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5 Tips For Coping With January’s Diet and Weight Loss Talk

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It’s January, and we all know what that means: a total inundation of diet talk. It’s EVERYWHERE. TV advertising is filled with diet promotions, “healthy” eating, exercise equipment, gym memberships, and low fat yogurts (although hell, when do those NOT appear in the ad breaks?!). Friends, family, and colleagues are on a mission to lose weight, tone up, or get super heallllltthhyyyyyyy (god, pleeeeeease make it stop). “Lifestyle changes” are being broadcast from the rooftops (it’s still a diet, Susan, don’t kid yourself). It’s really difficult trying to deal with all this talk when you are trying to recover from an eating disorder or dieting, and/or are on a journey towards body acceptance. It can be downright triggering. So here are some tips on how to deal with the diet culture disaster that is January:

1. Set boundaries

I know that this can be really tough for a lot of people, but it is so important. If someone is talking to you about their diet/lifestyle change/new workout routine/how many pounds they’ve lost since only eating lettuce for the past two weeks, or god forbid are trying to offer you “advice”, tell them that it is making you uncomfortable. Hell, tell them that it downright harms you when you are trying so hard to explore a different path. Let them know that diet and exercise talk is not appropriate or helpful for you and that you would appreciate if you engaged in conversation about other topics instead. If they are commenting on your own body or eating habits, let them know it’s entirely not their business.

2. Use facts as a weapon against disordered thoughts

When you are feeling the insidious pull of temptation leading you towards to some sort of restriction, consider the facts:
* Diets don’t work. 95-97% of people who lose weight on diets regain the weight within 2-5 years (if not sooner). They also often end up gaining more weight due to the body trying to protect itself against “famine”.
* Chronic restriction can push people’s set points (their natural, healthy weight that is individual to each person) higher, because the body becomes damaged by getting less energy that it need, and can alter its set point in order to protect itself from harm.
* The metabolism slows as a response to not getting enough energy, and this makes it harder and harder to lose weight – which if you have an eating disorder or have ever been on a diet, you know already.  Leptin levels also drop when our fat levels decrease. Leptin is a hormone produced by the fat cells in our bodies. It exists in the body in proportionate amounts to our weight. Our bodies want to compensate for this loss in leptin and respond by increasing hunger urges, which makes not eating enough super unpleasant – as you know already. Your body does not want to lose weight, and it is going to fight to keep it at its set point.
* Studies show that weight cycling (losing/gaining/losing/gaining) is much more unhealthy than just staying at a higher weight. It increases the risk of developing major illnesses such as cardiovascular disease.
* Restricting often leads to binging, and that’s a signal from your body that you are not getting enough energy on a regular basis. Binging also leads to emotions that are really not fun to experience, and can lead to even more unhealthy behaviours as compensation.  Restriction also leads to obsessing over food, and that means less time for doing things that are important, productive, and enjoyable. In addition, restriction leads to increased cravings – again, not fun to feel, and again, often leads to binging.
* Any type of restriction is a slippery slope. It could easily turn into a full-blown relapse. Don’t risk it.
* Losing weight won’t make you happier. It won’t. We’ve all been there before, ladies and gentlemen. Who’s life was super awesome with an eating disorder/chronic dieting? I’m betting no one at all.
* Did I mention diets don’t work?

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3. Unfollow or mute people on social media who are triggering you

This is advice for anytime of the year, but if people are going on about losing weight, cutting out certain foods, restricting their intake, or exercising then unfollow them. If anyone is making you feel bad about yourself, triggered, or is causing you to compare yourself to them, then unfollow them. If they are a friend or family member that you want to keep on your social media, you can mute their posts, or you can let the know that their posts are negatively impacting on your wellbeing (see tip number 1).

4. Fill your social media feeds with body positive and food positive people

This has helped me so much in the past few years, and is definitely one of the things that gives me ongoing support and a sense of community, hope, and positivity. Start following people who are body positive. Start following people who love food and have a healthy relationship with it. Start following people who are fat, trans, disabled, of other races than your own, etc. Fill your feed with people who are diverse. Fill your feed with people who look like YOU, and people who don’t. Just stop filling it with thin white women (or if you are a guy, muscly white men). Stop looking at people who you want to look like or be like, just because our diet culture told you that’s who you should look like or be like, and start looking at people who celebrate who they are. Start celebrating who you are.

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5. Write down reminders of why you made the choice to try something other than dieting/restricting

There’s a reason that you are in recovery for an eating disorder or chronic dieting. There’s a reason you chose to try going down a new pathway; why you decided to give another option a try. I bet there are quite a few reasons. Write them down somewhere where you can always see them if you need to. If you need any help with thinking of reasons not to relapse, you can check out my blog post ‘Repel the Relapse: 8 Tips for Staying on Track in Recovery from an Eating Disorder‘ or watch my video ‘Reasons to Recover and Reasons Not To Relapse‘ on YouTube.

I know that it sucks to hear the constant chatter about diets, weightloss, exercise, and the body-shaming that comes with it, but you know it’s all for nothing. You know that diets don’t work. You know that it is extremely bad for your physical and mental health. You know it won’t improve your life, or make you happier. Remember remember remember. Grit your teeth, and do your best. You can do this.

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5 Ways to Manage Exercise In Remission From An Eating Disorder

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

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

1. Go Cold Turkey

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

2. Traffic Light Your Exercise

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

3. Move Your Body in an Enjoyable Way

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

4. Don’t Have Set Routines or Rules

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

5. Assess Yourself…Then Assess Yourself Again

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

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

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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