Category Archives: society

Shame in Recovery from a Restrictive Eating Disorder

Those who are watching someone recover from an eating disorder (friends, family, partners) will be overjoyed that their loved one is on the journey towards health and happiness. They will see recovery as an entirely positive process, and objectively, they would be right. However, the fact that they are looking at it with such an objective view can also mean that it makes it more difficult for them to understand why the person in recovery does not always feel the same way. They may become confused as to why the person suffering it finding it so hard to make this journey to remission.

 

I have a confession to make: when I was suffering with an eating disorder, I felt ashamed when I put on weight because it made me feel like a failure. It made me feel ugly. It also made me feel like people were judging me. I’m not sure why that was. Maybe it was just my eating disorder, which was trying at all costs to get me leave the path of recovery and pull me back into misery, or maybe it was also because our society puts so much value on our bodies and what they look like. Maybe I thought that people saw it as me losing my “self-control”; becoming “weaker”, or that I didn’t have a serious eating disorder any more. Maybe I thought people would think I looked better when I wasn’t eating and would think I had “let myself go”.

People don’t often realise that people feel shame in recovering from their eating disorders. Feelings like “letting their eating disorder down”, losing their identity as a “sick/thin person”, or feeling weak or a failure, is an issue when it comes to recovering. People who don’t understand eating disorders fully, or haven’t experienced an eating disorder themselves, think it’s great when someone gains weight and is working towards getting better – and it is; of course it is. However, there is another side to it too: we have to face all of our demons head on in recovery, and it is scary to say the least. On top of that, we have to face not only our demons but the society that we live in which tells us that thinner is better, that losing weight is good and gaining weight is bad, that the goal is to eat less, not more. Around us people are trying to avoid certain foods that we need to eat in abundance; nearly every magazine has tips on how to lose weight; our friends are on diets; all the menus have the calories labelled clearly next to them; low-calorie options are advertised. Everything around us – not just our eating disorders – is screaming at us that what we are doing is wrong. It is overwhelming, and confusing, and downright difficult.

A lot of the time an eating disorder is also a coping mechanism, and so losing that coping mechanism can be hard. It also means that that coping mechanism may have made the person feel strong, powerful, and in control and in some twisted way, that can cause someone to feel pride. Most people cant understand that. That means that letting go of that coping mechanism can make you feel weak and shameful.

Recovery is such a delicate process. It is full of ups and downs. It is a path constantly moving forwards to health and happiness, but the path itself is full of extremely negative thoughts and feelings. People supporting those in recovery need to be very aware of this, and that even after the decision has been made to get better, it is a choice that needs to be made multiple times a day. The road is hard, and although it looks very straightforward from an outsiders perspective, take the time to recognise that from the inside, it is a maze.

Advertisements

Me and MinnieMaud: My Take on Recovery

The MinnieMaud Method is pretty popular right now with those in recovery from eating disorders. It’s also causing a bit of controversy over on the blogging site Tumblr. You may already be acquainted with MinnieMaud (abbreviated to MM). You may already be following it. You may have your doubts about it. You may be hearing its name for the first time. Whichever of those you identify with, here’s a fact about me: I am someone who has reached remission by loosely following the MM Guidelines.

Now there are a certain few people who make all kinds of presumptions about you when you mention that you used MM to recover. I’m not sure why but they assume to know about your personal beliefs, how you feel about the creator of the MinnieMaud Guidelines (Gwyneth Olwyn), and what views you hold, amongst other things. But enough of them. Here are my honest thoughts about MinnieMaud, Your Eatopia, and Gwyneth Olwyn.

As I said above, I loosely followed the MM Guidelines. I used them as just that: guidelines. I weighed myself for a long time, even though the guidelines warn you not to, before I realised that – surprise surprise – this did not help me in any way and was actually hindering my recovery. I realised that aspect of the guidelines was totally correct, and so one day I just stopped, and I’ve never weighed myself since.

I exercised on and off and on and off, because I found it too hard to do what I really should have done and stopped exercising full stop for a long time. I would listen to the guidelines and give up exercise for a few months, before trying to incorporate it back into my life in a healthy way. It never worked, and I would fall down the rabbit hole of exercise addiction, only to have to drag myself back out of it again (so I really advise you to follow that guideline – seriously, just do it). It was only in remission that I was able to have a healthy grasp on being active and not sinking into a relapse with it. However, I can tell you that it requires being super vigilant at all times, not to mention being really, truly honest with myself (which is of utmost importance in both recovery and remission).

I never followed the calorie guidelines exactly, as my hunger cues were always reliable. I had extreme hunger, as expected, and then my appetite tapered down. Sometimes I was eating 2,500 calories. Sometimes I was eating 4,000 calories. I listened to my body, and it worked. Eventually, after two years, I ended up in remission, eating an average of around 2800 calories a day. I was lucky when it came to hunger cues. Lots and lots of people do not have reliable or accurate hunger cues. This is why it is dangerous to not eat the minimums militantly for quite a while. I took a risk. I probably shouldn’t have, because if I had done that with unreliable hunger cues, I would probably have ended up in relapse, or significantly slowed my recovery down. The reason things are black and white in recovery with the MM Guidelines, is because if you let there be a grey area, your eating disorder will be all over that. The grey area is where the eating disorder will sneak it, and start to alter the rules and play its own game. People need black and white to fight their eating disorder. It is in remission that you can look back at this and understand why. I’m not trying to patronise anyone that is not recovered by saying this, but things really are much clearer from the other side. Just trust me on that one.

As for the creator of Your Eatopia, I do not think that Gwyneth is a “god”, which followers of MM sometimes get accused of. I think Gwyneth is a wonderful, knowledgeable, dedicated, hard-working, empathetic but firm, patient person. That does not mean that I think she is perfect. I do not agree with everything that she writes on Your Eatopia. I do not believe all of her information is flawless and supportive of her arguments. I do not believe that everything she states is fact. The thing is, science changes, all of the time. We come across new information that points in all different directions to what we first believed. However, all we can go on is what we know now, and readjust our beliefs when we learn new information. Not all of the detail within Gwyneth ‘s arguments is conclusive evidence to her arguments. I can’t say that all of the science behind her writings support her. I can’t say that because I have not read all of the studies – I just don’t have time to do so, and I’m sure some of them can be interpreted in different ways. What is important to me is that overall, her points are logical. The big picture makes sense: Extreme hunger is absolutely a thing. I am 110% sure of that. We absolutely require far more energy than the government-approved guidelines, and those energy requirements are around minimums. Through Gwyneth’s articles I also learned about a lot of less disputed things about recovery that I would never have learned about had I not come across Your Eatopia, such as the various digestive issues, refeeding syndrome (extremely important), edema, exhaustion, aches and pains, the different stages of recovery, and why exercise is bad in recovery (kinda should have been obvious but you know, eating disorder denial). I also learned about health at every size, ortherexia, diet culture, the genetic link to eating disorders, weight set point theory, anorexia athletica, and the misdiagnosis of BED (do I believe BED exists? Yes. Do I think that many people get misdiagnosed with BED during recovery from a restrictive eating disorder because they are experiencing extreme hunger? Yes. I began to understand that food isn’t my enemy, and neither is my body.

Not only is the site itself so informative and has helped me understand so much about my eating disorder and myself, but it offers the forums. I can’t explain how much support I received from members there when I was anxious and in doubt. Ultimately, it was up to me to change my behaviours and thought patterns, but the support that was offered to me when I was scared and had nowhere else to talk about these issues was invaluable. The Your Eatopia blog provided me with information, and the forums provided me with emotional support, helpful advice, and lots and lots of love. I have not received so much warmth and sincerity anywhere else on the internet.

Still, I had questions about some of the things Gwyneth had written about in her articles, so I took it upon myself to email Gwyneth directly. Quite a few times. I remember writing those emails, and I can recall my anxiety and doubt as I typed out my questions to her. She always responded; always took the time to converse with me about the topics that I brought up. Sometimes I still have questions for her, and she still always replies to me. Do I fully agree with everything that she writes back to me? No, not always, but she gives me something to think about; something to work with, every single time. I can also say that going over old emails and looking at them now from a healthier place, I can see how much my eating disorder fuelled my fears. I could not see it then, and no one could have made me see it. You can only really see that stuff when you look back at it. However, it was Gwyneth that pointed me in the right direction, and I got there in the end.

I absolutely believe in health at every size. I believe the body has a natural, health weight at which it settles and maintains whilst you are eating unrestrictedly. Our bodies come in all shapes, weights, and sizes. We are a species of variety. So I do not think it is ever okay for anyone, professional or otherwise, to set a goal weight for those in recovery from a restrictive eating disorder, especially when that goal weight is usually a minimally “healthy” BMI, or just above. As I said, our bodies are all different, and whilst some people may be healthy at a BMI of 19 or 20, most people will still be underweight, maybe severely so, for their own individual bodies.

I also firmly believe that doctors are not always right, especially when it comes to mental health issues, and specifically when it comes to eating disorders. Eating disorders are highly complex, commonly misunderstood, and very individual mental illnesses. There is not much known about eating disorder recovery: what works, what doesn’t work, and unfortunately not much research on the subject. The success rate for full eating disorder recovery is much lower than you would hope. Doctors and others do not have a lot to go on but their own personal experiences (limited), what they have been told (also limited, as mentioned above), and both of the former are tainted by the society we live in, which has been indoctrinated by diet culture. Whilst doctors are to be listened to, when it comes to eating disorders, what they say should not always be taken as fact. Listen to what they say. Research it. Make informed decisions about your mental and physical recovery. Most importantly, do what you feel is right for you (for you, not your eating disorder).

MinnieMaud is not the only method that advocates these calorie amounts in recovery. It is not the only method that calls for the cessation of exercise during recovery. It is not the only method that realises that the body will need a vast amount of calories to repair the body after intense starvation. It is not the only method that disagrees with the notion that once at a minimally “healthy” BMI, you should stop gaining weight and maintain. There are many recovery methods used in inpatient settings, by therapists, by doctors, and by other professionals that do not have a specific name, but have similar ideas about what is needed for recovery. There are also many who don’t, but MinnieMaud is not the only method to use these types of guidelines by far.

I am open to discussion. I am not militant when it comes to MM. I am very aware of the fact that new research is being done all of the time on many, many topics that is related to eating disorders, eating disorder recovery, and food/weight/dieting/bodies in general. I don’t know the ins and outs of every single thing to do with those topics, but I’m getting the overall picture, and I think I’m getting it right.

Do I believe the MinnieMaud Guidelines are a good method for recovery? Absolutely. Do I advise following them? Absolutely. Your Eatopia helped me to save my life. I don’t think I could have reached remission without it.

That is my stance on MinnieMaud, and about recovery. It is my stance on Gwyneth Olwyn, and Your Eatopia. It is my stance on doctors, and the aspects of recovery from a restrictive eating disorder. I probably could say more, but for now, I will leave it at that.

The Truth About Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are not beautiful, fragile rays of sunshine floating inside you as you weightlessly take each step, delicately refusing food with a tinkle of laughter, effortlessly avoiding thoughts of calories whilst engaging in a conversation with a friend over a cup of green tea, cigarette in hand, tendrils of smoke drifting above your head, dazzling everyone with your frailty, proudly showing off your bones with a smile on your face.

No, eating disorders are fingers dancing nervously across collarbones and dark circles under your eyelids. Eating disorders are waking up and realising they you have been feeling your hipbones in your sleep. They are the constant and never-ending thoughts of food, weight, exercise, and calories. They are the persistent temptations that you have to work at every second not to give in to. They are insomnia, or sleep plagued with nightmares about binging, anxiety about food, or dreams of being as thin as you wish to be. They are waking up and finding that you are not. They are tidal waves of self-deprecating insults. They are emotional, verbal, and physical abuse, by yourself to yourself. They are bruises appearing with every slight knock. They are glassy-eyed walks to the cupboards, stuffing yourself full with everything that you can find. They are the returning soul, suddenly realising how much you have eaten. They are being bent over the toilet, fingers down throat, spewing vomit into water that gets splashed back into your own face. They are chest pains. They are a raw, burning throat. They are burst blood vessels, and streaming eyes. They are shaking legs. They are having part of you taken away bit by bit until you can enjoy nothing, until there is nothing left to you but numbers and darkness and misery. They are obsession. They are having your relationships destroyed because you are a walking eating disorder who can no longer enjoy or engage in anything else because your mind is too consumed by thoughts to do with food. They are not being able to focus on a conversation because you are either too hungry or you are looking at how your legs look when you are sat down, when they are crossed, when they are apart. They are the development of dissociation, anxiety, obsessive and compulsive tendencies, and depression in one go. They are viewing yourself as fat in every item of clothing that you own. They are daily routines that you cannot and will not change. They are weighing yourself at least every morning and having your mood depend on the number shown. They are weighing out every item of food that you eat so you know the exact calorie content. They are tears and razorblades and despair.

Eating disorders are the idea that you will be able to stop and be happy when you are thin. They are never seeing yourself as that thin even when you are. They are never, ever, being thin enough. They are the wanting to be happy but having the manipulative “Voice” tell you that recovery would mean “getting fat” and being more miserable. They are the not wanting to die but finding it unbearable to live. They are utter hopelessness and self-loathing when you fail at keeping within your calorie limit- and believe me, you will fail, many times over. They are the endless self-punishments. They are dizziness and nausea. They are fainting and falling. They are living like a zombie: barely getting through each day just so you can go back to bed and attempt to sleep again. They are the feeling of worthlessness, and hate, and anger, and misery. They are the fear of each coming day, and of each coming night. They are the looking in the mirror and only seeing a huge, hideous, disgusting, repulsive, large mound of fat – even when bones jut from every part of your body.

Eating disorders are having your hair thin and maybe even fall out in clumps into the shower or when you brush your hair. They can be lanugo; fine, downy hair that covers emaciated bodies in an attempt to keep them warm. They can be heart murmers, or muscle atrophy, tearing of the oesophagus, gastric rupture, reflux, fatigue, low blood pressure, anaemia, kidney infection or even failure, amenorrhoea (loss of periods), gum disease, tooth decay, infertility, constipation, diarrhoea, seizures, malnutrition, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, impaired neuromuscular function, paralysis, and even death – those aren’t even all the risks.

So if you don’t have an eating disorder and you have looked at someone who does and envied them, I hope this has changed your perspective. Eating disorders are not a choice or a lifestyle; they are life-destroying diseases.

However, recovery is possible. It is possible to overcome all of this and reclaim yourself and your life back. If you are suffering from an eating disorder, please seek help. You need and deserve to recover. You are stronger than you know, and you can beat your demons.

The Dangers of Addiction: Compulsive Exercise

I’m sure when you read the word ‘addiction’, the first few thoughts that sprung to mind were substance-abuse, alcoholism, nicotine addiction; maybe even gambling or sex addiction. Those are well-known, much talked about addictions, but for some, something which is heavily promoted in our society can become an unhealthy addiction. That something is exercise.

“Exercise?!” you gasp, in disbelief, “surely not? How can something so “healthy” be a problem?”

If you look around at the media, at health food blogs, at doctors recommendations, then you will see that women primarily, but also men too, are constantly being told that they should be exercising. 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 the 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.

The way I see it, there are three types of people: people who genuinely enjoy the activity of working out, people who don’t like the activity but in their opinion the results are worth it, and people who cannot stand it but feel like they have to do it because of their addiction to exercise. In my opinion, only the first of the three should be exercising for exercise specifically (like in a gym or using a workout routine). Don’t get me wrong, I am not condoning a lifestyle of sitting on the couch eating Chinese takeaway and playing videogames (but if that’s what makes you happy, but all means, go for it!). What I am suggesting though, is that people who don’t like working out as a specific activity should just trade in public transport/car rides for walking, and it becomes a leisurely activity instead of a chore. This can make a huge difference to your body and your health if you do it often enough, but isn’t as strenuous and as tedious as a dedicated workout. If you hate going to the gym, all you are doing is trading in your unhappiness with your body for your unhappiness of devoting time to the gym and your dread before each session.

The thing is, 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. Think swimming with your kids. Think playing football or badminton or squash or any sport that you love to do with your friends. Think walking in the countryside with your dog or your camera or your partner. Think volleyball on the beach. We don’t do fun things that involve exercise. Instead, we exercise in an attempt to alter our bodies, and that is just not healthy. Our lives and the way we spend our time should not be centred on chasing the “perfect” body. Unfortunately, society thinks that we should. I urge you to stand up to society and fight against that notion.

For those with exercise addiction though, it is another matter. You can’t just stop when you want to, or give yourself a day off (unless you already have a “scheduled” day, and then it must be that day and none other). You will miss social events if it coincides with your sessions. You will feel incredibly anxious before exercising, and after the exhilaration of finishing a workout has subsided, you will feel the dread of knowing that in less than 24 hours you will be repeating the same monotonous and exhausting work out.

As well as being mentally draining, compulsive exercise (also known an obligatory exercise or anorexia athletica) can have a negative effect on the body. Firstly, by working out intensely every day, the body is being put under a lot of strain, and is not being given any time to recover, which is needed. Those addicted to exercise will work out even if they are ill or injured, which could have serious consequences to their health, including damage to tendons, ligaments, bones, cartilage, and joints. When injuries happen and are not given enough rest to heal, this can result in long-term damage. If the body is not getting the nutrition that it needs, muscle can be broken down for energy instead of building muscle. Girl and women could disrupt the balance of hormones in their bodies, which can change menstrual cycles and even lead to the absence of them altogether. It can also increase the risk of premature bone loss, which is known as osteoporosis. The most serious risk is the stress that excessively exercising can place on the heart, particularly when someone is also restricting their intake, or using self-induced vomiting to control their weight. Using diet pills or supplements can also increase the risk for heart complications. In worst case scenarios, anorexia and compulsive exercise can result in death.

The reasons behind exercise addiction can be complicated. It could be that the person engaging in the behaviour is suffering from an eating disorder, which is the most obvious and probably most common reason, and is used as a form of weightloss and/or control. It could be used as a form of control by someone who does not suffer from an eating disorder. It could be a man obsessed with becoming muscular. It could be part of ortherexia (an obsession with eating “healthy” foods and leading “healthy” lifestyle). Athletes, dancers, wrestlers, gymnasts, and other people who are fixated with keeping in shape and keeping their weight down for their careers are also susceptible to being developing exercise addiction.

Although it is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, exercise addiction is a serious and potentially life-threatening obsession, and needs to be taken extremely seriously. It is not just a strain on the body but a strain on the mind. It is absolutely exhausting, and can take up a huge amount of your life and most of your thoughts, and is extremely unhealthy for your physical and mental health.

People need to be made aware that something that is pushed on us as categorically healthy can turn into an unhealthy addiction, and it needs to be taken seriously when exercise becomes the focus of someone’s life. If you are exercising not because you want to, but because you feel that you should, or have to, then you should take the time to evaluate if what you are doing is actually benefiting you.

If you think you may be developing/have developed an addiction to exercise, seek medical help from your GP.

Signs that you or someone you know may be suffering from compulsive exercise include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Not enjoying exercise sessions, but feeling obligated to do them
  • Seeming (or being) anxious or guilty when missing even one workout
  • Not missing a single workout and possibly exercising twice as long if one is missed
  • Seeming (or being) constantly preoccupied with his or her (or your) weight and exercise routine
  • Not being able to sit still or relax because of worry that not enough calories are being burnt
  • A significant amount of weightloss
  • Increase in exercise after eating more
  • Not skipping a workout, even if tired, sick, or injured
  • Skipping seeing friends, or giving up activities/hobbies to make more time for exercise
  • Basing self-worth on the number of workouts completed and the effort put into training
  • Never being satisfied with his or her (or your) own physical achievements
  • Working out alone, isolated from others, or so that other people are not aware of how much exercise is being done
  • Following the same rigid exercise pattern.
  • Exercising for more than two hours daily, repeatedly

(sites used for reference and more information: 

http://www.brainphysics.com/exercise-addiction.php
http://addictions.about.com/od/lesserknownaddictions/a/exerciseadd.htm
http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/behavior/compulsive_exercise.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exercise_addiction )