Stigma: Anorexia Vs Bulimia and Binge Eating Disorder

Every mental health problem has a troubling mist of stigma surrounding it, but recently I have noticed that not all stigmas are created equally, and often the level of judgement varies depending on what condition that judgment is focused on. 

It isn’t even as simple to organise as “personality disorders get this level of stigma and mood disorders get this level”, because the amount of stigma can vary even between conditions of the same category, especially, I have noticed, when it comes to eating disorders, more specifically, anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders. 

I am sure there are exceptions out there but as a broad overall in my experience, I have found that the stigma surrounding bulimia and binge eating disorder (henceforth referenced by its acronym BED), is a lot worse than that existing around anorexia, and considering they are both so similar in being considered under the umbrella category of eating disorders, it makes me wonder why that is. 

I hate to say it but the level of judgement isn’t even exclusive to people who don’t know anything about mental health, and I have found it is incredibly prominent in the world of eating disorder sufferers themselves. 

For example, over the years in various groups and hospitals, I’ve met a lot of people with anorexia and I have found that many of those people actually had the fear of becoming bulimic or having BED as one of their reasons to fear recovery from their anorexia. I even remember one particular incident in treatment where a new patient asked another patient if their eating disorder was bulimia and the insinuation that that could be the case was taken as extremely offensive. Obviously it isn’t exactly polite to go wandering around introducing yourself by asking people intrusive questions about their mental health, but that wasn’t the part of the question that was taken as offensive, it was the bulimia part, and I know for a fact that had the question been “do you have anorexia?” the reaction would have been more “yes I do but blimey that is a bit outright as a question, we haven’t even had a cup of tea together yet” rather than “how very dare you accuse me of such a thing”.

I suppose in life it is common to fear the unknown, so it is more likely you will fear something that you haven’t experienced as opposed to something you live with everyday. 

For example I used to be terrified of blood tests but now I have them every few weeks and am not scared of them at all. Indeed I am quite the professional and can now have blood taken whilst remaining perfectly relaxed and without so much as a shudder (as long as that blood is being taken by a professional using one of those syringe things…I don’t mean I am cool with having people stop me in the street and attack me with a chainsaw…I imagine that would result in quite a lot of shuddering so please do not do that to test my statement because I will certainly shudder and you will certainly get arrested).  

Still, as much as that would make sense for people who don’t already have eating disorders, it seems a bit odd for someone who is familiar with the life of living with an eating disorder that is trying to kill you, being so scared of basically an eating disorder trying to kill you with a different name. It’s a bit like the experience of having a tabby cat, living with a tabby cat, yet still fearing ginger cats when really it is the exact same thing only with a slightly more tangerine-esque glow. 

I actually don’t think the fear of the unknown is really a part of the increased stigma around bulimia or BED versus anorexia at all though, rather I think it has to do with the fact that so many traits and behaviours that are associated with anorexia are praised in society.

Despite the fact that not all people with anorexia are underweight and, contrary to popular belief, people with anorexia DO eat, as a general consensus, people associate being anorexic with losing weight, being thin and never letting a morsel pass your lips, three things that are seen as good by most people. 

Think about it, when it comes to all of those diet clubs out there like Slimming World and Weight Watchers, you get things like certificates and “I lost half a stone” keyring prizes for losing weight and I am pretty sure they only hand out certificates in life for things that you are supposed to be proud of. When I was learning to swim as a child at least, they certainly didn’t hand out prizes for the person who was drowning in the bottom of the pool (which is understandable as that is not exactly the aim of a swimming lesson but still a bit sad as it is the person who was drowning at the bottom of the pool who could use a bit of cheering up with a certificate, as opposed to the person who managed to swim a perfect ten lengths of front crawl…what do they need cheering up for? Isn’t it enough not to have water up your nose? Kids today are so ungrateful!). 

Similarly, as I have mentioned before, in society we have this weird obsession with associating refusing a piece of cake at a birthday party as “being good”, while those of us with icing on our chins are doing something “naughty”, so the idea that anorexic people don’t eat unhealthy foods is similarly admired, rather than feared as a sign that someone is potentially starving themselves to death. 

Anorexia is often seen as a sign of strong self control, whereas bulimia and BED on the other hand is associated with things like a lack of control and even more infuriatingly, greed/gluttony. These two things are so opposite to being admired that they are two of the seven deadly sins for goodness sake, and it drives me up the wall, back down round Tottenham and up the wall all over again because neither bulimia nor BED are anything to do with greed or gluttony. I am seriously considering getting that as a bumper sticker so that at least whilst I am doing all this being driven mad I am educating people along the way, although I would really rather not drive at all because I do not have a license and petrol is incredibly expensive. 

If a person with bulimia or BED goes around a supermarket and buys a lot of unhealthy food to binge on or eats excessive amounts to the point that they are compelled to purge (or not), it is not out of personal want or greed, it is because they have an eating disorder in their head that drives and compels them to do so. It is not the person with the disorder in control thinking “ah this will be a lovely way to spend an evening, I thoroughly enjoy a few hours weeping into a toilet with a throat as raw as sandpaper”, it is the disorder that is at the steering wheel, and when people are attempting recovery it is more about learning to steal that control back from the disorder rather than trying to control their personal desires. 

Similarly, anorexia is nothing about self control and I would even argue shows an extreme lack of control. You can praise people for not dunking a hob nob in their morning cuppa all you like, but how in the hell is it a sign of good self control to be incapable of eating and starving yourself to death? Who would give a certificate out for that? (I realise this may sound hypocritical considering I was arguing that we should give prizes to people drowning in a swimming pool five minutes ago but let’s just set that example aside for the time being…). Much like the person with bulimia, when I struggle to eat I do not feel in control of the situation and I do not look forward to an evening crying over a bowl of cereal, excitedly clapping my hands at the prospect of a few hours staring at a Weetabix. 

Bulimia, BED and anorexia then are, despite the varying stigma, very much the same and very similar in that they are about wrestling with a deadly eating disorder. That’s it. It doesn’t matter that two of the disorders are known for expressing themselves via binging and possibly purging, whereas the other has its name up there as a sign of a lot of lettuce and weight loss. Aside from the treatment required, the expression of the disorder has nothing to do with it just as the colour of a ginger cat means nothing next to the tabby, THEY ARE BOTH JUST CATS AND BULIMIA/BED/ANOREXIA ARE ALL EATING DISORDERS. Both bulimia and BED are as much about greed as anorexia is about self control, aka they have nothing to do with it, and I really think we need to spread that message to stop the level of shame surrounding such disorders. 

Admitting you have an eating disorder is hard and embarrassing, but it is even harder and even more embarrassing when you have extra stigma piled on top just because of the name of your condition. If bulimia and BED are portrayed as about greed and shame, people are far less likely to admit to having a problem and seek help which is incredibly dangerous as both disorders are serious, they are deadly and can be fatal with complications caused by things like electrolyte imbalances, heart attacks and other consequences of recurrent purging, so seeking support for these conditions is as important as seeking help for any restrictive disorders. We need to stop the judgement and discrepancies between different names for eating disorders and need to see them back under the same deadly umbrella, they are ALL serious, ALL dangerous, and ALL are worthy of the help and support needed to get better. 

Take care everyone x 

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What Do People With Anorexia Eat?

Over a year ago I wrote a post about how people with eating disorders were misrepresented in the media via their use of skeletal pictures when interviewing or discussing someone with the disorders, yet lately I have noticed there is another stereotypical image being promoted that drives me equally round the bend, that being the idea that people with anorexia do not eat anything at all, and it is this myth I really want to tackle in this post as it is simply not true and is unhelpful to everyone.

You see when you come across articles in the paper interviewing someone with an eating disorder, they always make it sound as if the person has gone years without ever letting a morsel of food pass their lips. 

I am often reading pieces stating that someone lived on half a cornflake for three years or something ridiculous, a statement that is physically impossible and that must be taken with a pinch of salt as everyone knows journalists will often exaggerate or make things sound worse by picking and choosing details from an interview to make a good story. If an article makes it sounds like someone interviewed supposedly hasn’t eaten more than half a cornflake for three years, it is most definitely false and cannot be taken as a fact in general or by which other sufferers can be measured. 

Admittedly, people with anorexia frequently do not eat enough, it is after all one of the symptoms, the classic restricting of calories to lose or prevent weight gain. Indeed people with anorexia often eat very little, nowhere near as much as they need to keep themselves alive, but that still doesn’t mean they don’t eat anything at all and spend years living on air. In addition to those in relapse  who still eat at least something (regardless as to whether it be enough or not), when people are in recovery and on a weight gain meal plan they may actually eat more than some “normal” people. I know I have certainly followed meal plans that exceed the “government guidelines” irrelevant calorie limit, which have been prescribed to me both in and out of hospital. People in relapse and recovery are still considered as having “anorexia” if their mental state dictates that diagnosis, no matter how much they eat, and they should all be counted and taken seriously as a voice for people with eating disorders without being discriminated against for (brace yourselves)…having breakfast. What about the people who have severe anorexia but eat to keep their families off their back or to maintain a job? The ones who eat purely to stay out of hospital or the ones who are trying their best to eat to get better yet are still in as much mental pain as anyone else and hating every second? The ones who want to scream and shout every time they eat but force themselves on anyway because they don’t want their kids to see them worrying about food in fear that they may also pick up on the anxiety? That image, of people with anorexia eating, is never represented in the media, as equally valid or not it isn’t a dramatic image that would sell a story in a magazine. After all, headlines of “anorexic eats an appropriate number of calories, not because they are better but because they don’t want to scare the children” are never going to sell or create as much drama as “anorexic eats nothing and only licks a blade of grass once a month for 10 years”.

I am pretty sure that every member of my family is aware that I have anorexia and in a way I find this helpful. With them knowing, it means I don’t have to lie all the time, if I disappear for a few months to go into hospital it isn’t a big secret and I don’t have to pretend I have been off travelling, climbing Kilimanjaro or building schools for orphaned penguins in the Arctic, but in a way it actually makes things harder because I feel there is an expectation of the way I should behave at family gatherings. I am currently unable to eat outside of my house or with family anyway, but even if I were able to I would find attempting it incredibly intimidating as I imagine if I were to eat anything, people would be confused. If a person without an eating disorder goes out for a meal and eats, nobody raises an eyebrow, but if someone who is known to have an eating disorder goes out for a meal, when they eat people start to question whether there is anything actually wrong with that person in the first place. If you hear someone has to go into hospital for a new leg and then you see them prior to admission dancing the tango pretty happily using their old one, you might wonder why on earth the new leg is needed as clearly there is no problem. The issue is of course that though someone may appear to be eating happily on the surface, they could still be going through mental torture inside and may be just trying not to make a fuss and embarrass themselves or draw attention.

The dangers of this misconception that “anorexics don’t eat” are very similar to the ones created by the idea that people with anorexia are underweight. Again, family members or professionals may not be concerned about someone they suspected may have an eating disorder because the person often sits down for a family meal. Sufferers also might find themselves in situations where they don’t eat, not because of their disorder in particular, but because they feel they can’t incase people suspect that they are faking the whole thing. Much like images of skeletal bodies, people hearing the myth that people with anorexia don’t eat can cause people to think that they are not “that bad”, “not ill enough to warrant help” or even worse it can trigger them to restrict their intake further because they think there is some “anorexic standard” they have to live up to. You cannot compare the severity of a person’s illness with that of someone else’s just by looking at what they look like or how much they eat without having any idea of what is going on inside their heads. 

Overall I guess the message of this post is that when it comes to the portrayal of people with eating disorders in the media, take all the pictures and interviews as pieces of journalism to sell a paper with the nuggets of truth inside partially skewed or not representative of eating disorder patients as a whole. Making judgements based on accounts that are for the purpose of selling papers rather than truly giving a voice to people with no ulterior motive is never going to provide an unbiased piece that one can make conclusions from. Basically what I want to say is do not trust the media at all, instead you should trust strangers on the internet like me…actually don’t trust strangers on the internet…that isn’t the message I want to promote at all…. just don’t think that people with anorexia don’t eat. 

Take care everyone x

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5 Ways To Deal With Weight Gain When You Are In Recovery From An Eating Disorder

If I had a penguin for every time I have heard someone say or have said myself “I want to recover from anorexia but I don’t want to gain weight”, I would have more penguins than exist on this planet and would therefore have to get the existing penguins to rapidly reproduce in order to make up numbers (which is why all the penguins of the world are probably grateful to hear that I don’t have to have a penguin for every time I have heard that sentence or else they would have a lot of egg hatching to do).
Admittedly, there are many sides to the Rubix cube confusing madness that is recovery from anorexia, both mental and physical, and there are a lot of fears revolving around all of them, but I think when it comes to recovery, probably one of the top three things most people worry about is the weight gain side of it all. Personally at least, I know that the fear of weight gain is certainly a big thing for me and is particularly relevant right now as in my current admission to hospital it is the forced and rapid weight gain that has ended up distressing me most of all to the point that I haven’t even been able to focus on any of the more long term mental health sides of the illness as I am too focused on the scales.
I know that to other people, my weight does not define me as a person and that the number that flashes up when I step on a little machine should not dictate the way I live my life but when you have an eating disorder, those thoughts are often automatic and knowing they are irrational doesn’t take them away.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that the weight gain side is incredibly hard, if you really want to recover from your eating disorder, the fear of weight gain is an unavoidable thing that will need to be tackled and that, if neglected, will never truly allow you to get back to a healthy mind and body again.
So how do you manage it? If you want to recover from your eating disorder (or even if you don’t and are in forced treatment at the moment…ahem), how are you supposed to deal with one of the most frightening challenges to face someone struggling with anorexia: weight gain. Well, if that question has been on your mind at all then welcome to a blog post containing some possible answers, because today I am here (wearing a bow tie no less because I am fancy and have dressed smartly for you on this occasion), with 5 thoughts to help you deal with weight gain when you are in recovery from anorexia. So without further ado, lets get into it *straightens bow tie and gets down to serious business*…

1. Weight redistributes – When you start the re-feeding process after depriving yourself of adequate nutrition for a long period of time, your body will have no idea what the hell is going on or what the hell to do (something I explain a little more in this post here: Five Things You Need To know About Re-feeding During Eating Disorder Recovery). Because of this confusion and deprivation, when your body first starts gaining weight, it will want to prioritise on life saving things first (handy that) and for this reason a lot of people find that weight gain in the early days primarily goes to the tummy area so that the body can focus on repairing things like a dodgy liver or an out of whack kidney. This has happened to me multiple times (including right now) and understandably it can be quite distressing as your body can start feeling out of proportion, but what I want to emphasise with this point is that even though weight may initially go to life saving organ places, it WILL redistribute and spread out eventually as long as you hang in there and give it time. Restricting your intake to lose the weight again will only make this process more dramatic, so the key is to stick with it and always remember that redistribution will happen!

2. You are gaining weight you shouldn’t have lost in the first place – Whenever you see or hear an advert for a weight loss diet club, the people will emphasise how good it is to have lost the weight they did with whatever weird low carb eat upside down with a pineapple up your nose (difficult task, would not recommend) diet they have been following and therefore the idea of gaining any weight back is automatically “bad”. Culturally this has then created this false idea that the act of gaining weight is a bad thing in itself however this is not always the case, especially when it comes to recovery. Thing is, when you are regaining weight you have lost through an eating disorder, you are actually not gaining weight but are regaining parts of your body that you should not have lost in the first place, so whenever you see that number go up on the scale remember, it is not weight gain in the negative way that the diet clubs claim it to be, it is just re-finding a little puzzle piece of the wonderful you that may have been lost to this terrible illness.

3. The alternative is worse – I will hold my hands up and admit it: weight gain is scary. Then again, if you think about it, isn’t the alternative, aka death (for anorexia is the mental illness with the highest mortality rate of all), even scarier? “I am not that bad” I hear you cry, “I am not going to die of anorexia”, but hey, that’s what they all say and in a lot of cases, it turns out not to be true. Anyway, even if you are one of the fortunate souls whose body somehow manages to survive the abusive nature of an eating disorder and live, what kind of a “life” is it to spend your days tortured and tormented by a beast in your head? Weighing things up then (no pun intended…actually screw it…with me the pun is ALWAYS intended), although weight gain is scary, when you are going through the process it is important to think of the alternative, and remember that that alternative is a hell of a lot worse.

4. Weight gain is not as visible as you think – If you are like me, when you stand on the scales and see that the number has gone up, you can immediately see where that extra weight has gone to. This however, in the nicest possible way, is utter nonsense because in actual fact changes in body weight are no where near as visible as we might think. I remember one week when I gained one pound and instantly I saw my physical appearance change into something unrecognisable to the person I had been before that pound. Know what everyone else saw? Nothing. I would be lying to say that no weight gain is ever visible (as someone who has just spent 5 months in hospital I can guarantee I do look very different now), but my point here is that weight that you gain every week at weigh ins is not as visible as you might think and if you think you can see that pound or two of extra weight then it is simply proof that your eating disorder is distorting your vision. Don’t listen to its lies I say!

5. Getting bigger doesn’t mean you are big – If I ran a banana farm and after the harvest found that I had 1000 bananas, that would be a lot of bananas (and I would clearly be one hell of a good banana farmer). In that circumstance then, 1000 banana would be the definition of a lot of bananas. If the next year I then had 100 bananas would I think that I had hardly any bananas (trust me I do have a point here and am not just trying to send subliminal messages to you all about my secret dream to become a banana farmer). If however I had 0 bananas one year and then the next had 100, 100 bananas would be my definition of “loads of bananas” and that is what it is like with weight: aka all relative. Just because you are gaining weight and getting “bigger” it does not mean that you are big. You might think “I am huge” because the number on the scales has gone up but what I am saying is that just because the number has got higher it doesn’t mean that number is big. 100 bananas only looks like a lot of bananas if you previously had no bananas, just as a certain number of kilos only seems “huge” because it is bigger than the nothing you had previously and every “high” number you fear only seems high because you are looking at a lower one first. Getting bigger does not mean getting big therefore and if it was the other way round (aka the 1000 banana situation first) then your “high” number would be someone else’s low in a different situation. Whenever you see you have gained weight and feel like your weight is high, remember the bananas and the fact that a high number only seems big because it is bigger than the previous number and it is not that the number is big in itself.

SO there you have it! 5 thoughts to help you manage the fear and stress that is the weight gain side to recovery from an eating disorder! As always I am not saying that this blog post is going to solve the problem, nor will it probably make gaining weight any easier, but these thoughts are at least important and sometimes helpful/comforting things to bear in mind when the voices are getting a bit too loud for comfort and you have no arguments to fight against them. These thoughts are therefore your arguments against all of those bad thoughts, your weapons for the recovery battle, so take them brave soldier and use them wisely to outwit that cunning eating disorder who is trying to fool you into making weight gain seem like a bad thing.
In the meantime, if you are someone struggling with the anxiety ridden process that is gaining weight, please know that I really do feel for you as someone who has gone through the process multiple times myself (and is still going through it today), and I hope that this blog post has perhaps helped a little bit. Remember, recovery and weight gain is hard but losing your life to a cruel demon in your mind is far worse.

Take care everyone x

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Should The Government Be Teaching Children To Count Calories?

When it comes to the government, they are always coming up with handy suggestions as to how people should live their lives. You know the stuff, “eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day”, “don’t drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week” and “drive on the left hand side of the road” (actually that one might be a rule rather than a suggestion…I wouldn’t know. I failed my driving test and every time I asked my instructor for more driving tips after that, he ran away screaming which really did not help with answering any of my questions…)
Always ready to tell the population what to do then, for 2018, the government in the UK have come up with a new suggestion, complete with its very own catchy advert, where play-dough people morph around the screen and a happy jingle plays advising parents to teach their children to restrict themselves to “100 calorie snacks, two a day max”. Now I am not one to turn down advice from our dear Theresa May who is doing such a wonderful job of running the United Kingdom without any trouble whatsoever (pause for laughter), and even I can admit that it is a catchy slogan with a tune that isn’t bad either, but in my opinion this “handy lifestyle suggestion” is a terrible thing that should cease being taught to children immediately.

Obviously for someone (aka me) who is in hospital trying to recover from anorexia and is following a meal plan where snacks exceed 100 calories and are more frequent than twice a day, this kind of thing is unhelpful and triggering. On one hand I have dieticians and psychiatrists coming out of my ears (I really don’t know how they got in there in the first place), telling me that I need to eat this far higher meal plan than the one Theresa May suggests and on the other hand I have play dough people telling me to restrict my intake, which as I have said is obviously confusing and not particularly useful, but it is not just to people with eating disorders that I think this advert is detrimental, rather it is bad for the entire population (far worse for your health in fact than, dare I say, more than two snacks a day comprised of over 100 calories each).

The problem I think with any lifestyle suggestion or diet tip from any source, is that people hear it and immediately take it as gospel. In the real world however, nutrition isn’t governed by blanket black and white, one size fits all rules like that, and there is no such thing as a “diet expert”, only people who have done a lot of research about food and have opinions about it, a point highlighted to me during my brief stint working in a bookshop.
Unsurprisingly, this job involved various tasks including book shelving, and one day I was in the self help department (insert joke about how I need to spend a lot more of my time in such a section here), which was helpfully next to all the diet books. Therefore whilst shelving, I couldn’t help but get a good look at all the titles and diets being advocated.
Now generally, when it comes to reading about a topic, one would assume the more books you read, the more educated you become. For instance say you read 30 books about penguins, it is then likely that you will be more intelligent on that topic than someone who has only read one and that you would do better on any quiz regarding penguins. Alas, when it comes to nutrition, things are not like that, for as I shelved those diet books (working very hard I might add just incase my former boss is reading this…), I realised something ridiculous. Turned out if I were to read all of the diet books, take all of the information, all the “no carb”, “no protein”, “no fat” nonsense and I were to mush it together to make one overall diet plan (which you would think would be the best and most informed having been the culmination of so many books’ worth of information), I wouldn’t be able to eat anything. All the health advice added up together in the world and the conclusion from it? No food is safe, which I think is fairly unhealthy considering such a thing would lead to death, and, were we all to follow that advice, the extinction of all human life on earth. Marvellous. Therefore when it comes to rules like this “twice daily 100 calorie snacks” thing dolled out by nutritionists, taking them as gospel is never a good idea as they are merely opinions rather than facts.

“But for some people limiting snacks to twice daily amounts of 100 calories might be a good, healthier idea than their current lifestyle choices” I hear you cry and I am not going to disagree with you on that, but another thing I want to point out when it comes to guidelines is that they are not universal and are actually only helpful or beneficial to SOME people, which is why it is not helpful to have them rolled out as rules for the general population. As I have already said, this advert is obviously not applicable to people who are in recovery from eating disorders, but neither is it applicable to a large number of the population who all vary in height, weight, activity levels and nutritional needs. What about athletes for example. Is this rule supposed to apply to them too because I am pretty sure that that Mo Farah and Usain Bolt wouldn’t get very far nor would they get any more gold medals were they to restrict themselves to two 100 calorie snacks a day…
Okay I get it, there does need to be some kind of suggestion out there as to how to live a healthy lifestyle and it is important to teach children about food and nutrition but whatever happened to “general education” and suggestions like “eat your vegetables”, “everything in moderation” and try to have a “balanced diet” as opposed to these rigid rules and guidelines ridden with fixed numbers. Where pray did these numbers come from because last time I checked people don’t eat numbers, they eat food (and for good reason too. I once tried to eat a number nine and it was terrible. Tasted purely of pepper.)

It is just somewhat ironic that the whole focus of this campaign is to encourage health but encouraging children to see food in terms of calories and numbers really is a disordered habit struggled with by many people with eating disorders. If healthy snacking is the priority then advising healthy snack foods and providing possible examples would be a far better way to go about it because this focus on calories isn’t healthy at all. When numbers are brought up things start to get obsessive and this is where I think the problem lies. By specifying 100 calorie snacks they are labelling a strict limit to adhere to, but how ridiculously close are people supposed to stick to it? Is a 101 calorie snack ok? What if it is a really healthy snack that is slightly over? Should an “unhealthier” food be chosen instead simply because it fits the amount? Should we weigh already healthy fruit to check that they are “safe” in this new government scheme? Should children be taught how to count calories from the moment they exit the womb? Is that a normal healthy attitude to food? Seriously, think about it, does all of this sound healthy and worth advocating or more akin to rigid disordered behaviour seen in people with eating disorders aka a mental health condition needing treatment?

Overall then, if I had any say or control in any of this government malarky, I would say the whole “100 calorie snacks” with “two a day max” idea needs to be binned and for calculating numbers to be kept in children’s maths lessons in schools rather than in their lunch boxes or at the dining table at home. If you want to educate and give healthy food guidelines from the government then fine, go ahead, but when this advice is given it should be just that, GUIDELINES like the old “eat more fruit and veg” rather than strict, prescribed, rigid calorie counted rules that must be followed exactly and are carved in stone and sung over the breakfast table like some terrible national anthem.

If you have or even if you don’t have an eating disorder but are finding these adverts unhelpful, as hard as it is, my advice would be to do your very best to ignore them. Remember, just because it is prescribed by the government it doesn’t mean it is automatically healthy and it doesn’t mean that its obsession with numbers is not disordered. Nobody is the authority on rules regarding food and diet, it is all opinion, and strict rules, hell even general guidelines, are not applicable to everyone.

Take care everyone x

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Is It Ok To Give Food Related Christmas Presents To People With Eating Disorders?

As soon as winter rolls around, there are certain questions that suddenly pop up every time you interact with another human. These questions vary but include things like:
“Are you doing anything nice for Christmas?”
“What do you want for Christmas?”
“Do you really need to buy more penguin themed decorations this year?” (Yes. Yes I do)…
And of course the ever sigh inducing “Have you started your Christmas shopping yet?”

Due to the birth of commercialisation and consumerism (two things that, although very much involved in Christmas, were not actually born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger), Christmas shopping is a big stress over the festive season both for money reasons and of course wondering what the hell to buy for everyone. Mental health wise however, there are further complications because sometimes there is a question not just to what you should buy a friend or relative, but whether there is anything that you should definitely not be buying…

As you may know, I have a lot of friends with eating disorders and several of these friends have come to me in the past exasperated and fed up, poised with a story to tell me about a distant relative who sent them food as a birthday or Christmas present. I know a lot of people with eating disorders might get frustrated, find the gift insensitive, rude, or even cruel, like taunting an alcoholic with a bottle of gin, and the majority of people I know have stated that “people should not give food related presents to people with eating disorders”.

I think that one of the difficulties in this issue, is trying to decide whose responsibility it is for someone to manage the whole gift giving/receiving situation. Is it the responsibility of the person who is choosing the gift to give (maybe an unfair burden considering not everyone will know every personal detail of whoever they are buying for this December and surely if it is “the thought that counts” any present is incredibly kind and generous), or is it the responsibility of the person receiving the gift, to manage what it is appropriately for them?
If you give a Dolly Parton hater (for-shame! Come on now, you have to at least like Jolene? 9-5? IT IS A SONG ABOUT THE MONOTONY OF WORK LIFE! DOLLY GETS US!), a copy of Dolly Parton’s Greatest hits, whose responsibility is it to deal with the CD? The gift giver for not knowing about a person’s hatred of the world’s greatest country singer and for not being too careful, or is it the responsibility of the gift receiver to simply donate the generous present to a charity shop where it can be enjoyed by someone else who is able to appreciate a bit of “I will always love you” blasting from the speakers? However, what if a gift is medically inappropriate? Whose responsibility is it to manage then?

For example what about Horris who is deathly allergic to peanuts? Maybe Horris didn’t write a Christmas list this year (always a risky move), and maybe his third cousin twice removed’s husband’s goldfish wants to send Horris a gift (for he is a very generous goldfish), but is unaware of Horris’ unfortunate peanut condition.
If this lovely Christmas loving goldfish sends Horris three tonnes of peanut butter, a t-shirt made from knitted peanuts and a trip to the “World of Peanut” theme park with the “Ultimate Peanut Experience Peanut roller coaster” (you ride around the track within the shell of a giant genetically modified peanut and then at the end enter a flume tube filled with peanut butter that will leave you utterly soaked upon plunging into it). If Horris uses this ticket to the theme park, surely it is partly his fault for not taking proper care of his health requirements (aka the requirement to not plunge into a pool of peanut butter at 100mph in the shell of a giant peanut). Then again, what if Horris is so allergic that the mere sight of the ticket and the tonne of peanut butter sends him off in an allergic reaction without him having any warning of the deadly gift? Who do we blame? Goldfish or Horris? Surely this is a very different kettle of ethics than the previous Dolly Parton debate? So what about people with eating disorders?

On one hand, as a person with an Eating disorder myself, I can see the point of those who say that giving food as a present to someone with an eating disorder is inappropriate or something they don’t like happening. It can indeed be frustrating to be given food presents that you fear every year and are possibly unable to enjoy due to your illness. I have heard people with anorexia say that it makes them feel more isolated from the rest of the Christmas festivities because being given, say a Christmas present that is a box of merry smiling gingerbread men with chocolate buttons, a freshly cut yule log or a batch of homemade mince pies is like being shown something “normal” about Christmas that others can enjoy and that they may want to take part in like other people, but due to their illness, feel they can’t. Some could say that getting food presents makes them feel misunderstood or like their problems/disorders have not been taken seriously, belittled and assumed to be “a mild difficulty with food” that can easily be solved if you put a nice bow on a box of chocolate penguins, rather than a fully fledged eating disorder ruining their lives no matter how many bows you stick on top of that box of rich 70% cocoa waddlers.
As well as food presents for disordered eaters being problematic in the sense the present receiver may be too scared to enjoy them, there is also the risk that food presents could trigger someone in other ways, for example someone who feels the compulsion to binge and maybe purge afterwards. Some sufferers keep certain foods that they are likely to binge on out of the house to make them feel more in control, so when that food is suddenly handed to them wrapped in glittery ribbon tied paper, they struggle to deal with it in the way they might like to when fighting their disorder.

That said, though what I am about to say is something most Eating Disorder sufferers would disagree with, I don’t think that people should put a full-on ban on food presents for people with eating disorders and I think that getting a food present once in a while is more likely to help rather than hinder your recovery.
What if one Christmas as the countdown to the 25th was underway, you went into some form of new treatment that you started to find more beneficial than any you had tried before. What if an image of what life could be like without your eating disorder started to give you hope in a positive future and what if, like a Christmas miracle, your eating disorder backed off a bit and you felt strong and determined enough to kick some ass. What if in this Christmas miracle you became so inspired to fight your demons that you made a promise to join in on all the scary Christmas food things this year, finally buy that advent calendar, make that gingerbread house with the candy cane decorations, try one of Aunt Enid’s famous mince pies and join in on all the party canapé platters at the work Christmas buffet (I hear the brie and cranberry filo tarts and chocolate penguin profiteroles are a delight). What if all of these goals arise, all this determination to fight and join in with everyone else…and then nobody gives you the opportunity to do any of it because they are all too scared to offer you that filo tart or wrap up that tub of Celebrations. To me, that would be incredibly triggering, if I were to be there ready to fight, ready to eat and join in and everyone just left me out anyway because they assumed I wouldn’t do it. This year, considering i am in hospital and not particularly well right now, that assumption might be right but in my head, never being given food presents at Christmas or any other time of year like Easter or a birthday, is simply a way of other people confirming the idea you already have in your head that you don’t deserve or need food and therefore shouldn’t eat it. People treat you like an eating disorder and you will find it hard to see another identity for yourself. Furthermore, when would the food ban stop and would it ever? How would that be decided and wouldn’t that be more triggering in itself to have food presents suddenly reintroduced? If you have an eating disorder at one point, are families to avoid food gifts even if you are recovered “just incase” which again isolates you from certain celebrations. Yes food can be triggering as a gift but wouldn’t it be more triggering to be very unwell for years and then one year to be maybe doing a little better mentally and physically, so much so that people notice, give you food and then you freak out thinking that they are insinuating that you “aren’t ill anymore” or that they think you have put on weight so are clearly fine with eating again.
Personally to avoid all of these issues, when it comes to food presents, I would rather be treated as normal, like everyone else, receiving the odd box of Quality Street and being offered the iced mince pies. Even if I can’t accept the mince pies or have to give the Quality Street to my mum, I would rather they were there to make other people treat me “normally” until I am in a place to play that role of “normal person who eats food presents at Christmas and gets two candy canes stuck in their gums by getting a bit too enthusiastic when impersonating a walrus”.

Overall though, I guess that with this topic, it is impossible to make any conclusion because whether or not you give food to someone with an eating disorder is going to be a tricky thing to gauge and will vary from person to person. As I said, even I and my group of friends who share the diagnosis feel very differently about the topic so to be on the safe side, if you are wondering whether or not to give someone with an eating disorder a food related gift, you might want to check with the individual or maybe a relative of that individual first to see how they might react to it. There are many types of eating disorder and even people with the same one will experience them differently at different times, such as when they are going through periods of relapse or recovery, so as much as I would like to have given you a black and white simple answer (and we all know how much I love things that are black and white ahem penguins ahem), I am afraid I will have to conclude in a rather hazy grey as the answer will vary from person to person.
All I would say is, if you are the gift giver, try not to get too anxious or caught up in overthinking it because ultimately you have a 50/50 shot of getting it right and if you get it wrong, it isn’t your fault, nor does it make you a bad person. Similarly, if you are the receiver I am sorry if food present wise, things don’t go your way this year, but equally remember that other people may not be thinking as deeply into the meaning or significance of a box of chocolates as you might be and maybe it is just their way of trying to show they think you are pretty awesome. A Christmas present is a Christmas present, it isn’t a holy significant statement laden with meaning as to how someone views you or your body, it is a sign of appreciation, a sign someone cares, and at the end of the day, it is always the thought that counts.

Take care everyone x

Pudding blog

The Frustratingly Illogical Existence Of Life With An Eating Disorder

A few days ago, I met up with a friend who I have not seen for 15 years. It was a friend I have known since the tender age of zero after we stumbled across each other at an antenatal class our parents had been attending in the hopes of learning what the hell to do with the new humans they were about to produce and were expected to raise without any prior knowledge of how to do such a thing.
We may have only been newborns but our connection was instant, we bonded over Thomas the Tank Engine and have been friends ever since (although like I said, we haven’t seen each other for fifteen years because when you get to senior school and puberty a lot of nonsense gets thrown at you and there isn’t any time left to discuss the wonderful intricacies of your favourite blue tank engine…senior school is cruel.)

Recently however, after reconnecting over the 21st century miracle that is “social media”, we decided to meet up, and thus it was that I found myself sitting opposite my oldest friend in a coffee shop several days ago.
I think when you meet up with anyone, either new to you or as old a friend as your life itself, there is always a tendency to compare yourself to that other person in some way. Frustratingly, even though I know that appearance and weight are the least important of all things, my eating disorder automatically compares my body to those around me and without fail will always manage to convince me that I am an inferior disgrace who should go home and hang their head in shame. Like I said, I know weight doesn’t mean anything and I quite frankly don’t care what other people weigh. The number of pounds shown up on someone’s bathroom scales does not matter to me in the slightest, nor does it affect my opinion of them, yet for some reason when it comes to me specifically and my body, weight is of the highest significance and summarises my self worth as a person.

When I saw my friend standing there then, I felt really embarrassed and had it not been for the desperation to see her after such a long time, I probably would have run out of the coffee shop and would still be hiding in a bin somewhere.
Eloise Unicorn McGlitterface (I may have added the “Unicorn McGlitterface” myself just for fun…she really likes unicorns…and glitter…), looked fabulous, and I wished I could look like her.
Immediately my eating disorder was triggered and the thoughts telling me to lose weight struck up their familiar bellowing.
I didn’t want to be thinking about these things at all, as I left I wanted to be thinking about how lovely it had been to see my friend, but as I got in the car to go home, my head was screaming at me to lose weight, and here is where I get confused.

I know for a fact, that my friend Eloise Unicorn McGlitterface, on paper, is a healthy weight, and even though I don’t believe the “facts” my psychologists tell me about me being “underweight”, I understand them, sort of like someone understanding the theory behind someone’s religion without believing in that religion themselves. Logically then, according to doctors and science, most people would conclude that in order for me to look as fabulous as my friend, I would need to gain weight. On paper and if talking to anyone else, I would easily be able to agree with this argument yet somehow, when it comes to me, even though I cannot explain the science behind it myself, I am convinced that the only way for me to look like someone who weighs more than me…is that I need to lose weight. WHAT KIND OF LOGIC IS THAT.
When I tried to explain this to my mum I couldn’t. Naturally she thought that I sounded irrational and like a lunatic (she would have a point), yet despite my inability to explain the science behind my thoughts, I remain utterly convinced of their truth without really understanding them…
I even thought that if I tried to write this blog post and tried to explain my theory I would realise how ridiculous I sound, how my thoughts make no sense and therefore cannot be true, yet still here I sit, unable to explain how my body defies science and needs to lose weight to look like someone who weighs more than me, yet utterly convinced that this is the case.

There are a lot of things I believe that make no sense to other people when it comes to my eating disorder, but at least I can see the logic behind them. I know it doesn’t make rational sense that I cannot eat unless my hair is tied up in a very specific way at a very specific angle, but I understand where that belief/behaviour comes from and the rationale behind it according to previous experiences. I know it doesn’t make sense that I cannot eat with forks, knives or plates and am only able to use spoons and bowls, but again I understand the reason I feel this way. There is no science behind it, but it makes sense to me and I could explain it to people.

This however, I do not understand, yet like I said, this doesn’t make it any less compelling. I guess going back to the religious comparison, it is like being a devoutly religious person who can hear all the arguments against their beliefs but believes nonetheless and is convinced in their heart by pure faith. I don’t want to insinuate that my eating disorder is at all some kind of religious movement, it is a murdering mental illness that destroys lives, but I think this example goes to show that when you have an eating disorder your belief in your thoughts are held and driven mainly by a faith that you cannot explain the logic behind. In my experience at university studying theology and when talking to religious friends, if you ask them to explain “why” they hold their beliefs, any explanation will be secondary to the feeling they hold inside them. They can say “why” but when it comes down to it the thing that convinces them is a faith, an indescribable feeling that they have which means that they “know” what they believe to be true even though they can hear people arguing about why they might be wrong.

I don’t wholeheartedly believe my eating disordered thoughts because I am stupid and don’t understand science, somehow I believe them in spite of that understanding. This whole “to look like my healthy friend I need to lose more weight” thing is exactly like my obsession with green tea. I hate the stuff and over the years hundreds of people have told me that it makes no difference to your weight, I have read the studies and I know they are true and more scientific/rational than any thoughts I get from my eating disorder…yet somehow I am still convinced that if I don’t drink a certain number of millilitres of green tea I will gain several stone overnight. Consequently I drink that green nasty fluid that I am horrified is held in the same category as all other teas. WHERE IS THE LOGIC HERE EATING DISORDER? HMM?

I think what this really proves is the fact that eating disorders make no sense and that even if their thoughts don’t have a reason behind them, they are nevertheless believable. People with eating disorders aren’t stupid people who don’t understand how bodies work, they understand all of those things, often better than most, yet still the disordered thoughts are so strong and so compelling that they are convinced to follow them without being able to say why. Eating disorders have the power to make science sound ridiculous and nonsense sound like fact. I guess this example also proves the fact that eating disorders are flipping stupid and will always manage to convince you and tell you that you need to lose weight no matter what the facts of any situation.
Usually when I write blogs about eating disorders I do it to try and explain the reasoning behind
them to people who don’t understand, but clearly, sometimes life with an eating disorder is about not understanding a damn thing about your thoughts yourself and just basking in a frustrating confusion.

Take care everyone x

NonsenseBin

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