30 Dec 2010
Thanks to therapy and hard work I managed to get my behaviour under control. But 'under control' is not the same as 'gone'. 'Under control' is good enough for my therapist but not for me. I don't want calorie counting to play any part in my daily life and my food choices anymore, because I know its preventing me from making healthy food choices that respect what my body needs. But unfortunately my internal calorie calculator has not been totally switched off yet. When you've counted calories for as long as I have, it becomes second nature: something you do without thinking. I'll often be day-dreaming, letting my mind wander (last thing at night, for example, or when I'm walking to the shops) and suddenly realise I've accurately calculated my calorie consumption for that day. And, once I have that information, I find it very difficult not to start worrying or obsessing about it - deciding I've either eaten too little or too much based purely on the numbers, no matter how full or empty I feel, and then making 'action plans' to compensate later by eating more/less. Years of calorie counting also means that I now have a pretty good memory of the calorie content of most foods and I find it very hard not to make food choices based on that, even though I know that's not the healthiest way to be. I also find it difficult not to check the labels on food and not to let the numbers influence whether I eat it or not. I know that this is not a way to be healthy or happy, but how do you break the habit of a lifetime (almost)? If you have any hints and tips, or have your own calorie counting stories, please share them with me.........
28 Dec 2010
23 Dec 2010
Anyhoo, I recently read a (now out of date) article on Marie Claire online about health food bloggers, entitled 'The Hunger Diaries': http://www.marieclaire.com/health-fitness/news/articles/health-blogger-controversy. The basic argument in the article is that these bloggers purport to advocate healthy eating and healthy living but, in fact, their detailed chronicalling of their exercise routines and eating habits is obsessional and borders on disordered. The article goes on to suggest that these bloggers might actually encourage eating disordered behaviour in others.
I decided to check out some of the blogs myself to form my own opinion. Some of the blogs mentioned include katheats.com, carrotsncake.com, graduatemeghann.com, healthytippingpoint.com), hangrypants.com and eatliverun.com/. Well, after checking them out I have to say: Marie Claire, I think you're wrong! I actually really liked the blogs, particulary katheats.com and eatliverun.com/. The blogs seemed more like celebrations of food and eating, than the diaries of obsessional, punitive undereaters. Most of the bloggers described healthy, varied diets; if you follow them, you're just as likely to come across a recipe for rice pudding or peanut-butter cookies as a grilled chicken salads and there's not a diet food or weight watchers ready meal to be seen. It's true that many of the bloggers do have weight loss stories to tell, but all of the seem to have gone from being genuinely overweight to a healthy weight, none of them resorted to drastic diets and only one of them mentioned calorie counting. I suppose describing what you eat and cook each day could be described as obsessional, but then, surely you can be passionate about food without having an ED. I mean, has anyone every accused Gordom Ramsey of having an ED? I can't help thinking the fact that the bloggers are (1) woman and (2) young and attractive, has something to do with Marie Claire's spin on their blogs. No, I think these blogs are more about health and balance than obsession and starvation. If anything, I've learned something about the difference between 'normal' healthy eating and the kind of disordered-eating-marquerading-as-healthy that I engaged in in the later stages of my own disorder.
Finally, here's an extract from a post I read on eatliverun.com/. It's the author's explanation of why she chose to quit the gym: 'I realized the gym made me miserable and I really didn’t like running, cycling or the elliptical. [.....]So I quit the gym and really, quit working out all together.[...]Now, my exercise comes purely in the form of walking (hiking in the summer) and yoga. Sometimes days go by and I’m too busy to do either…and I’m totally cool with that.'
She adds: 'I’m really not scared of gaining a few pounds because of something extremely delicious. I’d gladly gain five pounds if it means I get to indulge in a daily sweet and bacon every once and a while. I honestly can’t imagine life any other way.'
Does that sound disordered to you? Me neither. Now, if only I could be a bit more like that.......
7 Oct 2010
Unfortunately, however, our decent into the dark world of ED coincided. We did an internship at the same place the summer we were both turned 17. My friend (let's call her Jane) had just started the Atkins diet, even though she was slim, healthy and beautiful. I was already starting to worry about my weight and calorie count. I think, on some level, her extreme dieting motivated me to go to take my restrictive eating to another level. By the end of the summer we were both looking noticably unwell. Our weights had plummetted and neither of us could function well in school because we were on such low-calorie diets. However, whereas I managed to drag myself back to weight that was non-anorexic (although still unhealthily low for my height) over the course of the next year or so, Jane just got worse. She ended up in and out of different eating disorders treatment hospitals for the next two years, until something snapped and she found the strength to gain weight, enough weight to convince doctors to discharge her, let her move on with her life and go to university etc.
But, like so many people (including myself) her issues with food and weight were far from over. Three years have now passed since she was finally discharged from hospital, and she still uses her eating as a way to cope with stress, just as I sometimes do. But, whereas I feel I'm making some progress, I think she's going backwards, and I don't think she's committed to complete body-mind recovery in the way I am. The problem is, when I see her, it sometimes destabilises me. I look at her - she is still very beautiful and glamorous - and I wonder whether I might not look better in jeans if my legs were as thin as hers. Its a dangerous path to go down. But what do I do? Do I cut her out of my life completely, after over 10 years of friendship? It seems a shame and, to be honest, I'm not even sure it's an option because we have so many friends in common. I would love to have the strength to continue to be a good friend to her, without letting her issues effect the way I feel about myself, and perhaps I do have the strength to do that....but I'm not sure, and maybe hanging out with her is therefore too much of a risk. I'm really at a loss as to what to do in this situation. If anyone has experienced anything similar, I'd love to hear your stories and if anyone has any wise words, I'd appreciate it.
30 Sep 2010
29 Aug 2010
Personally, I’ve found my eating disorder very disempowering, and I know a lot of other people do to. People who binge often feel that they are at the mercy of their compulsion to eat. As someone who restricts what I eat and when, I’ve come to behave as if the rules I’ve lived by for so long were imposed on me by something separate from me, and more powerful than me. In fact, on a subconscious level, I think I believe that they really are externally imposed rules – as if special food police are ready-and-waiting to arrest me if I dare to eat a BLT or eat my morning snack before 11am. My therapist would call this ‘faulty’ thinking…. most people would call it bonkers. In an effort to unlearn it, I’ve decided to remind myself constantly that I have free choice in everything I do: that I am responsible for me. When I start to feel guilty about ‘breaking’ a rule or start to feel trapped by my rules, I am trying to remember to say to ask myself: ‘what do you chose to do?’ That way, even when I’m making bad choices for myself, at least I’m acknowledging them honestly as my own decisions, reminding myself that I could have made different ones and reinforcing my sense of my own self-determination.
Interestingly, I've found this empowering not only when making decisions to do with eating, but also in the rest of my life. For example, yesterday I decided not to go out shopping with friends, but to spend the day studying at home instead (I'm taking a correspondence course). I was feeling so sorry for myself that it was distracting me from my work. I kept thinking, 'this is so unfair. My friends can go out and have fun, while I have to work. If I didn't have such pushy parents/ academic insecurities instilled in me by cruel primary school teachers/ such a puritanical drive to 'better myself' etc etc, then I could be having fun too!'. This went on and on until I stepped back and asked myself: 'What do I chose to do? It's not to late to call my friends. I could still go shopping'. I considered, then decided I'd rather get the work out of the way, so I wasn't trying to frantically do it after work over the next week. Decision made. I was able to go back to work feeling like a self-determining, responsible adult (well, for 10 minutes or so at least).
28 Aug 2010
26 Aug 2010
22 Aug 2010
I think it's pretty much an established statistic that people with a first degree relative with an ED are more likely to develop one themselves than people without. However, since family members tend to share the same environment and tend to influence one another, we can't be certain whether EDs run in families as a result of nature or nurture. Studies which compare the prevalence of EDs in genetically identical twins (monozygotic) verses non-identical (dizygotic) twins are a bit more helpful. In my research of my problem, I came across a study by Holland & Kendler which took a whole bunch of anorexics who happened to be twins and checked whether their twin hand an eating disorder too. They found that, where one a twin has anorexia nervosa, there's a 55% chance that her twin also does if her twin is identical, but only a 7% chance if her twin is non-identical. This does seem to suggest there's a genetic component involved. Some researchers even think they're getting closer to identifying a gene that might make carriers more vulnerable to anorexia: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC384957/
My real difficulty with the genetic theory is not really evidence, though, so much as whether its helpful to my recovery. For me personally, focusing on the genetic arguments doesn't motivate me to work on recovery. Instead, it leaves me feeling hopeless - like a victim of my genes. After all, you can't change your genes. So, I prefer to remember that 45% anorexic girls in Holland & Kendler's study, had a genetically identical twins who hadn't followed their sisters along the self-starvation road. How inspiring is that?! Imagine having a twin who looks exactly like you and thinks they're fat and refuses to eat, and yet finding the strength to just soldier on, stay healthy, and ignore the pressure to diet. What that tells me is that we can over-ride the power of any genetic pre-disposition we may or may not have, if we stay strong. That's what I want to do, so that's what I chose to focus on.
20 Aug 2010
In her book ‘Goodbye Ed, Hello Me’ Jenni Schaefer talks about how import it is to let go of all of your restrictive eating patterns and allow your body to find its natural weight. She uses the metaphor of parachuting off a mountain. The problem is, even though I definitely want to get the hell off the mountain, I still can’t trust that my parachute will open. But perhaps the alternative, continuing restricting, is even more dangerous? I’ve been doing it for years – keeping my weight just below normal. Sometimes it feels okay for a period, but at other times it makes me uptight, disconnected from life and preoccupied with food and weight. In the long-term, it risks my health and has probably contributed to some of my relapses. But committing to letting go completely still feels like a big ask.
18 Aug 2010
Here are a few things that I believe contributed to my eating disorder:
1. Anxiety I’m a worry-bug. In the past, I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, which basically means there’s pretty much nothing I don’t worry about. Terrorist attacks? Missing the bus? Getting dumped? Malaria? Exams? - you name it, I’ve probably worried about it today. I’ve used under-eating to keep my worries at bay by numbing my emotions, and to help me feel more in control.
2. My mum I really don’t want to admit this, because I love her, but I do think she’s had an inadvertent effect on my relationship with food and weight. She’s super-skinny and, even though she usually eats three meals a day, she has the ability to go for long stretches of time without eating very much. I don’t know to what extent her skinniness is natural or deliberate, because I’m too close to her to judge objectively and, frankly, I’d rather not go there. But the fact remains that, growing up with my mother as a model of women-hood, has made my own relationship with food and my body that much more fraught.
3. Self-hatred From about the age of 11 I’ve had a complicated relationship with the mirror. But beyond that, I’ve had difficulty loving and accepting myself – soul and mind, as well as body – for as long as I recall. I was mad enough to believe that, with a new body, would emerge a new me, a better, prettier me, that I could love.
4. My body This relationship’s not so peachy either. I started getting IBS in my mid-teens (again, like so many other people), and found the experience of my body behaving in a way that was so uncontrollable and unpredictable (not to mention gross) profoundly upsetting. I believe dieting was my own cruel way of reminding my body who’s boss.
5. The black dog There’s a lot of debate about whether depression is a cause or consequence of anorexia. Obviously, it’s different for everyone, but my hunch is that it’s usually both. It certainly was for me. Like my anxiety, my feelings of profound emptiness and sadness was numbed when I stopped eating. On another level, I also now suspect that starvation was my subconscious attempt to way of communicate my feelings to the people around me.
6. The media I’ve read too many fashion magazines and have taken them too seriously.
7. My friends Too many of them have had too many of the same problems I have. The other side to this coin, however, is that a recovered or recovering friend can be a tremendous support when you’re trying to recover too.
8.ME! None of the above explanations take away the fact that I chose and have continued to chose, to obsess about food and weight instead of filling my mind and sould with more important things. When I look at all of the explanations listed here, I realise that I have not struggled with anything that most privilaged Western girls and boys haven't also encountered. What makes me different from healthier people is the dysfunctional and irrational way I chose to deal with these minor difficulties. And I have to take responsibility for that.