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.