Tag Archives: happiness

Celebrating the Day that I Chose to Live

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TRIGGER WARNING.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What Does Being Fully Recovered From An Eating Disorder Look Like?

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It’s a big question, but often people in recovery ask it: what will it mean to be fully recovered?

Before you read my own experiences of being in remission from a restrictive eating disorder, you might want to read my post: Am I Still Disordered? which can help give you some idea as to if you still have things to work on in your recovery.

Being fully recovered will mean different things to different people, but this post is about what it means to me and how I think it should be for people when they are in remission from their eating disorders.

For me, remission means that I eat what I want, when I want, and I don’t worry about that making me gain weight – and it doesn’t. I maintain my weight by following my hunger cues and cravings. I trust my body and I eat what I want to eat. I never make excuses not to eat something that I want to eat, and I don’t ever choose food based on calories or macros.

For me, remission means that I accept my body as it is. I don’t love it, but I don’t loathe it any more or have the intense desire to change it. I have accepted it as it is, and always try to see it in a positive light. Some days I am unable to feel positively about my body, but I accept that I will have bad days and then put my mind and thoughts to better use.

For me, remission means that I can enjoy being active, but I know it won’t have any effect on my weight or shape, and my reasons for doing it are not linked to my body. I do not engage in exercise that I do not enjoy because that would be disordered. I engage with physical activity that I find genuinely enjoyable and any health benefits come secondary to me having fun. For me, exercise has got to be something I look forward to doing, enjoy participating in, and feel good about after. At no point must I feel like I am forcing myself to do it. This means that for me I tend to do physical activity when other people are involved. I don’t see exercise as exercise – I see the activities I do that are physical as just another of my hobbies.

For me, remission means that I do not resort to eating disorder habits when angry, stressed, or upset. It means treating myself, relaxing, talking to other people, and doing things that I enjoy to make myself feel better.

For me, remission means that I don’t second guess myself when it comes to food. I don’t think about becoming “healthier”. Food isn’t so important to me any more – except for the fact that I now really enjoy it instead of feeling anxious and guilty! I am now myself and not my eating disorder. I am a woman who is interested in feminism, psychology, writing, reading, social politics, blogging, watching movies ad TV series, seeing friends, art, baking, swimming, badminton, and helping others in their journey towards recovery. I have energy and I put that energy towards my passions. I am now focussed on the things I enjoy and the things that are important to me, and my eating disorder does not play a part in my life any more.

For me, remission means that I am now able to do whatever I want to do, without being limited by anxiety towards food. I eat lunch at the pub with my friends, and go for evening drinks with them. I can go out to restaurants and end up eating a bit too much (as in, can’t stand up for half an hour because you are so full because you just had to have a dessert because it looked too good not to get it) and not think anything of it. I can go out for coffee and cake and sandwiches and picnics and eat whatever my mum has cooked for dinner without worrying about what is in it. I can lie in bed all day and not feel lazy. I can go for a stroll and not worry that I’m walking too slowly, because my reason for walking is not burning calories any more – it’s because I am enjoying the countryside or getting from A to B, or taking a walk with my brother.

My body is now not particularly important to me, in so far as it doesn’t take up much of my head space. I am eternally grateful to my body for keeping me alive, and for healing me when I decided to work with it rather than against it. I am thankful that I am strong, and healthy, and I am thankful that I am able to be me again – the real me that I am supposed to be, rather than someone taken over by an eating disorder. I do not body check, and I am not distracted by how my body looks. I live life, and rarely think about how my body looks like doing it.

There are always traps that you can fall into when you are in remission. Remission does not mean that your eating disorder is gone entirely. Occasionally, you may come across something that triggers the little ED voice to pipe up. In remission, I have found that I don’t have that many triggers any more, but there are some that still remain. When the ED voice pipes up, I tell it in a very bored manner to shut up and go away, and I never act on it. When it gets ignored, it slinks back into hiding in a dusty corner somewhere in my mind. Usually, I do the exact opposite of what it is telling me to do, just to show it how much it is not going to affect me. It generally does a vanishing act then.

In remission, my eating disorder has no impact on what I do in my life, and how I do it. I am now a functioning, healthy, energy-balanced woman, living out her life in relative peace from the eating disorder’s voice. It has no place in the life that I have made for myself by fighting the eating disorder and winning. I now do things freely. I enjoy my hobbies, I work hard at my passions, and I have a full time job doing something that is extremely important to me. I have healthy relationships, eat well, and take care of myself. The life that I now have is full of me being me, and that’s what remission is all about.