Tag Archives: recovery journey

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.

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. 

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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