The process of recovering from an eating disorder can be long and ongoing. Even after recovery, there will likely be moments where it could be easy to let old thought processes creep back in. One of the great things about the recovery process though is that you begin to build up a toolkit of how to cope with these moments and one major for me, which I continue to practice probably every day is mindfulness. I’m not in any way saying that just by being mindful for 5 minutes a day this will lead to complete recovery but used alongside other treatment or therapies, I’ve found it really helpful.
My favourite definition of mindfulness is by Jon Kabat-Zinn -:
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way. On purpose,
in the present moment, and
One of the main ways I described my eating disorder was like everything was in chaos. My whole life seemed chaotic. The irony of this is that it actually wasn’t because it was solely focused on the eating disorder. But my head was in a constant state of disarray.
So during times when my mind was a jumbled mess of stress, anxiety and negative thoughts, learning how to calm these down really helped (and still does). When you are in a mindful state, your mind and body reconnect, it brings you back to the ‘now’ and can help to stop those urges to starve, binge and/or purge. Put in simple terms, it helps set my mind straight and get back on track if I’m having a shaky moment!
Eating disorders stem from what’s going on psychologically in the mind. When it’s a mass of chaos and irrational thinking (which escalates even more from starvation or bingeing), it sends the wrong signals to the body causing it stress out even more and likely go into self-destruct mode. So we need to calm those thoughts down to increase self-awareness and create a sense of peace, if only for a short amount of time.
It sounds like it’s going to be complicated and require effort (or even a bit kooky, which could put you off!) but that’s really not the case. Mindfulness can be done in many simple ways. These include taking some time out for 5 minutes to sit quietly and focus. Or you can be mindful when you’re doing something routine that doesn’t require brain power like showering or brushing your teeth. Step it up a bit and you can give meditation a go.
Mindfulness in recovery gives me chance to come back to what I’m aiming for, visualize myself completely free of my eating disorder and shift those sometimes panicky and unreal thoughts to make sure I don’t go back to old mindsets and bad habits.
Today is Wise Up Wednesday... let's do this!
Wisdom is a weird old thing; much deeper than knowledge and much more powerful than expertise marked by a degree certificate. Wisdom requires emotional attachment and first-hand experience; to share wisdom, a person has to have walked the walk and talked the talk (apologies for the horrible cliché, but it's true, so deal with it).
Unfortunately, when it comes to Eating Disorders, this is quite a shame – the people who know these horrible illnesses inside out are the ones who have suffered at the hands of them. The only people who completely and utterly understand what it feels like to wake up every day and have every mood and moment dictated by what they weigh or how much they eat are those who have been through it themselves.
The positive side of this is what I'm finally experiencing now and the truth is that I don't ever regret having an Eating Disorder. Sure, I felt ashamed of my behaviours and my web of lies that I span so convincingly to cover up as best I could the tell-tale signs that I was fighting a losing battle. I hated seeing the worried looks permanently worn by my family every time I pushed my food away or slipped away to the toilet after eating and I wish that I had been able to give myself a kick up the bum every time I got 'stuck' on my route to recovery. But you know what? I'm so glad that I now have the understanding that I do, and the determination to use that wisdom. It seems to mean so much more to those who are suffering to hear from those who have been where they are now. That’s exactly why I’m not regretful; not for a second, when I look back over the years I struggled with my Eating Disorders.
If I can help even just one person to see that their future can hold something better than the endless cycle of eating disordered thoughts and behaviours, then I’m happy. Eating Disorders offer so much promise, so much hope, comfort and safety… but really, beneath all that and further down the line the only things they bring are destruction, devastation and (and I’m sorry it’s not another ‘d’) BOREDOM. Calorie counting is boring, weighing out food is boring, binge-shopping is boring, and obsessing over every single morsel of food is boring. Allow yourself to admit it. It doesn’t have to be that way. There is always something else.
This seems all very self-indulgent. I honestly don’t want to come across as being ‘preachy’; I hated that when I was ill. In hospital, they’d invite recovered people in to come and talk to us about how amazing life is now – woo for them. I was cynical, never in a million years believing that I could live or even establish some form of identity without clinging to my eating disorder; it was part of me and made me who I was. You might feel like that now. I may not be able to get this message through to you. But all I can say is that I was that person who refused to see, who failed to believe and who continued to starve and binge and purge. It’s your choice. It’s your life. It’s your future. Go get it.
There are a number of misinformed ideas about eating disorders. One of the main ones (in my opinion) is that if you don’t ‘look’ like you have one then you probably don’t. The other day I heard the comment “but she doesn’t look thin enough to have an eating disorder”. One of the most frustrating elements of an eating disorder is how people define it purely on physical appearance. The general assumption is that if you look ‘well’ or ‘healthy’ on the exterior, that you’re actually fine. In many circumstances, this actually couldn’t be further from the truth.
When I embarked into recovery for the first time and put on weight, though people couldn’t seem to stop saying how ‘well’ I looked, on the inside I was probably more consumed by my eating disorder than when I was obviously ill on the surface. I can’t speak from experience on bulimia or binge eating disorder but I imagine that those suffering probably experience the same frustration. This is sometimes why sufferers often go months or even years without confiding in anyone; because they don’t look' 'ill', they feel they are not worthy of help from their family, friends or doctor and suffer in silence; even questioning whether there is actually anything wrong with them or if it is just in their heads. The media doesn’t help – relentlessly (and often inaccurately) reporting stories of celebrities sporting ‘painfully thin frames’ and portraying the idea that anorexia and other eating disorders can only be identified by physical appearance.
And there is also the fact that in many cases, you won’t be taken seriously or can’t seek professional help on the NHS unless you are below a certain weight or BMI or meet a specific criteria. This is crazy because that is basically suggesting to the patient that they are not 'ill' enough to warrant getting help. The torment that exists on the inside is far worse than how it manifests itself on the outside and with all eating disorders it is what's going on in the mind that needs to be addressed first.
So if you are experiencing any kind of disordered thoughts towards food or body image then it is vital that you hold your hands up and tell someone. Do not think you have to be ‘painfully thin’ to have an eating disorder. Every single person is different and you don’t have to be neatly categorised into one box such as 'anorexic' or 'bulimic' to be a sufferer. Everyone who even thinks that they may have an eating disorder or is experiencing eating disordered thoughts should be heard, helped and supported. The sooner you tell someone, the sooner that the issue can begin be addressed.
Today's blog entry I will be breaking the silence around eating disorders, more specifically my eating disorder. Beat's message is simple; don't suffer in silence, talk to somebody if you think you have a problem. However, hark the hypocrit sings, my eating disorder was something I could not even comprehend talking to somebody about. The thought of it purely terrified me. How on earth could I tell somebody?
There were many reasons why I couldn't talk to somebody, and when I did it took a lot of courage, just to have it thrown back in my face at times. I was suffering from Bulimia Nervosa. I was bingeing vast quantities of food in a short period of time which was then followed by purging, laxative abuse and occasionally excessive exercising. This was happening up to 10 times a day. Every living moment was dictated by it. After months of this I became an expert. I could do it without people even realising. I found numerous ways to hide my purging, nobody could find out about it. Why? Because I was disgusted with myself, I was racked with guilt at what I was doing. It felt like blasphemy. How could I be so greedy, so out of control, so revolting? Who could voluntarily make themselves sick? Everyone hates being sick.... And what about all of those poor kids in Africa who have no food, and there I am wasting it down a toilet bowl. Not to mention laxative abuse, it's just disgusting to even think about... So I hid it, I hid it from everyone. It was my own little secret. As it got worse and worse I realised that I did in fact have a problem, I recognised the symptoms, I had bulimia. The DSM-IV would be proud of me. But I still couldn't tell anyone, because yes, I knew I had an eating disorder, but I thought, perpetuated by the then media perception, that to have an eating disorder you must be emaciated. In my distorted and warped view of myself, I thought "I'm the largest heffalump going, certainly not thin, therefore I don't have an eating disorder"... So I continued to hide it, I continued to suffer in silence. It was not until my parents found out and confronted me that I was taken to see the Dr's. But even then I couldn't admit the extent to which my illness had control of me. I was still so disgusted with myself.
When I went on to develop Anorexia Nervosa, these same thoughts came into my mind; I am not thin enough to suffer from anorexia, therefore I don't need help... So yet again, I seemed to be suffering in silence. I became resistant to treatment as the anorexic voice was telling me that I wasn't ill enough as I wasn't "thin". Starting to sound like a vicious circle? This ended with a rather large bang when I started adult services, and I was rejected by the then local eating disorders service for weighing too much. Well, that was it for me. It perpetuated every anorexic thought in my head and led me to spiral damn near out of control.
However, 2 years down the line, without a single drop of ED services, I'm doing pretty damn fine thank you very much :) I've been able to realise that those same services that were supposed to help, in fact hindered a lot as well by putting so much emphasis on weight, BMI's and calories. My mind might not be anywhere near sorted yet, but physically, I'd like to say I'm doing pretty damn well.
I think back now and wonder, if there wasn't this media perception about 'eating disorder = thin', would I have sought help sooner? Would I have been more willing to accept treatment? Who knows... All I know is that this is one of the reasons why I co-founded Hungry for Change to make a difference in this world; to make sure that other people didn't have to suffer the way I did, and for there to be more awareness. Even if we can change one person's perspective it'll be worthwhile.
So there it is, this is me breaking the silence around eating disorders and my experiences.
Hope y'all have a great wednesday :) xxx