Category Archives: Mental health

5 Ways to Manage Exercise In Remission From An Eating Disorder

loving-yourself

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.

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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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Hidden Behind A Healthy Weight: The Eating Disorders You Can’t See

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Eating disorders are complex illnesses. They are a mental illness that often result in the deterioration of physical health, and there is not one recovery method that has a high success rate as of yet. They have a complicated entanglement of genetic and environmental causation that is entirely individual to each person. There are many different types of eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, EDNOS/OSFED, ARFID, BED, purging disorder, rumination disorder, pica), and people of all ages, genders, weights, ethnicity, sexual orientation (etc, etc) can develop one. And yet we are bombarded only with images of eating disorders in the form of extreme anorexia: the emaciated, skeletal bodies of those walking the fine line between life and death. The media blasts out the headlines that often scream something like “I WAS 4ST AND ONLY ATE A LETTUCE LEAF A DAY”. They plaster photos of bones protruding across the articles and present to us an “after” photo of the recovered victim: nearly always a slim, beautiful, white young woman.

And there we have it: the damaging stereotype of what an eating disorder looks like and who develops one. This stereotype harms everyone who deviates from the narrative of pretty young white girl who starves herself to within an inch of her life. I’ve never seen an article about anyone black with an eating disorder. Ever. I’m sure that there are one or two articles out there, but the media all but erases the existence of black men and women with eating disorders. It erases the existence of older adults with eating disorders. It erases the existence of men with eating disorders. In fact, the media erases nearly all eating disorders in themselves – the minority of people with eating disorders experience anorexia nervosa, and an even smaller amount have the chronic anorexia that the magazines depict. “Before the latest change in diagnostic criteria, it was estimated that of those with eating disorders, 10% were anorexic, 40% were bulimic and the rest fall into the EDNOS category” (from here). Most of the 90% of people with eating disorders that are not diagnosed as anorexic will be fit into the “healthy”, “overweight”, or “obese” BMI categories. That’s not to mention all the undiagnosed people who are not seeking help and are invisible because of their weight, who are not getting the help and support that they need and deserve.

There are also different types of “invisible people” with eating disorders at a “healthy” weight. Those who have lost lots of weight but come from a higher weight are one set of people. These people are often congratulated for their weight loss, even though it has been lost in exactly the same way  that someone going from a “healthy” BMI to an “underweight” one has – someone who would be diagnosed with anorexia rather than praised for their efforts. We offer treatment to those that lose weight and fall into the weight criteria for an anorexia diagnosis, and pat those on the back that lose the same amount of weight but come from a weight perceived as socially unacceptable (or a weight perceived as “acceptable” but not “desirable”). And what many people do not know, or forget, is that we all have our own natural healthy weights (that can be pretty much any weight, shape, or size), and if people are well below those weights, they are underweight for their own individual body. So if someone is naturally a BMI of 27 and they starve themselves to a BMI of 20, they are severely underweight for themselves, but their eating disorder are often dismissed as “healthy weight loss efforts”. Their illness can be not only hidden, but recognised as something positive, and therefore encouraged and reinforced. Included in this category are those who will never dip below a “healthy” BMI and could remain invisible for any amount of time, and those who will continue to lose weight. At this point society will go “woah, lose weight but not too much weight!” This is when their weight loss will be recognised as an issue, but as it was never noticed before, by now the person will likely be entrenched with their eating disorder.

Another group are people who have eating disorders but find that their weight doesn’t change much, or there are those that gain weight during their eating disorder. Weight is only a secondary symptom of some eating disorders, and it is important to understand that not everyone experiences a change in weight when suffering from an eating disorder. They are primarily mental illnesses.

Another group of “invisible people” at a “healthy” weight are those who are recovering from a low or lower weight and have gained weight to a weight that society deems “fine”. Peoples see them in the street and don’t suspect a thing. Friends stop worrying and family heave a sigh of relief. Those close to the person show less concern and more frustration: they think that the journey is over. You look fine therefore you must be fine. It’s important to remember that this is a mental illness, and that the physical symptoms are secondary. It is also important to remember that the person may still be at an unhealthy weight for their own personal body, and though they may be an acceptable size in terms of society’s standards, they may be underweight still regardless of BMI. Just because you can’t see their pain doesn’t mean that they are not experiencing it. The mental anguish that led them to rock bottom is still there and still needs to be addressed.

People who look fine but have expressed that they are not need to be taken seriously. They need to be supported, and they need to be encouraged to move towards being healthy and happy: whatever that looks like for them. It might not look like your idea of healthy and happy, but you have to put aside your biases, your judgements, and your prejudices in order to help that person achieve the best life that they can for them.

If you are someone who is living at what society says is a “healthy” weight, but you have engaged in disordered habits to get there, or you are regaining weight and are still unwell but people think you “look fine”, then sit those people down that are important to you and tell them. Set your boundaries, let them know what you need, and ask them to support you to get better. Be open and honest. Don’t downplay your struggles. Be assertive when telling them what is helpful and what is unhelpful.  Print off information on eating disorders to support what you are saying and to give them something to read later to help them to understand how pervasive and powerful an eating disorder is mentally. Write a letter if that is easier. Whatever you do, talk. Your voice needs to be heard.

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.

Teenage Domestic Abuse: An Epidemic of Violence

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Domestic abuse is an important topic in general, and it’s an important topic for me. So although this website is primarily for eating disorders, I wanted to talk today about that topic, in particular domestic abuse experienced by teenagers and young adults. I know that the demographic for this site is primarily young women, and so this subject is pertinent for many of those who visit it, especially as girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence — almost triple the national average, and the severity of intimate partner violence is often greater in cases where the pattern of abuse was established in adolescence. Terrifyingly, a 2005 NSPCC and Sugar magazine survey showed that 40% of teenage girls would consider giving their boyfriend another chance if he hit them, and one third said that cheating justified the use of violence. In light of these horrifying statistics, I wanted to write this for both young people experiencing intimate partner abuse, and for the parents of abusers and of victims.

Anyone who hasn’t experienced abuse may be unfamiliar with the warning signs. Young people especially have often not been exposed to much, if any, discussion of abuse – in particular emotional and verbal abuse. Sexual and physical abuse is a topic most young people will have at least some knowledge of, but emotional and verbal abuse is on the whole more subtle and therefore there isn’t so much awareness or education about it. Emotional and verbal abuse are just as important to be educated about, as they can be just as mentally damaging, and are also a red flag for the development of physical abuse in the future. If someone had taught me about domestic abuse and the dangers and damage of it, maybe I could have avoided years of emotional, verbal, and physical abuse when I was a teenager. Maybe I could have been convinced to take a step back and assess the situation with educated eyes, and maybe I would have been able to walk away from day 1. Although I am aware that all events in our lives shape our future and I wouldn’t change my life now for a second, I wish I hadn’t had those experiences. I wish I hadn’t had that relationship. I wish I didn’t have those memories. There is no way to benefit from an abusive relationship; no positive outcome; no happy ending. Any good experiences with that person will always be overshadowed by the the reality of the nature of the relationship. My abuser was abusive from the very beginning, but I didn’t recognise his behaviour as such (I wrote a bit about my experience with domestic abuse here).

The types of domestic abuse someone can experience are as follows:

  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Psychological abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Financial abuse

I will be focusing mainly on emotional abuse (which includes verbal abuse) and will also be talking some about physical and sexual abuse. You can view examples of all types of domestic abuse here.

Statistics have shown that nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year. One in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, and 27% of teenage girls in the UK aged 13-17 had experienced sexual violence in their relationships. One in nine female respondents had experienced severe physical violence; and almost three quarters of girls had experienced emotional abuse.

Where young adults are concerned, nearly half (43%) of dating college women report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviours. It is also apparent that college students are not equipped to deal with dating abuse – 57% say it is difficult to identify. One in three (36%) dating college students has given a dating partner their computer, email or social network passwords and these students are more likely to experience digital dating abuse. One in six (16%) college women has been sexually abused in a dating relationship. (statistics from here).

So what does domestic abuse look like, especially in a situation with teenagers and young adults?

  • Is your boyfriend very jealous and possessive of you?
  • Does he get angry when you want to spend time with your friends or demand that you spend all your time with him?
  • Does he check your phone, email, Facebook and twitter accounts?
  • Does he try and get you to defriend people on Facebook, take down your photos, or stop you messaging your friends?
  • Is he always calling, texting or BBMing you to check where you are and who you’re with?
  • Does he tell you what to wear or how to do your hair?
  • Does he laugh at you or put you down in front of other people?
  • Does he get aggressive? Does he hit, shove, slap or kick you?
  • Does he threaten to harm you – or himself?
  • Does he call you names?
  • Does he pressure you to have sex when you don’t want to, telling you that “everyone is doing it” or that you would do it “if you really loved him”?
  • If you are frightened of your partner, or feel that you have to change your behaviour because you are scared of his reaction, you are being abused.

What can I do?

If you are being abused, it may help to remember the following:

  • If you are in immediate danger, call 999 (or whatever your emergency services number is). The police have a duty to investigate and help you stay safe
  • You are not alone. Refuge helps many young women and teenage girls who are experiencing abuse. We can help you too
  • The abuse is not your fault. Your partner may blame you for his behaviour – perhaps saying that you “made him hit you” – but he alone is responsible for his actions
  • Abuse is never ok. You deserve to be with someone who respects you and makes you feel safe
  • You don’t have to deal with this on your own. Try and talk to someone you trust – perhaps a friend, teacher or parent. Or call the Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership between Refuge and Women’s Aid. We’re here for you 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. All calls are confidential
    Computers and mobile phones can be used by abusers to monitor and stalk partners.

The above was from here.

More information of what abuse looks like:

Abusive partners are often jealous. An abuser may equate jealousy with love. They may ask you who you talk to, who you see, accuse you of flirting or others of flirting with you, or become jealous of time spent with others. They may even forbid you to see certain people (or everyone). They may text or call frequently during the day to “check up” on where you are or who you are with. They may drop by unexpectedly, refuse to let you go to college or work, check the car mileage, or ask friends to watch you.

In the beginning an abuser will attribute controlling behaviour to concern for you (for example, for your safety or lack of decision-making skills). As this behaviour progresses the situation may worsen, and the abuser may assume all control of finances (so telling you what to spend your money on or spending it for you) or prevent you from coming and going freely. They may control who you see, what you do, how you spend your time, and what you wear.

Quick involvement is also a sign of abuse. You may have only known or dated your abuser for a brief period of time before getting engaged or even living together. Your abuser will often pressure the victim to commit to the relationship. You may be made to feel guilty for wanting to slow the pace or end the relationship. Pressure for quick (or any, if you are a teenager) sexual involvement is also a red flag.

An abuser may have unrealistic expectations. An abuser may expect you to meet all of their needs. They may expect you to be able to do everything for them and be responsible for making them feel better whenever they feel bad.

An abuser may attempt to isolate you by severing your ties to outside support and resources. They may accuse your friends and family of being “trouble makers.” The abuser may block your access to use of a vehicle, work, or telephone service when you are with them, so you are unable to contact anyone else whilst with them. As a young person it is likely that you live at home and so much of this may not be part of your abusers tactics as this is fairly impossible to accomplish, but they may try to separate you from your friends, and they may try to turn you against the people close to you.

An abuser will often blame others for all problems or for their own shortcomings and are often unable to take responsibility for wrongdoing. An abuser may claim to be being victimised by someone, and it could be you that is blamed for almost anything. However, it is also common for abusers to initially take responsibility for their actions against you, and promise not to do it again, and continue to say this every time it happens (because it always happens again).

An abuser will use feelings to manipulate you. They will blame you for how they feel, and use it to get you to do what they want. They will often say that you are the centre of their world, or their everything, and so attempt to make you feel responsible for how they are and how they feel all of the time. An abusive person is also often easily insulted, and hypersensitive.

“Playful” use of force in sex is also a behaviour that also includes restraining partners against their will during sex, acting out fantasies in which the partner is helpless, initiating sex when the partner is asleep, or demanding sex when the partner is ill or tired. The abuser may show little concern for your wishes and will use sulking and anger to manipulate compliance. It is important to note here that the second example given can be consensual and dominant and submissive roles in the bedroom can be perfectly normal as long as you have given express permission and feel 100% comfortable and interested in acting this out. If you feel at all uncomfortable, this is not okay. Rigid sex roles may be a behaviour. You will be expected to serve. A male abuser may see women as inferior to men, responsible for menial tasks, stupid, and unable to be a whole person without a relationship. Again, rigid sex roles may be a consensual decision, but if you feel at all uncomfortable with it, this is not okay. If a partner has sex with you without your consent, this is rape. If a partner engages in sexual activity with you without your consent, this is sexual assault. Consent means that you have said yes to engaging in sexual activity or sex with your partner. Consent is not consent if it’s under coercion or threat, and you are also unable to give consent when under the influence of alcohol. Consent means saying yes and feeling comfortable with that decision.

Verbal abuse is a big one for abusers. This behaviour involves saying things that are intended to be cruel and hurtful, cursing or degrading you, or putting down your accomplishments. This also includes name-calling.

Having a dual personality; seeming like they can be two people – the nice one and the nasty one. Explosive behaviour, moodiness, being aggressive etc, which can shift quickly to being nice, are typical of people who are abusive.

Threats of violence are a sign of an abuser. This consists of any threat of physical force meant to control the partner. Most people do not threaten their mates but an abuser could excuse this behaviour by claiming “everyone talks like that.”

Breaking or striking objects is used as punishment (breaking sentimental possessions) or to terrorise the victim into submission.

Any force during an argument, which may involve an abuser holding you down, physically restraining you from leaving, or pushing or shoving. Holding someone back in order to make demands, such as “You will listen to me!” is also a show of force. Physical violence also includes strangling, throwing objects at you, throwing you, or pushing you over.

It is important to remember that an abuser will abuse any partner if the individual is involved with the abuser long enough for the cycle of abuse to begin. Circumstances do not make a person an abusive personality. You or your abuser’s environment are not at fault for any abusive behaviour. The responsibility lies with the abuser.

These warning signs came from information from here. What strikes me is that even with how educated/experienced I now am with domestic abuse, I only learned when writing this article that quick involvement is a warning sign for abuse – yet another sign that I missed and only learned about just now, typing this.

It is important to note that not everyone who displays jealousy, or mildly controlling behaviour, or blames others for their mistakes is an abuser, but these are still signs of an unhealthy relationship. Persistent signs of the former attributes combined with any of the other signs are big red flags of an abuser. If you feel that these apply to your partner, please talk to a trusted adult about this and/or call the national domestic violence helpline (website linked) on 0808 2000 247. It is crucial to state that emotional and verbal abuse often leads to physical violence.

As a teenager I felt unable to leave the relationship that I was in, so if you feel that your partner is being abusive but feel unable to leave, I understand. However, I want to tell you that to stay with that partner only prolongs your pain. I know how ridiculously hard it is to leave someone that you are emotionally involved with, but you need and deserve to be in a healthy and happy relationship – and you will find this. It can be even harder when you don’t know what a healthy relationship looks or feels like – you may even be convinced that this is the norm, but it’s not. There are wonderful men/women out there who will treat you in a way that you deserve; in a way that any decent human being would treat another: with respect and care. It may feel like the end of the world at the time to leave someone that you love who is abusive, but time heals, and you can and will move on to bigger and better things. It may feel like it will tear you apart to leave, but I promise you that an abusive relationship will leave far greater scars. The fewer experiences and memories that you have of any abuse, the better. You do not deserve to be put through any instances of abuse, and with time, you will realise how your relationship was only harming you.

Violent relationships in adolescence can have serious ramifications by putting the victims at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behaviour and further domestic violence. Being physically or sexually abused makes teen girls six times more likely to become pregnant and twice as likely to get a STI. Half of youth who have been victims of both dating violence and rape attempt suicide, compared to 12.5% of non-abused girls and 5.4% of non-abused boys. Only 33% of teens who were in a violent relationship ever told anyone about the abuse. These facts and statistics are terrifying. It is also worth noting that abusers are hard to get rid rid of, so the faster you get rid of them, the better. Abusers like to feel in control, and for them it can mean controlling others around them, especially (and often exclusively) their partners. Even when you have ended the relationship, they can harass and attempt to emotionally abuse you from afar. I can tell you this from experience, because my abuser has continuously tried to contact me since we ended for good 6 years ago. People who have any respect for you will move on with their lives and leave you to yours. If you have broken up with an abusive partner and are still experiencing harassment and abuse from them, block them on all social media, block their numbers, tell a trusted adult, and seek advice from the police or citizens advice bureau, especially if they are threatening to harm you or anyone else, or destroy your property.

If you feel that you are experiencing any forms of abuse, please know that it is not your fault. It is not your fault. It is not your fault. You do not deserve it. Even if you do not feel like a victim, you are. Your abuser will not change, however much they try to convince you of that fact, and however much you hope they will. Please tell a trusted adult. Please phone a helpline. Please get help and support. You do not have to be alone with this, and you do not have to be in this relationship. You need and deserve to leave it and you deserve to lead a happy life with healthy relationships.

If you are a parent

81% of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don’t know if it’s an issue. Though 82% of parents feel confident that they could recognize the signs if their child was experiencing dating abuse, a majority of parents (58%) could not correctly identify all the warning signs of abuse (statistics from here). It is so important that you are aware of the relationships that your children are engaging in if they are under the age of 18. Although I was a wilful and determined child and would have probably have continued with my relationship anyway, did I make informed decisions? No, I did not. I wish my parents had played more of a part in educating me about the warning signs of abuse and I wish my school had taught me more about this too. Although my mother did have a short word with my abuser about his behaviour, it of course continued. I wish that my parents had not “respected my wishes”and kept my father from saying anything to my abuser. I wish that they had called his parents and told them what he was doing. I thought that I knew what I was doing at the time, but I was a child, and I transitioned into a young adult finding it almost impossible to separate myself from my abuser. I was an extremely strong and resilient child/young adult, and I could see quite logically that what I was experiencing was absolutely unacceptable, and yet I could not untangle myself from the situation I had become so embroiled in.

So as a parent, what can you do to help?

The following information is taken from here.

There are many reasons why teens don’t tell parents about the abuse. They may be embarrassed or ashamed, and may blame themselves. They may be afraid their parents will make them break up, convinced that it is their fault or that their parents will blame them or be disappointed in them, and afraid of losing privileges. They are often afraid of retaliation from their partner for telling. They may have little or no experience with healthy dating relationships and confuse jealousy with love. They may not recognize that they are being abused. If you suspect your teenager is being abused…

  • DO give your child a chance to talk. Stay calm. Listen without judging them. Believe them!
  • Use clear language to describe what you see is happening.
  • Acknowledge that they are in a very difficult and scary situation. Tell them that you are concerned for their safety and well-being and that you are there for them.
  • Ask them what they would like to have happen…how can you help them be safe.
  • Keep the lines of communication open!
  • Educate yourself—access online resources, read, call Caring Unlimited for information and/or support for yourself!
  • DON’T try to rescue them. Resist this natural impulse. It will likely shut them down.
  • Blame them for the abuse or make them feel judged.
  • Punish them because of an abusive partner.
  • Criticize their partner—you don’t want them taking energy to defend the person

If you suspect your teenager is being abusive

What you may see:

  • Jealous or possessive behaviour toward the dating partner
  • Controlling or bossy behaviour
  • Guilt Tripping—”If you loved me you would…”
  • Blaming the victim for everything that goes wrong
  • Obsessing over the partner’s behaviour or actions
  • Unreasonable or gender-based expectations of their dating partner

What You Can Do

  • Ask, “Why do you think it’s okay to treat ______ that way?”
  • Confront disrespectful behaviour/language. Explain that it’s not OK with you.
  • Let your child know that controlling behaviours are abusive and will prevent them from having a healthy, happy relationship.
  • Hold your child accountable. Don’t accept excuses or allow them to blame the other.
  • Model respectful behaviour towards your partner
  • Educate yourself and your teenager about controlling behaviours by accessing online and other resources.

The following information is taken from here.

Knowing or even suspecting that your child is in an unhealthy relationship can be both frustrating and frightening. But as a parent, you’re critical in helping your child develop healthy relationships and can provide life-saving support if they are in an abusive relationship. Remember, dating violence occurs in both same-sex and opposite-sex couples and any gender can be abusive.

What Do I Need to Know?

You can look for some early warning signs of abuse that can help you identify if your child is in an abusive relationship before it’s too late. Some of these signs include:

  • Your child’s partner is extremely jealous or possessive.
  • You notice unexplained marks or bruises.
  • Your child’s partner emails or texts excessively.
  • You notice that your child is depressed or anxious.
  • Your child stops participating in extracurricular activities or other interests.
  • Your child stops spending time with other friends and family.
  • Your child’s partner abuses other people or animals.
  • Your child begins to dress differently.

What Can I Do?
As a parent, your instinct is to help your child in whatever way you can. This need to help can drive you to quickly react, but sometimes what feels like the right plan of action could stop the conversation before it begins. Here are some tips to keep in mind when trying to help a child who is experiencing dating abuse:

Listen and give support
When talking to your teen, be supportive and non-accusatory. Let your child know that it’s not their fault and no one “deserves” to be abused. If they do open up, it’s important to be a good listener. Your child may feel ashamed of what’s happening in their relationship. Many teens fear that their parents may overreact, blame them or be disappointed. Others worry that parents won’t believe them or understand. If they do come to you to talk, let it be on their terms, and meet them with understanding, not judgement.

Accept what your child is telling you
Believe that they are being truthful. Your child may be reluctant to share their experiences in fear of no one believing what they say. Showing scepticism could make your teen hesitant to tell you when things are wrong and drive them closer to their abuser. Offer your unconditional support and make sure that they know you believe they are giving an accurate account of what is happening.

Show concern
Let your teen know that you are concerned for their safety by saying things like: “You don’t deserve to be treated like this;” “You deserve to be in a relationship where you are treated with respect” and “This is not your fault.” Point out that what’s happening isn’t “normal.” Everyone deserves a safe and healthy relationship.

Talk about the behaviours, not the person
When talking about the abuse, speak about the behaviours you don’t like, not the person. For example, instead of saying, “She is controlling” you could say, “I don’t like that she texts you to see where you are.” Remember that there still may be love in the relationship — respect your child’s feelings. Also, talking badly about your son or daughter’s partner could discourage your teen from asking for your help in the future.

Avoid ultimatums
Resist the urge to give an ultimatum (for example, “If you don’t break up with them right away, you’re grounded/you won’t be allowed to date anyone in the future.”) You want your child to truly be ready to walk away from the relationship. If you force the decision, they may be tempted to return to their abusive partner because of unresolved feelings. Also, leaving is the most dangerous time for victims. Trust that your child knows their situation better than you do and will leave when they’re ready.

Be prepared
Educate yourself on dating abuse. Help your child identify the unhealthy behaviours and patterns in their relationship. Discuss what makes a relationship healthy. With your teen, identify relationships around you (within your family, friend group or community) that are healthy and discuss what makes those relationships good for both partners.

Decide on next steps together
When you’re talking to your teen about a plan of action, know that the decision has to come from them. Ask what ‘next steps’ they would like to take. If they’re uncomfortable discussing this with you, help them find additional support. Suggest that they reach out to a peer advocate through loveisrespect’s phone line, online chat and text messaging service where teens can talk with peer advocates 24/7. To call, dial 1-866-331-9474, chat via our website or text “loveis” to 22522.

But My Child Isn’t in an Unhealthy Relationship
It’s never too early to talk to your child about healthy relationships and dating violence. Starting conversations — even if you don’t think your child is dating — is one of the most important steps you can take to help prevent dating violence. Here are some sample questions to start the conversation:

  • Are any of your friends dating? What are their relationships like? What would you want in a partner?
  • Have you witnessed unhealthy relationships or dating abuse at school? How does it make you feel? Were you scared?
  • Do you know what you would do if you witnessed or experienced abuse?
  • Has anyone you know posted anything bad about a friend online? What happened afterwards?
  • Would it be weird if someone you were dating texted you all day to ask you what you’re doing?

Need more tips to get started? Here are some other ways you can prepare to talk to your child about healthy and unhealthy relationships:

  • Do your own research on dating abuse to get the facts before talking to your teen or 20-something. Start with the information and resources on loveisrespect.org.
  • Provide your child with examples of healthy relationships, pointing out unhealthy behaviour. Use examples from your own life, television, movies or music.
  • Ask questions and encourage open discussion. Make sure you listen to your son or daughter, giving them a chance to speak. Avoid analysing, interrupting, lecturing or accusing.
  • Keep it low key. Don’t push it if your child is not ready to talk. Try again another time.
  • Be supportive and non-judgemental so they know they can come to you for help if their relationship becomes unhealthy in the future.
  • Admit to not knowing the answer to a particular question. This response builds trust.
  • Reinforce that dating should be fun! Stress that violence is never acceptable.
    Discuss the options your child has if they witness dating abuse or experience it themselves.
  • Remind your son or daughter they have the right to say no to anything they’re not comfortable with or ready for. They also must respect the rights of others.
    If your child is in a relationship that feels uncomfortable, awkward or frightening, assure them they can come to you. And remember — any decisions they make about the relationship should be their own.
  • Find ways to discuss gender equality at A Call to Men.
  • Contact Break the Cycle to find out if there are dating violence prevention programs in your community. If not, work with Break the Cycle to bring abuse prevention to your local school or community group.

Remember that it is not easy to leave an abuser. From the outside it will seem like such an obvious choice to make, but it is much more difficult on the inside where you are emotionally involved with the person. This may be their first relationship and so may also not know any different. This could cause them to underestimate the effects of the abuse and they may even be unaware of the damage it is causing them. Educate. Support. Suggest. Be there to encourage them to leave but don’t force them to. Always hold the abuser accountable. If any episodes of violence occur within your household, always call the emergency services.

Abuse is widespread. It is an epidemic, and this is not okay. Help break the silence.

Men with Eating Disorders: Suffering in Silence

men and eating disorders

Eating disorders amongst men: we are not talking about it enough. We are not doing enough to end the stigma against eating disorders in general, let alone for the male population that suffer with them. We need to raise awareness. We need to be having conversations about it. We need to be educating the general public about it. We need men on TV, in magazines, on the internet, on every social media platform, to speak out about their struggles and help others do the same so that they can get the help and the support that they need. The thing is, many men don’t feel comfortable talking about it with their closest friends and family members, let alone the public. In fact, they aren’t just uncomfortable: they are terrified, and this is because of the incredibly detrimental stigma wrapped around eating disorders that is magnified tenfold when it comes to the male population. And when people don’t get help, there’s an increased risk of them dying from complications due to their eating disorders.

Out of those with eating disorders, it is reported around 10% of sufferers are male, although these statistics are unreliable due to the fact that so many men do not come forward for treatment and so are not recorded as part of the statistics. A recent study on a large university campus found that the female-to-male ratio of positive screens for eating disorder symptoms was 3-to-1 (you can read more statistics with references in my article Men Get Eating Disorders Too).

For this article, I talked to two men with eating disorders, a friend of mine, Leo*, who is a man in his mid-twenties from the UK, and Joshua*, an Italian-American, who got in touch with me via this website to talk about his experiences with his eating disorder and the stigma surrounding men with eating disorders.

Leo talked to me about how his eating disorder affects him in day-to-day life, and about the one and only time he sought help from a professional.

“I wake up every morning and the first thing I do is check the mirror and look at myself and think I’m fat. I will do it again after a shower and again once I’m dressed. I will do this throughout the day while at work if I go to the toilet as well. I try not to eat to much because in the back of my head is someone saying you’re fat, you’re fat, don’t do it. People at work have joked about me being fat, and I cannot get rid of them saying it over and over again in my head. I want to be perfect, I want to feel normal, and it probably started with the bullying at school and has always sat with me. I went to the doctors and explained that I didn’t feel normal and I hated eating food and I wanted to make myself sick and all I got was the doctor telling me that I need to eat to be healthy and we need food to survive, and that was pretty much it.”

Leo experienced disordered eating for three years, before developing a full blown eating disorder which he has now suffered with for seven years. He struggles with restriction, self-induced vomiting, and compulsive exercise. As you read, when he opened up about it to a doctor, he was met with dismissal. After describing his fear of weight gain, and sustained body hatred, his doctor chose not to explore this further and just told him to eat. I asked him about whether he would consider going back again to see if his experience could be different if he saw another doctor.

“I don’t go back to the doctors because it is embarrassing. I’m a guy and I have to not show weakness. I tried to cry for help and no one cared and so I shut all my emotion off towards it.”

Unfortunately, this is all too common an experience for men, and because of these negative experiences, men don’t seek help in the first place, or don’t go back again after being met with invalidation. Doctors are reportedly less likely to make a diagnosis of eating disorders in males than females (again, you can read my article “Men Get Eating Disorders Too” for references and more information). Not only is there limited training in eating disorders for medical professionals, but the stereotype of eating disorders being an illness exclusively suffered by white, young, females still lingers, and professionals are not exempt from absorbing the myths and stigma that surround eating disorders. Coupled with the damaging pressures from society telling men what they apparently should be like, people seem to have a really hard time accepting that men can suffer from such a debilitating illness as an eating disorder. These societal pressures, which include not showing emotion (or not too much, whatever that means), not crying, not needing help or support, are aspects of being a woman, and they are also supposedly aspects of being weak (because, just in case you are unaware of this entirely ludicrous concept, in our patriarchal society, being like a woman – and therefore being a woman – means that you are weak). On top of that, eating disorders are seen by some as obsessional vanity, whereas they run much deeper than that, and can stem from a variety of things (bullying, abuse of any kind, sense of worthlessness, deep insecurity, trauma, to name a tiny proportion of triggers). They are also a biological illness with genetic links. Your genetics play a part in determining whether you are someone who will develop an eating disorder or not. Those who understand eating disorders already know that developing one is not a choice, but this provides further and solid evidence for those who may not be able to fully comprehend the fact that there is no choice when it comes to mental illness. Still, so many people are still ignorant about mental health. Leo says,

“People look at it as a female disorder. I have mentioned it in conversation with friends and family, and I always get the same opinion – that it’s a woman’s disorder because they are weak or have issues because of how society sees them.”

Leo feels like he can’t talk to anyone about his eating disorder, because they won’t understand. He is terrified of the reaction that he could get.

“I can’t talk to people because they won’t understand. They won’t understand waking up every day feeling the way I do about myself and how I want to fit in and for people not to say I’m fat or chubby. I can’t talk to them or even want to talk to them because my step-dad, my brother-in-law, and I are always in competition in everything we do and I wouldn’t let them know I am weak. I don’t know how they would react. They will see it as a weakness and will think less of me. Even my mum wouldn’t understand.”

I ask if he thinks his mum would view him as weak. “I’m not sure, but I don’t want to risk it.” The concept of men (and women) with eating disorders being weak is so persuasive that Leo sees his own eating disorders as a weakness in him, but says that he doesn’t make the same judgement about anyone else.

Another issue we have to look at is the “ideal” male body that our society has created. Women face a huge amount of pressure to look a certain way thanks to our society, our diet culture, and the media continuously shaming women, telling us to lose weight, giving us diet tips, banging on about “health” 24/7, and showing us a disproportionate amount of slim, beautiful women who have been photoshopped to the nth degree, but whilst we do receive the majority of this pressure, we forget that there’s so much pressure going around that there’s plenty left over for the guys too. Men are being exposed to an increasing amount of images and messages pertaining to what a man “should” look like, and this is extremely harmful. Leo has been affected by this.

“Having 0% body fat and all the muscle in the world is the only way to fit in society for men. Women are seen as having to be skinny but men have to be both skinny and muscular.”

Whilst this is not a reality, and in general only men who are fat or very thin experience stigma around weight, the message has become so strong from the media that for some men, this is how they feel – that they and their bodies will not be accepted unless they look a certain way. The expectations that this is driving some men to have for themselves are unrealistic and unhealthy, and is having a dangerous impact on the mental and physical health of men.

Eating disorders can also be harder to spot in some men because it is more likely for women to have dramatic weight loss, whereas in men their eating disorders can expressed through “bulking up” and hitting the gym, which is not seen as particularly suspect in a society so keen on advocating exercise and showing male body “ideals” as lean and muscular. It is important to note that if an individual is taking performance-enhancing supplements in their attempt to become more muscular and then engages in weight lifting, they are at increased risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke (this paragraph has been taken from my article “Men Get Eating Disorders Too”).

Joshua also talked to me about his experience with an eating disorder.

“My situation largely stems from my cultural love affair with food and how the outside world placed such an unnecessary stigma on what are “good” or “bad” modes of eating. I am an Italian-American, and as such, our lifestyle revolves heavily on cooking and family gatherings that centre on delicious dishes. It is a tradition and rite of passage to learn how to cook for many of us. This is an overwhelmingly positive facet of our heritage, but the media’s obsession with “thin” and “perfection” have demonized any sort of fascination with food beyond what they deem “healthy or fit.” Admittedly, I was heavy as a child and into my teen years – but with changes in my daily lifestyle and just growing, I evened out to what was my normal weight (which was apparently still slightly “larger” than the projected ideal). I still enjoyed any type of food that I wanted and never did I have to restrict. Naturally, as I got older, I became interested in finding a meaningful relationship with a girl. This was when the pressure of having to achieve that outrageous image of “true masculinity” began to weigh heavily on my mind, and my interactions with women in my age group reinforced these damaging gender stereotypes.”

Joshua was also influenced by the media.

“The problem is that “having abs” and looking like an actor/model is so much more than losing weight – it is about obsession to the point of illness.”

Joshua was shamed for his appearance when he became very ill during his eating disorder.

“Ironically, I never did achieve the appearance I aspired to even when I was dangerously skinny. I merely became an emaciated mess, which ended up working against me as I was told it “feminized” my looks and made many girls lose interest.”

Although no one should ever reach any weight, shape, or size by unhealthy means, this shows again the idea of an “ideal” body shape and size for men that has pervaded our society. Whilst no one is naturally emaciated, many men are naturally slim and can feel ashamed of being so. In fact, within a couple of weeks of being with one of my partners, he asked me, “Is my body okay? Am I too skinny?” because he was naturally slim. I had never even considered that this might be an insecurity of his, but it is more common than we think. Insecurity is rife amongst both men and women, and whilst this is damaging in itself, this can also contribute towards the development of eating disorders, which are severe and life-threatening. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and other restrictive eating disorders follow close behind.

“I find it so difficult to explain to anyone I meet (especially potential dates/prospects) that I am trying to heal from this battle. It is such a strange position to be put in – knowing that double standard of men not expecting to be concerned with weight or appearance (to be outwardly cavalier/macho) but still having to hide their true feelings when exercising themselves into oblivion for muscles/being defined. Gender roles and expectations for men are just as serious [as they are for women] – yet they fly under the radar as something that doesn’t happen and are laughed at by those from older generations.”

These myths, stereotypes, and stigmas need to become a thing of the past. We need to be talking about eating disorders more in general, but we also need to start prioritising the inclusion of men in every conversation that we have about it. We need people to stand up and talk about their experiences, but this should never have to be their responsibility in the first place. We need to educate ourselves and each other about the realities of eating disorders and how they affect men as well as women. We need to dispel the untruths and we need to be more proactive in challenging hyper-masculinity in our society. We need to help our men, and we need to help them to ask for support. If we don’t, we are going to lose them. If you are someone who looks down on men with eating disorders; if you are someone who sees them as weak, put that aside now, and take the time to research eating disorders. Keeping your mind shut to their suffering is costing them their health, their happiness, and sometimes even their lives. These are your sons, your brothers, your husbands, your friends. Each minute we continue to treat our men with eating disorders as weak; each minute we continue to dismiss them, we put their lives in danger.

*Names have been changed for confidentiality

New Year’s Resolutions vs Eating Disorder Recovery

Happy-New-Year-Banner-2016-15

So New Year’s Eve has come and gone, and people are scribbling their new year’s resolutions all over social media and bringing them up in conversation. And if truth be told, it’s boring. It’s boring and it’s pointless, because most people jump simultaneously on the resolutions and diet culture band wagon and publicise their diet/weightloss/health/exercise #goals for 2016, which predictably (and thankfully) are forgotten about a month or so into the year.

For some people, it’s not just boring, it’s anxiety-provoking, and those people are those recovering from a restrictive eating disorder. After knuckling down and recognising and accepting that weight gain is part of the process, as is eating much more, ceasing exercise during recovery and cutting it down in general for life, and eating and regaining a healthy relationship with “fear foods” which generally consist of high fat, high carb, or high sugar foods/food groups, they then have to watch everyone pledge to lose weight, exercise more, and cut down on “unhealthy” foods.

If you are one of those people, it’s going to be hard seeing and hearing about all these new years resolutions that trigger negative thoughts and emotions, and tempt you to engage in the same behaviours that for most would end in the cessation of them, but for you would end in the spiral back down to misery and sickness, and could end in death. It could be an obvious impulse to just say “fuck it” and relapse, or it could come under the manipulative guise of “health” – that eating disorder voice whispering in your ear that going paleo, cutting down on carbs, or hitting the gym would not be a behaviour but just a way to get healthier (Nope. It’s a behaviour. It would be many steps backwards and the path to full relapse). If you are experiencing any of the above difficulties, you need to remember to focus on yourself. Other people’s behaviours should not impact on your own. You know where it would lead you, and it is important to make it your utmost priority to do what is best for you, your recovery, your happiness, and your health. Don’t allow other people’s insecurities and anxieties about their weight and shape influence your own actions. Instead, empathise with them. Know that they are not feeling happy with themselves and hope for their sake that they find a way to accept their bodies as they are naturally and celebrate themselves as beautiful people with beautiful bodies.

Remove toxic relationships or negative people from your life if you are finding a certain person consistently triggering. Unfollow people on social media who are likely to post/continue posting about weightloss, dieting, exercising, or anything else that triggers you as an individual. Talk to the people in your life who try to have conversation with you about their diet or exercise routines or similar, and let them know that it is unhelpful for you. Those who love you and care about you will cease pushing these topics on you. Those that don’t are the toxic, negative people in your life that I mentioned above.

Finally, know that your recovery is mandatory. You need to do what is best for you and your recovery, and that means fighting the negative thoughts and getting rid of any constantly triggering people. You deserve to live a happy and healthy life. Keep working for that, and keep moving forwards. You can do this.