Tag Archives: anorexia recovery

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.

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. 

 

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

 

AND

 

stories

 

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 😊