Tag Archives: eating disorder recovery

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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Polly’s Eating Disorder Recovery Story

When I heard Polly’s eating disorder recover story I knew I had to share it. Working in the field of eating disorders can be frankly hard work. It is a long road to recovery and a battle. It takes dedication, support from others and challenging yourself at every meal time. However it is possibly and it is worth it. I hope sharing this inspires others. 

“It took 10 years for me to finally ‘come out’ and be open about my Eating Disorder. But now I’ve come to realise that in being open I can help others, never will I keep quiet again. I hope that by sharing my story I can help you, or someone you know who is struggling, and show you that recovery is possible.

Why was I silent for so long? I didn’t think anyone would think negatively of me. At age 33 all my peers are open and mature enough not to judge in such belittling ways. Perhaps it was that people wouldn’t take me seriously as a health professional – I’m a Personal Trainer & Nutritionist who helps Mums get in shape. Ironic? Not really. Because needing to lose weight or gain weight often come from the same root psychological cause. I think a lot of it was that I just wanted to forget that horrible time in my life, sweep it under the carpet. But in doing that I’m not able to help and inspire others. The can of worms had to be opened. 

They say that to develop an eating disorder you need to have the right genetics (science shows there’s a link), the right personality (typically perfectionistic and with high personal standards – me to a T), and an immediate trigger or stress at the time of developing the disorder.

I first felt fat age 8. My Dad got remarried and family life was changing. Not in a bad way, but a lot for a young child to process. I first made myself sick age 12 at boarding school. I was bullied, not for being ‘not skinny’ (I wasn’t fat), yet somehow I figured being thin was the answer. But the problem never really took off until, at age 17 at dance school (i.e. where we spent all day in a leotard being judged on how good we’d look on TV), and my then boyfriend was sent to prison. I was also living alone in London and had struggled to fit in at the college. On a subconscious level, all would be well if I lost 3 kilos. Then I would be happy. Reading this back, how silly does that sound now?

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I only ever meant to take the laxatives (half a box of them) once, just to ‘erase’ Christmas day. Each day I would swear on ‘no more Yule log’ and it was salad from now on. I never binged, but every time I ate something ‘non-diet’, I took more pills. Or vomited. Or did an extra 4 hours exercise (it was the holidays, I had time). Or all of the above. Nobody knew. I was way too ashamed to tell anyone.

It was only when this cycle started to impact my daily life about 6 weeks later – skipping classes to make myself sick, blocking up the loo in my flat, not being able to think about anything else but my fat thighs and pathetic self-will, that I switched to a new tactic – restriction. 

It started innocently enough – cutting out fat, then bread, meat……until I was probably living off about 500 calories a day of primarily vegetables, and my condition was noticed, I was removed from dance school, and put under the care of an outpatient clinic. 

And herein began six years of treatment that I resisted as much as I could. Meal plans, counselling, CBT, supervised meals, meals in tubs to take home to eat, and three times I was hospitalised at a dangerously low weight. Nothing worked. 

Why was I so resistant? To say I was miserable doesn’t cut close. If there is a Hell, I have been there. I was also diagnosed with extreme clinical depression unresponsive to medication, borderline OCD, showing bipolar ‘tendencies’ and one therapist suspected I had Borderline Personality Disorder, which some say is what Amy Winehouse had before she died. I self-harmed, and I attempted suicide twice. 

But my eating disorder kept me safe. By this time it was a way of life, it was my identity, and in some distorted way it made me feel special. This is what it comes down to in the end – I never felt special. I felt like a worthless waste of space, yet ironically struggling with this eating disorder only reinforced how much of a waste I was. After all I was putting my family through so much stress and worry. None of it makes sense, but I guess that’s why mental illnesses are so hard to recover from.

So how is it that I can be here today, happier than I have even been in my life, married with two children, and helping other women learn how to treat their body well?

I often get asked what made me finally recover. Honestly? I don’t know. I remember being in a pub garden one summer with a couple of friends, fresh out of another hospital admission and going downhill already. One companion announced she was getting married, the other that she was pregnant. Suddenly for the first time since I developed anorexia, I felt lonely. The eating disorder had been my only friend who stuck by me, yet this ‘friend’ was turning against me. Everyone was growing up, creating careers, moving on with their life. I was stuck in this child like state, being left behind. If there’s one dream I had all my life even throughout the illness, it was to have children. A little girl I could bring up as my little princess. That was not going to happen if I carried on. I was at that time infertile and no man in their right mind would be attracted to an emaciated mess. 

It was like I woke up, or a lightbulb went off, or something switched in my brain. I didn’t want this illness in my life anymore. This time I really didn’t want it.

That’s not to say it came easy. Anorexia is like having a little devil on your shoulder, dictating what you should and should not eat, telling you how pathetic you are if you give in and eat. I’m not going to lie – those voices are still there every day, even 10 years on. But there’s a difference. Now, I shout back louder. 

It’s a fight, every day. I know people who seem to have completely recovered and they think the same way about food and their body as any ‘normal’ person. I may get to that place, I may not. But I’m happy, I’m healthy, and I will keep on winning this fight. 

I’m not a counsellor or psychologist, but I have been there, I do understand. So if anyone wanted to reach out and chat, ask advice, or hopefully to tell me they’ve been inspired to keep fighting, I’m only an email or social media contact away. If I can help just one person, that can of worms was definitely worth opening. ”

 

Pollyanna Hale helps Mums lose weight and get their body confidence back via online coaching with www.thefitmumformula.com/. A qualified Personal Trainer, Polly knows from personal experience and though helping hundreds of women that there is more to having a healthy body than just following some cookie cutter meal plan. Long term success comes from learning to love yourself and your body and treating it with the respect it deserves. It doesn’t matter if you’re overweight or underweight, or somewhere in between. The weight is just a symptom. Everyone deserves to feel special. 

 

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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