Tag Archives: mental health

Extreme Hunger – What Is It, Why Is It Happening, and How Do I Handle It?

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It has come to my attention that I have not yet addressed one of the biggest topics of recovery from a restrictive eating disorder in any of my articles on this website (shame on me!). I’m not sure how I managed to miss it but it may be because I have a comprehensive video on the subject, and also refer to Your Eatopia’s articles about it. It was, after all, Gwyneth Olwyn who did coin the term “extreme hunger” (as far as I am aware). But let’s get started.

Extreme hunger is a rather controversial subject in the recovery world. It is rarely recognised by professionals regardless of the clear logic that shows us that it is totally normal and expected to experience a surge in hunger after a period of starvation, not to mention the sheer amount of people that talk about extreme hunger being part of their recovery (or “binging”, which is actually the same thing, but we will get to that later).

Extreme hunger is a very rational experience when you look at the facts. A body that has been starved has a large energy deficit, and therefore calories that are needed for daily expenditure are not going to be enough to get an energy-deficient body back to its energy-balanced state. This is because it will need calories for daily expenditure and calories to make up for the energy deficit. This energy deficit in itself will have resulted in damages to the body, and it can also result in weight loss which also causes harm to the body – and frequently the more extreme the weight loss the more severe the damage. Damages like that require energy to heal, and that has to be energy on top of daily energy needs, as that is expended in – you guessed it – the energy that you use up in your daily life.

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So if you imagine that energy-balanced is the number 0 – a neutral place with a healthy body, and let’s say you need around 2,750 calories to stay in this energy-balanced place. Then starvation brings you to -10 on that scale, which means that you are in an energy-deficient place. Let’s say you now enter recovery and bring your calories up to 2,750 again (after increasing gradually because of the risk of refeeding syndrome). Your metabolism is probably very suppressed, so for a while, 2,750 may cause weight gain either slowly or rapidly as your body will store as much energy as it can rather than burning it, to get you to a healthier weight. The metabolism will then speed up and you might a) experience hypermetabolism and end up dropping weight or maintaining a fairly low to low BMI (or a BMI too low for your personal body), which will mean that you will need to increase your calories until you are gaining again or you may b) find that you maintain a certain weight or that your weight gain slows down. This does not mean that you need fewer calories. This means that your body is now able to maintain its weight on those calories. It does not mean that it is done healing the many internal damages done through starvation, so if you experience hunger or cravings for more than the 2,750 your body (theoretically) needs, then it is really important to respond to those signals and eat. Your body is your team mate; your best friend; your rescuer. Listen to it. It if it telling you that it is hungry, then it is hungry. I know – this is ridiculously difficult, and I will talk about that in a moment.

Now let’s say you are recovering on a sub-optimal amount of calories and have stopped gaining weight. My body must be recovered! I hear you say. It must only need this amount of calories! Wrong. Let’s say that you are recovering on 1500 calories. Your body is maintaining a weight that is not its natural or healthy weight because it needs more energy to repair and gain weight. In order for it to gain to its set point and heal the internal damages done to your body, it needs adequate and consistent energy, and that is much more than 1,500 calories (or whatever your sub-optimal is). Let’s say you are recovering on a sub-optimal amount of calories and are gaining weight. Well clearly I don’t need any more calories if I am gaining weight on this! I hear you shout. Wrong. Giving your body an inadequate amount of energy means that it is extremely likely to keep your metabolism suppressed and therefore will continue to store more energy as fat rather than burning it like it would if it had a normal-speed metabolism. To find out how many calories you need (base level, without extreme hunger), check out my recovery guidelines here. Remember that activity level also factors into being energy-balanced, and that if you are engaging in excessive exercise, this will put you in an energy-deficient state too. It is also important to note that whilst your body is healing, any energy put into exercise will put a strain on a body that is desperately trying to heal a multitude of damages, and exercise will eat into much-needed energy for repairs. This is why it is important to rest during recovery (and for more on that  herehere, and here are my videos on exercise).

You may be experiencing extreme hunger right now. It may be something that you will experience in the future. It is something that most likely makes you feel terrified beforehand, and extremely guilty after. It is something that may be heavily weighing on your mind (excuse the pun). You may think that you have lost control; that you are spiralling into a different eating disorder; that this is binging and you are never going to eat like a normal person ever again! You are not alone in those fears. I had them too. Extreme hunger is utterly anxiety-provoking. It feels as if it will never end, and it evokes a multitude of negative emotions and thoughts, including shame, terror, and disgust. The eating disorder will scream and scream and scream at you inside your head. It will do anything to stop you eating what you need to eat, and the more you eat, the louder it will usually scream.

This is an extremely chaotic time inside the mind of someone recovering, and you are not alone if you feel completely overwhelmed by your hunger and your eating disorder’s reaction to it. The eating disorder hates anything that goes against its cruel, life-threatening rules, so for something like extreme hunger to hit and be responded to is something that will enrage it. People also have fears that it is binge eating disorder – and these fears are understandable, given the volume of food that might be consumed. Yes, you will be consuming a large amount of energy. You might eat anywhere from 4,000 calories to 10,000+ (although the latter seems to be quite rare – but again, not unheard of and if you are experiencing this you are not the only one). This would be a lot of food for an energy-balanced body. But you do not have an energy-balanced body. You have a starved, damaged, energy-deficient, nutrient-deficient body that needs far more energy than a healthy, energy-balanced body, to get it back to that state of equilibrium again. This is okay. This is necessary for your body. You are not alone.

You may experience extreme hunger at the beginning of your recovery. You may experience it in the middle, or near the end. You may find that it comes and goes throughout your recovery. You may never experience it at all – and that is okay too. This could be because you may need less energy to repair internally – this does not negate your need to recover. It may be that you may have repressed hunger cues and find that you struggle to even eat your calorie guidelines let alone have any desire for more. Extreme hunger may come to you later, or it may not come at all. It may be that you are someone that finds that you eat a little more than what your body needs as an energy-balanced body for a long time and your healing is done more slowly.

It can also be that during extreme hunger you find that you are eating a certain type of food: sugar, carbs, and fats are generally the types of foods that are most highly restricted, and because of that, the body needs and craves foods high in these things. It is also easier for the body to quickly process and get energy from these types of foods. Those who are highly lacking in fats may find themselves eating jars of peanut butter – this seems to be quite common so don’t freak out if you are eating whole jars of peanut butter, nutella etc, and strange combinations also seem quite frequent during extreme hunger or recovery in general. You may find yourself chomping on lots of meat or iron rich foods. You may find yourself digging into ice cream, milk, cream, and cheese because you are deficient in fats or calcium. There is a reason for the foods you crave. Listen to your body and respond to it.

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The message that I want to get across is that if you have been through a period of restriction, experiencing a raging hunger is totally, absolutely, 100% normal. I want you to know that it is not forever, even though it feels like it could be, and even though that is your greatest fear. Your body will become energy-balanced (or close to energy-balanced) and the intense hunger will dissipate as your body gets healthier. Your extreme hunger may taper down, or it may vanish from one day to the next, but you will not have extreme hunger forever. Everyone I know who has gone through the entire recovery process has experienced extreme hunger, and they have come through it and out the other side. They have eaten whole cakes for breakfast, or pints and pints of ice cream, or whole cheesecakes, or whole large Thortons chocolate boxes (that one was me), and they have all been horrified; ashamed; fearful. They have all been scared witless that it would never end. They have all questioned whether they had gone from one extreme to the other and developed Binge Eating Disorder. And they have all, in one way or another, either come across information on the topic and been a little soothed until the hunger calmed down, or have freaked out and then, in time, found that the hunger normalised. If you (unsurprisingly) need help with anxiety management, check out my article on it here.

Why more research has not been done into this topic, I don’t know. I have talked to thousands of people in recovery since I began my journey over four years ago; on the Your Eatopia forums, on my blog, on this website, on my Youtube channel, and on my Instagram account, and one of the most frequent topics is extreme hunger. I don’t know why it has not been researched or recognised by many health professionals, and it is one of the most frustrating and saddening things for me when people are told not to respond to these very natural, obvious signals from the body. But I can say with conviction that if you are experiencing this, you are far from alone. You are okay. You are healing. Work with your body, not against it. Be strong, and patient, and kind to your body and your soul. What you are experiencing is normal, and expected, and you can get through this.

Fat Girls Can Wear Crop Tops Too

Yep, you heard me. Fat girls can wear crop tops too. Let me say it again for the people in the back:

Fat

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girls

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can

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wear

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crop tops

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too.

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But this article isn’t just about crop tops.

I understand that we live in a society that has brainwashed many of us into believing that fat bodies are worth less than thin bodies; that fat is synonymous with ugly; that there is nothing worse than being fat; that we cannot be fat AND happy (these are all lies by the way) but I still do not understand why anyone would feel that it is acceptable to attempt to police the clothing choices of any other human being, regardless of their weight, shape, or size.

Fat girls are told implicitly and explicitly that they should not wear leggings, or crop tops, or bikinis (or even go on the beach at all), or bear their legs in dresses, or wear mini shorts, or…the list goes on. There is even a hierarchy of privilege amongst fat bodies, depending on how fat you are or where your fat is stored or whether you have big enough boobs to even out your thick thighs and hips. And frankly, I find it all disgusting.

We are all people. We all lead different lives and have different values and passions and hobbies. And we all have different bodies. And the weight, shape, or size of our bodies does not alter our self worth or how beautiful we are. It also does not give anyone the right to dictate what we wear. Fat, slim, curvy, thin, chubby, muscular, pear-shaped, apple-shaped…you can be star-shaped for all I care and wear the same clothes as anyone else. Certain clothes are not reserved for certain body sizes or shapes, and whether you are a size 6 or a size 26, you are the only one who gets to choose what you wear. Don’t let ignorance get in the way of your clothing preference. If you want to rock a crop top, a mini skirt, and nine-inch heels, you do that. If you want to wear a cute summery dress to the beach and then whip it off to reveal an itsy, bitsy bikini, you do that. If you want to wear leggings and a bralet, you do that. And if you feel more comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt, you do that too. Because you should be able to wear whatever it is that you feel the most confident in. And if our fatphobic, asshole of a society has made you feel too uncomfortable to wear a crop-top even if you really like them, it doesn’t make you any less badass if you save the crop tops for another time, or even never.

You do not have to wear whatever society thinks is most “flattering”. I only recently took a real long hard look at this word, and saw it from a totally different angle to what I previously saw. People use it as a compliment towards each other all of the time, and it seems like a genuinely nice thing to say someone until you examine what it wearing something “flattering” really means. The word “flattering” in itself is oppressive: it implies that we should be aiming to look a certain way – and that certain way is “as thin as possible”. No one should feel that they have to disguise their hip fat or accentuate their waist or push up their breasts or flatten down their bellies. You do not have to hide any part of your body as if it is shameful. Not one part of your body is shameful, and you have the right to wear whatever you want, at all times. Everyone deserves to embrace the body that they have and everyone deserves to love it for what it does for them and for what it looks like.

It is summer time, and it is hot outside, and fat girls are entitled to dress in the clothes that make them feel coolest – both in temperature and in style. Don’t ever shame anyone for wearing what they want to wear. It is their right to do so and to feel confident in doing so. Respect everyone’s clothing choice. Respect everyone’s bodies. Respect everyone.

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(Here’s me and my crop top)

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.

Is Intuitive Eating a Good Idea in Eating Disorder or Dieting Recovery?

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Intuitive eating is a concept that really resonates with me. In a society entrenched with diet culture, a huge percentage of people have lost the ability to trust their bodies, and instead opt for counting calories or macros, or eliminating food groups, or trying out various juice fasts, veggie cleanses, cabbage soup diets…the list of restrictive diets and ways to self starve is endless. The fact that we do not ignore other bodily signals: emptying our bladders or bowels; sneezing; coughing; itching; removing our fingers from a burning surface; blinking; but ignore our body’s signal for hunger and then call it a good thing is absurd. We have decided to stop trusting our biological body; a body built for survival, and instead listen to the multi-billion dollar diet and weight loss industry, our unhealthy thin-obsessed culture, and the media which panders to both (again, to make money). It is nonsensical. It is ridiculous. It is madness. And yet nearly all of us are guilty of listening and responding to it.

Intuitive eating is a nutrition philosophy based on the premise that becoming more attuned to the body’s natural hunger signals is a more effective way to attain a healthy weight, rather than keeping track of the amounts of energy and fats in foods.

This is why I love the idea of intuitive eating (although do remember when reading the above that a “healthy weight” is whatever your body needs to be at naturally, and has nothing to do with BMI). Reconnecting with your body; listening to it; honouring its cues and signals; respecting it and giving it the treatment it needs and deserves…this is exactly the right attitude to have, and exactly the right action to take. However, when it comes to recovering from the effects of dieting, or even more serious, an eating disorder, intuitive eating becomes a little trickier to throw yourself into.

Months or years of damages done to the body through restriction can cause huge issues with the way the body communicates with you, especially when it comes to hunger. Your hunger cues may have become suppressed, and therefore will be unreliable during the recovery process. When this is the case, it means that both hunger for the correct amount of energy and cravings for the right types of foods that the body needs won’t be felt by the person experiencing this, and so intuitive eating would be a disaster for them. It would mean that they would not get the energy that their body needs for daily energy requirements, and would not get the types of food that the body needs and nutrients that the body is lacking in. For these people, intuitive eating would not be something that they could jump into straight away, and would have to be a goal for later on in the recovery process. Those without reliable hunger cues would need to count calories to ensure that they are eating enough (I wrote about calorie counting in recovery here), and also keep an eye on the types of foods that they are eating to make sure that they are getting enough of each food group.

Those with reliable hunger cues will find that they are able to move to intuitive eating sooner, although I would always suggest counting at first whilst you establish if you have reliable hunger cues or not (and I have a video on when to know when you are able to eat intuitively here). Those with reliable hunger cues may find themselves ravenously hungry, or may be hungry for the amount that they need day to day, and then find themselves absolutely starving most of the time. This is normal and expected and in recovery is called “extreme hunger” (I have a video on this here). This is something those in recovery often experience, but not always. Those with reliable hunger cues find that they are hungry for the amount of energy that their body needs each day.

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Some people in recovery go through periods of both reliable and unreliable hunger cues, and during this time it is best to keep counting calories and keeping an eye on what you are eating until you are receiving consistently reliable hunger cues.

For both those who have reliable and unreliable hunger cues it is important to make sure that you are eating all food groups, as they are all important for health. It is important to note for both those with reliable hunger cues and those with unreliable hunger cues that it is normal in recovery from restrictive eating disorders or dieting to crave foods that are high in energy, especially foods with a high fat, sugar, or carbohydrate content. This is because processed food can be one of the best things for recovery, especially during the initial stages. Foods high in energy  help to fill the calorie deficit and repair the extensive damage done through starvation, as well as providing energy for the day. Foods high in fat help with regaining your period, aid bowel movements, and most importantly, the brain is made of at least 60% fat which requires eating fat in order to heal and maintain its health. Fat is also most easily processed by the body, which is quite essential to your damaged digestive system. Usually in recovery people crave “junk” food because this is just what their bodies need, and that is okay. If you are eating far more carbs than any other food group, that is okay. If you are eating far more sugary foods than any other food groups, that is okay. What is not okay is if you are only responding to these cravings and not having any other food group. Responding to the cravings is really important, but it is also important that you don’t go without an entire food group. Some people find that whilst their bodies are busy craving foods high in energy, it can end up not sending signals for fruit and vegetables. It is quite common for those with eating disorders or even dieting to have issues with filling up on fruit and veggies, and for these people, cutting down and thinking about it less is the goal, but for others, they can find that in recovery they can have reliable hunger cues for the energy that their body needs, but do not have the cravings for all the food types that it needs. The body, in this way, is being reliable in letting you know exactly what it needs in order to become energy-balanced (by craving foods high in energy), but has made this a priority and is not giving the right signals in order for the body to get all the nutrients that it needs. So if you realise that you are going days without fruit or veggies, make sure to incorporate some into your diet. Don’t become rigid or fixed upon a certain number, but just make sure you are having some throughout your day. The same applies to any other food group that you might find yourself not eating through lack of cravings.

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Whilst many people crave “junk” food, you may also experience cravings for dairy, cereal, and meat/fish. You can have cravings for anything! You may also find that you have cravings for odd combinations of food, and that is perfectly normal too. Just respond to what your body is asking for.

If you are experiencing extreme hunger and/or having intense cravings for only one food group or particular type on food – don’t panic. Appetite settles down when the body is healthier to include cravings for a massive variety of foods: chocolate, milk, fruit, cereal, doughnuts, pizza, pasta, vegetables, fish, steak, cake….EVERYTHING. No foods should ever be off limits, and your body will start giving you more and more reliable hunger cues as your body gets healthier and healthier, until you are able to really connect with it and trust it. Throw out your magazines. Forget the media. Forget diet culture and societies unhealthy obsession with thinness. Trust your body and work with it. There is no wrong way to have a body (and please please please check out weight set point theory, and health at every size under my resources section).

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For some people, intuitive eating can be something that they start doing fairly early on in recovery from an eating disorder or dieting, but for others, it can take time for their bodies to adjust and be able to communicate correctly. Whichever is the case, intuitive eating is a fantastic goal to work towards, but it is important to recognise that it can take time, patience, and perseverance. I would always suggest it be the goal, and would never want anyone to have to return to listening to diet culture – it’s what got a lot of people into a terrible place emotionally and physically in the first place (particularly those recovering from dieting as eating disorders are nearly always a lot more complex . However, recovery is certainly not helped along by diet culture). Listening to your natural, biological, earth-given body is the best thing to do for your mental and physical health when it comes to eating. Not concepts created by society. And always know that food is not just about nurture and nourishment, but about pleasure and enjoyment too. Do what makes you happy and healthy, both physically and mentally. You deserve it.

 

MinnieMaud: Is It the Only Way to Recover from a Restrictive Eating Disorder? (Take Two)

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It has been over a year since I wrote my first article on this topic, and I am still somewhat inextricably linked to the MinnieMaud method of recovery, however much I try to disentangle myself from it. I thought I would talk about this topic again because my views have continued to change as I grow and develop as a person, and also learn new things in the recovery community. Being in remission has given me the motivation to celebrate my own recovery and give opinions and advice based upon my own journey, but it has also given me the ability to recognise that we all take different paths to get to a full recovery. Even the concept of “full recovery” in itself is individual for each person, and the goals we wish to reach can be quite different. Some people in recovery are not able to yet reach for a full recovery. Others take different routes to reach the same destination. What people define as “remission” or “full recovery” varies, and that’s okay. We are all allowed space to determine what it is that we believe, and what we want for ourselves. We are allowed space to express what we want for others, but we have to respect what people want for themselves over our own views of what would be best for them. The only decisions we can really make are for ourselves.

As I have progressed and developed in my remission, my advice has been less “Gwyneth Olwyn” (creator of MinnieMaud) and more personalised to my own individual views and experiences. In a nutshell, my views on MinnieMaud are that it is an invaluable recovery method for many people during the early to middle stages of recovery and can help inform the rest of the recovery process whilst you learn to navigate your own path leading into remission. Eventually you will find your own version of remission and start living your recovered life in the way that works for you. MinnieMaud can still be useful then, but your recovery/remission will now be tailored to you as an individual. I think that the black and white approach to information and advice is apt for the unwell; for the people who need firm, unflinching boundaries between them and their eating disorder (and boy, did that help me when I needed it). It gives permission to do the things that society forbids – things that profoundly help so many people in their recoveries (e.g. freedom around food, encouraging the idea that all food is good food, resting and repairing, breaking unhealthy relationships with exercise by total cessation of activity, eating enough, always responding to any hunger however much that means eating, accepting your body at any weight, shape, or size etc). It outright rejects any and all unhealthy societal views in order to promote a healthy relationship with food, exercise, and the body. Is Gwyneth Olwyn the only person to encourage all these viewpoints? No, not by a long shot. There are a huge amount of people in the recovery community, body positivity community, and health at every size community (all of which overlap quite frequently) that share and promote these views and give advice accordingly. However, Gwyneth Olwyn is, as far as I know, the only person who has taken these viewpoints and created a structured, research-informed recovery method for those with restrictive eating disorders. The fundamental difference that people see is that Olwyn has created a set of guidelines, and given these views a name; made them into a method of recovery. She has solidified a huge amount of people’s views into “rules for recovery”. Now this irks some people because they don’t like the black and white; they don’t like the “you need to/must do this in order to recover”, and I entirely understand that. As I spend more time in remission and grow and develop as a person and as a member of the ED recovery community, I have become aware that this way of thinking and dishing out advice becomes problematic especially as people come out of the initial stages of recovery and start to make their own way towards remission. People start coming out of the very necessary and standardised initial parts of recovery and start to develop personal goals and targets and outcomes and values and opinions and moral standpoints and….and and and. I could go on. I think that to reach remission there are fundamental aspects of recovery that need to happen – but again, these are my own individual views on what remission is – and those are:

  1. Regaining normalised and reliable hunger cues in order to eat intuitively and respond to the body’s request for energy, always.
  2.  Being able to eat any and all food without anxiety, fear, or guilt (seeing food as food, seeing it as nourishment, enjoyment, and just another part of life rather than immediately worrying about weight gain, compensation, exercise, or seeing certain foods as “bad” or “unhealthy” etc).
  3. Being able to eat when not hungry (for example, in social situations) without anxiety, fear, or guilt.
  4. Being able to eat without compensation.
  5. Building a healthy relationship with exercise (moving the body primarily for enjoyment not for burning calories or altering the body).
  6. Managing or resolving underlying issues that contributed to the cause of the eating disorder.
  7. Working towards body acceptance and acknowledging that your body’s natural weight is outside of your control and to obsessively focus on controlling it is to be disordered.
  8. Being able to manage stressful situations without lapsing,  and using healthy coping mechanisms in response to stress and anxiety or being able to pull yourself out of a lapse very quickly because you are perceptive about your behavioural reactions and then use healthy coping mechanisms.

Outside of that are a wealth of details within recovery that are different for every single person. For example, whilst I feel assured in giving out the advice that someone in recovery should not make drastic decisions around their diet (such as becoming vegan or vegetarian), when that person is in remission, I am unable to say whether that person would become triggered into relapse by making that choice. I have a fully recovered friend who has become vegan. I myself am now a pescatarian. But I have also known people who have made changes to their diet and spiralled back down into illness as the elimination of certain foods opened the door for the eating disorder to slip in through. For some people it triggers those restrictive thoughts, and for others, opens up new doors to try new foods. Since I have had to become gluten free for medical reasons, I have tried and discovered a wealth of new wonderful foods (although I do mourn my loss in the bread department), and find joy in doing so. Others might find this a slippery slope into restriction without the right mindset and support. Another example might be yoga. Yoga might help one person relax and fight anxiety, whereas for someone else it might be another form of burning calories or subscribing to an obsession with “health”. There are a million examples of things that affect different people in different ways in recovery, and I do think that MinnieMaud forgets this. Its rigid blanket statements and black and white style are appropriate for most people in the initial stages of recovery, and even for some further on, but are not so relevant to those moving towards their own individual destinations, and for those in remission itself.

I reference the site so frequently because many people that I talk to are in the initial stages of recovery, and I think that everyone, whatever stage they are at in their journey, could benefit from the views expressed there in regards to body positivity, health at every size, freedom around food, and a no bullshit approach to exercise. I think MinnieMaud is fantastic, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think that it is flawed. Because the MinnieMaud site (Your Eatopia) informed so much of my recovery and started me off on my journey towards discovering body positivity and health at every size, I wrote a lot about it, and at first when my blog turned into an advice blog, I was regurgitating everything Olwyn said. Because of that, I have struggled to separate myself from it in the eyes of my audience. I have attempted to distance myself as being seen as a “minion of MinnieMaud” and be viewed instead as a standalone person who references MinnieMaud and its recommendations, but is not solely about MinnieMaud. Like The Fuck It Diet, I want MinnieMaud to just be another site that I reference – albeit it is the site I reference the most as it is so concise and informative and is the one site aimed so specifically at restrictive eating disorders and the recovery process. Hopefully one day, the association between myself and MinnieMaud won’t be so strong, and I will be able to promote the MinnieMaud method alongside my own indvidual views and that of many other people.

I advocate freedom around food, health at every size, the rejection of diet culture, moving your body in a mentally and physically healthy way in remission, body acceptance and positivity, self love, eating what you want when you want, personal growth and development, resolutions or management of toxic situations, relationships, internal beliefs, and/or experiences with the help of professional support, and building and living a full, rich life outside of your eating disorder. Does MinnieMaud advocate this too? Yes. But it is only one website amongst many that does so. Olwyn is one person amongst millions holding these beliefs. I am advocating all of them, not just MinnieMaud. I am advocating all of the incredible women and men fighting for these views to be the norm; for diet culture to be destroyed; for people of all weights, shapes, and sizes to be accepted as equally beautiful and equally potentially healthy; for a recovery from restrictive eating disorders not informed by our unhealthy, toxic societal views on food and exercise and weight. I advocate Caroline of The Fuck It Diet, Amelielee of LetsRecover, Bodyposipanda, Nourishandeat, and Goofy_ginger of Instagram, Harriet Brown of Brave Girl Eating, Ragen Chastain of Dances With Fat, Kate of FYourED, Michelle of The Fat Nutritionist, Sandy of Junk Food Science, Tetyana and Andrea of Science of Eating Disorders, Summer Innanen of Rebelle Radio, Rachel W. Cole of her website of that name, and those who run Big Fat Science. I also advocate Gwyneth Olwyn of Your Eatopia, and I agree with the method of recovery that she promotes, as I also agree with the way of eating that Caroline and Rachel W. Cole promote. They are slightly different, as are my own views, but we all agree on some basic fundamentals.

I am not here to say that MinnieMaud in and of itself is the only way to recover, but I do think that its basic principles are needed for a full recovery: basic principles that are supported in many other places, not just Your Eatopia. Am I here to say that MinnieMaud is the only method of recovery that works? No, but it does work. It may not work for everyone, but as recovery methods go, its success rate looks pretty good when you look at the multitude of anecdotal evidence. There is no one recovery method that works for everyone. Success rates for any treatment for eating disorders are mediocre at best, so let’s not slam a recovery method that so many people (including myself) have used successfully to help them in their journey, whether that is using it fully or taking bits from it that inform their own personal path to becoming well.

This will be the last time focusing solely on MinnieMaud, because I am not a spokesperson for that method of recovery. I am someone who used MinnieMaud to help my recovery. I am someone who agrees with its main principles, and I am someone who refers to it and uses information from it in order to try and help other people.

MinnieMaud is, in my opinion, a good way to recover. It is not the only way to recover. However, I believe that its underlying principles are needed for a full recovery. Those underlying principles are not exclusive to MinnieMaud. They are not the entirety of MinnieMaud. They are basic principles that underlie the method and are shared by many other people. MinnieMaud was built on top of those principles, and the nitty gritty details of MinnieMaud are not things that I think are always necessary to recovery – I think that is individual. I think that is as clear as I can make it.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me through the contact section above, or leave a comment on this article.

Teenage Domestic Abuse: An Epidemic of Violence

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Domestic abuse is an important topic in general, and it’s an important topic for me. So although this website is primarily for eating disorders, I wanted to talk today about that topic, in particular domestic abuse experienced by teenagers and young adults. I know that the demographic for this site is primarily young women, and so this subject is pertinent for many of those who visit it, especially as girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence — almost triple the national average, and the severity of intimate partner violence is often greater in cases where the pattern of abuse was established in adolescence. Terrifyingly, a 2005 NSPCC and Sugar magazine survey showed that 40% of teenage girls would consider giving their boyfriend another chance if he hit them, and one third said that cheating justified the use of violence. In light of these horrifying statistics, I wanted to write this for both young people experiencing intimate partner abuse, and for the parents of abusers and of victims.

Anyone who hasn’t experienced abuse may be unfamiliar with the warning signs. Young people especially have often not been exposed to much, if any, discussion of abuse – in particular emotional and verbal abuse. Sexual and physical abuse is a topic most young people will have at least some knowledge of, but emotional and verbal abuse is on the whole more subtle and therefore there isn’t so much awareness or education about it. Emotional and verbal abuse are just as important to be educated about, as they can be just as mentally damaging, and are also a red flag for the development of physical abuse in the future. If someone had taught me about domestic abuse and the dangers and damage of it, maybe I could have avoided years of emotional, verbal, and physical abuse when I was a teenager. Maybe I could have been convinced to take a step back and assess the situation with educated eyes, and maybe I would have been able to walk away from day 1. Although I am aware that all events in our lives shape our future and I wouldn’t change my life now for a second, I wish I hadn’t had those experiences. I wish I hadn’t had that relationship. I wish I didn’t have those memories. There is no way to benefit from an abusive relationship; no positive outcome; no happy ending. Any good experiences with that person will always be overshadowed by the the reality of the nature of the relationship. My abuser was abusive from the very beginning, but I didn’t recognise his behaviour as such (I wrote a bit about my experience with domestic abuse here).

The types of domestic abuse someone can experience are as follows:

  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Psychological abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Financial abuse

I will be focusing mainly on emotional abuse (which includes verbal abuse) and will also be talking some about physical and sexual abuse. You can view examples of all types of domestic abuse here.

Statistics have shown that nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year. One in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, and 27% of teenage girls in the UK aged 13-17 had experienced sexual violence in their relationships. One in nine female respondents had experienced severe physical violence; and almost three quarters of girls had experienced emotional abuse.

Where young adults are concerned, nearly half (43%) of dating college women report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviours. It is also apparent that college students are not equipped to deal with dating abuse – 57% say it is difficult to identify. One in three (36%) dating college students has given a dating partner their computer, email or social network passwords and these students are more likely to experience digital dating abuse. One in six (16%) college women has been sexually abused in a dating relationship. (statistics from here).

So what does domestic abuse look like, especially in a situation with teenagers and young adults?

  • Is your boyfriend very jealous and possessive of you?
  • Does he get angry when you want to spend time with your friends or demand that you spend all your time with him?
  • Does he check your phone, email, Facebook and twitter accounts?
  • Does he try and get you to defriend people on Facebook, take down your photos, or stop you messaging your friends?
  • Is he always calling, texting or BBMing you to check where you are and who you’re with?
  • Does he tell you what to wear or how to do your hair?
  • Does he laugh at you or put you down in front of other people?
  • Does he get aggressive? Does he hit, shove, slap or kick you?
  • Does he threaten to harm you – or himself?
  • Does he call you names?
  • Does he pressure you to have sex when you don’t want to, telling you that “everyone is doing it” or that you would do it “if you really loved him”?
  • If you are frightened of your partner, or feel that you have to change your behaviour because you are scared of his reaction, you are being abused.

What can I do?

If you are being abused, it may help to remember the following:

  • If you are in immediate danger, call 999 (or whatever your emergency services number is). The police have a duty to investigate and help you stay safe
  • You are not alone. Refuge helps many young women and teenage girls who are experiencing abuse. We can help you too
  • The abuse is not your fault. Your partner may blame you for his behaviour – perhaps saying that you “made him hit you” – but he alone is responsible for his actions
  • Abuse is never ok. You deserve to be with someone who respects you and makes you feel safe
  • You don’t have to deal with this on your own. Try and talk to someone you trust – perhaps a friend, teacher or parent. Or call the Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership between Refuge and Women’s Aid. We’re here for you 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. All calls are confidential
    Computers and mobile phones can be used by abusers to monitor and stalk partners.

The above was from here.

More information of what abuse looks like:

Abusive partners are often jealous. An abuser may equate jealousy with love. They may ask you who you talk to, who you see, accuse you of flirting or others of flirting with you, or become jealous of time spent with others. They may even forbid you to see certain people (or everyone). They may text or call frequently during the day to “check up” on where you are or who you are with. They may drop by unexpectedly, refuse to let you go to college or work, check the car mileage, or ask friends to watch you.

In the beginning an abuser will attribute controlling behaviour to concern for you (for example, for your safety or lack of decision-making skills). As this behaviour progresses the situation may worsen, and the abuser may assume all control of finances (so telling you what to spend your money on or spending it for you) or prevent you from coming and going freely. They may control who you see, what you do, how you spend your time, and what you wear.

Quick involvement is also a sign of abuse. You may have only known or dated your abuser for a brief period of time before getting engaged or even living together. Your abuser will often pressure the victim to commit to the relationship. You may be made to feel guilty for wanting to slow the pace or end the relationship. Pressure for quick (or any, if you are a teenager) sexual involvement is also a red flag.

An abuser may have unrealistic expectations. An abuser may expect you to meet all of their needs. They may expect you to be able to do everything for them and be responsible for making them feel better whenever they feel bad.

An abuser may attempt to isolate you by severing your ties to outside support and resources. They may accuse your friends and family of being “trouble makers.” The abuser may block your access to use of a vehicle, work, or telephone service when you are with them, so you are unable to contact anyone else whilst with them. As a young person it is likely that you live at home and so much of this may not be part of your abusers tactics as this is fairly impossible to accomplish, but they may try to separate you from your friends, and they may try to turn you against the people close to you.

An abuser will often blame others for all problems or for their own shortcomings and are often unable to take responsibility for wrongdoing. An abuser may claim to be being victimised by someone, and it could be you that is blamed for almost anything. However, it is also common for abusers to initially take responsibility for their actions against you, and promise not to do it again, and continue to say this every time it happens (because it always happens again).

An abuser will use feelings to manipulate you. They will blame you for how they feel, and use it to get you to do what they want. They will often say that you are the centre of their world, or their everything, and so attempt to make you feel responsible for how they are and how they feel all of the time. An abusive person is also often easily insulted, and hypersensitive.

“Playful” use of force in sex is also a behaviour that also includes restraining partners against their will during sex, acting out fantasies in which the partner is helpless, initiating sex when the partner is asleep, or demanding sex when the partner is ill or tired. The abuser may show little concern for your wishes and will use sulking and anger to manipulate compliance. It is important to note here that the second example given can be consensual and dominant and submissive roles in the bedroom can be perfectly normal as long as you have given express permission and feel 100% comfortable and interested in acting this out. If you feel at all uncomfortable, this is not okay. Rigid sex roles may be a behaviour. You will be expected to serve. A male abuser may see women as inferior to men, responsible for menial tasks, stupid, and unable to be a whole person without a relationship. Again, rigid sex roles may be a consensual decision, but if you feel at all uncomfortable with it, this is not okay. If a partner has sex with you without your consent, this is rape. If a partner engages in sexual activity with you without your consent, this is sexual assault. Consent means that you have said yes to engaging in sexual activity or sex with your partner. Consent is not consent if it’s under coercion or threat, and you are also unable to give consent when under the influence of alcohol. Consent means saying yes and feeling comfortable with that decision.

Verbal abuse is a big one for abusers. This behaviour involves saying things that are intended to be cruel and hurtful, cursing or degrading you, or putting down your accomplishments. This also includes name-calling.

Having a dual personality; seeming like they can be two people – the nice one and the nasty one. Explosive behaviour, moodiness, being aggressive etc, which can shift quickly to being nice, are typical of people who are abusive.

Threats of violence are a sign of an abuser. This consists of any threat of physical force meant to control the partner. Most people do not threaten their mates but an abuser could excuse this behaviour by claiming “everyone talks like that.”

Breaking or striking objects is used as punishment (breaking sentimental possessions) or to terrorise the victim into submission.

Any force during an argument, which may involve an abuser holding you down, physically restraining you from leaving, or pushing or shoving. Holding someone back in order to make demands, such as “You will listen to me!” is also a show of force. Physical violence also includes strangling, throwing objects at you, throwing you, or pushing you over.

It is important to remember that an abuser will abuse any partner if the individual is involved with the abuser long enough for the cycle of abuse to begin. Circumstances do not make a person an abusive personality. You or your abuser’s environment are not at fault for any abusive behaviour. The responsibility lies with the abuser.

These warning signs came from information from here. What strikes me is that even with how educated/experienced I now am with domestic abuse, I only learned when writing this article that quick involvement is a warning sign for abuse – yet another sign that I missed and only learned about just now, typing this.

It is important to note that not everyone who displays jealousy, or mildly controlling behaviour, or blames others for their mistakes is an abuser, but these are still signs of an unhealthy relationship. Persistent signs of the former attributes combined with any of the other signs are big red flags of an abuser. If you feel that these apply to your partner, please talk to a trusted adult about this and/or call the national domestic violence helpline (website linked) on 0808 2000 247. It is crucial to state that emotional and verbal abuse often leads to physical violence.

As a teenager I felt unable to leave the relationship that I was in, so if you feel that your partner is being abusive but feel unable to leave, I understand. However, I want to tell you that to stay with that partner only prolongs your pain. I know how ridiculously hard it is to leave someone that you are emotionally involved with, but you need and deserve to be in a healthy and happy relationship – and you will find this. It can be even harder when you don’t know what a healthy relationship looks or feels like – you may even be convinced that this is the norm, but it’s not. There are wonderful men/women out there who will treat you in a way that you deserve; in a way that any decent human being would treat another: with respect and care. It may feel like the end of the world at the time to leave someone that you love who is abusive, but time heals, and you can and will move on to bigger and better things. It may feel like it will tear you apart to leave, but I promise you that an abusive relationship will leave far greater scars. The fewer experiences and memories that you have of any abuse, the better. You do not deserve to be put through any instances of abuse, and with time, you will realise how your relationship was only harming you.

Violent relationships in adolescence can have serious ramifications by putting the victims at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behaviour and further domestic violence. Being physically or sexually abused makes teen girls six times more likely to become pregnant and twice as likely to get a STI. Half of youth who have been victims of both dating violence and rape attempt suicide, compared to 12.5% of non-abused girls and 5.4% of non-abused boys. Only 33% of teens who were in a violent relationship ever told anyone about the abuse. These facts and statistics are terrifying. It is also worth noting that abusers are hard to get rid rid of, so the faster you get rid of them, the better. Abusers like to feel in control, and for them it can mean controlling others around them, especially (and often exclusively) their partners. Even when you have ended the relationship, they can harass and attempt to emotionally abuse you from afar. I can tell you this from experience, because my abuser has continuously tried to contact me since we ended for good 6 years ago. People who have any respect for you will move on with their lives and leave you to yours. If you have broken up with an abusive partner and are still experiencing harassment and abuse from them, block them on all social media, block their numbers, tell a trusted adult, and seek advice from the police or citizens advice bureau, especially if they are threatening to harm you or anyone else, or destroy your property.

If you feel that you are experiencing any forms of abuse, please know that it is not your fault. It is not your fault. It is not your fault. You do not deserve it. Even if you do not feel like a victim, you are. Your abuser will not change, however much they try to convince you of that fact, and however much you hope they will. Please tell a trusted adult. Please phone a helpline. Please get help and support. You do not have to be alone with this, and you do not have to be in this relationship. You need and deserve to leave it and you deserve to lead a happy life with healthy relationships.

If you are a parent

81% of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don’t know if it’s an issue. Though 82% of parents feel confident that they could recognize the signs if their child was experiencing dating abuse, a majority of parents (58%) could not correctly identify all the warning signs of abuse (statistics from here). It is so important that you are aware of the relationships that your children are engaging in if they are under the age of 18. Although I was a wilful and determined child and would have probably have continued with my relationship anyway, did I make informed decisions? No, I did not. I wish my parents had played more of a part in educating me about the warning signs of abuse and I wish my school had taught me more about this too. Although my mother did have a short word with my abuser about his behaviour, it of course continued. I wish that my parents had not “respected my wishes”and kept my father from saying anything to my abuser. I wish that they had called his parents and told them what he was doing. I thought that I knew what I was doing at the time, but I was a child, and I transitioned into a young adult finding it almost impossible to separate myself from my abuser. I was an extremely strong and resilient child/young adult, and I could see quite logically that what I was experiencing was absolutely unacceptable, and yet I could not untangle myself from the situation I had become so embroiled in.

So as a parent, what can you do to help?

The following information is taken from here.

There are many reasons why teens don’t tell parents about the abuse. They may be embarrassed or ashamed, and may blame themselves. They may be afraid their parents will make them break up, convinced that it is their fault or that their parents will blame them or be disappointed in them, and afraid of losing privileges. They are often afraid of retaliation from their partner for telling. They may have little or no experience with healthy dating relationships and confuse jealousy with love. They may not recognize that they are being abused. If you suspect your teenager is being abused…

  • DO give your child a chance to talk. Stay calm. Listen without judging them. Believe them!
  • Use clear language to describe what you see is happening.
  • Acknowledge that they are in a very difficult and scary situation. Tell them that you are concerned for their safety and well-being and that you are there for them.
  • Ask them what they would like to have happen…how can you help them be safe.
  • Keep the lines of communication open!
  • Educate yourself—access online resources, read, call Caring Unlimited for information and/or support for yourself!
  • DON’T try to rescue them. Resist this natural impulse. It will likely shut them down.
  • Blame them for the abuse or make them feel judged.
  • Punish them because of an abusive partner.
  • Criticize their partner—you don’t want them taking energy to defend the person

If you suspect your teenager is being abusive

What you may see:

  • Jealous or possessive behaviour toward the dating partner
  • Controlling or bossy behaviour
  • Guilt Tripping—”If you loved me you would…”
  • Blaming the victim for everything that goes wrong
  • Obsessing over the partner’s behaviour or actions
  • Unreasonable or gender-based expectations of their dating partner

What You Can Do

  • Ask, “Why do you think it’s okay to treat ______ that way?”
  • Confront disrespectful behaviour/language. Explain that it’s not OK with you.
  • Let your child know that controlling behaviours are abusive and will prevent them from having a healthy, happy relationship.
  • Hold your child accountable. Don’t accept excuses or allow them to blame the other.
  • Model respectful behaviour towards your partner
  • Educate yourself and your teenager about controlling behaviours by accessing online and other resources.

The following information is taken from here.

Knowing or even suspecting that your child is in an unhealthy relationship can be both frustrating and frightening. But as a parent, you’re critical in helping your child develop healthy relationships and can provide life-saving support if they are in an abusive relationship. Remember, dating violence occurs in both same-sex and opposite-sex couples and any gender can be abusive.

What Do I Need to Know?

You can look for some early warning signs of abuse that can help you identify if your child is in an abusive relationship before it’s too late. Some of these signs include:

  • Your child’s partner is extremely jealous or possessive.
  • You notice unexplained marks or bruises.
  • Your child’s partner emails or texts excessively.
  • You notice that your child is depressed or anxious.
  • Your child stops participating in extracurricular activities or other interests.
  • Your child stops spending time with other friends and family.
  • Your child’s partner abuses other people or animals.
  • Your child begins to dress differently.

What Can I Do?
As a parent, your instinct is to help your child in whatever way you can. This need to help can drive you to quickly react, but sometimes what feels like the right plan of action could stop the conversation before it begins. Here are some tips to keep in mind when trying to help a child who is experiencing dating abuse:

Listen and give support
When talking to your teen, be supportive and non-accusatory. Let your child know that it’s not their fault and no one “deserves” to be abused. If they do open up, it’s important to be a good listener. Your child may feel ashamed of what’s happening in their relationship. Many teens fear that their parents may overreact, blame them or be disappointed. Others worry that parents won’t believe them or understand. If they do come to you to talk, let it be on their terms, and meet them with understanding, not judgement.

Accept what your child is telling you
Believe that they are being truthful. Your child may be reluctant to share their experiences in fear of no one believing what they say. Showing scepticism could make your teen hesitant to tell you when things are wrong and drive them closer to their abuser. Offer your unconditional support and make sure that they know you believe they are giving an accurate account of what is happening.

Show concern
Let your teen know that you are concerned for their safety by saying things like: “You don’t deserve to be treated like this;” “You deserve to be in a relationship where you are treated with respect” and “This is not your fault.” Point out that what’s happening isn’t “normal.” Everyone deserves a safe and healthy relationship.

Talk about the behaviours, not the person
When talking about the abuse, speak about the behaviours you don’t like, not the person. For example, instead of saying, “She is controlling” you could say, “I don’t like that she texts you to see where you are.” Remember that there still may be love in the relationship — respect your child’s feelings. Also, talking badly about your son or daughter’s partner could discourage your teen from asking for your help in the future.

Avoid ultimatums
Resist the urge to give an ultimatum (for example, “If you don’t break up with them right away, you’re grounded/you won’t be allowed to date anyone in the future.”) You want your child to truly be ready to walk away from the relationship. If you force the decision, they may be tempted to return to their abusive partner because of unresolved feelings. Also, leaving is the most dangerous time for victims. Trust that your child knows their situation better than you do and will leave when they’re ready.

Be prepared
Educate yourself on dating abuse. Help your child identify the unhealthy behaviours and patterns in their relationship. Discuss what makes a relationship healthy. With your teen, identify relationships around you (within your family, friend group or community) that are healthy and discuss what makes those relationships good for both partners.

Decide on next steps together
When you’re talking to your teen about a plan of action, know that the decision has to come from them. Ask what ‘next steps’ they would like to take. If they’re uncomfortable discussing this with you, help them find additional support. Suggest that they reach out to a peer advocate through loveisrespect’s phone line, online chat and text messaging service where teens can talk with peer advocates 24/7. To call, dial 1-866-331-9474, chat via our website or text “loveis” to 22522.

But My Child Isn’t in an Unhealthy Relationship
It’s never too early to talk to your child about healthy relationships and dating violence. Starting conversations — even if you don’t think your child is dating — is one of the most important steps you can take to help prevent dating violence. Here are some sample questions to start the conversation:

  • Are any of your friends dating? What are their relationships like? What would you want in a partner?
  • Have you witnessed unhealthy relationships or dating abuse at school? How does it make you feel? Were you scared?
  • Do you know what you would do if you witnessed or experienced abuse?
  • Has anyone you know posted anything bad about a friend online? What happened afterwards?
  • Would it be weird if someone you were dating texted you all day to ask you what you’re doing?

Need more tips to get started? Here are some other ways you can prepare to talk to your child about healthy and unhealthy relationships:

  • Do your own research on dating abuse to get the facts before talking to your teen or 20-something. Start with the information and resources on loveisrespect.org.
  • Provide your child with examples of healthy relationships, pointing out unhealthy behaviour. Use examples from your own life, television, movies or music.
  • Ask questions and encourage open discussion. Make sure you listen to your son or daughter, giving them a chance to speak. Avoid analysing, interrupting, lecturing or accusing.
  • Keep it low key. Don’t push it if your child is not ready to talk. Try again another time.
  • Be supportive and non-judgemental so they know they can come to you for help if their relationship becomes unhealthy in the future.
  • Admit to not knowing the answer to a particular question. This response builds trust.
  • Reinforce that dating should be fun! Stress that violence is never acceptable.
    Discuss the options your child has if they witness dating abuse or experience it themselves.
  • Remind your son or daughter they have the right to say no to anything they’re not comfortable with or ready for. They also must respect the rights of others.
    If your child is in a relationship that feels uncomfortable, awkward or frightening, assure them they can come to you. And remember — any decisions they make about the relationship should be their own.
  • Find ways to discuss gender equality at A Call to Men.
  • Contact Break the Cycle to find out if there are dating violence prevention programs in your community. If not, work with Break the Cycle to bring abuse prevention to your local school or community group.

Remember that it is not easy to leave an abuser. From the outside it will seem like such an obvious choice to make, but it is much more difficult on the inside where you are emotionally involved with the person. This may be their first relationship and so may also not know any different. This could cause them to underestimate the effects of the abuse and they may even be unaware of the damage it is causing them. Educate. Support. Suggest. Be there to encourage them to leave but don’t force them to. Always hold the abuser accountable. If any episodes of violence occur within your household, always call the emergency services.

Abuse is widespread. It is an epidemic, and this is not okay. Help break the silence.

Our Bodies and Us: The Disconnect.

listen to your body

Our bodies are wonderfully constructed, complex, ingenious natural creations. They are fantastically clever, and work to keep us in the best of health. But we have been working against them. We have stopped listening to them. We have decided that they are the enemy and we have been treating them as such.

Our bodies are natural but our culture is man-made, and our culture has decided to wage war on women’s bodies (and to a lesser extent, men’s too). We are bombarded from every direction with the message that our bodies are not enough; that we are not enough; that we must mould and warp and change our bodies into something else to be satisfactory women. We are told that our bodies are not good enough as they were born to be; that they are not good enough in their natural forms. We are told that we must alter them, no matter what pain that means putting our minds and our bodies through. Low carb diets, low fat diets, high protein diets, Paleo diets, Atkins diet, cabbage soup diet (?!), 5:2 diet, raw till 4, weight watchers, slimming world, eating “clean” (because other foods must therefore be “dirty” right?)…it makes me want to scream. Instilling fear of sugar and fats and carbohydrates until there is nothing else that is “safe” to eat creates more and more anxiety around food and makes us try to restrict further and further. Equating certain foods with morality and superiority and “making the right choices” makes us turn on one another as if eating a certain way can make us better than someone else who chooses to eat differently. Food has become about being “good” and being “bad”. Food has become about being worthless or worthwhile. Food has become our means of exerting control over our bodies and our lives.

All the while, our bodies are being ignored. They give us a pang of hunger, and we focus on something else. We pass a bakery and saliva pools in our mouths, and we swallow and walk on. Our brains direct thoughts of food to our brains over and over, and we shut them down. Our bodies keep sending us signals, and we pretend that they are not there, and instead, we listen to the magazines and other media telling us to ignore our hunger…drink a glass of water instead…eat a celery stick. We have become so far removed from our bodies that we listen to an unnatural ideal rather than the natural being of our bodies. We are so disconnected that we read information on what we should do with our bodies in regards to food and exercise, instead of actually listening to them. Our society has made us so focused on our bodies: how they look, what we do with them, and what we put into them, that we are panicked by it, and in turn, it has become an obsession. Health; fitness; food…we follow other people’s advice on what to do with our bodies and pay no heed to what our bodies are communicating to us. We are out of touch with what we really need.

Breaking away from that is hard, but freeing. Your body will thank you, and so will your mind once you learn to reject dieting culture and embrace your natural weight, shape, and size. If you develop a healthy relationship with food and your body, eating intuitively will come effortless as you follow your hunger and cravings. Healing, and repairing that relationship between you and your body will allow you to reconnect and work with your body, rather than against it. This will, in time, lead you to naturally eating a balanced diet – this includes “junk” food too. We need to start viewing food as food, rather than something that is “good” or “bad”, “healthy” or “unhealthy”. Food is fuel, and food is also part of our enjoyment in life. It has no place alongside morality. None of it should be demonised. None of it should be feared. None of it should be restricted. When you stop listening to outside noise, and start turning your focus inwards, that is when you will be able to be your healthiest. When you get back in touch with your body and start to really listen to it, that’s when you will start getting healthy again, both mentally and physically. If you fancy a fruit salad, eat a fruit salad. If you fancy a doughnut, eat a doughnut. No rules, no restriction, no foods that are off limits, and no foods that you “should” or “should not” eat. Shut out our dieting culture and embrace your body’s signals.

As a side note, it’s important to understand that if you have been dieting or restricting, that your hunger may be powerful and insistent, and your cravings may be strong for the foods that you have restricted (and therefore have fear and anxiety around). This is normal. If you don’t give your body enough energy, it will have an energy deficit, and will need more energy than usual until it is energy-balanced again. If you restrict certain things, your body will want them more, as it is often low on carbs and/or sugars and/or fats, and “forbidden” foods will also always be the ones you want most. If you respond to your body and work with it by providing it with the energy that it is asking for and the foods it is craving, it will settle down. It will become energy-balanced, and it will not be lacking in any food types, and when you stop viewing certain foods as forbidden, it will not want them as much. When all food is available to you, you don’t feel the need to eat certain foods as if it is the last time you will ever eat them (which you may have felt before when you let yourself have a “cheat” (I shudder at this word) snack/meal/day). When your body is energy and nutrient balanced, your eating will be balanced. When you are lacking in something, your body will give you signals in the form of hunger or cravings.

Listen to your body. It is cleverer than you, and it certainly cleverer than dieting culture and the media. Listen to your body, and embrace it.