21 Jun 2011

I wish......

I often find myself obsessively wishing that food wasn't such an issue in my life. But when I stopped to imagine what I would change about myself if I had a magic wand, I realised there would be lost of contenders, many of which are not directly to do with E.D. (although they may have been part of the underlying cause of my E.D. in the first place). Here are just a few:

I wish I could stop obsessing about food and calories.
I wish I could eat spontaniously.
I wish I didn't care so much about what other people think of me.
I wish I was warmer and friendlier.
I wish I could be more spontanious and relaxed.
I wish I wasn't so concerned about how I look.
I wish I had more energy.
I wish I had more confidence.
I wish I wasn't so afraid of confrontation.
I wish I was better at speaking my mind.
I wish I was less sensitive to criticism.
I wish I was better at admitting my vulnerabilities to others.
I wish I was better at asking for support.
I wish I was happier and less prone to depression.
I wish I was more optimitic.
I wish I didn't worry so much.

Looking at this list, it occurs to me that maybe food is not the real problem. And that may be, just may be, I won't find the answer in food either. I'm not suggesting that I should abandon my eating plan or anything, but I think I need to start to acknowledge that an eating plan will only help me eat better. It won't solve all my deeper problems. 

If you had a magic wand and could only change one thing about yourself, would it be your E.D.? Or would you be torn between that and other things?

14 Jun 2011

A Confession

I’m feeling dizzy and confused. I’ve just eaten lunch. Before lunch I probably couldn’t have even focused or thought clearly enough to write anything. I was just so hungry and light headed. I felt angsty and angry too. I dreaded the possibility that my boss might stop me to talk about something and DELAY MY MEAL. I get so angry and scared when I think my meal might be delayed. I even get pissed off with people who aren’t delaying me in any way, JUST FOR BEING THERE. Before lunch I chatted with a work colleague it the kitchen. I couldn’t focus on what she was saying. I couldn’t answer the questions she was asking. I was just too damn hungry. I couldn’t do my work properly either – about the last hour of my working day prior to lunch was wasted, taken over solely by hunger.
This is not a one-off situation. The other night, I was on my way home from the train station after a weekend away and I found myself praying that my flatmates wouldn’t be in - not because I didn’t want to see them, but because I did not feel like I had the tolerance, patience or concentration to interact with them before I’d had a chance to eat dinner. 

Part of the reason I'm finding it so difficult to honour my hunger at the moment is, I think, that I'm actually not eating that little. I'm pretty much eating what I normally eat, which is generally sufficient (although admittedly tends towards restriction); yet, for some unknown reason, I'm much much hungrier than usual - real, dizzying, stomach-gnawing hunger. If I knew why, perhaps I'd be better able to up my food intake accordingly - perhaps my immune system's working over-time to fight off some illness I don't know about or perhaps I've lost a little weight without realising it or perhaps regular exercise has jump-started my metabolism? But ultimately the explanation isn't the point. Our brains can't always fathom what's going on for us physically, but they don't need to know because our bodies do. I need to learn that my body knows what it needs even when I don't. I need to learn to trust my body's physical signals.
I realise that this is a slightly depressing post. It certainly exposes the fact that I have fallen off the intuitive-eating-wagon (the most important rule of IE being to EAT WHEN YOU ARE HUNGRY and not let yourself become famished). But it is important to me that I write this post so I can re-read it and remind myself that this is why I want to get better. I want to get better so that I can experience life fully rather than in a blur of hunger; so that I can interact properly with others and give them my full concentration and energy; so that I can be mentally alert at work; basically, so that I can function normally, mentally and psychologically. 

But why is it that even when I know exactly why I need to change, I'm still finding it so hard to put that change into motion?

22 May 2011

Intuitive Eating: Making Peace with Food

I thought it was about time for another Inuitive Eating post. The my last post on the subject was about honouring your biological hunger. This one is about the next (and in my view, more challenging) stage: making peace with food.

'Stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself you can't or shouldn't have a particular food, it can lead to instense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings & often binging [...] and overwhelming guilt.'

ET & ER emphasise the psychological effects of hunger:
  • 'hungry orphans adopted from poor countrues often cannot control their compulsion to smuggle and hide food, even long after actual deprivation is over'
  • In an experiment in which WWII GIs were put on a restricted diet, the GIs developed a primal obsession with food, as a result of the diet.
Psychologically, depriving yourself of something you want actually heightens your desire for that very thing. So when you forbid yourself certain foods, you 'wreak havoc with your peace your mind, triggering cravings, obsessive thoughts and even compulsive behaviours'.And 'the longer foods are prohibited the more seductive they become.'

Anyone else recognise this? I know I do!

The only way to escape this hell, is to give yourself unconditional permission to eat by:
  1. Rejecting the idea that some foods are good and others are bad.
  2. Eating what you really want.
  3. Eating without doing penance (e.g. over-exercising or forgoing something else later.
Making peace with food is about allowing all food into your diet and letting yourself eat them in an emotionally neutral and nonjudgemental way.

ER & ET acknowledge that there are many fears that prevent people from taking this huge step, but these fears need to be faced. They include:
  •  The fear that you'll never stop eating. Actually, the opposite will be true once you've truly made peace with food. Habituation studies have shown that the more a person is exposed to a food, the less appealing it will become. But to get to this 'noncraving' point, you have to go through the scary process of actually eating the things you want as much as you want.
  • The fear that you won't eat healthily. ET and ER acknowledge that nutrition should become a factor evetually. But before you can take a psychologically healthy approach to nutrition, you need to make peace with food by eating whatever you want, without judgement or guilt.
ET and ER give some practical tips on how to start making peace with food.
  1. Pay attention to the foods that appeal to you and make a list.
  2. Put a tick by the foods you actually eat, and circle the remaining foods.
  3. Give yourself permission to eat one forbidden food, then go and eat it.
  4. While eating, check in with yourself: does the food taste as good as you imagined?
  5. If you find you do like it, then continue to eat it when you wish. (You may need to keep the food in the house, so you know you can have it whenever you want.)
  6. Continue with the list until all foods have been tried.
So, here are a few of the foods I'll be putting on my list (some of which I do eat, but very rarely and generally when compensating for the extra-calories in some other way):

  1.  Krispy Creams (can you believe I've never tried one!)
  2. Cakes (especially cheese cake), brownies etc
  3. Granola cereal
  4. Real ice cream
  5. Any kind of cream!
  6. Full-fat salad dressings
  7. Creamy pasta dishes (generally only something I crave in restuarants)
  8. Meaty pasta dishes (see above)
  9. Mashed potatoes
  10. Cookies (non-diet ones)
  11. Avocado
  12. crisps
  13. Curries (or anything involving coconut milk) 
  14. Shop-bought sandwishes with a calorie value of over approx. 300cals (absurd, I know!)
  15. Chips
  16. Pizza
  17. Pastires
I'll be challenging myself to eat some of these over the next few weeks.

Question: what foods would be on your list? Have you started reintroducing them? How have you found it?

16 May 2011

Health Food Blogs - Friend of Foe?

Back in 2010 I wrote a post about ‘healthy living’/food blogs: http://beyondthin.blogspot.com/2010/12/health-food-bloggers.html.
For those of you not in the know, these health food blogs are a hot trend on the blogosphere. They’re mostly written by women, who detail their efforts to live full and healthy lives in minute detail. This usually includes details of their exercise regimens and what they’ve eaten. I must admit I’ve got pretty into them recently. My favs are Carrots n' cake, Oh She Glows and Kath Eats Real Food. The ones I follow are all written by women who seem to eat plentiful, wholesome food, who don’t calorie count obsessively (usually not at all) and who exercise pretty regularly.  So they’re not ‘pro-ana’ in any way; in fact, you could say they’re pro-health and anti-ana. Some of the writers have even had eating disorders in the past and have now recovered. But, even though these blogs are only showing me healthy eating patterns and habits (many much healthier than my own), I sometimes worry that it might be psychologically unhealthy for me to follow other women’s eating patterns in this way. On the one hand, I worry that it could fuel my obsessions with food and exercise, but on the other hand I sometimes feel that these blogs may inspire me to focus on health instead of calories and weight. What do you guys think? Do any of you follow these kind of health food blogs? How do you find they effect you psychologically?

22 Apr 2011

The importance of taking care of yourself

Hi everyone. First off, sorry for being MIA for so long recently. I've been very busy with job interviews, work etc. Anyway, I've been running around like a headless chicken recently, trying to do a billion things at once, working all hours and generally pushing myself a little too hard. It all came to ahead at the beginning of this week when I had 2 final-round job interviews booked in, one of which I had to do a presentation for and the other of which I had to do a written test for (among other things). I spend the whole weekend prepping for the interviews, even though I felt exhausted and knew I should have taken more time to sleep and rest. By the Sunday evening, I had a slight pain in my mouth, around one of my widom teeth on the left hand side. I sometimes get a slight wisdom tooth infection when I'm run down, so I didn't let it bother me too much. I went in for my job intervew the next morning but by the evening (Monday) the whole left side of my face had swollen up horribly and I was in excrutiating pain. I had to give the presentation for the next interview at 10am the next morning. My doctor gave me antibiotics and I went to bed hoping I would wake up better. I woke up worse. But I went to the interview anyway. I did the presentation and felt it went ok under the circumstances. After it was over, I booked myself in for an emergency dental appointment as my doctor had advise. I felt tremendous relief to be able to focus on getting better instead of on interviews. Then, just as I crawled into bed, I got a call from the interviewers. they'd liked my presentation, but still weren't sure - they wanted me to come in for another interview on Thursday. I could have cried (actually I did). How could I possibly prepare for a job interview when I was in this much pain! Anyway, when I dragged myself into the dentist, he made me realise that the problem was a lot more serious than I had acknowledged. The infection in the tooth was aggressive, had spread and wasn't responding to the antibiotics I was taking. He wanted me to have an operation to remove the tooth and drain the infection as early as possible and then I'd have to stay in over night to have antibiotics via a drip. I told him I couldn't because of the interview. Fortunately, he made me see sense. I had to cancel the interview. It was a disappointment, but a lesson too. Pushing yourself beyond your personal limits is ultimately self-defeating. You have to make your health your first priority in everything because without it you can't even strive to achieve anything, let alone succeed.

20 Mar 2011

Inspiration from an Unexpected Source - Who Wants to Sacrifice Their Life to Anorexia?

Warning: Some Content May be Triggering

Inpsiration comes in all forms. In general, in my recovery, I've been motivated by positive inspiration from those who have recovered from Eating Disorders. However, I recently found motivation to recover (and recover completely, forever) from an unexpected source, when I came across an article by a middle-aged woman who has been borderline anorexic for most of her life and has clearly given up on all hopes of recovery (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1191429/Fatten-What-happened-anorexic-Liz-Jones-eat-normally-weeks.html#ixzz1GgeXNXhk).

The article was by the British journalist Liz Jones, (a Daily Mail columnist and former editor of Marie Claire). It was, for the most part, a very sad article. Now in middle age, Liz Jones is starting to experience the very real health consequences of chronic under-eating, such as osteoporosis. But worse still, Liz Jones’s life and her lack of motivation to recover, has clearly left impoverished emotionally and personally. The life she describes is lonely and empty. She says:

'My spartan* lifestyle ….has kept me tiny, but it has also isolated me.'

'Being this way made me not just socially awkward, but unlovable: I've always hated being touched, hugged....'

Not only that, she admits that it has prevented her having children (she has only menstruated about 6 times in her life) and she hints that her obsessional self-denial may have also been responsible for the collapse of her brief (and apparently quite dysfunctional) marriage.
She draws a very apt contrast between herself and the British TV chef, Nigella Lawson. Unlike Liz Jones, Nigella is a curvaceous, chocolate-loving foodie. She also seems to exude a zest for life, has a happy marriage and a rich family life. Liz says: 

‘I look at Nigella Lawson, with her lovely packed life and overflowing fridge, and think how much happier she is than me, how much more fulfilled. How much sexier, definitely’

She also lets us in on how much she weighs (i.e. I won't share numbers, but its not very much) and observes - quite rightly- that, maintaining such a low weight, at the expense of happiness, fulfilment, children and family life, seems 'a silly, empty half-century achievement.'

The bottom line is, when I approach 50, do I want to be a Liz Jones:

Or a Nigella Lawson:

It seems like a bit of a no-brainer really.

18 Mar 2011

Do you restrict more than food?

In 'Goodbye Ed, Hello Me', Jenni Schaefer makes the point that eating disorders tend to be all about restriction, and this restriction isn't just about food. For her, Ed was like a destructive anti-superhero, who promised to give her superpowers, including 'not needeing food, sleep, people, or fun.' Even after treatment and after learning to let go of the food restriction, she tried to keep the other 'superpowers' and continued to restrict sleep, people and fun. But for full recovery she realised that this had to change: 'I wasn't even 30 and I was physically and emotionally exhausted most of the time [....]. I had found balance with food, and now I had to find it with life. I couldn't live like I had before only without Ed. Sooner or later, this type of inbalance in my life would have led me back to him'. Now, she says, 'I can finally say that I do have needs'.

I really relate to Jenni on this one. Restricting friends and fun is something I have really struggled with, since long before my eating disorder. From the age of 11 I can recall turning down invitations and writing-up strict homework schedules for myself that left little room for freedom or fun.

 I inherited the attitude from watching my father , a prestigious doctor (a Psychiatrist in fact but that’s a whole other ironic story) who not only runs his own world-renowned treatment centre but is also a Professor at a prestigious University and flies around the world giving conferences and lecture. When I was little, I remember him coming home from work late and then staying up all hours in his study writing the academic books or papers he churns out. He manages to survive on exceptionally little sleep and will often be in about 3 different time zones in a single month. Next to him, I have often felt lazy and inadequate and filled with guilt and self-disgust if I so much as lie-in on a weekend. I don’t really feel like he’s done much to counter this, as he can often be harsh and critical, and has always pushed me hard academically. My workaholism and restriction of fun, friendships and rest, was not exactly positively reinforced by him, but because it seemed ‘normal’ to him and to be expected as a minimum, but it was positively reinforced by teachers at school, which I think was unhelpful. I distinctly remember the maths teacher I had when I was just 11 years old, asking to see my homework schedule for the Christmas Holidays. I hadn’t given myself a single day off except Christmas and Boxing day, and was planning to work 4 hrs a day (I know that sounds like nothing now, but I think it’s a lot for an 11 year old who’s supposed to be having a well-earned break from school!). The maths teacher praised me and told the other students in the class they should be more like me.

Now, trying to unlearn habits of a lifetime sometimes seems impossible, but I know that I need to, otherwise, like Jenni Schaefer, I’ll be heading for burnout. I actually feel dangerously close to the edge at the moment, like the least thing could make me snap. The worst thing is it makes me angry and resentful of other people – my flatmates and my boyfriend especially – who live fuller, happier, healthier lives, who get to take holiday and sleep in. But I have to accept that, I’m the only one who’s stopping myself doing the same. They have a perfect right to rest and fun…..and so do I.

14 Mar 2011

Honoring Hunger

Principle 2 of Intuitive Eating is Honoring Hunger which means you:

 'Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for re-building trust with yourself and food.'

Tribole and Resch say that the true Intuitive Eater, eats because their internal hunger signals tell them too as a general rule. Honoring your hunger is important because 'your body needs to know consistently that it will have access to food - that deprivation has halted forever. Otherwise, your body will be always on call, ready to advert self-imposed deprivation'.  They also point out that its much easier to stop eating (i.e. not to binge) when your body isn't in a state of deprivation and starvation.

They point out that dieters tend to eat according to external rules which can ultimately disconnect you from your hunger, and make it hard for you to identify it, so, on the path back to intuitive eating, I'll have to re-learn the ability I was born with: the ability to recognise normal hunger.  

Tribole and Resch encourage you to begin by listening to your body and checking in with it regularly to see how hungry you are. They advise measuring your hunger on a 'Hunger/Sataity Scale':

The Hunger and Satiety Scale

0 Weak with hunger.
You are so hungry that you may not even feel it, but rather be head-achy and faint.

1 Famished.
Too hungry. This is the fist-banging stage when you’ll eat anything.

2 Hungry.
The perfect time to eat, when the food tastes delicious, but you’re not so hungry that you’re indiscriminate.

3 Mildly hungry.
Something light would suffice, or you could stand to wait another hour for the desire to develop more fully.

4 On the way to being satisfied.During a meal, you are in the pleasant stage of enjoying the food but you are not yet satisfied.
5 Satisfied. The perfect time (according to your stomach) to stop eating. You are sated.
6 A little fuller than "satisfied."
A few bites past "5," due to the momentum of eating. The food seems less delicious, more plastic.

7 Very full.
Beginning to be uncomfortable.

8 Painfully full.
9 And so on.

Your ultimate aim is to most of the time eat when your body tells you (at "2") and stop when your body tells you (at "5"). You might have some fears about trusting your body to tell you what it needs. Take some time to write about your feelings. Over time, the practice you get checking in with yourself will make this process easier.

I thought this would be easy, but I was very wrong. I'm actually finding it much harder to work out when I'm hungry-but-not-ravenous than I thought, probably because I'm so used to ignoring/suppressing that type of hunger if it doesn't fit in with my rigid eating timetable (I used to religiously plan when I would eat and what, day by day, and panic when something got in the way of that timetable.) I've also been very distrustful of hunger (because I've been so paranoid and scared of mistaking other feelings for hunger and therefore eating unnecessarily) and this habit  no doubt is making it harder for me to acknowledge hurger now. But even just over the course of a day, I find myself getting better and better at 'hearing' hunger.

I should point out that, eating when your hungry doesn't mean being inflexible or never eating for other reasons. Tribole and Resch say 'It's important to realise that normal eaters don't always eat from pure hunger, yet they maintain their weight.' Other valid reasons include: 1. the occassion calls for it (e.g. birthday cake); 2. something looks/tastes good and it's there; 3. Planning ahead/anticipating things (e.g. eating before a tough work out or eating lunch now because you know you have classes later); 4. emotional hunger - it's normal to eat for emotional reasons occassionally.

Intuitive Eating - A Short Introduction

Hey everyone! I've decided to do a series of posts all about intuitive eating. As some of you may know, I've been trying to learn to eat 'intuitively' for a long time now, but I seem to keep falling down at it. I think it's because I've been trying to rush into it head first and it's been too much and too scary, so this time I'm going to approach it differently by taking a more step-by-step approach. Intuitive Eating, as some of you may know, has 10 Principles (see http://www.intuitiveeating.org/content/10-principles) and I'm going to tackle each of them one by one, until I'm comfortable with it instead of trying to do them all at once. I'm starting on 'Forgetting the Diet Mentality' and 'Honoring My Hunger' (I'll write more about them in future posts).

But first off, for those of you who aren't familiar with it, here's a quick outline of what I understand by Intuitive Eating (for a more comprehensive guide, check out the book: http://www.amazon.com/Intuitive-Eating-Revolutionary-Program-Works/dp/0312321236.) (Please keep in mind that IE is intended for people with disordered eating of all forms, including chronic dieters, yo-yo dieters and binge eaters , but my approach to it will be from an anorexia/retrictive eating recovery perspective only, focusing on the bits of it that I think are helpful to recovery).

Key Points to Remember About Intuitive Eating

If your eating intuitively, you’ll have your own unique eating style that’s not like anyone elses.
Because we all have different bodily needs and this is all about listening to your body and what your body’s asking for, instead of following external rules.

It may vary from day to day or with the time of the month.
Again, this is because its about listening to your body and your body has different needs according to hormonal fluctuations and to lifestyle changes.

Its spontaneous and flexible.
Its about eating what you really want when you really want it. It’s also about eating earlier than usual because, say, your going to the theatre, or eating later than usual because, say, you felt like hanging out with friends.  (But you need to be able to listen to your hunger and your desires to do this, and this may be hard at first after an ED).

It’s  about eating until your satisfied – neither hungry nor uncomfortably stuffedfull.

It’s about eating without guilt.
 Not viewing foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and giving yourself permission to eat all foods without judging or criticising yourself.

It is free of obsession and rules
It acknowledges that our compulsions are due to biochemical or emotional reasons and any over- or under-eating is a clue to begin looking further as an opportunity for learning.
It should feel good and relaxed.
I should emphasise that Intuitive Eating is NOT ADVISABLE IN THE EARLY STAGES OF RECOVERY when you really need to stick to your set meal plan. You need to have made considerable progress before you can start working on this. Here's more info: http://www.evelyntribole.com/uploads/Tribole.IntuitiveEating.Eating%20Disorders.2010.pdf

It’s about eating to fulfil physical not emotional needs.
This doesn’t mean never comfort eating, but it does mean not using food as your main source of love or comfort.

It’s about recognising that eating is just eating.
How you’ve eaten, what you’ve eaten, when you’ve eating has nothing to do with your value as a person or how 'in control' you are. If you’ve eaten chocolate cake, then you’ve….eaten chocolate cake! Nothing more, nothing less. You’ve not failed or succeeded or been ‘good’ or been shameful or been out of control. You’ve just eaten. Period.

12 Mar 2011

Lynn Chenn on Recovery

Hi all. I don't know if any of you have discovered the 'Love Your Body Now Foundation'. I just found it today. There are some really inspiring recovery story videos on there. I just watched this one by Lynn Chenn, the blogger who writes 'The Actors Diet' (which is about how she eats and stays healthy after recovering form her eating disorder, in one of the most image conscious industries out there): 
I found this video really hopeful. I really love what she has to say about the importance of trusting yourself, of not listening to other people but finding that voice inside yourself that tells you what kind of life you want to live.

Have any of you found/read/watched any recovery stories that you found particularly inspiring? I'm kind of addicted to them at the moment!

11 Mar 2011

Why I have to develop self-compassion for recovery

After I wrote my last post, I thought some more about self-kindness and how it relates to recovery for me personally and for others in general. I know that cultivating self-love and self-compassion will be vital to my complete recovery. This is because, for me, complete recovery is not just about learning to eat healthily and have a healthy relationship with food, its also about confronting and healing the behaviours, attitudes and feelings that allowed the eating disorder to take hold in the first place.

When we are in the early stages of recovery, it can be helpful to separate our eating disorder from our personal identity, so that we can fight against it (ED v Me). But as I’m getting further along the recovery road, I’m beginning to feel the need to acknowledge the parts of myself that led me down the eating disordered path. For me, a lack of self-love and an unwillingness to be kind to myself has been a major issue for a long time and not feeding myself adequately was just one manifestation of these punitive and self-punishing tendencies. Other manifestations that I’ve begun to acknowledge more recently include:

1. criticising myself in my head and focusing on my flaws
2. refusing to praise myself for my achievements
3. beating myself up when I’ve failed or messed up, instead comforting myself 4. not taking holiday from work even when I’m exhausted
5. working late even when I’m tired and everyone else is leaving;
6. not spending money on myself even when I know I have plenty
7. not letting myself ‘have a lie in’ even when I’m exhausted and it’s a Sunday
8. refusing presents, offers of help and nice ‘treats’ from other people (all things which make me feel really uncomfortable).

(Phew! I hadn’t realised the list would be quite so long – but I just kept thinking of more and more things!)

All of these punitive and self-denying behaviours stem from a fundamental feeling of unworthiness or ‘not deserving’. For complete recovery I will need to change this whole attitude towards myself, not just in terms of how it relates to eating. It doesn’t make sense to say ‘I deserve to eat this sandwich’ at the same time as saying ‘but I don’t deserve to use my holiday quota at work’ or at the same time beating myself up when I’ve failed at something.

 For complete recovery, I will need to learn to believe that I do deserve to feel healthy and satiated and to enjoy eating, and also that I do deserve rest, relaxation, fun and treats.  I will need to let myself eat as much as I need and rest as much as I need; I will need to talk kindly to myself instead of criticising myself, and to comfort myself instead of beating myself up. Complete recovery will come, when I learn to look after all of my emotional and physical needs.

Does anyone else have this problem with being kind to themselves? I found a great website by Dr Kristen Neff where you can test out your levels of self-compassion and find exercises on how to improve your self comapassion: http://www.self-compassion.org/.

I also found a really interesting interview with Dr Neff in the NY Times in which she explains that:

“I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent,” but actually: “Self-compassion is really conducive to motivation” “With self-compassion, if you care about yourself, you do what’s healthy for you rather than what’s harmful to you.”

10 Mar 2011

Being Kind To Yourself

I've noticed that one of the times I struggle with recovery the most, are the times when I feel like people close to me are angry with me or don't care about me. It makes me feel like giving up or, worse, punishing myself and criticising myself - taking their anger (or the anger I percieve in them) into myself and turning it inwards. There's also perhaps a manipulative element to this - I want to punish myself so that they will see how much they've hurt me.

But I know this is wrong. How I treate myself cannot be based on how other people are acting towards me. I have to build a relationship with myself where I value myself enough that I would continue to look after myself, care for myself and love myself even if noone else in the world cared about me at all. That seems to come naturally to some people, but not to me. I tend to feel guilty when I start feeling pleased with myself or generous or compassionate towards myself. But it shouldn't be that way. I suppose the truth is that I do have flaws - I can be selfish, minipulative, negative and self-indulgent. But I also have virtues - I can be funny, thoughtful, considerate, a good listener. But being kind to yourself cannot be a matter of adding up flaws vs virtues and hoping the balance tips in favour of the virtues. Its too important a thing to leave up to a maths equation and anyway I don't think virtues and flaws can be balanced against each other like that Everyone has the right to love themselves no matter what, because:

1. its in our nature and its necessary for our survival (self-love is what made ancient man bother to get up and get his food instead of letting himself waste away in his cave and in the same way, self love is the only thing that will keep be in recovery and out of hospital in the long run).

2. when we love ourselves we become better people - when I focus and dwell on my flaws, I find myself acting them out and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But when I focus on my virtues and my strengths, I find myself acting them out instead.

So, even though I know I'm not perfect, and irrespective of whether I am actually worthy of love or not, I'm going to keep on trying to love myself.

8 Mar 2011

Grey Area

I feel like I'm in a very confusing place right now. For a while now I've been within the 'healthy' weight range for my height (admittedly, I just scrape in with a BMI of about 18.8 but I'm still there), so, weight-wise, I certainly don't meet the definition of an anorexic. I also eat what approximates to a normal amount, and I can eat in normal situations too - I can go to restaurants, eat things other people have cooked me, and all of that. But again, I feel like I'm only on the borders of normality. I eat enough but only just (round about 1,400 cals per day) and I'm still very restrictive - I wont eat this or that because its too calorific, and often not allowing myself to eat when I want to because 'I only ate lunch two hours ago' or 'I had a huge breakfast' or whatever. In the same way, while I can go to restaurants and sometimes I'll even splurge in them and order a rich dessert but, as a general rule, I'll  pick the thing on the menu that looks like its the lowest calorie or look up the calories on their website before if they have one. I prefer to go to the same familiar places where I can order the same familiar things that I know don't frighten me. I also still have lots of ED habits/ thought-patterns, like worrying about getting fat, checking calories, feeling guilty if I eat a snack thats more than a certain number of calories, 'compensating' by skipping meals or snacks etc. I also spend A LOT of the day wanting to eat, often because of genuine hunger, but denying myself food until my next 'scheduled' meal etc. I even suspect that I'm not quite at my personal 'healthy' weight yet, even if my BMI's in the healthy category. So, I'm not exactly cured yet. And yet I'm not quite 'ill' either. I know being on the borders is soooo much better than being a full-on anorexic, but sometimes it just feels so confusing because I don't feel 'recovered' yet I'm not really ill anymore. I feel like I'm being self-indulgent if I even try to work on my problems, because I know these problems are so minor compared to what other people are going through (and what I went through in the past).  I feel like a fraud - a 'fake' eating disorder person. Does anyone else feel this way ever? Does anyone know how to deal with it?

1 Mar 2011

Eating without excuses

I didn't have time for breakfast before work today. I normally eat porridge at about 7.30am, right before I have to jump on the subway but today I was in a rush, then my mum called and before I knew it it was time to get going or I'd be late. I was really hungry though - I guess because my body's so used to getting its morning fix. And the whole experience really reminded me just how much hunger can effect your mood and your ability to control your emotions and keep a sane perspective on things. On the way to the tube I began to think about all the work I had to get done over the next few weeks and it began to stress me out. Before long I was feeling way more stressed than is normal for me. By the time I got on the train I was full-on panicking and by the time I got to my stop I was crying. I'm not kidding - I literally sobbed on the train like a mad woman. I called my mum as I knew I needed to control myself before I walked into work. Fortunately, she realised what was up and told me in no uncertain terms to stop off at the nearest, nice looking cafe and buy some breakfast. I picked up porridge with maple syrup. It was delicious but it still took a while for me to rebalance. By afternoon, though, I was feeling myself again. In many ways it was a useful reminder of how even missing just a few calories can play havoc with your blood sugar, which in turn can play merry-hell with your emotions. I want to be able to carry myself like the 24 year old that I am, rather than like a vulnerable child. And the only way to do that is to keep eating, without making excuses.

25 Feb 2011

Powerful Beyond Measure

I'm a reader. I'll read anything and everything, from highbrow literature to gossip mags. Why? Because every now and then you come across something that expresses something you've always know deep down but never really realised you knew. Someone else manages to put into words what you've always dimly known but never explicitly understood and suddenly your eyes are opened to what you'd secretly known all along. That happened to me today when I read this poem by Marianne Williamson:

Our Greatest Fear —Marianne Williamson

it is our light not our darkness that most frightens us

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won't feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of
God that is within us.

It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

—Marianne Williamson
This is one of those poems that will inevitably have different, very personal meanings to each different person who reads it. For me, it had a lot to say about anorexia. By starving myself, by focusing on food and weight instead of on life, realtionships, joy and my inner self, I was preventing myself from reaching my true potential. I'm sure that had a lot to do with how afraid I was of my true potential: my potential to be happy, my potential to be successful, my potential to live a joyous and full life. The line that I like best is 'We are born to make manifest the glory of God within us'. Thinking about it like that inspires me to get better and live the fullest, richest, healthiest life I can.

20 Feb 2011

Musings about Cheese Cake

I just found a recipe online for a 100 calorie 'fake' cheese cake (non-fat cheese, sweetener, applesauce, all blended together with no baking.... you know the deal). I was so excited, until I realised it would have no crust. The crust is my favourite bit! Well, from what I can remember......the last time I ate cheese cake must have been almost a decade ago. It was then that I realised that real cheese cake was what I really wanted.  According to 'Intuitive Eating' if I want the cheese cake now, I should eat it now (if, of course, it's available) and the last thing I should do is try to cheat by eating 'fake' cheese cake which will just leave me feeling dissatisfied and denied.

But I have to admit that I'm just not there yet. So instead I made a promise to myself that one day I will eat real cheese cake again, even if just once.The problem is that, at the moment, I can't imagine when I'll be able to make 'one day', today. And yet the idea of denying myself even just one slice of cheese cake forever seems absurd! What a silly thing to forgo in life, afterall! Will I go to my grave still craving and denying myself cheese cake? With my last breath will I think, 'Wow, I sure wish I'd eaten some cheese cake once in a while!'. I certainly hope that, if I have regrets, they're more meaningful than that.

26 Jan 2011

Update on yesterdays experiment in eating what I want when I want

So, my attempt at eating 'what I want when I want' bombed massively. Who'd have thought it'd be so hard to follow your instincts? I ended up basically eating what I always eat and I was pretty sure of the calorie content of most of the things I ate. I even ate at the times I generally eat (according to a self-imposed 'eating schedule' that I've stuck to pretty much since I was 16 - 8 years). My single concession to the experiment, was a spontanious capaccino.

I have a theory that it was harder to be spontanious because I was at work, where I have quite a standard routine. So I'm going to try again on Friday, when I've taken the day off and have also planned to go to the cinema at the time I normally have my dinner, which should compel me to mix things up a bit. Fingers crossed I'll do better this time.

24 Jan 2011

Unconditional Permission to Eat

I don't know about you guys, but sometimes I still find it hard not to obsess about food (and by sometimes I mean most of the time, if I'm honest). Even though I'm managing to obsess about calories and weightloss food much less, I still find that thoughts of food dominate a lot of my day. And, even though I'm no longer worrying quite so much about calories and fat content, my thoughts about food are still often very  anxiety-ridden. For example, I often find myself worrying if the meals I'm planning are nutritious enough or if I'll get enough protein that day etc. Other times, I'll worry about when I'm next going to eat, whether I'm going to get hungy before dinner because I didn't have a big enough snack or whether the meeting will overrun and I'll end up ravenously hungry because my lunch was delayed etc, etc.

It seems like such a shame because I've made such progress in terms of not worrying about calories and weightloss so much, yet I still have these annoying, obsessional, food-focused thought-patterns. Does anyone else find this? Or is it just me?

Anyway, this evening I decided to flick back through Intuitive Eating to see if it shed any light on the matter and it made me wonder whether I'm still obsessed with food because I haven't really made peace with food yet, in the way Tribole and Resch describe. According to Intuitive Eating you have to make peace with food first in order to truly be able to eat intuitively. (For those of you who don't know, eating intuitively means deciding what/when/how much to eat by listening to your body rather than following a set of external rules). Making peace with food means giving yourself unconditional permission to eat what you want when you want without compensating by denying yourself later or punishing yourself at the gym. Tribole and Resch acknowledge that, if you've been retricting yourself for a while, you'll probably go a little crazy when you first give yourself unconditional permission to eat, which can be scary.  But they say that, once you've gone through the experience of eating all of your 'forbidden foods', your body and mind will learn that they are freely available and therefore won't crave them so much. This means that, after a brief period of indulgence, you'll settle down to a more normal eating patter. I suppose I haven't really done this yet. It seems a little scary to me, and I don't really think I feel ready to commit to doing it forever, but I've decided to at least give it a try. So tomorrow, I'm going to experiment with giving myself unconditional permission to eat. Its all about baby steps......

21 Jan 2011

Intuitive Eating and Body Acceptance

Hi all! First of all, thanks so much for your supportive comments on my last post about coming to terms with my new weight. The wonderful women who wrote Intuitive Eating (Evenlyn Tribole an Elyse Resch) have some really interesting things to say about how to reach and accept a weight that is healthy for you. Since a few of you aleardy expressed an interest in learning more about intuitive eating, I thought I'd share a bit of what they had to say.

1. Be realistic - don't strive for a weight, dress size or body type that is totally outside the ball-park you know you're supposed to be in. Put simply: 'If maintaining or obtaining your weight requires living on rice cakes and water while exercising for jours, thats a glaring clue that your goal is unrealistic'

 To 'get realistic', Tribole and Resch advise you to do some research into what weight and shape is likely to be nartural and healthy for you: for example, look at your parents size and shape; think back to the weight you were before you started dieting; think to a weight you've maintained in the past without any effort.

2. Get comfortable - For ex-anorexics like me, who are now getting bigger, this means chucking out your old clothes the moment they get too tight. You'll never learn to love your new body if you're not dressing it properly!

3. Quit the body check game - STOP comparing yourself to other people. You might think another woman looks good, but you have no idea what's going on inside her head. She may have an ED too; she may be tortured by hunger; she may have no time to see her friends because she's always at the gym; or she may hate her body and wish she had yours. Anyway, bodys are diverse and we should celebrate that. We celebrate cultural diversity, religious diversity, racial diversity etc - why should bodies be any different. The bottom line is, body comparison is a peculiarly cruel form of torture. And torture's illegal. So stop. 

4. Stop Body Bashing -  Every time you catch yourself thinking about a body part you hate, force yourself to think about a body part you like instead. If nothing comes to mind, then take some time to come up with something. It can be as small as an eyelash. It doesn't matter, just focus on it instead.

I found all of those tips very helpful, especially the first one. I hope you all do too!

19 Jan 2011

Coming to terms with my new weight

Last night I went to see my therapist. It was the first time I'd visited her in ages which meant it was the first time I'd been weighed in ages (I moved my scales into the attick a while back). Since June to be precise. In that time, it turns out, I've put on 4 pounds. Bearing in mind that my weight in June was the heaviest I've been in my adult life (a weight which for ages I saw as the 'scary' weight that 'must not be reached), this was a pretty confusing thing for me to discover. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't upset and disturbed. Before I knew it, I'd reverted to ED-style thinking. At first I was angry: 'This isn't fair' I thought, 'I've been going to the gym and haven't even been eating that much. How can I have put on weight??'. Then I became paranoid - 'My clothes must all be too small and I hadn't even noticed! People must've been laughing at me!'. Then I panicked - 'If that's what happens when I haven't even completely stopped restricting my food intake, imagine what would happen if I really let go and ate what I wanted'. At last I felt stuck. 'If I stop restricting my food entirely then I'll put on even more weight' I thought 'but if I don't, then I'll never achieve a full recovery'.

When I got home I told my mum about it. In her typical matter of fact fashion, she simply shrugged and said - 'Well, you were severely underweight before and you were hardly eating. Now, you've been taking steps to be healthier and look after yourself - you can't expect to be healthy and maintain an unhealthy weight'. What she said was so obvious and so simple, yet I'd failed to realise it. The reason why I felt so confused was because for years I'd been lying to myself - telling myself that,  even though my BMI was well below the 'healthy' range for my height, even though I was hungry, tired and emaciated, I was okay, I wasn't unhealthy. I'd convinced myself that I was the only person in the world who's actually meant to have a BMI of under 18. Now, I was having to face up to the fact that that was a lie: my body isn't meant to be super skinny and when I look after it and nourish it this is refelected in an increase in weight. I need to learn to embrace the new, higher number that I saw when I stepped on the scale yesterday - its a testament to how far I've come and how much I've achieved. Its proof that I've been looking after my body and that I'm healthy. And surely that must be a good thing.

15 Jan 2011

Overeating and Anorexia - more similar than different?

I'm currently reading 'Intuitive Eating' by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. It's a really interesting (if old fashioned) book about how to ditch the 'Diet mentality' and learn to eat in a way that is insync with your body's needs. A lot of it is actually focused on overeating and binging rather than on permanent, longterm restriction but I was amazed by how relavent it was to me.

For instance, ET and ER talk about how overearters often binge as a way of distracting themselves from negative feelings. In the same way, I would regress into undereating when I felt unhappy or scared in my life. It made me feel safe and secure to hide away in a little world where the only things that mattered were the numbers of the scale and the number of calories I'd consumed. The hunger would numb the emotions I was afraid of, like anger and sadness. ET and ER point out that binging to avoid your feelings is ultimately counterproductive because it inhibits you from discovering the true source of your feelings and taking healthy steps to change them. Of course, the same is true of undereating.

ET and ER also talk about people who overeat 'in an angry, forceful manner that allows them to feel beaten up'. Now, I had now idea this could be a part of binge eating! Certainly, undereating and turning yourself into a waif, can be about punishing yourself and making yourself feel like a victim too.

ET and ER also point out some of the commonest triggers of overeating including anxiety, depression and stress, all of which are classic triggers of anorexia too.

All of this has made me think that, if undereating and overeating are so similar, then surely the cures must be similar too. For this reason, I'm going to continue reading 'Intuitive Eating' and will share with you some of the advice and insights it has with you.

14 Jan 2011

How I ate my veg pot

Success! Last night I managed to make my Innocent Veg Pot into a healthy, filling meal. On my way home from work, I picked up some Halloumi cheese and tinned sweetcorn. I grilled 3 large hunks of Halloumi, chopped it into little pieces, and mixed it in with my Wild Mushroom and Pearl Barley Veg Pot, then added the sweetcorn on top. I followed it with a rice pudding with jam. It was delicious, satisfying and I slept like a baby. Most importantly, I managed to eat it without freaking out at all. I guess sometimes the thought of doing something is scarier than doing it.......

13 Jan 2011

Eating proper meals

I had to eat dinner on the hoof last night as I was meeting a friend for an early film showing, so I decided to grab a mocrowavable meal. I decided on an Innocent Veg Pot - about 300 calories of vegetable deliciousness in a mocrowavable pot. I thought I'd be fine, as not so long ago that was a perfectly filling supper for me, that I probably wouldn't have topped off with more than a yogurt or so. However, by the time I got home from the cinema I was ravenous. One of the scariest things I've found about recovering is regaining a decent apetite. While I was dieting, I guess my stomach must have shrunk, so tiny meals could keep me feeling fullish.....but not any more. I've been eating normal portions for a while now, so little dieters meals won't keep me satisfied. I ended up snacking on a yogurt and cereal after I'd got in last night, but even that proved to be insufficient and I woke up at 2.30am ravenously hungry and had to eat more cereal. It made me feel out-of-control and panicy, but I knew I'd have to eat to be able to sleep again. I don't want to find myself in that position again but, the alternative is equally scary - binning dieters meals for good, even on days when I'm feeling weak or out-of-control and  want the comfort of reverting to old behaviours, for just one meal.

The Veg Pots were selling on a 2-4-1 offer, so I have another one awaiting me in my fridge back home. I'm seeing it as a challenge - I'll have to find a way to eat it that won't involve reverting to old habits that leave me sleepless with hunger pangs. I could add some chickpeas and cheese to it to bulk it out or follow it with a substantial pudding, like a rice pudding or flapjack. However, both of these options will involve admitting to myself that my body's changed and right now that feels like a very scary truth to face.

6 Jan 2011

Can you have a boyfriend when you're still recovering from ED?

I've been seeing this guy for a few months now, and I feel like it's about time we moved from 'dating' each other to 'being in a relationship'. Setting aside the (glaringly obvious) issue of whether he feels the same, I have my own qualms about it. I want to make a concerted effort to eat more healthily and take care of my body and meet its needs (as my New Years resulotions show). But I worry, if I put on weight, will he still fancy me? When we met, I was still pretty thin.  If he fancied the skinny me, will he also fancy the healthy me? Perhaps skinny is his type and curves will turn him off. The fact that I'm having these worries put me off getting more involved with him, as I'm concerned that the worries will escalate if we get more serious, and throw me off track with my healthy eating. I know that AA members aren't supposed to start new relationships until they're sober. Maybe ED recoverers need a similar rule. On the other hand, maybe I should just try not to worry, and try not to let my issues with food effect what could be a potentially good relationship. Afterall, part of ED recovery is committing to not letting your relationship with food dictate the rest of your life. What do you guys think? Is it possible to get into a relationship before you're fully recovered?

4 Jan 2011

How I cut down on calorie counting

A few people have asked how I managed to get calorie counting under control and stop it ruling my life. As I said in my earlier post, 'Numbers, numbers everywhere...', calorie counting still plays a bigger part in my life than I would like and I'm by no means 'clean' of that particular addiction. However, it is true that it doesn't rule me in the way it once did. I can't give any on-size-fits-all rules for getting calorie counting under control, but I will tell you a few things that helped for me.

1. I threw out my calorie-counting book. Physically seeing that thing in the bin was very cathartic and symbolic for me. It also meant I destroyed what had amounted to a near perfect record of the calorie contents of most of the foods I eat. At first I was able to recall many of their calorific values from memory, but eventually, without my 'calorie Bible' to peak in, I forgot most of them.

2. I stopped writing down the calorific values of the foods I ate (even when I did know the values in my head or from looking at the packet). It's much harder to keep track of how many calories you consume without a written record. At first this was scary, but over time it was liberating not to be able to calculate each days total.

3. I made a conscious effort to eat things that I was unable to know the calorie content of. A few good examples are: dishes containing lots of ingredients that you've deliberately measured by guesstimation; meals cooked by friends or family; meals in restaurants (not the kind of restaurants that listr calories on the menu though, obviously); foods that don't list calorie contents on the packet or don't come in labled packets (eg. loose fruit and veg from a green grocers).

4. I threw out my food scales, so I couldn't weigh my food portions precisely, making it harder to know the number of calories in portion of food I ate.

5. I made a mental list of things I found MORE interesting than calories, and tried to think about those every time I got the urge to calorie count. A few things that worked for me were:  the plot of Desparate Housewives, the future of the world economy,which of my friends I'll invite to my wedding (if I ever have one), what I'll name my kids (if I ever have any), what the hell Brad and Angelina talk about when they're alond together etc.

6. I tried to focus on the nutritional benefits of food rather than the calories (e.g. how much iron it contains, how much calcium, fibre etc).

It took me a while to truly get my calorie obsession under control; it was ages until I could get off to sleep at night without suddenly panicing and trying to calculate the calories I'd dutifully not noted down that way. But eventually, by deliberately making it hard for me to accurately count calories, I got used to not really knowing how many I'd consumed. Now I just want to keep on not counting.

2 Jan 2011

New Years Resolutions

Happy New Year Everyone! I don't usually make resolutions but this year I have. Alot of them are to do with improving my health and my relationship with food and my body. Here they are:

1. To make choices based on how my body feels and what I know I need.
(I talking about emotional needs here, as well as health needs.) This means eating as much as I feel I need, when I feel I need it; it means not going to the gym when I'm exhausted; it means not choosing nutritionally void, low calorie foods when I could have something healthy and natural instead.

2. No more calorie counting!
This is kind of implied in the first one, but it's partciularly tricky to do in practice so I think it counts as a single resolution. 

Pretty self-explanatory.

4. Relaaaaaaxe
I talking mostly about cultivating a relaxed state of mind here: worrying less, obsessing less about what people think of me etc. I also mean having fun in a more relaxed way - I don't need to get crazy drunk to have a good night and I don't need to be the loudest one at the table all the time (two traps I often fall into!).

This is a tough thing to change, so I'm going to begin by following Gretchin Rubin's advice (http://www.happiness-project.com/) and 'acting how I want to feel' by not vocalising my anxiety, trying to keep my body language relaxed, and acting calm even when I'm not. On a practical level, I also want to make sure I'm fitting in plenty of actual 'down-time' in my life too, so its not all work-hard-play-hard.

5. Have a 'can-do' attitude
It worked for Obama......

6. Keep my space neat and organised.

6. Get a new job that's challenging and rewarding.
I like my current job, but I know I could be doing something better.

If I had to sum up my resolutions in one, it would be to Look After Myself Better, Body and Mind.

Fingers crossed I'll be successful! What are your resolutions?

I had a great New Years Eve yesterday night, with a small group of friends in a lovely little pub in my old university town. It was nice to get out of the city and enjoy a low-key night catching up with good friends, instead of the usual, over-priced NYE madness that you get in London. Let's hope it bodes well for the New Year ahead. I hope you all have a
great 2011 too!