Tag Archives: lifestyle

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.

The Portrayal of Anorexia Nervosa in the Media (and the General Lack of Representation of Any Other Eating Disorder)

Magazines

There was a time, a couple of years ago, when I expressed interest in a photoshoot that was going to show people of various shapes and sizes in bikinis or “tasteful white underwear”, to accompany an article on the recovery of eating disorders. As a B-eat media contact, I receive emails about research projects, articles, and surveys to do with eating disorders that I could possibly help out with, which is when I stumbled across this article and the request for those who had recovered or were in recovery to contact the journalist who was to be writing the article.

I expressed my interest, and the journalist and freelance writer who was to write the article responded. She explained that the aim of the article was to have a positive and influential impact on the way eating disorders are viewed in the UK. She wanted to eradicate the myth that a full recovery isn’t possible, and also to present a healthy image of women’s bodies. She expressed that she was aware that the media usually sensationalises eating disorders, and portrays the subject is a very negative light, without ever looking at the recovery journey and people who have achieved remission. She wanted the article to inspire those in the grips of an eating disorder. To me this sounded like an excellent idea until I read with unease that my present weight and clothes size was expected to be included in the article, as was a “before” and “after” photograph.  It stated within the email that she was not looking for a shocking image, but if that was the case, why on earth was there any need for a “before” photograph at all, showing me when I was sick?

If the intent was to raise awareness for non-disordered people, and inspiration for those who have an eating disorder, then a photograph of someone when they are sick would not be beneficial in any way. Disordered people would only be triggered by such images and most likely put off by the weight gain that they see between the before and after photographs (a comparison between the two would be inevitable), and raising awareness means showing a variety of eating disorders: bulimia, EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified), and BED (Binge Eating Disorder), as well as anorexia. People who suffer from eating disorders that are not anorexia tend to be of a normal or above normal weight, and therefore a “before” photograph would not illustrate their sickness. Eating disorders are mental illnesses, and therefore the problem lies predominantly within the mind, not exclusively within the body. A photoshoot portraying people who are recovered in bikinis or underwear would be positive because it would show those in remission being proud of their bodies instead of feeling ashamed and hiding them, the focus should not be on what clothes size or weight they are now. Giving that number significance just defies the point of recovery and draws attention to what these people have been fighting so hard to get rid of: the destructive obsession with attaching such an importance to a number. Why would that number even be given a mention in an article about recovery?

I replied to the journalist, stating my thoughts on the matter, but she never sent me an email back to answer my questions about it all.

The media need to stop printing photographs of these extremely underweight girls day in and day out. Not only does the frequent publishing of photographs of anorexic individuals numb the viewer, but there is a high risk that it will trigger people with eating disorders to push themselves further into the disease, and hinder those who are trying to recover by possibly sparking a relapse. This could also cause the same for those who are recovered, because being recovered does not mean being cured. One of the eating disorder’s most powerful weapons is its little mantra: you’re not sick enough, and so when faced with images of the worst cases of anorexia, those with eating disorders more than likely have that voice whispering persuasively into their ear. Photographs of anorexics at their lowest weight benefit nobody. Ever.  At the end of the day the use of these images of very underweight people are there to satisfy the curiosity of the viewer, and not for any beneficial reason for those afflicted with the disease.

Notice that I said “girls” in the paragraph above. The prevalence of eating disorders in men is becoming more and more significant, but articles about men with eating disorders are extremely rare, which furthers the stigma surrounding it and invalidates the many men suffering from the illness. We need to start representing the male population who suffer with eating disorders. It is so important that they get recognition and acceptance, so that more men feel able to ask for help and support which they desperately need.

Another negative to these images is that because anorexia nervosa is the eating disorder most visible to the eye, the media focuses almost entirely on that eating disorder only so that they can publish disturbing images alongside the articles to shock the viewer and satisfy their morbid curiosity. This results in the media neglecting to give equal coverage to bulimia nervosa, BED, and EDNOS, not to mention ortherexia nervosa* and ARFID, which most people have not even heard of, and anorexia athletica. Our society seems eager to gawp at people who are physically different in some way to most others; whether they are exceedingly thin, extremely overweight, showing severe symptoms of illness, deformed, or disabled. Some examples of this are the programs Supersize Vs Superskinny, The Undateables, and Embarrassing Bodies. We are overly intrigued to see those deemed physically unattractive try (and often fail) to lead a normal life, but that has got to stop when it effects those in similar situations in a harmful way, which is exactly what the publication of these types of images does. We are so obsessed with staring at those different to us that it becomes the main focus of articles on eating disorders, and so all the other eating disorders get barely any coverage, which is extremely invalidating and perpetuates the myth that anorexia is the only “serious” eating disorder. All eating disorders are life-threatening and soul-destroying, and it is so important that people receive that message loud and clear.

Because the media focuses chiefly on those with severe anorexia nervosa and ignores the existence of other eating disorders, this only enhances the misconception that eating disorders are about weight, and that people who are not severely underweight cannot suffer from an eating disorder. Eating disorders are judged far too frequently by appearance, and people that are of a normal weight or above normal weight are not taken seriously enough by friends, family, and even doctors. The media only panders to that incorrect judgement.

People need to realise that eating disorders are exceptionally harrowing, extremely serious, and utterly destructive mental illnesses, and not some kind of sick pastime in the form of some “light reading” in a glossy magazine.

We are people, and we are suffering: stop parading us around for the entertainment of others.

*Ortherexia nervosa is not mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) but was first used by Steven Bratman to characterize people who develop an obsession with avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthy. This is something a vast majority of people in recovery from an eating disorder experience a phase of, but it is also very much experienced as a stand-alone mental disorder and should be taken very seriously, as it can result in malnutrition and even death.

What Being Healthy Really Means

About a year or so into my recovery, I went to the hairdressers. When I sat down for a haircut, my (very awesome, around-the-same-age-as-me) hairdresser said, “You’re looking healthy!”

It took me a while to register that what she had said was a compliment. The eating disorder lodged in my brain saw an opportunity and cried out “Healthy?! Healthy?!What she really means is fatter.”

image

The above image is me before and during recovery from atypical anorexia. I didn’t even realise that there was a difference in the way I looked then and now bar that I had gained weight until I was at a friend’s house over Easter and on her wall were two photographs that included me: one at a healthy weight and one when I was underweight. I was in shock. I never realised how pale and sick I looked.

My hairdresser had been cutting my hair in Manchester since my first year at university. She saw my drop weight to my lowest, and she saw me restore it again. That’s how I know that her compliment was so sincere.

One thing that I’ve noticed since being in recovery is that even though sometimes I am unable to act on my own opinions, those opinions about food and weight and body shape have become so healthy that they’ve moved way over to the other side, as far away from disordered as possible, and past even most “normal” people’s views. My views have become so healthy that when I am having coffee with my friends at Starbucks, and one of them says “Oooh, do you think I should get a cake with my coffee? It’s kinda a lot of calories…” I look at her disapprovingly and say “Of course! If you want it, you eat it! Stop asking me for validation, that chocolate cake looks so damn good that you should get TWO SLICES.” Another of my friends said that she had eaten loads that day but “haha it was okay” because she would just work out for double the amount of time. To which I shouted “No, no you will not! Our bodies are not mathematical machines that have specific countable amounts going in and our like our diet culture would have us believe. You do not have to double your work out just because you over ate for one day. GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK!”

Having an eating disorder and trying to recover from it has ruined a lot of my life and had me existing in constant misery. What it has done for me though is introduced me to blogs like Fyoured, TheFuckItDiet, and Youreatopia , which opened my eyes to the actual truth rather than the lies that our money-grabbing, body-shaming diet culture would have us believe (I suggest that you check them out). I began to learn that being healthy means making the right choices for you and your body. It means going swimming if you genuinely love going swimming (but not before being in remission, or nearing it). It means having a second helping at dinner if you still want more. It means playing badminton with your best friend if that is what makes you smile. It means sitting down with a friend to watch a movie and sharing a whole tub of ice cream if that is one of your favourite foods. It means eating whole foods if that makes you feel great. It means spending the day in your pjs in bed blogging and watching TV when you want to relax. Being healthy means doing with your body what makes you happy. Genuinely happy. Without that eating disorder voice having any say.

In addition, exercise doesn’t have to be exhausting, or stressful. You don’t have to dread it. In fact you can exercise without even having to take much notice of it, and that’s the way that it should be done. Exercise should not ever be about changing your body. What it should be about is genuine enjoyment. In fact, I have talked about this topic extensively on my YouTube channel (Herehere, and here are my videos on exercise in recovery, and exercise in remission). It does not mean you have to spend gruelling hours at the gym or engaging in high intensity aerobics, gasping for air in your living room. It can mean taking a walk in the countryside with your dog/friend/camera. It can mean splashing around with your mates in the pool. It can mean getting competitive and enjoying a game of badminton in the sun. It can mean getting on the trampoline with your siblings. It can mean walking in the fresh air to town to do your shopping rather than catching the bus. It’s about what works for you.

Health is eating the right foods for you and nourishing your body and your soul. It’s about eating whatever you want, whenever you want. It’s about trusting your body and it’s cravings; whether it is calling for doughnuts or broccoli, you should respond to it. Being healthy is being happy, and the happier you are the more it will shine through your skin and your eyes and in the way you hold yourself. Knowing that is how I overruled the voice of my eating disorder when my hairdresser complimented me with those words: the knowledge that I was shining the most I had done for going on two years.

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.

Eating Disorders: My Battle with Myself, and my Journey into Remission

This article contains highly triggering content as it discussing eating disorder habits and thoughts. Please proceed with the utmost of care, or do not proceed at all.

tumblr_mztsy5ii2G1qcy3b7o1_500

I’ve had an eating disorder for a long time. It started when I was thirteen, and I am now twenty three. I have had two major episodes with it: between the ages of fourteen and sixteen, and between the ages of twenty and twenty-one. In between those times, I lived my life being “sort of okay” when it came to food and exercise and my body. I had wobbles, and blips ,and things were not good, but I was also able to live a functional life.

My worst of the two major episodes was the latter. At my sickest I experienced nausea, dizziness, insomnia, dissociation, depression, weakness, fatigue, and anxiety. In addition, I bruised incredibly easily – working out on the floor for a total of two minutes resulted in every nodule on my spine was bruised. It would take me four hours to watch a two-hour movie because I could not concentrate on anything longer than ten to fifteen minutes, and so would pause the movie over and over again to busy myself with something else. I was described as “glassy-eyed”, and my personality vanished: I was not interested in anything except losing weight.

Eating so little affected my mood dramatically: I was angry, all of the time, and became emotionally distant and cold from my partner, and would not give or receive affection. I could feel the love for him burning strong inside me, but it was as if it was encased in ice: I could not express it through words or actions, and I cannot imagine how painful that time was for him.

I was afraid to go to anyone else’s house because I was scared that I would be tempted by food, and food shopping terrified me. I became suicidal, and was cutting up my body on a regular basis.

My relationship fell apart. My friends said I was distant and I never really felt present in reality. I could not focus on a conversation because I was looking at my thighs, arms, or stomach, trying to find a position to sit in which I didn’t look “huge”, or I just could not concentrate, and was worrying that I might just pass out at any moment. My mum told me that my dad had expressed a fear of me killing myself through starvation.

At the beginning, sleep used to be an escape, but as I got sicker and sicker, I began to have nightmares about binging or gaining weight. That is when I could sleep: I developed insomnia, and spent hours at night going over my meal plan for the next day in my head. I would wake up stroking my hip-bones.

Every time I showered, an abnormally large amount of hair would fall out, and as a result it thinned. It also became limp and dead. After I went into recovery, I had to have a fair amount chopped off, and now use four separate treatments to try and repair the damage.
I don’t have many memories of that time really, due to my brain cells dying, and the memories I do have are dull. Some are black and white. That’s what it felt like; no colour in the world at all. I existed, I did not live. In fact, I was slowly killing myself. I constantly switched between feeling nothing and feeling inconsolably miserable.

I was constantly exercising. Nearing the end of the worst year with anorexia, I experienced a “binge” period of three-four weeks, where my body went into survival mode and finally took over my brain; doing what it needed to do to keep me alive and locking me into a trance where I would consume a large amount of highly calorific food in one go without having any control over it, or really being aware that I was doing so. That completely terrified me, and so to combat the “binging”  I began purging (self-induced vomiting), and would exercise for hours and hours on end after I had “awoken” from my dream-like state, to compensate for the food intake. This meant either repeating my high-intensity aerobics video over and over again, or walking up and down the streets of Manchester for two to three hours. If I ate far more than I wanted to, I would fast the next day.  Once, the blood vessels around my eyelids all burst because of a violent purge.

All the while, I believed I was grossly fat and completely worthless. I believed that there was no way out of my misery except death.

I am now in remission after over two years in recovery.

The journey has been hard. At first I began eating but substituted one bad habit for another: I became even more obsessed with exercising and my life centred around it for five months. I would feel incredibly anxious until I had done my daily work out, and would only experience mild relief when it was completed because I almost immediately started to dread the next day when I would have to do it all over again. Every day was always organised around working out, and it took up so much time that I missed out on most social events. I gained weight, but became preoccupied with getting very toned. I also became fixated on nutrition, and “clean eating”. My calorie intake increased dramatically, but I would only eat “safe” foods and became very anxious if I ate something that I deemed unsafe or unhealthy. All I had done was exchange one obsession for another, and although now my body was substantially healthier, my mind was far from it.

Recovery was also hard on my body. As it was not used to digesting a normal amount of food, or anything other than soup, vegetables, fruit, and a bit of bread, my digestive system was not in prime condition. When I began to eat more normally again, it was kick-started  and as it tried to adjust to my increased intake and variety of food, I was left with abdominal pain and bloating, gas (and believe me, I never thought I was going to stop farting – I was waking myself up in my sleep for weeks!), and night sweats, brought on by what is called hypermetabolism, which is the increased rate of metabolic activity (more on it here). The night sweats were so severe that I was waking up in the middle of the night and having to change my sheets because they were soaked through. This went on for about two weeks, and I had no idea what was wrong with me until I came across it on an amazing recovery blog Fyoured. In fact, this blog, run by a beautiful, highly intelligent, well-informed, knowledgeable girl called Kate, changed my outlook on food, weight, and body image completely, especially where my exercise and “clean eating” was concerned. Whether you are eating disordered or not, I highly recommend taking a look at this blog, as everyone, everywhere could benefit from her unbelievably positive and healthy outlook on eating and our bodies.

Eating more had healed most of my physical problems which included concentration, memory, mood, and the other issues I listed at the beginning of this article, and this vastly improved my relationship again, which was wonderful. Sadly though, it ended mid-November (because of issues unrelated to my eating disorder). This, understandably, destroyed me, and left me with no motivation to do anything for weeks on end. This included my motivation for working out.

Not exercising for a number of weeks managed to break the addictive cycle that I was in. I realised that not exercising did not mean that I gained a ton of weight, which had always been my fear. In fact, I gained nothing at all. Putting aside the fact that my serious, long-term relationship had just ended, not exercising made me less stressed, less anxious, and helped me to enjoy each day more and use it to do the things that I wanted to do, not the things that my eating disorder wanted me to do.

Don’t get me wrong, every day was still a struggle, and I did relapse for a few days now and again.
Every day I still battled overwhelmingly negative thoughts about my body, and when I came across images of me at my low weight I found myself very triggered. But things started to get gradually better and better.

I had also come across Your Eatopia, which I found though Fyoured. Both advocate an entirely unrestricted approach to food. All food is good food. Nothing should be restricted from your diet. Eat whatever you want, whenever you want. Don’t exercise in recovery, and if you want to be active in remission, make sure it is because you enjoy the activity you are involved in and that it is recreational and not to do with altering your body. Suddenly I felt overwhelmingly relieved: everything I thought I had to do, but didn’t actually want to do (gruelling exercise routines, eating super “healthy” foods and restricting yummy foods), suddenly became things I could stop doing.

I started developing a healthier relationship with food, and with bodies in general. I stopped seeing food as the enemy, and I started realising that people could be healthy at all different weights. I started really listening to my body and its cravings and I responded to them all. I started working on my issues with exercise (which I kept relapsing with as I tried to incorporate it into my life over and over again, and kept getting sucked down the rabbit whole of compulsive exercise). And yes, I gained weight. I very, very steadily gained weight for just under two years. Of course, gaining weight continuously for such a long time was very, very hard. I thought it would never stop, and I did battle thoughts of relapse quite a few times. I had breakdowns and sobbed down the phone to my mother. I spent a week in relapse when I accidentally read an email my father had sent someone else telling them that I was now “clearly overweight” (I’m probably “technically” overweight by a few pounds) and that I had an attractive figure at a lower weight, and more ignorant and wrong assumptions that I’m not going to go into detail with. I looked up tips on eating “healthy” and losing weight by eating lower calorie meals. I threw my toys out of the pram and said I AM NOT DOING THIS ANY MORE I CANNOT COPE. But I kept on going anyway, because going back was never really an option.

I now believe that I am weight stable, judging by the fact that jeans I bought six months ago still fit (woop woop).

Making the decision to recover was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. People don’t understand this, because they think that if you are sick, you must want to get better. What they fail to see is that part of the eating disorder is wanting the eating disorder, whilst hating it at the same time. Your sickness becomes part of your identity.

But now, over two years on, I am in remission. I think food is amazing. I eat whatever I want, whenever I want. I am healthy and free and I am now able to live an active life without it taking over. It does mean that I have to be really, really vigilant, 100% of the time because of this choice, but it means I enjoy recreational activity for fun rather than forcing myself to exercise in a way that is purely to alter my body and no fun at all. I don’t love my body. I don’t even like it. But I accept it, and that’s the thing about being in remission: there are far more important things to focus your time on. When I look in the mirror and I don’t like what I see, it does affect me, but then I get on with something else. I spend my time doing what I am passionate about, not punishing my body for not looking exactly the way I want it too. Okay, so my stomach creates rolls when I bend over. My thighs rub together when I walk. My stomach isn’t perfectly flat and there’s fat on my hips. I’m not super happy about that, but I sleep well at night, and I eat delicious things every day and have a great time doing so. I socialise with my friends over cake and coffee without even thinking about it. I host tea parties where we all bake and cook and eat lots and laugh. I have the energy to run around the badminton court, yelling “OHHHHH YOU BITCH!” when my friend wins like, every time. I have a massive personality with loads of passions and hobbies and interests, instead of being a walking eating disorders. I spend a lot of my time helping other people in recovery and am soon to be starting a job as a therapeutic care worker at my local eating disorders inpatient residential home. I can concentrate on conversations and books and movies. I can experience life with sharp senses and a sharp mind. The world is now in colour.

Eating disorders are NOT a trend, lifestyle choice, or phase. They are life-threatening mental illnesses that need to be treated seriously. There is no quick fix, no simple solution, and unfortunately, no cure. Eating disorders are for life: it is whether you let the eating disorder control you or whether you decide to fight to have control over the eating disorder that can make the difference between life and death, misery and happiness. I know that I am living with a chronic illness and that I will always have to wary. I will have to be vigilant and make sure that I am 110% honest with myself. Always. But I never thought that remission was possible for me, and here I am, living life to the full. Recovery is hard. Really, really hard. But it is a journey that everyone can take, and remission is a destination that everyone can reach. You have to keep fighting the battles, over and over, and eventually, you will win the war.


Please also bear in mind that only 15% of people with eating disorders are underweight. There is no such thing as “too fat to have an eating disorder”. In addition, BMI is not an accurate measure of “healthy” or “unhealthy”. Everyone’s bodies are different, and some deteriorate faster than others, making them extremely sick even if they are not classified as severely underweight. Also be aware that anorexia nervosa is also not the only severe restrictive eating disorder. Bulimia nervosa, EDNOS, anorexia athletica, ortherexia nervosa, and ARFID, are all also serious, life-threatening restrictive eating disorders.  

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 )