Body Image, Self-esteem

And Exhale

Wow. I’ve just got back from Exhale festival. It was another wonderful experience this year. There is so much to process from the weekend. So many feelings, ideas and inspirations are running through my head. Yesterday I had the honour of running a body image talk. It was to my great delight that a packed barn of men and women came together to share, discuss and listen to what I had to say. If I think back to three years ago when I first publicly talked about my eating disorder I realise how far i’ve come. It’s still hard and emotional to talk about but this time there were no tears just big smiles. I just want to say a HUGE thank you to each person who showed up, your presence was greatly appreciated. And to those who shared thoughts and feelings in the circle thank you for being brave. Thank you to my partner Gerard for being there, supporting me and always believing in me, even when I struggle to.

I remember wishing the ed had never happened to me. Now I realise it’s one of my greatest gifts. When I was ill I NEEDED to hear and see stories of recovery, that there was a way out, that I had a hope to be back to myself. It is this that pushes me to keep talking about it and to keep sharing because I know that if it makes a difference to one person then that is fucking amazing.

There is far too much pressure on people to look a certain way, to attain to an ideal that is unachievable for most. We are all unique, that is what makes us so special. We all have something to offer this world, to share and a unique inner strength. It’s so important to appreciate all that we can DO and all that our bodies do for us. The image stuff, well it’s there but you are perfect just as you are. If you want the cake then eat the cake, life is too short not to. I really worry for the younger generations growing up in a world where social media is at their fingertips. With constant expectations about how you ‘should’ look then how we can we ever match up to it if you don’t achieve it?

I did some powerful work with Mark Walsh yesterday on yoga for social change. It was thought provoking and timely. I want to see people being kinder to each other and most of all kinder to themselves. We need to have communities and support, not segregation, isolation and wars. I want to help people who are suffering with body image issues, whatever that may be. I need to use all I have learnt, keep sharing and develop ways for actionable change. It’s not enough to say ‘love your body’, if only it was that simple right?

So thank you to each and every person who I spoke to this weekend and Carl & Darren for making Exhale festival possible. The sharing, connecting, love and community had a powerful presence and i’m sure a lasting effect on everyone. Lastly but by no means least as I write this I think of my wonderful parents who looked after me when I was ill. You encouraged me to keep fighting and to always keep learning, thank you.

 

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Body Image, Uncategorized

Learning To Love Myself

When I was in the midst of an eating disorder I felt totally detached from my body. It became something to punish.  The habits and rituals formed to ensure the mind felt safe at the expense of my body and my life.

Growing up I barely gave a moment’s thought to what I ate or the size of my jeans.  Once I reached 17 I began to re-think my regular chocolate bar breakfast.  Amongst my peers suddenly a chocolate laden meal didn’t seem the best idea.  Still, my weight and body image hardly factored into my conscious.

When I found myself at University, 5 hours away from home and my friends I began to panic.  I felt uncomfortable and like I didn’t belong.  Going out and getting drunk on alcopops was the thing to do.  I had to cook for myself properly.  It became so much easier to eat junk food, after all, I was in control of the food shop.  Quickly I began to see a whole packet of biscuits as something I needed to finish.  After that I would probably eat more chocolate.  Sure enough these eating habits coupled with no exercise and drinking made me put on weight.  Suddenly I wasn’t in control of my body or my hunger.  I ignored the feeling of being full and continued to eat more.  By the first term of Uni I had put on over a stone and felt out of control and uncomfortable.  I obviously didn’t understand that the way I was eating had become a way to cope, to feel safe.

Going on a diet felt like the perfect solution.  Restricting my eating and being more selective of what I ate began to work.  Yet this path was slippery and once I was on it I slipped all the way to Anorexia Nervosa.  There was this feeling of victory over my mind and body.  I could control my eating habits and therefore please my mind.  Once I had this nailed I could just focus on not eating.  I trained myself to eat so little that I switched off hunger pangs.  My routine and rituals were my safe places.  I felt so clever and powerful to have found a new way to eat.  As my weight fell I felt temporarily happier.  There’s this place where you’ve lost weight so people compliment you.  It’s the norm to congratulate weight loss right?  Like being a smaller version of ourselves is the best thing.  Like our happiness should be measured on whether we can wear a smaller size skirt?

But then there’s this point where the compliments stop.  Where people start asking you why you don’t cook anymore?  Why you don’t come out anymore?  Why your heater is constantly on?  You retreat further inside yourself, don’t take away my routine.  If anyone gets in the way of the rituals you get so upset.  You feel so loathsome.  You just want to return to ‘normal’, to your safe place.  At this point I stopped looking in the mirror.  Weight loss was a daily occurrence, clothes fell off me.  Punishing my body felt so good.   Pushing the wheels on my bike, running another mile all felt like I was running away from myself and my mind.

It was only once I admitted that maybe I had a problem that I realised quite how much my habits had become ingrained.  I didn’t like how I looked, yet anything was better than going back to feeling out of control.  I didn’t know it then but I would have to go on huge journey to re-educate myself, to learn to love myself and to stop listening to a voice that wanted to hurt me.  Along with re-introducing foods into my diet I had cognitive behavioural therapy.  I started to understand that my new way of living wasn’t helping me at all.  That in-fact my way of coping was to hurt myself more than I had ever known.  I had to learn to accept my flaws and to be more kind to myself.  I had to stop seeing food as the enemy and re-educate my brain that it was a necessity and something to be enjoyed.

Putting weight back on was a gradual but essential part to recovery.  As I began to eat more nutrients I re-found my energy and my motivation.  I would still be referred to as the ‘skinny’ one.  Yet I had to look beyond my body and know that with a healthy mind comes a healthy body.  As I felt better I reignited my friendships, the desire to talk to men, to go out and to have fun, just like any other 20 year old.

When I was ill I was so unhappy, I truly hated myself.  As I worked through my issues I began to be release these negative thoughts.  I saw my body as something to take care of and to love.  When my periods returned I was so relieved to feel that my body was healing.  As I began to feel physically stronger my mental strength and resilience started to build.

We live in a world where people are obsessed with weight, body image, diets, clean-eating, the list goes on.  Yet we forget that each of us has their natural size and shape that’s what makes us varied and beautiful.  It can be so easy to be preoccupied with attaining a ‘better’ version of yourself.  But perfection doesn’t exist.  You get to your goal and then what?  What comes next?  Because unless you learn to love yourself and your being then you will never be satisfied.

A huge part in my recovery was regaining my sense of self-worth.  A friend once said “Alice you need to love yourself before others can love you”.  She was right because I needed to discover that I was worthy of a healthy life, a healthy body and mind and ultimately was loveable.  I would never be purposefully mean to others so why would I do it to myself?  As I’ve become stronger both physically and mentally my body image doesn’t factor into my day to day.  Of course I have days when I feel happier than others but that’s normal.  What’s important is that I know my self-worth and that I am kind to myself and those around me.

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Uncategorized

Proud – India Rose

“When one woman puts her experiences into words, another woman who has kept silent, afraid of what others will think, can find validation. And when the second woman says aloud, ‘yes, that was my experience too,’ the first woman loses some of her fear.” Carol Christ

It´s funny how you can stumble across a quote which just perfectly sums up a pivotal moment in time.

Last week my dearest darling India stood up in front of a mix of our friends and those she didn´t know and so bravely read an extract from her diary and experience of Bulimia.  This was a huge step for her on many accounts, I don´t think I can do it justice in describing what this moment meant to her.  But what I do know is to publicly ‘admit’ that you´ve suffered and have lived through this time and come out the other side is a HUGE step.  I’ve known India for 12 years and throughout this time she has been nothing short of bold, brave and an incredible person.  We’ve always been close and by strange twists and turns of fate both found ourselves starting the journey of adult hood with eating disorders.

But just like every human is different, our experiences took us down very different roads.  Whilst mine has been in the public sphere for the past three years India has never told anyone beyond those closest to her.  That´s fucking tough.  How can we ever know the suffering going on behind a person´s beautiful exterior?  To see someone you love in pain is terrible, and to see them come out the other side is just, well, amazing.  What i’ve learnt from India is to be a shoulder and an encourager.  An encourager to keep fighting, to know there are better times ahead and a life that can be free of eating disorders.

If sharing your experience helps one person that it makes it all worth it right?  Knowing you’re not alone, that someone understands.  I am very proud to say that India´s incredible words are here https://andbreatheblog.wordpress.com/  On her blog you will find words of understanding, of thoughtfulness, of openness, of contemplation and above all, inspiration.

For my badger, I am endlessly proud of you xx

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Body Image, Health, Self-esteem

Recovery is Waiting

There is a special woman in my life, her name is Jess Griffiths.  Having made a full recovery from an Eating Disorder herself she has dedicated her life to helping others through theirs, including me.  A wife, a mother and a kind soul.  Jess and I still keep in touch and through her network I have been able to help out several people who have wanted to call on my experience of recovery.  Dr James Palfreman–Kay just sent me these two videos made by Bournemouth University:

Recognising you having an eating disorder – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Qb6OOjODm8

Recovery from an eating disorder – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RO2bwklIzWM

Being able to support the work Bournemouth University do to raise awareness of eating disorders and promote recovery gives me great pride.   Bournemouth has a special place in my heart, it’s where I spent three years of my life, got a degree, suffered through Anorexia and then made a full recovery.

These videos highlight how eating disorders can happen to anyone but also importantly you can recover.  Recovery is 100% worth it.  I urge you to watch them if you’re worried about yourself or someone you know.

If you are seeking advice please visit http://www.b-eat.co.uk/

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Body Image, Drink, Food, Health, Self-esteem, Uncategorized

My Eating Disorder

Legs pressed against my tiny heater all I could think was how much I didn’t want to go for a run but that I MUST do it.  I was freezing from the inside out, it was April.

Eight months previous to this moment I had begun university.  I couldn’t wait to leave my home town to be by the sea in what felt like a new world.  When I waved my mother goodbye I think I ate a cookie for dinner, chatted to my neighbours and went out to party on VKs.  The next morning with a hangover I dragged myself out of bed to bond with my fellow ‘car park’ living students.  Yes we lived in a converted car park, it was as horrendous as it sounds, no wonder I ended up depressed (kidding).

Being thrust into uni life I felt a little uneasy a lot of the time.  I thought people didn’t like me that much and missed my best friends from home.  Hence food became a replacement for companionship in my life.  I knew how to cook but I just always felt hungry.  I would binge eat at times till I felt sick and as I put on weight I hated how out of control I felt.  In fact I weighed then roughly what I weigh now.  But I had always been naturally very slim and had never gained weight so quickly which came as a shock.

When Christmas came around I was miserable and bloated.  A fleeting comment from someone stuck in my mind and I resolved that come New Year I would be on a diet.  I cannot stress enough how damaging it is for some people when you comment on their appearance or what they eat.  Whilst a comment isn’t wholly to blame from those who I know have suffered from an ED they always remember a negative comment that set off a trigger in them.

So the start of 2006 came around and I was thrilled to be on a new eating regime.  For the first time in my life I went to an exercise class.  My legs were jelly afterwards and I felt great.  I quickly came to the conclusion that by cutting out certain foods I could lose weight quicker.  Funnily enough it worked, I lost weight.  Within a couple of weeks half a stone had come off and without me even realising I was falling straight into Anorexia Nervosa.

Just as I felt more in control my father was diagnosed with cancer.  This is the worst news I’ve ever had in my life.  I still vividly remember him telling me it was a tumour and that was it, I no longer needed or wanted food.  I felt so utterly useless being stuck in Bournemouth as my Mother rushed around looking after Dad, and then he got MRSA.  I went home for Easter to help out and my obsessions with food and exercise spiraled.

By this point people were commenting and complimenting me on my weight loss.  I felt powerful and strong , like I had a won a battle with myself.  I didn’t realise it but I was always internally fighting.  I reduced my eating habits to an amount I will never publically disclose for fear it will trigger others.

I trained for a 5K Race for Life race with rigid precision.  There was no missing a run, it just couldn’t happen,  I was literally running on empty.  I obsessed over exercise never missing a class or a bike ride to and from Uni.  I started to withdraw, I stopped drinking because of the calories.  If I did allow myself a drink I would restrict my food even more.  I threw myself into uni work and exercise.  I would stay in bed too weak to get up at times and then push on through.   My body was constantly freezing, I had my little heater on all the time which often drew comments from others on how could I live in such a warm room?  Not once did anyone ask if I had a problem, its OK though, I know how hard it is to speak to someone you think is suffering.

I used to weigh myself daily which also became addictive, as the numbers dropped I felt so proud of myself for discovering this new way to eat.  I felt like I had trumped all the diets.  Not once did I think I had am eating disorder.  I became cranky and irritable if anyone tried to make me eat something I didn’t want to.

When Race for Life came round I achieved a PB, I thought I was invincible.  Dinner that night was torture and ecstasy.  A real meal and yet I was terrified.  The jam roly poly was tasteless and I was upset to have wasted the calories.  My parents were horrified at my weight loss and attitude and begged that I would do something about it.  I felt horrendous, I was obsessed and miserable.

I returned to Uni dejected and wanting to change, I just didn’t know how.  The little paper slips on the toilet wall offered a place for those with an ED to come and talk.  I didn’t have an ED but maybe some little problem, or so I had convinced myself.  So there I sat and for the first time I was honest about what I had been doing. It felt so strange to be telling all my secrets to a stranger.  Yet she was so reassuring and kind that I felt safe.

What ensued was a visit to the doctor and a referral to the hospital. It was taken seriously, suddenly this had become the small steps to recovery.  Kimmeridge court hospital in Poole was where I cycled to my assessment, again I wasn’t letting up on any habits.  It was here they discovered I had Osteopenia in my hips, the start of osteoporosis.  That’s when you start to compute you’re doing damage.  I hadn’t had a period my whole first year of university.  I wanted to punish my body for letting me down so much, I never twigged that my body weight could be the cause.  I lay on the floor with wires attached to me which measured every bit of body fat, water, density etc.  There was a long list of questions to be answered and some tears, then the diagnosis.  Even when I was told I was anorexic I didn’t believe it.  I thought I wasn’t thin enough, don’t you have to look seriously emaciated?

This is how I looked.

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Race for Life 2006

 

There are few pictures of me in first year, I didn’t look in the mirror much anymore let alone pose for photos, if I ever did go out.  I hated myself and my body.  That thought terrifies me now, how could I loathe myself so much?  How did I get to that point?

It was during the Summer of 06 that I really felt very low.  I knew I was sick but I didn’t know how to get better.  The worst was on a walk with my Mum who said “you’re killing yourself” and at that moment I didn’t care if I died.  I was so unhappy and felt so trapped in my mind.  I couldn’t imagine being free of the disease.  I didn’t think I could ever eat a normal meal again.  This picture is bleak but it’s how it was.  I spent the whole of my first year pretty depressed and not even realising it.

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Summer of 2006 and Star in a Bra 2013

In my second year I received Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which I believe saved me.  Without Jess Griffiths and Micki I don’t know if I would have recovered, or it sure would have taken longer.  I had to find joy again in life.  I entered second year scared and anxious.  Routines still plagued me but at least I was eating again.  Alongside the therapy I was weighed weekly, weight gain was imperative, if I hadn’t gained one week I had to work harder the next to put on the pounds.  The weight came on slowly and gradually, no piling on pounds as the media liked to make out.  In this year Jade was my rock and solace from my house.  I found partying difficult and Jade would drive me to hers so we could hang out and cook together.  In those acts of kindness I knew she was my friend for life.

As I gained weight I felt better.  I felt more able to cope with what was happening to me.  My bones no longer dug in at night and I started to have some fun.  The ED was no longer controlling me.  after a year of therapy I was signed off at a healthy weight.  Over the next few years I became stronger and stronger.  I still found conversations about food hard, especially in office environments whilst on placement in third year, but it became easier with time.

I’ve been recovered nearly 8 years ago now.  I was such a different person then.  I lost Alice for two years, lost to a disease who wanted every part of me.  I am so grateful I broke free of it.  I used to wish it had never happened to me.  Now I see all the benefits it has brought me in later life.  Ironically I think I have a better attitude to food and body image than a lot of others.  I’ve been a size 6 and I looked terrible because I was damaging myself and it’s not where my body wants to be.

I don’t skip meals and I don’t count calories.  I eat what I like and do a lot of exercise, without being controlled by it.  Of course I have days when I feel down on myself, that’s just life.  It frustrates me when food is labeled good or bad, what kind of message does this send to people?  Eating shouldn’t have guilt attachments to it.  When I was in the trappings of anorexia I didn’t want to ever have to eat outside the realms of what I had carved for myself.  But we must eat to survive, I almost had to re educate myself to this.

I used to think Anorexia was my fault, that I had done it on purpose.  But eating disorders are not a choice they are a serious mental illness. I can look back now and see that multiple factors played a part in it.  One major one being unable to cope with being at university and feeling depressed.

I am recovered and I hope it will never affect me again in my life.  It breaks my heart to see or hear of people suffering.  What can be done to help them?  It’s really difficult, you can’t tell an anorexic to just eat, it’s not that simple.  But by breaking down taboos on EDs hopefully this can help to educate and perhaps awaken those to the fact they have problem.  To fight it you need willing to get better.

Without my ED I might not be the person I am today. A perfectionist personality is useful you know!  But really, I probably wouldn’t have entered Star in a Bra or worked with Body Gossip and Be Real Talks, or tried to support body image campaigns.  It shocks me how so many people have a negative body image.  But it’s not surprising when a lot of messaging is peppered with “you’re not good enough as you are” and “you need to look different”.  It seems some can’t remember they are great just as they are.

So this week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.  I wrote this article to try to break down the taboo of Anorexia. To look at me now you would never know but it’s where I came from.  It’s where my first part of adult life took a side step.  It’s where I lost the joy in living.

If you think someone is suffering then talk to them.  Yes its really difficult and you have to be careful but it could save a life.  Often EDs are covered with what appears to be a little bit of weight loss, its only when it becomes extreme that people can visibly notice.  If you’re reading this and it all sounds familiar then please do comment below, I am more than happy to help where I can.

I’ll end it on this.  Now, free from Anorexia I have my life back.  Every part of it was worth the pain of recovery and a full recovery is truly possible.  If you are worried about yourself or someone you know then please get in contact with BEAT who will be able to help.

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Happy and Healthy Today

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