and that can most definitely include feelings of control. Disordered eating is not a mental illness, but it’s an unhealthy relationship with food (and most probably involves body image issues too). It’s also really, really common because of how obsessed our society has made us with food, and because our diet culture literally encourages it. To be someone who uses food and weight maintenance as a way of feeling in control, and then finding out that you don’t need to have that control and actually to not be controlling about food and weight is the best way to be healthy, is an anxiety-provoking experience. So they reject it.

People also don’t like to have laboured under false hope. Those who feel unsatisfied with their bodies (and who doesn’t after our bodies have been attacked and shamed and ridiculed by the media and the dieting and weight loss industry in order to get us to buy their products) and who have gone on to diet, don’t want to know that their efforts are in vain and that they will not maintain any weight loss, that they will probably end up gaining more weight than the weight they originally lost, and that their dieting and subsequent weight loss and weight fluctuations can actually create health issues including higher risk of developing diseases, and a higher mortality rate. People who feel unhappy in their bodies don’t want to hear that they actually can’t make those changes to their bodies, especially if they want to be healthy. They don’t want to know that they are stuck with the body that they have, even though it has been shown over and over that changing your body doesn’t make you any happier (and again, changing your body isn’t sustainable). To actually learn to accept your body as it is can – sadly – seem like a much bigger challenge than changing it.

In addition, there’s a darker reason why people don’t want to accept the changing of the tides where food and weight is concerned: people who make what are considered “healthy” choices about diet and exercise feel morally superior.

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from “How We Eat: Appetite, Culture, and the Psychology of Food” By Leon Rappoport

This makes me feel highly, highly uncomfortable, and it should make you feel the same. What people eat or don’t eat is not a reflection of who they are as a person. It doesn’t make someone a better person if they eat whole foods and abstain from any kind of “junk” food. It doesn’t make someone a worse person if they enjoy burgers and fries. Eating “healthy” doesn’t mean that they have more willpower than someone who chooses to eat “junk” foods. It doesn’t make anyone more superior than anyone else. It doesn’t mean that they are making better life choices. It doesn’t even mean that they are doing the best thing for their body and souls. It doesn’t mean anything except that they are making different choices to someone else. That’s it. That’s all it means. But somehow, it has become ingrained in us that we are morally superior if we make “healthier” choices. And yes, I chose to put that word in quotation marks because I don’t believe that you are necessarily healthier if you only eat “healthy” foods. I also believe that distinguishing “healthy” and “unhealthy” perpetuates a negative relationship with food because it then leads to “good” and “bad”, and there we are, back to morality, guilt, and shame again.

Accepting information that affects us in so many different ways is a really, really tough thing to do. Food and weight is inextricably linked with feelings of superiority and willpower, shame and guilt, with privilege, abuse, money, hatred, insecurity, laziness, greed, power, and sexuality – if not much more. To look at it all anew and recognise how much of it is wrong, and the devastating affect it has had on so many people takes time and patience. It also takes acceptance that those providing us with our health information don’t have our best interests at heart, and that can make some people feel embarrassed for having such blind faith in such a corrupt system.

So I get it. I get that it’s not something that people can just accept at a moment’s notice. But on the other hand you can’t bury your head in the sand and protest blindly against that which is proven fact, however much others try to muddy the water and cloud your judgement. Think for yourself. Educate yourself. Whatever conclusion you come to, make sure you’ve got the information and the knowledge. Don’t just blindly accept whatever you are told as the truth. That is all I ask, for your sake, and the sake of those affected by our obsession with food and thinness…for the sake of everyone. Take control by educating yourself, making the right choices for your physical and mental health, and taking steps towards making peace with your body, as it is.

Food is Not a Moral Issue

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“I’m being naughty today”, the woman in front of me paying for her coffee and brownie says to the cashier. I grit my teeth and bite my tongue. I want to tell her that the word “naughty” does not apply to food. I wanted to tell her that being naughty is doing something wrong, and food is not a matter of right and wrong. I wanted to tell her that food is not a moral issue.

“I’m treating myself today” is another one I hear often when in the queue at coffee shops; the women looking guiltily at the cashier, wanting to justify their hesitant decision to buy a slice of cake. The underlying message is always “I’m disciplined usually! I swear it’s just this one time! I don’t usually eat cake!” And underneath that, is the belief that cake is bad.

How can a food be bad? It doesn’t make sense when you really think about it. Food fits into the category of inanimate objects. They are not alive, and do not possess a personality or a concept of right and wrong. Food cannot be good, and it cannot be bad. Food is food. Food provides energy, and different types of nutrients dependent on the type. Eating one type of food doesn’t make you good, and eating another type of food doesn’t make you bad. It just means that you are eating a food type. Having cake does not have an impact on your morality, and therefore, neither the cake nor you are bad.

Bad, indulgent, naughty, sinful – these are all words to describe a personality or moral status, and yet we – and the advertisements that we watch – use them to describe some of the foods that we eat. Why only certain types of food? Who decided that cake, chocolate, or ice cream was indulgent or sinful? Who came up with the idea that eating a burger is bad? Who suddenly felt that consuming a bag of crisps was naughty?

But what about gluttony? you ask, gluttony is one of the sins. If you are of a certain religion, then you’re right: gluttony is, in some Christian denominations, viewed as a sin. I also want to point out that, according to the Bible, wearing two types of material together is a sin, as is divorce, eating shellfish, and your wife defending your life in a fight by grabbing your attacker’s genitals (no seriously: “If two men, a man and his countryman, are struggling together, and the wife of one comes near to deliver her husband from the hand of the one who is striking him, and puts out her hand and seizes his genitals, then you shall cut off her hand; you shall not show pity.“). We seem to over-exaggerate some “sins” and ignore others entirely to suit our society. Gluttony – derived from the Latin “gluttire” (to gulp down or swallow) – means to over-consume food, drink, or wealth items to the point of extravagance or waste. Note that it is not limited to food and is about the immoral actions of wasting food or wealth that could be given to the needy. Note again how it does not specify certain types of foods and is not related to weight or healthy but rather to greed – having so much that it goes to waste. That does not mean eating a piece of cake because you fancy one. It means buying two cakes, eating to the point of nausea, vomiting so that you can fit in more, eating again, and throwing away the rest. (In this example I want to make it very, very clear that I am not talking about vomiting as an eating disordered behaviour. Vomiting to fit more food in was something that historically was used by wealthy citizens so that they could continue to eat more when extremely full, and I would imagine is linked to how gluttony was historically viewed in its accurate portrayal rather than our ridiculous twisted version of “gluttony” in our diet culture orientated society).

Even when I’m aware of all of this and have a healthy and happy relationship with food, it is still sometimes near impossible to not become sucked into the feeling of shame for buying foods that are considered “bad” in our diet culture, even though I myself do not feel that way. Standing in the queue at a store, chocolate in hand, I have felt anxious that I might be being judged for my choice of purchase. This is heightened by the fact that I am not someone who is super slim, and people are far more likely to judge those who are not super slim for their food choices than those who are. This type of judgement becomes more prominent the bigger the body – which is utterly inappropriate and stems from the incorrect belief that food and weight are intrinsically linked and that those who are bigger should eat less or differently to those who are smaller (check out my section on set point theory under “links” for more information), so I dread to think of the way those without any kind of thin privilege might feel at the prospect of being harshly judged for buying chocolate and the like.

I was talking with a friend recently about how people feel they have to behave in a society like ours in regards to food and exercise. My friend, for your information, is the epitome of the “ideal” woman that our society says we should strive to be: a blonde beauty: very slim but with curves in all the “right” places, but she is not exempt from the multitude of insecurities that our society pushes upon us. You can be the “ideal”, and you are still not ideal enough, and that is how the diet and weight loss industry makes billions of dollars per year, because we are always striving to change our body and make it “better”. She says, “I can be dressing up to go out on a night out, and I will have the same amount of insecurities as someone else [with a completely different body type] – they are just different insecurities about different things.”  In our second year of university she was miserable, and on reflection, she now puts a lot of that negativity down to the fact that she was forcing herself to go to the gym and eat salads, just because she felt that was the “right” thing to do. She was restricting her body in the name of being “healthy” and being “good”, when in actuality she was starving her body and subsequently destroying her emotional state at the same time. She has no history with an eating disorder in any shape or form, and even so, our diet culture told her that what she was doing was “right” – something she continued to do for the majority of that year, in spite of  both mental and physical effects.

The message our society gives out about food is toxic and damaging. Start trying to repair your relationship with food. It’s okay to eat what you want, when you want. You do not have a moral obligation to eat in a certain way (the same applies to exercise). Don’t label foods as “healthy” and “unhealthy” (read: “good” and “bad”), as this perpetuates a negative and unhealthy relationship with food. Enjoy your food. See it as a wonderful thing that provides for your body, brings people together, and gives you pleasure.

Food is food. Food is not a moral issue.

Why You Need More Calories than the Government Approved Recommended Daily Allowance

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We all know the recommended daily allowance of calories that the government has handed us, but do you know where those amounts originate from? Do you know enough about it to trust that those are your energy needs? Because I’m telling you now, you shouldn’t.

I would recommend reading Gwyneth Olwyn’s ‘MinnieMaud Method and Temperament Based Treatment‘ and ‘I Need How Many Calories?!!‘ for an extensive and in-depth analysis of how the RDA guidelines came about, and why they are so inaccurate – complete with references. However, I understand that, although sound in science and reason, many people do show doubt in Your Eatopia and want more evidence: to which I would say, look up the references! Regardless, I am going to write this shorter article in less detail to illustrate why we all need more than that magic RDA.

The recommended daily allowance set by the government came about by using surveys that relied on self-reporting. This means, in short, that members of the population filled out the survey and the results were averaged out. The actual results were above what the RDA is now:

The FDA wanted consumers to be able to compare the amounts of saturated fat and sodium to the maximum amounts recommended for a day’s intake–the Daily Values. Because the allowable limits would vary according to the number of calories consumed, the FDA needed benchmarks for average calorie consumption, even though calorie requirements vary according to body size and other individual characteristics.

From USDA food consumption surveys of that era, the FDA knew that women typically reported consuming 1,600 to 2,200 calories a day, men 2,000 to 3,000, and children 1,800 to 2,500. But stating ranges on food labels would take up too much space and did not seem particularly helpful. The FDA proposed using a single standard of daily calorie intake–2,350 calories per day, based on USDA survey data. The agency requested public comments on this proposal and on alternative figures: 2,000, 2,300, and 2,400 calories per day.

Despite the observable fact that 2,350 calories per day is below the average requirements for either men or women obtained from doubly labeled water experiments, most of the people who responded to the comments judged the proposed benchmark too high. Nutrition educators worried that it would encourage overconsumption, be irrelevant to women who consume fewer calories, and permit overstatement of acceptable levels of “eat less” nutrients such as saturated fat and sodium. – Marion Nestle (from here)

In short, the results came up as an average of 2,350 calories, and even though that has been shown to not be enough for the average man or woman, they still went and lowered it to 2000. We also know that people under-report what they eat for numerous reasons: not knowing the accurate calorie count of food, missing out liquids and condiments, and reporting what they think they should be eating, rather than what they are eating. Even without mentioning that information on the subject of under-reporting, the NHS has written that the calorie guidelines have been underestimate by 16% due to revaluation of people’s average physical activity, including walking, breathing, and even sleeping.

To put it even more into perspective, the RDA for children aged 5-10 years old is 1800 calories. That’s for small children. When you look at that logically, growing teenagers and fully developed adults are clearly going to need significantly more than that.

Although it does not say what the calorie intake was for either groups, in one interesting study, where they studied the eating of healthy, everyday women, they found that those that were eating in an unrestrained way were eating 410 calories on average more than those who ate in a restrained way, and had a relatively lower weight, which feeds into the relatively well-researched theory that eating less actually can cause you to gain more weight due to a decreased metabolism.

When we talk about teenagers, researchers conducted a study involving more than 200 children between the ages of 8 and 17, and used a lunch buffet to give them access to unlimited food. They found that boys routinely eat more compared to girls of the same age, but the amounts that both parties ate do not fit with the RDA that they are supposed to follow. They found that boys in their mid-teens ate an average of 2,000 calories during the lunch hour, which they thought made most sense due to the age that puberty hits most boys. Their calorie requirements appear to shoot up drastically in late puberty (between the ages of 14 and 17). They found that with prepubescent children, the boys averaged nearly 1,300 lunchtime calories, compared to 900 among girls. Girls consumed the most calories during early- to mid-puberty (between the ages of 10 and 13), as they tend to have their most significant growth spurts during that time. Girls consumed an average of 1,300 lunchtime calories.

A study of teenage girls between 16 and 17, where 204 were dieters, and 226 were not, showed that “the mean reported energy intake of the dieters was 1604 kcals/day compared to 2460 kcals/day amongst non-dieters”, and that “more than twice as many dieters as non-dieters failed to achieve the reference nutrient intake (RNI) for retinol equivalents, thiamin, riboflavin, folates, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, zinc, copper and selenium,” which is obviously not healthy at all and suggests that consuming a low intake results in not being able to get enough of what the body needs, both in energy and in nutrients, because the body requires a much higher level of both. There was a similar study conducted on teenage boys.

Now you might say: yes but these studies show that on average unrestricted eating then leads women to need around 2500 calories on average and men to need 3000. Well, yes, those over 25, whose bodies have stopped growing and developing and so no longer need so much energy, do. But those below 25 still need 3000 and 3500 respectively, as their bodies need additional energy to grow and develop. Do remember here that the two studies above on teenage boys and girls are again, self-reported studies where the unrestricted eaters ate 2460 (females) and 3064 (males) – and as Gwyneth Olwyn points out, under-reporting can range from 2% to 58%, and that “if we average the studies reviewed by JR Hebert and his colleagues, then people eat on average 25% more than they think they do (or report that they do).” Also keep i mind that normal, healthy, energy-balanced people do not know the accurate calories in foods, which is why under-reporting can occur in healthy people, and the healthy intake can then be reported as lower than it is because they are going by what they perceive to be a healthy amount, which is constructed by our society in the form of the daily recommended allowance.

And there we have come full circle.

These intakes (2500 for women under 25, 3000 for women under 25 and men over 25, and 3500 for men under 25) are guidelines but best seen as absolutes during the recovery process due to the nature of the eating disorder and the way it will use grey areas to eat less than needed. If your own individual body requires, as a 30 year old woman, 2300 calories, then a extra few hundred calories will not mean that you gain a significant amount of weight more, if any at all, due to the fact that our bodies are able to get rid of energy by burning it off when it is not an excessive amount more than it needs (which would only be consumed by force feeding when you had reliable hunger cues – this does not include making yourself eat when you have unreliable hunger cues), and when you did eat intuitively when fully recovered, any excess weight would be lost again. Any small increase in weight past set point for a small period of time would be far more desirable than under-eating and remaining both physically and mentally ill.

As a p.s. I just want to put a study in about pregnant women and their energy requirements, as this is sometimes a question I receive on my blog. It reports that “in the normal-BMI group, energy requirements increased negligibly in the first trimester, by 350 kcal/d in the second trimester, and by 500 kcal/d in the third trimester.

I would also like to refer you to Wikipedia’s list of how many calories on average people consume in each country.

Shouldn’t I Be Recovered By Now?!

Frustrated-Woman-Featured

In recovery, it is easy to become impatient with oneself about the time it is taking. We can often find ourselves wondering if it is not time that we are fully recovered already. Human beings seem to be particularly easy to agitate when quick results are not apparent.

However, recovery takes time. And by time, I mean it could take years. It could mean moving forwards bit by bit over a long period of time, overcoming obstacles at a slow but steady rate. It could mean overcoming many obstacles within the first six months but then finding that certain habits and thought patterns are lingering, and taking the next couple of years working on those leftover aspects of your eating disorder. It could mean mentally recovering within a year but physically recovering within three. It could mean physically recovering within a year but mentally recovering within five.

You have to be patient: patient with your body, and patient with your mind. You have to put all of your determination, dedication and perseverance into your recovery and realise that it is going to be exhausting and time-consuming for quite a long time, but the outcome is going to be worth it.

You may think that you are recovering too slowly and that you should be done with it by now, but you have to let the body and mind heal at its own pace. You can’t force yourself into remission. There is so much to work on, and undo, and repair from. Recovery is a delicate process, and it is a journey. Like with all journeys, it’s not just the destination that is important: it’s also what you learn and discover along the way that makes for a robust and stable remission.

After 18 months in recovery, I was pretty stable, but I still had lingering eating disorder thoughts and habits: counting calories, weighing food, a fear of white carbohydrates, unhealthy exercise habits, and an intense dislike of my body. It felt like these things were never going to go away because they were habits that were persisting even though I kept trying over and over again to challenge and overcome them. I felt like I was bashing my head against a brick wall. Then I tried knocking down the brick wall. I tried climbing over it. I tried driving a vehicle into it. I tried to find a way around it. Nothing seemed to be working, and I was giving up with it. I felt like my recovery had come to a dead end, and that I was going to progress no further.

Sometimes in that time period I felt like going back, because I wasn’t going forwards, and I wanted to be moving somewhere. However, I kept at it, and continued developing and growing in front of that brick wall. Then one day, I realised the wall wasn’t there any more. It sounds too good to be true, but that’s honestly what happened. I had been avoiding white pasta and rice, and continuously choosing wholemeal or wholegrain bread over white bread for a really long time, and had also been spending countless occasions forcing myself to eat white carbs when I suddenly realised that I was now eating them without any anxiety whatsoever. I can’t pinpoint when it changed for me. I just one day recognised that I had been eating white carbs without anxiety for a while, and wasn’t trying to avoid them any more.

The same thing happened with the other habits. One by one, they stopped becoming an issue. What once seemed like an impossible task became something that I had faced and overcome. I stopped weighing my food, I learned to use exercise in a healthy way, I accepted my body as it is naturally, and I stopped counting calories. I had tried so hard to force the wall down, but in the end, it came down in its own time, and the effort was in staying facing that wall rather than turning my back on it and walking back the way I had come.

Be gentle and kind and patient with yourself. You are recovering from something that is very complex, and very severe, and it is going to take time. Don’t pressure yourself or set a time limit as to when you think you should be recovered. Allow yourself all the time in the world. That time will help you.