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Archive for October, 2011

It’s official. I’ve been referring to myself as a 25-year-old for a few weeks now, but I was always comforted by the knowledge that I wasn’t really that old. Not yet. So I soaked up every last moment of my life as a 24-year-old as my birthday fast approached.

But I couldn’t hide forever. And on Friday 28th October, I officially hit my mid-twenties.

The heat was taken off me somewhat by the fact that my little baby nephew decided to steal my birthday thunder and arrive the day after my birthday last year, and so the whole family headed over to Ireland to celebrate him turning one. This meant that I got to celebrate my birthday there too, with my brother, sister, parents and nephews all together. With my brother living in Ireland, this doesn’t happen often.

I got cuddles with the birthday boy (it was a fancy dress party!)…

 

 

…and admired all of the party food and decorations.

 

 

 

 

Yummy cupcakes…

 

 

 

More cupcakes!

 

 

Green cupcakes!

 

 

As well as all of the cupcakes, there was an abundance of proper, traditional party food. It reminded me of my childhood, when parties were a chance to stuff yourself full of little pizza slices, crisps and sweets…

 

 

After my nephew woke up from his nap and came to join his party, we all sang happy birthday. It wasn’t until afterwards that we realised how unnerving the situation must have been for him when immediately upon waking he was carried downstairs into a room full of people dressed in scary costumes, all of whom began singing to him at the top of their voices while shoving a cake in his face! No wonder he burst into tears!

Fortunately, there were plenty of volunteers on hand to help him eat his cake…

 

 

Everyone grab a spoon!

 

 

The abundance of party food photos is due in part to the fact that I couldn’t eat any of it! There were no vegan cupcakes, no vegan ice cream, and no vegan pizzas… and so I got my fix by frantically photographing everything.

But I had not been forgotten. My sister-in-law failed in her attempts to find a vegan birthday cake for me, and so she improvised with a mandarin orange, raisins and some squares of dark chocolate…

 

 

I munched happily on my birthday orange, and opened some lovely gifts. And when I went to bed that night, I contemplated the kinds of things that you usually contemplate around significant events like birthdays (particularly those on which you turn a quarter of a century old!).

I thought about where I was this time last year, and the year before. This time last year I was in the first year of my MA, and I had been living with Matt for just three months. It was my first full autumn in recovery and I remember throwing myself into Halloween food-making with a vengeance. Despite the fact that I was going through a rough patch at the time, I made a pumpkin pie and ate it defiantly (I even got Matt to take a photo).

 

 

In terms of running, I was coming towards the end of my first year and I was smashing PBs left, right and centre. I had just completed the Great North Run and I was due to run in the Abbey Dash a few weeks later, where I would come tantalisingly close to my sub-40 minute 10K goal.

And the year before? I remember going for a birthday meal with my family and Matt, shortly after they found out that we were together. I had blonde hair (it didn’t suit me). I wasn’t in recovery yet, but I was about to be. I was in the process of applying for the MA, and made ends meet by working as a teaching assistant for an agency. Things were going well, although I was dissatisfied with my job. It was easy work though, and knowing that I was going back into education again the year after helped.

Come to think of it, my life has progressed fairly steadily in the past few years. Previously, when I played ‘this time last year’ games, I was usually astonished at the twists and turns my life had taken. Starting university engaged and living with my long-term boyfriend, and then breaking up and fleeing to Canada, then restarting university after returning to Canada for the summer and travelling around America. Getting together with Matt in secret (because you don’t expect your big brother to be particularly happy when you start dating his best friend…as it happens he was!), taking off for some more trips to Canada and doing generally crazy things, acquiring tattoos. Graduating from uni.

I always felt unstable, sometimes in a good way but sometimes in a bad way. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life or who I was. And I lurched around, trying to find something to cling onto that would define me. I used the eating disorder for that, a lot. As friends settled down and seemed to be growing up, I felt myself becoming more chaotic. My parents stood back and let me do my own thing, but I’m sure they despaired when I announced another trip to Canada where I stayed with a dear friend who was very much in the same place as me…I don’t think either of us knew what we wanted from life, or where we were going. We sure had fun trying to find out, but it wasn’t always healthy.

I am reminded of these times every day by the little maple leaf that sits on my left wrist. And the huge fairy, curled up sleeping on a bunch of leaves on my right wrist. And the spiral on my foot that says, “When she dances she goes and goes…”

I got all three of these tattoos in one summer, with no more than a day’s thought going into each one. I laugh now, but really…who gets themselves permanently inked with such little care?

One day, as we were driving along, I saw a sign that caught my eye.

 

 

It felt profound. I suspected that it carried an important message. But back then all I could do was photograph it, and store it away somewhere for a day when I was ready to truly believe it. And it’s only recently that I feel as if I really appreciate who I am, rather than trying to be someone else.

I also saw this…

 

 

I imagined myself living in the Beaches, in a big house with a balcony and a hammock. And I would get up on a sunny morning, and I would do yoga on the beach. Never mind that I hardly ever did yoga back then. It wasn’t about the yoga. It was about the image, the ideal. I created a picture in my mind of the perfect existence, and I saw my life as being so far away from this. I allowed myself to dream of living this way, without any real idea of how to get there. I thought that in order to achieve happiness, I needed to work out a way to move to Canada. And afford one of the pretty houses that I would drive by and admire. And meet a handsome Canadian husband.

It never occurred to me that, while all of this was no doubt a desirable way to live, it wasn’t the key to true happiness. It took years before I accepted the reality – that in the quest to be happy, you have to start by looking inwards.

So, twenty-five years old, eh? Despite the chaos I’ve lived through over the years, it seems that I’m pretty much where you’d expect a girl to be at this age. I’m living with my long-term partner, and I’m a postgrad student. I worry about grown-up things like paying the mortgage. I’ve started to prefer staying in and baking to going out drinking (okay, confession time –  I always preferred staying in. But now I’m getting older it’s becoming socially acceptable!). I’ve made some sacrifices – I’ve chosen to abandon the Canadian dream to stay in England, close to my family. I’ve realised that you can spread your wings and fly away, and you can experience a taste of true freedom by taking off to a new country and opening up a whole new world of experiences…but eventually you have to make a choice. And my family are more important to me than any of that. I couldn’t move that far from them.

So I have begun to develop a little of the wisdom that comes from experience. Some of Matt’s younger friends (team mates) recently went to university and I found myself smiling knowingly at their optimism as they insisted upon staying with their current partners. I remember saying that myself, and I remember other people’s equally sceptical attitudes. And now I am one of them. I watch them starting out in a new phase of their lives, and it feels a million miles away from where I am now.

This has been a rather long train of thought, and although I have so much more to say I think I should save it for a later entry. It’s time to go to yoga anyway. I’m not going to get there by walking out of my large house in Toronto to the end of my street, where I will perform perfect downward dogs in the sunshine with the sand between my toes. Instead, I will wrap up warm to cycle in the dark to a studio, where I will fight myself into a very imperfect downward dog.

But this is real. This is my life. I will meet my friend at yoga, and we will giggle together at lion’s breath and catch up on the gossip and I will come home to a cosy house with a freshly carved pumpkin (Matt doesn’t know it yet, but this is his first job when he gets home later!) and make soup. The Canadian fantasy life is just that; a fantasy. I have all of the ideas in my head about how my life would look, but none of it is real. It’s empty.

Meanwhile, my real life is full of family and friends and love. And I appreciate that now. I realise that everyone else is taken and unless I want to be completely unhappy and dissatisfied, I have to find joy in just being myself.

 

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With only two months to go until the Chevin Chase, I’ve decided it’s time to step up my training and get back out on the hills. The period of time that I had off due to injury over the summer has affected my leg strength, I think. I’m finding it harder to run over trails and up hills, and I don’t have the same confidence that I used to have when running up steep inclines. Back in the spring I was running between 14 and 18 miles every Sunday, beginning with a big hill, running up a hill in the middle and ending on the same hill that I started with.

The Chevin Chase is a particularly special race for me. It was while standing up on a snowy hill with my dad and nephew on Boxing Day, waiting for my brother, sister in law and Matt to run past, that I had the idea to start running and maybe sign up for the race the following year. I was a few weeks into recovery, and had the feeling that almost anything was possible.

I took to running so quickly that I ended up running in five races before I got anywhere near to doing the Chevin Chase! In the weeks leading up to it I started to feel excitement at the prospect of finishing my first year of running the same way that it began – up on that hill, on an icy festive morning – only this time I would be taking part myself.

But it wasn’t to be. A few days before Christmas I started to sniffle, and then sneeze, and then cough… and by the day of the race, I was struggling to even walk up to the finish line to cheer on Matt and my dad without wheezing and spluttering, never mind run the course.

This year, I’m determined to take part. And I want to do well, too. I’ve seen the results from previous years, and they’re good… so I’m not expecting to win or even place in the top three. But I’m just going to train really hard and do my best, and I’m hoping to maybe surprise myself.

The great thing about the race is that it takes place in an area that is right near me, and that I often train on. But I didn’t know the exact route, and so Matt and I decided to run it together today so he could show me. That way, I could train on sections of it or do the whole thing to get a feel for the course beforehand.

I was hoping it would be a sunny day. The Chevin is a beautiful area of woodland situated high up above a valley, and on a clear day you can see for miles. Seeing as Matt is a slower runner, and we set off with the aim of sticking to an easy pace, I decided to take my camera and try to snap some pretty photos along the way. It turned out to be a grey morning, although the sun came out later on.

I took photos anyway because I really love it up there and I often find that when I’m running through a particularly beautiful area, I want to photograph and document it. My runs, especially the long ones, often feel like adventures. And they sometimes feel like my little secret, because no one else is there with me and I’m out exploring forests and trails and paths. I don’t think photos can do the beauty that I see on these runs justice. But I still want to take them, because I feel so lucky to live in such a stunning area and I really want to capture it.

 

 

We started by running about 2 miles from our house to where the start line would be. From here, we began the ascent towards the Chevin. The first couple of miles are a gradual uphill climb, starting on the road and then turning into trail. Eventually we reached the woods.

 

 

Matt ran ahead when I stopped to take photos. In this one he looks a little crazed!

 

 

The middle section of the run is mostly flat, with a little downhill. Of course this means that you have to climb up again later! I showed Matt how to run downhill like a fell runner – windmill arms and try not to think too much! I pelted at full speed down a couple of the descents.

 

 

You can just make out the valley in the distance, but it’s not all that clear here because of the mist.

The steepest part of the course comes about two thirds of the way through. Apparently most people walk it, but having done Hellrunner I felt confident that I should be able to run up the whole thing. Matt told me to go ahead and meet him at Surprise View. “Run to the top and turn right”, he told me. I wasn’t sure that I’d know where to turn; he assured me it was obvious.

 

 

After running for a little while, I spotted a wooden post that marked out a path to my right. “This must be the right turn”, I thought. I also felt a little smug; while it was certainly not easy, the first portion of the hill was nowhere near as bad as other people had made it out to be.

Apparently Matt had overestimated my navigational skills (he should know not to do this… the first time I ran alone on the Chevin I managed to run right off the path and into the middle of a steep, slippery hill which was impossible to run down but which, having already run about 10 miles, I didn’t have the strength to run up. It was getting dark. I stopped running, stood still and began to cry. Eventually I found my way out by running through a tiny path and jumping down a wall into a car park, where I began to recognise my surroundings).

I quickly realised that this couldn’t be the right path, and I ran back down it, shouting for Matt. There was no reply. I noticed that after levelling out for a few metres, the hill continued further along. I realised that I was probably not at the top of the hill, and so I continued running.

Turns out the second part of the hill is where it gets really hard, and although I made it to the stop without stopping or walking, I did stretch the definition of ‘run’ to include a clumsy, slow stagger as I tried to lift my legs over the rocks and progress up a gradient that was steep enough to warrant having steps built into it.

Upon reaching the top, I saw Matt waiting for me.

“Only you could get lost there!”

 

 

The clearing at the top of the hill is known as ‘Surprise View’ because, well, the view is a bit of a surprise when you get there (unless you’re a local who is already familiar with it, in which case it isn’t remotely surprising but it’s certainly a nice sight).

The mist is obscuring the view in this photo, but if you look closely you can make out the fields and trees in the distance. It’s hard to see just how high up it is unless you’re there.

 

 

Instead of running back towards the finish line, we took a different route home. As we picked up the road I tried to up the pace and we settled into a nice rhythm. It felt comfortable for me, and although I wanted to go faster I stayed with Matt. It turns out he wasn’t feeling quite as at ease as me! But I pushed him to speed up with a few hundred metres to go, with the aim of getting the pace of that final stretch under an 8 minute mile.

My legs are surprisingly sore now. I guess it’s been months since I ran that far (apart from Hellrunner). I need to start upping the distance of my long runs again. I haven’t felt any shin or calf pain in a few weeks, and I think that’s a good sign. I’m going to try and do at least 10 miles on a Sunday from now on, and I think I’ll do those runs on the Chevin. My speedwork and hillwork will also be done there, using the toughest parts of the course. Within the next few weeks, I want the distance of my long run to be around 15 miles.

After I had showered, I quickly threw some more muffins in the oven (using the rest of the ingredients that I saved from yesterday), before heading over with my sister to see our parents. I took muffins, and we shared them out and ate them with coffee.

As I predicted yesterday, it was the perfect accompaniment to a delicious muffin. And the ideal reward for a delightful run.

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After an unsuccessful study attempt, I was sitting on the bus home trying to work out what I should do with the rest of my day. The sun was shining, and although it was a little cold it certainly wasn’t unpleasant weather to be outside in. Matt was at home, and as far as I knew he didn’t have plans for the afternoon either.

And idea formed. It was perfect weather for a bike ride!

I stepped off the bus excited, having thought of something productive to do with my day. As I opened the door, I called to Matt. No reply. I called again. Silence, and then a muffled, sleepy-sounding ‘Hello?!’

He was in bed napping, after not getting a good night’s sleep. I went upstairs and crawled into bed next to him. Quietly, I broached the subject of a bike ride, hoping that he would agree on what a fantastic idea it was. Despite a negative response, I persisted.

Let’s just say I persisted a little too much, and his eventual reaction to being badgered while trying to sleep resulted in me leaving the bedroom promptly and storming downstairs.

Now what to do? I didn’t fancy going out on my own.

So I did the only POSSIBLE thing I could have done given the situation: I pulled out my new cookbook and made banana walnut muffins!

When in doubt, bake.

 

 

The original recipe made 8 muffins, but considering how much I’ve been baking (and eating what I’ve baked!) lately, I sensibly reduced it by half so that I didn’t spend the next few days being tempted! Actually, when mixing the dry ingredients I momentarily forgot about this plan and mixed the full amount. And then I had an idea, and I split the mix in half and stored some in tupperware for future use. So if I want to make them again, I have the first few ingredients ready to go.

 

 

This was the first recipe I’d ever made with egg replacer. When I read through the cookbook I realised that it relied on this ingredient a lot, so I bought a box. After a less-than-positive experience with it when I first became vegan (my mum declared it useless after an attempt to veganise our traditional family Christmas timbale), I rejected it completely and subsequently refused to try any recipes that used it.

My aversion to it seems a little extreme now I think about it. Anyway, I relented and used it in this recipe and the results were totally satisfactory. The muffins rose beautifully and held together well. During the last few minutes of cooking the banana smell really started to come through, filling my house with the sweet scent. That’s possibly one of the best things about baking. In fact, sometimes I do it for the smell and the heat of the oven as much as for the end result.

 

 

Despite halving the recipe (which originally made 8 muffins) I actually managed to get 5 muffins out of it, although the fifth one is a bit of a runt!

I made them a little late in the day to enjoy one with coffee, but I’m looking forward to this combination tomorrow morning after my long run.

 

Banana Walnut Muffins

(Taken from Sweet Vegan)

Makes 8 muffins

 

Ingredients:

260g unbleached plain flour

130g unrefined sugar

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

135g vegan butter substitute

3 ripe bananas, mashed or pureed

3 teaspoons egg replacer, whisked together with 4 tablespoons warm water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

85g shelled walnuts, chopped

 

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Grease 8 holes of a muffin tray, or line with muffin liners.

2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda and salt.

3. In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Add to the dry ingredients, along with the bananas, egg replacer, vanilla extract and walnuts.

4. Spoon the mixture into the muffin tray and bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the muffins comes out clean.

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Mindfulness

There is also, of course, the happiness which comes from the satisfaction of a desire. This can be very vivid, but it is limited by its own nature to a comparatively short duration. For the satisfaction of one desire immediately gives rise to another, and so the moment of happiness ends in further anxiety.

I reached aphorism 42 of the second chapter today (“Contentment brings supreme happiness”). The quote above is taken from the commentary.

It really struck me, because I think it perfectly describes my relationship with food. While my binge-purge cycles may have stopped, my attitude to food is still along the same lines as my attitude to everything else that I enjoy in life… I indulge in it to an obsessive degree. I am able to keep it healthy these days, and although I spend a lot of time thinking about food I make sure that I eat reasonable portion sizes, eat regular meals and cook healthy, nutritious food. I’m also able to do all of that without relying on counting calories now.

But I still experience that sense of compulsion when I enjoy something. I can’t do things in moderation. This isn’t specifically a food problem, although my behaviour around food is a significant manifestation of it. I might not over-consume but I think about it too much. And lately, because I’ve been baking so much, I have been over-consuming. I want to be able to enjoy baking without the inevitable war with myself which follows. I refuse to let it stop me from doing something that I love, and so I continue to bake in the hope that the more I do it, the faster the novelty will wear off. It hasn’t yet.

But it’s not just baking. When I go to a restaurant, I find myself overwhelmed by choice and despite promising myself that I’ll take it easy, I usually eat too much. I know most people do this when they eat out. But for a recovering bulimic, it’s not good. And I don’t want to learn how to be like the average person around food; I want to be better. I want to take it a step further and learn true moderation. So I can cook and bake and eat out and enjoy all of it without feeling any strong attachment to the pleasure that it brings.

So that particular quote stood out. It’s true that the enjoyment of food is the satisfaction of a desire. But eating never brings true satisfaction; it simply breeds more desire. This will be the case until I can learn to fulfil my needs in a deeper way, and not rely on external sensations to provide me with pleasure.

I have a feeling that the book ‘Life With Full Attention’ will be useful in achieving this. If I can develop mindfulness in every day life, maybe I can feel content without seeking physical satisfaction.

For week one of the course, you are asked to make two resolutions and find three ways to ‘reduce input’, i.e. reduce the constant stream of information and mental clutter in your life. My resolutions were to be in bed by 10pm every night, and to do at least 5 hours of study. My ideas for reducing input were to limit television time to two hours a day, laptop time to 3 hours and to not eat meals while watching TV.

So far I haven’t accomplished any of those. I’m not even trying. It’s easy to come up with these ideas, but much harder to motivate yourself to put them into practice. I think the key is to really believe in it. Part of me must remain sceptical about the potential benefits. Mindfulness is a nice idea, but can it really make sufficient difference in my life to be worth making these changes?

I have a feeling that the answer is yes. I also suspect that the changes I resolved to make would have a positive effect on me regardless of whether or not they led to a greater goal. Going to bed early and not spending so much time sitting on front of a screen can only be good things, as can ensuring I do plenty of study.

So having accepted that all of the changes I proposed will positively benefit me, I have to accept that they’re worth doing. And if they’re worth doing, then they deserve my motivation.

Maybe I should come up with some ideas to help me achieve these goals. Not watching as much TV is a hard one. I often have it on in the background when I’m in the living room (which is also my kitchen… damn you, tiny cottage!). And when I decide to switch it off, Matt comes home and puts in on himself! And my only option to avoid watching it would be to go upstairs. Maybe that’s an idea. We have the top bedroom which doubles up as an office, and now that’s tidy I could sit up there and read or study.

However I manage it, I think it’s worth making an effort here. Because by being mindful I’ll be forced to become more in tune with my body and how it feels, which will make it harder to over-consume (in every way, not just with food).

So now the challenge is to apply this new-found wisdom this evening and not eat all of the banana walnut muffins I just made!

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*Warning – this entry is a long, not particularly well-constructed ramble that isn’t so much for others to read as for me to get some thoughts out and try to make sense of them. It started out as fairly coherent but then descended into total chaos, which is actually pretty representative of the state of my thoughts at the moment! So consider yourself forewarned.*

 

I love Saturday mornings, provided I have nothing to do. I wake up, stretch, and slope downstairs to prepare the bowl of cereal that I have looked forward to every morning since the beginning of recovery. I forget these days how difficult life was when I had to get out of bed on an empty stomach, and face the prospect of no food all day. No wonder I was depressed. Now I spring out of bed with a rumbling tummy and look forward to filling it up.

On a Saturday, this cereal is accompanied by the weekend paper, which I fetch from the shop across the road while my coffee is brewing in my Bialetti.

It’s all rather idyllic.

Of course, when I do all this post-run or post-gym, it feels even better. But this morning I woke up drowsy, from a deep sleep, and decided I didn’t feel like going to the gym. It’s a beautiful autumn day and cycling there along the canal would no doubt be perfectly enjoyable. But I have other things to do, and I’m feeling lazy. I’ve been very rebellious in recent months.  I used to exercise every day, without fail (apart from one rest day a week which was specifically scheduled in). And I do feel better when I’m stuck to my plan. But since being injured I’ve learnt that having days off won’t result in my fitness disappearing before my very eyes. I’ve had weeks off from running before, and my ability hasn’t declined whatsoever.

So I’m a little less militant these days. Although when I suck it up and make myself go to the gym, I do feel better. Anyway I’ve decided that this week has been a bum week, and I’ve allowed myself sleep ins and I didn’t cycle at all because I was feeling exceptionally tired at the start of the week, almost as if I was coming down with something. But I intend to cycle to and from uni for the three days that I’m in (well…to the gym, where I leave my bike before getting on the train…cycling to and from uni wouldn’t be viable considering that it’s about 60 miles away). And I’m going to do my Wednesday gym session, which I’ve avoided lately.

The main thing is running to be honest. I don’t skip runs, without good reason. The day I start doing that, well…it just isn’t an option. If I’m running, then all other exercise is simply supplementary.

So anyway, while sitting here with my coffee and the paper, and Tchaikovsky playing gently in the background (idyllic!), I got to thinking (does that sound too Sex and the City-esque?) about the concept of deserving. People say to each other, ‘I’m so glad for you, you deserve it!’ when they’re happy for someone. Or they say it about themselves. ‘I deserve some happiness after everything I’ve been through’. Or, ‘I don’t deserve it’.

Listen, and you’ll hear it everywhere. And I know it’s something that people say without too much through, but I can’t help but question the entire concept. Where does it come from? What is the basis for deciding whether or not someone is deserving of something? Is it related to their general moral conduct? Someone who generally behaves kindly towards others, I presume, is deserving of similar kindness towards them. Someone who has been through a particularly tough time, provided they are seen to be a ‘good’ person, also deserves happiness.

I’m guessing that those who don’t deserve happiness or good things are people who are sufficiently ‘bad’. Murderers, rapists. They deserve jail, pain, hurt. Isn’t that how it works?

I thought for a long time that I didn’t deserve food. That idea is common amongst sufferers of eating disorders. I was too bad. Other people could eat whatever they wanted, and they could be happy at whatever weight they were… but me? I was different. I don’t know why I thought I was different. You could turn it on its head and say that I thought I was special. My eating disorder set me apart, albeit in a negative way. Part of recovery was accepting that I was no different to anyone else. In doing so, I lost my little party trick. I had to accept that I was no better or worse than anyone else.

I also had to accept that food has no moral value attached to it. It’s impossible to be either deserving or undeserving of food. It’s simply a necessary part of our existence, much like oxygen or water. To say you don’t deserve it is essentially the same as saying you don’t deserve life. And if you truly believe that, why waste time with an eating disorder? Just get right to it and kill yourself.

But I would hazard a guess that most sufferers don’t really believe that they deserve death. There must be some hope inside them, or they wouldn’t choose to continue living. So the act of abusing food, and their bodies, is not so much a desire to end life but to avoid living. If you have a mental illness that also makes you physically weak, you get to be excused from life’s responsibilities. It’s also a distraction from other, non-food related worries. Just like those loan companies that offer ‘debt consolidation’… rather than paying out money to lots of different companies, you pay one lump sum to them and they take care of the rest. It usually costs more than the initial debt. But it’s more manageable, right? You don’t have to take responsibility for all the little things.

Well, an eating disorder does the same thing. Or it appears to. Instead of worrying about bills, relationships, your career, your studies… you simply elevate food to a level of such importance that it exceeds all other responsibilities in your life.  You pretend to yourself that it’s so important, you must spend all your time worrying about it instead of dealing with the other problems in your life. You deliberately complicate your relationship with food.

It might be unpopular to claim that eating disordered behaviour is self-indulgent, but in a way it is. It is a deliberate act, however you look at it. And it is one which not only hurts you, physically and emotionally, but it hurts those around you. It’s extremely selfish, as is any addiction. By choosing to take the easy route, and wallow in self-pity and misery, you impose on others. You force them to worry about you, to take care of you, to take over some of your responsibilities because you’re incapable of doing so yourself.

It sounds harsh to say this. People with eating disorders already feel so bad about themselves, how is this going to help? Surely being told that your behaviour is selfish and cowardly will simply exacerbate existing feelings of self-hatred and inadequacy?

Well, because I’m making a judgement on the behaviour, not the person. No one would argue that the way in which an eating disordered person behaves is positive. It would be hard to argue that ED’d behaviour has good consequences, that it improves life for either the sufferer or those around them. Of course it doesn’t. It has horrible consequences.

That isn’t to say that those with eating disorders intend to cause pain and suffering in their lives. I’m not making any judgements. I’m simply observing that the behaviour associated with eating disorders is inherently negative.

I remember how I was in the midst of an ED. I would turn the slightest criticism against me into a full-blown attack on my being. If my performance on an exam was only average, I was useless. If I made a mistake at work, I was incompetent. If someone didn’t like me, I wasn’t worth knowing. It sounds contradictory to say that such hyper-critical thinking is actually tremendously self-indulgent, because it certainly doesn’t feel that way. How can something which causes pain be self-indulgent? How can it be the easy way out?

But it is. Because staying eating disordered is easier than recovery. If recovery was easier, everyone would do it! If you judge yourself so harshly at every turn, and have done so for many years (if not your entire life), then learning a new way is exceedingly difficult. At first, it’s easier to hate yourself.

The popular view is that learning to love yourself is a crucial aspect of recovery. I would have agreed, a while ago. But now I worry about the danger of going too far down that road. I think there is too great an emphasis on self-worth in our society, and it ties in to our individualistic culture. Everyone needs to believe that they are special, that they have talents, that they’re ‘good enough’.

But I see things differently these days. I am sure most people would say I’m a ‘good’ person. I don’t do bad things to people, I have close family and friends and I try to take care of them. If I saw someone hurt themselves, I would check to see if they were okay. If I found a lost wallet, I would hand it in rather than taking the cash for myself. These are all qualities that are associated with goodness. So am I a good person? No. I don’t think anyone is inherently good. It’s easy to make that jump from how someone behaves to their core worth as a human being. I do lots of ‘good’ things, but I also do bad ones. I hold grudges, I resent people, I’m bad at sharing and I have a fierce temper. I have lots of negative qualities.

But I don’t hate myself for them. I look upon them with patience and curiosity. I recognise that if I choose to act upon these negative qualities, they will have negative consequences. These may be direct or indirect. I accept this. I don’t feel bad about it. I feel quite neutral really. These negative qualities are all part of my greater journey, and they are simply obstacles which must be overcome.

I am neither good nor bad. And in accepting this, I am removing all judgement from myself. I am no longer standing in the dock, while the judge and jury assesses my actions in order slap a definitive label on me. I am a person, whose actions are sometimes positive, and sometimes negative. I am working towards tipping the balance towards the former, and away from the latter.

My eating disorder had negative consequences. All that came out of it was pain and suffering. I am personally responsible for this. I don’t feel guilty. I accept that responsibility, and I strive towards a healthier life.

But the sense of personal responsibility is key. It doesn’t denote blame, or imply guilt…those are such negative, loaded terms. It simply means that I accept the negative consequences associated with my eating disorder were a direct result of my behaviour. By accepting this, I am free to make positive changes.

 

Sin has only one spiritual consequence, and this is invariable and inescapable. It creates an obstacle to enlightenment –  great or small, according to its magnitude – and this obstacle is its own automatic, self-contained punishment… If you judge your thoughts and actions from Patanjali’s viewpoint – asking yourself, “Does this add to, or diminish, the obstacles to my enlightenment?” – you will avoid the error of imagining that sins are difinite acts of absolutely fixed value which can be classified, graded, and listed. They are not. What is wrong for one person may be right for another… Each of us has his own sins and his own virtues, relative to his own duties, responsibilities and present spiritual condition. All we can do is to search our own consciences, and try to relate our motives on any particular occasion to the great central motive of our lives. Extremely difficult problems in conduct are sure to arise. We shall make many mistakes; and the best we can hope for is that our overall intention may be in the right direction.

Patanjali teaches us to regard our sins with a certain scientific detachment which avoids the two extremes of lazy tolerance and futile disgust, The surgeon does not tolerate a cancer; he cuts it out. But he does not shrink from it in horror, either. He studies it. He tries to understand how it has grown, and how the growth of a new cancer can be prevented.

We do not sin through pure wickedness or sheer moral idiocy. Our sins have a meaning and a purpose which we shall have to understand before we can hope to stop repeating them.

– ‘How to Know God – The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali’, by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

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While I was in Ireland, I visited Avoca for, like, the millionth time. No matter how many times I go though, my eyes always widen the minute I walk through the door and see the array of baking utensils, homewares, ornaments, clothes…the list goes on.

Knowing that I was flying home and wouldn’t able to transport large items of furniture back with me, I kept my gaze firmly away from potential purchases and wandered over to the book section instead. I figured I was safe there. They might have some books with nice pictures that I could look through, and marvel at, but nothing I would want to buy.

And then I saw it. Almost instantly, as I turned towards the cookbooks sitting on the table. It felt like our eyes met. In a movie, romantic music would have started playing.

Sweet Vegan!

No, that isn’t what I exclaimed when I saw it. That is the name of the vegan dessert book that I found most unexpectedly, not buried in and amongst the other cookbooks, or in the ‘special diets’ section, but sitting proudly on its own little stand.

I just had to have it. Fortunately my sister in law is an absolute doll and insisted on buying it for me as an early birthday present. That night, I took the book to bed with me and read through every single recipe, cover to cover. Oh, the fun we were going to have…

It took until Wednesday evening before I had the time, and the ingredients, to try out my first recipe. I kept it simple and went with the marshmallow bars. I was also keen to make them because while we were away, Matt had bought non-vegan ones on two separate occasions and I had looked on longingly, wishing I too could order dessert so easily. This way, I could get my vegan fix.

The recipe was for plain bars but I borrowed the chocolate topping from another recipe in the book (chocolate peanut butter bars…watch this space!) to jazz them up a bit.

 

 

The first batch filled a 9″ by 13″ baking tray, and being the greedy bum that I am I split it into only 9 bars. They were huge, yet I managed to eat three that night. The next day, I ate three more. I had promised my mum some, so with only two left I resisted the temptation to have another. But Matt came home, and ate one of them without realising that I had saved them specially. This morning, I succumbed and ate the remaining bar.

 

 

So the only sensible thing to do was make more! I had some marshmallows left, and some crispy rice cereal, but not enough of either to make a full batch. I scaled the recipe right back to reflect this, and managed to make enough for one huge square. This time, I cut it into little pieces. Not quite as aesthetically pleasing as the first batch, but – if it’s possible – even more delicious.

The addition of the chocolate layer is what really makes these bars. It takes them to the next level. The chocolate is thick enough that it gives a satisfying little kick of sweetness, and it sets perfectly – still soft enough to give the topping a fudgy texture.

 

 

The recipe is so super simple too. That’s the danger with these bars – they’re far too easy to make! I think I may have found a new addiction.

 

Vegan Marshmallow Bars

(Taken from Sweet Vegan)

Makes 9-12 servings

 

Ingredients:

40g vegan butter substitute

380g vegan marshmallows (I used Ananda’s)

180g rice crispy cereal

 

For the topping:

85g vegan butter substitute

180g vegan chocolate chips

 

Method:

1. Prepare a 9″ by 13″ baking tray by lining with well-greased baking parchment.

2. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over a medium heat.

3. Add the marshmallows and stir until completely melted (about 5 minutes). They will become really gooey at first, and you want to keep stirring past this point until they turn into a thick liquid.

4. Remove from the heat and add the rice crispies. Stir until completely combined.

5. Press the mixture into the baking tray until well compacted. Set aside.

6. To make the topping, melt the butter and chocolate chips in a small saucepan over a low heat. Remove from the heat before the chocolate is completely melted, and keep stirring until it has finished melting.

7. Pour the melted chocolate mix over the crispy mixture and spread it evenly. Put the tray in the fridge and leave to set for at least an hour (the longer the better).

 

Enjoy!

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Cheesy title, I know.

On Saturday I completed the Donadea Forest 10K, in Ireland. I went over there to babysit for my two nephews while my brother and sister in law went away for the night for their anniversary (I love that they can go away so easily and leave the boys with family…I hope to be that kind of parent one day). They had planned to do the race anyway, and so my brother invited me and Matt along too.

We had an early start, getting up at 5:30 to catch our flight dressed in race gear so that we could drive straight to the start line. I’ll admit, I wasn’t feeling it like I normally do before a race. Ordinarily I get a huge adrenaline rush and it carries me through, no matter how reluctant I might have felt beforehand. I don’t know if I’m just getting more used to racing, or if the pressure of expectation got to me. I’m still after a sub-40 time, but I knew I hadn’t trained properly for it. I decided to just do my best and try to place as highly as possible. I had looked at last year’s times and they were good so I was just aiming for top five really.

Anyway. The lack of adrenaline meant that I didn’t push it anywhere near as much as I should have done. My pacing worked out at 6:50 minute miles, which is about 15 seconds per mile slower than my PB. It was through the forest and there were a fair few undulations so it was to be expected. I think I easily had a sub-42 time in me though. I managed 42:28, placing fourth. Fourth place is becoming a common achievement in races these days. It’s the third race in a row that I’ve finished in that position. I’m not too annoyed because it’s still good, but after placing second in the Kildare half back in May I’ve had taste of what it feels like to get a top-three finish and it’s exciting!

But considering the winning female ran for Ireland in the 2008 Olympics I’m not complaining!

The photos that were taken during the race were available on Flickr for free, which is nice considering you can pay up to £15 for a race photograph in the most expensive races (credit goes to Peter Mooney for all the race photos in this post…the set can be found via the above link).

The race was super well organised too. It was set up by the same woman who organises the Kildare Half (and Full, this year) Marathon – the first race I ever did. There were wrist bands for those who had indicated a sub-40 PB, to allow them access to the front. And yes, I lied about my PB and got one!  I didn’t realise that was why they asked about your PB during the registration process…and I’m only 58 seconds off! Although that is quite a lot over a short distance.

They also had apple crumble and custard for the first 400 finishers. This was Matt’s motivation for running. He had me look up last year’s results beforehand to calculate the likelihood of finishing in the apple crumble bracket! This was the first 10K he’d ever done, and so he didn’t have a great idea of what time to expect. He’s run the Chevin Chase a couple of times, and is training for that again this year. But it’s on Boxing Day, having spent two days drinking and eating far too much. And it’s very hilly, so you can’t really gauge your 10K time from it. He decided that he was aiming for sub-55, but would really like a sub-52 time.

After I finished I stood behind the barrier at the finish line to wait for my brother, who I was expecting next. He crossed the line in around 46 minutes, at which point I settled down for what I thought would be a five minute wait for Matt. As I was chatting to a fellow competitor standing next to me, to my surprise Matt came flying across the finish line in just over 47 minutes! It was way beyond what I was expecting, and he was surprised too!

Having surprised myself in races before, I know the feeling you get when you exceed your expectations and have a super great race – it lasts for days afterwards! I was so pleased for him. Now he’s signed up for the Abbey Dash with me and is aiming for sub-46!

The medals were a nice touch too – they were made out of wood and designed to look like little chunks of a tree trunk.

I realised after the race that all of the time off I’ve had this year due to injury has meant that when I run I’m just aiming to get out there and put the miles through my legs, without really pushing it. I’ve been so grateful to be running that I haven’t thought beyond that. I remember how I used to feel when racing, and I would describe it as feeling like I was floating. Of course it was hard, but I was able to switch off to an extent and just let my legs do the work. I want to get that back.

With that in mind, I set out for a run yesterday with the aim of keeping to around 7:30 min/mi pacing. I was hoping to do at least 5 miles, but I decided to run to the Chevin and it ended up being over 10! My average pace ended up being 8:15 min/mi but that’s because it’s hilly there, and I was running on trail. I was also slowed to a walk at one point when I ran down a little path that disappeared from underneath my feet and I ended up trapped in thorny foliage! I had to turn back and go down a different route, but not before I had a chunk of my knee taken out by a branch!

It didn’t hurt too much at first so I didn’t bother to attend to it. Of course that meant running the rest of the way home with bloody streaming down my leg. I wonder what people were thinking! I’ve got to admit, I felt pretty tough. I can only dream of being as hardcore as true fell runners though, who run through sprains and breaks sustained from throwing themselves down hills. I definitely need to do more of my runs on the Chevin and start getting my legs used to the downhills as well as uphills.

After I’d cleaned myself up it didn’t look quite so bad. But then the stinging started, and with it being on my knee, it hurts whenever I bend it now!

So today I’m resting my legs after my adventure run. I’m also feeling stiff from Wednesday’s yoga session. I turned up to the class only to find that my regular teacher wasn’t there and someone was covering for her. I was disappointed because I really like her style, but I’ve had the guy before and I do think he’s good too. Anyway, then no one else showed up for the class and embarrassingly I had a one to one lesson! It was pretty cool, but a bit awkward. Fortunately I’m becoming more comfortable with my abilities in yoga now and I wasn’t put off by being the only person there. It meant that I got his full attention and he could make any corrections right away. He didn’t make too many, which I take as a good sign. And during a couple of the forward bends he was able to encourage me to go deeper than I might have normally. I think I often don’t push myself quite hard enough. I know you have to work with your body’s limitations, but when he applied pressure to my back at one point I realised how much further down I could go.

I’m writing this listening to a little soundtrack that I’ve compiled of relaxing music, most of which is from my Monday yoga class. She plays great music but it’s such a mix that I can’t ask for her playlist because it’s too varied. So I’ve taken to memorising some of the lyrics of my favourite songs and trying to search for them when I get home. I’ve discovered Ingrid Michaelson as a result.

I’m thinking about putting the songs together onto a CD for my friend as a Christmas present. She started doing the class with me a few months ago and she loves it so much that she’s stuck with it, and has done some of the other classes too. She’s become my yoga buddy! It’s great to share the experience with someone. I know she loves the music that our Monday teacher plays so I think she’d appreciate it.

I’m going to try and establish a home practice too, so having the music from my class to listen to might help me to get into the zone.

The more I read of the Yoga Sutras, and the deeper I look into the philosophy of yoga, the more I feel like my attitude and outlook on life is shifting. I think I might be on the cusp of something new. I can’t articulate it. All I can say is that I’m feeling a lot more content and the sense of direction and purpose that I used to have so clearly a few years ago (when I was so clear about my beliefs) seems to be returning.

I’m also reading Life With Full Attention. It’s designed as an eight week course in mindfulness, written by a Buddhist but really accessible to everyone. I’m hoping to cultivate a more mindful approach to every day life, and actually I want to apply it to my running too. I find that running is like a form of moving meditation, and the two often go hand in hand. Lately I haven’t felt that way quite as much, and I want to get that feeling back. The book suggests a mindful daily walk, but I want to use some of my runs instead.

I’ve set out my aims for the week, although limiting my TV and laptop time were two of them and I’ve already failed that today! It’s something to work on anyway.

I have more to talk about and a recipe to share too! But I think I should save that for another post, this one is getting to be a little long.

I’m going to check out some more photos of the race that I’m just found – while I was writing this I got an email and apparently there was an official race photographer! So I’m excited to see if there are any more photos of us.

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