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Someone from a wonderful, supportive online community that I am a member of responded to a post I had written about the progress I had made in recovery. In her response, she indicated that at times she had been a little worried because my behaviour had perhaps seemed less recovery-oriented than it should have done. But I insisted I was fine, so she didn’t say anything. And she suggested that maybe it was just a necessary step that I had to take.

Writing a response to her, I was really able to think things through and gain more clarity on the issue. What I wrote came off the top of my head but I think it explains where I am, and how I got here, quite succinctly. So I’ve copied and pasted it here… because why rewrite something that came from such an honest place?

 

I think it was a necessary step. And I was fine, absolutely. Sometimes I wasn’t eating quite enough for my own body’s needs (considering the level of exercise), but what I was eating was probably what most people eat during the day. The excessive control meant that I didn’t indulge as much as I do now, or if I did I put way too much thought into it. It didn’t come naturally. But day to day, I was enjoying food, eating plenty of it, cooking healthy meals and feeling a kind of freedom that I had never experienced in adulthood.
But you start to want more. When I first started to recover, I was pleased with myself if I managed to eat three meals and healthy snacks. Just basic stuff. If I got up, and regardless of how I felt or what the scale said, I ate breakfast. That gave me a sense of pride. After a while, the pride wore off. It became routine. It wasn’t enough just to eat three meals. I got good at doing that, and so I had to take it a step further.

That’s all recovery has ever been, and at no point do I think I could have done any better. I have been completely aware of where I am at all times. When I was being too rigid, I knew it. But I had no choice. It was where I needed to be. It was the stepping stone between completely disordered and completely healthy. Well, there are many stepping stones along that path and I’m still somewhere in between the two, although a lot nearer to completely healthy.

I got to the point where I was learning to indulge without feeling guilty (although I actually started in recovery that way…not feeling guilty, enjoying little indulgences…but when the novelty of recovery wore off, I let some of the old guilt creep in). And then I was still so reliant on the scale. But I managed to break free of the calorie counting. And I needed the scale still there. Reassurance.

Well I guess now I’ve taken another step along the path and don’t need the scale anymore. Or I’m learning not to. I’ve had two years to play around with my body and what it needs. I’ve dropped weight, I’ve gained a little and now I think I have a good, intuitive grasp of what it needs to maintain considering the training that I do (when I’m not injured). I think recovery is different for everyone. Maybe some people go straight into not weighing themselves, not counting calories…just like that. I couldn’t. At times I felt like maybe I should have been stricter with myself. Thrown the scale away.

But I think I was right to trust myself. Because I feel like I’m getting to a point where I can do that, naturally. I’m outgrowing the eating disorder. It doesn’t fit who I am anymore, and I’m shedding that old skin. And I’m doing it at a pace that feels right. There are a lot of changes that you go through in recovery, inside and out. Those inner changes can’t be rushed. And I feel totally comfortable with the pace that my recovery is going at.

I have felt very stuck at times, and wondered if I was actually making progress. Particularly because I couldn’t understand why, if my attitude was so pro-recovery and I was adamant that weight and calories didn’t matter, I couldn’t stop relying on those numbers. And now I know that I was always making progress. It just happened in tiny steps. Or in big steps, followed by periods of standstill.

I woke up this morning, and I looked at my scale. The temptation was there, but I knew I wouldn’t weigh myself. It just didn’t seem important. I know I ate plenty, but not too much, yesterday. My body has no reason to gain weight. I have no reason to seek reassurance.

I’m trying to decide whether to buy a bag of (vegan!) sweets from the deli before I head to the library. My healthy alternative is grapes. I do grapes by the box. They’re awesome snack food. Particularly when you’re working and want something to nibble on. And the dilemma is between the sweets that I really do quite fancy, and something healthier considering how much ‘unhealthy’ (for the body…but good for the soul!) food I’ve been eating over Christmas.

This dilemma is not characterised by feelings of guilt and anxiety. Whether I choose the sweets or the fruit has no bearing on my worth as a human being.

I’m simply wondering what to do, quite casually and without great emotion. This is the kind of dilemma that would have caused great stress once upon a time.

I’m so pleased to start the year feeling like I’ve made a big leap in recovery.

 

Her reply to this was, ‘Here’s to wanting more’. And it really struck a chord with me. Because that is the key to recovery, is it not? Wanting more. Realising that although you could carry on living with an eating disorder, and hiding from your problems through food, actually you want more from life. You don’t want to live the shadow of who you are, the pale reflection of your authentic life. You want the real thing. You want to taste, smell, feel again. You don’t want to be numb anymore.

And when you get started on recovery, it’s wanting more that keeps you going. So I could have stopped once I got to a stage where I was eating regularly and not purging. My body was sufficiently healthy again. I wasn’t experiencing the inner turmoil that my eating disorder had previously caused. But again, I wanted more. And so, through all of the hard times and the days and weeks where it felt like my journey was slowing down, my recovery stagnating, it was wanting more that kept me inching along.

And so I have entered the new year by almost accidentally achieving a goal in recovery that a few months ago felt near impossible. I have stopped weighing myself. And not through sheer willpower. I haven’t had to battle with myself to avoid the scale. I’ve just arrived at this point naturally. The desire to be free has outweighed (sorry for the pun!) my need for reassurance and control. That number no longer seems relevant to my life.

The eating disorder is no longer relevant to my life. It’s not who I am anymore.

And that is a delightful, beautiful, gratifying thing to be able to say with total honesty. I wanted more, and that is what I got. That’s what true self-respect is – when you recognise that you deserve more than you’re giving yourself, and you set out to achieve it.

I like to think that this will be a theme for 2012. Not settling for second best, not coasting along on one level when I know I’m capable, and deserving, of reaching so much higher.

 

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It’s been a while.

One of the problems of blogging about – at times – such personal thing is that when everything isn’t going quite as rosy as you’d like, it can be hard to admit.

I stopped counting calories on holiday, a big step in my recovery journey. This enabled me to eat a greater variety of foods, and more of them. Because when I didn’t know how many calories were being consumed, I found myself less worried about it.

So I got even more into baking than I had been before. And I baked. I baked, and baked until my kitchen was overflowing with sweet treats and I just HAD to eat them all up.

Of course, no matter how much exercise a person does there is a limit to the amount of indulgence that you can partake in before gaining weight. I believe I exceeded that limit. Now we’re not talking piling on the pounds, in fact the weight gain has been barely noticeable and would probably have been overlooked had I not been unable to break the daily weighing habit that has stuck around despite the leaps I’ve been making in recovery. So the scale says I’ve gained a little.

And whereas most people would barely acknowledge such tiny change in their weight, for someone who is recovering from an eating disorder, it isn’t quite that simple. Despite the fact that I probably needed to gain weight, because all of the running and (accidental) accompanying weight loss sort of made me stop getting periods (I know… doesn’t sound healthy, right?), this little weight change has caught me off guard.

The reason I have avoided this blog is because I didn’t want to admit that. I’m supposed to be super healthy all the time now. I’m not supposed to freak out about weight gain. I’m not supposed to try and maintain an artificially low weight. I should be embracing whatever weight my body is comfortable at.

But it isn’t that simple. Perfectionism is probably one of my biggest vices. And if part of recovery from an eating disorder is learning to accept imperfection, then why should I expect the process of recovery itself to be perfect?

It isn’t. And I am not.

So I will break my three week blog-draught with an admission: I am not perfect. And I am learning to be okay with that. I am also learning to let my body be whatever weight it wants. The key word here is learning, because I am most certainly not there yet. It’s a work in progress.

Saying that, I did decide that perhaps I was baking a little too much and letting my previously healthy-to-the-point-of-obsession diet slide. I think this has been part of the journey. I went the other way for a few weeks, indulging a little too often and choosing treats rather than my usual healthy snacks of fruit, and veg, and wholefood bars. So I learned to enjoy foods that would previously have stirred up guilt  – for consuming a lot of calories, but also for filling up on something that didn’t contribute anything nutritious to my diet.

Now I’ve decided that it’s time to find a balance. Of course I still love to bake, and I’m not going to stop doing that.  I also enjoy cooking, and I think I’m going to put some of my energy into playing with savoury foods a little more. And maybe some healthy treats (I’ve always wanted to make my own snack bars).

With that in mind, I listened to my hunger as much as possible today and tried to respond with my body’s nutritional needs in mind. With no sugary alternatives, my post-dinner snack was a bowl of fruit and yogurt.

 

 

I got myself into a bit of a fruit rut – which may have contributed to my desire for baked goods where before I’d be happy with an apple – and so I decided to jazz it up a bit. Admittedly my idea of ‘jazz’ just involved buying a passionfruit (the first one EVER!) and a kiwi (not the first one, but not a fruit that features in my kitchen often).

 

 

I also added some clementines that I bought the other day (to make this vinaigrette – absolutely delicious!). I was so excited when I saw that they had leaves on. It feels so festive!

 

 

To my absolutely beautiful, vibrantly coloured fruit bowl I added some soy yogurt.

 

 

I’ve got to admit, the addition of the yogurt did take something away aesthetically! It tasted lovely though. And I felt so much better for having eaten something nutritious.

I have also discovered a love of sandwiches lately. It’s getting expensive – the hummus salad on multigrain bread that’s on offer at the deli right by my house has tempted me too many times when I’ve needed a quick snack to keep me going while studying (epistemological debates really whet my appetite).

So today I realised that instead of spending my very limited student budget on sandwiches that other people have made for me, why not make them myself? And being the natural-type that I am, this doesn’t mean buying store bought bread and fillings and just putting them together myself.

It means making the bread myself too. With the assistance of my very dear friend, the Panasonic SD-257 Breadmaker.

(I was once a breadmaker snob, and insisted upon making loaves with my bare hands. I shunned modern technology, determined to learn the fine art of traditional breadmaking. It turns out I’m not very good at it, and have neither the time nor the patience to improve. Still wanting an alternative to commercially manufactured bread, I gave in and bought the best breadmaker I could find. It’s one of the most worthwhile purchases I ever made – not only do I adore it but self-titled bread connoisseur Matt loves it too, and we now make all of our bread at home).

It has all sorts of settings – white, wholewheat, gluten free, rye, pizza, loads of fancy breads and cakes, dough… and a funky raisin dispenser that drops nuts, seeds, raisins or whatever else you want to add into the dough at just the right point.

 

 

 

The dough setting on the machine is great fun, because you toss all of the ingredients in and three hours later, it produces near-perfect (we’re not aiming for perfection, remember!) dough that just needs to be shaped, proofed and baked.

I made a batch, and decided to shape it into six large breadrolls. I could have got more out of it, but I wanted them to be sandwich-sized!

 

 

After they’d risen in the oven, I added some extras.

 

 

 

After a quick 12 minutes in the oven, they came out slightly crispy, and baked to perfection.

 

 

I brushed them with a little soy milk mixed with maple syrup before adding the pepitas and poppy seeds, and I’m hoping that it’ll add some extra flavour. But I’ll have to wait and see because I haven’t tried one yet! I’m waiting until tomorrow, when I make a sandwich to take to uni.

So I’m going to use some of my kitchen-ergy (see what I did there?) to make nutritious, healthy foods. Of course this doesn’t mean I’m going to stop baking, and it doesn’t mean that I’m denying myself treat foods.

But having an eating disorder is like hanging onto a giant pendulum, which swings wildly between extremes. And part of recovery is using every ounce of strength to hold it still somewhere in the middle, and find that balance. It’s a monumental task, and one which I’m still working on – but I think I’ve taken some big steps lately, and I’m proud of every single one.

I just need to learn that it’s okay to write about the tough times, too.

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While I was in Ireland, on my birthday no less, I made dinner for everyone. I didn’t offer. I believe it started with a suggestion that I would start chopping some vegetables so my brother and sister-in-law could go out for a run, and then they would take over cooking when they returned. The next thing, my brother is telling me how much pasta to put on.

Before I know it, I’m cooking for seven people.

Being a typical inquisitive toddler, my nephew James wanted to watch what I was doing. He dragged ‘his’ step up to the counter and climbed up to oversee the vegetable chopping. Before long, he was wanting to join in.

 

 

I managed to find him a sufficiently blunt knife and a plate to chop on, and I set him to work slicing the mushrooms. His eagerness to help made up for the fact that I had to chop most of them again after he had finished. He was taking an interest in food, and learning new skills, and I was grateful to be able to provide him with this opportunity.

It reminded me of when I was little, and I would help my mum out in the kitchen. More often than not, I was a complete nuisance. My interest would wane quickly, and I would end up sitting on the floor playing the drums with a wooden spoon and all of the pans that I had dragged out of the cupboard. Or I would help to mix batter with great enthusiasm, and watch the buns go into the oven – and as soon as it was time to clean up I would decide that I was bored of this whole baking lark and plant myself firmly on the counter with the leftover batter and a spoon.

But my mum never let this stop her from encouraging my interest, however fickle. As a result, some of my earliest memories are of us in the kitchen together, the smell of a warm oven, the sickly sweet taste of unbaked dough, and the pride of being able to say that I had helped.

Everything my parents did in my childhood set me up for a healthy relationship with food. So where did it all go so wrong? I guess if it wasn’t food, it would be something else. Everyone develops unhealthy coping mechanisms at some point, whether it’s too much coffee or too much alcohol or food or drugs… there are just some crutches that are more socially acceptable than others.

Arguably, my eating disorder wasn’t socially acceptable. Binging and purging isn’t sanctioned by society, it isn’t something you go shouting from the rooftops about. On the contrary; I felt ashamed and went to great lengths to hide my behaviour.

But it started with food restriction. The bulimia only came later. My first thought was ‘If I starve myself and become anorexic, my mum and dad will stop fighting with each other because they’ll be worried about me instead’. I actually had this thought, clear as day. I remember where I was when it came into my head. It was like a lightbulb switched on.

And even though my subsequent behaviour caused concern, and raised whispers amongst friends and teachers, I actually think that what I was doing was socially acceptable. Young girls receive messages from everywhere about how they should be – pretty, and feminine, and attractive to boys, and skinny. You learn this early on. Is it any surprise that so many young women choose food (or the lack of it) as their drug? There’s a fascination in our society with skinny women. And despite the faux-concern displayed in magazines that run stories about too-thin celebrities, really what underlies it is a twisted kind of jealousy. Anorexics are untouchable. They’re performing a great feat of self-denial. They’re demonstrating inconceivable willpower.

And other women, who are also battling with their bodies in an attempt to conform to this ideal, look at these girls and feel a little envy at their ability to deny their bodies with such apparent ease.

Yes, some men experience eating disorders. It’s not all about women. But the same can be said for domestic abuse. Yet the vast majority of sufferers are women. And it’s the same for eating disorders.

You have to wonder – what is it about this that makes it such a predominantly female problem?

What messages – direct or indirect – are little girls receiving about who they should be? Everything about the way we relate to children passes on some message, some lesson, about right and wrong, what is acceptable in society and what is not. Every play-kitchen that has a picture of a girl on the box, every monster truck pictured with a little boy… we’re building their expectations and teaching them what they should aspire to be.

So even though my parents raised me in a warm, loving environment and taught me balance, and moderation, and an enjoyment of healthy food, I still developed an eating disorder. Because it wasn’t just about them. I needed some way of coping with the difficulties that we were facing as a family and, no doubt in some part because of the constant association of thinness with success, acceptance, happiness and beauty, I chose to starve myself.

I don’t know if there’s anything my parents could have done differently. If it wasn’t food, would it have been something else? What’s important, I think, is that as a result of their love and security, and by setting an example of how to overcome difficulties and work through problems healthily, I was able to break free of the eating disorder and begin the long process of redeveloping my relationship with food.

In many ways, I reverted to childhood when I started recovering. For my entire adolescence and adult life, I had abused food. Everything I had learnt in early childhood about appetite, hunger and responding to your body’s cues, I had essentially spent the past decade unlearning. The same goes for food preparation. I was way behind my peers when it came to cooking and preparing meals. It just was not a priority for me.

I’m almost two years into recovery now, and I think I’m doing pretty well. Taking an interest in cooking has been an essential part of the process for me, and in many ways I’ve taken my unhealthy obsession with food and replaced it with a healthy one.

It was a nice feeling to be able to take these new skills, and a healthy attitude to food, and share them with James. He is learning so much every day, and the outside world is shaping who he is. I want him to learn about food, and cooking, and the importance of taking care of yourself.

 

 

I even hoped that by getting involved with the preparation of his dinner, he might learn to embrace some of his least-favourite vegetables!

(It didn’t work – when I pointed out what a good job he’d done and suggested he try some of the broccoli he had chopped, he repeated his regular dinner-time refrain –  “I don’t like broccoli!” – and meticulously picked out the pasta instead).

 

 

But even if our cooking session didn’t ignite in him a love of green vegetables, or have any lasting impact on his relationship with food, I hope at least that it gave him a cosy memory, and a sense of pride at having helped, and the feeling of safety and security that I always used to get from time spent in the kitchen with my mum.

He’s just starting out on his own journey in life, learning about food, and relationships, and emotions. And in some ways, so am I. It wasn’t so long ago that this was all new to me, too. We’re learning from each other.

I can teach him how to chop vegetables, and how to wash mushrooms (hint: you wash them inside the colander, not by tipping them out into the sink!), and how to make a healthy pasta dish.

And he can teach me that while healthy eating might be important, there are times when it’s just absolutely necessary to fill your mouth as full as possible with sweets!

 

 

That pure, unmoderated enjoyment of food that babies and toddlers possess, before society and its rules and regulations about how and what to eat get in the way, is what I aspire to now. They feel no shame about enjoying their food, and indulging in treats – so why should I? Why should anyone?

I’m proud of my little guy for growing into such a sweet, thoughtful and helpful person. And I’m a little bit proud of me too. For not only taking on the long, hard challenge of recovery but for becoming someone who my nephews can look up to.

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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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Personal Best

It’s been a busy week and so as usual, I have left it longer than I wanted to post.

My poor little legs are tired, and they’re currently resting in front of me on the sofa. I’ve taken up cycling on a regular basis now and combined with all of the yoga I’m doing they’re just tired out. I have a 10K race tomorrow which I know they’re not going to be on top form for. Not that it’s a PB attempt. My times are slowing these days, and each new race I do is less likely to produce a personal best. Fortunately I’ve been able to enjoy finishing near the front of the field instead. In the last 10K I did, I managed fourth place. Which I was happy with considering the size of the race.

But then I got injured, and I hardly ran. The marathon didn’t happen. And I have completely abandoned speedwork in favour of gentle plods as my legs get used to running again. In fact I’ve never been a fan of speedwork, despite the fact that if I did it regularly I’m pretty sure I could smash that 40 minute barrier for a 10K that has eluded me since I came so tantalisingly close last year. Well, to say it has eluded me is slightly inaccurate seeing as I’ve only completed one 10K since, and it was hillier so unlikely to be faster anyway. The truth is, I’ve avoided racing the distance since because I dread how much faster I’d have to run to get that PB. It’s not like half marathon pacing, where you’re going fast but still able to switch off to an extent and let your legs do the work. It’s running-flat-out-until-you-think-you’re-going-to-puke-but-it’s-okay-because-all-you-have-to-do-is-hang-on-for-40-minutes-and-then-it’ll-all-be-over pacing.

Of course I could just run it for fun and enjoyment, with no competitive element whatsoever. But who am I kidding! Even if I pretend that’s what I’m going to do, it’s unlikely I’ll do anything other than bolt off that start line and cling on for dear life throughout. I’ve seen last year’s times, and they’re good. Not elite standard, but we’re talking women finishing in the mid-30’s. I probably won’t even place top ten. So I need that PB to at least get something good from the race.

When did running become so fuelled by competition and compulsion? I know it takes some of the enjoyment out of it. I need to work on getting that feeling back that I had when I first started. I would bounce out of the door with a smile on my face, thrilled at the ease with which my legs carried me mile after mile. These days I trudge, Garmin in tow, frequently checking my pacing and berating myself for not running fast enough.

Once a perfectionist…

So anyway, returning to where I left off in my last post, I’ve got into yoga in a big way. And it’s sort of changing my life. I’ve always been mildly interested in it, although my motivation used to be a desire for flexibility and grace. Completely missing the point, of course. Last year, in my brand shiny new recovery mindset, I took it up again and this time it stuck (like so many things…I hadn’t realised how pervasive my negativity and self-hatred had been). More recently, I’ve begun to take up to three classes a week.

And whereas before I would berate myself for not being bendy enough (because I was too fat, I’d tell myself), and want to give up because I didn’t see instant results, these days I have begun to understand the meaning and purpose of yoga. The physical practice can’t be taken out of the spiritual context from which it began, but this happens too often when it’s practised in the West. The philosophy behind it is fascinating. I have begun to read a translation of the Yoga Sutras, and I can feel my attitude shifting already. I am beginning to incorporate the lessons that I am learning from them into my everyday life.

It all fits really. I started being kinder to myself, albeit in a very forced and deliberate way. Slowly it started to come naturally, and as a result of this very deliberate change I became attracted to things that promoted and enhanced my wellbeing rather than worked against it. It’s almost as if the more positive energy I put out there into the universe, the more positivity I attracted back. And so I have gravitated towards a spirituality that is congruent with this new attitude. I spent so long consumed by self-pity. And I am starting to ‘get’ it. I am taking responsibility for myself.

I’m not going to continue to abuse myself and then, when I don’t get where I want to be in life and when I stay miserable as a result, regard my failures as proof that I’m a useless person. That’s the easy way out.

Happiness and recovery don’t just happen. You can’t just sit there crying about how horrible you are and hope that self-esteem and self-worth just lands in your lap. You can’t abuse your body on a daily basis, call yourself fat, and deny your body of its basic needs and then expect to one day love yourself enough to eat.

You stop crying first. You stop abusing yourself first. You start eating.

And then those changes begin internally, and you start to believe that you’re worth it.

I can’t explain how yoga fits in with all of this without going into far too much depth. I feel like I need a nap too, so I’m not in a big writing mood.

I repeat myself a lot in here. I know that. But it’s because what I’m talking about it so important to me. I need to hear it over and over again to make sure that I stay right on track. When I feel those negative thoughts creeping in, I need to remember why it’s so important to stop them in their tracks.

Whether that’s a little voice telling me that my downward dog is crap and I may as well not bother, or one that yells at me for being a ‘fat whore’. We all have our own version of that voice, and some are louder than others. And without that constant reminder not to listen, it’s easy to stop hearing it as a distinct whisper and believing it to be your own thoughts.

That’s enough musing for one day; time for a warming bowl of soup and maybe  a few more Sutras.

Wow…I don’t think I could fit the vegan stereotype more if I tried.

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It’s been far too long since I posted.

Starting the second year of my MA has been partly responsible. After more than two months of me-time (far too much of which was spent doing nothing productive whatsoever), I’ve been getting to grips with being busy again, and having places to go. I’m only in three days a week this year, which is a big improvement on last year’s timetable which had me in uni every day, except sometimes just for an hour. When you have to travel for two hours to get there, that’s not cool.

The other reason I haven’t posted is because I find that it sometimes takes a lot of effort. And I’m lazy. And avoidant. I don’t always want to examine myself and my actions, thoughts, and feelings. I don’t always feels particularly reflective. I hear enough about reflectivity on my course, and when I come home I like to balance it out by being completely unreflective.

But I promised myself that I’d keep up with this blog, and I intend to keep that promise. Because recovery is an ongoing process, and I work through so many issues on a daily basis and it can’t all stay in my head. I need to put some of these thoughts down on paper (screen?).

I will start by saying that I am STILL not counting calories. Go me! I feel like the cleverest person ever right now. Really, I’m proud of myself. I just stopped. And I didn’t look back (well okay, I glanced over my shoulder fleetingly on a few occasions… but then I kept on going). I’m pretty sure that I’ve been eating more as a result. It’s much easier to polish off 12 cookies in a day when you aren’t faced with the reality that you’ve just consumed an entire day’s worth of calories all over again (yes, I did eat 12 cookies…but I baked them myself and there was no one else to share them with!).

Speaking of eating large quantities of food… I did have little wobble a few weeks ago. I meant to blog about it and then I didn’t get the chance. Or I avoided it because it scared me. But I should mention it because it’s important.

I’ve been baking a lot lately. After collecting two big bags of apples, I set about finding recipes to use them in. I made, amongst other things, a pie. Except my pie crust went a bit wrong, and it wasn’t the most pie-like pie ever. It tasted nice, but it wasn’t something that I’d happily share with other people, aside from Matt who had a couple of slices.

Seeing as we’d already eaten other baked goods that I had created out of the apples, the pie went uneaten for a couple of days. I realised that we weren’t going to finish it, and so on my way up to bed I cut a little bit off to eat before throwing it out. Except then I fancied a bit more, so I cut a bigger piece. Then another one.

At this point, I was standing in the kitchen grabbing handfuls of the pie and shovelling it into my mouth. The sensation of the food entering my mouth, the sweet taste, felt so wonderful. Panicking that I was entering binge-territory, I picked the pie up and walked over to the bin, still grabbing handfuls of it. I continued to shovel it in my mouth even after I had tossed it in the bin. The snap of the cupboard door shutting brought me back to my senses, and I realised that I had just binged for the first time since going into recovery. My first proper binge. No, it wasn’t a huge amount of food. But the actual quantity matters less than the feelings I experienced while eating. That loss of control, and the comfort of shoving the food into my mouth. I wasn’t tasting it, I was seeking the thrill of breaking all the rules, the excitement of unchecked, guilty pleasure.

For a couple of days I felt really unnerved by this episode, as I sought to make sense of it. At this point, although recovery isn’t always easy, I thought that I was beyond relapse. I couldn’t imagine going back there again. And this little binge made me wonder if I was closer than I thought to the eating disorder. I wondered if I should start counting calories again – maybe I couldn’t be trusted after all.

Eventually, I had a little lightbulb moment and I think I worked out what it was all about. When I started to recover from bulimia, I went from living in a state of no control whatsoever, to one in which I had complete control. But what started as healthy control, counting calories and measuring my food in order to learn what normal portions were, became an unhealthy obsession. I lived with far too much control. The calories controlled me.

So when I managed to give that up, the little rebel in me fought back and I reacted to the new-found freedom. I had kept myself under such a tight rein. Knowing how many calories I’d eaten each day stopped me from over-consuming. Without that, it was easier to eat things that would have put me over the ‘limit’ before. Because there was no limit.

But instead of seeing this as a setback, I realised that it was simply indicative of a new phase of recovery. I was ready to move to the next level, and start learning to trust my appetite. But this was a big step, and it was never going to be totally smooth. The mini-binge was a part of this. It represented me finding my feet, testing myself, trying things out. And learning to get past it and continue to eat intuitively was just a part of the challenge. The binge was a result of my insecurity with this new way of eating, and my fears about not being able to control myself.

I didn’t know if it would become a problem for me. Would I totally lose control and start binging all the time? How could I be certain that wouldn’t happen? I realised though, that seeking certainty could not, and should not, be the goal. You can’t be certain of things in life. Living with uncertainty has always been a problem for me, and that’s why I was so happy to rely on an overly-controlled, calorie counting version of recovery. That way, I could be sure. I could eat and enjoy food with the certainty that I wouldn’t gain large amounts of weight.

Part of me wanted to take drastic action to stop any more binges from happening. I wanted to implement a new plan. I had all these ideas. Plenty of exercise, plenty of control. Not necessarily counting calories, but sticking to uber-healthy foods and eating a set meal times and even pre-planning snacks. I remember when I was fully eating disordered, and I would dream up similarly restrictive plans in reaction to an episode of binging and purging, or weight gain. I would try to compensate for my perceived lack of control by imposing rules and regulations.

I quickly realised that despite my temptation to try and impose order upon myself and my eating habits, it was the wrong thing to do. In fact, it was the complete opposite of what I should do. It simply reinforced the notion that I couldn’t be trusted. And these plans weren’t being made out of love. They were punitive.

One thing I have learned in recovery is that unrealistic, harsh regimes do not work. They might satisfy your desire for control and certainty, but they ultimately fail you. Extremes are never good. And trying to counter one extreme with another is inevitably going to backfire.

So as frightened as I was of a relapse, and as ashamed as I felt for letting myself succumb to a desire to binge, I did things differently. I looked at why I had binged, and what was behind those feelings. I started to see the binge as a sign that I was entering a new phase of recovery. I remembered a Supernanny type show that I had seen where the parents had been told that after initially responding to a new regime, their child would test the boundaries again after a while. At this point, provided they stuck with it, the child would learn that the changes were there to stay and they would comply.

I sort of think that’s what’s happening with my ED. I’ve made some changes, and it’s testing me. If I stick with it, I will consolidate all of the progress that I have made so far and solidify it. I will step even further into recovery. By exposing myself to uncertainty, and letting go of some control, I will give the ED chance to take hold again. And by not allowing it to, I will prove to myself that I am truly in control and I don’t need to rely on numbers and rules for stability.

This little slip was a few weeks ago now and I have managed to move past it. As a result I have relaxed a lot more. I’m pretty sure I eat more these days. I have no idea how many calories. But my weight seems stable, and so I figure that my body can handle it. And despite my desire at times to have a ‘clean’ day in which I only eat really healthy things, most days I treat myself. Because I don’t see any (logical) reason not to.

I think what the ‘binge’ proved is that I’ve moved beyond my old thought patterns and I have genuinely changed. The important thing is not what happened, but how I reacted to it. I didn’t freak out, I didn’t beat myself up about it. I treated myself with compassion and calmly, lovingly tried to work out what was behind the behaviour.

There is something else that has helped me lately, but I want to save that for a new post because I have some uni work to get on with at the moment. So I will continue this after I’ve got something to show for my afternoon besides a page of scrawled notes.

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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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