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,