Tag Archives: compulsive exercise recovery

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

personal-exercise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Celebrating Three Years Since Choosing Recovery

3 years 5

TRIGGER WARNING – this post shows images of my body during my eating disorder, as well as images of my recovered body*. Please do not look at this article if these are images that are likely to trigger you.

In the last three years (and a bit), I have come further than I ever thought I would. Just over three years ago I was a suicidal, starved, insane mess of a human being. I was throwing glasses across the room in anger because my partner at the time had turned around my horrible self-reminders not to eat that I had plastered around the house, and had instead written lovely messages on the backs on them. Just over three years ago I was screaming at him because he put a dash of milk in the scrambled eggs. I had intense urges to eat food off the ground because my body was so hungry. Each day was all about filling out the time until I was “allowed” my next measly portion of food. My life revolved around the number on the scales. Everything I did was for that number to decrease. I walked around with my brain feeling foggy, my body weak, and put it through intense and draining physical exercise anyway. I was a walking corpse. I wasn’t alive. I was merely existing.

It took me a couple of months of uhmming and aahing to really choose recovery. I was uncertain. I was scared. I was in denial about having to gain weight in order to be healthy and happy. But eventually I got there. Gradually I solidified my decision, and I although I had ups and downs (understatement of the year), I never really looked back. I had many, many, many moments where I said to myself “I’m done! I’m going to relapse!” but I would cry it out and keep on going anyway.

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A year into my recovery, I made the photo above. If you know me and my blog, you’ve probably seen it before (and I posted it on another post on this website too). The hollow, unfocused, red-ringed eyes had been replaced by bright, shiny ones. My grey, matte skin now glowed. My smile didn’t seem stretched, and the happiness showed upon my whole face, rather than looking tired and empty. I love the comparisons. It always shocks me, and it always reminds me how terrible I looked then and how healthy I look now. It always reminds me of how far I have come.

3 years 3

My hair is shiny and soft now, not falling out, and not desert dry. After two or so years in recovery, it suddenly grew really fast and is now really long and I love it. I now engage in the world: my senses aren’t dulled due to starvation, and I take in what is around me. I am fully present when conversing with friends and thoughts of my body don’t cross my mind when I am with them, when before I was utterly distracted by how my body looked in that moment. I feel strong, rather than feeling like I am going to pass out at any moment. I feel like I am really in the world, rather than miserable and alone in my own harrowing personal nightmare.
dani and sarah
During recovery, my personality that had been smothered by my eating disorder emerged, stronger than before. During the first two years of my two and a half years in recovery, I grew more than I had ever done in my life. I established who I was and what was important to me. I developed hobbies and interests that I had never had before, whilst regaining my love of old ones. With help from feminism and the body positivity movement, I felt empowered and impassioned. I found my drive and my purpose, and I established my worth as a person inside my own head. In simple words, I now feel solid. I feel strong.

3 years 2

My eating disorder starved me. I lost myself, not just my weight. My relationship disintegrated. I couldn’t concentrate around my friends (although, unlike a lot of others with eating disorders, I managed to maintain my friendships). I didn’t do anything without thinking about losing weight. Recovery gave me back my sanity, and my ability to function within the world and within relationships. I regained weight, and I regained myself. Unfortunately, my relationship came to an end six months into recovery, but I now know I will be able to have a healthy, happy relationships without my eating disorder destroying me, and in turn, destroying my relationship.

3 years 4

For me, sleep was first an escape from the pain of the life I was living when my eating disorder was active, but after a while, as my body became more and more starved, it became impossible to sleep. I would be thinking over and over about my “meal plan” for the next day, and would find it really difficult to fall asleep. When I did, it was food that I dreamed of – that, or gaining weight – and I would wake up in fits of anxiety, or stroking my hipbones; a bizarre habit that occurred in the worst period of my eating disorder. One of my favourite things about being healthy is being able to sleep properly. Resting is so important to me now, and such a relief.

3 years 13

Giving up exercise was something that I really struggled with during recovery, and was something that I relapsed with two or three times. Once I’d started eating and my survival instincts took over, restriction wasn’t something I wanted to engage in again (even though my eating disorder kicked and screamed against that thought), but exercise was something I could do without having to feel hungry all of the time but could still burn calories and feel “healthy”. Even though my weight didn’t change whether I exercised or not, I still had the severe compulsion to work out because I felt so anxious and guilty if I did not. But even though I didn’t have to deal with being hungry all the time, exercise made me so utterly exhausted that I could not even sit up in bed with my laptop on some days. I had to lie down instead. Eventually, I was able to cease exercise until I was healthy enough both mentally and physically to be able to do what I now like to call “recreational activity”. I walk a fine line in choosing to be active in remission, but I have my “red”, “amber”, and “green” types of exercise so I know where I am with it, and I’m constantly evaluating how I feel and how much I’m doing. I see the activity I do as enjoyment rather than doing it for my body – the health benefits are secondary for me. Having fun comes first and foremost in the choice to do physical activity, and I think it should be that way for everyone.

bralet 3

The picture above is me today. I am now over 8 months into remission (full recovery). I feel strong and healthy and confident. I have bad and good days with my body, but I more or less accept it for what it is now. Today was a good day, and I feel powerful as a person. I’m about to have a delicious dinner with my family, on holiday, with a view of the sea. This evening I am going to a bar to have cocktails with my brother. And it won’t even matter to me how many calories any of what I have consumed today has.

I am enjoying being me.
3 years 6

*The reason I have included photographs of myself when I was ill is because for me, it’s an amazing transformation. Recovery should be equally about mental and physical recovery – you can’t have one without the other – and I wanted to show both, because for me, my experience with weight gain was a huge part of my recovery. I can only show my physical recovery through photographs, and my mental recovery through expressing it in writing. This article is not about the process but about the comparison as to how I was then to how I am now. I also wanted to show that it is possible to gain a significant amount of weight and look very different and be able to accept that. My body and the changes it made throughout recovery were hugely significant to me, so to be able to show that comparison and say that I made those changes to my body and I got through all the self-loathing, guilt, and anxiety, and found my way to accepting my body as how it looks now is incredibly important to my journey. Some people may not agree with my choice to include photographs, but that is why there is a trigger warning. That was my body, and this was my journey, and I want to express it in the way that is significant to me. 

Am I Still Disordered?

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So you have been recovering for a fairly long time and have come a very long way. Your life has improved dramatically, you feel like you are eating well (what you want, when you want), and you’ve let your body rest up and repair, and haven’t engaged in formal exercise for a significant amount of time. You feel healthy, you feel pretty happy, and you’re wondering to yourself: how will I know when I am fully recovered? How do I know if my eating habits and thought patterns are still disordered?

This is definitely something that I thought about when I was recovering, and I am pretty sure it is something that you have thought about too. When exactly do you know when you are in remission as opposed to still recovering? When is that point where you go from one to the other? What signifies it?

The things that are disordered vary from person to person. One person may never has used coffee as an appetite suppressant or for energy during their eating disorder, and may now just enjoy a cup or two a day, whereas another may have used it and are still using it under the pretence of enjoying a cup or two a day, but are in fact not being honest with themselves that it is in fact driven by their eating disorder. One person may avoid some foods because they genuinely don’t like them, whilst others may avoid the same foods because their eating disorder has persuaded them that they don’t like them. It all varies from person to person, and it is about being 110% honest with yourself as to whether you are going to keep progressing forwards and reach remission or not. Because of these individual differences, it is hard to put together a whole list, but here are a few things that are signs that your eating habits and thought patterns are still disordered.

1. You are still worrying that food is going to make you fat, and you still worry about when to stop eating. This is something that when you are fully recovered you will not think about. You will eat what you want, when you want. You will eat when you desire to eat, and when you don’t have any desire to eat, you won’t. You will not worry about it “making you fat” because you know your body will maintain its natural healthy weight whilst you eat what you want, when you want.

2. You are finding reasons to not eat something. You should always eat what you want, when you want. If you are trying to find reasons not to eat something, then you are still having disordered thoughts. You eat when you want to eat, and you don’t eat when you don’t want to eat. By not wanting to eat, I mean that food is unappealing because you are not in any way hungry or needing any energy.

3. You are linking food and exercise together. Food and exercise should come separately. Burning off calories from your meals = disordered. Only allowing yourself to eat what you want because you have exercised = disordered. One should not effect the other.

4. You are still trying to control your weight. Being in remission includes accepting your body at whatever weight it is healthiest at naturally. That means trusting it to take you to that weight without you restricting any types of foods, exercising to try and keep your weight from going up, or trying to keep to a certain amount of calories without going over. It means eating what you want, when you want, and not exercising (or later on, only exercising for fun), and allowing your body to do what it needs to do.

5. You are trying to convince yourself that you enjoy exercise that you don’t really enjoy doing. Exercise should not be a part of your recovery. It should only be done in remission. If you are trying to convincing yourself that you love going to the gym when you don’t, start being honest with yourself. If your eating disorder has persuaded you that you love aerobics when actually you don’t, be honest with yourself. This includes “I’m doing it to be fit/toned/healthy”. That’s still disordered. Exercise should not be linked in your mind to changing your weight, shape, or size. Exercise that you don’t genuinely enjoy should not be done to get fit or healthy. It is the enjoyment that should come first and foremost, and the health benefits are secondary benefits that should have had nothing to do with the decision to do something physical. “I feel great after though!” is not a valid excuse. If you are going to do any form of recreational physical activity, you should feel good before doing it, whilst doing it, and after doing it, not just the latter. I would suggest checking out my videos on exercise here, here, and here).

6. You are avoiding certain foods or food groups. You might convince yourself that this is for “health” reasons, or you may even convince yourself that you don’t like them when actually you do. Again, this is about being really honest with yourself. Are you just trying to avoid them because they make you anxious?

7. You hate your body. Those in remission are able to accept their body as it is naturally. This doesn’t have to mean loving it. It just means being at least okay with it.

8. You lapse when you are stressed, angry, or upset. Those who are fully recovered have healthy coping mechanisms and do not respond to stressors by engaging in eating disorder habits.

9. You are still weighing yourself frequently. You do not need to weigh yourself any more. You don’t need to weigh yourself at all, ever. The number on the scales is irrelevant and for those with eating disorders, is a massive trigger. Those in full recovery don’t bother stepping on the scales because it’s meaningless and they don’t need to know their weight.

10. You keep planning ways to be “more healthy”. Those in remission eat what they want, when they want, and don’t need to think about “being healthy”, because what they are doing is what is truly healthy – listening to their body and not trying to control food or their weight, and eat what they desire, when they have the desire to do so.

Those are the ten things that sprang to mind when I thought about things that aren’t always entirely obvious to the person engaging in those habits or thought patterns. I hope this makes you think about where you are in recovery and if you still have some things to work on. Remember that these things take time, and you don’t have to rush to the finish line. If you try to do that, that finish line will get further away. Be patient and gentle with yourself, always.

Treatment and Support Options for Eating Disorder Recovery

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Recovery will be the best choice you have ever made for yourself. You will be choosing life over death. You will be choosing health over sickness. You will be choosing happiness over misery. However, recovery can be daunting. It can be terrifying and extremely difficult and immensely challenging. It can bring with it feelings of anger, guilt, sadness, shame, anxiety, and pain. It can leave open wounds that you were trying to cover by using your eating disorder as a band aid. It can uncover truths and experiences and memories you were trying to suppress. Because of this, it is important that you use all opportunities given to you in the form of professional support. This can be harder in countries where you have to pay for all professional help and do not have the NHS, but it is still possible to find help and support even if you are strapped for cash.

In this post I am going to go over some of the treatment and support options that you might want to consider.

Inpatient/hospital 
Inpatient treatment would be provided in a hospital setting. The main aim of inpatient is to medically stabilise the patient and get them back to a healthier weight, before discharging them. In most cases they would be discharged to a residential setting for continued care.

Residential
People using these services reside at a live-in facility where they are provided with care at all times. This means that they are under constant medical supervision and monitoring of both physical and mental health. Treatment programs within residential facilities are usually very structured, and they provide an environment in which the client can focus solely on physical and psychological healing with a great deal of support from their treatment team.

Intensive Outpatient (IOP)
Intensive outpatient is suited to those who need more professional support than outpatient treatment but still need flexibility to continue their education or job. IOP Programs generally run at suitable times for the participant, ranging from 2-5 days a week. Treatment usually includes therapy, nutrition consultation, topic focused groups, and/or family support groups.

Outpatient
Outpatient is much less restrictive than inpatient, and is good for those who have a job or are attending school or any other form of education. It is also an option for those who do not have the insurance to cover higher levels of care, but still really need a moderate level of support to aid their recovery. Those in outpatient programs may see a therapist, nutritionist, and other recovery professionals around 2-3 times per week.

Therapy
For those who don’t want to consider inpatient, outpatient, or residential, or who cannot get a placement for any reason (and that will be the majority of those with eating disorders), there are many options where therapy are concerned: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Medical Nutrition Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT),  Art Therapy, Dance Movement Therapy, Equine Therapy, Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP), Family Therapy, Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT), Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT), The Maudsley Method (also knows as Family-Based Treatment), and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (you can find out more about these therapy methods here, here, here, and here).

For those who cannot afford therapy and are in education, see if your school, college, or university has counsellors on site that may be able to provide you with free support. You may also be able to find therapists at reduced costs who have been fully trained but have not clocked up sufficient hours yet.

Support Groups
If you cannot afford any therapy, cannot get any using the NHS, and are not in education or have none in your educational institution, check out if there are any support groups near you that you can utilise.

If you cannot find a therapist or support group, you could ask the NEDA Navigator service to help you find support in your area – wherever you are from – or just to vent to and get some support from. (Beat also have a HelpFinder).

Doctors
If you can, do make sure you are seeing your doctor regularly, or at least semi-regularly, to get updates on your health. Again, I know this can be a money issue for a lot of you, but it is really important that you know where you are where your health is concerned. Doctors can also help you find support groups, and give you referrals for therapy, inpatient, or outpatient programs.

Helplines
If you are struggling to find any support, do know that there are many helplines available. There is NEDA’s information and referral helpline (there is also a Click to Chat option so you can instant message if you would prefer to do it that way), there is BEAT’s 1-2-1 Chat Online service, BEAT’s online services, and BEAT’s helplines.

Forums
I would advise being careful with forums, as they can often lead to triggering discussions, but if you are going to visit forums (and they can provide invaluable help and support) I would advise BEAT’s forums, NEDA’s forums, or the forums on Your Eatopia (the latter has a tiny fee but I would say it is really worth it – personally it helped me more than anything during my time in recovery).

Self Help
There are self help options such as books on certain therapies (like CBT workbooks), anorexia and bulimia workbooks, other eating disorder workbooks, online resources etc that can help you work through your issues with the help of workbook exercises, challenges, and reflection.

I hope that if you struggling and don’t know which way to turn, this comprehensive list enables you to find help and support during your recovering from your eating disorder.

If I have missed any that are important, do let me know!

Men Get Eating Disorders Too

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Eating disorders are stereotypically seen as an illness that young, white, females develop. Whilst this is obviously an outdated myth and anyone of all ages, genders, and races can experiencing eating disorders, there are still a huge amount of people ignorant to the fact that many men suffer from eating disorders too and it is just as serious when men suffer from them as when women do.

Studies suggest that eating disorders are on the rise in men. However, it is also theorised that this may be because eating disorders in men are becoming less stigmatised and more men are coming forward and seeking help and treatment for their illness. Out of those with eating disorders, it is reported around 10% of sufferers are male, although again, these statistics are unreliable due to the fact that so many men do not come forward for treatment, and 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 (Eisenburg, Nicklett, Roeder, & Kirz, 2011). As it says on the website MGEDT:

“Conflicting and poor quality data is one of the biggest problems in pinning down the full extent of eating disorders in the UK and indeed the world. According to Beat information from the Department of Health only shows how many individuals received inpatient treatment. This only captures only a very small percentage of cases, since as much as 50 per cent of treatment is provided by private clinics and only the most severely ill will receive inpatient care.”

Through large scale surveys it was found that in the past thirty years, male body image concerns have increased severely, with 15% to 43% of men being dissatisfied with their bodies; rates that are comparable to those found in women (Garner, 1997; Goldfield, Blouin, & Woodside, 2006; Schooler & Ward, 2006). In adolescent and college samples, between 28% and 68% of males of normal weights saw themselves as underweight and reported that they had a desire to increase their muscle mass through dieting and strength training (McCabe & Ricciardelli, 2004; McCreary & Sadava, 2001).  (Statistics and sources taken from the NEDA site)

So why do boys and men get eating disorders? Just like with girls and women, the reasons are vast and complex. Bullying, abuse, dieting, feeling pressured whilst engaging in sport, having a career that demands thinness (such as modelling or acting), and diet culture can all be a catalyst in the develop of an eating disorder in men (and these are just a tiny selection of the things that can trigger an eating disorder). It is also shown that the media is having an effect too, and that exposure to male body ideals are causing men to compare themselves to these ideals and this is positively correlated with the drive for muscularity in men. The fact that we are living in a society that still places importance on gender roles and traditional masculine ideals means that males have negative attitudes towards seeking psychological help. In addition to that, we are not identifying eating disorders in boys and men:

“Doctors are reportedly less likely to make a diagnosis of eating disorders in males than females. Other adults who work with young people and parents also may be less likely to suspect an eating disorder in boys, thereby delaying detection and treatment. A study of 135 males hospitalized with an eating disorder noted that the males with bulimia felt ashamed of having a stereotypically “female” disorder, which might explain their delay in seeking treatment. Binge eating disorder may go unrecognized in males because an overeating male is less likely to provoke attention than an overeating female.  This inferior image, among other things, contributes to the reality that 1 in 10 cases of eating disorders involve males. Particularly, for the disorder anorexia, up to one in four children referred to an eating disorders professional is a boy.” (ANAD)

Even though the stigma may be dissipating, it’s still there, as illustrated by the experiences I have been hearing about. One male wrote to my blog to tell me that his doctor told him he could not have anorexia because he could not experience amenorrhoea as he had no menstrual cycle to lose. Another man told me his doctor thrust a leaflet about eating disorders into his hands and offered no other information or support. It is extremely worrying to hear that even professionals are dealing with males with eating disorders in a way that is so dismissive and also shockingly ill-informed.

Men also find it extremely hard to talk to other people about it, because of the sense of shame they may experience in relation to having an eating disorder, and again, this is down to stigma in our society. They are afraid of being judged, and they are afraid of the negative reactions of friends who might laugh it off and dismiss it or make fun of them for suffering from an eating disorder, because it is still to some extent seen as a “girl’s illness”.

Eating disorders can also be harder to spot in some men because it is more likely for women to have dramatic weightloss, 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.

It is of paramount importance that we recognise eating disorders in boys and men as much as we recognise them in girls and women. It is of paramount importance that we start treating them just as seriously and it is of paramount importance that we continue to reduce the stigma surrounding males and eating disorders so that those suffering will come forward for help and support, from their doctors, from their friends, and from their families.

Shouldn’t I Be Recovered By Now?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MinnieMaud: Is It the Only Way to Recover from a Restrictive Eating Disorder?

your eatopia

I have had quite a few people ask me if I believe that MinnieMaud is the only method of recovery that will result in remission. The answer to that question is not simple, so I have gone ahead and written over three thousand words on the topic.

MinnieMaud (MM) is the name of a recovery method with guidelines constructed by Gwyneth Olwyn, on her site Your Eatopia. Whilst MM has received much criticism, and is seen by some as controversial, many inpatient and outpatient facilities do enforce methods alike to MM, such as similar calorie requirements, and remaining sedentary. Other people find that they end up recovering in a way much like MM without having ever heard of that particular recovery method (for example Caroline, from The Fuck It Diet), and I would argue that that is because this type of recovery is normal and natural for the body.

As I see it, the main goals are:

– To eat minimums, and respond to any additional hunger and cravings
– To not engage in exercise
– To eat whatever you want, whenever you want
– To not weigh yourself (be blind-weighed if needed)
– To accept your body, and anyone else’s body, at whatever size it is naturally, and not try to control your weight, as your body does that for you (weight set point theory)

To the present me, these aren’t particularly controversial ideas, but with diet culture being so prominent in our society, I can see why some find it hard to accept, and in the past, I myself was one of those people doing furious amounts of further research and questioning what I read when I first came across Your Eatopia. I looked all over the internet. I asked other people about it. I relentlessly emailed Gwyneth about my doubts (and she always took the time to reply). I didn’t agree with all of it (and arguably I still don’t agree with some of the content of her blog posts), but I knew deep down that so much of the information was making sense to me. A lot of the posts were talking about things I had experienced during recovery and up until that point had had no idea what it was that was happening to my body. Reading the articles gave me a great deal of relief in finally having a logical explanation for the processes that my body was going through. So much of it clicked into place for me, and in hindsight seemed obvious.

I believe that during recovery it is crucial to eat “minimums”. When it comes to these “minimums”, I find it so important that people should follow them because if you let there be a grey area during recovery, it will be easier for the eating disorder to wedge its way into those cracks and convince you that you require less calories than other people (and less, and less, until you realise you have relapsed). It is necessary for everyone to stick to the “minimums” for at least most of their recovery journey, until they are stable and responsible enough to listen intuitively to their hunger. When this happens, things are slightly different, as appetites naturally vary from person to person. For example, my hunger generally leads me to on average 2800 calories, whereas someone else’s hunger may lead them to on average 3200 calories, and someone else may find themselves eating on average 2900. For older people, calorie requirements are often a bit lower (this is also taken into account with the “minimums”). Gwyn says that minimums are for life, and I interpret that to mean around minimums are for life, leaving room for natural variation. Eating minimums during the recovery process and then eating a slightly lower amount intuitively will not result in more than needed weight gain, as your body will burn off excess calories, or use them for the essential repair of the body. In fact, you are almost certain to experience extreme hunger at some point during recovery, and it is pivotal that you respond to it.

As for exercise, in recovery it is just as crucial not to engage in it as it is to eat minimums. To me this seems extremely obvious now (hindsight is 20/20 after all), but apparently not so to some professionals, and more understandably, those in recovery. If you have a broken leg, you would rest it until it was healed. To walk on it would not only prevent the healing of it, but it would make it much worse. This also applies to a damaged body. Not only that, but physical activity is a massively used and abused technique of the eating disorder’s to burn calories and exercise control (excuse the pun). The eating disorder is also an expert at convincing you during recovery (a vulnerable time) that exercise is healthy and needed, and that you can use it in a responsible way. It is very easy to fall into the trap of denial when it comes to this topic, and this was my biggest issue when it came to my own recovery journey. Just like calorie requirements, in remission it is different. In remission you are in a place where you can make an informed choice to engage in exercise or not, but you should always be extremely aware that you are walking a fine line, and it does make relapse more likely. If you feel you are stable and responsible enough to handle exercise without any problems, then it is your decision to go ahead, but also your job to always remain vigilant and to address and resolve any thoughts or behaviours that could pop up as soon as they do (if they do).

In recovery, I believe that no food should be the enemy, and if it is, this just accentuates an unhealthy relationship with food. I do not believe that there should be any forbidden foods, and I do not believe a distinction should be made between “good” and “bad” foods. I believe that all food is good food, and I also do not subscribe to labelling foods as “healthy” or “unhealthy”. I believe that if we stop associating foods with emotions and morality, we will be able to listen to our bodies and remain healthy by responding to it. From a personal point of view, that is working extremely well. During the beginning of recovery I was very hungry, and I also craved a lot of “unhealthy” food. Looking back, that seems perfectly rational: my body was starved and in need of a high amount of energy, and it also needed foods that it had been restricted from. “Unhealthy” foods not only provide lots of energy, but are rich in fats, carbs, and sugar, which were what my body had been restricted from for a very long time. As my body healed, my cravings and hunger settled down. As someone who is now fully recovered and does not see food as being a matter of morality or emotion, I listen and respond to my body and find that it leads me to a balanced diet. Sometimes I crave cheese. Sometimes I crave bread. Sometimes I crave cereal. Sometimes I crave ice cream. Sometimes I crave apples. Sometimes I crave broccoli. Sometimes I crave chocolate. Sometimes I crave bacon. Ectetera etcetera. I crave a variety of foods, at a variety of times. I trust my body fully to lead me to what I need to eat, and it seems to be working very well in leading me to eat a varied and balanced diet.

Not weighing yourself in recovery seems to me to be the most obvious one of all. So many people with eating disorders attach such great significance to the number that the association is not reversible, and so to weigh oneself opens oneself up to a massive trigger every single time one hops on the scales. The scale is something that does not need to exist in your life. It is an object infused with so many negative emotions that I would highly advise you to take a hammer to it in your garden (it seems to be quite therapeutic for some). However, you may need to be weighed for health reasons. I suggest being blind-weighed by your doctor, or by a partner/friend/family member. They could give you a thumbs up for progress, a neutral thumb for no change, and a thumbs down for weight loss. This gives you an idea of where you are and what you need to change or continue doing without giving you the specific number which is not going to help you in any shape or form.

Lastly, we come to accepting your body, and other people’s bodies, at whatever weight they are at naturally. People come in all different shapes and sizes, and that is the way of the world. Each body has its own weight range – its set point – at which it is at its healthiest and happiest, and each individual is different. To be healthy, and to be happy, you have to let your body gain to whatever that weight is. To try and control it and maintain a weight that is not your set point would be to restrict and to focus on intake all day every day (and that is not being recovered). Our weight is not as in our control as we think it is, or would like it to be. It is our bodies that decide what weight we should be, and we can either accept that or spend our entire lives fighting it (which many people tragically do). Some people are naturally slim. Some people are naturally voluptuous. Some people are naturally chubby. Some people are naturally muscular. Some people are pear-shaped, some are an hourglass, some are an apple shape, and some are other various fruit/veg/inanimate object shapes (still finding these nicknames for body shapes slightly odd). You should never judge or ridicule someone for their body’s weight, shape, or size, and neither should you do that to your own body. Body acceptance, for both ourselves and others, is an extremely important step that needs to be made by everyone in our society. I don’t think people can recover without finding it within themselves to make peace with their body. I don’t expect people to love their bodies (I certainly don’t love mine) but to accept it and move on from hating it and berating it and focusing on it is a crucial part of recovery.

There you have my in-depth opinions and reasoning for why I believe that the key points of MM are needed for recovery.

Do I believe that you can fully recover without those things? No. I do think that you can make a great deal of progress using other methods of recovery. For the first six months of my recovery I adopted the “eating healthy and exercising” method. It helped me a great deal: I was eating enough and eating a far more varied diet, which brought me back from being very, very sick, to being sick. What I noticed from those six months was a vast improvement in the functioning of my brain. Before, my cognitive abilities were impaired, I had severe brain fog, my moods were horrendous, and the only word I can really describe my state at the time is “insane”. I was not behaving in a rational way, and I was not able to think straight. I was not able to make logical decisions, and my brain was just not working correctly at all. Eating an adequate amount really helped with that, and I was able to regain my cognitive abilities, and some of my former self. However, I was far from recovered and I knew that, but I didn’t know how to move forward until I came across FYourED, which then led me to Your Eatopia. I read the information and advice given out there, which gave me a way to continue moving forwards on my journey to living an ED-free life. I don’t think continuing to focus on intake (whether calories or macros, or even just food types without being so specific) and exercising during the recovery process will ever lead to a full recovery, because there are still so many rules and restrictions, which the ED both creates and thrives on. Whilst people without the genetic predisposition to develop an eating disorder are able to try diets, go through phases of exercise frequently to try and lose weight, and engage in acts and thoughts pressed upon us by our diet culture, those with restrictive eating disorders do not have the luxury of doing so, as it will most likely cause a relapse at some point. I believe that to attain a full recovery, diet culture must be tossed out in the trash as well as your ED.

Without the help and encouragement from the wonderful community on the forums on Your Eatopia, and without my own determination to fully recover from my eating disorder, and without the extremely extensive and valuable support network that I have in my life, I don’t think I would have been able to recover, especially not using MM. Most of it was down to being so resolute in my decision not to go back to where I had been, but I had the privilege of having a family that tried as hard as possible to provide me with support when I needed it, but also left me to recover how I saw best without question (and this was the most important part for me). I also had the privilege of my many fantastic friends who all were rooting for me, who stuck by me throughout the entire journey, and who also let me rant and vent whenever I needed to. I also have friends with eating disorders and met other friends through recovery who were also recovering, who were invaluable to me, as we walked the journey to freedom together, and propped each other up when it was needed. I also had a partner throughout the first six months of recovery, who was essential in providing motivation, and in some ways built the foundation of my journey. Our relationship, in both its triumphs and failures, became one of my main inspirations and was always a reminder to keep on moving forwards, so that I may never repeat the mistakes I made again.

This meant that I had something that so many people lack in recovery: a strong support network. and a normal life to go back to once I reached remission. Some people do not have that to look forward to. Some people do not have the support of others. This can mean that recovery is a hell of a lot harder, and sometimes that can mean that the guidelines of MM are unattainable at this point in their lives. It can mean that they are not ready to embark on that journey, which is incredibly difficult and requires a sometimes overwhelming amount of dedication that some people are not able to give right now. It can mean that the anxiety and guilt that comes with recovery is too overbearing without having people close by to help with those negative emotions and experiences. Some people do not feel strong enough to oppose diet culture and the people who subscribe to it. All of these are valid reasons for not wanting to follow MM or a similar method, or not wanting to choose recovery at all (although I would still encourage you to try, because you have no idea how strong and courageous you actually are when the ED constantly tries to overpower you).

I am also aware that some people use the guidelines as just that: guidelines, and I think that is okay too if you feel confident in doing so (although I will always condone following them pretty rigidly as that is the stance I have chosen to take as I am so aware of that “grey area” that I talked about earlier).

In conclusion, I agree with the MM guidelines, and I agree with the general ideas and opinions that Gwyneth is trying to get across. However, I do not agree with everything Gwyneth writes about, and there are lots of things that she says on Your Eatopia that I am unsure of because I have not done further research on them. I prefer not to identify with MM as a singular recovery method (although it seems I have become one of the key spokespersons for MM, on Tumblr at least). This is because I would like to move away a little from just the specific recovery method and would prefer to take on an approach more like Caroline (The Fuck It Diet), where I am not just talking about the recovery method, but also a way of life. However, the two need to still be separated as recovery is more black and white whereas remission has room for experimentation. I also think that those general ideas are for anyone, anywhere, not just those with eating disorders, and as I said, a way of life. It means that I am stuck between being black and white (MM-style) for those who are in recovery from restricting eating disorders, and my own opinions about being less rigid but still vigilant in remission, and also being an advocate for the general guidelines as a way of life for those without eating disorders as well.

I believe that the guidelines at the beginning of this post are needed to reach a full recovery. The label of “MinnieMaud” does not have to be slapped on it, but I personally found my way through Your Eatopia, and through “MinnieMaud”. It provided me with a way to regain my life, and I know it has saved countless others. So whether you recovered by finding those guidelines through Your Eatopia, or whether those guidelines just happened to you throughout your recovery process because you recognised they were part of recovery, I believe they are of paramount importance to reaching remission.