#60: The energy vacuum & relapse

Hey guys,

I hope all of you are doing ok. If you follow my instagram (really, how else are you here?) you might have seen how I returned from University last week. I am already in a much better place then I was, after 7 days of lots and lots of food, rest, and family support.

I have received quite a few messages asking “what caused your slip up?” and I think this might be useful to discuss. It will also help me gather my thoughts together. Please bare in mind that I am writing from my own experience, understanding and interpretation of the illness from all of the literature I have read and trust.

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What causes a relapse?

In short, there is no singular conclusive ’cause’ of a relapse. For me, there was no moment of “Oh shit! I hate this new wonderful life I have began to reconstruct! Lets go back to hell!”

I, as well as many other professionals leaders in the field, believe relapses happen when you reenter an energy deficit. I once did a blog post called “The Cause” which explains the term energy deficit slightly more.

As many of you know, during the Summer holidays, I nannied for a family who kindly took me on holiday to Greece. During this time, I was looking after 2 cute, yet wild, children from around 6am to midnight. Needless to say, it was exhausting. Even when relaxing by the pool or beach, I had to keep very close watch on them. I know you’re probably eye-rolling at my complaints about being paid to holiday, but it was HARD work. But more importantly, it was energy zapping work. It was absolutely exhausting both physically and mentally. In addition to this, the mother of the children was getting up to exercise as soon as the sun rose each morning. She ate extremely orthorexically and even made comments about my food choices, such as my ice cream and full fat yoghurt. Yet, this was NOT the cause. The kids were not the cause. The mum was not the cause. Admittedly, I expended a lot of mentally energy working against the negative thoughts from the mother’s comments and doing ‘opposite actions’ all week, but actually, at the time, seeing her poor diet made me cringe and feel sorry for her. Half a pot of 0% yoghurt for breakfast? No thanks. Not my path.  It didn’t even tempt me.

But, as I say, all of this used a tonne of energy. I think this is when things started initially going downhill, although I coped at the time, my energy levels were diminished.

Then, came returning to Uni. Something which makes even the most chilled people stressed. I am a warrior, but also a HELLA BIG worrier. I worry a lot. I worried about missing my family, about buying course books, about having to go out partying until 4am when my sleep had been pretty shoddy. I even worried about whether I’d need a bus pass. The first week of also uni involves meeting new people, meeting old friends, joining societies, buying books… and of course preparing meals for myself.

Then, when I told my friends that I wasn’t sleeping well and didn’t fancy going out clubbing, they seemed a bit disgruntled. This really hurt me, as I expected them to understand. To fill my days with something, I threw myself into loads of different societies to avoid getting bored or lonely.  My course has quite low contact hours and a lot solitary reading is expected, so I wanted to find something fun that I could do to productively procrastinate & fill my spare time with. From wind sailing (absolute fucking disaster ending in hypothermia, btw) to newspaper writing- I gave it a go.

AND, here was my mistake: as all of this was going on, I wasn’t nourishing myself adequately. I didn’t increase what I was eating to counteract the vast amount of energy being expended. As you can see, there was lots going on with not enough coming in. It was like an energy vacuum. Henry the Hoover, but a less friendly version.

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Obviously, not everyone goes to uni or goes on holiday with energy-sucking kids. But the one thing we all have in common in life? We all go through periods of high stress or periods of time when vast amount of energy are sucked out of you. This could be a family bereavement, an activity holiday, an argument with a friend, a change of job, as well as  many other things. Or, indeed, a combination of lots of little stresses.

So how will I aim to avoid a relapse next time?

For the rest of my life (or for a very long time), I will have to be mindful and aware that the anorexia gene may be triggered if I slip into a deficit once again. Periods of stress or increases of activity use energy. In those times, I must increase my intake. It is not my fault that I have the genetic predisposition for anorexia, but it is within my control to stay out of a deficit. 

For the rest of my life, I will have to be mindful and aware that the gene may be re-activated if I become lazy with my snacks, or if something is stressing my out. This is where I do have control, and so do you.

I simply cannot afford to get into a deficit, so whenever a stressful situation arises, I must eat significantly more. Probably, the signs that I was gradually slipping back were there, I just didn’t notice or pay enough attention to them. When I look back, before returning to Uni, my mood was low and I was becoming slightly more anxious and rigid around food again. By the 2nd week of uni, I was spiralling downwards. That was no coincidence.

So, in the future, periods of stress MUST equal increasing my intake. Like it or not. I will always have to maintain a high intake, but it will be absolutely essential to eat MORE THAN MORE THAN ENOUGH (thank you Jan for that one 🙂 !!) during energy sucking times.

I hope that helped and cleared things up. Remember, you might have to fight a battle more than once to win the war. If you feel yourself going backwards, my answer: FOOD FOOD FOOD. Get on top of your nutrition. Eat more than more than enough 🙂

Always Keep fighting,

Han xx

bowl of sliced bananas with rice crispies
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

 

#59: Recovery Reminders

Hi! Happy Thursday!

I thought I’d do a quick blog about something I’ve been working on, but first I’ll briefly put it in context.

Creating a little mental catalogue of quotes/mantras/sayings has helped me so much in my recovery. It’s so useful to have a quick and automatic response to the eating disorder thoughts. When the ED thoughts seem involuntary, I know how exhausting it can feel to have to rationalise and battle against them every single time and for what sometimes seems like every single moment of the day. For me, they were pretty constant and reminding my self of my true values was often really hard in the moment. Sometimes, when your heads spinning, you feel guilty and you just want to give up, it so seems impossible to rationalise and not catastrophize. I know that ‘this is genuinely the end of the world!!’ feeling all to well.

To try to combat this, I made a little ‘recovery reminders’ book. I’ve never really been into journaling but I can honestly say this has saved me from many-a-meltdown and given me motivation to pick myself back up and continue. I obviously compiled the book when I was thinking rationally and so what’s in it was my genuine unEDinfluenced feelings. When I was feeling panicked or confronted with a fear, I or my parents grabbed the journal and it had the power to change my outlook. I think it also really helped my parents because they knew what to say in those crisis moments. I now realise how terrifying I was when I was in a panic (mainly at the start of my recovery) and I remember being so disappointed that everything they said to comfort me seemed to be the ‘wrong thing’. It was a horrible time for us all and I know sometimes they got upset when they accidentally said the ‘wrong’ thing too. The mantras really helped them be able to connect with and comfort me and actually say helpful things.

For example, If I looked in the mirror one day and didn’t LOVE what I saw and began to get upset, I quickly repeated 3 things without even thinking:

1. My body is the least important thing about me

2. I do not have to love my body, I have to love the life my body allows me to live.

3. My body is a vehicle for my personality and emotions.

For extra reassurance, these were also written in the journal. It really helped having them at the forefront of my mind. The more I repeated them, the more I believed them and I could quickly shut down any ED thought. For me, it was never (and still isn’t quite yet) a case of trying to block/not receive the thoughts. For now, we have to accept that they will inevitably come. Instead, we have to learn how to appropriately cope with them in a non destructive way. This journal really helped me with that, as well as rationalising that opposite actions was the correct thing to do. As it helped me so much, I was wondering whether it might help some of you…

Every summer since I was young, I try to take on a new little project for myself. It’s usually something I haven’t done before. During the school/uni term, I never ever get time for arts and crafts stuff, but it’s something I actually really, really love doing. In the past few years when I wasn’t well however, I wasn’t truly passionate about anything and none of my projects were a success. I think last summer I bought a bit of stuff for bracelet making, but didn’t have the energy or oomph to give it a good go. I just became agitated and bored at plaiting the fabric.

This summer will be different, though. I decided that if I could use some of my experience to help others, whilst also getting stuck in with a new lil’ project, it would be both fun and rewarding for me. It’s a non-profit thing, but obviously all of the materials cost. I think including materials and postage it will come to around £10 for me to do. I don’t mind there being no profit because it’s something I’m enjoying doing and hopefully will be helpful 🙂

The little individually personalised book will include around 30 ‘recovery reminders’ on photo paper in a cool handmade journal which you can add some notes to yourself. The packaging I will send it in and book itself are made of good, recycled paper so it’s as eco as poss. If I could do it cheaper, I would love to so if there’s interest I’d continue working on ways to reduce the cost. The ‘recovery reminders’ are things I have repeated to myself over and over again to get me to the place I am now.

If you think you might like one, send me a quick DM on Instagram or if you prefer, you can send me a quick email on my YouTube email account: (hanbeatsan@gmail.com). A message doesn’t commit you to buying one, but just sort of let’s me know your interest 🙂

I hope these might be helpful for you & or your parent/friend and is also a bit of relaxation for me.

Always keep fighting,

Han xx

#58: Motorways take time to grow over

This blog might not be so helpful for people in the early stages of recovery. However, if you’re currently doing well, or even if you’re in a mid-recovery-clusterfuck, it hope it is 🙂

On a sunny Thursday morning, when driving back from a shopping trip, I saw a group of runners clustered together on the side of the road. I thought to myself “WOW. I’m genuinely excited to get back to that.”

Although I’m excited, I still must wait because lingering with that excitement, is an underlying fear. Strangely, I’m somewhat terrified to return to it. I am so incredibly scared that my relationship with exercise will never heal and be what it used to be so much so that I hardly want to test it out to check. I am so scared once I start, it might become disordered again and I never ever want to go back to that hell. But thats exactly what will happen if I don’t allow time for full neutral rewiring. All the progress I’ve made so far could be reverted, so I must wait. After so long of not exercising or compulsively moving, I have accepted that. Deep down I know that eventually I will be able to have a good relationship with exercise again, but only if I take my time.

When I saying that I’m waiting, I don’t mean chilling until I’m weight restored and then I have free license to do what ever I want. Weight restoration isn’t the only aspect of recovery. It’s important, but only half of the story. I’m not just waiting until I’m at my set point ‘healthy’ physical weight, but until I’m completely mentally healthy too. I fully committed to unrestricted eating and therefore in theory, physically my body might be ready to return to exercise. But mentally, I am likely to still be a long way off it.

(Side note: I’ve mentioned previously that running used to be ~my thing~. In the most completely undisordered way, it was what I enjoyed most and was best at since I was young. Competing in events took up a lot of my time and I truly loved it. (This is before I over did the training with inadequate nutrition and slipped into and energy deficit which triggered anorexia). Then my relationship with it turned sour. It was no longer for joy. So when I began ‘real recovery’ eventually, very, very reluctantly, I went cold turkey. I haven’t exercised in a long time. Perhaps 6 months now.)

So just as I was pulling up in my drive way after shopping this morning, I starting pondering the thought of going back to exercise. Not running necessarily, but some sort of movement. I watched some tv, wondering and considering the possibility of it. Am I ready? Is it safe? Is it for the ‘right’ reasons? I wasn’t entirely sure.

And then, like magic, a notification popped up on my phone. A Tabitha Farrar upload answering my exact thoughts. Funny how often that happens actually. Early in the video, she speaks about how a year off of exercise is the minimum she would recommend to break the habit. A year??? My eyes widened as I watched. NO. That can’t be! “But maybe because I genuinely loved exercise before my ED began, 6 months is enough??” I hoped. I took a deep breath and watched on. Of course, her justification of this minimum of a year of exercise abstinence was perfect. Therefore, I’ll follow it and then assess my situation.

A fundamental flaw with the treatment system (in the uk anyway) is that they look at recovery very much from a nutritional rehabilitation perspective. If the patient has gained X amount of weight, and this is deemed as acceptable or ‘healthier’, doctors or teams might allow reintroduction of exercise regardless of psychological state. Healthy weight=healthy mind, right?? No, not at all. We all know that.

I have certainly restored weight and have come on leaps and bounds mentally, but I know deep down that I’m not ‘there’ yet. I still have a lot of cementing to do over the foundations I’ve laid down. Even if I have considerably improved physically, I can’t ignore that the neural rewiring has not had enough time to become affirmative. Just because it might be physically ‘safe’ to exercise for me now, mentally it is not. Even if I began exercising with the best intentions, out of the sheer joy of movement, it is possible that unintentionally the associated emotions could return due to the neural pathways still being active. For some creeping behaviours might even go a bit unnoticed, but for me, they didn’t. As soon as I previously tried to reintroduce exercise (too early) all of these niggling thoughts creeped back. There was still something present in my mind that linked exercise with food and therefore the suggestion to eat ‘just a little bit less/healthier’ took over. It’s not a coincidence that urges of restricting re-emerge after beginning exercise. By exercising, I put energy into that dying neural pathway and revitalised it. I lifted up the whole neural network and awoke associated behaviours. So, simply put, because exercise is something ED associated and was being permitted, all of the other associated behaviours creeped back too.

Here’s an analogy for you. As usual, you’re going to have to use your imagination… What I’ve done in my recovery so far has been (a bit) like pouring jelly into a mould. Every day that it’s left in peace in the mould, it’s becoming firmer and stronger. This is like how my beliefs and actions are now stronger. BUT, if somebody where to violently shake the jelly mould before it’s completely set, all of the hard work may go to waste. The not-quite-set-jelly may break up because it wasn’t quite ready. Like my recovery, if I’m not ready mentally and I haven’t quite broken the faulty neural pathways which connected exercise and food, I may fall backwards.

Superhighways

In the video and in her neural rewiring book, Tabitha talks about how she believes there are 2 ‘superhighways’ which are basically 2 massive neural pathways. We don’t have “highways” in the UK, but I’m picturing the M25 motorway as the equivalent. These ‘superhighways’ are the 2 primary behaviours that it are easy to slip back into, and to re-emerge if you go back to doing them too soon:

1) orthorexic eating.

2) over exercising.

They are the 2 behaviours that are hardest to break the pathways of, perhaps because they are most deeply ingrained. Maybe you’re doing really well in recovery, you’re winning, thriving even, but these pathways aren’t completely shattered, they’re underlying or maybe still dormant. Going back to the behaviours too soon, when they’re not entirely gone, could cause the awakening of the associated behaviours.

She used the analogy of allowing the ‘grass to grow over’ the pathways entirely before you go back to them. If you try to drive on motorway/highway too quickly, it’s still possible that you’ll reenergise the pathway, awaken and strengthen it. This makes total sense to me. Other habits might be like minor roads. Perhaps like B roads (in the uk). They’re easier to break and take less time for the grass to grow over. A personal example of this is like eating my dinner with small cutlery. This pathway and behaviour is not even a thought sent to me anymore, because I avoided it for an adequate amount of time. However, if there wasn’t any normal cutlery clean and I was ‘forced’ to use a small fork once, I am no longer tempted to use a small fork the next time. That (minor B road) pathway has been broken and cannot be awoken.

However these 2 ‘superhighways’ are things which take a lot of neural rewiring to heal. This rewiring takes time and should not be rushed. The bigger the superhighway/motorway, perhaps the longer it will take the grass to grow over so if, like me, you had a particular problem with overexercising, it might take a very long time. These pathways may be well used and well trodden if you engaged in the behaviours for a long time.

Before I went cold turkey, and tried to reintroduce exercise too early. Once I began exercising again, I immediately felt the restrictive urges returning. This is what will happen over and over again if I try to start before I am ready. The link between excerise and restriction was certainly still there 6 months ago. Physically, I might be ‘able’ to do it, but mentally, I don’t think the pathways are quite set in stone yet.

This is the same as when you get those little thoughts to ‘maybe start eating a little bit healthier now’. If you relationship with food isn’t completely secure, this can quickly spiral into dangerous territory. You might even be well into recovery and have faced many fear foods, but those little thoughts of ‘eating cleaner’ can soon become overwhelming.

Tabitha’s advice is once you eventually do return to it: tread very, very carefully. Don’t go back to something if you don’t have to and if you are doing it, make sure it’s for fun. I certainly won’t be returning to it for now and I have a wonderfully timed notification to thank for that. Upon returning, I will be sure to look for signs of slipping or emergence of old habits but who knows how long that will be. Don’t hinge the question “should I go back to exercise yet” on your physical appearance. You need to have abstained from exercise and given time for your brain to heal and dissociate behaviours before it is safe to return.

When the grass is so grown I’ve that road that you can see no sign of tarmac anymore, you can do what ever the hell you want.

Always keep fighting,

Han xx

#57: Your questions

Last week on my Instagram story I asked if a Q&A style blog might be helpful. I’m currently on the plane on the way home from holiday and have some time to answer them. Sorry if I couldn’t answer your question this time, I’d be writing all day if I answered all of them and this flight (thankfully) isn’t a long one. I ended up picking a few questions which were most frequently asked and went into detail on these. It’s great for me to reaffirm my own beliefs by writing them down too. Win-win 🙂 So, let’s begin...

How you deal with the physical reality of recovery, for example growing out of clothes and noticing weight gain?

PART 1) In my ‘early recovery’, (that bit where I was awkwardly stumbling around trying to eat more but also stupidly massively restricting still) I desperately wanted to recover mentally but never thought I’d be able to deal with the weight gain aspect. I was so terrified of it.

Really whilst you’re ‘in recovery’, I don’t think it’s ever going to be a case of liking weight gain or it being pleasant, but more of something that must be got through. It won’t feel anywhere near this painful forever, but how awful it feels in the moment, shouldn’t stop you. Anorexia is an illness that makes you irrationally terrified of weight gain. I think it’s more of a case of accepting its inevitability and necessity for the time being until it becomes less daunting. And from my experience, it certainly becomes considerably easier. The more weight I restored, the less daunting and awful the thought became. My nourished brain began to see that weight gain didn’t spell the end of the world.

Also, Someway through my recovery, I learnt the “life positive, body neutral” concept which basically follows the narrative that:

“I do not have to love my body, I have to love the life my body allows me to live.”

I love this idea. This really helped me. I think for me personally, it’s unrealistic to expect body positivity, as such, right now. One day, I do hope to appreciate the strength of my body like I used to and I’m sure that will be the case, but for now, just being ‘ok’ with it is working effectively for me. I don’t necessarily love it, but I certainly don’t hate it. I say that I want to fall in love with the strength of my body again because pre-Ed I was sports mad (in the most un-disordered way possible). I was strong because of my training and it was something I appreciated, although I don’t agree that one has to have muscle or strength to feel beautiful or positive. That’s why I don’t like the saying “strong not skinny”. There’s should be no pressure to be either in my opinion. Like most things, this appreciation of my leg and arm strength was a personal thing and it was always about how amazing sport made me feel. At the moment, I am weak physically in comparison to what I was. However, doing exercise isn’t right for me at the moment so I am just working on being ‘ok’ with my recovery body rather than trying to improve my strength again with exercise.

Here is one idea that I have repeated many many times to help me with that acceptance:

My body is the least important thing about me. Anybody who is worth being friends with won’t value my weight or size above my personality. At the end of the day, unfortunately, everyone else is too concerned about their own bodies to worry about what yours looks like.

PART 2: In regards to clothes growing tighter and stuff, all I can say from experience is buy new clothes and don’t hold onto old ones. Take 2 sizes up in the changing room and go from there. You clothes should fit you, you shouldn’t fit into your clothes.

The problem with buying baggy clothes is that it’s avoiding the issue. It strengthens the belief that your body is something to be hidden and avoided being seen. The problem with buying tight clothes is that it can feel super uncomfortable. Pinafores are something that have really helped me as they make me feel nice without hiding my body/being too tight 🙂

How can I break away from my ED identity?

This was probably the most common question.

I think a lot of us look back at the time we were at our worst with rose tinted glasses. We romanticise something that was horrendous, so much that we even consider going back there.

My ED identity isn’t something I am actually proud of. I was horrible, to myself and to others. However sometimes I seem to forget this and slip into thinking that anorexia was a safety blanket. This is a tough question but taking a step back and writing down all of the things my ED limited me from and all of the things I can do without an ED really helped put things in perspective. But, you can make all the lists etc in the world. Just knuckling down and committing to recovery despite the fear is what must happen. As soon as you fully rehabilitate and rewire, that identity that you think you will miss, will be a far shot from what you now want.

There is so much more to life than overexercising and restricting my intake. I am so much more than that and so are you.

What would your ideal day be without an ED?

What a lovely question. I wake up super early so I’d like a short early morning beach walk with my family followed breakfast at a nice café.

I love going to London, as I live so rural, so I’d then probably do a bit of window shopping there and something silly like mini golf in the sun. I’d have a picnic in a park, and maybe do some sightseeing or watch a professional tennis/ football match. In the evening, I’d get the train home and have a pizza followed by a movie in the cinema or outdoor cinema with friends.

I’m happy to say I’d be able to do this now without too much interference from my ED.

“How did you increase your food intake?”

I tried for many months with a gradual increase. It’s similar to something known as reverse dieting. You add on a few hundred cals every week (or at regular intervals). This is such a common thing for treatment teams to do.

For me, this didn’t work at all. Adding on a a banana and a couple of biscuits every week was NOWHERE NEAR enough to satisfy my extremely starved brain and body. I knew I could eat so much more than X+200cals every week.

Also, the counting, measuring, timings feeling that I could not exceed the mealplan, made it impossible to feel like I was living. I was still trapped in rules.

TOTAL Unrestrectived eating was what made progress. Going ‘all in’. No weighing, no measuring food, just eating what I wanted when I wanted with unconditional permission. This is easier said than done, but I guess I was just sick of trying to recover whilst still restricting. Sure, I was gaining weight with the additional few cals, because of my suppressed metabolism, but no mental progress was being made. Just many, many attempts at getting as close to unrestricted eating as possible and then finally cracking it.

“How to use others to keep you accountable?”

Firstly, keep in mind that as a determined, committed adult, you are accountable and you shouldn’t rely heavily on others. However, you’re right, support from others is essential in the tough moments.

Inform others of your 3 recovery commitments. The more they remind you of them when you’re struggling, the better. If it feels tedious when they keep reminding you it, live with it. Those feelings will pass when you realise they are helping you. The more you follow through with the commitments, the less your family will remind you of them.

Here are some others that I found useful:

  • Tell others to make sure you finish your plate.
  • Ask others to prepare snacks and meals for you.
  • Inform others of your challenges so they can provide encouragement

“What’s your experience with weight distribution?”

It’s still happening. Your recovery body isn’t your permanent body. They change constantly. Our bodies are amazing and fat is going to the areas that need protecting. It’s so tricky not to, but try not to get caught up in micromanaging how long it will take to redistribute etc. You can’t control it, and if you try to, some form of restriction/compensation will have to be present. Try your best to let things be. I avoid body checking and tight clothing as this helps me stop fixating on where the weight is settling for now.

“What are some foods that you have conquered/still need to conquer?”

Not so long ago, I had a list the length of my forearm of foods that I wouldn’t touch. Now that list doesn’t exist. I am willing to try or attempt all foods. I still do have various fear foods but I will always give them a go.

I need to conquer olive oil, double cream and some desserts. I am also aware that there are some foods that I still consider more ‘dinner foods’. I need to work on this.

“Do you think it’s good to eat healthy in recovery?”

For me as an individual, there is such a fine and fragile line with the desire for healthy eating and then this becoming more obsessive and dangerous (orthorexia).

I always say “There are no good and bad foods. Only good and bad relationships with them.” What does ‘healthy’ eating in this question mean? Because really, if you’re eating loads of socially labelled ‘healthy food’ but have negative emotions about ‘unhealthy’ foods, you aren’t being healthy. Mental and physical health often work in harmony. If you mean ‘is it good to follow healthy eating trends’, no, it’s not. But if you mean is it good to follow your bodies cravings and hunger signals, yep, that’s healthy.

I think overall we should try our bests to stop judging our foods. I also think it’s dangerous to say “listen to your body” because our bodies intuitions are warped by the illness. If our body wants fruit for every snack, that’s not something you should necessarily follow through with. We simply cannot rely on intuitions when recovering. Maybe have some fruit, but be smart and have something nutritionally dense with it too. I like to have nut butter with apple, for example.

I always say “why would a starved body crave brocolli and salad?” And that’s true, in some regards. It doesn’t seem to make sense because nutritionally it doesn’t bring the benefits we need. However, if we look at the anorexia famine response idea, vegetables and plant based food is what we would forage on whilst migrating- so it makes some sense that we want these. We have the ability to override this urge though, as there are supermarkets every few miles, not just berries on a bush. Also something to consider: if we have only been having brocolli and salad for weeks/months/years, our bodies may crave them out of habit. This again is something that has to be overridden.

I think in recovery, nutritional rehabilitation made neural rewiring possible for me. As I restored weight, I gained mental capacity (eg strength to challenge etc.) You should ALWAYS prioritise nutrient dense foods and if that means skipping the veggies on your plate, I don’t see a problem with that. Recovery eating is not ‘normal eating’. This is why it’s so important that your dietitian has speciality in eating disorders. Eating a ‘healthy and well rounded diet’ may not be quite what you need right now. It wasn’t what I needed.

“Shall I still commit to Recovery at a healthy weight?”

OMG Yes. This is one of the most important things. Complete commitment regardless of your stage of recovery. I always think it’s unlikely that totally committing can be done from extremely low weight because of the brain fog. I certainly didn’t, it took some initial (reluctant/whilst-still-restricting) weight gain first, before I actually decided to commit. Anorexia isn’t about weight or having a certain look. It’s a mental illness that manifests itself in physical appearance (sometimes). You can weight restore with the habits of anorexia firmly still in place.

Be mindful that what you perceive to be a healthy weight by societies standards may not be the actual healthy weight for you body.

“How do you stop comparing yourself with others?”

I have a little phrase that I always repeat to myself. “I am not them, they are not me. I am on my own path.”

What somebody else eats or how much they exercise has absolutely no baring on my life.

“How do you juggle uni with recovery, would you recommend? I don’t want to miss out…”

From my personal experience and perspective I wouldn’t recommend it to a friend. I found my first year really, really hard. I understand completely that you don’t want to ‘miss out’ and part of me shared this feeling of not wanting this illness to keep my life on hold. But, throughout my recovery, my family have been instrumental and I did struggle without them. The daily little stresses of meeting new people, deadlines etc on top of recovery was a real challenge. I know for many people who are older, juggling life and recovery is unavoidable. But if I had the option to take a gap year again, I personally would. It’s an individual thing though, and some people may thrive/benefit when moving away from home.

From my perspective, you won’t be ‘missing out’ if you don’t go to uni for now. If you go before you’re ready, you’ll ‘miss out’ a lot when you’re there, trust me. I did miss out on some things. After an exhausting day battling, the last thing I felt like doing was socialising with loud and sometimes inconsiderate people. Don’t rush and make an informed decision. University will wait and be there for you whenever you are ready. Health>everything.

I hope some of these answers helped! Most dilemmas I can solve with my 3 commitments that I follow blindly through any fear: Commitment to:

1) unrestricted eating,

2) weight gain,

3)loosing rules and rituals.

BTW, above is the view that I am looking at now whilst finishing off writing this. La vie est belle!

Always Keep fighting,

Han xx

#56: The Minnesota Starvation Experiement

Hellooo 🙂

Reading is obviously something I love to do. I study English after all. Reading a few food psych books, chapters and antidiet books have helped me immensely in my recovery. Having that ‘real’ evidence based knowledge, that can counteract any AN thoughts, has helped me an incredible amount. It isn’t easy rationalising against an eating disorder, but actively seeking material which improves you knowledge makes it a hell of a lot easier. Taking the initiative and learning, helps me see that so much of what I believed before was nonsense.

This might be a long one. It’s something that I find super interesting. Maybe you will too. If you’re a slow reader, maybe grab a snack. If you’re not a slow reader, maybe also grab a snack.

In November 1944, 36 young men (who weren’t fighting in the war) took up residence in rooms inside University of Minnesota football stadium. Thousands of men applied but only those who demonstrated excellent physical and mental health were permitted to continue. I would say the ‘lucky few’ were volunteers preparing for experiment on the psychological and physiological effects of starvation (later coined The Minnesota Starvation Experiment), but they weren’t lucky. The experience was close to torture. You’ve probably heard of this experiment before. It’s actully what the “Minny (Minesota) Maud” recovery method is based on.

In short, the experiment aimed to find out how to reverse the effects of semi-starvation due to the lack of food caused by WWII  Here’s what happened. It was basically executed in 4 stages:

The 4 stages:

1. For the first three months the men were fed to their optimum weight and monitored. This ‘normal diet’ was 3,200 calories per day, something that I found quite surprising. 3200 was suggested to be an average intake for an active man at the time to maintain his weight. 

2. Next their rations were cut dramatically. They went through six months of ‘semi-starvation‘ at 1,570 calories a day (divided between breakfast and lunch). Bare in mind that these men were not starved to the brink of death, but fed approximately 1,600 calories a day. Some modern diet meal plans suggest we eat 1200 calories per day. That’s certainly a number that lingers in my head like an ugly hooded figure. It leaves me questioning, if 1,600 calories was classed ‘semi starvation’, what on earth is 1200?

3. Then there was a restricted rehabilitation period of three months- involving the consumption of 2,000 to 3,200 calories a day. This was sort of ~controlled recovery~ I guess. It wasn’t unrestricted eating.

4. Finally there was an eight-week unrestricted rehabilitation period during which there were no limits on caloric intake. This was complete unrestricted eating. During this time, one man was reported to eat 17,000 calories. Many ate around 11,000. Yes. In one day.

Also to note that during the experiment, the men were required to:

  • work 15 hours per week in the lab
  • walk 22 miles per week
  • participate in a variety of educational activities for 25 hours a week.

Throughout the experiment, the researchers measured the physiological and psychological changes brought on by near starvation.

Long story short: the study concluded that the deprivation of food drove these men to the threshold of insanity.” I’ll share some of the results with you and maybe you can identify with a few, (if not all) of these psychological behavioural changes.  I shook my head with disbelief as I noticed the similarities to my ED-related behaviour and theirs. As you’re reading, bear in mind that these men were ‘normal’ and perfectly physically and mentally sound before the experiment. They weren’t nutters. After restricted food intake however… perhaps ‘nutters’ is a more appropriate description. A lack of food made them go close to madness.

Here are the results. I mainly focus on Psychologial symptoms, but first, here are a few some physical ones.

Physical symptoms:

Beyond the gaunt appearance of the men, there were significant decreases in:

  • Strength and stamina,
  • Body temperature,
  • Heart rate
  • Sex drive
  • Basal metabolic rate.

Perhaps none of these surprise you. These decrease to preserve energy. The men didn’t have spare energy to waste so something like producing sex hormones or a quick heart rate would require too much energy.

And now for the psychological symptoms. These were significant.

Food Preoccupation:

Food became the sole source of fascination and motivation.

  • For the men, the days began to revolve around meal times.
  • They dreamed about food, they fantasized about high calorie/high fat food items they couldn’t access.
  • They spent much of their time talking about food, recipes, agriculture. They became agitated if the timing of the meal schedule was changed or if a meal was delayed.
  • Some of the men reported experiencing pleasure just by watching others eat or smelling food.
  • Many men began obsessively collecting recipes. One wrote in his diary about how he “Stayed up until 5 a.m. last night studying cookbooks,”. This makes me cringe. My light morning’s reading used to be ‘Mary Berry’s Favourites’ cookbook.

This is an observation that a researcher noted in his diary: “They would coddle [the food] like a baby or handle it and look over it as they would some gold. They played with it like kids making mud pies.” Weird, right? Well… actually, not really. I identify with most of those behaviours.

Disinterest in Old Interests:

Meanwhile, all other elements of the men’s life became unimportant. Personal development, learning and basic socialising wasn’t a priority for the men. “Budding romances collapsed” and sexual desire evaporated. At parties, the subjects found conversation both difficult and pointless. They all preferred a solitary trip to the movies, adding that, while they could recognise comedy, they never felt compelled to laugh anymore.

I shook my head in disbelief at this too. This is exactly the type of behavior that restriction of food made me do. Especially the isolating, not smiling and withdrawing thing.

Brain fog:

The men reported a decline in concentration, comprehension and judgment capabilities. This happened to me. I really can’t remember much about last year or the few years before. It all just seems like a blur. This made it considerably harder to rationalise recovery-related things, such as feast eating. Let alone do my A-Levels.

Mood Symptoms:

The mood and energy of the men quickly shifted. Originally the men had debated about politics and other common interests. They held lengthy, interesting conversations. During and after the study the men became single-mindedly focused on food, other topics were ever discussed. The men reported fatigue, irritability, depression and apathy.

There was also one case of self-mutilation (one subject amputated three fingers with an axe).

At the meal table, the men often turned on one another, annoyed by each other’s voices and the increasingly strange eating habits that many men developed. This is something I relate to a lot. People having their elbows on the table or eating rudely used to make me go mad.

So, the men were irritable, anxious, withdrawn. A significant increase in anxiety and obsessive thinking was observed. Does this sound familiar to you?

Strange eating habits:

The men attempted to extend their eating experiences as long as they could, not wanting the pleasurable experience to end. They seemingly tried to optimise the food experience.

As the months went on, eating became an even more ritualised. Plate-licking was common as the men sought out ways to extend mealtime and or feel fuller. Here are some more examples:

  • They guzzled water, seeking fullness.
  • They diluted potatoes with water.
  • They held bites in their mouths for a long time without swallowing.
  • They created strange combinations of the food on their plate, “making weird and seemingly distasteful concoctions,” the researchers reported.
  • One man began collecting empty coffee cups. (Hoarding).

Reading this leaves me feeling a little less weird for the strange food combinations I fell in love with a few years ago. Only a little less weird though… I still cringe/gag. Butternut squash with ketchup and salt. Eeeuuuhhhhhggg!!!

Also interesting is that one of the men was told he had to leave the experiment due to breaking rules (smuggling food), and do you know what he did when he was discharged? He stopped at 17 soda shops on the walk home.

Distorted Self Image:

Strangely, in spite of their significant weight loss and underweight appearance, the majority of them did not view themselves as underweight. These men, who had never experienced body confidence issues previously, began to report on feeling uncomfortable about looking at their abdominal area. Hmm… interesting.

Stick your tongue out if you identify with any of these.

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What happened after the experiment (recovery)…

So, the study basically revealed that deprivation of food doesn’t only have to have physical effects. Yes, the men did have a gaunt appearance, but for me, the psychological effects are more startling.

I was interested to read about how and if the men recovered, perhaps seeking to see if I could learn anything from it. And do you know what made the men mentally (and physically) better and back to their ‘old selves’? One guess.

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Food. Lots of food. Not just a little bit more. Loads.

To everyone’s relief, the subjects’ moods and social behavior stabilized three months later. But when it came to eating, the men agreed they were not back to normal.” Many ate “more or less continuously and a subgroup of the subjects continued bingeing to the point of sickness, even eight months later. This shows the prolonged effect that starvation has on your body. In recovery we need a lot of food for a prolongued period of time. This meaning continuing and not running back to restriction when times get hard.

As the men restored their nutrition and weight, their behavior appeared to normalize. There did not appear to be any enduring health problems once the men restored. This required a consistently large amounts of food. The study found that the men had extraordinary calorie needs – requiring over 4000 calories per day in order to slowly restore weight. As I said earlier, many of the men consistently exceeded 11,000 for a while before their habits normalised.

So what does this study tell us?

If you’re anything like me, a lot of info I hear & read goes in one ear (& eye??) and out of the other. So, here’s some summarising points that I found most useful to take away. You probably already know them, but it’s nice having nice little study to back up your argument against that ED voice. Decreasing our food intake has a huge impact on our mental health. If you’re suffering from a restrictive eating disorder (which I assume you are if you’re reading this??) you’ll know that. But heres key to repairing the mental (and physical damage)? Food. Food made the men mentally well again.

So, here are the conclusions:

  • The restriction of nutrition leads to a heightened interest in food and eating.   So, if you overwhelmingly preoccupied with food, adequate nutrition for a sustained period, will stop this.
  • Over-eating may be a direct result of under-eating. It is completely necessary to reverse the damage. It is a survival response for mammals.
  • There is a biological pull to maintain a consistent body weight. This is shown by the men’s feast eating in the rehab process. Your feast eating (intake of abnormally large amounts of food) is SO NORMAL. Don’t judge yourself for doing something that is built into every single mammal’s survival instincts.
  • Prolonged restriction of food negatively impacts mood. Restriction and weight loss may lead to an increase in anxiety symptoms and obsessive thinking. And again, long term adequate nutrition is shown to resolve this.

In short, in recovery, stop over-complicating things. What’s the most important thing to healing? FOOD, FOOD and MORE FOOD. As soon as you nutritionally rehabilitate, the better. Stop waiting. It isn’t as easy as ‘just eat’ but… it sort of needs to be. Your mental state will improve with it and then you can address any issues that lead to your energy deficit with therapy. That energy deficit you’ve put your body in is a viper pit. I find this SO interesting and useful to apply to my own recovery. I hope it was useful for you too.

Always Keep Fighting,

Han xx

#55: Language use part 2.

I did a blog post previously (number 48) about how important language use and your internal monologue is in recovery. I give examples of words that I try to use with myself to make it mentally less daunting.

This is a brief ‘part 2’ of that, and I just add more words to that list. Here goes:

  1. “Ana”

Something frequently stumble upon on Instagram (should I accidentally be on the ‘explore’ page) is captions which resemble the following:

“I couldn’t challenge tonight because Ana was too loud”.

I’ve read studies about how characterising Anorexia can be really helpful when treating young children. It dissociates the illness with them and makes them feel as though they can fight it. However, after the age of 13, research shows this can have detrimental effects, and so this method is often ceased by treatment providers after this age. These detrimental effects are something I experienced.

Having a gendered and named duplicate character for the illness gave me something to blame not challenging on. It made me think that I was not in control. Yes, the thoughts are often overwhelming and I feel as though I haven’t got a choice, but in reality, I always do. Those are just feelings. Phrases like: “She was too loud,” don’t sit well with me. No ‘she’ wasn’t. The personification of ‘Ana’ for me, implied that separate identity was living inside of my head who had the power to knock the fork from my mouth. That’s so far from the truth. 

My thoughts were merely intense. They were and sometimes continue to be like torchure. Yet, although I am not my you illness, and it doesn’t define me, Anorexia is within me, and so, I shouldn’t pretend it’s not. These are MY faulty thoughts and MY neural network. Not some badass bitch who whispers at me that I shouldn’t eat. Anorexic thoughts come from an exceptionally commanding faulty neural pathway that attempts to influence my actions. They are in my brain. Therefore, I have control.

2. “Too much”

Not going to elaborate on this, other than saying: There is no such thing as too much in recovery. You can’t ruin your recovery by eating too much, only too little.

3.“Too early/too late”

Food timings do not matter. Simple. This is restriction.

4.“Later”

Later never comes. And if it does come, it is restriction. It is putting it off in the moment and saving it for later. I did a whole blog post on this. (I think it’s number 3??)

5.“Failed”

You haven’t failed 10 times. You’ve just discovered 10 ways of how not to do it. 

5. “What if…”

Micromanaging my recovery is something that I attempted to do. Gain X amounts per week, eat X amount of calories per day, increase by X calories every X days. Holy shit that seems like the same control that Anorexia loves…

Weight gain won’t be linear. Weight distribution won’t be manageable by you. Some days you may feel the need to eat 5000 calories and the next only 3000. You body knows what it’s doing when it tells you you’re hungry. I was certainly incredibly guilty of fearing what was to come so much that I didn’t begin.

As soon as I stop with the questions and worries, and did the simple thing: stop exercising and increased my food intake considerably, I made progress. Again, I’ve done a blog post about fear holding you back. (It’s number 17).

Hope this updates list helps. Check out #48 for other lingo that helps me

Always Keep Fighting,

Han xx

 

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#54: “I want never gets”

I have always considered myself to be a very logical, objective person. I’m kind, I’m thoughtful and I’m honest. But by looking at some of my actions over the past few years, those traits aren’t evident in my personality. When firmly in the grips of my eating disorder, my mind is full of irrational and false ideas about myself. I feel weak, worried and tired, which is far cry from the strong and energetic girl I once was. I want to be like that again.

More than anything, I want to be completely anorexia free. I want to stop obsessing about food, calories and exercise but its total hold on my mind and actions prevent me from making the necessary steps to recovery and seeking help. Notice that word again, “I want”. My parents words (as they tried to teach me manners), “I want never gets” ring in my ears. They were right. A want doesn’t get. It’s not enough. A “want” doesn’t stand up against crippling fear that an eating disorder embeds in my mind. When entrenched in this illness, there are some days in which I honestly cannot see any way out. I start believing that I will live like this forever and that is my ultimate fear. This again is a far cry from the positive outlook and determination that I used to have when faced with a challenge. Even if something felt unlikely, the Old Han would give it her best shot.

Reality:

In truth, I know that the hard work has to come from me. To beat this illness, I need to challenge myself, be accountable and use the support that I have around me. I can take power back from my eating disorder and say, “I am doing X, and it is really hard for me but I will do it.” And do it. Again and again, every single day until there’s clarity and until a challenge is not a challenge. I can’t just rely on “wanting” to get better. So challenging myself all day, every day is what I’ve been doing this week and commit to continue doing.

In the past when I’ve made improvements, changes in my behaviour did not come from the rational thought of my motivations. It horrified and embarrassed me to say, but even the rational thought wanting to be better for a family holiday doesn’t stand up against the fear my ED makes me feel. That’s because Anorexia does not do rational. In the past, improvements have been made when I hit a point that I couldn’t go on living as I was any longer. Living with an eating disorder is not a life. It is an existence that leaves me with nothing, no feelings, no energy, nothing, isolated and alone. Numbers, calories, exercise, spinning relentlessly in my mind and warping my values. A family holiday is something the old Han would look forward to for months. The irrational anorexia puts the fear above that.

I have made the choice now. It is exhausting, painful and confusing trying to go against thoughts that my own brain produces every single second of the day, but when I truly hear the real Han beneath the din that my eating disorder produces, I can see parts of the real Han re-emerging. A laugh, a joke, a drive, a surge empowerment and strength. Through constant commitment to recovery, I know that I can do this and know that those aspects of my personality can fully return. I know deep down that my life can be better than the existence that I have now. I’ve had glimpses of this when doing well in the past, like when I couldn’t stop laughing and my cheeks hurts on a day out with my sister. Or when I couldn’t stop smiling at the sun’s rays on the daisies outside. Or when I could watch a film and snack whilst engaging with the film. There is a wonderful life waiting for me, but I have to commit to getting there. I can’t just ‘want’ to get there. Every day I challenge, I feel myself becoming ever so slightly mentally stronger. When I cry, it isn’t a sign of weakness and I don’t have to punish myself for it. It usually means that I’ve done the exact right thing.

I have a long way to go, but the aspects of life that full commitment has allowed me to see snippets of before shows me that I have to recover if I want to be happy. I know that I want to fight this. I want recovery but more importantly, I need to fight this. I need recovery to get the Old Han back. This week is about reaffirming the importance of commitment, accountability and responsibility. Of course I want to get better, but commitment will stand up against a fear more than desire ever will.

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Always Keep Fighting,

Han xx