Tag Archives: mental health

Celebrating Three Years Since Choosing Recovery

3 years 5

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

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

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

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 The hollow, unfocused, red-ringed eyes had been replaced by bright, shiny ones.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

3 years 3

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

3 years 2

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

3 years 4

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

3 years 13

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

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

I am enjoying being me.
3 years 6

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

Food is Not a Moral Issue

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“I’m being naughty today”, the woman in front of me paying for her coffee and brownie says to the cashier. I grit my teeth and bite my tongue. I want to tell her that the word “naughty” does not apply to food. I wanted to tell her that being naughty is doing something wrong, and food is not a matter of right and wrong. I wanted to tell her that food is not a moral issue.

“I’m treating myself today” is another one I hear often when in the queue at coffee shops; the women looking guiltily at the cashier, wanting to justify their hesitant decision to buy a slice of cake. The underlying message is always “I’m disciplined usually! I swear it’s just this one time! I don’t usually eat cake!” And underneath that, is the belief that cake is bad.

How can a food be bad? It doesn’t make sense when you really think about it. Food fits into the category of inanimate objects. They are not alive, and do not possess a personality or a concept of right and wrong. Food cannot be good, and it cannot be bad. Food is food. Food provides energy, and different types of nutrients dependent on the type. Eating one type of food doesn’t make you good, and eating another type of food doesn’t make you bad. It just means that you are eating a food type. Having cake does not have an impact on your morality, and therefore, neither the cake nor you are bad.

Bad, indulgent, naughty, sinful – these are all words to describe a personality or moral status, and yet we – and the advertisements that we watch – use them to describe some of the foods that we eat. Why only certain types of food? Who decided that cake, chocolate, or ice cream was indulgent or sinful? Who came up with the idea that eating a burger is bad? Who suddenly felt that consuming a bag of crisps was naughty?

But what about gluttony? you ask, gluttony is one of the sins. If you are of a certain religion, then you’re right: gluttony is, in some Christian denominations, viewed as a sin. I also want to point out that, according to the Bible, wearing two types of material together is a sin, as is divorce, eating shellfish, and your wife defending your life in a fight by grabbing your attacker’s genitals (no seriously: “If two men, a man and his countryman, are struggling together, and the wife of one comes near to deliver her husband from the hand of the one who is striking him, and puts out her hand and seizes his genitals, then you shall cut off her hand; you shall not show pity.“). We seem to over-exaggerate some “sins” and ignore others entirely to suit our society. Gluttony – derived from the Latin “gluttire” (to gulp down or swallow) – means to over-consume food, drink, or wealth items to the point of extravagance or waste. Note that it is not limited to food and is about the immoral actions of wasting food or wealth that could be given to the needy. Note again how it does not specify certain types of foods and is not related to weight or healthy but rather to greed – having so much that it goes to waste. That does not mean eating a piece of cake because you fancy one. It means buying two cakes, eating to the point of nausea, vomiting so that you can fit in more, eating again, and throwing away the rest. (In this example I want to make it very, very clear that I am not talking about vomiting as an eating disordered behaviour. Vomiting to fit more food in was something that historically was used by wealthy citizens so that they could continue to eat more when extremely full, and I would imagine is linked to how gluttony was historically viewed in its accurate portrayal rather than our ridiculous twisted version of “gluttony” in our diet culture orientated society).

Even when I’m aware of all of this and have a healthy and happy relationship with food, it is still sometimes near impossible to not become sucked into the feeling of shame for buying foods that are considered “bad” in our diet culture, even though I myself do not feel that way. Standing in the queue at a store, chocolate in hand, I have felt anxious that I might be being judged for my choice of purchase. This is heightened by the fact that I am not someone who is super slim, and people are far more likely to judge those who are not super slim for their food choices than those who are. This type of judgement becomes more prominent the bigger the body – which is utterly inappropriate and stems from the incorrect belief that food and weight are intrinsically linked and that those who are bigger should eat less or differently to those who are smaller (check out my section on set point theory under “links” for more information), so I dread to think of the way those without any kind of thin privilege might feel at the prospect of being harshly judged for buying chocolate and the like.

I was talking with a friend recently about how people feel they have to behave in a society like ours in regards to food and exercise. My friend, for your information, is the epitome of the “ideal” woman that our society says we should strive to be: a blonde beauty: very slim but with curves in all the “right” places, but she is not exempt from the multitude of insecurities that our society pushes upon us. You can be the “ideal”, and you are still not ideal enough, and that is how the diet and weight loss industry makes billions of dollars per year, because we are always striving to change our body and make it “better”. She says, “I can be dressing up to go out on a night out, and I will have the same amount of insecurities as someone else [with a completely different body type] – they are just different insecurities about different things.”  In our second year of university she was miserable, and on reflection, she now puts a lot of that negativity down to the fact that she was forcing herself to go to the gym and eat salads, just because she felt that was the “right” thing to do. She was restricting her body in the name of being “healthy” and being “good”, when in actuality she was starving her body and subsequently destroying her emotional state at the same time. She has no history with an eating disorder in any shape or form, and even so, our diet culture told her that what she was doing was “right” – something she continued to do for the majority of that year, in spite of  both mental and physical effects.

The message our society gives out about food is toxic and damaging. Start trying to repair your relationship with food. It’s okay to eat what you want, when you want. You do not have a moral obligation to eat in a certain way (the same applies to exercise). Don’t label foods as “healthy” and “unhealthy” (read: “good” and “bad”), as this perpetuates a negative and unhealthy relationship with food. Enjoy your food. See it as a wonderful thing that provides for your body, brings people together, and gives you pleasure.

Food is food. Food is not a moral issue.

Distinguishing Your Voice From that of Your Eating Disorder

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Recovery can be really hard when you are unable to distinguish the eating disorders “voice” from your own. Making decisions becomes an uncertain task that can end up taking up far too much of your time because you are anxiously torn between what you want and what your eating disorder wants, and not being able to tell which is which. Because the voice actually sounds like your own thoughts, this can make it really difficult for someone to tell what thoughts are really theirs, and what are those of the eating disorder.

When it comes to telling your voice and the eating disorder’s “voice” apart, the first thing to think is “do I really want this?” Some people are able to quite easily separate the two with just that first question, and others are still unable to do so.

When it comes to food, and choosing to eat a certain food or comparing between two choices, the easiest way to tell what it is you want is to ask yourself; if it had no calories, would you really want to eat it? Or would you prefer something else? If the two you are comparing to had no calories, which one would you actually want to eat more? Another thing to do is think, if I walked away with this one and bought it, would it give me more anxiety than the other option? The one that you have more anxiety over is the one your eating disorder wants you not to choose, and is therefore the one you should choose to confront and overcome that anxiety. I would bet that the other one is something your ED picked to get you to choose that “safer” option rather than the one you really want to eat.

When it comes to negative thoughts about yourself – that’s not you. Hands down anything negative that comes into your head will be your eating disorder. I say this because now, in remission, I rarely have negative thoughts about myself or my body. When I do, they are quite mild and I can tell that they come more from a “normal” brain and have developed because of the society we live in. Negative thoughts caused by an eating disorder are usually very forceful, very malicious, and very hateful. They are cruel comments, not just “hmmm I’m not sure I’m loving those back rolls but meh okay what was I doing let’s carry on with that.” They are hurtful, vindictive, venomous comments like “you are disgusting” or “you are worthless” or “you are a worthless fat bitch”. When you experience thoughts like that, they are the lying, bullying voice of the eating disorder and you need to recognise that that voice does not carry truth. It just wants to hurt you. I would place my bets on saying that 99.999% of negative thoughts going on in the head of someone with an eating disorder are eating disorder thoughts.

When you are eating, or buying things for yourself, or doing something you enjoy, etc etc, and a thought comes into your head about not deserving to eat it, or buy it, or do it, then that is not your own thought. That again, is a bully inside your head that should not be there. Kick it out. Tell it that it is wrong. You deserve all the things that you want and you should be able to have all of the things that are within your reach.

When it comes to negative thoughts or thoughts that you don’t deserve something, ask yourself “is that something I would say to someone else?” If it isn’t, chances are it’s your eating disorder speaking. The things that eating disorder says to us, we would not find it acceptable to say to others, or let others say it to us, but we let that internal voice say it to us and submit to it. Start changing that and fight back. Recognise that the “voice” is just playing on your insecurities and is making unacceptable and vile comments towards you. Tell it to f*** off.

When it comes to other habits or behaviours, for example using certain items of cutlery, using certain plates or using only bowls to eat out of, challenge that. If you feel like using a bowl, use a plate. If that invokes anxiety in you, then using the bowl is a disordered habit. Use  a different fork/knife or spoon. If that invokes anxiety in you, then using certain items of cutlery is a disordered habit. The same goes for every habit or behaviour. Test out if they are disordered by switching things up. If you find it hard to sit still or sit down, but are pretty sure you’re just an active person, have a duvet day. If you eat at certain times because, you know, that’s just how it is, make it earlier or later. If you avoid white carbs because you just never really have the urge to eat them, make up a nice crusty roll or a bowl of pasta or some egg fried rice using white products. If you are eating low fat yoghurt but are pretty sure you just love it, buy some full fat yoghurt. Stop making excuses and just do it. It won’t be a problem if it is not a disordered habit. If the change freaks you out, the habit or behaviour is disordered.

These are some ways for you to tell apart yourself from your eating disorder when it comes to decision making and making the choices for you instead of your eating disorder. These tactics, of course, are not exclusive. I would welcome any comments to this post suggesting other ways for people to distinguish between their eating disorder “voice” and themselves. The more the better.

Am I Still Disordered?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anxiety Management

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Anxiety can feel extremely overwhelming when in recovery for an eating disorder. As I talked about in the FAQ, it is pretty much impossible to avoid anxiety when it comes to the recovery process, and that is one of the reasons as to why recovery is so difficult.

Again, as I have said in the FAQ, I use this metaphor for eating disorders and recovery: There is a terrifying dragon in your garden, and every time you try to leave your house the dragon tries to eat you. You have a choice: you can resign yourself to being trapped in your house forever, or you can find a weapon and go out and fight it.
These are the choices you have regarding your eating disorder. You can either choose to remain trapped by it or you can face yours fears and fight it. You can only make the anxiety calm down and eventually stop altogether by facing your fears regarding food, weight, and other eating disorder habits. You can only make it stop by going against your eating disorder. For example, check out this path below:

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This path has been created by people walking along it. Someone walked that way then another person did then another, and they all kept walking over this one track more and more, making the path deeper and more worn in until it was a very clear path that everyone would now automatically follow rather than walking along the grass beside it. This is what happens in your brain: the more you do something the more it becomes the norm to follow. So if you respond to your eating disorder over and over again, that becomes the habit to follow and not doing it creates anxiety. When you fight against your eating disorder, you start treading on the grass that isn’t the path. At first this is anxiety-provoking and scary, because it is not the norm, and it will continue to be scary for a while, but each time you are making more of a path in a different route. Eventually, that route will become a solid pathway, and the other one will start to disappear as grass starts to grow on it again. Eventually the old route will disappear and the new one will become the norm. What I am saying is that to do new things creates new neural pathways in the brain, making your new behaviours eventually become normalised (right now your old behaviours – those created by your eating disorder – are normalised because you have repeated them so often). This is when the anxiety will start to lessen. The more you do something the easier it will become, and eventually it will become easy, and the norm.

So anxiety is going to be something that you experience during your recovery. Maybe that anxiety occurs before you challenge yourself, maybe it occurs during, or maybe it occurs after, but either way, it’s there, and you don’t know what to do about it. You probably feel like responding to your eating disorder, which is probably telling you either not to challenge yourself, or to compensate for doing so. Ignore that voice. I know it is extremely hard but that voice is trying to make you sick. It is trying to get you to live in misery. Ultimately, it is trying to kill you. So how do you cope with that extreme anxiety when it is upon you?

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One thing that is important is distinguishing its voice from yours. Recognise what is you, and what is the eating disorder. Argue with it. Use your rationality. Use your logic. Use the facts against the negative feelings it is trying to evoke in you. Beat it with logic.

One of the best ways to deal with anxiety is to use distraction techniques. When you are feeling anxious, distract yourself by doing what you can get most absorbed in. Here is a list of suggestions:

  • Watch a movie
  • Read a book
  • Write
  • Paint or draw
  • Blog
  • Collage
  • Knit or sew
  • Research something you are interested in
  • Play XBOX
  • Play games on your phone
  • Do fun internet quizzes
  • Play computer games
  • Call a friend or family member
  • Meet up with someone
  • Watch a documentary
  • Play a musical instrument
  • Do homework
  • Tidy your room
  • Do some internet shopping
  • Take photographs
  • Do puzzles

Puzzles in particular are very good for distraction as they really engage your mind and so distract you from the negative emotions you are experiencing.

Other things that you can do include:

  • Doing things which evoke a different emotion in you from the one you are experiencing. This could mean reading emotional books or letters, or looking at photos that bring up happy memories. It could mean watching films that evoke a different emotion to anxiety, such as a comedy, romance, or even a horror! It’s also good to listen to happy music when feeling sad, or calm music when feeling anxious. We tend to listen to angry music when we are angry, or sad music when we are sad, but this only reinforced the emotion rather than helping it to settle down.
  • If you are really, really anxious, and feel like you can’t contain yourself and are reaching a very intense level of anxiety, you can use the ice diving technique. If you are on beta blockers, have a heart condition, or any other medical condition, consult a healthcare provider before doing this. The ice diving technique means filling a bowl with ice, and sticking your face in it. This lowers blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature, which helps with distressing emotions and reactions and lowers the anxiety levels. It can take around 15-30 seconds for the effects to occur.
  • Changing your environment can be good when you are anxious. Whether that means going to an imaginary safe place in your head, going to a place in your house where you feel most safe, going for a brief calm walk, or going to a friends house, a change in scenery can help calm you down.
  • Keep your reasons to recover in mind and find purpose in those negative emotions. For example: “I’m doing this because I want to recover.” Knowing that these negative emotions are playing a part in moving forwards can help.
  • Relax your body. Tensing up, which is a natural reaction to anxiety and stress, signals to your body that you are in danger and therefore continues to make you feel anxious. Try to relax. Let your shoulders drop. Lean back into a sofa or lie down on the bed. Unclench your muscles. This signals to your body that you are not in danger, and so can decrease anxiety.

Anxiety relating to recovery from an eating disorder is unpleasant at best, and overwhelmingly awful at worst, but it is something that can be managed, and something that will improve when it as your recovery progresses. If you can, do get a therapist to help you to help yourself throughout this difficult time. Hang in there, you can do this!

Diagnosing Anorexia Nervosa VS EDNOS: What Does the Weight Criteria Really Mean?

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Making a distinction between EDNOS and Anorexia Nervosa is a tricky one when it comes down to the Atypical Anorexia Nervosa (a type of EDNOS) side of things. There are those that adhere to the strict weight criteria for the diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa (even though there is now no specific cut off point in the DSM-V), and there are those that use it as a guideline. The argument on whether or not a specfic weight is required or not for the diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa is rife across the eating disorder communities, so I decided to do some research on what the medical community has to say on the matter.

According to the DSM-5 criteria, to be diagnosed as having Anorexia Nervosa a person should display:

  • Persistent restriction of energy intake leading to significantly low body weight (in context of what is minimally expected for age, sex, developmental trajectory, and physical health) .
  • Either an intense fear of gaining weight or of becoming fat, or persistent behaviour that interferes with weight gain (even though significantly low weight).
  • Disturbance in the way one’s body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body shape and weight on self-evaluation, or persistent lack of recognition of the seriousness of the current low body weight.

The Subtypes of Anorexia Nervosa are: restricting type, and binge-eating/purging type.

(I should also first mention that the DSM-V has already been widely criticised, and The National Institute of Mental Health withdrew their support for the manual, stating that “patients with mental disorders deserve better.”  Another thing to consider is that the cut off point for what is a healthy BMI varies from medical institution to medical institution. Many use 18.5 as the cut off point. Others use 19. My pharmacist had a chart on the wall that stated that a normal BMI was between 20 and 25 (it also states that here). So that already can create problems when there is no consensus between medical communities on what is underweight. You can go to one doctor’s surgery and be told you are underweight and another where you are told you are not. Really, we should just be going on each personal individually, and using these charts as a guide.)

To start with, Kate Donovan wrote “Problems in the way we diagnose anorexia” – a blog post exploring the weight criteria when we still had the DSM-IV – which is relevant because Anorexia Nervosa is still being diagnosed using an outdated weight criteria.

The reason this is so important is that Atypical Anorexia Nervosa and Anorexia Nervosa are barely distinguishable – so why are there two different diagnosis’s dividing the two when they are the same disease and both require extremely similar treatment which only differs in terms of the individual rather than the label? Results of Jennifer Thomas’s study (The relationship between EDNOS and officially recognized eating disorders: meta-analysis and implications for DSM) indicated that EDNOS did not differ significantly from AN on eating pathology or general psychopathology, and “moderator analyses indicated that EDNOS groups who met all diagnostic criteria for AN except for amenorrhea did not differ significantly from full syndrome cases.” (Jennifer Thomas is an assistant Professor of Psychology at Harvard.)

In another of her studies (which is about the criteria in the DSM-IV “refusal to maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height e.g. weight loss leading to maintenance of body weight less than 85% of that expected”), she writes

“Although the 85% weight cut-off is intended to represent a ‘suggested guideline’ for diagnosis (APA, 2000, p. 584), investigators who enroll eating disorder patients in clinical trials (Dare et al. 2001; Powers et al. 2002) and insurance companies that determine treatment eligibility typically adhere to this percentage when assessing underweight. The 85% criterion is also frequently used to calculate AN prevalence in epidemiological studies (Walters & Kendler, 1995; Garfinkelet al. 1996), which inform the perceived public health significance of the disorder. The widespread use of the 85% criterion probably reflects a desire to standardize diagnosis across diverse settings.”

She also states;

“Data from clinical and non-clinical samples suggest that eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) is the most prevalent of DSM-IV eating disorders, and individuals who meet all criteria for AN except the weight cut-off represent a common subtype of this group (Watson & Andersen, 2003; McIntosh et al. 2004). A computer simulation of 193 eating-disorder treatment seekers indicated that the prevalence of AN would increase significantly if the weight criterion were relaxed from 85% to 90% of EBW (Thaw et al. 2001). It is therefore likely that if some clinics use more lenient methods of calculating EBW, they will diagnose a greater proportion of their patients with AN and a relatively smaller proportion of patients with EDNOS, even if they consistently apply an 85% cut-off.”

Jennifer Thomas also makes an important point regarding diagnosis and treatment regarding weight cut off points:

“The finding that investigators use different weight criteria for AN has important implications for eating disorder diagnosis, treatment, research and insurance reimbursement. Our results raise the possibility that a patient of a particular height, weight and symptom profile could receive a diagnosis of AN at one treatment center and a diagnosis of BN or EDNOS at another, and be eligible for one investigator’s AN treatment outcome study but not another. On average, discrepancies are possible within a 15-lb weight range for females and a 25-lb weight range for males, and could occur even if the assessing clinicians at each treatment center referred to the same DSM-IV criteria to assign diagnoses. If each clinician then attempted to recommend an evidence-based treatment, the patient diagnosed by the stricter weight cut-off and therefore classified as BN or EDNOS might receive out-patient therapy whereas the patient diagnosed by the more lenient weight cut-off and therefore classified as AN might receive a more intensive intervention (e.g. in-patient care) because of the perception that he or she is more underweight.”

She also made the following comment on a post by Science of Eating Disorders (‘Are There Any Meaningful Differences Between Subthreshold and Full Syndrome Anorexia Nervosa?’):

“I share your frustration with the 85% EBW guideline — it’s not only arbitrary but inconsistently applied (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2847836/). Interestingly, the DSM-IV Work Group never meant it to be a “cut-off” (just a guideline), so it’s a good thing it’s being omitted from DSM-5. My work also suggests that EDNOS is typically just as severe as AN and BN (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19379023), and clinically I think too many patients find their suffering invalidated when they are diagnosed not with a specific eating disorder, but an acronym. I also agree with you that DSM-5 represents a big improvement (especially the inclusion of named subtypes like purging disorder)…”

The post by Science of Eating Disorders (which is linked above) talks about a study conducted by Daniel Le Grange and colleagues, published in the European Eating Disorders Review, where they compared eating-related and psychopathology measures between 59 anorexia nervosa and 59 subthreshold anorexia nervosa women, and found that there were no differences between the two other than the bingeing and purging frequency, which was higher in the AN group, and body checking behaviours, which was higher in the EDNOS-AN group. They said:

“There is little evidence that participants with EDNOS-AN were any different from those with AN. Therefore, our results confirm the now accepted notion that menstrual status is probably not a helpful diagnostic marker for AN (Attia, Robero, & Steinglass, 2008) and also challenge the generally accepted cut point of 85% of ideal body weight (or BMI 17.5 ) for a diagnosis of AN.”

We know that the weight threshold that is used so rigidly by some can cause massive problems for those seeking treatment: many insurance companies and inpatient facilities will only accept those meeting the “anorexic BMI” criteria – even though the specific weight criteria has been removed with the publication of the DSM-V. We also know that the DSM-V is to be used as a guide, and that the “anorexic BMI” is also a guide, not an absolute. There is no weight that you MUST be to be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.

What I’ve seen from observing both the reactions from some who have suffered from eating disorders (specifically those who have, or are in recovery from, anorexia nervosa) and doctors in response to the idea that you don’t have to meet the weight criteria (that actually doesn’t exist any more in the DSM-V) of 17.5 to be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, it is those with anorexia that tend to become outraged when it is suggested, whereas all different doctors have different opinions, many leaning towards using the manual as a guideline. Medical professionals that I have spoken to recently do not believe in weight criteria rigidity being exceedingly important to the diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa. I recently spoke to a doctor in the UK, and a medical director in the US. Both told me that the DSM-V (and the ICD-10) are guidelines, and are to be used as such. When asked about anorexia, EDNOS, and the weight criteria, the US medical director said it is subjective:

“DSM criteria are not absolute, like many things in medicine with variable presentations, symptoms, and severities. The diagnostic criteria are best used as a guide. Unfortunately some take it too literally (many payors, insurances, etc) will not cover care unless strictly adherent to these criteria. I believe the key is to recognize and anticipate before the process progresses to a unstable or potential irreversible condition…Following strict criteria in my opinion results in delayed therapy of patients in worse conditions.”

In the DSM-V, it states:

“Criterion A requires that the individual’s weight be significantly low (i.e., less than minimally normal or, for children and adolescents, less than that minimally expected).Weight assessment can be challenging because normal weight range differs among individuals, and different thresholds have been published defining thinness or underweight status. Body mass index (BMI; calculated as weight in kilograms/height in meters2) is a useful measure to assess body weight for height. For adults, a BMI of 18.5 kg/m2 has been employed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2011) and the World Health Organization (WHO) (World Health Organization 1995) as the lower limit of normal body weight. Therefore, most adults with a BMI greater than or equal to 18.5 kg/m2 would not be considered to have a significantly low body weight. On the other hand, a BMI of lower than 17.0 kg/m2 has been considered by the WHO to indicate moderate or severe thinness (World Health Organization 1995); therefore, an individual with a BMI less than 17.0 kg/m2 would likely be considered to have a significantly low weight. An adult with a BMI between 17.0 and 18.5 kg/m2, or even above 18.5 kg/m2, might be considered to have a significantly low weight if clinical history or other physiological information supports this judgment. For children and adolescents, determining a BMI-for-age percentile is useful (see, e.g., the CDC BMI percentile calculator for children and teenagers). As for adults, it is not possible to provide definitive standards for judging whether a child’s or an adolescent’s weight is significantly low, and variations in developmental trajectories among youth limit the utility of simple numerical guidelines. The CDC has used a BMI-for-age below the 5th percentile as suggesting  underweight; however, children and adolescents with a BMI above this benchmark may be judged to be significantly underweight in light of failure to maintain their expected growth trajectory. In summary, in determining whether Criterion A is met, the clinician should consider available numerical guidelines, as well as the individual’s body build, weight history, and any physiological disturbances.”

This means that people need to be treated on an individual basis, and not strictly by a weight criteria.

What I find worrying is that some (emphasis on some) of those with the diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa feel that the criteria should be rigid: so much so that they actually believe that it is. I would suggest that this is because some can see it as a badge of honour that you only “deserve” when you reach a certain weight. Those with such black and white thinking regarding AN are particularly (and disorderedly) protective of the diagnosis. This only reinforces to those diagnosed with EDNOS that they are “not sick enough” until they have “achieved” that particular BMI. It also reinforces the (untrue) notion that you can only be diagnosed with AN at a certain weight, and this results in the spreading of misinformation.  It is important that we are educated about the facts, rather than going purely on beliefs when we are not medical professionals ourselves. The negative emotional connection some of those with Anorexia Nervosa seem to have to the diagnosis and the “badge of honour” mentality can cloud judgement and rational thought, and become an issue as it invalidates others.

Obviously in no way is this article intended to invalidate those with EDNOS. In fact, I hope to validate the diagnosis more as those with EDNOS routinely present with symptoms and behaviours that are as serious as AN or BN. My aim was to show that there is barely any difference between those with Atypical Anorexia Nervosa and those with Anorexia Nervosa, and it is my opinion that they should all be diagnosed with the same illness, and any difference in physical symptoms be treated accordingly. Any doctor or professional who is worth their salt will pay attention to the mental and physical condition their patient is in and diagnose that way, or if they have been diagnosed before, they will reassess and treat accordingly. Using the guidelines as absolutes can be extremely harmful, misguided, and unhelpful, and spreading the notion that they are absolutes within the eating disorder community on social media and within our culture in general, is harmful to those seeking help, support, and treatment.

Treatment and Support Options for Eating Disorder Recovery

support

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Men Get Eating Disorders Too

eating-disorder-mirror-drawing

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

Studies suggest that eating disorders are on the rise in men. However, it is also theorised that this may be because eating disorders in men are becoming less stigmatised and more men are coming forward and seeking help and treatment for their illness. Out of those with eating disorders, it is reported around 10% of sufferers are male, although again, these statistics are unreliable due to the fact that so many men do not come forward for treatment, and a recent study on a large university campus found that the female-to-male ratio of positive screens for eating disorder symptoms was 3-to-1 (Eisenburg, Nicklett, Roeder, & Kirz, 2011). As it says on the website MGEDT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eating disorders can also be harder to spot in some men because it is more likely for women to have dramatic weightloss, whereas in men their eating disorders can expressed through “bulking up” and hitting the gym, which is not seen as particularly suspect in a society so keen on advocating exercise and showing male body “ideals”. as lean and muscular.  It is important to note that if an individual is taking performance-enhancing supplements in their attempt to become more muscular and then engages in weight lifting, they are at increased risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke.

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

Shouldn’t I Be Recovered By Now?!

Frustrated-Woman-Featured

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

your eatopia

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

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

As I see it, the main goals are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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