Category Archives: Eating Disorders

What makes it easier to recover from an eating disorder?

“Recovery is like riding a wild stallion. It is unpredictable, you will likely fall off many times. You will go through emotions ranging from fear to excitement, feeling out of control at times and clinging on to anything you can. Keep getting back on the horse, keep holding tight, sit up tall and go with the ride.”

There are many times in my working life that I just wish I had a magic wand to make recovery easier. The fact is, recovery is hard, damn hard and it takes a lot of guts, determination and hard work to even make a start on it. Once you start it can feel like it just gets harder at points, so you really need to plan and have support in place to help guide you and keep you going. Here are some things that can help the ride.

Have a social support structure in place

Deciding to make changes to your eating may sound simple, but once you plan it and then actually have to put it into place, it really gets harder. Having people around you who you are accountable to, people who will sit with you in the hard moments, challenge you to keep going and celebrate with you too. True friends and family who love you for you but want to see you healed up and able to live life to the full.

Have professional support

Yes you can do it on your own. However an eating disorder is an isolating illness, it can be a long and lonely path. So having a professional or a team of professionals who you trust is a good idea. People you can get the right information from and trust it, people who will challenge your thoughts, assumptions and beliefs and believe that you can do this. 

Being in the right place at the right point 

There is a cycle of change that I often use with people to talk through how you need to be in the right mindset and the right point of your life to begin recovery. This is especially key if you are in the community, recovering at home. In a eating disorders unit things are a little different and you have more support and encouragement. Take a look at the  phases below and see if you can identify where you are. Recovery can be a cyclical process where you move forward 5 spaces and then back 2 spaces, but do not give up, this is normal. 

Stages of ED recovery 

  1. I don’t think I have a problem
  2. I might have a problem but I’m ignoring it or I don’t care
  3. I don’t know how to change but I  want to
  4. I tried to change but it didn’t work
  5. I can stop some of the behaviours but not all of them
  6. I can stop the behaviours but not the thoughts
  7. I can be free from my eatind disorder some, but not all the time
  8. I am free from behaviours and thoughts = recovered

Have goals in mind

You need something to aim for. Why do you want to get better? What will life be like when you are free from your eating disorder? What do you want to do with your life that you cannot currently do. I recommend writing out or creating a vision board showing where you want to get to. Write out your dreams and dream big. Then use this as a motivational tool, put it up where you can see it. 

Surround yourself with the positive things

Part of recovery is about changing your mindset and the way you view life. It can be so easy to see the negatives about your life and yourself, then use food as a way to help with this. Or to get drawn into the negatives about weight gain. I challenge you to instead see the positives. Why is weight gain good? What does it mean for your body and your life? Grab hold of those negatives and turn them upside down. Having motivational phrases and images around you can be really helpful on those days that thinking is too tricky.

Go do it. I believe you can.

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The golden toolbox of recovery

What’s in your toolbox?! I was recently at a meeting and friend turned to me and said “I have a strange picture that I’ve seen, it’s you with a golden toolbox. It’s like you have everything you need in that toolbox to deal with life”.

This spoke volumes to me as a person and as a health care professional. Having worked in a team which was predominantly psychological I was immersed in the language of the therapists and the word toolbox often came up. I sat in on plenty of group therapy sessions and got to experience a whole range of different therapies.  Also, in our team meetings we used these skills on ourselves as part of the debrief process. It showed me how important it is to look after not just your patients, but yourself. If you have a life with some stress in it (let’s face it that is probably everyone) then you need to have some skills to hand that help you deal with that stress. Stress and anxiety can be a huge factor in an eating disorder, in mental health conditions and also to physical digestive issues such as IBS. When you have a stressful event how do you respond? What does it trigger in you? When you know how you respond you can start to work on a more effective and helpful mechanism. 

 I will never forget my interview for my eating disorder post. I was asked such an eclectic mix of questions that I had no idea how I had done on leaving the room. When I received the call to say I had the job, I asked why I was chosen. The response “we could see you are robust and able to cope with the strains of this work”.  In the eating disorder field this robustness is certainly needed. I continually need to keep on top of my own anxiety and practise what I preach. 

I want to  highlight some skills or tools that we all, health professionals, patients, people, could include in our golden toolbox. Tools you can use regularly for moments of anxiety, tools you can pull out for those emergency moments.

I remember being on a train that got stuck in a tunnel and suddenly feeling trapped and my anxiety levels rising. It was not an experience I was prepared for and suddenly I knew I needed to use one of my tools. At that point visualisation of a calm beach with lapping waves and some square breathing helped immensley. I know if I had not practised these skills  previously, I wouldn’t have been able to use them there and then. So practise really is the key. 

Here are some of my favourite toolbox tools that I use myself and recommend. 

Journaling –

I’m a seasoned journalling fan. This is something I have always done since my teenage years, I now have a lot of full notebooks with a collection of my teen angst, my working life, my spiritual life and my family life in them. Looking back it shows me how I have evolved and where my stress triggers are. I can see the patterns that I fall into and work on improving my reactions. I dig out my journal when I have a moment I need to work through, when my mind feels cluttered or when something erupts! I also love to journal the good and positive, so any life events or just when I get the urge.

If you are on a recovery journey then I recommend that you journal daily  or at least 4 times a week. It needs to become a discipline and a part of your coping mechanism. A good way to start is to write down 3 things that went no so well in your day and how you could have dealt with these better. Then always finish on a positive, so 3 things that have gone well or that you coped with well. You can also take a single scenario and write out alternative endings. Using an eating disorder example: You had an argument with a friend, this increased your stress and you responded by missing your snack. Thinking through why this was not a useful response – restriction of food does not help your emotional well being, it is a quite fix but not a long term cure. Now you have missed out on some nutrition for the day and your body is hungry. Your body needs regular food right now as you work towards recovery. So take a think through how you could have responded instead…. maybe you could have gone for a walk, taken a bath or done some mindfulness to help you reduce your anxiety after the argument instead of turning to food.

Mindfulness and Breathing –

Such a buzz word at the moment, but this is not a fad. I’ve been using mindfulness with eating disorder clients for over 10 years and I’m sure it has been used for far, far longer than this. Just 10 minutes before a meal or after a meal can make a huge difference. It is all about calming your thoughts and body. I personally love just deep breathing, there are so many variations on this so try a few out. For me, the breathing  is something that spills over from Pilates practise and so I get a double benefit from Pilates of exercise and mindfulness. There are some great free resources to help here. 

Exercise –

This is something to decide upon according to your recovery stage. Exercise can be amazing as a mood booster and a de-stresser. However if you are working on weight gain then it will also have an affect on this. If your BMI is less than 17.5 then you will want to modify your exercise so that it is physically safe. 

Distraction – 

I often suggest that people put together a list of distraction techniques that they can use. For example, after a meal,  or when a the urge to binge strikes, at times when anxiety levels are rising it can be useful to have an activity planned. Things like craft, having a friend to call, painting your nails, reading a book, cleaning out a cupboard – something that immerses your mind and changes your thoughts. Puzzles, crosswords, knitting, collage are all great things to have on your list.

Positive thoughts –

Those anxious, negative thoughts are something that we all get. It is how we deal with them that is key. I love the thought of noticing the thought, and finding the opposite reaction. So turn that negative into a positive. If you practise this regularly it can turn into a habit that you hardly notice you are doing. I’m now working on this one with my children too, teaching then that there is always a positive side to things. It is a great skill to learn at a young age but one that you can learn at any age.

I’d love to know what tools you find useful. 

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Eating Disorders: Why can’t I recover?

Working in eating disorders as a dietitian is the very hardest part of my job. As a freelancer I cover a huge variety of roles. In my other world as a Pilates teacher and studio owner I have an altogether more energetic and flowing role. Yet it is working with eating disorder clients that uses the most of me, pushes me hardest, and pulls on my mind, spirit and emotions. 

 Some of my hardest work is with the “stuck” clients. Those who really want to change, really want to break free, really want help…. and yet they just can’t do it. It is so very hard for them as you can see they do want to get better. Imagine this – knowing how you are living is ultimately going to shorten your life, make your life difficult and lead to you not being able to do a lot of things and yet not being able to change it. Life with an eating disorder is a very hard life.

Often there is a specific weight that they cannot push past. 

Sometimes there are behaviours such as exercising or purging that they cannot give up.

Change can be made, but only to a point.

 

So what causes this “stuckness”?

An association with a certain weight.  

It is not uncommon for me to being working with someone who 100% agrees that they need to get their weight to xx kg. We put a plan in place, they are working towards it really well, everything seems to be on target and then the “stuckness” hits just before our weight goal. Why? It could be that when they were last at this weight they didn’t like their bodies/themselves, someone said something negative about them or that something traumatic happened at this weight. It could be they have never been that weight before, it is the highest weight they will have reached.

I like to work this through with people. 

“What will it be like being this weight”

“How will it change your relationships and how you see yourself”

“What will be better and what will be worse?”

I also remind them that you really cannot predict how it will feel and be until you get there. Using the analogy of a night in a hotel. You can guess how it will be, you can imagine how you may spend the time with your partner, you can predict the layout of the room, the hotel and the menu. However you cannot really be sure what it will be like until you get there. Even if you have stayed there before, things change, things feel different at different stages of life.

2. Not wanting to move on.

Having an eating disorder can for some be a way of escaping. Escaping growing up, escaping emotions, escaping reality. So getting better means that you have to deal with all those tricky issues. You cannot run away any longer. You have to put on those big pants and be a grown up. It isn’t necessarily going to be fun, but in the long term it will be worth it. 

I find using some motivational work can be beneficial here. Looking at the pros/cons of change. Planning out a vision board of where they want to be in 1 year, 5 years time. Talking through the real reasons they need to get better. For most people there is something driving the desire to make change. Examples are wanting to have a certain career that you can’t do at a low weight (nursing, law), wanting to have children, wanting to be able to go travelling.

3. Invested in the Eating Disorder.

This may seem like a strange one. If you have had an eating disorder for a long time it can be hard to imagine not have one. It becomes part of who you are. It becomes part of the way that other people see you, relate to you and care for you. If you no longer have an eating disorder there is an uncertainty, how will others see you, will they still care for you, will they still take time over you? If you no longer have an eating disorder who will you be? A huge part of this is all around knowing your identity. Spending time journalling can help with this. Thinking about who you used to be, who you would like to be. What are the things that make you come alive inside? Spend time doing those. What are your dreams and aspirations? What things are you good at? Asking someone close to you the question “What are my giftings or what are I good at?” can be very revealing and helpful.  Once you have an idea of who you could be outside of your eating disorder you can push yourself to move past it.

Working on your relationship can also be helpful. If these are strong then you know that people will care for you always, with an eating disorder or not. Being in a sick role means you are seen in a very different way. Being recovered and healthy can expand and move your friendships and relationships to new levels. 

Being stuck in your eating disorder recovery can be a very natural part of the recovery process. If you are in this place do seek some help. Do spend time journalling, talking, being creative and finding who YOU are. To look for a good therapist and dietitian near you in the UK the B-eat website is a good starting place. Or drop me an email as I work with people around the UK by video call.

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Restriction and Eating Disorders.

Having an eating disorder can make you feel invincible, it can sometimes be hard to see how being underweight and restricting your food intake can cause physical health issues, but there are so many knock on effects of being a low weight. When your body is not getting the nutrition that it needs it can lead to knock on consequences for your bone health as the minerals are take from yoour bones for use elsewhere in the body. Another big one is  muscle wasting throughout the body including your heart. Your brain will start to conserve energy and shut down some less vital functions, brain power, memory, reactions and concentrations can be impaired. The blood may not be pumped as well around the body leading to cold extremities. Mood swings and poor sleep are common. Skin, hair and nails will start to suffer. I’ve had some people who have lost their hair in large clumps.  Less of a physical symptom, as your body craves nutrition your mind becomes increasingly pre-occupied with food, recipes, the next meal, it can become all consuming. 

Dietitian UK: Restriction and eating disorders infographicIf you or someone you know is struggling with restricting their eating, it can be helpful to think through the physical affects on the body and use these as a motivation to focus on slowly eating more. If you need help with this, seek out an eating disorders therapist, dietitian or see your GP for signposting. 

I work with people with Skype, so get in touch if you need support.

Should we label a food as good or bad?

The label of good and bad foods annoys me. It is one of those labels that I find hard to get away from when I am talking to people as it comes up constantly. I spend a lot of time trying to break that idea down in people’s minds. Google it and there are over 71,800,000 links talking about what foods are good/bad, what bad foods are really good, the best good foods to eat and so on. But do good and bad foods really exist?

Bad foods seem to be ones that are high in sugar, fats and calories. Foods that are “not healthy” and that exert a “bad” affect on the body. They can range from fast food, processed food and high fat/high calorie snack items to carbohydrates and dried fruit.

Dietitian UK: Should we label foods as good and bad?

We have a complex relationship with food. Trying to make it fit into just one camp is tricky. Look at the major food groups – carbohydrates, protein, fat, dairy, fruit and veggies. Then look at lentils. They are put in the protein group but they contain carbs and are a portion of veggies too. 

Let’s take it to a more philosophical level. Can a person be labelled as good or bad? Take an object like a razor blade. Is it good or bad? One the one hand it can be used to shave and on the other hand it could be used as a weapon. 

So by trying to label foods as good or bad we are over-simplifying it. Foods are really neutral. Labelling them automatically places them into one category. Let’s take chocolate as an example. On the one hand this is a high calorie, high fat food that is often laden with sugar, so could be classed as a “bad food”. However dark chocolate contains iron, magnesium and fibre. It has antioxidants including polyphenols, catchins and flavanols and may help lower blood pressure plus reduce LDL cholesterol levels. Some research suggests it may help with cognitive function too making it sound like a pretty amazing food to be eating. Even fruit and vegetables can have their negatives, too many carrots can turn the skin orange due to excessive beta carotene!

No single food is to my knowledge nutritionally complete. We need a combination of foods in order to provide the body with all the nutrients it needs. This includes the full range of essential fatty acids and some sugar too.

The old phrase “All things in moderation” is actually very true. Instead of looking at a food in isolation we need to think about how often we eat a food, how much or it we eat, combined with what else we are eating and adding to a food. Limiting or not allowing yourself to eat certain foods can actually lead to you craving them more and then over-eating them. Food is something to be enjoyed rather than denied, so a small amount of the things you like really can be good. 

So instead of labelling foods as good and bad, or healthy and not healthy, how about we change the way we view it. I let my children eat all foods, including cake, sweets and chocolate. However they know that some foods are best to eat in small amounts as they can lead to their bodies getting sick. A good example of this is a weekend recently where we had multiple parties, leading to a lot of party food being consumed. Both children had tummy aches and were slightly constipated! An excellent time to highlight that they had eaten more biscuits and cakes, less fruit and veggies and their bodies were complaining. We talked about how these foods are delicious (the words of my toddler boy) but if you eat too much of them they can make you feel unwell. 

How do you label food in your mind? 

Dear health bloggers, please be responsible.

Ok so a bit of a rant. However I am getting increasingly annoyed and saddened in my line of work  by the impact that so-called health bloggers are having. I am seeing a definite impact upon young girls who are either following these social media gurus or are hearing about their nutritional messages through other channels.  Sadly there is no regulation for these new nutrition types and yet with thousands of followers, their advice is wide reaching.

Restricting your dietary intake under hear-say or because someone else tried it out and it worked, or due to social media advising it really isn’t the way to go. 

Firstly it can lead to your diet becoming overly restricted and make it hard to find enough foods to eat.

Secondly it can leave you lacking essential nutrients. 

Thirdly this can spiral downwards leading to weight loss and disordered eating.

Some phrases I often hear are: 

“Carbohydrates are not good to be eating”

“Gluten is toxic”

“Dairy is full of fat and hormones”

“I only want to eat healthy fats”

So I spend a fair amount of my time with these clients, dispelling the myths and explaining the science. Some of these clients  I manage to catch early on, before things have gotten too far. For others though the damage has already started. What started as healthy eating has spiralled downwards into overly restricted eating. They are too scared to eat certain food groups and have continued to lose weight, taking their bodies into an unsafe area. Many of these clients then realise what has happened and actually become quite angry. Angry at the incorrect advice they have believed and the influence of the health instagrammers. Angry that they have been drawn into this culture. Angry that they now have many months of hard work ahead of them to turn things around. Angry at the impact on their minds and bodies.

Now I’m not saying that health bloggers are the reason for eating disorders. But I am saying that for some, the instagram health blogging world shows a world they want to be part of. The perfect body, the perfect diet, the perfect workout, the perfect food pictures. In my mind there is no perfect. At least not in this world. Instead we aim for balance with a healthy does of reality. However I am a 3o something year old, wife with 3 children. In my teens I too had issues with body image, I know I would have been easily influenced by the perfect diet and have followed the clean eating trend. Now with 2 daughters, I want to ensure they, and many others do not fall under this spell. 

health-bloggers-please-be-responsible

So, if you give nutrition advice, please spare a thought for how it could affect people. How it could be miscontrued. Think about whether it is correct, evidence based and sound.

How about we have the rise of the evidence based, trustable health bloggers? 

Please.

Eating Disorders: Prevention is better than cure

Eating disorders are a mean, cruel illness. Once seen to be a disease of affluence, there are now so many reasons an eating disorder can begin. The roots can be due to trauma, family issues, relationship problems, low self esteem, bullying, loneliness and wanting to fit in, a desire to be healthy, a need to achieve. Often there seems to be this air of mystery surrounding them and they can even be seen as a status. However, once you are in the cycle of truly trying to recover you will wish you had never become drawn into the disorder in the first place. 

Healthy eating taken to the extreme can seem like a good idea, but for some it can rapidly become an obsession. Counting calories, measuring portions, having the right balance of food groups can be positive. But when it lead to these measures being down to the nth degree, becoming obsessed with what your next meal will be and anxious if you have to eat something out of your plan, then there is a problem. 

When I meet someone who is low weight and wants to weight restore I always emphasis that it will not be easy. Not because I want to put them off, but I always find it is important to be honest and forewarn them. Recovery from an eating disorder is a cruel business. Why do I say that? Well if you have an eating disorder you have issues around food, often you are restricting your intake and eating high calorie foods causes anxiety. You don’t like feeling full, bloated or heavy and putting on weight around your tummy is not something you want to happen. Guess what? When you weight restore all these things happen. It is like everything you are scared of you have to go through, a bit like one of those awful challenges where they put you in a box full of spiders to get you past your fear of them (yes I’m scared of spiders). Someone weight restoring will have to:

  1. Eat more.
  2. Eat more calorie dense foods. 
  3. Increase the variety of foods they eat.
  4. Eat more carbohydrates, fats and sugars.
  5. Will feel bloated after a meal.
  6. Will have to continue eating when full, pushing past that feeling of wanting to stop.
  7. Will have anxiety around mealtimes.
  8. Will gain weight and this may initially go to their tummy but will then redistribute.

So you can see some reasons why it is so hard. All the things you fear are the things you have to go through. I wish I had a magic wand or an easy solution. However recovery is definitely possible and so so worth it. 

What I do know is:

Dietitian UK: Prevention is better than cure

 

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Here is a quote from a  client talking about weight restoration to inspire you:

It seems like forever ago now and I can’t lie – I hated it at the time. I really struggled. I did the ISP after an admission and it was tough. I hated it at the time. I remember going through a folder of portion sizes with you and lying through my teeth. I couldn’t accept the help.  But I’ve been out of hospital for 3 years now. I’m small but not underweight. I had a lot of help and eventually knew how to use it. From there to now – I don’t think I could have got from there to where I am now without the support I received.

It hasn’t gone. It’s still there but I’ve got a lot to lose now (life, friends, family and definitely not weight) and I won’t give that up for anything. I never said thank you at the time because I couldn’t see that you were helping me. So I wanted to say thank you now. 

It is so good to be living again 😊

5 tips for recovery from an eating disorder.

1. Make recovery a priority:
This may mean taking a break from normal life. A year out. Recovery takes a lot more energy and effort than you may originally think. It needs to be right up your priority list. Time off work, school, certain friendships, travelling, exercise. Whatever it takes, this is important for this season.

Dietitian UK: Make recovery a priority

2. Find yourself again:
What do you like to do? It’s often hard to know what things make you, you. The busyness of life gets in the way of our identity. 
Book out some time to find you again. Try some activities you used to enjoy. Often creative projects can be a useful part of recovery. Maybe photography, baking, sewing, painting, collage, scrap booking, gardening,  I love the phrase “Find what makes you come alive, then go and do it”.

3. Mindfulness:
Sitting in silence and paying your full attention to your breath and body can help you bring an awareness of your thoughts and feelings. This practise helps you let go of the unhelpful thoughts and be more compassionate to yourself. Practising letting thoughts go in your mindfulness practice will enable you to take this into everyday life so when an unhelpful thought comes along you are in a better place to acknowledge it, but not to act on it.  

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4. Value yourself :
Take time to look after your body: nutritionally and physically. Some self care time in your week can make a real difference and can remind you that you are important and worth looking after. For some people an eating disorder can be a form of self neglect and may have some punishment aspects to it. Creating the emphasis on it being good to care for yourself and give yourself pamper occasions helps build self esteem and love for your body. 

Some ideas: A long bath, a manicure, pedicure, haircut, moisturising your body, shaving. Taking time to tidy your home, buy yourself flowers or something nice to look at each day, light candles in the evenings. 

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5. Fuel your body:
The right fuel at the right times of the day is vital. This may mean going against your feelings and thoughts, but with repetition a routine will evolve and habits will form. 
It is likely your have no idea what normal eating should be for you now. Plan out 3 meals and 3 snacks a day with general timings to stick to if you can. There will always be days things don’t fit into your plan, that is also part of normal eating! For more advice take a look at my healthy eating in Anorexia post.
Go for as much variety as you can. There is no perfect meal plan, it’s all about making small steps and challenging yourself as often as you can. 

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Anxiety Techniques for Eating Disorders

Anxiety is one of the biggies when you are working on recovery from an eating disorder. I’ve worked through this with many clients: either whilst they are eating, after a meal or whilst choosing a meal. It can feel totally overwhelming and be quite debilitating. So you need tools available to help you deal with those consuming anxious moments. One thing I alway like to remind people is that anxiety is a natural body response. It may feel like it will overtake you and spiral out of control, but it has to peak and then lessen. Give it 10-20 minutes to pass.

Dietitian UK: Anxiety Techniques For Eating Disorders

Distraction

Find something that can change your focus. If you are eating you may need someone to start a conversation, the radio may help or watching a candle burn.

If it is away from a mealtime then crafty activities, a good book, a bath or a phone call to a friend could help. Write out a list of things to try out.

Do a Body Scan

A Body Scan is a a great way to reconnect to your body. In moments of anxiety your parasympathetic nervous system can take over, dry mouth, heart beating faster, harder to swallow, feeling hot, a pounding head, tunnel vision – none of it will help when you are trying to eat or to relax after a meal. By working through your body from feet to head you cab bring your awareness back to your body and reduce the anxiety.  

Here is a free video version from Elisha Goldstein.

I particularly like progressive muscle relaxation, probably because it is a more active form or relaxation so I have something to do! It works by tensing the muscles in a body part, holding for 30 seconds and then releasing. This leads to a sense of relaxation in that area.. The whole process makes your think about your body and not that anxious event and helps you slow down your breathing too. 

Here is a useful script you can use.

Or you can just work from your toes through each muscle you can think of going up to your jaw. Or pick large muscle groups such as your fists, feet, legs, jaw and just do those for a few minutes. 

Being Barefoot

Walking barefoot can be a good exercise in thinking about movement, feelings and breathing. Slowly walk around on difference surfaces, working slowly through the foot and focusing on using as many of the small muscles in the foot as possible. Use deep breathing through the ribcage whilst you walk.

Try using a tennis ball to massage and release through your feet first to increase the amount of movement through your feet. 

Mindfulness

I often ask clients if they have tried mindfulness. Some people love it and others struggle with it. If you haven’t tried it then good apps include Headspace and Breathworks. It can take time to really get your focus and practise will improve it. Try and find a set time to practise each day, even if it is only 5 minutes. 

Breathing

I know this is something we all do, all of the time, but there are some good breathing techniques that can help reduce anxiety. Deep breathing reduces the fight/flight response that occurs when you are stressed. So simply focusing on your breath and slowing it down can help. When you are sat eating and the anxiety starts to mount up, threatening to overwhelm you, try refocusing on your breathing. 

In Pilates we use thoracic breathing, where you bring yourself into a neutral posture – stacking your ribcage over your pelvis, breath in deeply expanding through the chest and breath out letting the chest fall back. It always amazes me that just deep breathing uses the right muscles can make a difference. 

Another one I like is square breathing – think about or look at a square. Breathing in for 4, hold for 4, breath out for 4 and hold for 4. The counting can be helpful and you can do this without anyone noticing.

Orthorexia: when healthy eating is not healthy.

If you read my blog regularly you will know that healthy eating is definitely something that I promote. Sometimes, there can be point where healthy eating goes a step, or several steps too far. Can we be too healthy with our eating? 

The rise of healthy eating blogs, clean eating movements and instagram gurus has led to there being almost too much access to information, recipe and tips. As well as the not always qualified voicing their nutritional opinions. This can lead to confusion and information overload.

Dietitian UK: Orthorexia

What is Orthorexia?

Orthorexia Nervosa is a relatively new term meaning a “fixation of righteous eating”.  It was first used in 1996 by Steven Bratman, MD. It is not yet recognised as a fully fledged eating disorder in the diagnostic criteria, but is definitely something that is on the increase. 

People with orthorexia may not notice they have an issue with their eating, in face they may think the opposite. They can start out trying to eat a healthier diet but get drawn into the spiral of trying to eat a healthier and healthier meal plan. They become consumed with food, trying to eat right, being strict with their food intake and restricting the foods they are allowed to have. Purity, eating the healthiest foods they can and guilt if they stray off the plan are hallmarks. This can lead to an obsession with weight, shape and calories. Weighing food and adding in specific “health” foods can also creep in.

There are usually underlying issues that precipitate Orthorexia. This could be a need to escape, feeling out of control and needing to control an area of life, feeling a loss of identity. Suddenly finding an outlet in the form of control via eating can help fill that void. It starts out seeming like a healthy way to deal with your feelings, but then spirals out of control.

Why is it a problem?

Although on the surface a diet may sound healthy, when you dig down it is usual to find nutritional deficits in the diet. A lack of calcium for example, that can affect bone health. A lack of essential fatty acids, affecting brain function, skin and blood flow.

More noticeable is often the weight loss that ensues and the affects on socialisation. Physical side effects of weight loss can include: poor circulation, feeling cold, hair loss, poor concentration, memory and reactions times, low mood and mood swings, being unable to eat out, wanting to isolate yourself, fatigue and a general lack of lustre. People can feel consumed with the need to know what they are eating each day, needing to prepare it all themselves, planning meals and recipes far in advance and this becoming all-consuming. There can be a loss of hunger and fullness signals, with increased anxiety around meals. 

Dr. Bratman, who recovered from orthorexia, states “I pursued wellness through healthy eating for years, but gradually I began to sense that something was going wrong. The poetry of my life was disappearing. My ability to carry on normal conversations was hindered by intrusive thoughts of food. The need to obtain meals free of meat, fat, and artificial chemicals had put nearly all social forms of eating beyond my reach. I was lonely and obsessed…I found it terribly difficult to free myself. I had been seduced by righteous eating. The problem of my life’s meaning had been transferred inexorably to food, and I could not reclaim it.” (Source: www.orthorexia.com)

So a healthy diet is bad for me?

Well it can be, if it takes over your life, your thinking, your time and leaves you with feelings of anxiety, guilt and self-loathing. If you are not able to relax and eat cake now and again then that is not normal eating.

How to get help?

  1. Recognise the problem. This is a huge step.
  2. Talk to your GP and ask for advice. They may be able to refer you to a local eating disorders team.
  3. Look for an eating disorders specialist who can work through your food beliefs and give you the confidence to make changes.