Why Are Eating Disorders Competitive?

Many people are aware by now of the dangers of eating disorders, the emotional inner turmoil, the isolation, and the potentially fatal consequences. However, one of the biggest dangers that isn’t quite as discussed is the fact that eating disorders can be incredibly competitive. It sounds odd and it is quite hard to explain how an illness can be competitive, but basically if anorexia was ever personified, it would be the person who becomes dangerous when playing board games and is prone to breaking valuable ornaments in the home over an unlucky roll of the dice in a game of Monopoly.

I think most people, often and unknowingly, see other homo sapiens as threats for many different reasons in every day life. At work you may feel in competition with someone to get a promotion, in a supermarket you might choose the best looking bunch of bananas so that yours will be better than those of whatever potassium craving customer comes after you, or in a car park you might discreetly race another vehicle to get the last available space. Maybe your competitive streak involves competing with your gaming arch-nemesis to be captain of the tiddlywinks championship team, whatever it is, at some point in every day, whether we realise it or not, most of us enter into little competitions with our fellow humans and in turn those people become threats.

It is rare however, for people to compete with another person’s illness, and I have often wondered why eating disorders are so different in that respect. Possible reasons I have come up with are things like the tendency for people with eating disorders to naturally be high achieving perfectionistic people, or that eating disorders are an illness that usually involve a lot of numbers and in turn, ways the illness can be “measured”. Obviously, in reality the severity of someone’s eating disorder is impossible to measure no matter how many scales you weigh them on or how many calories you see them eat, but no matter how incorrect the idea, people who do not really understand eating disorders to be a mental illness rather than a physical one, tend to measure the severity of an eating disorder by the physical effects they can potentially lead to. If people see a thin person they will wrongly assume that person to be more “anorexic” than their equally troubled neighbour who just so happens to be a healthy weight. With other illnesses though, this ability to gauge how ill someone is just by looking at them, however inaccurate the final judgement may be, is far more difficult in comparison. For example two people can have a liver disease but when they are walking side by side in a park, you cannot guess as easily who you perceive to be the sickest unless you take a few blood tests and maybe open them up with a scalpel (which would probably lead to them asking why you were wandering around a park asking people for blood tests and performing major operations).

When an illness is seen as focused around numbers then, comparison and thus competition tends to breed. Over the past decade I have met people whose eating disorders have led them (for I highly doubt someone’s individual personality would compete about such things), to compete with regards to numbers as to how much someone weighs, what their BMI is, how many calories they consume, even obscure things like who takes the longest to eat a meal, who has been into hospital the most times or who has the lowest white blood cell count. It is a disgusting, sick and twisted side to the illness since you are basically competing to see who can kill themselves the best, but I cannot deny it happens.
For this reason I actually think the more distanced a sufferer attempting recovery is from the intense eating disorder community, the better. If you are living in the middle of nowhere with a family of healthy people, you simply have your eating disorder to wrestle with (and lord knows one is still far too many). In hospital settings like inpatient eating disorder units, therapy groups, or even social media recovery accounts online, you are surrounded with other sufferers and thus other eating disorders to battle with. Don’t get me wrong, it is lovely to have people you can relate to, but the ability to relate to other people who are unwell and spending large amounts of time with them can lead to a loss of perspective.

Gathering a group of people with eating disorders together, either physically or online, is sort of like gathering a group of wild gorillas in the middle of the rainforest (I would avoid both of these gathering activities if I were you as neither are particularly safe…if you are an avid collector or gatherer may I suggest gathering stamps or Pokemon cards instead).
There are probably a hundred reasons as to why gorillas sometimes stand on their haunches and beat their chests, but from my dedicated research and observation (I watched Tarzan), when a gorilla beats its chest in front of another gorilla, it can be interpreted as “look how big and mighty I am! Have you ever seen such a fine specimen of gorilla? Look at my hairy arms! They are fabulous! I am the best gorilla in all of the world and far superior to you! I am the best! Leave my forest or I will strike your hairy behind! Back off I say! Flee! Flee!”.
All the gorillas in the rainforest will naturally want to be best gorilla around to ensure their survival, establish their right to the most attractive mate or the biggest banana. They aren’t doing it for laughs (maybe the odd titter), but they are naturally born with that competitive instinct so that they can stay alive.
Similarly, when a group of people with eating disorders gather, their internal eating disorder gorillas perk up and start beating their chests to let everyone know that they are the best and strongest eating disorder around. Ironically though, unlike the real gorillas, the “winner” in terms of measuring who is the most physically ill from their eating disorder, the thinnest or the one who has gone the longest without eating, is the least likely to stay alive the longest.

If you are reading this as a healthy minded person you are probably thinking that competing as to who can lose the most weight is ridiculous and sick, and when it comes to that judgment, you would be right.
However I think people often forget how much competition there is with regard to weight loss even in “healthy” circles. On TV shows like The Biggest Loser, people compete to see who can lose the most weight with a cash prize for the winner, and though perhaps less extreme than competing with white blood cell counts, surely this is similar? What about in local weight loss clubs when people compete with their next-door neighbour to see who can lose more weight than anyone in their area in order to be awarded with the sash declaring them “Slimmer of the Year”. When you think about it, in our society, competing around food and weight is not as alien an idea as people with eating disorders can make it seem.

There is however one reason people often suggest as the answer to the “why are eating disorders competitive” question, that I strongly disagree with, and that is the idea that people compete purely because they want to be the “thinnest” and that the competitive drive is all about vanity and outer appearance. If anything, I think the drive is the total opposite to vanity, and more to do with insecurity and low self esteem regarding the internal self.
When you live with an eating disorder you basically live with a voice in your head telling you that everything you do is wrong and no matter how hard you try to please it, it will never be satisfied or see your “efforts” as enough. No matter what you eat, your eating disorder will tell you it was too much. Even if the portion was initially decided by your eating disorder, it will tell you that you could have left a bit or maybe it will tell you that you ate it wrong; too quickly, too slowly or with the wrong sized mouthfuls. Whatever you do, the voice will tell you you are not living up to the standards you should be, you are not good enough.
My drive to lose weight is not to see a nice patch of rib cage, it is to achieve something that my eating disorder tells me is “better” than my former self. Of course there is nothing “better” that can come from starving yourself and if I were talking to any other sufferer I would tell them that the “best” they can be is the healthy version of themselves who is able to nourish their bodies and enjoy a healthy relationship with food. Yet still when it comes to me, the eating disorder somehow manages to manipulate my thoughts in that direction that I am a “better” me, less repulsive, less annoying, less deserving of a punch in the face, if I stick by my eating disorder’s rules. I am constantly held up between my past self, current self and encouraged to compete against them to reach this “superior” future me. When you add another sufferer into the mix then, it is yet another person for my eating disorder to compare me to. No longer is it telling me to lose weight or starve because I am not good enough compared to the potential me I could become if I were to behave myself, now I am also not good enough compared to the person or group of people surrounding me. I don’t follow the rules to the standards my eating disorder would like in an ideal world, and when I am around other people it tells me that I am even more inferior because they are following these stupid rules better than me. I don’t feel competitive because I am vain and want people to admire my collarbones, I feel competitive because I despise myself, because behaving well and following all my rules gives me a sense of self worth, a sense that I am doing something right, so if I am not following the rules “the best”, then I am not good enough.

So why are eating disorders competitive? Well, there are many reasons from internal anorexia gorillas to self hatred, perfectionist personality traits or the ability to compare and misunderstand the importance that physical numbers have to play in a mental illness. Obviously this competitive undercurrent is wrong, needs to be tackled and is disgustingly disordered, but we are dealing with eating “disorders” so I suppose it makes sense. What I want more people to know though, is that of all the reasons, as sick and twisted and horrible as they are, they are not reasons that derive from vanity or any sense of bodily pride compared to the person in the next bed to you. If anything it is about desperation to be good enough in the eyes of a devil that is constantly telling you you are worthless, both in yourself, and in comparison to everybody else.

Take care everyone x

HairiestGorilla

Eating Disorders Away From The Table

If I were to hand you a pencil and ask you to draw a person who, in the moment depicted, was struggling wth their eating disorder, you would probably draw an image of a person sitting at a meal table with a plate of food in front of them (Unless you are anything like my mother who instead, when given a pencil and asked to create a picture, will throw that pencil back in your face and run for the hills screaming “I can’t draw – leave me alone!”)
On one hand, drawing someone at a table would be right as it is likely that if someone has an eating disorder, meal times are going to be difficult for them. However I think there is an idea that when you have an eating disorder your struggles come into action at the dinner table and depart once the meal is over, a nice idea, though one that is unfortunately far from the truth.

For me at least, my eating disordered thoughts are there from the second I wake up and my first thoughts of the day will be about food and how much/what I am planning on eating during that day. It is silly really, because everyday I eat the exact same foods in the exact same amounts, so there is no decision to be made and any dithering is futile. There is no point in wondering whether or not I want Coco Pops or toast, I can ponder and postulate pancakes and Pop Tarts all I like but no matter what, the first thing I will eat that day remains the same as every other, in the same amounts and even on the very same plate. It is also pointless to think about this from the second I wake up as currently I am struggling with this rule that I cannot eat when the sun is up so, being summer, the first meal is usually hours away and shouldn’t be an immediate concern.
Nevertheless, every morning the thoughts and worries about what I am going to eat are immediately there, thinking about infinite options, things that might be healthier, lower calories/lower fat, before inevitably settling with the usual. It is like this for every meal no matter how far away that meal is, be it hours, days, even years.
There are several reasons why I have the same foods every day. For one thing I know what my weight does/how my body reacts to this meal plan, but mainly I stick to the same thing because it removes the need to debate the decision for hours each day.
Everything is planned down to the smallest most specific detail, I don’t just eat an apple a day, I eat a Pink Lady apple specifically to avoid the chance of spending three hours debating between a Golden Delicious or a Granny Smith, yet even if I know the debate is heading nowhere, it still arrives before every meal. I will spend the hours leading up to it debating the options and calculating various calorie amounts without ever getting an acceptable result.

Then, even when the inevitable decision has been made, the eating disorder is still there for the food preparation extravaganza, controlling every movement and weighing out ingredients to the exact gram, no matter how long it takes. I often weigh things multiple times on different scales to check that one set isn’t lying to me (I once saw a set of kitchen scales on Jeremy Kyle who failed the lie detector test. Turned out he WAS the child’s father and I have never trusted a pair of scales since). As always, the weight will be the same on every set of scales, but still I will spend time worrying that the food I was weighing was “different to usual” and that I randomly managed to pick up an incredibly dense courgette with twice the calories of a normal one.
Food prepared, there is then the obvious struggle people know about, the bit we all picture when we imagine someone with an eating disorder, the eating that takes place at the dining table. However even when I leave that table, the battle is still going on, and rather than sitting at the table politely waiting for the next meal, anorexia follows me rabbiting on about what went on at the table and the meal that, for everyone else, was over hours ago.
Did I eat too quickly? Did I eat too much? Do I feel fuller than usual, aka a sign that the scales were lying earlier and I was dealing with a magically calorie dense genetically engineered superhuman courgette? Have I gained weight that I can see? All of these questions swirl around in my brain amidst the thick soup of guilt and I replay the meal in my head over and over again incase I missed some key piece of evidence of something that I should be worrying about. I said in the part about worrying about meals before they occur that the meal can be hours or weeks away, and similarly the worrying afterwards can carry on for years after I put my knife and fork down on a plate.

Eight or nine years ago, during one of my admissions to hospital, I had a meal involving mashed potato. I had been eating the hospital mash for months and months before so I knew exactly what to expect, yet there was one particular day that the mash tasted different. They say variety is the spice of life, but as I ate that mash the difference frightened me and as someone with an eating disorder I wished that variety would keep its peppery little paws off my food thank you very much.
At first I wasn’t sure what the difference in the meal was but then it hit me that the mash tasted sweeter than usual. Immediately I became convinced that someone had mashed a doughnut into it and hoped I wouldn’t notice. Other than the slightly sweeter taste I had no evidence to support this theory, hospitals were not struggling with an epidemic of caterers with an uncontrollable urge to shove an iced ring into every dish, but that sweet taste was enough to have me convinced. It has been 9 years and yet I still think and worry about the doughnut that I am convinced was in my mashed potato nearly a decade ago.

Every waking hour between meals is consumed with food fears and often every sleeping hour is too. Not only does anorexia not live at the dinner table, it doesn’t live in the land of conscious thought either, and is well known to infiltrate and get its claws into the snoozetastic unconscious place known as “The land of nod”.
I have nightmares most nights, all of them with varying storylines, characters and background music, yet a lot of them have similar themes, one of these themes being food. I will dream that I have been held up at gun point and forced to eat an entire chocolate cake, before waking up and fearing that I did it for real and that I therefore have to go for X amount of time without food to make up for my behaviour. On many occasions I have woken up so convinced that I have eaten something that was actually part of a dream, that I have had to search the kitchen for evidence to prove to myself it wasn’t real. One specifically memorable dream involved me cooking and eating a gigantic spaghetti bolognese and the fear upon waking made me feel so sick that I had to go downstairs and check cupboards to see that all the pans were clean, the pasta wasn’t open and the bin was bolognese free, so I couldn’t have cooked and made it for real (apparently my brain believes I might unconsciously cook and eat a meal but draws the line at the idea that I would have washed up afterwards.)
I also dream about exercise and whilst some people have unconscious thoughts that lead them to sleepwalk, mine sometimes drive me to do sleep sit ups on autopilot so that I will wake up halfway through a set, stomach muscles aching, out of breath, wondering what the hell is going on.

For me then, having an eating disorder isn’t just about struggling at meals, it is about being constantly controlled and dictated to 24 hours a day 7 days a week, a voice that follows me no matter where I go or how unconscious I am, interfering with thoughts and my ability to function even when food is nowhere nearby. It is a nice idea to assume that eating disorders do just live at the table and that meal times are the only difficult times for sufferers, but to tell you the truth, when you have an eating disorder, that devil will stick to you like an unrelenting shadow.

Take care everyone x

EatingDisorderTable

The Problem With Before And After Photos In Eating Disorder Recovery

A few months ago, towards the end of February, it was Eating Disorders awareness week, so naturally I did as I always do on this occasion and buried my head in the sand for the duration of the week (I also allowed children to use the remaining sand to build sand castles atop my hiding place because I am such a lovely person). This may sound like odd behaviour for someone who is constantly talking about mental health problems like eating disorders in order to raise awareness and for someone who has a strong disliking of sand, but then again odd behaviour is what I am known for. Literally.

The reason that I avoided the internet during that week, and indeed avoid it every year, is that it is a week in which social media is filled with “before and after” pictures, aka photos of someone taken during the depths of their illness, compared to a later photo taken post/during recovery. Don’t get me wrong, these photos certainly have their place and I would be lying if I were to say that I have never been inspired by any of them. Often these pictures will come with an empowering and motivating story of someone’s journey in recovery and triumph over anorexia, and that is brilliant. That is something that should be celebrated, and those stories  are shared throughout the Eating Disorder community to encourage others to fight their illnesses and to give hope to those who doubt recovery is truly possible. I love these stories but it is not the stories of recovery that I have a problem with, rather I have a problem with the “before and after” photos that are often involved in telling the triumphant tale.

Firstly, these images will usually show the person in the depths of their illness as an incredibly underweight individual, with ribs popping out so far all over the place that you could easily use them as a xylophone. Regardless of the inspirational intention with which they were posted, there is always the risk of these pictures going on to be triggers for other sufferers or, dare I say it, “thinspiration” for all those misguided souls who think that anorexia is something to aspire to. They can also make sufferers who are perhaps not as underweight (or who are unable to see themselves as that underweight) consequently see these images and feel that they cannot seek help because they aren’t “thin enough” or “bad enough”, when encouraging people to seek treatment is supposed to be the whole point of a week dedicated to educating and raising awareness of eating disorders. Similarly, in their representation of someone with an eating disorder and someone without, they encourage the myth that eating disorders are about being thin and that eating disorders can be seen, (a myth I have tried to tackle here: Why it is physically impossible to “look anorexic”.)
For people who do not know much about eating disorders and who do not have the time or interest in reading full accounts of recovery journeys, these snapshots may be the only experience they get of someone with an eating disorder, so the risk is that the stigma and lesson of “ill is underweight”, “well is a healthy weight” will be perpetuated without taking into account the far more complex and important internal and mental struggle that is having an eating disorder.

Similarly, as an image to summarise recovery, I feel it is problematic in that the main difference that is visible between the two pictures is weight, which implies that the main difference one goes through is the difference of the number on the scales. It suggests that in recovery, the biggest thing you “gain” is weight, when really weight is probably the smallest of all the things I have seen people gain in recovery. I may not be able to speak as a recovered person myself, but of all the friends I have watched beat their eating disorders into a soggy pulp on the ground that is no longer able to control their lives, the change in their weight has been the least significant change of all. Okay there is a change in weight and perhaps clothes size, but when I see my recovered friends, I do not see the change in their BMI, what strikes me most is the change in their lifestyle and their overall presentation as a person. To me they have not gained weight as much as they have gained themselves. When you are in the depths of your eating disorder, as much as you fool yourself, you cannot maintain a normal life. Your ability to have a job, have normal relationships with people, be happy or even function are seriously compromised, and these things are all aspects of life that can be improved on with recovery. I have seen friends go on to study medicine at university, have romantic relationships, give birth to children, climb mountains (I am talking proper big mountains like Kilimanjaro), and travel the world. They have regained their ability to properly smile, to laugh without having to fake it, and to me seeing all those photos of them skydiving in Australia or getting married and having babies have been far more significant and noticeable changes than what size jeans they wear. It is these aspects of recovery that are the really important reasons that people need to fight and it is these changes in lifestyle that are the really inspiring stories. Yes weight gain is a part of the journey, but what is more important is the places that weight can take you, for example to medical school or up a flipping huge mountain.

On a similar note, my other issue is that I feel before and after photos simplify the process of recovery. In one picture you probably have someone who is underweight and either looking miserable or faking a smile out of dead eyes, and in the other you have someone who has gained weight and perhaps, is beaming at you with genuine joy. This then makes recovery very straight forward, “Being underweight make you unhappy and thus gaining weight will make you happy”. It automatically assumes that the happiness comes as the weight increases, without highlighting the far more complicated journey in getting that weight to be there.

It is hard to explain exactly what I mean, but it is like looking at a picture of someone standing in a field looking miserable, and then another photo of them smiling in the same field but with the addition of an ice cream. At face value then, you can look at these pictures and think “well a person was sad because they didn’t have an ice cream but then they got an ice cream and they were happy” , simple. What the picture will not tell you however, is how that ice cream got there. Little would you know that the person had not simply walked up to the nearest ice cream van, asked for a 99p Mr Whippy and walked away smiling, just as the person in recovery had not simply gained some weight, and in turn, a smile (side note did you know that they don’t even do 99p Mr Whippys anymore? They are now at least £1.50! How do those ice cream men still have the nerve to play jolly tunes as they patrol the streets for customers now that they are basically performing daylight robbery rather than offering a merry treat. You can play Greensleeves all you want but that doesn’t change the fact you are making me re-mortgage the house to buy myself an ice cream. SHAME ON YOU ICE CREAM MEN. SHAME ON YOU.)

Anyway, what the picture doesn’t show is that to acquire their ice cream they were forced to go on a perilous test of their endurance, that pushed them to the limits of mental and physical strength. To get that ice cream in the picture, that person had in fact had to walk across continents and cross oceans to America, the largest producer of almonds in 2014 I will have you know, and then had to hand pick hundreds of almonds ready to blend into a creamy milk worthy of a tasty frozen dessert (this person was lactose intolerant so almond milk was the milk required for the job.)
Then, exhausted from months of trekking, nut picking and milk making, that person had to swim across even more oceans into the freezing cold pole of the Arctic where they stirred their almond milk with a wooden spoon atop a large glacier that acted as a natural freezer for their ice cream churning process. Even when the ice cream was made it didn’t get any easier as they had to then wrestle with a penguin who had cheekily tried to steal the ice cream (I don’t blame him to be honest. I would steal ice cream if all I had ever eaten was raw fish), and then they had to get the ice cream all the way back to that field in their country of origin, back through the hot climate of almond fields in America, without the creation melting. Clearly that is a far more character building excursion to get to that point of “person with ice cream in a field” than the picture initially suggests, and I didn’t even tell you the 5 month side trip it took to make the cone in which the ice cream was to rest (it would take too long to tell you fully but as a brief summary it involved a very angry rhino and a lot of waffles).
The person worked hard to get to the point where they were standing in that field with that ice cream, and all that hard work is eradicated, as it is in recovery journeys, when all you see is a simple before and after shot.

Obviously I am not saying we should stop people from sharing their recovery stories and indeed, if you have recovered from an eating disorder, then I am OVERWHELMINGLY proud and impressed by your determination and strength. If you were here with me now rather than wherever you are reading this, I would give you so many rounds of applause that my hands would fall off and I would be left clapping stumpy wrists to show appreciation of your achievement. What I am saying is that maybe, more often we should be celebrating and telling these stories without the underweight photos that go with them. A story is still a great story without pictures. Hell, look at Harry Potter, that story changed and continues to change generations of people, it has grown theme parks and movie franchises, careers and other astonishing things, all from a pile of words cobbled together with no images at all (For the purpose of this post can we please just pretend that the illustrated versions that are currently in production don’t exist.) Still, even when pictures are added to the Harry Potter books, it will still be the words that are doing all the talking.

So that is why I have a problem with before and after photos when it comes to eating disorder recovery, not because I don’t like inspirational stories or don’t want people to celebrate their achievements, but because those pictures don’t really do anything but diminish and reduce the value and greatness of what has been achieved. As a snapshot ok, a picture may say a thousand words, but a recovery journey is made up of millions of them.

Take care everyone x

BeforeAndAfter

The Importance Of Seeing Food As Fuel When You Are In Recovery From An Eating Disorder

When I first thought about writing this post, as you can see from the title, I was intending to talk about why people with eating disorders need to see food as something to fuel them and keep them alive, yet now I have changed my mind (not that I am indecisive or anything…or am I…I’ll have to get back to you on that…). Ok this post is still going to be about the importance of seeing food as fuel, but actually I feel I should address why EVERYONE needs to start doing this, as it seems that in our society, whether you are mentally ill or not, food is primarily thought of in terms of what it will do to your weight.

For example, a few years ago during an inpatient admission, I was on bed rest which meant that, as you have probably guessed, I “rested” in a garage (only joking, it was in a bed. Just keeping you on your toes). Anyway, I was lying there and I was confused as to why I had to eat my meal plan when I wasn’t “doing anything” to burn it off. In my eyes, if I ate even a pea whilst lying down all day, I would gain weight because I wouldn’t have exercised enough to burn it off. I talked to one of the therapists about this and I remember her telling me that even if I wasn’t “doing anything”, I still needed to eat and still needed to have energy just for my body to work. Ok I may not be running around anywhere, but my body still needed the food so that all the bits inside could do their jobs and she drew out this chart as to how much food is actually needed just to sustain life without all the wandering in-between. I, by jumping from “eat X” to “gain weight from X”, had skipped a massive step and had imagined that whatever I ate would make me gain weight. Nevertheless, every time I was given a meal plan increase, my first thought was “that is going to make me gain weight”, without thinking of all the reasons and uses for food that come before the body even gets around to considering weight gain. Hearing that from someone with an eating disorder probably isn’t surprising, but at the same time the idea of food as a dictator of weight and nothing more is something that I see throughout society.

These days what you eat seems to be less about giving you energy to actually help keep your liver livering so that you can live your life and more about making choices based on what size jeans you want to fit into.
It is like those articles online or segments on daytime television, where they tell you what exercises you would have to do to burn off a certain food. I am pretty sure that a few years ago they were even considering adding that information to the wealth of nutritional guidelines scrawled across any packet of Hobnobs just so that people would know that if they ate one of the biscuits, they could easily burn it off with fourteen and a half press ups and a quick run through of the Macarena.
It just makes me wonder what on earth we think food is for if all we are doing is thinking about how it needs to be “burnt off”, skipping the state where we allow the body to actually use it, like I did all those years ago. Why do we need to be so obsessed with burning our food off? Know what happens if you “burn off” and “use up” every calorie by running on a treadmill? You win a prize? No. YOU DIE.

Think about the times when there is a cake in an office or people order desserts at a meal. Usually if someone turns down a piece, you can bet a good chunk of cheddar that their refusal will be something along the lines of “Oh no I can’t join in with that because it will go straight to my love handles”. It is rarely, if ever, someone will turn down food because they “don’t want it”, and is unfortunately usually down to this idea that whatever they eat will affect their weight which of course it won’t and that immediate connection is incredibly disordered.
The truth is, the primary purpose of food and indeed the necessity of food is to keep you alive and any other consequence is only a secondary consideration, yet it is the secondary consideration that people focus on all too much. Like I said when I began this post I intended to encourage people in recovery from their eating disorders to see meal plans as things that are there to keep them alive rather than seeing them as things that are going to cause them to gain weight. Ok weight gain may result if enough calories are consumed to allow that (weight gain that if you are on a re-feeding diet I highly expect is necessary), but that is not the first thing to happen. Indeed people with eating disorders, myself included, seem to focus so much on the effect of food on weight that they forget that it has any other purpose.
Years ago during another admission, I remember following my meal plan for months and eventually I did manage to gain enough weight to get me back in the healthy range and my first thought was “oh well I clearly don’t need to eat anymore because I don’t need to gain any more weight”. When the doctor told me to keep my meal plan the same I was confused as I had imagined he would say that I could stop eating now I had gained to the point where my body was healthy, what use did I have for food? What use did you have for food past Katie? Hmm let me think…TO KEEP YOU ALIVE BECAUSE THAT IS PRIMARILY WHAT FOOD IS FOR.

Food did not originate with the sole purpose of changing our bodies like those “eat me” cakes in Alice in Wonderland or that mushroom where if she eats from one side she gets tall and from the other side she gets small (I actually have a theory that all mushrooms have that power but because we tend to eat mushrooms whole aka we eat both sides, the magic of each side cancels the other out, thus we remain the same size…maybe don’t shout about that in public though…in my experience whenever I talk about magic mushrooms someone tends to call the police and I end up with a lot of explaining to do.)
No, unlike Alice’s wonderful mushrooms (or, if I am right, normal mushrooms), food is primarily there to keep the heart beating and that is it, yet like past Katie this seems to be something we have all forgotten.

Take the hellish old saying of “a moment on the lips, forever on the hips”. This makes it sound like the second you take a bite of a tasty salted french fry (after it has been dipped in ketchup of course), that french fry immediately sets off through your digestive system until it reaches the hip, at which point it will decide to set up camp and stay there as an extra piece of flesh. No. In reality, the first thing that french fry will do is go down your digestive system and start looking for things to do. Looks like the heart could use a little energy? Awesome, then the fry will head over there and give a few beats to keep the old ticker going. Kidney need a bit of help (or kidneys if you are one of those lucky devils who still has two), fine, that fry will head off to those kidneys and do a bit of filtering or whatever kidneys do. Without food those things don’t just keep happening! What do people think is keeping us alive if food is only there to dictate the width of our thighs? Do we think livers and kidneys run on fairy dust and pixie magic? HAS THE WORLD GONE MAD?

I just think that we all need to back up out of this disordered attitude of “things you would have to do to burn off a carrot stick” thing and be reminded that food is actually fuel that keeps you alive. If you are in recovery from an eating disorder, don’t get me wrong, I understand, and with every bite my head is focusing not on what that piece of food is going to do for my kidneys but what it is going to do to the number on the scales, but when those thoughts crop up remember that the whole weight gain aspect is a secondary thing and not the primary purpose of food as is made out in society. You do not need to be underweight to earn the right to eat cake on your birthday and you don’t suddenly stop requiring food the moment you are weight restored. No matter who you are or what your weight, you NEED fuel to survive like a car needs petrol. It doesn’t matter what colour the car is or what size the wheels, no matter what the physical composition of that car, it needs petrol to move just as you need food to breathe. YOU ARE THAT CAR. It doesn’t matter if you have small tyres, a huge engine, dodgy limp wing mirrors or a sizeable windscreen wiper, you need fuel to go, end of discussion.

Whether people have eating disorders or not though, collectively if I could do anything in this post it would be to urge people to see food less in the disordered “a moment on the lips forever on the hips” sense and in a way more akin to “a moment on the lips and then down to the aortic pump for a good few beats to keep me alive so that I can actually get on with my day and have a life”. Admittedly it isn’t as catchy, but trust me, it is far more scientifically accurate.

FoodIsFuel

41 Ways To Celebrate Easter When You Have An Eating Disorder

If I were to tell you that within the next seven days, a giant mole would appear in your garden and would hide chocolate potatoes amongst your shrubbery, you would probably look at me as if I were mentally ill (and you would have a point). If however we were to change that giant mole to a rabbit and the chocolate potatoes to chocolate eggs, I am sure your reaction would be a little different and more akin to “hooray, I love Easter!”.
Indeed, I would share in that hooray, as I have also always loved Easter and the whole  celebration of days that go alongside it. When I was younger, Shrove Tuesday or “pancake day” was the highlight of my year and I vividly remember having competitions with my grandparents as to who would be able to eat the most pancakes (spoiler alert, I won every year). I also loved making hot cross buns with my mother, mixing melted chocolate with shredded wheat to make “birds nest cakes”, and the annual tradition of putting Cadbury mini eggs into my plastic purple duck who would “lay” one of these eggs every time you pressed his head (please note this does NOT work with normal ducks no matter how hard you press them on the head. All you get in that situation is no chocolate egg and a very very angry duck).

Whenever I received an Easter egg as a child I remember being so excited that I couldn’t choose which one to eat first and from the age of five years old I would line them all up in order of expiration date just to make the decision for me. Even with this excitement I would make my eggs last for months and months, only having a little bit a day as a treat because I didn’t want them to disappear, so that it wasn’t unusual for me to still have an egg on the go at Christmas. In senior school they were so invested in festivities that there was even a giant egg hunt around the school grounds on the last day of term before we broke up for Easter and this was taken VERY seriously. People got into teams to compete, eggs were hidden with the utmost secrecy, and four or so teachers would even dress up as rabbits and hide in especially difficult to find spots, with bonus points going to any team who managed to find a bunny and drag them to the finish line. If you found a bunny, you were guaranteed a place in the top five teams and one of my fondest memories of my school days was watching as a hoard of screaming teenagers ran across a field in pursuit of the deputy head, who, after being found hiding in a tree, was sprinting for his life complete with bunny ears and a fluffy tail. It was truly a remarkable sight and Sir, if you are reading this, may I say you suited that fluffy tail perfectly and should seriously consider adding it to your daily wardrobe rather than saving it for special spring time occasions.

As I am sure you can see from all of those memories however, food is a key part of the Easter celebrations, so joining in with the festivities when you have an eating disorder can be quite difficult and lead to the Easter weekend being a stressful, as opposed to enjoyable time. Obviously, as I said when faced with this similar situation at Christmas, it would be great and ideal that for Easter we would all be able to set our eating disorders aside and join in. Eating disorders are horrible, potentially fatal illnesses that should not be allowed to dictate or ruin your Easter, and as my dad quite rightly says “eating a few chocolate eggs once a year isn’t going to do anything to you”. Alas eating disorders are not so easily persuaded by such demonstrations of logic and even with the best intentions and determination, they often interfere with one’s ability to join in with a lot of the “normal” Easter activities. Of course, if you are able to challenge yourself and join in with the more anxiety provoking aspects of Easter this year, then I would encourage you to go ahead and have a cracking time, but nevertheless, today as I did for Christmas, I thought I would offer you a blog post containing a few suggestions as to how to get involved and celebrate a holiday with your family in alternative ways that are not so focused on the food components of pancakes, buns and eggs…

41 Ways to celebrate Easter when you have an eating disorder

  1. Buy some of those little yellow chicks you can get to stick on cakes and instead of an Easter egg hunt, distribute the chicks around the house or garden and use them for your Easter themed hunt instead.
  2. Make an Easter decoration by doing some Papier-mâché on a balloon. Then when it is dry decorate it with as much paint and glitter as you can find to create the most fabulous egg you have ever seen.
  3. Email me a picture of your creation.
  4. Make an Easter wreath.
  5. Plant and decorate an Easter tree.
  6. Sit behind a bush with a leaf on your head and make noises like a lettuce in order to try and attract the Easter bunny.
  7. If the Easter bunny doesn’t show up, change tactics and try making noises like a cabbage instead (as we all know cabbages speak with a far lower pitch so maybe take someone with a deep voice for this one).
  8. If the Easter bunny still doesn’t show up, set off on an expedition around the world in search of your little rabbit friend.
  9. If yet again efforts fail, give up in your attempts to find the Easter bunny and simply become the Easter bunny yourself.
  10. Congratulate yourself on having become the Easter bunny and throw a party to celebrate your new job.
  11. Travel around the world as fast as possible and leave chocolate eggs for everyone who celebrates Easter (I know it is a big job but I think you will find you took it upon yourself).
  12. Rest after exhausting yourself doing number 11.
  13. Weave an Easter basket.
  14. Have an egg and spoon race (I know this technically involves an egg which can be considered as a food BUT the activity of an egg and spoon race doesn’t actually rely on consumption aka eating of the egg and is far more centred on putting the egg on a spoon and running as fast as humanly possible).
  15. Go to a pottery class and make an egg cup.
  16. Paint your egg cup.
  17. Play pin the beak on the chick (A PAPER CHICK).
  18. Buy a female chicken.
  19. Buy a male chicken.
  20. Leave both of your chickens in a barn.
  21. Add mood lighting to create a romantic atmosphere.
  22. Quietly play romantic songs into the barn (I recommend Dolly Parton. I am not sure why but I feel like chickens would like Dolly Parton.)
  23. Give your chickens some privacy.
  24. Wait until an egg has been laid.
  25. When an egg has been laid, ensure it is kept warm and is well cared for until it is ready to hatch.
  26. Watch as the egg hatches and congratulate yourself for creating a romantic partnership that has led to a new life in the form of a real life Easter chick.
  27. Realise that there is no way for you to achieve all of this in the next few days as Easter is only a week away and it takes considerably longer than that to progress from step 18-26
  28. Research how long steps 18-26 will take realistically.
  29. Check what date Easter is next year and put a date in your diary as many days/weeks before Easter Sunday needed to realistically carry out steps 18-26 in order to actually have an Easter chick born on Easter Sunday.
  30. Make pop up Easter cards to give to friends and family.
  31. Learn to knit and make some cuddly Easter bunnies.
  32. Turn those few bunnies into several hundred bunnies because as we all know, in nature these creatures tend to multiply rather rapidly.
  33. If you are religious, go to church.
  34. If you are not religious, maybe give someone without a car who is religious a lift to church.
  35. If you are not religious and don’t know anyone who is, simply kidnap a passer by and take them to church in the interests of traditionally celebrating Easter Sunday. I am sure the Pope would approve.
  36. Lie completely flat on the floor and impersonate a pancake.
  37. Plant daffodils.
  38. Water your daffodils with a watering can shaped like a bunny.
  39. Become a daffodil (please note you can only do this one if you didn’t do suggestion number 9 for as we all know it is far too much responsibility for one to be both the Easter bunny AND a daffodil.)
  40. Wear all of your winter clothes at once, get very angry and then play crazy golf. If anyone asks what you are doing answer that you are celebrating Easter by having some “hot cross fun”
  41. Roll your eyes at number 40 and wonder why on earth you are still reading the blog of someone who is clearly an idiot

So there you have it! 41 Non food related ways to celebrate Easter when you are suffering from an eating disorder! If you are a friend or family member of someone with an eating disorder, maybe suggest one of these activities to them in order to make them feel included in the festivities, or maybe ignore all of my suggestions and come up with a more sensible non food related way to celebrate to make sure that your friend/family member feels included with the holiday. Hopefully if you yourself reading this are a person with an eating disorder, one day you will feel able to participate in the more “traditional” chocolate egg/hot cross bun parts of Easter and maybe one day you will be fully recovered and able to enjoy Easter as much as you did before your eating disorder rudely entered your life. Either way, whatever stage you are at, I hope you all manage to have some fun this Easter weekend and that things aren’t too stressful. Stay calm, stay strong, and if in doubt, just become the Easter bunny.

Take care everyone x

EasterED

The Mystery Of Hunger When You Have An Eating Disorder

Whenever I play Cluedo, (or Clue to any American readers out there), I am confused as to why anyone would ever choose to commit a murder in a library with a candlestick. You are supposed to be quiet in a library, not create a racket bashing someone’s head in, and how are people expected to read if they are being plunged into darkness because someone was foolish enough to break all the candles?
Whenever I play Monopoly, I am also confused. I do not understand why I am repeatedly being thrown into jail when I have done NOTHING wrong, especially when, ten minutes prior to my unfortunate detainment, I was allowed to roam freely around the planet with no consequences, even after the discovery that I had beaten Professor Plum over the head with a piece of lead piping in the Billiard room (where I was courteous enough not to disturb anyone. Nobody was playing Billiards. They were all trying to read in the library and I allowed them to continue in peace because I am a good person).
When it comes to games however, there are none I find more confusing than that classic joy of “Hungry hippos.” Are these hippos actually hungry, and if they are hungry, what exactly does that mean?

Multiple times during my life with an Eating Disorder, I have had people offer me bits of advice that they think will be the key to my recovery. One of the more common pieces of advice is that I should just “stop listening to the anorexia and eat when I am hungry”.
On paper, I suppose this is fairly sound advice. Eating disorders want to kill you whereas your natural body impulses are there to keep you alive, so it makes sense to listen to them. The problem is, when you have had an eating disorder you spend your life trying not to listen to them, and eventually the mutual understanding and connection you had with your body is diminished. Indeed, your disorder actually spends every day purposely trying to suppress all natural instincts that were built up during the cave man days so that it can be in charge of what food is consumed, how much and when. You don’t “eat when you’re hungry” as you are supposed to, rather you eat when, or if, you are allowed.

Obviously I know what it is like for the body to go without food. I am familiar with the light headed tingliness, head aches, dizziness, chills, fainting spells and the pains in ones’ abdomen that occur when your stomach hasn’t seen any tasty morsels for a while, but I am unsure as to at what point all of these feelings constitute “hunger”. Does hunger start from the moment your tummy utters its first inquisitive growl or is that just being “peckish?” Is hunger what you feel when you see a chocolate doughnut with rainbow sprinkles or is that just curiosity…or being peckish? What even is peckish? When does hunger become starving? Is ravenous worse than starving? WHAT DO ALL OF THESE WORDS MEAN?

I know some people will probably say that you can’t think of hunger in such rigid terms and it is more of a sliding scale, but I am just so confused as to how people know when to eat if it is a sliding scale and not a case of two opposites. If we all had little signs on our heads that flipped from “not hungry” to “hungry” when it was time to eat it wouldn’t be a problem, yet people seem to just understand their bodies in a way that is completely baffling to me. All of my meal times are rigidly planned out, I know it is time to eat by my eating disorder giving me a time and then I simply watch the clock. Is it time to eat? I don’t know, lets see if the little hand is on the right number and if it isn’t we will give it a few more hours.

My parents, aka people without eating disorders, do not have strict rules on dinner time and they are two of those mysterious people who I often observe knowing when to eat by knowing when they are hungry. It makes no sense. Sometimes my mum’s stomach will growl and she will say something like “I don’t know why it’s making that noise, I am not even hungry.” What? I thought a growling abdomen was the universal sign for hungry? Does it only mean that sometimes? At other times does it growl to test its abilities in lion impersonations? How do you know which is which? Some evenings my mum will ask my Dad if she should put on the dinner and he will say something like “in a bit, I’m not hungry yet”. I will then spend the next however many minutes watching him, and at some point, with no signal from any outside force and no noise from his stomach he will announce, “Ok, might as well put the tea on, I’m hungry now”. HOW DID HE KNOW THAT? When did the switch flip? When did “not quite hungry” become full on hungry in a way that needs to be satisfied? I was watching him closely the whole time and I saw nothing! Not a single rhino burst into the room wearing a sign declaring “Now is the time for food”, there were no fog horns, smoke signals and no morse code (I was watching him and listening very very closely).

Even in hospital settings, it is an alien concept to listen to your body and adhere to hunger cues. In every hospital I have ever been in, you know it is breakfast or lunch time because the clock tells you it is so. The nurses don’t rally up the patients, ask who is and who isn’t hungry and stagger the meal accordingly, it is just time to eat so you do. More than that, the clock tells you when to stop eating rather than you deciding that you are “no longer hungry”, and portions are equally dictated by how many ladles of pasta bake is on the nutrition guidelines rather than “how much you fancy”. You can’t even forget the “eat when you are hungry” bit and skip to the “stop when you are full”, because again in hospital, what your body feels has nothing to do with what you eat. When at home you may stop mid meal because you are no longer hungry, but in hospital your allocated portion has to be eaten, so you often have to keep eating rather than stop when you are full because the dietician and meal plan has stated that is so. Full of cottage pie and not “hungry” for apple crumble? Tough, nutritionists have stated that your body needs apple crumble for medical medicinal reasons so you are going to eat it anyway, and you simply listen to their hunger cues and portion sizes instead of your Eating Disorder’s or your body’s. Natural impulses and intuition have nothing to do with it.
I honestly cannot remember a time when I just ate a meal because I knew I was hungry or stopped because I was full, for years I have simply followed the instructions prescribed much as someone else might follow the instructions on the back of a packet of custard (sidenote: Isn’t custard awesome?!)

It is even the same for me when it comes to using the bathroom. Not to overwhelm you with “too much information”, but as much as I do not understand people knowing when to eat, I do not comprehend how they know when they need the bathroom. They say “when you need to go you go”, but when is need? Is it at the first sign that your bladder is a little on the full side or do you wait until you are so desperate that you are hopping from foot to foot like Michael Flatly performing the River Dance? Somewhere in between these two points? Cool…BUT WHERE? WHEN? Again my natural impulses haven’t been in control of that kind of thing for over a decade as it is my OCD/eating disorder that tells me when I am allowed to pee even if I may not feel the need. When it comes to following my body’s impulses then, I find it impossible not just because I have an eating disorder or OCD screaming in my head, but because I have lost sight of what those impulses are by forcing myself to ignore them for so long.

Perhaps I have just waffled on in an incomprehensible meandering mess in this blog and once again none of you have any idea what I am on about. In writing it I have definitely learnt how hard it is to explain something you cannot get your head round, much like it is trying to ask someone to explain something invisible like air or untouchable like a rainbow.
Still I hope I have at least explained in some sense yet another reason as to why recovery or living with an eating disorder is so hard, and not something you can get over by “just eating” like everyone else. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions you can want to “just eat” as other people do, deciding it is lunch time based on an intuitive flicker of the gut or portioning your roast potatoes out based on how many you think you can manage rather than how many are on your meal plan. Nevertheless, intentions or not, to me it still remains an unfathomable mystery of just how in the hell all these people do it.

Take care everyone x

Hippo

10 Ways To Support Someone With An Eating Disorder

Living with an eating disorder is hell, but I think it is underestimated just how horrendous it can be for the people living with people who have eating disorders. I know many parents, families, partners and friends tend to feel pretty hopeless when watching someone they love slowly drowning, without knowing how to stop it. Almost every day my mum will ask me what she can do to help, like there is some problem solving action she can perform as easily as changing a lightbulb.
I know for a fact that if there were an action she could carry out, my mum would do it in an instant no matter how inconvenient or unpleasant (I think she would even play Pictionary and she HATES Pictionary…weirdo). Unfortunately, eating disorders don’t have quick solutions and no matter how much a loved one wants to help, they cannot fix the problem. They can however support the person, and often these little offerings of support are nowhere near as dramatic as people seem to think. Supporting someone with an eating disorder doesn’t require grand complicated acts of kindness, often you can support someone with little things that don’t take much time or effort at all. So today, I am going to share with you a list of things that I find help me at home aka 10 simple ways you can help someone with an eating disorder.

1. Don’t get angry with the person, get angry with their disorder – When you have an eating disorder in the house/in any relationship, you can guarantee it is going to cause some conflict. I have lost count of the number of arguments I have had with my mum with regard to eating disorder issues like what I am eating for dinner. I honestly don’t think we have ever had an argument about anything that wasn’t mental health related (bar one argument we had in 2002 because she wanted Will Young to win Pop Idol when I was firmly on the side of Gareth Gates. I would like it noted that I can now lift my hands up and admit I was wrong on that one). Just yesterday I am ashamed to say I had an argument with my mother and yelled at her for about half an hour because she tried to help, and unknowingly put my kidney beans in the “wrong pan”.
Afterwards I felt incredibly guilty/like the worst person in the world. This guilt would have eaten me up and is the kind of thing that makes me feel that I don’t deserve food, but after we had all calmed down and I had apologised, what I found helpful is the fact that my mum made it clear that she understood that I hadn’t meant to yell about a bean pan. She knew it had just been the eating disorder taking control, and though I need to work on managing that myself, the acknowledgement that I wasn’t this terrible person who worried more about what pan my beans were in than my mother’s kind attempt at assistance, made me feel more able to continue with the meal.

2. If you are eating with someone with an eating disorder, keep them distracted and don’t make the food the sole focus of the experience – Meal times with someone with an eating disorder are not the most relaxing of situations and can be pretty intense (like one of those awkward dinner parties you see on Come Dine with me only less bitchy and without a voiceover man commenting on every little thing that occurs). For this reason, when I have to eat a meal with someone, I find it really helpful for them to help keep me distracted and not make it all about the food. Silence allows thoughts to creep in at the table, so I would recommend conversation if the person is able or, if they are unable (sometimes I cannot talk very much/think of words because I am so anxious), have the radio on in the background or play a game. Sometimes in hospital we would even do things like crosswords or little quizzes which really helped keep your mind occupied by working on something else (my favourite thing about this was that when there were bank staff they would go through the pile of quiz questions without realising which ones we had already done so we were all able to provide correct answers instantly and looked like geniuses.)

3. Allow them to take baby steps in their recovery rather than expecting miracles overnight – When people are in recovery from any mental health problem, there is often a lot of pressure for progress to be quick so that the problem can be solved and forgotten about as soon as possible. However, recovery is a very slow process and this pressure is often detrimental as it can make a sufferer more anxious and stressed. To help someone who is struggling, allow them to make progress at a steady pace they are comfortable with rather than forcing them to make dramatic changes which ultimately will not be sustainable.

4. Praise them…or don’t praise them at all – I have many friends who appreciate a little “well done” or similar nudge of encouragement after a meal to make them feel supported and like their hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed, so offering those words of praise can be a great way to support a loved one. That said, I know there are others, (me included) who actually find this more unhelpful, as they like to leave the table and forget everything rather than acknowledge the meal that has just been consumed. Denial may not be the best way to deal with mealtimes, but at the moment denial is how I cope, so I am helped by nobody commenting on how fantastic it is that I have cleared my plate. For this one then, maybe ask the person you are supporting to see whether praise would be helpful to them before whipping out the party poppers to celebrate an empty bowl of cereal.

5. Try to be as relaxed as possible at the dinner table – When I sit at the table, I am always anxious, and when I can see that other people are anxious, it makes me more anxious. This then makes them more anxious and before you know we are left with a table of people panicking about a meal that hasn’t even happened yet. For this reason when supporting someone at a meal time, if possible try to be calm and relaxed to show that the situation isn’t anything to be afraid of, rather than freaking  yourself out and condoning the “THE TABLE IS A SCARY PLACE” fear.

6. Seek support for yourself – People with eating disorders need support and so do the people around them. As important as it is for carers to have an outlet somewhere to discuss their concerns and worries though, it is helpful to make that outlet someone other than the person who is struggling. When you feel that you are a terrible person who is ruining everyone’s lives because you cant eat normally, emotional outpourings condoning that are only going to make things worse. Ultimately then for this one, support someone by finding support and seeking help for yourself too.

7. Keep diet talk to a minimum if you are on a diet – Obviously when you have an eating disorder, people being on diets can be rather triggering. That said you cannot dictate that nobody who lives with someone who is struggling is allowed to have any say in what they eat. Naturally we all have needs and some people may be prescribed special diets from a doctor which of course they should follow. If this is the case however, the best way to help the sufferer manage the situation is to not make a song and dance about it (aka no conga lines for the fact you have switched to low fat yoghurt and if possible none of those “I LOST THREE STONE” certificates which diet clubs award people plastered all over the fridge).

8. Know their meal plan – Again this one depends from sufferer to sufferer but personally I find it helpful when those around me know what is on and what is expected of me in my meal plan as it makes me accountable in some way. Obviously the goal is to get to a point where I don’t need people to know what I should be eating and am able to be responsible myself, but right now my mum having a copy of my meal plan supports me every day. That way, when I am struggling and want to miss things out, I know that it is not a case of “nobody will notice so just throw the bread out of the window” as my mum would immediately wonder where the soft wholemeal has gone (and why there is half a loaf of Hovis stuck in the garden hedge)…

9. Don’t treat them like a disorder – When people see or think of me, I always feel they think of me as “the one with the eating disorder” and that I have no other identifiers to me as a person. It is therefore helpful when living with someone with an ED, to treat them as a normal person with other interests and hobbies so as to remind them that they are more than their disorder and will ultimately still have an identity left, even when the disorder is gone.

10. Do not comment on their meal plan or their body weight – This last one is probably fairly obvious but nevertheless very important so I had to include it. Whatever you do and if you only follow one of these tips as to how to support a loved one, make it this one and for the love of all that is holy NEVER comment on how much weight someone has gained on their recovery meal plan and NEVER comment on how big someone’s meal is. Eating disorder recovery meal plans may look totally normal but there are some that may perhaps be bigger than normal. Whatever the meal plan though, the person will need all the food prescribed to treat their malnourished body and repair all of the damage that has been done internally. If someone is soldiering through their meal plan trying to reassure themselves of this, the last thing they need is a comment like “blimey that is a lot of food, I couldn’t eat that”. Hand on heart a bank HCA in hospital with no experience in eating disorders sat next to me one meal time and after I had finished my main/was picking a spoon up to dive into my rhubarb crumble with custard, they commented “I don’t know how you can eat that. My main course was half the size of yours and I am already too full to eat another bite”…THAT IS NOT HELPFUL INFORMATION.

So there you have it, ten ways in which family/friends can support people with eating disorders (at least in my experience), without actually having to do much at all. Being desperate to help a loved one and wanting to support them doesn’t have to be carried out in dramatic acts like white water rafting or playing Pictionary, Sometimes all you need do to be the most helpful and make the biggest difference, is the little things like asking them for help with a crossword over their cornflakes or giving an encouraging nod at lunchtime.

Take care everyone x

supportsomeonewithed

How To Deal With People On Diets When You Are In Recovery From An Eating Disorder

When it comes to treating an eating disorder, there are about a million ways out there that people go about it. It is like the overall goal of recovery is the Triwizard cup from the Triwizard tournament played out during Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and all people with eating disorders are standing inside this perilous maze running down various paths to try and find their way to victory in recovery (and hopefully not a surprise encounter with Voldemort as happened to Harry. By God that was unfortunate). Some people take the path of medication, others attend groups, try various different kinds of therapies, visit hypnotists, but of all eating disorder recovery journeys you can guarantee they will all, at some point, share something in common: a meal plan. Sometimes people construct these meal plans themselves, others are prescribed them by therapists or dieticians, and some have their meal plans dictated by doctors and nurses in a hospital setting.
Obviously eating the meal plan is hard enough in terms of having an eating disorder and the thoughts that go alongside that, but one thing that can make following your meal plan a hell of a lot harder than just carrying out the basic set of instructions, is the almighty trigger of people on diets.

Picture the scene. You are sitting there at home, ready to eat your healthy balanced lunch prescribed by your dietician. All your basic food groups are present (protein was a little late to the table as he got held up by a tractor on the motorway but everyone is there now). You are anxious but determined to soldier through the meal in your journey to recovery. Then a member of your family comes to join you. You smile and wave, grateful for the company, anticipating a nice bit of conversation to distract you from the eating disorder screaming at you not to pick up the fork, but then the family member sits down. Glancing at their plate, your face falls. All they have is lettuce. THE NERVE OF IT.
If you are anything like me it is around this point that you will start to feel very angry and indignant, and your already difficult task of eating lunch becomes a hell of a lot harder. Suddenly your recovery meal plan lunch looks like it has doubled in size like some unwelcome food multiplication miracle in the style of Jesus and all those loaves and fishes. The already intimidating quantity feels even more excessive and unnecessary than it felt before and the thoughts are churning. “If I eat this when they are just sitting there with a salad I will be greedy”, “clearly I don’t need this much for lunch if that is all they are having for the equivalent meal”, “why should I eat this food when they are allowed to eat lettuce” etc etc. Then things escalate, and before you know it you have hit your lunch time companion over the head with the left over half lettuce in the kitchen, torn up their copy of Slimming World magazine and crumbled any diet pills they were taking to dust, dust which you then sculpt into a giant sand castle prison to lock them in until they agree to eat normally again (not that I have ever thought this through in detail prior to writing this post you understand). Basically, it sucks, but for all you people out there who struggle with this trigger, never fear, for I have words of potential wisdom that I hope will help, as there is a key thing to remember in all of this.

The most important thing to remind yourself when you are at that table, eating your recovery meal plan around potentially salad chomping dieters, is that you are in a completely different situation to that person, so different and far apart in fact that you are actually not even on the same table.
If you are in recovery for an eating disorder and have been prescribed a meal plan to follow, that meal plan is your medicine, and the nonsense in your head trying to tell you not to eat it because someone else is eating less than you, is a voice that makes as much sense as someone with an ear infection refusing to take antibiotics because nobody else in their household is.
Who knows? Maybe that person on a diet has been prescribed their low calorie meal plan by a doctor because their previous diet was giving them health problems, or maybe they are just doing one of those silly fad diets for a few days after an advert they saw in a magazine. Either way, that does not mean that automatically you should not follow the meal plan that is prescribed/necessary for your body, and following it does not make you greedy simply because you are eating “more” than someone else.

When you are at the table trying to eat your meal plan and you are with someone who you know is having less than you, the most helpful thing to focus on for me is imagining the distance in your situations (aka a person with an eating disorder and a body damaged by the effects of starvation and malnutrition vs a person without an eating disorder who is not malnourished), as a genuine distance in physical location.

For example, imagine an explorer standing in the Arctic as representing a person with an eating disorder (for the purpose of this example we will call him Eggbert because I would imagine that people called Eggbert are rather adventurous/like the cold). Eggbert is surrounded by a blizzard, a glacier is rapidly approaching from the North and a polar bear to his left is giving him very funny looks (even the polar bear looks a little on the chilly side despite being designed as fluffy enough for these conditions).
Now picture a holiday maker on a beach in Barbados as representative of people without eating disorders. Doreen, for that is the name of our sand loving pal (actually that’s a lie…her real name is Doris but she had to change her name because she is on the run from the law…SHHHH!), is on a beach in Barbados with temperatures so hot that the local chicken eggs are laid hard boiled.
Now imagine the food aspect of things as a giant pile of coats and blankets.
Eating disorders aside, I think we can all agree that in these circumstances, Eggbert who is shivering with the polar bear in the Arctic, is definitely in need of all the coats and blankets and hot water bottles available to him. Indeed it is vital for Eggbert’s survival for him to take those things on board and snuggle up regardless of what Doreen is wearing on her beach in Barbados. By keeping all of the blankets to himself and not sharing some with Doreen somehow, Eggbert is not greedy, he just is at a place in life where he has different needs to Doreen to keep him alive. It is a situation in which Eggbert is using necessary resources to keep himself safe, and he still needs all those blankets and hot water bottles even if Doreen is lying elsewhere on a beach towel fully nude (AVERT YOUR EYES CHILDREN).

That may sound a bit of a drastic difference in situation to illustrate the point, but it is vital to acknowledge the difference in situation between you and the person you are eating lunch with if they are eating less than you. You are not on a weight loss diet because you do not need to lose weight, their diet magazines do not apply to you, and if you tried to attend their weekly weight loss sessions for more weight loss tips you would be turned away. As hard as it is, you really do just have to cut that person’s weight loss mission, diet and exercise out of your life and not allow the voice to trigger you to use someone else’s behaviour as a reason to avoid doing what you need to do. As with needing jackets in the Arctic, you need the food, even if the person sitting next to you is as naked as the day they were born and munching on lettuce. What a lovely image to end a post on. I really hope you enjoy it.

Take care everyone x

newyeardiets

52 Non-Food Related Ways To Celebrate Christmas When You Struggle With An Eating Disorder

If there is one group of creatures on earth who find Christmas dinner more stressful than all the turkeys out there do, it is people with eating disorders. Actually scrap that, when it comes to having an eating disorder it isn’t simply Christmas dinner that is stressful, it is the entire build up over the festive season when suddenly it feels as if EVERYTHING is about food.
There are Christmas meals out with friends to attend, boxes of chocolates being thrust under your nose at every turn, Christmas puddings, mince pies, Christmas cake, chocolate log and mile upon mile of buffet tables. You can’t even look at a calendar to see what the date is in December without it trying to throw a chocolate at you!
Don’t get me wrong, I love all of the Christmas food traditions we celebrate with in order to make the season extra special and I do not want the food aspect of Christmas to be banished forever. Indeed I love the idea of building gingerbread houses, opening the door on your advent calendar to see what shape chocolate you will find that day and the tradition of turning all the lights off, setting fire to the Christmas pudding and sitting for several moments “oohing” and “ahhing” at the blue flames waltzing across their dried fruit dome of a dance floor. Nevertheless, as fun as all the food aspects of Christmas can be, with an eating disorder they can be incredibly stressful and thus make December a particularly difficult time of year, especially if you find yourself unable to join in with the traditions your loved ones are carrying out and thus feeling more isolated than usual.

For this reason then, I thought I would use today’s blog post to offer a list of suggestions of ways to celebrate Christmas that aren’t food related. Obviously if you find you are able to join in with the usual food activities then by gum join in and have a jolly old time (does anyone say “by gum” anymore…I quite like it…screw it I am bringing it back), but if you can’t, allow me to offer up some new potential traditions that will hopefully get you into the festive spirit without all the festive anxiety…

The Official Born Without Marbles List Of Alternative Non-Food Related Ways To Celebrate Christmas

  1. Buy a live Christmas turkey and take care of it
  2. Go carol singing (if you sing like I do your neighbours may not be thrilled about you knocking on the door whilst belting out “Good King Wenceslas” but if you do it with enough enthusiasm I am sure they will enjoy it in the end. Maybe include hand gestures to go along with the lyrics or a intricately choreographed dance routine.)
  3. Make Christmas wreaths
  4. Buy an entire supermarket’s supply of crackers and have an evening of cracker pulling madness
  5. Perform a fashion show wearing all the paper hats you earned in your cracker pulling evening
  6. Perform a stand up routine of all the jokes you earned in your cracker pulling evening
  7. Stop performing and take a break by watching a Christmas film (I am a sucker for “Love Actually”…until the part where Emma Thompson cries to Joanie Mitchell because Snape bought a necklace for a home wrecker…OH GOD HERE COME THE TEARS)
  8. Dry the tears you have cried watching Love Actually and read a Christmas book instead (my personal favourite is the classic Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.)
  9. Dress up as an elf and dance around the streets
  10. Play Monopoly and get into an argument with a family member about who gets to be the silver dog (nothing says Christmas like a board game argument involving statements like “No, I am the dog. You can be the iron!’)
  11. Plant a Christmas tree
  12. Decorate a Christmas tree (hint, it is has been scientifically proven that the beauty of a Christmas tree increases dramatically when decorations are penguin themed)..
  13. Find the machine they used in the film “Honey I shrunk the kids”, miniaturise yourself, whack on some wings and a wand and then sit on the top of your Christmas tree to be the family fairy on top (maybe take a cushion to avoid spikes. Fir trees can be prickly)
  14. Make a Christmas present filled shoe box and donate it to a charity who send out gifts to those who need a present
  15. Grow a beard
  16. Dye beard white
  17. Stroke beard and shout “Ho Ho Ho” at passers by
  18. Hang out with a reindeer
  19. Put fairy lights all over the front of your house and enjoy the groups of strangers that gather at your doorstep to appreciate your display
  20. Volunteer with a charity to help take care of those who are alone at Christmas
  21. If you are a Christian/fancy something a bit traditional, go to church
  22. Invite burglars into your household and then take them down with paint cans and tarantulas in a re-enactment of the classic Christmas film Home Alone with Macaulay Culkin
  23. Come up with a good explanation as to why the house is a state and why there are two unconscious burglars in the basement for when your parents/house mates return home
  24. Find snow
  25. Go sledding
  26. Go skiing
  27. Build a snowman
  28. Direct your own one man nativity play (I will leave it up to you to decide how to simultaneously play a sheep, the Virgin Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus…you are the director after all)
  29. Tie a carrot to your nose and stand in people’s gardens pretending to be a snow man
  30. Make Christmas cards
  31. Knit your own Christmas stocking
  32. Find Santa’s workshop and offer to help making all the presents this year
  33. Make your own advent calendar and hide treats that are not food related behind all the doors
  34. Go and watch a pantomime (if you find it hard to find the theatre on the night of the performance just turn around. Chances are it’s behind you)
  35. Stand under the mistletoe and wait…
  36. Keep waiting…
  37. Keep waiting…
  38. Just a little longer…
  39. Give up standing under the mistletoe and run to a mirror. Stare at your reflection and then compliment yourself out loud with the utmost sincerity because you are beautiful and if people don’t kiss you under the mistletoe then it is their loss/a sign of their bad taste/not a reflection on your personal levels of fabulousness.
  40. Tinsel. I am not sure what exactly you can do with tinsel but it is christmassy and not food related so do something with it.
  41. Find a pregnant lady called Mary and ask if she would mind coming with you to give birth in a barn where the cattle are lowing
  42. Lie any babies born in a manger
  43. Offer the baby Frankincense
  44. When the baby turns its nose up at frankincense (literally…that stuff STINKS), offer it a rattle instead
  45. Play pin the tail on the reindeer (WITH A PAPER REINDEER PLEASE)
  46. Go ice skating
  47. Sit under a fir tree with a bow on your head and pretend to be a present
  48. Laugh at all the fools who actually mistake you for a present
  49. Jingle some bells (jingle them ALL the way)
  50. Find loved ones
  51. Hug loved ones
  52. Scout the supermarkets from the 22nd of December onwards to see which one starts selling easter eggs first. The first place winner gets nothing at all as a reward and should be ashamed of themselves for perpetuating consumerism/the capitalist agenda.

So there you have it! A list of fifty-two alternative ways to celebrate Christmas when you have an eating disorder. Of course part of me hates writing this post and in an ideal world I would simply tell you all to just join in with everyone else and the “normal” food related activities rather than having to follow any of my suggestions (fabulous though they may be).
As any sufferers out there will know, eating disorders are soul destroying, potentially fatal illnesses that should not be allowed to dictate and ruin your Christmas. They shouldn’t dictate your behaviours, interfere with your ability to be “Merry and bright” and make social interactions around a crowded dinner table utterly terrifying, but unfortunately, a lot of the time, no matter how hard you try, eating disorders do all of those things without caring as to whether they should or shouldn’t.

That is why I have made this list. It is not because I agree with any of your eating disorders telling you that you can’t join in or that there is anything wrong with the food celebrations at Christmas time, but because this is not an ideal world (remember, this was the year Mary Berry left The Great British Bake off), and as much as I wish I could wave a magic wand and banish your eating disorders to enable you to have the ED free christmases you deserve, I know that such a dream is vastly overestimating my abilities as a magician.
Hopefully one day there wont be any eating disorders so this post and these alternative Christmas celebration activities won’t be necessary anymore, but until then I just want to try and help you come up with ways that you CAN join in at Christmas regardless of your eating disorders so that you don’t have to hide all December and become lonelier than the last toffee penny in a tin of quality street.
I have every faith that we will all eventually get to the day where the highlight of Christmas is a roast dinner and flaming pudding with all the family. Until then though, let’s just find fun where we can, knit our stockings and look forward to a time when all of this mental pain is a thing of the past.

Take care everyone x

snowmaned

A Message To All The People Out There Who Are “Pro-Ana”

Before I get on with the main bulk of this post I just want to preface it by clearly stating the fact that eating disorders are not a choice and are horrible illnesses that barge into and take people’s lives without those people having a chance to stop the aforementioned barging. However, as involuntary as eating disorders are, there are some people out there who for some reason see them as a glamorous and desirable life choice/thing to aspire to. It is to THESE people and not all involuntary sufferers out there, to whom I address this post. All clear? Cool, let’s get on with it…

In life, there are many types of people that I do not understand. For example, I do not understand people who eat a piece of Christmas cake and leave the icing/marzipan behind (THAT IS THE BEST PART WITHOUT THAT IT IS JUST RAISINS), neither do I understand the people planning to vote for Donald Trump in the upcoming election. Possibly the most confusing people to me however, are those who frequent “pro anorexia” websites online (yeah. That’s right. They confuse me even more than Donald Trump supporters. At least Donald Trump has floppy hair you can laugh at when he is spouting bile. Anorexia has no floppy hair and therefore no room for visual comedy). If you didn’t know already, pro-anorexia websites are basically as horrendously sick and disturbing as they sound. Having avoided them like the plague myself, I cannot provide an in depth image as to what they show, but from what I gather it is pretty much a lot of pictures of skeletal bodies that people stare at in order to inspire them to achieve the beauty of collarbones that make you look like you have swallowed a coat hanger. There also may be forums where people can discuss diet tips, encourage each other not to eat and who generally see anorexia as something that is desirable, that they want to have (hence the ‘pro’ in the name).

Now I am not one to tell people what to do. When I do not understand someone’s life choices I am not going to stand in their way and insist they change their deepest desires. Though I do not understand people who leave the icing and marzipan from the top of Christmas cakes (or indeed people who choose to eat Christmas cake when the other option is chocolate log…there is no decision there…obviously it is chocolate log every time), I have never spied an icing abandoner, approached them in outrage and chased them down the street waving the forgotten almond paste and fondant. This is because although I do not understand this behaviour, I trust that they have tried icing before and following the full experience and all the knowledge available, they know that cake without icing is really what they want.
When it comes to people who want eating disorders however, I simply cannot allow myself to sit back and let them make these life “choices”, as in my eyes the only person who would ever make such a decision as to get an eating disorder would be a poor uninformed soul who doesn’t really know what they are getting into. For this reason then, today I thought I would just write a little post to all those people who want eating disorders, in order for them to realise what life with an eating disorder really is like. Basically I am enlarging the font of the little set of “terms and conditions” that accompany the joy of being thin and not eating, so that people can be sure it is what they want. So to all people who want to have an eating disorder, that is cool, but before you go ahead and seek one out, here are a few things that I want you all to know:

1. Eating Disorders are not great for your physical health: Not eating is great and all but it is important to be aware that not eating is potentially fatal and is the reason that eating disorders are the number one killers in terms of mental health problems. Even if you don’t die they will definitely wreck your body, so before investing in an eating disorder you may want to say goodbye to your health first, as lord knows you wont be seeing it for a while. For one thing your hair is going to fall out in clumps, your skin is going to become dry and pale and you will probably have bags under your eyes so big that you can fit a week’s food shop in them (no more paying 5p for a carrier from Tesco for you! Bargain!). You are also going to be freezing cold all the time no matter what the weather, so in preparation you may want to purchase forty to fifty hot water bottles, blankets and thick thermal fleecy undergarments (sexy). This does have the benefit of making you a good pastry chef (as all bake off fans will know, cold hands are essential to a good apple pie), but on the down side you won’t be able to eat that pastry without agonising guilt afterwards… Also you may want to buy a wheel chair or walking stick as eating disorders love to screw with your bones (picture anorexia as a dog having a good old gnaw on your elbow until most of the bone has chipped away, leaving an osteoporosis filled powder). Oh yeah, and if you want kids anorexia will probably render you infertile too, but hey, who cares! You will save a tonne on child care and you get to be thin right? Wrong…

2. Eating Disorders do not make you thin: This disclaimer is a tricky one but allow me to explain. Basically there seems to be this idea that when you have an eating disorder attacking your mind, this will be physically evident in a lot of weight loss. For one thing, not all eating disorders involve weight loss, and for another thing even if they do, you will not be able to appreciate it. Sure you will be able to get on the scales and see the numbers go down but when you look at the reflection in the mirror it is likely you will not see that weight loss at all. Interestingly, when you don’t eat enough and become underweight, self perception becomes more and more distorted, so you may even see yourself as having gained when really the opposite is true. Its just a fun little game eating disorders like to play (the jokers!), so if wanting an eating disorder to “look thin” then maybe look elsewhere in terms of life goals and ambitions as looking thin is not a package deal with an eating disorder. The physical complications mentioned above are a package deal no matter what though, so no worries there.

3. Eating Disorders do not make you happy: Much like the myth that eating disorders make you thin, there is the idea that they will make you happy (probably because there is the association that being thin makes you happy but the happiness idea remains nonetheless). Yeah, if you want an eating disorder because you think it will make you happier, once again I would advise you to reconsider, as being undernourished is actually a way to encourage our good friend depression to join the party rather than the desired eternal bliss. Often anxiety will pop round too, so again be aware that those two delights are part of the package deal. You will often note that in these pictures on ‘thinspiration’ websites there will often be “models” without a face (primarily the images show thigh gaps and rib cages), and the reason for this is because were consumers to see the full image, the whole thing wouldn’t look so appealing. After all it is a lot more difficult to sell the idea of how beautiful a hipbone is when the owner of said bone is crying and waiting for the pain inside to end.

4. Eating disorders will mess up your social life: Aside from the effects eating disorders will have on your body and mood, it is also important to note that they affect your social life, and by “affect” I mean utterly destroy it until you are left all alone. You can have the best friends in the world but ultimately with all the “catch ups over drinks” and “dinner reservations” you will constantly find yourself avoiding them as you cannot join in with any activity whatsoever. You may be thinking “Ok I will ruin pizza night but I can still go out to play mini golf with friends”. That is a really nice thought, yet alas this will get ruined as well. Even if an activity is not revolving around food, you will still not want to go either because you have exercises to do or because you are too miserable, anxious/hate yourself and are too self conscious to socialise.

5. Eating disorders will/are likely to cause some issues in the workplace: Much like socialising with friends, working or holding down a job will also become impossible with an eating disorder, even if your job is not food related. Again we have the classics of depression and anxiety making it hard to leave the house, as well as the required sick days for your battered physique (you may pick up virus’ and illnesses a lot easier than most people due to damaged immune system, so stock up on the cough syrup). Bigger than that however will be the issue of concentration. Yeah…with an eating disorder your ability to function mentally will spiral away faster than water down a plug hole (especially water down the plug hole in your bath remember as all your hair will have fallen out and blocked the pipes with soggy wodges of entangled strands). Ahh, nothing says “living the life” like a Saturday night spent in the house pulling hair bundles the size of kittens from your drain (top tip: if you put goggly eyes on those bundles they look even more like kittens. They are adorable. Great Christmas presents too and December is coming! Get malting!). With mental functioning at an all time low then, it is likely you will lose any job you do have and money problems will likely follow as well as our old pals who love to join money problems for a party, depression and anxiety!

So that is only five of the terms and conditions important to be aware of when wanting an eating disorder (there are millions, trust me), but I think that for now I have made my point/ helped potential eating disorder investors to be a little more aware of what they are desiring/encouraging when scrolling through those pro anorexia websites. Like I said, I am not one to tell anyone what to do so if these points don’t diminish the glamour of the thigh gap photos, then go ahead and have fun. I just want you to know what you are getting yourself into so you can make an informed decision. There are people out there who want eating disorders, but I doubt they would find the unwelcome surprises that come with them as appealing.

Take care everyone x

pro-anorexia