Today is Easter Sunday, which, all things considered, is quite a meaningful time to be posting this. I recently wrote an article for my student newspaper about how simultaneously love and hate Easter; the religious message of rebirth is beautiful, but as a person with an ED the constant reminder that ‘CHOCOLATE IS AVAILABLE’ can be super overwhelming.
And honestly, this week has gotten the better of me. I feel gross, I haven’t eaten well, I’ve re-sank into some old ED habits, I’ve drank too much, I really haven’t looked after my soul. While I didn’t completely give in to my ED mindset, which is to be celebrated, it is time to get back on track. A friend has set me up with a new workout regime, which I’m excited to start, and I need to refocus on my eating.
I’ve decided to spend tonight meal planning, and want to break down the basic process of how this works.
A Meal Plan? More Like a ‘Feel’ Plan… (Sorry I’m not Funny.) How to Get Into the Swing!
Meal plans can be super hard to get your head round, and if you can I would really recommend having a professional to guide you through them. Most start with a target number of calories – the outline I was given was either a day of 1000, 1500, or 2000 calories, depending on your personal comfort. They are scary – for me, I was going from barely actually digesting calories, to being expected to keep down 1500 at once.
Calorie counting can either aid or hinder this process- if you are likely to become obsessive, google the food instead for a rough estimate as to how many calories it contains. Round it down to the nearest 50 – if you start rounding up at this stage it can lead to any excuse to convincing yourself something has far more calories than it actually does.
There are ways you can combat this. For me, finding your trigger foods is a big help, and at first, avoid them if you need to. Don’t put extra stress on yourself to have a huge range of options from the beginning; take things slow for the first week, and stick to what you’re comfortable with. For me this meant not too many carbs and plenty of veg.
So, a typical 1500 day for me?
Wake Up (8am approx) – Slice of toast with butter
Morning snack (10.30 am approx) – banana
Lunch (1pm approx) – Tuna mayo, sweetcorn, red pepper, and red onion sandwich. White bread, no mayo on bread. A yogurt, and an apple.
Afternoon snack – A kit kat
Dinner – Naked Burrito – Onions, peppers, mushrooms, mixed-beans, rice, and a meat substitute. An orange or yogurt for dessert.
Supper – Slice of toast with butter
It’s beneficial to spread out your eating as much as possible – don’t go more than three hours without food as you will be more prone to binging. And as much as I hate to say it, being repetitive is sometimes really comforting. For that initial period, waking up and knowing exactly what I was going to eat today really helped.
The great thing about a meal plan is, that if it gets totally scrapped (like I have this week) finding your way back isn’t so hard. Just make sure you’re being balanced, and distract yourself after eating!
Hey! It’s been a while. I am so sorry – my dissertation threw me into a bit of a tizz and for a while my eating disorder was once again a coping mechanism out of both comfort and habit. But no more! I also seem to have gained a few followers which is lovely – hey folks.
I am feeling really good lately. It’s so, so nice. I think for a lot of people with mental health issues you reach a stage of accepting that your feeling of constant ‘meh’ is about as close to happiness as you will ever come. I have found this is not the case recently. For once I am so excited about tomorrow and the day after that – and I really hope no one settles for the ‘meh’ feeling in a way I once did. You are worth so much more.
So, what’s new with me? My dissertation was handed in, I went on holiday, had a lot of stressful things at once, and my eating fell off the bandwagon. It was hard to get back on that wagon I won’t lie to you. But last week I managed to go five full days without a bulimic incident in sight. Imagine! I ate like a normal person for five days! It was glorious. Last night brought a slip up, but I was straight back on the plan today. And even that is huge; for anyone who has fallen off the bandwagon themselves, it is so easy to think ‘fuck it’ and descend into a week or more of old habits. To not to do so is a huge sign for me, that my hard work is paying off.
I say I ate like a normal person, but not really. I am in the stage of my recovery where meal prep is V I T A L. But honestly, as much of a pain as it is, it has brought a really nice new sense of accomplishment into my life – I finally can picture a life without my ED. I am currently on a meal plan of around 1500 kcals a day. Sticking to this is hard without any slip-ups but currently I seem to be doing well.
And honestly, this is huge for that ‘meh’ feeling. Being able to go to bed and think, ‘honestly Steph, today you did good’ is so awesome. Years and years of beating myself up over how I look and what I eat seem to finally be fading, as I become increasingly keen to give all those thoughts the finger.
If you struggle with the ‘meh’ feeling, I cannot recommend enough that you give yourself some daily goals. They may not be big at first – as someone who used to purge after nearly every meal, even just getting through one meal is a huge accomplishment. Be nice to yourself. Think of all the good things you have done.
This brings me on to my next subject – the “two stars and a wish” method. This was introduced to me as an adult by my lovely best friend. It is something we are probably all familiar with from back when we were kids; the premise is fairly simple and may feel silly, but it really is quite a lovely thing to do. If you have goals for a day, and manage to stick to them, it is a great way to be proud of yourself, or think of where you can improve if you don’t quite manage to meet them.
Before you go to bed each night, sit and either think in your head, or have a conversation with someone (if you can I recommend it, you will get more positive reinforcement,) about two things that went well today. They do not have to be big! ‘I had a nice bus journey, I gave my friend a hug, I wore something I liked.’ And then one thing that your day could have been improved by – but keep it positive. It is a ‘wish’ for tomorrow, not a ‘what went wrong today’.
Like I say, it sounds silly, but I love it. Aside from anything else, it is a wonderful method of making you appreciate the smaller things in life. If you suffer with an eating disorder, you can tailor the method to you eating, which is again a really positive way in which to start thinking about how far you’ve come, and where you can go next. Positive reinforcement really is the best way to get over the “meh” feeling. Start thinking about everything you have achieved, no matter how small, and allow yourself to be proud of it.
Mine today would be –
– I ate three balanced and tasty meals
– I had a good session at the gym that made me feel energised but not exhausted
Wish – I need to slowly start introducing more carbs into my main meal
I hope this helps anyone, and I promise to try and be more active from now on! Got some posts on meal prep and more positive reinforcement planned!
This is going to be a long post incoming! But I feel it’s important to get it all out there. I want this blog to be a positive place for sharing recovery tips, but also want to utilize it as a cathartic writing space for myself. So this post will be about my general thoughts on my ED, how it started, and where I am now. What a time.
As any person with an eating disorder will probably tell you, denial is a huge obstacle to overcome. This is a habit that is often extremely private, and through isolating yourself, you become more reliant on such habits. For many people, including myself, the realization that these habits have become a part of your routine is the first sign this is a problem. For me it took four years to realize this, at which point eating followed by purging was so normal to me, it was hard to consume anything without my ED ‘autopilot’ kicking in. (The ‘ED autopilot’ is something I hope will be the focus of a future blog post).
Part of this, for me, is the fact that I am extremely ashamed. While I appreciate having an eating disorder is a mental illness, and should be treated as such, I have always thought of myself as a relatively logical person. The fact that eating, such a normal part of everyday life, presents a huge struggle for me is shameful. It is something I should be able to do, without much trouble. And yet here I am, having to attend therapy sessions in order to consume food like a ‘normal’ person.
However, perhaps more so than this, is the immeasurable guilt that goes alongside purging food. I am lucky enough to be in the position to prepare healthy and nutritious meals for myself, or even have other people prepare them for me. Yet I cannot keep them down. Surely, it is a case of mind over matter? Do I have no self-control?
And perhaps that fact is the route of so many eating disorders. For many, it is an extreme fear of gaining weight. A phobia so strong you deny your body basic nutrition, putting your physical and mental health at risk while you do so.
Or maybe it starts as a desire to lose weight, like it did for myself, so denying or purging food seems like the best option to do so. It isn’t, I assure you. As I have learned since entering recovery, when you deny your body basic nutrition, you enter a kind of ‘starvation mode’. This means the goal of the ED, i.e. to either lose or maintain a certain weight, is often counter productive with the ED habits, as your body absorbs as much as it possibly can to prevent starvation. So any food you manage to consume is gripped tightly. (I am not a biologist as you can probably tell). This means in particular the habit of binging and purging is extremely detrimental – as ‘binges’ are usually unhealthy food, your body will attempt to absorb as much as it can before you purge. I am, at this point, repeating what many health professionals have told me, but honestly they seem to know what they’re talking about?
So when did all this start?
My first ED behaviors started in Sixth Form, the Christmas of Year 12. It is probably the basic sob story you would expect! Many teenagers experience low confidence and body-image issues at some stage. This doesn’t make them any less valid, and to be honest it is something we should really talk about more. I just unfortunately wasn’t much of a talker; I love to awkwardly joke my way through most interactions, keeping my insecurities for behind-closed-doors. So my ED behaviors became coping mechanisms for extreme insecurity, something I could keep private, that meant I didn’t have to completely compromise my otherwise bubbly demeanor. I convinced myself they were temporary, and that I was still in control. For a coping mechanism I was “in control” of, I spent a lot of my time with it controlling me.
Although objectively I am not that overweight, probably a few stone over where I should be, at school I was the biggest of my friends by far. Combined with braces, bad skin, and red hair, I had quite simply always thought of myself as ugly. I never wore dresses – the first time I did was at my Year 11 Prom, where I felt so uncomfortable the entire evening I couldn’t even enjoy myself. I didn’t wear make-up until Sixth Form, as I distinctly remember thinking to myself ‘it won’t make a difference – what’s the point.’ Self-deprecation is not fun, and looking back on it makes me very sad that I thought so low of myself. It is something that I am continuing to work on, and hope to share tips and advice on how to build up self-confidence.
By the time my ED behaviors started, all my friends had entered into relationships. While that sounds like an exaggeration, I pretty much mean all of them, with me and one close friend being the only single ones left. At that stage, not only did I begin to doubt my looks but my entire identity. Strange how we rely entirely on what others think of us! But this fact, combined with a few cruel comments, was enough to make me first consider purging.
And once I started, unfortunately the journey to Uni only made these habits even easier to maintain. An en-suite bathroom, combined with complete freedom over my diet choices, was enough to make me considerably worse by the end of my first year. At this point, no one knew, and I was happy to keep it that way. By the end of my second year, one of the worst years of my life, I was the worst I had ever been. I had started running, and was actually losing weight for once, which only made my eating habits worse. I had escalated to purging up to six times a day, and throughout the summer of 2018 I found it hard to leave my bed.
That was when I chose to get help. Coming back to Uni after Summer was a difficult decision, but one I am increasingly glad I made. As my previous blog post will state, I perhaps do not look like a stereotypical person with an eating disorder, so was quite worried I would not be taken seriously – this was part of the reason I delayed getting help for so long.
I visited my GP and made use of the University Welfare services, and am now involved in an outpatient recovery program at CEDs (Coventry Eating Disorder Unit). I hope to write more blog posts about this process, and what exactly an outpatient program entails.
But this bring us up to now. I’m now in my third year of University, and am approximately seven months into my recovery. I will detail how I got into recovery in another blog post. BUT, now, I am feeling the most positive I have in years. I am enjoying University, and have had unbelievable support from my friends and family.
While I still have extreme feelings of guilt and shame over my ED, I am no longer in denial. I have come to recognize that these feelings will be present whether you are suffering or in recovery; so may as well be in recovery. And I hope that soon, they won’t be necessary feelings – part of recovery is going to be putting my ED, and everything associated with it, behind me. While that is optimistic, I am very hopeful it will one day be a reality. I can’t wait to share and write down everything I learn.
So for those who are wondering, I am a recovering bulimic. This means I have a habit of “purging” food after I eat it, through a manner of forcing myself to be sick. Sorry, TMI, but at least it’s out of the way!
While I will go into the various details of this later, I just wanted to make a note about the name of my blog. While eating disorders do not discriminate – you can be any size, shape, or weight and have a problematic relationship with food – there is often an association with eating disorders and being of a particularly low weight. This is not a ridiculous association by any means, as most people would associate denying yourself basic nutrition with losing weight, or being of a low weight. However, I have never struggled to put weight on. Part of my reason for developing an eating disorder was that I struggled to lose it (it doesn’t work AT ALL as a manner of losing weight before you ask, and is an awful way of coping with body-image issues. But more on that another time.)
So when I was thinking about naming this blog I wanted something to suggest that I am perhaps not what you would expect, stereo-typically, a person with an eating disorder to look like. Again, I will address this in other blog posts, as it is really important to note that mental health issues of any kind do not discriminate – part of why I waited so long to seek help was the thought that I wouldn’t be taken seriously due to my size. While various doctors have taken to reassuring me BMI is a flawed scale, when something screams “OVERWEIGHT” or “OBESE” at you, it is difficult not to take seriously.
I thought about all manner of words to suggest this was the case. ‘Big’, ‘large’, and various other synonyms. While I would love to reclaim those words as something not to be ashamed of, I couldn’t quite shake that feeling. There is of course the nagging connotations with those words that suggest ‘negative’. And that is probably true! Part of suffering from an eating disorder is living in constant fear of those words, so seeing them every time I make a positive note about recovery probably won’t help anything. Especially as part of this blog will be me learning to accept, and maybe even like my body! So, I tried to pick a word that was relatively neutral.
I thought substantial would do it. The definition of substantial is “of considerable size, worth, or importance.” My hope for starting this blog, and indeed for my recovery, is that one day I can maybe consider myself all three of those things, simultaneously.
I want to also note that this is a recovery blog – and while I will be as honest as I can about my struggles with food, this is ultimately a place for positive thoughts, and to track my progress. I hope to share tips for struggling with mood plans, compassionate thinking, resisting binging urges, and various other tips.