Tag Archives: OSFED

Recovery Does Not Mean Compromise

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Recovery from an eating disorder is a fantastic thing. A long, arduous, torturous, fantastic thing. It is painful and it is terrifying and it is tedious, but it is the most rewarding thing anyone with an eating disorder will ever do, because it gives you your life back. It gives you back your freedom, and it gives you back your health. However, all too frequently I am seeing what looks like compromise in those who claim to be recovered from an eating disorder.

I want to state right now that the recovery journey in itself does often entail some compromise as we navigate our way from disordered to healthy. It does frequently mean swapping things in and out, finding that with challenging one behaviour another pops up more strongly, transferring fixations and focus from one thing to the next, and other such struggles as we learn how to overcome our sickness. That is perfectly okay. That is part of the journey. It is part of managing the initial trauma of recovery. But there comes a certain point where you have to challenge how you are recovering, and you have to move on from compromising with your eating disorder. There comes a certain point where you have to be aware of all those things listed above, and start to do something about it, because although at the start recovery may include it, recovery cannot be about compromise. Recovery has to be about getting rid of the disordered habits, not switching them up for more socially acceptable ones and calling it healthy.

I get it: it is easy to fool the world and it is easy to fool yourself that eating “clean”/detoxing/eating only “healthy” foods/being vegan/going Paleo/etc and going hard at the gym/training for marathons/attending multiple aerobics classes/etc is living a recovered life, but those sneaking eating disorder lies and manipulations only prevent you from living the life that you deserve to live: one free from the shackles of your eating disorder. We as a society can praise the woman who “recovered” from anorexia nervosa and became a bodybuilder all we like, but it doesn’t change the fact that she still has an eating disorder. We can applaud that man who went from having bulimia nervosa to being a fitness instructor whose muscles ripple and glisten in the sunlight, but that doesn’t alter the fact that he has just switched up one eating disorder for another. We can use the woman who “beat” her eating disorder and now stocks her kitchen with protein shakes, quinoa, and lentils, and exercises an hour every day as inspiration, but that doesn’t change the fact that her life is still dominated by rules and routines and fear.

Recovery means breaking free of that suffocating cage. It means tearing down the walls that keep you from dedicating your time and energy to your passions, hobbies, interests, and relationships. It means not worrying about your calorie or macro intake. It means engaging in physical activity that you actually enjoy when you want, not in a fixed, rigid routine. It means resting whenever, but especially when you are sick, tired, or having any intrusive eating disorder thoughts, however small (because being recovered does not mean being cured). It means throwing off the shackles of guilt and anxiety by challenging and overcoming every negative, controlling eating disordered thought and behaviour. You know what they are. Push away the convincing eating disorder voice, and listen to your gut. Do you feel free? Think about the life that you want to lead. Is this it?

It’s Summer Soon and Surprisingly, Fat People Get Hot Too

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Art by Jovanna Radic Eriksson

The summer is fast approaching and that means that the weather is cranking up and sweat patches are about to become a lot more common. It also is the season of self-consciousness as those with bodies that do not fit societal ideals feel unable to wear less clothes and therefore sweat in silence as their smaller counterparts breathe a little easier in mini shorts and tank tops.

There are many reasons someone who has more fat on their body than is deemed socially acceptable (or is only deemed acceptable when wearing less revealing clothes) will feel uncomfortable wearing less clothes. It could be the cellulite on their legs; the way their thighs rub together; the way parts of their body jiggle; the belly folds when they sit down; the softness around the tops of their arms; the back fat creasing around their bra strap; the curves of their hips…and the judgement they might receive for having a body that does those normal, natural, absolutely okay things.

This is a perfect time to point out that everyone of any weight, shape, or size, is allowed to feel physically and mentally comfortable in their bodies and in whatever clothing they choose to wear this summer (and any other season). Everyone deserves to feel safe from humiliation and judgement, and everyone deserves respect and consideration, regardless of what their body looks like. If you feel uncomfortable looking at someone else’s body, then you may want to have a good hard think about what makes you feel a certain aspect of someone’s natural body is unacceptable and why it is affecting you personally. If you are someone who makes comments about or towards other people in regards to their weight, shape, or size, you might want to take a moment to reflect on why you think that someone else’s physical appearance is any of your business and why you are treating that person with less respect just because of how their body looks.

If you are someone who does not fit society’s idea of the “perfect” body, and are struggling to know what to do this summer in regards to clothing, then I urge you strongly to…do whatever the fuck you want. If that means that you want to rock a short little number or feel more comfortable covering your curves in a floaty summer dress, then you do what feels good for you. If you want to strut your stuff in a crop top and leggings, or if you prefer to don a baggy t-shirt and harem pants, then you dress yourself in what feels right. If you want to strip down but aren’t at the stage where you feel confident doing so, then it is perfectly okay to cover yourself up, but please start/continue to work towards accepting and loving your (beautiful) body, because you deserve to feel comfortable in your own skin. Whether you want to get your body out or keep the layers on, you deserve to feel good about yourself.

Top tip: if you’re getting your legs out this summer and have issues with chub rub (those gorgeous thighs loving each other so much that it gives you friction burns), then pop some baby oil on your inner thighs before you stride down the street.

Enjoy your summer. It’s going to be beautiful, and you are too.

 

5 Ways to Manage Exercise In Remission From An Eating Disorder

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So you’re in recovery from an eating disorder, or disordered eating, or compulsive exercise, and you’ve used and abused exercise as a form of punishment/weight-loss/distraction/control/etc – whatever reason you’ve used it for, it’s come from your eating disorder or disordered thoughts, and it’s well and truly messed up your relationship with exercise. To be fair, with the society that we live in, you don’t even need an eating disorder to have the idea of exercise completely screwed around with and made into something that is a torment. Thanks, society! But whatever has caused your negative relationship with exercise to develop, and whatever you are recovering from, you’re now wondering…am I ever going to be able to have a healthy relationship with exercise again? How will I keep fit and healthy once I am recovered if exercise has such negative connotations for me?

Moving your body in life is part of general well-being, both mentally and physically, but it’s a totally different experience to forcing yourself to the gym five times a week because you want to lose 10lbs or get a six pack. It’s not the same as stressing over being at peak fitness, or worrying that if you don’t do x amount of exercise, you won’t be the healthiest that you could be. It’s about exercise being an enjoyable addition to your life; something that isn’t rigid or absolute, but something to engage in as and when it fits around the rest of your life. Here are 5 things to think about when trying to establish a positive relationship with moving your body:

1. Go Cold Turkey

If you want to change your relationship with exercise so that it is a healthy one, you first have to break your addiction to it. That means stopping exercise entirely. It means totally breaking all your compulsive habits; it means managing the anxiety that goes with that, and it means overcoming that anxiety, in order to be able to develop a totally new relationship with moving your body. You can’t just flow from a disastrous and destructive relationship into a positive and beneficial one without stopping the former, unhealthy relationship, and leaving it behind you before starting to form a new relationship in a totally different way.

2. Traffic Light Your Exercise

The first thing I did when I really got to grips with the reality of my situation with exercise was to traffic light each individual type of exercise. I was in recovery and I was failing in my attempts to cold turkey exercise. I would stop and start, stop and start, and each time I started, I without fail fell back into the addiction. And so eventually I decided that if I was ever going to be able to move my body in a healthy way without the compulsive element creeping back in, I’d have to first recognise that going back to it wasn’t working and that I’d have to cease it entirely for a while, and secondly, that going back to the same type of exercise was setting me up to fail. I decided that I needed to categorise each type of exercise in an honest way in an attempt to recognise exactly when things were headed in the wrong direction. For example, badminton I green-lighted: it’s a sport that I did not play at all when sick and a sociable sport that I enjoy playing. I know that my risk of abusing this is almost nil as I play it for fun with my friends. Walking and swimming I orange-lighted: both had been abused during the time that I was ill with my eating disorder, but are also activities that I take pleasure in. These are activities to keep an eye on; to assess myself now and again to make sure that they are being used in a positive and healthy way. Aerobics I red-lighted. Aerobics is a form of activity that I do not enjoy and used purely as a way of losing weight. I know that if I find myself doing aerobics, then something is very wrong, and I need to address it ASAP. Traffic-lighting your exercise only works if you are completely and utterly honest with yourself, and then continue being honest with yourself when you have your traffic light system. There are no excuses for those red-lighted activities. Those orange-lighted ones are going to be the trickiest to keep an eye on, because it will be more difficult to distinguish when it’s being used in a positive or negative way, and again, that requires 100% honesty from you, to you.

3. Move Your Body in an Enjoyable Way

Find recreational activity that you actually like doing that involves moving your body. This could be taking your kids swimming, walking your dog, riding your horse, or playing footie with the guys. It could mean taking photographs on a country walk, taking a sunset stroll to the pub with a mate, playing rounders with a bunch of friends, or taking part in the annual cheese-rolling contest (no, seriously, we have that here). Find something that is actually about enjoying yourself, rather than about exercise. Find something that is another hobby. This is not about exercise – that is secondary. This is not about changing your body – that is no longer the aim. This is about moving your body and enjoying it whilst you do it. There are no reasons for doing this any more other than pleasure and recreation: this is not about guilt, or burning calories, or altering your appearance. This has to be just another thing in your life that you enjoy doing, that coincidentally involves moving.

4. Don’t Have Set Routines or Rules

Do not get caught in the trap of setting routines for yourself that you find yourself unable to break. You don’t have to play tennis every Thursday. You don’t have to walk to town every time you need to go to the shops. You don’t have to swim 25 lengths every single time you get in the pool. Switch it up. Fit these hobbies around the rest of your schedule rather than fitting the rest of your schedule around moving your body. Try not to make it a priority – because it’s not. There are more important things than physical activity. Do it as and when. Do it because you have a spare couple of hours and you need some fresh air, or to let off some steam. When it comes to making something a set routine, you know as well as I do that they can quickly become compulsive time slots where you feel that you have to do that certain activity, for that certain amount of time. Check in with yourself about how you feel before doing an activity and go with how you feel, not how long you feel you should be moving for. If you feel tired, skip it for today. If you’re sick, skip it for today. And if you are feeling that there is a certain amount of time that you should be exercising for, then you’re probably not ready yet to reintroduce movement back into your life, and should go back to resting, and working on your relationship with healthy movement. When it comes to rules, I’m talking about that little voice that says: “I can eat x if I do a pilates class” or “I can have a nap later if I have an hours walk” or “I can rest all day tomorrow if I do a run today”. No, no, no no no no. If that is what is going through your head, then you need to check out number 1 again and cold turkey your exercise. You need to separate everything from movement food; weight; rest; everything – nothing should be linked with exercise other than the fun of it. If you are setting rules for yourself, you need to continue working through your issues with exercise and how you use it.

5. Assess Yourself…Then Assess Yourself Again

This is so, so, so important to do, and again, requires being transparent with yourself – always. It means checking in with yourself over and over and over again to see how you are feeling about the movement that you are engaging in, and your reasons for taking part in the activity in your life. The more stable your remission, the less you may find that you need to check in with yourself, but this takes time, work and patience, and however firmly you are in remission, you still need to take the time to reflect on the movement in your life and how that is going for you. If you are feeling uncertain about any type of activity that you are doing, then you need to cease it. Challenge yourself now and again to test yourself: can you go a week or two being sedentary? Doing this is one of the easiest ways to see what anxieties arise for you when you take time out and rest up (or even think about doing it), and is one of the easiest ways to identify problem activity. It means acknowledging and working through whatever anxieties you feel if you should feel them.

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Really, this all comes down to getting to a place where you love yourself as you are and don’t see exercise as a way to change your body. It comes down to not feeling the need to compromise your health and happiness. It comes down to always being honest with yourself so that you stay within the boundaries of what is healthy for YOU. It means coming at recreational physical activity with a totally different mindset. It means finding what is right and healthy and positive for YOU, and going with that. It means being able to not exercise at all, in order to then exercise in a positive way. It means taking time out whenever you want/need to. It means not having any anxiety around moving your body. It means loving yourself, and loving your body, and it means being free.

How To Cope At Christmas: A Rough Guide For Those With Eating Disorders

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We are just two days away from Christmas, and people are stocking up on food, wine, and last minute presents. This time of year is always filled with trepidation for those of you with eating disorders. It’s a holiday focused around alcohol, food, and family, and at least two of the former bring on that familiar rising panic for lots of people suffering or recovering from eating disorders, whereas for the rest of us, it’s generally just the one (family; I’m talking about family).

If you are someone with an eating disorder, and you are approaching Christmas Day with dread, you are not alone, and you can get through it. It is probably going to be a tough day, but there are steps you can take to make the most of it. Here are my suggestions on how to get through the day:

Focus on Family

Food is a big part of Christmas for most people, but you don’t have to let that be your main focus. Prioritise your family and/or friends and/or partner and enjoy their company. Catch up on the gossip, take part in the board games, and sing along to the carols with grandma. Spend time doing what is enjoyable for you. If your family can make this easier for you, let them know how. Maybe it means trying to keep the topic of conversation away from food. Maybe it means keeping food in the dining room and having the lounge as a food-free zone. Maybe it means going out for a walk with your siblings to get a bit of fresh air and space. Whatever you do, try to keep the focus on the company of those you love, and enjoying the time spent with them.

Set Boundaries with Loved Ones

This is a day that everyone should be able to enjoy to their very best, so do take the time to talk to the people that you will be spending your time with and set your boundaries for the day. This could mean asking them to refrain from talking about New Year’s diets, making food-moralising remarks, or reminding them not to comment on any of your eating habits. Do not be afraid to voice your needs. It is important to make clear what you need from them in order for you to enjoy the day.

Challenge Yourself…But Not Too Much

A huge part of the anxiety of the day is that there will be a lot of delicious food around that you will want to eat but also will not want to eat, and that’s the fight between you and your eating disorder. For a lot of people, this battle is going to go on all day, and that can make the day extremely stressful and anxiety-provoking (see Focus on Family for ways to minimise this). This is also a great time to challenge yourself, but a time to not push it too far: you don’t want to make the day even more stressful by pushing yourself to the limit. One way to go about using this day as a manageable challenge is to make rough plan of what you might eat that day. This will give you a guideline that might help you feel a little more contained, but could involve trying something new or facing a fear food. Try not to restrict yourself as much a you can, but it’s okay if you need to feel safe for a day that is so difficult already.

Take Care of Yourself 

You may be around people this Christmas that will not respect your boundaries or may be insensitive or ignorant to your recovery. They may talk about the triggering topics which I mentioned in the “Set Boundaries With Loved Ones” section above, such as complaining that they have put on weight/are going to put on weight, lamenting that they have eaten “too much”, are being “naughty” or “bad” because they are “indulging”, or moaning that they need to go on a diet because of that. Please ignore them. They are battling their own insecurities and are looking for reassurance that what they are doing is okay and that other people feel the same and that they are not alone. This is really, really sad, and something that no one should have to feel. Enjoying the Christmas food is part of the festivity, and no one should have to feel guilty for it. Know that other people’s worries are not a reflection on you, and you should keep in mind that it is not something positive that they are experiencing, but guilt, anxiety, and insecurity. So instead of letting their negativity impact on you, empathise with them, as guilt, anxiety, and insecurity are emotions that you are likely experiencing also (albeit on a much grander scale to those who do not have eating disorders). Keep moving forwards towards your goals. Keep moving forward on your journey towards health and happiness. Keep in mind your motivations, and remember that the way you respond to others affects you primarily.

Leave the room for a bit if you need to. Take yourself off for a relaxing bath or a nap or to read a book. Go for a stroll. Have a quiet word with that relative who keeps calling the chocolate yule log “bad”. Just take care of yourself and do what you need to do, for you, to have the best day that you can. Do not be afraid to speak up. You need this. You deserve this.

If you are someone who has an un-supportive, highly triggering family, do know that it is okay to decide not to see them at all. If you want to spend Christmas with yourself, your partner, your partner’s family, your friends, or your pets, do it. Do what is best for you. Do what you need to do to continue moving forwards. Do what you need and you deserve to continue working towards health and happiness. Make positive choices, and don’t feel guilty about them. This is what you need. This is what you deserve.

Move On

Christmas is unfortunately never going to be an easy time for those with eating disorders, and it often means that those people go into it with anxiety, and leave it with guilt. It is okay to experience those feelings: you are not alone and those feelings are not your fault. However, you have to keep remembering that these negative emotions are caused by your eating disorder and the control that it has over your life. Keep fighting the war against it, and don’t respond to those negative feelings. You are going to be okay and you can get through this. Christmas will be over in a blink of an eye, and then it is time to put it behind you and move on from that day. Don’t carry the stress from it with you. Let the day go. Remember that it is absolutely, 110%, super okay to eat more than usual, go outside your meal plan, eat “normally”, or respond to extreme hunger (this applies for always, of course). It is okay to put on weight. It is okay to enjoy yourself. The guilt of going against those eating disorder rules can be overwhelming, but it is important to remember that this is part of recovery. Going against your eating disorder and doing what you deserve is part of fighting the battle inside your head. Eating whatever you want, whenever you want, is the goal, and so if you were able to do that for a day, or two, or more, or even if you were able to eat a little more than normal, you are making small steps towards achieving that outcome. That is a wonderful thing.

If the anxiety is becoming overwhelming, check out my article on anxiety management here.

Health At Every Size and Big Is Beautiful/Fat Acceptance: What These Movements Stand For and Why They Are Important

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Health at Every Size and the Fat Acceptance Movement started as small, barely recognised movements. Due to the hard work of those involved and the (very) gradual shift in views around weight, shape, and size, these movements are now beginning to get the acknowledgement and publicity that they deserve. The more exposure these movements get, the more people will start to be enlightened to the real facts, figures, and evidence around size, health, and weight set point theory. Hopefully with time weight-based myths, discrimination, and stigma will be something that we as a society look back on and cringe with shock and humiliation that we got something so wrong and treated millions of people so badly. However, we still have a really long way to go until then.

You might be new to these movements, or you might not be, but either way, you may be unsure about what they stand for and why these things are so important. So let’s have a look at each movement and discuss a little bit about them.haes-4

Health At Every Size (or HAES) was first developed by American psychotherapist and nutritionist Linda Bacon, who wrote the book Health at Every Size (first published in 2008), and the sequel, Body Respect. Health At Every Size is a movement that is promoted by those who believe that health and fitness can be achieved regardless of weight, shape, and size, and that weight-loss is not a requirement for those deemed “overweight” or “obese” by BMI in order to live a healthy and happy life. HAES encourages people to accept their weight as it is, and promotes mental and physical well-being without weight loss as a goal. HAES cites studies that have shown that weight loss often leads to worse health regardless of the starting weight, and presents evidence that suggests that obesity is not the cause of health issues or premature mortality. It provides strong arguments for the idea that correlation does not equal causation, and picks apart flaws in studies that apparently connect obesity to poor health. HAES supports self love, self care, and body positivity, as well as healthy physical lifestyle choices such as being active and eating a balanced diet. HAES promotes this in a way that is conductive to mental health: it urges people to engage in activity that is enjoyable first and foremost, and not gruelling and repetitive work-out routines, and it supports the idea that food is not just for survival but also for pleasure. It maintains that weight loss should never be a goal, and that weight loss is frequently damaging, and encourages people to follow intuitive and instinctive eating and activity. It also supports weight set point theory.

The Health At Every Size® Principles are:

  1. Weight Inclusivity: Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights.
  2. Health Enhancement: Support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services, and personal practices that improve human well-being, including attention to individual physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional, and other needs.
  3. Respectful Care: Acknowledge our biases, and work to end weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias. Provide information and services from an understanding that socio-economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and other identities impact weight stigma, and support environments that address these inequities.
  4. Eating for Well-being: Promote flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than any externally regulated eating plan focused on weight control.
  5. Life-Enhancing Movement: Support physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities, and interests to engage in enjoyable movement, to the degree that they choose.

Health At Every Size is a movement that I strongly agree with. Its main principles on exercise, food, weight, and body positivity are ones that I advocate with every fibre of my being. It’s incredibly important because we live in a culture obsessed with dieting and weight loss; a culture preoccupied with attaining the “perfect body – a body that is not achievable for the majority of people without sacrificing their mental and/or physical health. Even if you are someone who naturally has society’s idea of the “perfect” body, the dieting and weight loss industry will find ways to make you feel inadequate and flaw-ridden in a bid for you to buy their products to “fix” yourself with. The diet and weight loss industry controls much of our research into food and weight, and sweeps any evidence that contradicts their interests under the rug and publicises in a selective and biased way research that has questionable study methods or sample sizes, contentious results, and tenuous correlations. So do I have any criticism of the HAES movement?

Firstly, I think that although HAES is absolutely correct in that we should intuitively eat and listen to hunger and fullness cues, it underestimates how difficult that can be to relearn, especially if you are someone who has suffered with an eating disorder or severe dieting. In our society, feelings of guilt, self-loathing, shame, anxiety, and, on the other hand, superiority and control, have become inextricably linked with food and weight, and so it can be incredibly difficult (and perhaps even impossible) to entirely disentangle our emotions from our biological signals. That’s not to say that it cannot be done, but we need to address the context in which we live in our bodies  before we can start to challenge and relearn the way that we feed and view our bodies. Being presented with the principles of the Health At Every Size movement can feel like ordering flat-pack furniture and taking it home, only to open it up, lay out the pieces of the floor, and realise that the instructions aren’t there. You’re left with all the parts, but with no idea how to assemble it. And in reality that’s not exactly a flaw of the HAES movement itself, as HAES aims to educate and promote a mentally and physically healthy and positive way of living, but it is an area it sometimes fails to recognise and address.

Secondly, I’m not really a fan of the name. Heath At Every Size is misleading. Although I absolutely 110% agree that the what we view as “healthy” should be a much much much broader range of weights, it is undeniable that there are certain weights at which you just cannot be healthy at. You cannot be a healthy adult at 50lbs, just like you cannot be a healthy adult at 500lbs, and so the name of the movement leaves it open to criticism from the onset. Prader-Willi syndrome, hypothyroidism, cancer, depression, anxiety, or eating disorders are a few examples which can cause a person’s weight to plummet or skyrocket, and there are weights that are too low or too high for anyone to be healthy at. So for me, I believe in Health At (Pretty Much) Every Size, and whilst Health At Every Size is much more catchy, it’s technically incorrect, allowing those against the movement an easy starting point on which to discredit it.

Last but not least, HAES aims to provide people with the information to start working towards accepting their bodies whatever their weight, shape, and size in order to improve both physical and mental health. However, it also has to be addressed that we live in a society where fat people are constantly subjected to prejudice, body-shaming, weight stigma, and discrimination. Fat people who agree with HAES may still struggle to accept their body size in a culture so cruel to them, and their inability to find peace with their bodies may well become yet another source of shame. Again, this isn’t a flaw in the principles of HAES, but a topic that may need more recognition.

So what is the difference between Health At Every Size and the Fat Acceptance Movement? Let’s take a look at the latter:
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The Fat Acceptance movement (also known as the size acceptance, fat liberation, fat activism, fativism, or fat power movement) is a social movement seeking to change anti-fat bias in social attitudes. Those involved seek to change attitudes towards fat people in areas of life including the aesthetic, legal, and medical approaches to people whose bodies are fatter than the social norm. The Fat Acceptance movement focuses more on the way fat people are perceived and judged due to their weight, shape, or size, and although it does address physical health and the research to back up the same principles as the Health At Every Size movement, it is more focused around changing the way fat people are treated and discriminated against. Fat people are often dehumanised and shown far less respect than those that are at a socially “acceptable” weight. One of the main examples is medical care. Fat people’s medical issues are often inaccurately dismissed as being caused by their weight, are shown less respect, and are often shamed for their body size.

The Big Is Beautiful movement is a smaller movement that comes under the Fat Acceptance movement, and focuses more on aesthetics. Its message is that people whose bodies are bigger than what is considered socially “acceptable” are beautiful too, and that you don’t have to be a certain weight, shape, or size to be attractive. Its aim is to help people find beauty in their bodies regardless of any contributing factors that make them look a certain way: health is besides the point.

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Both movements are focused around respect, and also talk about health as irrelevant. The ideas is that even if you believe that someone IS unhealthy due to their weight, its not your business what lifestyle choices they make, and they should be treated with respect regardless of those choices. For example, we all know people who smoke or binge drink, but we do not treat them as less human on an everyday basis because those choices lead to poor health. We do not assume their personality, or directly link their personal lifestyle choices with their moral character. This is why these movements are so important: they address the way society perceives and treats people who are fat.

My only criticism of these two movements (Fat Acceptance and Big Is Beautiful) is that there are some people involved in this movement who look down on those who diet as betrayers of the movement, when they should be seen as victims of a diet and weight loss obsessed society. As I stated above with HAES, it can be forgotten how powerful and pervasive “thin ideals” are, and all of us are affected by it in some way, even if we do constantly work to disentangle ourselves from it and rise above it. We should all be working together to support one another and help to lift each other up not put anyone down. We should aim to educate, not shun; support, not vilify.

Health At Every Size, the Fat Acceptance movement, and Big Is Beautiful, are all extremely important in terms of physical health, mental health, feminism, and education around food, weight, and health, amongst other things. They are powerful and uplifting; inspiring and motivational; enlightening and passionate. They can give us the information and confidence to live in a better way; a way that makes the aspirations of health and happiness more achievable.

To find out more about weight set point theory, and to read discussions around and evidence to support Health At Every Size, you can visit the resources section on this website. There is a drop-down menu that displays many sub-sections, including one for each of these topics.

And as a last little titbit of information, check the photo out below:

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Extreme Hunger in Eating Disorder Recovery: Why You Are Not Binging and Other Fears Explained

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Recently I have been inundated with questions about extreme hunger. This is not unexpected, as extreme hunger is one of the most terrifying aspects of recovery, and one that the eating disorder will latch onto; screaming all of your/its fears into your brain and how they have/are about to come true. Extreme hunger is probably the most common topic that comes up in messages to me asking for information and advice, alongside digestive issues. Recently though, the questions have become even more unrelenting: I could answer five questions in a row about extreme hunger and then within hours receive five more, even though their question was answered in the previous messages. Either the senders of these messages did not take the time to read them (or my FAQ), or, as is understandable, they see themselves as the exception to the recovery process (the “I am a magical unicorn” thinking process).

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Our anxieties and our eating disorders tell us that what we are experiencing isn’t the normal symptoms of recovery; that we are different; that our experiences with an eating disorder do not warrant the symptoms of recovery; that we were not sick enough for this; that somehow we need less food; that somehow our weight gain is not normal; that unlike everyone else the numbers on the scale will increase forever more and we will gain into infinity. And I get this entirely, because I was the same, but there is only so many times that I can repeat the same things over and over again, especially when they are in messages that come directly after one another. And so I decided to create this article to address the fears and doubts that are the most common: the ones that come up in those messages time and time again. The first part of this issue is to talk about the main fears of those with extreme hunger. The second part is a collection of experiences from those who have gone through extreme hunger and come out the other side.

Without further ado:

You can experience extreme hunger regardless of what weight you are or how much weight you lost.
If you restricted your intake, your body experienced an energy deficit. This energy deficit causes damage. This can result in extreme hunger.

Extreme hunger varies in severity and length of time.
It often lasts longer, or is more extreme, in those who have restricted for long periods of time, or those who have restricted very severely. Combining the two is therefore likely to double the chances of this. However, everyone is different, and the severity of extreme hunger is down to how much the damage the body has to repair. If you have extreme hunger, you have it for a reason.

Extreme hunger can come at any time.
Extreme hunger can come and go, be constant, start on Day 1 of recovery (or even during your ED, hence “binging” episodes), come during the middle of the recovery, or the end, or not at all, and it can last for varying periods of time.

It is totally normal to crave what you may call “unhealthy” or “junk” food.
High carb, high fat, and high sugar foods are foods that you are likely to have restricted during your eating disorder, which is why your body craves them now. It is deficient in those things and also in energy, and these foods tend to be high in energy and are easier to process by the body. Basically, this food is easy energy for a starved body. Your cravings for these types of foods will calm down in time as your body gets healthier and your mind recognises that you will not deprive it of these foods again. As a side note, just remember, that there is no “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods; “good” or “bad”, there are just foods that have different nutritional and energy values. Food is food, and also food is not a moral issue.

Extreme hunger is normal, natural, and expected.
If you starve your body, it is going to need more calories than a healthy, energy-balanced body, in order to get back to its balanced state. You can read more information about extreme hunger, why it happens, and how to cope with it here. I also have a video on the topic here. You are not alone in this experience.

Extreme hunger will not lead you to gain forever.
If you starve and lose weight, you will gain that weight back when you start eating more (and possibly more if your body is still growing and developing as your natural weight is not static until around 25ish when you have grown fully  into your adult body). However, extreme hunger is more about internal repairs. So yes, some energy will go towards gaining weight, but lots of energy also goes into healing the damage done to your insides, which means it is used up doing this and is not part of weight gain. When your body is not so severely damaged, your appetite will taper down.

Extreme hunger will stop.
Extreme hunger is there for a very good reason: because your body is severely damaged and needs energy in order to repair this damage. When the body is healthier and not in need of so much energy, it will stop giving you signals for so much energy. Trust the body. It wants to heal you. It wants you to be happy and healthy. Your eating disorder wants to kill you. Put your faith in the right one, even though handing over control feels so scary. Remember that the illusion of control is scarier, and that with your ED you were never in control at all. You were controlled by something that wanted you as miserable and as sick as possible. It’s ultimate goal is your death. Take back control by working with your body, not against it. By giving over control to your body, you will be more in control than you ever have been, because you are reclaiming your health and happiness.

Your eating disorder will try and tell you that you are using extreme hunger as an excuse to eat, but that you were “not sick enough”, “didn’t restrict enough”, “didn’t lose enough weight” to warrant experiencing extreme hunger in recovery.
This is manipulation and bullying by your eating disorder. It can feel that it is losing, and it will try anything to have total control over you again. P.s. you never need an excuse to eat whatever you want, and if you can eat amounts that are “extreme hunger amounts”, then there’s a very good reason for it, and that reason is that the body needs it.

What you think is extreme hunger might not be extreme hunger.
2,500-3,500 calories is a very normal appetite. 3,500-4,000ish is more of a grey area. It is a larger appetite than most people with a healthy, energy-balanced body (although can be reached by energy-balanced people, usually by eating lots at a restaurant, or a buffet, or a night out drinking lots of alcohol and mixers), but it is not exactly extreme. 4,000-4,500+ is when it would start to be more in the extreme hunger range. All of these ranges can be experienced by a person in recovery from a restrictive eating disorder.

You are not binging and you do not have BED.
It feels very very much like binging, but it is not BED, and here we can look at the criteria for Binge Eating Disorder:

DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria
  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating. An episode of binge eating is characterized by both of the following:
    • eating, in a discrete period of time (for example, within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances
    • a sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (for example, a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating)
  • The binge-eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following:
    • eating much more rapidly than normal
    • eating until feeling uncomfortably full
    • eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
    • eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating
    • feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterwards
  • Marked distress regarding binge eating is present.
  • The binge eating occurs, on average, at least once a week for three months.
  • The binge eating is not associated with the recurrent use of inappropriate compensatory behavior (for example, purging) and does not occur exclusively during the course Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, or Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.

You will probably read these and think but this is what I am experiencing! Let’s go through it point by point:

  • Yes, you will eat food that is larger than most people would eat in that time because you have a starved body that needs loads more energy than most people.
    You will absolutely feel a lack of control because your eating disorder (which gives you the illusion of being in control) is not driving this: your body is, and therefore your ED will feel out of control.
  • Yes, you will probably eat rapidly because your body wants to get energy is as fast as it can because it is desperate for it.
  • Yes, you will feel uncomfortably full because a) your stomach is shrunken and b) this is an amount of food that your stomach is not used to at all.
  • You may not feel physically hungry because extreme hunger can be experienced in many different ways. Extreme hunger can be the feeling of hunger and tummy rumblings etc, but for the most part, from talking to people and experiencing it myself, it comes in the form of feeling empty and/or intense urges to eat/mental hunger.
  • Feeling embarrassed, disgusted, depressed, and guilt, along with marked distress, whilst and/or after eating a large amount of food, is quite obviously going to be experienced by someone with a restrictive eating disorder.
  • Again, it can be experienced every day, or on and off on some days and some not, or once a week, or not for a week and then constantly for weeks, etc etc.
  • Now if we take a look at the last in that category, I want to draw your attention to “does not occur exclusively during the course Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, or Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder“. You are in recovery from one of these eating disorders (or OSFED/EDNOS). This means that you still have that eating disorder, because even though you are moving forwards from it, it is still active for you, until it is inactive and you are in remission. Meaning that you do not have BED. You have anorexia, bulimia, OSFED, or ARFID, and your body is trying to recover from the physical effects that this has had on you.

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Personal Experiences With Extreme Hunger : Those Who Have Come Out The Other Side

Extreme hunger was definitely the most daunting part of the recovery process for me. Mine began about 1 week into recovery and lasted non stop for approximately 3 months and then fairly regularly for the next 9 months with only the odd day here and there after that. It was emotionally traumatic and I was, like many people who go through it, certain that I had developed a binge eating food addiction. I had not… it was exactly what my body was screaming out for and all I had to do was listen to it and respond appropriately without compensating through exercise or attempts to restrict afterwards. I would eat thousands of calories in single sittings, often after a meal is when it would hit me. For example I’d have a normal lunch and would then suddenly feel like a bottomless pit, like my insides were desperate for more. I’d eat several family packs of biscuits, boxes of cereal, whole boxes of magnum ice-creams, share bags of salted nuts, loaves of bread, you name it. It was terrifying but I battled through the fear and the hatred my ED would scream at me and allowed my body to do the healing it so desperately needed to do. Over time the episodes of EH would become fewer and further between and now I simply couldn’t eat as much food as that in a single sitting- now I look back on it and know with confidence and experience that it was essential for my recovery and pivotal in my battle of overcoming my eating disorder. – Emily, 22

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I developed an eating disorder when I began restricting calories in order to lose weight. It got out of hand and I then developed bulimia. I wish I had known that my binging (extreme hunger) was a normal reaction to the restriction. Eventually I realised the only way to end the bulimia cycle was to just go all in and let my extreme hunger run its course. It was really really REALLY hard, and scary, with many slip ups, and I recommend building a good support system around yourself. I didn’t count my calories at the time, but I’m sure they went to at least 4000-5000 most days. I think on average I would have hit 4000 calories a day. But there were definite days where it could have easily been 8000 calories. What I remember most is eating entire loafs of bread with butter in one sitting. Definitely entire large icecream tubs were in there. Just complete freedom. It was the best decision I have ever made. It meant I could enrol into university and study. It took the better part of a year for the extreme hunger to completely subside, and then another year for me to be completely rid of disordered thoughts around food. I know I’m so lucky to have gotten through it. I’ve tapered down to a weight that has stayed stable for months without any effort. I now have the brain space to focus on things I actually love doing. I wouldn’t have gotten here if I didn’t let extreme hunger run its course. – Ira, 24

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Before I experienced extreme hunger, I had tricked myself into thinking I wasn’t sick anymore, because while I was eating the minimum amount of calories recommended for me for my body weight (which turns out is less than half what I should have been eating to live a normal life) and experiencing extreme orthorexia, I was still, in my mind, eating. I thought that I was well enough to go back to work as a chef. In the six months that followed the years and years of starving myself overwhelmed me and extreme hunger kicked in. I had no idea what it was and was terrified I had developed BED. I would eat cake until I felt sick, throw it away in tears, and then feel the need to eat it so badly that I’d get it out of the bin again. I would eat entire loaves of bread and cheese and all of the food I’d told myself I wasn’t allowed to eat, and panic until I had anxiety attacks. I was terrified and felt so wildly out of control that I started making myself sick again. After months of this, although it was incredibly difficult, I stopped being sick, I stopped counting calories, and I tried really hard to eat what my body was telling me to eat. I threw away my scales. I didn’t look in a mirror for months. I just told myself that it was going to be okay, and that I had to let my body do this so that I could live my life without spending every waking moment thinking about fat and weight and diet plans. I just wanted to be able to live like normal people lived. Obviously I put on weight, because my body was starved and was desperate to hold on to the calories I was putting in to it, but after a few months of extreme hunger, my body began to calm down. My appetite lessened, and my weight evened out. I learned how to eat normal food again, how to eat without calorie counting, and how to eat meals like normal people at normal times. Extreme hunger terrified me because I didn’t know what it was, but I needed to go through it not only to let my body recover from all of the awful things I’d put it through, but also to learn how to eat again.  Anonymous, 24

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My experience with extreme hunger was a scary one. Going from eating so little to so much in such little time was a shock both mentally and physically… and was actually kind of terrifying at times. My extreme hunger began very soon after embarking on a ‘3000 calories a day’ meal plan. After a few days of this plan, it was as if my body completely took over my mind and wouldn’t rest unless it was well fed. For the first few days of extreme hunger, there was actually very little fear or hesitation involved when it came to eating. I felt FREE. I ate pretty much everything I’d been restricting by the bucket load. If an award could be won for the most chocolate consumption in one sitting I’d definitely win them all (are these awards a thing? I hope so). I’d say that my consumption started at around 5000-6000 at the beginning for around 2 weeks and then crept up to around 10,000 calories a day which I’d say lasted for around 4-5 weeks. Can I just add that it sounds WAY more terrifying than it actually is. Yes – it is scary, but it is also the most freeing thing you could ever experience. After eating around 10,000 calories a day for 4-5 weeks, my hunger began to taper a little; week by week my intake lessened slightly until I was eating 3000-4000 calories naturally and comfortably a day.
Body wise, I gained weight quickly. I had the whole puffy face, slightly pregnant belly thing going on. At the time, I honestly didn’t concentrate much on how I was looking. The feeling of freedom was completely overwhelming and overshadowed the physical effects of what I was going through. That being said, extreme hunger didn’t come without its discomfort. My body was obviously not accustomed to digesting this volume of food, which meant that I experienced fairly severe stomach cramps. I ensured that I stuck to easily digestible food at this time and after a couple of weeks, they passed.
My extreme hunger diminished completely at around 7 months into recovery and I am now 3 years in! Extreme hunger helped me break down so many barriers in recovery and it has enabled me to build a far healthier relationship with food. – Emmy, 22

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I was meeting with a nutritionist about once a week at the beginning of my recovery. She would give me a meal plan, calorie goal, etc. It was extremely difficult at first because I had to not only eat, but keep in, the calories I was consuming. Once I was on this meal plan for a few weeks the extreme hunger started to kick in. The biggest issue I had with extreme hunger is that in the beginning you don’t trust your body or think that it’s accurately telling you the things that you want. But one day I just said “fuck it” and tried a different approach. Whatever I was craving I ate, no matter the amount I wanted. The extreme hunger lasted for six months, and was one of the more difficult parts of the recovery process but it is so, so worth it, and is exactly why I can be typing this right now while enjoying ramen with my roommates and knowing that yes, this can be overcome. – Natalia, 21

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Last year, I used MinnieMaud to recover from anorexia. Extreme hunger hit me like a truck, and I was a ravenous beast for a solid 4 months. I went from about 90 lbs to 150 lbs, and once I hit that weight, my appetite normalized, which was pretty awesome and relieving. It was a rough and scary road, but having confidence in the principles of MM, and especially the Minnesota starvation study, and TRUSTING my body, helped immensely. – Anonymous, 30

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During the early parts of recovery my hunger was huge. I was CONSTANTLY hungry/craving large amounts of food. I would eat blocks of cheese, chips, sandwich after sandwich and still feel hungry even though my stomach felt so full and bloated. It was scary to think the hunger would never end and I’d just keep on eating and eating. BUT, I trusted the process and resigned myself to allowing myself grace during this period knowing many other people had experienced the exact same thing with good results in the end. I knew the key was to not limit myself when it came to food and cravings. It took awhile but slowly I started noticing myself eating and craving smaller portions and feeling satisfied with those portions. The body just needs all those calories and nutrients after being in the negatives for so long. Give yourself time to make up some of the deficits without freaking out too much! You can do it! – Shannon, 34

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My extreme hunger started before I even chose to recover. My body eventually decided that after seven years of restriction that varied from minor to severe during that time span, and one year of severe, unrelenting starvation, it was going to have to do something about it. My body would put me in what I can only call “trances”, where I would go to the kitchen and eat loads of porridge oats, then “wake up”, and chaos would ensue, both in my mind and my reactions to what I had eaten. A month or so of this ensued: with my body taking over, and then my eating disorder reacting to it and making me compensate. Then I chose recovery, and tentatively gave myself permission to respond to the hunger and cravings that I was experiencing. During extreme hunger I would eat whole cheesecakes; pints of Ben and Jerry’s; bowls of cereal; whole big Thornton’s chocolate boxes…I was terrified that I had developed BED; that I was using recovery as an excuse to binge; that I would never stop eating so much…but it did. It stopped when I was healthier. My appetite tapered down. It stopped demanding so many high carb and high fat foods. My days of experiencing extreme hunger lessened and grew farther apart. During the second year of my recovery, my appetite was generally normal, with a couple of days of eat around 4,000 calories (in the grey area between normal appetite and extreme hunger, but then again some days I probably didn’t eat enough for my body and therefore ate more on other days). Now my weight is stable, my appetite has normalised, and I haven’t experienced extreme hunger for years. It was terrifying to go through, but it is not endless. It does stop. And it is so important to trust that your body is that hungry for a reason. – Myself (Sarah Young), 25

I hope that this article answers most of the questions related to extreme hunger and gives some reassurance that this is normal and does end.

 

Hidden Behind A Healthy Weight: The Eating Disorders You Can’t See

invisible

Eating disorders are complex illnesses. They are a mental illness that often result in the deterioration of physical health, and there is not one recovery method that has a high success rate as of yet. They have a complicated entanglement of genetic and environmental causation that is entirely individual to each person. There are many different types of eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, EDNOS/OSFED, ARFID, BED, purging disorder, rumination disorder, pica), and people of all ages, genders, weights, ethnicity, sexual orientation (etc, etc) can develop one. And yet we are bombarded only with images of eating disorders in the form of extreme anorexia: the emaciated, skeletal bodies of those walking the fine line between life and death. The media blasts out the headlines that often scream something like “I WAS 4ST AND ONLY ATE A LETTUCE LEAF A DAY”. They plaster photos of bones protruding across the articles and present to us an “after” photo of the recovered victim: nearly always a slim, beautiful, white young woman.

And there we have it: the damaging stereotype of what an eating disorder looks like and who develops one. This stereotype harms everyone who deviates from the narrative of pretty young white girl who starves herself to within an inch of her life. I’ve never seen an article about anyone black with an eating disorder. Ever. I’m sure that there are one or two articles out there, but the media all but erases the existence of black men and women with eating disorders. It erases the existence of older adults with eating disorders. It erases the existence of men with eating disorders. In fact, the media erases nearly all eating disorders in themselves – the minority of people with eating disorders experience anorexia nervosa, and an even smaller amount have the chronic anorexia that the magazines depict. “Before the latest change in diagnostic criteria, it was estimated that of those with eating disorders, 10% were anorexic, 40% were bulimic and the rest fall into the EDNOS category” (from here). Most of the 90% of people with eating disorders that are not diagnosed as anorexic will be fit into the “healthy”, “overweight”, or “obese” BMI categories. That’s not to mention all the undiagnosed people who are not seeking help and are invisible because of their weight, who are not getting the help and support that they need and deserve.

There are also different types of “invisible people” with eating disorders at a “healthy” weight. Those who have lost lots of weight but come from a higher weight are one set of people. These people are often congratulated for their weight loss, even though it has been lost in exactly the same way  that someone going from a “healthy” BMI to an “underweight” one has – someone who would be diagnosed with anorexia rather than praised for their efforts. We offer treatment to those that lose weight and fall into the weight criteria for an anorexia diagnosis, and pat those on the back that lose the same amount of weight but come from a weight perceived as socially unacceptable (or a weight perceived as “acceptable” but not “desirable”). And what many people do not know, or forget, is that we all have our own natural healthy weights (that can be pretty much any weight, shape, or size), and if people are well below those weights, they are underweight for their own individual body. So if someone is naturally a BMI of 27 and they starve themselves to a BMI of 20, they are severely underweight for themselves, but their eating disorder are often dismissed as “healthy weight loss efforts”. Their illness can be not only hidden, but recognised as something positive, and therefore encouraged and reinforced. Included in this category are those who will never dip below a “healthy” BMI and could remain invisible for any amount of time, and those who will continue to lose weight. At this point society will go “woah, lose weight but not too much weight!” This is when their weight loss will be recognised as an issue, but as it was never noticed before, by now the person will likely be entrenched with their eating disorder.

Another group are people who have eating disorders but find that their weight doesn’t change much, or there are those that gain weight during their eating disorder. Weight is only a secondary symptom of some eating disorders, and it is important to understand that not everyone experiences a change in weight when suffering from an eating disorder. They are primarily mental illnesses.

Another group of “invisible people” at a “healthy” weight are those who are recovering from a low or lower weight and have gained weight to a weight that society deems “fine”. Peoples see them in the street and don’t suspect a thing. Friends stop worrying and family heave a sigh of relief. Those close to the person show less concern and more frustration: they think that the journey is over. You look fine therefore you must be fine. It’s important to remember that this is a mental illness, and that the physical symptoms are secondary. It is also important to remember that the person may still be at an unhealthy weight for their own personal body, and though they may be an acceptable size in terms of society’s standards, they may be underweight still regardless of BMI. Just because you can’t see their pain doesn’t mean that they are not experiencing it. The mental anguish that led them to rock bottom is still there and still needs to be addressed.

People who look fine but have expressed that they are not need to be taken seriously. They need to be supported, and they need to be encouraged to move towards being healthy and happy: whatever that looks like for them. It might not look like your idea of healthy and happy, but you have to put aside your biases, your judgements, and your prejudices in order to help that person achieve the best life that they can for them.

If you are someone who is living at what society says is a “healthy” weight, but you have engaged in disordered habits to get there, or you are regaining weight and are still unwell but people think you “look fine”, then sit those people down that are important to you and tell them. Set your boundaries, let them know what you need, and ask them to support you to get better. Be open and honest. Don’t downplay your struggles. Be assertive when telling them what is helpful and what is unhelpful.  Print off information on eating disorders to support what you are saying and to give them something to read later to help them to understand how pervasive and powerful an eating disorder is mentally. Write a letter if that is easier. Whatever you do, talk. Your voice needs to be heard.