Category Archives: Eating Disorders

What recovery looks like – Part 2: food and exercise

Huge thanks to Sophie Richmond (find her on instagram @balancing_bambi) for this amazing series of posts on Recovery from an Eating Disorder. Sophie is not currently a nutritional professsional or therapist but is going to be studying an MSc in Clinical Nutrition and Eating Disorders at UCL from September. I am sharing these posts as inspiration and because I think it is important to show that recovery is possible and happens.

Check out the first RECOVERY STORY POST.

FOOD

There is the common (and incorrect) assumption that people with anorexia ‘don’t get hungry’ or ‘don’t like food.’ In my case neither were true; of course I got hungry and I had, until I became ill with anorexia, really enjoyed food. In ‘recovery’ it is always important to be aware of who is in control of your preferences in relation to food. When you say you don’t ‘like’ a dish –  is that true or does your eating disorder dislike it. For me, I had always detested butter and creme fraiche so it was normal for me not to want those foods. However, from a very young age I had always loved really good quality cheeses such as ‘Stinking Bishop’ and ‘Epoisses’. When I told people ‘I don’t like cheese’ it was actually my eating disorder.

You may find it helpful to delve into your childhood memories of food and consider what you enjoyed before your eating disorder – before you knew about calories or diet culture. I always loved fruits and vegetables but anorexia made me obsessive about weighing quantities and avoiding fruits (and some vegetables) that were deemed too high in carbs. I grew up in the countryside and had idyllic memories of eating countless apples, pears and plums in the orchards with my Grandpa with a freedom I could only dream of in the midst of anorexia. Our fingers would be stained with purple juices as we picked blackberries for jam whilst devouring our fair share – not thinking of snacks or allocated portions (I don’t think much jam ever got made!). Was I happy during these times? Yes. Did I want that enjoyment and pleasure back? Yes. I had to make that choice and  challenge the rules I had made for myself in order to recapture that freedom. These countless happy food memories would all be impossible to revisit whilst I clung to my ‘comfort blanket.’

I remember sharing ‘Dip Dip Eggs’ with so much pleasure with my Grandpa,  loving the molten yolk oozing out over the ‘soldiers’. Anorexia made me hard boil the egg in order to carve out the yolk and only eat the white. During my recovery I found topping my meals with poached eggs (like a shakshuka) helped me capture that happiness and love from someone who cared about be so deeply – someone who bought every colour of Joules bed socks to keep my feet warm when my starved body could not warm itself, someone who wanted me to be happy and healthy, not sad and starving.

Anorexia makes you associate food with calories, diets and weight; confining it purely to ‘fuel’. But it is so much more than that. You WILL need to eat more too nourish and repair your body – but you are allowed to like food and enjoy tasting and cooking as you slowly overcome your fears. I love Moroccan and Indian cuisine for the bursts of flavour in the spiced sauces. I love tomato dishes, vegetables, fish, quinoa, lentils – all foods deemed ‘healthy’ – equally I love baked Camembert with red onion chutney or a homemade apple crumble with custard (although I cannot stand bread and butter pudding). The key is I am in charge of these choices.

I cannot stress the importance of articulating how you feel about food. Externalising and discussing your thoughts allows you to ‘rationalise’ your fears (a registered nutritionist or dietitian is ideal). My mother sat through every meal with me, listening to my worries and showing me that a potato was nothing to fear. She, like my Grandpa, helped me see that food would help repair my thinning hair, my chipped nails, keep me warm and let me think clearly. She wanted me to live, she needed me in her life. The only way I would still be here for her is if I ate.

EXERCISE

Many people will find that their eating disorder spiralled into obsessive exercising and therefore, in recovery, it can be daunting to learn how to enjoy exercise and value the movement of your body – rather than seeing it as a punishment for what you have eaten. I would suggest that you get rid of all trackers and calorie counters (this is really difficult but I promise that you will feel better) and look to gentle activities that you do not do on your own.

Yoga is a relaxing, calming form of movement which encourages you to develop a healthy, respectful relationship with your body. I also found walking my dog with my mother (or a friend) was a good way of getting outside, connecting with nature and doing an activity that was focused on helping my boxer not burning calories.

For me, spending time outside in the garden really helped with the mental challenges of recovery. Planting and nurturing our flowerbeds, watching them regrow with enough care and nourishment, was like an analogy of my journey to recovery. Sometimes the roses took a battering from too much rain, or withered slightly with too much sun, but with with a bit of love they would always bloom again.

Be aware of the amount of exercise you are doing – and the reason you are doing it. If you find yourself making excuses to walk a bit further or do a bit more try to find the strength to be honest with yourself and see that your eating disorder is slowly taking over again. Speak to someone you trust about your concerns. Your eating disorder will convince you that you are being ‘healthy’ and that there is nothing to worry about but I cannot stress enough that battling an eating disorder requires support – in the short term giving into the urges to over exercise or restrict your food intake will seem like an ‘easy’ solution. I promise you, the more you listen to the eating disorder, the more trapped you become.

No one will be angry if you ask for help. If you have started exercising on your own then ask someone to come with you. If this is not possible, try to set a time limit (perhaps listen to a podcast and promise you will stop when it finishes) or make an unmovable arrangement afterwards. Gentle exercise should be a pleasure not a punishment. If you do feel the ‘voice’ of the eating disorder becomes too overwhelming, try to find activities to absorb your attention. We set up a 1,000 piece jigsaw which I could go and do when I need to completely to distract myself and become absorbed in a stimulating activity that would silence my eating disorder. Equally you could play music, read a book, go outside, do some mindful colouring or drawing. These may seem simplistic, but it is about altering your focus and not slipping into the vortex of self-loathing created by your eating disorder.

WHAT RECOVERY LOOKS LIKE… PART 1


Huge thanks to Sophie Richmond (find her on instagram @balancing_bambi) for this amazing series of posts on Recovery from an Eating Disorder. Sophie is not currently a nutritional professsional or therapist but is going to be studying an MSc in Clinical Nutrition and Eating Disorders at UCL from September. I am sharing these posts as inspiration and because I think it is important to show that recovery is possible and happens.

The first thing to understand about ‘recovery’ is that it is different for everybody. Your experience will be different to mine but neither is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Recovering from an eating disorder, in my case anorexia, is not an overnight decision that you make once – it is one that you have to make every single day (sometimes several times). You will probably view your eating disorder as a ‘comfort blanket’ that you cling to when you are frightened or afraid. But imagine if you found out that ‘comfort blanket’ was doing you more harm than good?

TALK

It is really important that you articulate your feelings. Eating disorders are not actually about food – they are a coping mechanism for something deeper. Talk to a trusted healthcare professional, friend or family member about your thoughts. Recovery requires determination, strength and support. Surround yourself with people who you feel able to confide in and don’t be afraid to be honest about what is helpful to you or what something sets you back (for example, if you are at a family gathering and a relative is talking about their 5:2 diet or calories – make sure you talk through your emotions with someone afterwards about how this made you feel and don’t let someone else’s decisions set you back).


READ

I studied English at university which made me think about the idea of the ‘eating disorder voice.’ I never ‘heard voices’ but I did have a constant narrative of negativity regarding my self-worth and place in the world. I was my own ‘unreliable narrator’ – or rather anorexia was telling me a false narrative. In order to recover I needed to challenge the ‘authorial voice of anorexia’ by controlling my own thoughts in order to take charge of my own story. Consider William Shakespeare’s Othello… anorexia is very similar to Iago – a character who seized upon tokens of truth and manipulated them into a fantasy to destroy a man who believed the lies.

Reading the play left me with a resounding feeling of regret…of what if? What if you challenged your eating disorder thoughts by questioning the feelings of guilt, self-loathing, fear and failure? It is hard to comprehend the power of thoughts in relation to yourself – it is only through novels, plays and characters that we see the motives and misconceptions of others. Reading takes you outside of yourself, distracts you from your worries and asks you to contemplate and question. It allows you to see that everyone behaves in a certain way because they are battling their own issues – it is not always about you. Recovery is about finding the courage to deflect deeply ingrained ‘untruths’ and allow yourself to question the harmful opinions of others. I was always fascinated by young Jane Eyre’s strength in standing up to Aunt Reed saying she was the ‘bad child.’ This is exactly how you need to respond to the ‘voice’ of your eating disorder.

SELF-TALK

Although you might struggle with the ‘self’ part of ‘self-care’ – you probably will be well versed in the power of ‘self-talk.’ Often the eating disorder takes over the ‘self’ and feeds in negative thoughts. To combat this try using, what I call, a ‘puppy analogy’. Take all the terrible, degrading words your eating disorder tells you on a daily (sometimes hourly or minute-by-minute) basis and imagine hearing them spoken to a pet (or person) you really love (I use a puppy because I now have an adorable Frenchie). How would you feel standing in a room hearing someone a loved one being told to starve themselves or that they are a useless failure who doesn’t deserve to live? You would be really angry. You would march the bully out of the room, lock the door and shower your loved one with care. So why not apply that to yourself? Visualise the intrusive thoughts as this external bully who needs to be shown the door – and allow yourself to accept the support and love of others who value the real you.

What is Orthorexia Nervosa and what can I do?

Orthorexia Nervosa is the newest eating disorder phrase on the block. It was devised by Steven Bratman in 1996, after he noticed a trend in his patients. Ortho means rich or correct.

Orthorexia = an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. It can have elements of anxiety disorders and OCD with it.

Orthorexia Nervosa

Whilst there is an overlap here with anorexia nervosa and people with orthorexia may end up developing anorexia, there is also a big difference. Orthorexia is taking healthy eating to the extreme, it has an aspirational, wellness culture ideal associated with it. This means it is less about weight and more about purity and an ideal lifestyle. Social media has certainly heightened this and fuelled it. With role models who life perfect pure lifestyles of food, exercise and spirituality, it can seem as if that ideal is achievable and realistic. Striving to achieve it leads to feelings of failure and guilt.

The Bratman Orthorexia Self-Test

This is a test devised by Steven Bratman to help identify if you are at risk of orthorexia. If you answer YES to ANY of these questions you may be at risk.  I think it is useful test to read through and think to how much you identify with the statements.

(1) I spend so much of my life thinking about, choosing and preparing healthy food that it interferes with other dimensions of my life, such as love, creativity, family, friendship, work and school.

(2) When I eat any food I regard to be unhealthy, I feel anxious, guilty, impure, unclean and/or defiled; even to be near such foods disturbs me, and I feel judgmental of others who eat such foods.

(3) My personal sense of peace, happiness, joy, safety and self-esteem is excessively dependent on the purity and rightness of what I eat.

(4) Sometimes I would like to relax my self-imposed “good food” rules for a special occasion, such as a wedding or a meal with family or friends, but I find that I cannot. (Note: If you have a medical condition in which it is unsafe for you to make ANY exception to your diet, then this item does not apply.)

(5) Over time, I have steadily eliminated more foods and expanded my list of food rules in an attempt to maintain or enhance health benefits; sometimes, I may take an existing food theory and add to it with beliefs of my own.

(6) Following my theory of healthy eating has caused me to lose more weight than most people would say is good for me, or has caused other signs of malnutrition such as hair loss, loss of menstruation or skin problems.

If you identify with anything in this post then I highly recommend that you reach out to your medical team, GP, a friend, a parent, a dietitian who works in this field like myself. You can also contact B-Eat.

Top tips for Orthorexia:

Here are some steps you can take to help combat Orthorexia, I suggest these are done with the support of a therapist and dietitian.

  1. Unfollow anyone on social media who fuels the thoughts of having to eat a pure diet/lifestyle. Or try a social media detox for a week.
  2. Focus on eating a variety diet. There are no wrong or right foods it is all about the balance and variety that you eat. Nothing is off limits. Nothing is wrong to eat. 
  3. Work with someone qualified in this area to redefine healthy for you. This may include food, movement, quiet space, social time, family time.
  4. Develop alternative coping skills. Can you see how food helps you feel in control and also makes you anxious? Using distraction after a meal and journalling your thoughts can be a good initial step.
  5. Write out a list of your food rules/beliefs. These need to be challenged.
  6. Only allow yourself to get your nutrition knowledge from someone with a minimum of a degree in nutrition    a registered nutritionist or dietitian.
  7. Stop tracking your nutrition. This may take time to do so start with doing it at one meal at a time. 

Should I count calories?

With all these calorie counting apps that are around and the pressure is better on us to look a certain way calorie counting can be an easy trap to fall into. Whilst it can be useful in some clinical instances I don’t think it is helpful for the general purposes of dieting.
 
Formally, a Calorie is a measure of the amount of energy required to heat one kilogram of water one degree Celsius. It was first used in engineering and physics, but eventually found its way into nutrition, we have Wilbur Atwater to thank for that.
 
Whilst it may make sense that tracking your calories, macros and nutritional intake will help you with your weight, overall health or dietary intake in fact it can have the opposite affect. It can lead to you becoming obsessed with counting everything you eat and feeling you have to stick within a certain number of calories per day. This will stop you enjoying your food and impact your socialising too.  What if you are out with friends in a cafe, a once a week occurance and the cake you is 450kcals plus a coffee 150kcals but you are only allowing yourself to eat 1500kcals a day? That cake is 1/5th of your calorie intake for the day, so is it worth eating it? Do you choose to eat it knowing you will be over your calorie limit for the day but that you have enjoyed your cake and time with friends, do you choose to eat the coffee and cake but then restrict your calories the next day to make up for it or do you decline the cake and feel deprived and as if you cannot join in?
 
Dietitian UK: Why I don't like calorie counting
 
I’d suggest that calorie counting can be a useful guide and tool for one off occasions but over the long term it has the potential to become obsessive.  Following a calorie restrictive diet does not make it a balanced diet. You could be getting all your calories from just fruit and veggies or be skipping a whole food group out.
 
There is also the question of is it even accurate? There is no way to accurately know the exact calories of the food apart from using a calorimeter in a laboratory. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to burn my food up each time! Yes this is worked out for us on food labels but that is a guide. A slightly different portion size, a different way of cooking, a slight change to a recipe and it will have a small affect. Does that matter? No not really as the calories are just a guide. 
 
Delving deeper,  your body will also not necessarily absorb all the calories that you eat. For some foods such as nuts for example, a proportion of the calories are excreted. So even know you may be eating  X  amount of calories you are not necessarily going to be absorbing all of those. Other foods can make your metabolism work harder, again showing calorie counting to not be a 100% accurate tool.
 
Personally I do not think counting calories on a daily basis is helpful and it can be a negative trap that you fall into. Instead look at the balance of your diet. Think about getting a range of nutrients in to your day and a wide variety of foodstuffs. Ensure you cook from scratch as much as possible, eating wholegrains and starchy foods, fruit and veggies, protein and healthy fats regularly. Enjoy what you eat, stop when you are full, eat when you’re hungry and be mindful of the food that you consume but not consumed by it.
 
 

There is no perfect way to eat

There is no perfect way to eat. The more I learn about nutrition the more I am convinced of this. The science of nutrition is continually evolving, growing and being researched. We are learning all the time and it’s a lot more complex than it looks on the surface, but also there are simple steps we can take to eat well.
 
Things are not always in your control. Our tastebuds, culture, finances and social circumstances are just somethings that can affect how we eat. The good news is there is no perfect way to eat. There are many, many ways to eat a nutritious diet. It’s not about striving to be perfect or have the best meals. It’s about eating as well as you can with what you have. No guilt. No shame. No judgment.
 
 
Our bodies change and need different things at different stages of life, often our bodies are able to adapt and help with this. As a baby, a mums breastmilk will change depending on what the baby needs.  Teenage bodies are able to absorb more calcium than at any other time of life. In pregnancy our bodies adapt and will absorb more of certain nutrients such as iron to provide for the baby and changes in the body. Isn’t the body amazing, it knows what we need better than we do. So one of my top tips is to focus on trusting your body, listening to your body and learning what your internal cues feel like. What does hunger feel like to you when you are very hungry, a little hungry and not hungry at all? What cues does your body give you about the foods it needs? Do you get cravings or suddenly feel you are drawn to certain foods? Sometimes this can be due to the nutrients in these. For example craving vegetables after a trip away when you have eaten differently, or craving salty foods when you haven’t had any salt for some time. 
 
My favoured approach in my eating disorder work is to focus on reaching a healthy state and not a healthy weight. On reconnecting with your body and not ignoring it’s signals. This can be very hard to do and a long journey. It’s not all about the numbers on the scales. Sometimes shifting the focus away from weight can make a huge difference.  There is no perfect way to eat or perfect way to recover from an eating disorder, but we do have amazing bodies that can help us discover the right way for us. 

If you need any help with this then do get in touch. 

Constant thoughts of food? It could be linked to your diet.

One statement I hear regularly in my eating disorder clinics is “I feel like I’m going mad, all I think about is food”. Now whilst an eating disorder is a mental health illness it is not a sign of madness. However you can feel so consumed by your thoughts of food that it feel that way. Why? Well let’s have a look at some of the symptoms of being underweight….

Back in 1941 there was a landmark study conducted by Ancel Keys called the Minnesota experiment. The aim of this study was to get information on how to refeed those starving from famine conditions. 32 men completed the study, 12 of these were studied for 8 weeks to assess their baseline intake before the trial began. Then they were all starved for 24 weeks, with their intake reduced from 3,200kcals to just 1,600kcals/day served in 2 meals. which led to a 25% loss of body weight.  Now take a note of the number of calories, yes these men would have been more active and lived a different lifestyle but 1,600kcals led to them being starved. Many of the diets that are advertised today are much lower in calories that this, so are they really healthy for our bodies? 

Fascinatingly the men showed a lot of the symptoms we see in people suffered from an eating disorder. They become obsessed with food. Some read cookery book and stared at pictures of food. Cheating become a huge issue with them trying to find extra snacks. One man became psychotic, having vivid dreams of eating flesh and threatened to kill Keys, he was dismissed and after a few days these dreams and thoughts went away. This to me highlights the affect being a low weight can have on your thoughts and mental health. If you have an eating disorder and are a low weight that pre-occupation you have with food can totally be related to your body being undernourished. It is not you going loopy, it is the impact of being malnourished.

These men displayed a biological drive to eat, their hunger was increased and felt out of control. Keys ended up having to have each men chaperoned to stop them eating other snacks when not in the hospital. Our bodies are built to live and to live we need food. So they will do all they can to get us to eat. When you restrict your intake it makes perfect sense you will hungrier than before, stronger signals are being sent out and the body is going into amber alert. So that pre-occupation with food is actually a normal, biological sign that your body is working and doing it’s job.

The good news is, upon being re-fed, for most men, these symptoms disappeared. They were refer back to their usual weight and felt a lot better. Their thoughts, mood and emotional state improved alongside their physical healthy. Some of these men were interviewed in 2003 and they reported being glad they took part in the study, but there being some lingering after-effects. Some were worried about food deprivation for years afterwards. This can also be seen sometimes in recovery from an eating disorder, which is why  it is important to focus on recovery happening in stages and being a continual work in progress. 

If any of this has hit home to you and you feel like you need some support, do get in contact with me, see your GP for advice  or check out the B-eat website who have a helping and a list of eating disorder specialists. Taking that first step can be the hardest but with good support around you, recovery really is possible.

 

 

Why Weight Watchers for Teenagers is not a good plan.

On the surface this may seem like a good idea. We know the UK population is getting larger and we need multiple ways to help teach people about how to eat for their health… is a diet really the best way? Almost everything in me shouted out “NO” when I read about WW opening it’s doors to teenagers. Part of that may be because I work with lots of teenagers with eating disorders/disordered eating and I know that many of them have gotten to the stage where they need specialist support because of “dieting gone too far”. They started on a diet to lose a little weight and then either liked the knowledge of being lighter, maybe they were complimented or felt they looked better so they lost a bit more and then even more until it spiralled out of control. 

Diet that are focused on weight loss and controlled your food intake via calories do not work for the majority of people longterm. They instead set you up for yet more dieting or for a lifetime of being confined to the same dietplan. Do we want these teenagers to be controlling their intake all the time or bouncing from one diet to the next whilst their weight increases? Or should we instead move away from the focus on weight and to a focus on health related behaviours instead? 

Running Feet

We know that weight can increase the risks of certain chronic disease and that weight loss helps reduce these. However, this does not mean that you cannot be healthy at a larger size or that you are healthier because you are slimmer. Your size does not define your health.

I would love to see an approach where we counter the negative diet messages with positive changes to make for overall health. Encouraging teenagers to eat more plant based foods, to be active daily in fun ways and to choose wholegrain lower sugar options could make a difference without the intense focus on dieting. Education around hunger is something I try to do with anyone I work with at any age – for example, what is it, what does it feel like and when to respond to it. It needs to be about equipping and empowering the person.

Looking at the bigger picture is also key and something that a diet alone will not do. For example:

Why is the person overweight? Are they overeating for a reason or is it that the whole family is overweight?

What is happening in family and social circumstances?

What is their weight history?

How are they coping with life right now? Stress, anxiety, loneliness, tiredness and low mood are all factors that can affect weight and it may be that the weight gain is a symptom rather than a cause.

I do not have the answers but I do know that encouraging teens to diet is not it.

You can see my quote in the Daily Telegraph for this topic. 

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The goal of recovery is not about weight.  

I’m constantly on a journey with my clinical practice and dietetic thinking. One of the keys to a good health professional (or any professional) in my mind is one who constantly evaluates their practice, the evidence, the new trends and uses this to shape how they work and think.  

I started work as an eating disorder dietitian in 2007. On my first day I was handed a box file that contained a few black and white print outs of out of date dietary information and told those were all the resources. There had been no dietitian for 5 years. I built up the resources, my knowledge and educates the team as well as myself. As a lone dietitian on a psychology based team it was at times very tough but it was the making of me and I loved it. When I left that job I had experience of helping run a day care programme, groupwork, meal support, out patients, inpatients and I had gained a whole new language. I am so thankful for those years. 

Now as someone who works in the private eating disorder field I am constantly working to better the support I offer. Not so that I am better, but because I want to do myself out of a job. I want to see my patients recover, I want them to have a good relationship with food, I want them to no longer need my support. 

We live in a weight focused culture. I personally struggle with this. I would love to not weigh anyone who comes to clinic, yet most of the time I have to. Working with people who are very low weight it would be negligent of me to not know what their weight is doing. It has to be a focus, but I don’t want it to be the primary and only focus.  So we get it out of the way, debrief and then move onto other areas. Weight is never an easy topic and is certainly not foolproof. The simple idea of eating so much leading to so much weight gain every week just isn’t that simple  in the community. There are so many factors than can complicate the picture. Activity levels, mental energy used in work/study, looking after children, anxiety etc… So focusing on the weight alone can make it slow, hard and distressing. 

Instead of a weight focus only, I like to work with people looking at their relationship with food. We may look at the their food beliefs, busting any incorrect ones. Ideas such as carbohydrates are fattening or I shouldn’t eat fat are common ones. It doesn’t always work but I try to stay away from calories and strict meal plans and instead focus on eating regularly and including a good balance of foods at meals.  No food is off limits, no food is good or bad. Switching the focus from weight to health has always been one of my aims. Instead of what foods you need to gain weight I look at why food groups are good for your health and how restriction is unhealthy and can cause physical harm. Finding out what foods people have been avoiding and why, is always a good place to start.

 As people make progress it can be so liberating to weigh less often and incorporate more freedom into the meal plan. Learning to listen to those signals of hunger and fullness can be very scary and overwhelming at first but it opens up a whole new future and a way of eating that will see you through life, with no need to restrict, binge or diet every again. Let’s make that the goal. 

Guilt free eating?

This week I spoke to a new client. A lady who has previously had an eating disorder and now has recovered to a healthy weight but has some left over eating traits and food beliefs. She was very relieved and refreshed to hear my viewpoint of:

“All foods can be included in your diet, there are no Good and Bad foods, instead focus on enjoying your food, listening to your body, trusting your body and eating without guilt.”

It got us talking about why there is guilt associated with food. Such a huge and emotive topic.

We all know that food is something our body needs, without it we cannot live, too little food and we lose weight, not eating a balanced diet means our body does not function correctly and can be physically unwell. So where does the guilt come from?

From an early age we learn that some foods are not as good for our bodies. This is often taught in a very black and white manner, labelling foods as good or bad. Now I would agree that something high in calories, fat and sugar, like a slice of chocolate fudge cake, is not something we should be eating daily. However it isn’t a bad food… on the contrary it is delicious and can bring a lot of pleasure. 

Eating for pleasure is important. Lots of our experiences are associated with food. If we only ate for  our physical need think of all that we would missed out on. For example the pleasure of an ice-cream on a hot day or cake at a birthday. These experiences feed our soul, they are part of our social life and our emotional well being too. Food is more than just nutrition.

When we label a food as good or bad it affects the way we think and feel about it. So by labelling that slice of cake as “bad food” we feel we are being naughty/bad when we eat it. It can lead to anxiety before eating, judgement, criticism and then guilt afterwards. Our food rules therefore hold a lot of power and influence.

Having just worked with a TV production company on a food show, this topic also came up when they wanted to label a group of foods as good/bad. This instantly brought a red warning flag up in my mind. It became a great opportunity to talk about some other ways we could soften the language used and how powerful our words can be. This is definitely a journey I am on with my language both at home and as part of my work.

It is time to change the way we categorise foods. Instead of good and bad can we not see all foods as back on the menu, just some more occasionally than others? This is not an easy, overnight change but one that requires practise, patience and plenty of self compassion. The first step is to identity how you see foods, then try to catch those moments when you pass a judgment on a food or on your eating. Can you step in and reframe it. Instead of “I shouldn’t have eaten that ice-cream, now I feel guilty, it is bad for me” Rephrase it as “That ice-cream was really delicious and brought me a lot of pleasure”. Let’s bring all foods back onto the menu and start working towards loving our foods and ourselves.

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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