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Archive for September, 2011

I’m starting to get excited about autumn, finally. For a few weeks I lived in denial, insistent upon heading outside in short-sleeved tops and refusing to take an umbrella with me. My Havainas appeared to be surgically attached to my feet, such was my refusal to acknowledge the existence of any other footwear.

But it’s nearing the end of September, I return to uni next week and Christmas cards have begun to appear in the stores. It’s time to accept that summer is over and embrace the new season.

I actually adore autumn. It’s the most exciting part of the year, in some ways. I have my birthday to look forward to, followed by Halloween, Bonfire Night and then Christmas. And from a culinary point of view, it’s also way more interesting than summer. In summer, it seems wrong to make soups and stews and (soy)milky hot drinks. Yes, you can experiment with salad. But nothing beats finding a million and one different uses for squash. Carving up a pumpkin for Halloween and then whipping up a soup and pumpkin pie for dessert.

In the spirit of embracing the colder weather, and taking my inspiration from a friend’s photo on Facebook, I decided to seek out a good recipe for a vegan pumpkin spice latte. I’m fascinated by lattes, and the various flavours on offer. Perhaps because ordinarily I am unable to try them. None of the options that are available in coffee shops are vegan. I make a mean homemade chai latte, but that’s not a real latte.

I take my coffee strong and black, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about milky varieties. But the excitement of autumn, the sight of a delicious-looking, vegan-whip-topped pumpkin latte and my curiosity got the better of me.

The recipe I used can be found here. I didn’t have any vegan whipped cream, which would have just topped it off perfectly. As would the use of a milk frothing tool. But no matter; it turned out delicious and has opened my mind to the possibilities of other flavoured lattes!

This recipe gave me the chance to try out the Grumpy Mule coffee that I was given as part of my leaving present from my placement in July. I had three to choose from; in the spirit of feminism (the placement was at a women’s centre) I chose the Bolivian variety as it was described as ‘supporting the women that produce it’.

I also used my Bialetti Moka Easy for the first time in years. I bought it as a teenager, before I ever really appreciated coffee, and quickly tired of it after a few uses. It lived in a kitchen cupboard until I decided it was time to cut down on the amount of money I was spending in the coffee shop at the end of on my street, and I asked my parents if they still had it. I never realised just how cool this thing is. It’s essentially a kettle for espresso – you fill the bottom with water, pop coffee in the filter in the middle and screw the top on. Turn it on at the plug and about 3 minutes later the fresh coffee is ready to pour.

 

I heart my ridiculously expensive vanilla extract.

As with my chai lattes, the spices don’t dissolve and so some cinnamon-y sludge is inevitable. I guess I could strain them out, but I’m just too lazy.

Et voilà! My first pumpkin spice latte, sans whip (avec floaty bits).

Continuing with the autumn theme, M and I decided to take a walk into Cragg Wood. Apparently there are some old ruins down there that are reputed to have been built by warring brothers who erected competing structures and ever-increasing walls between their plots of land to outdo one another. M grew up playing down there as a child, as one of his best friends lived on the edge of the woods.

We set off and as we passed the house we saw said friend’s car outside. It turns out he was house-sitting for his parents for the weekend. We popped in with the intention of saying hello and then continuing on our walk. But when his girlfriend told us they’d been picking apples in the orchard (yes, his parents have an orchard in their back yard!), I couldn’t resist joining in the fun.

We had to pick our way through the brambles of the blackberries growing below…

 

…but eventually we were rewarded with a tasty selection. We ended up with two full bags, some for cooking and some for eating (they had different varieties growing).

I’m going to have to make one very large pie tomorrow!

I often run through the woods, and I’m going be very tempted from now on to hop over the wall into their garden and help myself! It’d be just the thing after a hilly 18 miler – their house is halfway up the last hill I encounter on my regular long run route.

We never did go on that walk. After collecting the apples we went inside for a cup of tea and a chat, before heading out for something to eat at our favourite restaurant. We’re planning on going down there tomorrow in daylight!

Now, time to go and sort through these bags of fruit…

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One of the side-effects of recovery from my eating disorder was, strangely, weight loss. I had never intended for this to be the case. My ideal image of recovery used to be that I would gain enough control over food to stop binging and purging and as a result shed large amounts of weight. Just naturally. By accident.

But by the time I actually became serious about recovering, my mindset had changed. Weight loss was no longer the goal. It couldn’t be, otherwise it wouldn’t be called recovery. I was ready to relinquish my desire to be thinner, and accept myself for who I was.

Ironically, the changes in behaviour that followed on from this led to me losing weight. I wasn’t binging and purging, I was eating three healthy meals a day plus snacks and I had begun exercising on a regular basis (breaking the all-or-nothing pattern that I followed previously, where I would either exercise obsessively or never). My metabolism went through the roof after years of abuse.

The reason that this weight loss doesn’t concern me is that it had very little effect on me mentally. I didn’t feel the sense of accomplishment that I used to experience when I lost weight during my ED. I didn’t measure my self-esteem by the number on the scale. If I had a good day in the gym, and had lifted heavier weights than the day before, I felt good. If I had baked a delicious cake, I felt good. If I had eaten a healthy meal despite feeling fat, I felt good. I no longer valued weight loss as an achievement.

If it had continued to be important to me, and if I had continued to dislike myself and allow negative thoughts into my head, I wouldn’t have been able to recover. And I also, paradoxically, wouldn’t have lost weight.

Yes, people who have anorexia manage to simultaneously hate themselves and lose weight. The self-hatred fuels their determination, and makes it possible for them to deny their body’s needs to a dangerous and life-threatening extent. But I have never been anorexic. I have engaged in many of the same behaviours, admittedly. I am (was) bulimic, though. My weight fluctuated as I struggled to deny myself and then lost control and went in the opposite direction, all the while hating myself for being a failure.

One day, I asked myself an innocent little question. What if it didn’t matter how much I weighed? Or how thin I looked? I started to look around at other people, who were happy. Many of them were bigger than me. Many were the same size. Their happiness seemed to have no correlation with their body shape whatsoever. So if it didn’t matter to them, was there a chance I could learn not to care myself?

And that was the basis of my recovery. Not deciding that I wasn’t fat after all, and didn’t need to lose weight. But deciding that it didn’t matter whether I was or not. Deciding that I wasn’t going to try and lose weight anymore, even if I did think that I was fat. Of course the eating disorder wasn’t all about weight, and recovering wasn’t just a simple matter of deciding that I was physically good enough. It was about accepting all of me. But the decision to stop trying to change the outside, to stop taking everything out on my body, was the beginning of a process in which I began to learn to like who I was.

I look back over the ten years that I suffered from an eating disorder, and the amount of weight I lost in comparison to the amount of time spent trying to lose it is tiny. There was a gradual upward trend in my late teens which then peaked and became a gradual downward trend in my early twenties. But it was mostly up, down, up, down and up again. And every time I thought that it would be different. I would lose control, and binge and purge, and then the next day it would be a fresh start. I would come up with some radical plan.  At one point I began reading up on fasting, convinced that it was the answer I had been looking for. I was never one for fad diets, but I would always dream up some ridiculous plan which was impossible to maintain and always resulted in more binging and purging. Each perceived failure led to more self-hatred, which in turn fuelled the eating disorder.

It’s almost embarrassing now, when I look back. How could I be so convinced that ‘this time would be different’? Why, when I had spent many years trying unsuccessfully to force my body into what I considered to be the ideal shape, would this time be any different? But every time I broke down and binged, or every time I gained weight back that I had previously lost, I would believe those words. It will be different.

And do you know why it never was? Because – and I only learned this in recovery – if you continue to indulge in behaviours that are damaging to your body and mind, and if you constantly choose to put yourself down, you will remain trapped in the cycle of an eating disorder. If your whole life centres around trying to lose weight, you will not be successful. And this is true not only for eating disorder sufferers, but for your average yo-yo dieter as well.

And when I say that you are choosing to ‘indulge’ in such behaviours, I mean it. It is indulgent. It’s what you want to do. It’s the easy way out. It might not feel like it at the time. Starving yourself certainly isn’t easy. But for someone with an eating disorder, it’s easier than NOT starving yourself. Waking up, feeling fat and choosing to severely restrict your food intake that day isn’t easy, but it’s easier than feeling fat, hating yourself and choosing to ignore those feelings and eat anyway.

So you’re actually more likely to lose weight in recovery than with an eating disorder. But of course you can’t choose to recover on that basis, because then it wouldn’t be true recovery. It’s a tricky situation. You have to be willing to genuinely give up on the quest of the ideal body. You have to accept – even if at first you don’t truly believe it – that your ideal doesn’t exist. If it doesn’t exist, there’s nothing to strive for. If there’s nothing to strive for, then there’s no reason why you can’t get up and eat breakfast, and then lunch, and then dinner. It also means that you have to find other ways to occupy your mind. You have to inject meaning into your life, to fill the void.

It’s not easy.

The way it came together for me was that I happened to lose weight. This has more to do with my recovery igniting inside me a passion for long distance running. It’s very common to lose weight when you take up running. For many people this is a good thing. For me, it was incidental. It’s not why I took it up. And the fact that I lost weight while trying to recover complicates things somewhat. Because while I was trying to accept myself at the weight I was, and eating more consistently than I had in years, my body was changing. So how do I know that I really accepted myself?

I think the answer to that is, I haven’t. Not completely. Because it’s an ongoing process. But I know that I’m on the way. I know this by the fact that I have continued to eat plenty of healthy food on a regular basis. I also know it because when I am upset about something I no longer take the sadness out on myself. In fact, not only have I stopped using food as a way of dealing with stress in my life, I have also stopped taking it out on myself in other ways. I am better at identifying negative thoughts, challenging them, and changing them than I ever was while deep in the midst of an eating disorder.

All because I started by making the crucial decision that no matter how fat I felt, or how fat I (thought I) looked, I would eat three meals a day.

And it’s because I’ve been there myself that when I see people still struggling with an ED, and repeatedly beating themselves up for not losing weight (then losing it through unhealthy means, and inevitably gaining it back again), I know this time won’t be different. It’ll be like every other time. As long as your self-hatred is the root of your thoughts and behaviours, you will not lose weight. And so it’s quite honestly pointless to try. In fact, once you realise this and stop trying, you’re likely to discover a completely new side to yourself that you didn’t know existed. A positive, happy, strong side.

Just stop trying. Give it up. You’ve spent years in this cycle, why do you think that it’ll be any different this time? You’ve spent years trying to make yourself feel better by losing weight. It hasn’t worked (if it had, you wouldn’t be feeling this way). Why not take a risk and try something new? Try NOT losing weight. What’s stopping you? If you already think you’re fat, and if you already think you’re a failure, and if what you’ve been doing so far hasn’t worked… really it isn’t a risk at all to try something completely new.

That’s what I’d say if I had the chance to talk to me, years ago.

I probably wouldn’t have listened anyway. I would have probably been extremely indignant at the suggestion that,

a) I wasn’t successful at losing weight

and

b) I had any choice in the matter of whether to continue in my misery.

So, as tempting as it is, I know that there’s no point sharing this with those who are stuck in that cycle. At best it’s futile, and at worst it comes off as patronising. Which of course isn’t my intention. I just feel like I have this information, this secret, and now that I’ve found it out other people should know too. Of course I was once in their shoes, and I didn’t listen. I didn’t want to. I chose my eating disorder. And that’s a completely legitimate choice that people should be free to make.

 

Enough of this aimless musing.

 

I made cookies today, courtesy of a delicious recipe that I came across here. I had already planned to take a trip into town to buy my favourite brand of vegan ice-cream, and seeing those photos inspired me.

The cookies are indeed delicious, although I made them too small and consequently couldn’t fit them all in the oven properly because there were just too many. So I flapped around with the oven door open and as a result it cooled it down. So when the timer went off they weren’t quite ready, and I left them in longer. Too much longer. This isn’t the first time I’ve over-baked cookies. It’s a habit of mine.

And so now I have some very tasty but far too crunchy garam masala cookies to go with my Hunky Punky Chocolate ice-cream this evening (I realise that vanilla is the standard ice-cream sandwich flavour, but I just couldn’t resist the chocolate).

 

 

Time to go eat me some cookies!

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So I was glancing over my recent entries and I noticed two things.

 

1. I tend to write awfully long entries.

2. There aren’t enough pictures.

 

Yes, this is a space for me to vent when needed and work through whatever issues I’m having. And it’s for me, no one else, and how it looks really doesn’t matter. But I don’t think it’s doing the best job of representing my lighter side right now. And there is such a thing as too much self-analysis. As important as recovery is to me at the moment, there are so many other things in my life and I think they deserve a little space in here.

So in light of this, I am sharing a collection of things that have made me happy lately. And really, just looking at these photos serves as a reminder of all the wonderful things that exist out there, and how great life can be when you’re choosing to participate in it.

 

Does it count as cliff diving if you’re bombing?

 

The ‘Bog of Doom’ during Hellrunner! The look on my face is significantly less impressive than last year, possibly due to the fact that it was about 10 degrees warmer this time around and I knew what was coming!

 

I’ve been baking like a madwoman lately. I think I just have too much time on my hands while I wait to start uni again. I baked polenta muffins again in my new silicone muffin cases and they looked so pretty I just had to take a photo. This time I experimented by adding lemon zest and raisins – they were lovely.

 

That’s all for now. No lengthy ramblings this evening!

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I was thinking earlier about a conversation I had with my sister, shortly after she had given birth to my nephew. It happened when we were shopping for outfits to wear to his christening, and the discussion turned to her post-baby body. She expressed a dislike of her new figure and a desire to regain her former shape as soon as possible.

As I often do in these sort of conversations, I immediately began to counter what she was saying. I insisted that society’s pressure on women to look a certain way and to return unnaturally quickly to their pre-baby weight was bullshit and the fact that she had a beautiful son made the changes that her body had gone through so special and meaningful, that none of it mattered. I suggested that what she should really value her body for – and what I choose to measure my body on – is its strength, what it does for you, the life it provides.

I don’t remember her exact response, but it had something to do with her body not being strong any more because she wasn’t finding time to get to the gym and do weights, and she hadn’t been a regular runner for a couple of years due to injury.

I felt that she had missed the point somewhat. Now, I should point out here that my sister is an ordinarily rational human being. In fact, she is a clinical psychologist by profession and is therefore trained to recognise and challenge unhealthy, negative and distorted beliefs. Except when it comes to her own life.

Despite the fact that they have never really been talked about and aren’t bad enough to warrant any intervention, my sister clearly has some issues with food. Admittedly, while in the past she has been too thin, these days she eats enough and her weight is stable. However, she will never order dessert, she will always order the healthiest/lowest calorie item on the menu, and she skips meals supposedly due to being too time-poor to eat them. And while my parents acknowledge this to me, they will never mention it to her. In my view, she gets away with it without being challenged. I have always resented her for this, perhaps because while I saw her openly eating too little during my eating disordered days, I had to go to great lengths to hide my own behaviours. Or maybe because she was always the thin sister, and I was jealous. She has never seemed to have any issues with self control or discipline. She achieved academically, she has a doctorate, she never overeats and she exercises near enough every day. She never lets herself go. In addition to this she goes out of her way to help people, she always remembers people’s appointments and special occasions and makes sure she acknowledges them, and she takes the lead on present-choosing for our parents and brother. To the extent that upon seeing the birthday cake that I baked, my mum turned to my sister and exclaimed ‘Oh and you found time to do this on top of everything else as well!’ I reclaimed credit for the cake, and I joked with my mum about her assumption.

But it proves my point. I’m the younger sister, I’ve caused my parents more stress over the years. I was a temperamental teenager (although who isn’t?), I got tattoos, I got engaged young, moved in with him and then broke up two weeks later before taking off on a trip around Canada and the US on my parents’ money. While other people were working to afford to travel, I was behaving like a spoilt (and rather uncontrollable) little rich girl. Having spent my mid to late teen years in self-destruct mode, and having become increasingly isolated during my final year of high school, I broke off all contact with my friends as I was convinced they didn’t like me anyway. All the while, my sister had a stable relationship, a house, a good job and a million friends.

I have always been the argumentative one. Particularly when it comes to my dad, with whom I have a close but temperamental relationship. We are so similar in so many ways, and I inherited his quick temper. I have also inherited his strong political views, and my journey towards veganism and involvement in charity organisations mirrors his vegetarianism and days of CND campaigning. More recently, I have also begun to share his love of running. We have run together, and we chat easily as our feet pound side by side along trails and up hills and into forests. He has passed onto me a deep appreciation of nature and the outdoors. And when we get on, our conversations are lively and engaging and informative. But I have always known how to push his buttons, and when our identical tempers flare up simultaneously we are explosive (I will never let him forget the day he threw a shoe at my head… he always maintains that it was thrown in a moment of anger and was never meant to actually hit me). Of course, the arguments are over as quickly as they begin and we always make up with an ‘I love you’ (but often not before both appealing to my mum as mediator, more like scrapping siblings than father and daughter!).

But the fact remains that when there is tension in our family it often seems to come from me. And my sister’s calm, can’t-do-enough-to-help attitude seems to highlight this even further.

And when I say I have often felt like the ‘fat’ sister, I mean that in so many more ways than just in the physical sense. To my eating disordered self, ‘fat’ equated with any negative quality. So not only was I physically larger, I was also more selfish, less thoughtful, more annoying, more argumentative, more of a burden to our parents and less disciplined. And I rolled this all up into one simple yet powerful word: fat. In doing so, I provided myself with a ready-made solution to all of these negative feelings. Lose weight. Lose weight and not only will you be physically smaller (therefore better), you will be a better and more worthy person in every way.

Fast forward to today. Physically, I am very similar to my sister nowadays. Perhaps smaller since she had her son. Fortunately, it matters a lot less to me than it used to. Now I measure my worth by other things that are unrelated to weight (I shouldn’t be measuring myself at all, but that’s a wholly different discussion to be had). I also feel a lot more successful, and capable. I feel strong. I acknowledge that I am different to my sister, but I appreciate that who I am is no better or worse. We are individuals, and we are both beautiful in our own ways.

But that sibling rivalry just will not disappear completely. And as she talked about wanting her fitness and strength back, and feeling that she lacked confidence in her body as a result of its increased size, I tried my utmost to appear as the rational, sensible one. I wanted to be the one with her head screwed on, for once. I wanted my sister to envy me for how healthy I am. I want her to see me eat, so carefree, so easily able to indulge yet maintain a desirable figure whilst apparently paying no attention to it whatsoever.

Yet deep down, I know that if I gained weight, even if it was after something so wonderful as a baby, it wouldn’t be okay. I wouldn’t be okay with it. I would be thinking the same thoughts as her. And for that I feel so angry towards myself. This shouldn’t be about trying to better her, but it is. I’ll be honest about that. Now that I can’t beat her at being eating disordered I want to beat her at being recovered. I want to be healthier than her, and I want everyone (including her) to see it.

And so when no one challenges her at meal times, and she seems not to mind that she’s missing out on a delicious dessert or that she isn’t trying a new item on the menu instead of sticking to her safe favourites, it bothers me. Not only do I want to be recovered, but I want everyone to see it. And I want recognition! I want my parents praise for being their beautiful, strong, healthy daughter. I want to them to see me being successful after so many years of depression and self-destruction. I feel like she gets all of the other brownie points. I want this one.

And of course I see how irrational this is. I allowed myself to write this with complete honesty, because I need to talk about it and work through it all. I have never acknowledged this fully, and I need to do so if I am to make any progress. The right thing to do here would be to talk to my family, including my sister, about these feelings. What stops me? Partly fear, shyness, my desire not to let my family know that I have these weaknesses. And partly because I don’t want to give her the satisfaction of being the better sister.

It’s sort of a sense of injustice that I feel really. Recovery is so hard for me, and I have to work at it. And so when we sit down to a meal, and I consume plenty but not too much, and I allow myself dessert, and I choose what I want to eat based on taste rather than calories, I almost feel that I deserve some recognition. But to everyone else, I am no different to her. She pretends that she’s choosing the same dish as last time because she just likes it ‘so much’. Or that she’s not eating dessert because she’s too full (even when we’re ALL having some). She just doesn’t like cheese, she doesn’t like dairy, she likes things dry, she doesn’t like butter, and she’ll eat breakfast at work because she just doesn’t have time to sit down and eat it at home.

And no one calls her on it. So here I am, clearly winning at being the healthier sister… where’s my prize?

These are my true feelings. And they’re brutal. I’m not proud of them. But it’s not until writing this that I even realised the extent of the issues that I have with my sister. I also didn’t realise the root of them. I sort of buried it all under a cloak of resentment and anger and snide remarks during family meals. I never really analysed it before. In doing so, I’ve learned that the quest for my parents’ approval motivates a lot of what I do, despite the fact that they have always been very loving and affectionate, and have made it clear in no uncertain terms that they are proud of all three of us no matter what. And it seems that I believe their love and pride is finite, and it may only ever be dealt out to either me or my sister (my brother, interestingly, doesn’t feature in this equation at all). So I fight for it, and I fight in the areas where I believe I have the most chance of winning. I may not remember to text my mum after every appointment she has, and I may not be the one who always buys the presents (but then historically she had to, because for a number of years I was just a child and she was an adult). But I’m good at recovery, I’m good at having a healthy attitude to food and my body. Or at least pretending to.

But what good does it do to pretend? I’m only cheating myself. Perhaps an open and honest conversation with my sister, in which I admit to sharing many of the same anxieties as she does but also share with her what I’m learning about how to love and appreciate my body might do us both more good. It might help her to know that I understand how she feels, and she might benefit from the insight I’m gaining in my recovery journey. And perhaps I can start seeing her as an ally rather than the competition.

I’ll be honest, this isn’t likely to happen any time soon. It’s easy to write about, and not so easy to do.

But it’s all food for thought.

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Apparently I can only update my blog with the help of a large americano, in the quietly bustling surroundings of a coffee shop. That’s why it’s taken me this long to post again. And it’s also why, having taken the bus to a place nearby that has wi fi (rather than opting for one of the three cafes right by my house), I am less than impressed that two schoolchildren have just sat down next to me with their mum! I shouldn’t be such a grumpy old woman, but I can’t help it.

Perhaps it’s a good thing that it’s been a while since I last updated. Previously I wrote about returning from holiday with a renewed enthusiasm for recovery, and I hadn’t yet resumed my calorie counting behaviours (and was hoping to avoid doing so at all). Now I have another week under my belt so to speak, and I can really look at how things are going.

(Side note: it turns out this particular coffee shop is popular with a number of families whose children attend the local primary school. Note to self: do not come here again after 3pm!)

I am proud to say that I haven’t counted calories once since returning from my holiday. I’ve caught myself trying to estimate at times, and immediately stopped my brain in its tracks. They say knowledge is power, but for me it’s my undoing. After many years of having an eating disorder I have so much knowledge about the calorie content of different foods that at times I catch myself doing frantic calculations. It can be hard to ‘un-know’ this information, but I’m trying. I did consider covering up or cutting out the nutritional info on all of the foods I have in my cupboards, but that is neither necessary nor realistic. Actually, I am perfectly capable of reigning myself in when need be.

So it’s been… gosh, three weeks?… since I last truly ate according to numbers rather than hunger. I haven’t gained weight (although this shouldn’t matter), the world hasn’t stopped turning, and I haven’t been gorging myself uncontrollably each day.

If anything, I consume less when I’m not counting calories. This is a strange quirk that I think I touched on in my last post. I think when I am relying on calorie counting I eat right up to whatever amount I consider to be acceptable or reasonable, regardless of hunger. I can eat past the point of satiety because I don’t need to rely on my hunger signals to ensure I don’t overeat; I know exactly how much I’ve eaten. The fact that I’m vegan and a sizable portion of my diet consists of fruit and vegetables means that I can consume relatively large amounts of food without taking in too many calories. There is nothing inherently wrong with this of course; had I never had an eating disorder, ignoring my hunger signals would probably not be an issue. People do it all the time, and they don’t feel bad for it (or even notice).

The problem for me is that I see this as the slippery slope back towards bulimia. So whether it’s muffins, or ice cream, or fruit, I have to be careful not to over-consume.

Lately, since I stopped relying on numbers and started trusting my hunger, I have found that I daren’t eat when I’m not hungry, because then I do risk overeating. So I am forced to eat only when my body asks for it. This has initiated a constant dialogue between my body and my mind, as I frequently check in with my body to find out what it wants and needs. As a result, when I fancy something more indulgent or higher in calories, I feel completely able to allow myself a treat because I know I am consuming the right amount at all other times.

One of the resolutions I made on holiday was to set little goals for myself, to try and tackle the areas of recovery that I’m still struggling with. As far as calorie counting goes I feel like I’ve gone way further with it than I imagined I would. I had planned to introduce some non-counted meals, to gradually wean myself off counting altogether. Part of this plan involved letting Matt cook dinner some nights. As I’ve done away with calorie counting completely, I haven’t needed to set this as a goal because it’s been easy!

So far he’s made a delicious pasta, we’ve eaten paella at my parents’ house (his idea) and last night he made stuffed aubergine with patatas bravas. It was so good that I’ve demanded it again tonight!

I tend to divide my food issues into two categories or behaviours: calorie counting and weighing. Now that I’m well on the way to eating normally, the obvious thing to do is to work on the weighing.

Okay, so I’m going to just jump in and set myself a goal here. I’m going to have three No-Weigh Days a week. Yes, that deserves capitalization. I can choose which days to (not) do it on. So if I know there will be days I might feel a stronger need to weigh myself, I will still have the freedom to do so. But at the same time, I can start to introduce some days which won’t begin with the scale. I am rather ashamed to admit that this is such a big problem for me, because I honestly believe, right to my very core, that weight shouldn’t matter and nobody should measure their self-worth according to such an arbitrary number. Yet I continue to do so.

I would like to be able to stop weighing myself completely, to throw out the scale and never look back. I hear of people doing this with ritualistic scale-smashing ceremonies. When I say that I don’t know if that would work for me, I don’t know if I’m making excuses and letting my ED rule, or if it’s perfectly reasonable to try doing things more gradually.

A crucial part of recovery is learning who you are, and developing an ability to trust yourself. As a result, I can usually tell when I’m making excuses or lying to myself. I also know a lot more about what I need and want. And I think I’m ready, at this point, to trust that I know what I need more than anybody else. More than any therapist, or self-help book, or recovery method out there. I have enough confidence in myself now to know what works for me and what doesn’t. It’s very similar to running in some ways. You can follow a training plan, particularly when you are a beginner, and it will tell you when to run and how far. And it is often very helpful to have this guidance. Some days you don’t feel like running, and you start to make excuses, but then you see the training plan and you see it written down, set in stone, and it gives you that little bit of extra motivation.

But then you get injured, or one day your legs just don’t feel right. And the longer you go on running, the better you get at recognising these days, these times when you genuinely need a rest and are not just making excuses. And no matter what the training plan says, you have to do what’s right for your body. Getting better at running is a balancing act between training hard enough that your body adapts, and resting when you need it. A training plan will only take you so far; after a while, you must learn to recognise what your body is telling you and learn to listen. In the same way that I have developed a dialogue with my body in order to respond to my hunger appropriately, I have entered into a similar conversation when it comes to running. I am intimately tuned into every twinge, niggle, and tightness that I feel and I am able to recognise when I need to rest, stretch, ice or when I can keep running.

Saying that, I dragged myself out for a reluctant three mile run earlier – reluctant because I wanted to run further, but stopped myself. The fact that I did this is a good example of a time that I listened to my body. But really, the fact that I ran at all shows a complete disregard for it. I shouldn’t have run, I should have cross-trained instead (I could have easily cycled). My injury has been threatening to flare up again, and with a 10K race in three or four weeks I need to be careful that it doesn’t reach the point of me not being able to run.

Speaking of racing, I finally cut up all of my race t-shirts yesterday. It’s something I’d been meaning to do for a while. They were taking up so much space in my drawer, but I didn’t want to throw them out because each one holds a little memory for me. I have a ritual now, after every race. I keep the medal, if there is one. I keep the race number. And I keep the t-shirt. Anyway, to solve the problem I came up with the idea of cutting out a little square and keeping it, then perhaps sewing them together to make a continuous quilt or blanket. So I grabbed them out of the drawer, and hacked away at them all until I had a little collection of fabric squares.

Two years’ worth of races, condensed into a tiny little collection in the middle of my living room floor. It doesn’t do them justice, really. The effort that went into each race was so immense. And they all hold such unique memories.

The 2010 Kildare half marathon was my first ever race. I had already signed up for the Great North Run in September, despite never having run outside (at that point I was still only up to an hour of running at a time on the treadmill). When my dad and brother (experienced runners) started talking about doing the Kildare race together, I got jealous and wanted to join in too. They weren’t sure – I would only have been running for four months (three if you don’t count the treadmill runs). It seemed ambitious. But I had a new-found determination and drive since beginning the recovery journey, and nothing seemed impossible. So I signed up.

Three months later and there I was, toeing the start line with butterflies wreaking havoc with my stomach and my mind full of self-doubt. I had a target time of under two hours, but secretly I wanted to do it in under 1:55. The gun went off, but it was a while before I started running as I was starting the race mid-pack. We shuffled along until my group reached the start line and then off we went. I picked up the pace, but cautiously. I had heard about what happened to people who went out too fast, and I was determined to play it safe.

A few miles in and I began to settle into it. The nerves dissipated and I just focused on putting one foot in front of the other. The further I ran the greater my pride became. I began to reflect on my journey from that first run to where I was now. Mere months beforehand I was struggling with an eating disorder. I was abusing my body, and I was miserable. And now here I was, powering along with strength in my legs and a smile on my face. As I reached the final third of the race tears stung my eyes and I relished every single step that I took as I ran further and further away from the ED. That was how I saw it. I was running towards recovery.

I crossed the line in 1:53:54. I had done it. Not only had I completed a half marathon having only been running a matter of months, I had done it in a time that, although I was aiming for it, I didn’t quite believe I could manage.

One year later, and I lined up again at the start of the 2011 race. A whole year had passed. A year further along in recovery, and strength gained both emotionally and physically. This time there was a different atmosphere. I wasn’t soaking up the camaraderie, I wasn’t shuffling along mid-pack. I fought my way towards the front and when the gun went off I was one of the first few to cross the start line. This time I didn’t merely run; I raced.

I finished in a time of 1:31:05, the second female to cross the line. I was immediately met by a presenter from Kildare TV, who promptly held a microphone in front of my face and started interviewing me! One year later, and I had taken over 20 minutes off my time. Right before I stepped on the podium to collect my medal and prize, my dad finished the full marathon. He had run it in a time of 3 hours and 53 minutes, his first marathon at the age of 63. We hugged, tears welling up in both of our eyes.

The same race, two years apart. Such different experiences, but both wonderful and joyful in their own ways.

Running has taken on a different meaning for me in the last year. It began as a simple hobby that I wanted to improve at, but never expected to excel in. I was happy to run in the middle of the pack during races. I never imagined that I would be starting near the front. I never knew that I would actually be good at it. And now, when I race, I am not aiming to simply finish. I am aiming to win. It almost scares me, when I stand on the start line with thousands of others, that my goal of finishing in the top three or five women is completely realistic. M used to joke with me prior to every race, saying ‘Make sure you win!’. These days he says the same thing, but now he means it. And when I call him up and announce my position, which this year has never been less than fourth, his surprise has begun to fade and what used to seem ridiculous is now almost expected of me.

I am so lucky to be in this position, to have found something that I am good at and enjoy doing so much. And of course, I enjoy the fact that I have a talent. It is a source of pride for me.

But I will always remember that first race. It didn’t matter how good I was. I wasn’t comparing myself to others. In many ways, I was more a winner then than I am now. Because every time I ran, I felt that I had won. And it certainly felt that way during the half marathon. I don’t know who won it, nor do I care. Because I won that day too. I won my own battle with an eating disorder. I would not have been able to run that far, or that fast, without taking care of my body and eating properly. Every single mile of that race was a little victory.

I don’t get that so much these days, as recovery becomes more routine. I sometimes forget to celebrate the little wins. And I think it’s important to try and recognise these. However routine it might seem to get up, eat breakfast, wait until I’m hungry and then eat lunch, I need to celebrate my ability to do so. Because I have ten years of abuse to make up for. For every time that I starved myself, or purged, or cut, or had a negative thought about myself, I owe my body threefold. For every meal I denied myself, I should celebrate a meal provided. For every time I pushed myself in the gym for three hours without food, I should celebrate my ability to refuel adequately after a run. For every time I ate beyond my body’s natural limit and purged, I deserve to celebrate my ability to recognise when I am full and stop eating.

All of these things are so routine to most people, and it’s easy to forget that once upon a time they were missing from my life. But I don’t want to forget. Because then I might take these moments for granted. And I want to savour every delicious bite, every lovely feeling of just-enough, every strong, fast run that I couldn’t have done without that big filling breakfast. These tiny little moments happen every day, and while they go unnoticed to most people, I am lucky enough to know what life was like without them. Consequently, I am able to appreciate life in a much fuller and richer way for it.

In my world, every meal should be like the end of the race. I finish it smiling, and someone hangs a medal around my neck. Everyone is clapping and smiling, and congratulating me. And sometimes, after a particularly tough meal or having worked through a difficult patch in my recovery, I even get a trophy. Imagine! It would be a little crazy and impractical if that was the case. But it doesn’t stop me from having my own little celebration every time I successfully fight my eating disorder. I’m going to make a mental note, the next time I successfully listen to my body or beat my ED in some way, to take a moment to hand myself a metaphorical medal and appreciate how far I’ve come.

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I’ve put off posting in here lately. On holiday I couldn’t wait to get back home and write in it (although I wasn’t that desperate to leave the 27 degree weather and the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks by our apartment while we slept). But for some reason I’ve delayed my first post-holiday post. Every day I had the intention to write in it but found some excuse not to.

So today I have brought myself to the deli by my house, ordered a cup of coffee and forced myself to get started. Because I just have so much to say. My holiday changed a lot for me and I need to talk about it. And I think part of the reason I avoided this blog was that I didn’t want to talk about it. I stepped on the plane in Menorca feeling inspired, refreshed, sunny and happy. And when we landed in England and stepped through the front door, the reality of every day life hit me hard. Without the distraction of sun, sea and sand my weight became an issue again. I felt anxious about having gained weight, and I have found it very hard to love my body lately.

As I said in the last post, I began the holiday fraught with worry about weight gain and loss of control. Despite my agreement with M that I owed him five Euro every time I mentioned fat, calories or weight, we quickly slipped back into our routine pattern of me seeking reassurance and using him as a tool through which to vent my frustrations, and him becoming increasingly annoyed at having to repeatedly remind me that I am not fat, I am not gaining weight, I do deserve to treat myself…

But although nothing appeared to have changed on the surface, underneath changes were definitely happening. For one, I had no scale and was forced to cope with eating without knowing my weight. Not only that, but I couldn’t count calories so I had to eat what I thought was the right amount. And I couldn’t rely on familiar foods either; being on holiday meant that I was eating completely different things to normal, many of which were unhealthy and indulgent.

This combination of not weighing myself or my food is something that I have successfully avoided throughout my recovery. I have found numerous reasons not to make the transition into intuitive eating and I have always insisted that when I did take the step, I would have to continue weighing myself for reassurance until I felt strong enough to stop that too.

Well here I was, eating chips for lunch by the pool and drinking cocktails in the middle of the day. I had to get up in the morning and smile and be happy and eat breakfast, and then put on a skimpy bikini and lie there in front of other people, all without the reassurance of having stepped on the scale.

I could write for hours about this so I will try and stick to the main points. What did I learn over the course of the holiday?

Well, for one I learnt that actually it wasn’t that hard to not know my weight. Okay, honestly it was harder than I expected in the beginning. But after that, when I woke up in the morning I didn’t feel like a whale. After a few days of waking up feeling as if my body was rapidly expanding before my very eyes, I began to realise that my weight was in fact stable and I felt more able to trust it.

What else did I learn? I learnt that after the initial anxiety I felt by being presented with all of these new food choices and having the freedom to eat whatever I wanted without counting the calories in my food, I was much better at eating according to hunger than I thought. I made a conscious decision to let myself go a bit wild if I wanted to, because I knew that I needed to let the excitement (and fear) of unlimited food options wear off. So I indulged in chips at random times throughout the day, ice lollies when I felt like it and banana daquiris pretty much any time from 12pm.

I found that drinking alcohol is more fun than I remembered. I learnt that running is also fun when you do it just because. I ran three times while I was away, and each time it was because I woke up and thought ‘What a beautiful day to go for a run!’. And I ran as far as I felt like running. And I had no guilt.

In short, I rediscovered a little bit of my passion for life. I don’t think I realised just how constrained I have been by all of my rules and rigidity. I tried my hardest to keep my cool with M (I’m famously moody, which I think largely arises out of my need to be in control of everything) and I made a big effort to be the girlfriend he deserves to have. Someone who can match his carefree personality, live as each moment comes and not spend so much time planning and worrying about the future.

In an effort to save money (and because Menorca doesn’t cater at all for vegans!), we ate in the apartment quite a few times. Instead of insisting on being the one doing the cooking, as I would at home, I asked M if he wanted to cook. He was happy to do so, and made some absolutely delicious meals for us. We agreed that he would cook more often when we got home. I made a promise to myself that I would let him.

I left Menorca with all of these good intentions. I wasn’t going to weigh myself right away (I agreed to wait until at least Monday), and I was going to continue not to count calories. We had a busy weekend to return to, with a race on Saturday morning, a family meal and his end of season fancy dress party at the cricket club. I was determined to try and bring some of that careless holiday spirit home with me.

Did I manage?

A tough question to answer. I think so. I didn’t weigh myself on Friday. M and I ate out at our favourite tapas place (you wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to find veggie tapas in Menorca!) to soften the blow of returning to rainy England. I didn’t weigh myself on Saturday. I dragged myself out of bed early, had breakfast and went off to Delamere Forest to compete in a gloriously muddy and slightly insane trail race for which I had done absolutely no training. I got very dirty, and wet, and I loved every minute of it. Afterwards, as I stood in my hot shower trying to scrub dried mud off my legs, I felt thankful to my body for being strong enough to take part in such ridiculous pursuits, and thoughts of weight and calories seemed a million miles away. When your body allows you to do what you love, its size suddenly seems so irrelevant. To reduce its meaning to the amount of fat it carries is to miss the point. It’s offensive, in fact.

Of course these moments of clarity do not always last, and in this case it was fleeting because my thoughts then turned to the meal I was having later that evening with my family, before heading out in a stomach-baring fancy dress costume. Would I look okay? Would I be able to silence the negative thoughts about my bloated stomach that are inevitable after a big meal and enjoy myself?

I did, to an extent. From what I remember. I don’t remember a great deal quite honestly, and that is a very good thing because it means I got drunk for the first time in goodness-knows-how-long. I remember jumping on one of Matt’s friends after he stole my specs. I remember dancing wildly and hitting people with my cane. I remember sharing with J (the girlfriend of M’s team mate and our neighbour) my brutally honest opinion of some of the other girlfriends (turns out I’m a bitch when I drink!). And I vaguely remember flirting outrageously with M, throwing myself at him when we got home and then being put to bed with towels and a sick bucket.

This brings us to Sunday. So far I had continued to eat according to hunger, no calorie counting allowed. I still didn’t know what I weighed. And despite being only one day away from my minimum permitted ‘weigh day’ I completely caved. I jumped on the scale. I couldn’t handle it any longer. I could see fat everywhere, I had convinced myself that I was significantly larger, and I was NOT okay with it.

I know why I shouldn’t have weighed myself. I know that the point is not to prove that I can eat in a relaxed way and not gain weight, but to show that it doesn’t matter if I gain weight. Weight doesn’t matter. And I say this to other people all the time. But do I practice what I preach?

Apparently not. I spent Sunday moping around prodding myself in the stomach and obsessing about my weight gain. So yes, I did gain a little weight. Not as much as I first thought, as I discovered when I stepped on the scale the next day. And yes, I stepped on the scale the day after that. And this morning.

So the weighing is back. And I’m not proud of that. But I am absolutely determined to continue with some of the god work that I started whilst away. Last night I asked M to cook dinner, and he made yet another delicious meal. I enjoyed being cooked for. He served me what looked like a large portion and I initially freaked out, because he served us both the same amount (he’s a foot taller and is double my weight) and I started panicking that I shouldn’t be eating the same as him and clearly I had no idea about portion control and OH MY GOODNESS I’M SO OUT OF CONTROL. I quickly shut up though, and resolved to eat slowly (I’ve decided that I’m going to try and spend at least 15 minutes on each meal… normally, despite spending over an hour cooking most night, I polish my dinner off in less than 10) and stop if I got full.

I realised that I had had enough with about a quarter of the meal left, so I firmly set my fork down and put the food in the fridge. Later on, when I felt like my dinner had digested and I could happily enjoy a snack, I finished it off.

See? It’s not that hard.

I have found that as soon as you stop counting calories, you’re forced to rely on your hunger signals in a way that is just not possible when you’re planning meals according to numbers. And it’s not like I restrict the calories I eat. In fact, I suspect I eat more when calorie counting because I can eat when I’m not hungry in the knowledge that I’m still eating the correct amount because I factor it into my total for the day. Without that reassurance, I don’t feel quite so confident about eating unnecessarily. It seems silly to eat when I’m not hungry. Because then how do I know when to stop? I can’t use calories to moderate my eating. Hunger is all that I have.

Which is why I haven’t eaten the protein bar that I brought to the coffee shop with me. I had a little inner battle with myself prior to setting off, because I often like to enjoy a snack with my morning coffee. But I was still satisfied from breakfast. And it wasn’t long before lunch. What to do? I brought it with me and then decided not to eat it. Then I decided that actually, I would eat it after all. Fuck it. Then I decided not to.

(All of this energy invested in a simple decision about a protein bar… imagine the potential I could unlock in myself if I invested all of this brain-power elsewhere!)

It’s now lunchtime, and I am beginning to feel my appetite stirring. I like this feeling. I enjoy knowing that I am able to allow my hunger to develop, and then satisfy it. All without reading a single label. And I am glad that I didn’t eat a snack I didn’t really want. My brain wanted it, my tastebuds wanted it, but my stomach said actually, I’m not ready for anything else yet. Now I can go home and have a delicious lunch.

And so that’s me caught up. This wasn’t my most inspiring blog post, admittedly. I just had far too much to say. All of these thoughts have been building up inside my head for the last two weeks and they just came tumbling out all at once. I usually like to try and present my ramblings in something that resembles a logical order. But today, the most important thing was just to write. To get it all out. To put those thoughts down that had been overwhelming me and keeping me away from my blog.

One more thing that I just have to mention, as unrelated as it may appear to be, is topless sunbathing. Yes. It turns out that continental Europe has a much more liberal attitude to the naked female form that we do here in the UK. I have witnessed it before but I guess I hadn’t paid much attention because it was an eye-opener when M and I arrived at the beach and the majority of the women there were walking around topless. Women of all shapes and sizes. Single women, those with their boyfriends, and those with their husbands and children. And suddenly it seemed so prudish to be covering myself up. There were men everywhere, and they didn’t seem remotely fazed by it. Of course! Why would they be? If you make breasts into some forbidden object of desire, things that must be hidden at all times, everyone’s attitude towards them changes. If they’re always on display, they quickly become boring and unremarkable. This was evidenced by the number of girls chatting away casually to male friends, topless. Playing with their kids, topless. Jumping in the sea from the rocks with the guys, topless.

So I thought, ‘When in Rome…’

And I spent as much time as possible with my boobs out. I fully, whole-heartedly embraced toplessness. It was one of the most liberating things that I have ever done. And despite showing off parts of my body that are normally considered to be sexual objects, I felt completely non-sexual! My boobs have never felt less sexy. They were just things. Like my arms, and legs. I almost felt more comfortable as a woman than I do covered up, because all barriers were removed. There were men, and there were women, and children, and we all had our tops off. And we all looked pretty much the same. The most wonderful thing was seeing families together. Boys and girls playing in the sand with their mums,  boobs on show. And nobody cared. Because it was the most natural thing in the world. No embarrassment, no shame.

I’ve made it my mission, if (and hopefully when) I have children, to sunbathe topless when we’re on holiday together. I want to teach them that there is nothing to be ashamed of, no reason to cover up just because you’re a woman. Mum and dad, both (not) wearing the same. Equals.

I may be coming across as slightly breast-obsessed right now. But you should try it, if you haven’t already! I think it’s about the most confident and accepting of my body that I have ever felt.

And on that note, my stomach is telling me that it’s lunch time.

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Ola!

Poor neglected little bloggy…

I´m in Menorca, on holiday. I wanted to update this before leaving but I just didn´t get the time. Three days prior to flying out here were spent trying to locate some summer clothes in the sales.

I am running on a meter here so this can´t be long, but I wanted to check in. I have needed somewhere to vent since being here and having zero control over food and weight and calories. Unfortunately, as is too often the case, M has to bear the brunt of it.

The first two days were spent anxious about gaining weight, anxious about not knowing my weight, anxious about not measuring my food… just so anxious, all the time. Of course I was enjoying myself, but alongside everything else was this constant chatter in my ear from ED. I had stopped referring to my ED as a person but since being here I have begun to feel like there is some being in my head, having thoughts and feelings distinct from my own. I think this is a good thing, because I am recognising that it is not me. These concerns, these negative beliefs about myself… they are coming from the eating disorder. I do not think these things; ED does.
Yesterday I turned a corner. I remembered that I had a book by Susie Orbach on my Kindle and I read that and it helped me to gain a little more clarity.

I have three minutes left before my money runs out and there just isn´t time to say more. I am here until Thursday and I intend to update again when I´m home.

ED and I are battling it out over here and he´s yelling in my ear louder than ever. But this is the longest I have gone without weighing myself, counting calories or measuring my food in… goodness knows how long. So I´m pretty much kicking his ass.

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