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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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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Body Image

This Body at 27

“I am not this body, I am not this mind” was a mantra I repeated whilst staying at the Sivananda Ashram in Kerala, India.  I always liked to ponder on what it would be like to not be attached to the physical and mental sides of ourselves.

But here I am aged 27 amazed at how much my body can change. This body is resilient as a wall and I’ve put it through a few challenges and it’s been good to me. Yet now I start to begrudge my greying hair (yeah it’s happening), my love handles and sometimes my body dissatisfaction. As a body confidence campaigner I won’t list all my qualms about said body but nor will I pretend I have a perfect relationship with it.

It surprises me how my perception of my body can change weekly.  Sometimes I notice niggles and feel down on myself. Then a girlfriend will comment on how great my legs look and suddenly all seems rosier.  I try to push through those rubbish days when a skirt doesn’t fit how it used to. Does it really matter if my hips are a little wider? Was I any happier when they were smaller? I don’t believe so no.  I’ve noticed patterns in body dissatisfaction and the monthly cycle when it becomes particularly bad and thus my attitude to my body takes a nose dive.  Three days later and suddenly I’ve forgotten what I was moaning about.

So if you’re feeling down on how you look remember it’s a temporary state and try to look for patterns in attitudes and feelings. I know I feel better if I practice Bikram or run, it not only lifts my spirits but the endorphins rush around and life and thus my body seem happier!

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Love what you've been given

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Body Image

Eating Disorders Are Not A Choice

This week I read this article on the Daily Mail about the supposed rise of the super skinny celebrity. I read it and thought to myself how can this woman presume the women in the article have eating disorders.

You can’t 100% accurately tell if someone has an eating disorder, its not always visible, there are many different types.  Having suffered from one I want to point out that anorexia is not a choice, neither are bulimia or other types.  Also you can look relatively healthy and still be suffering. 

Should these women not leave the house for fear of influencing people to be ‘too thin’.  No.  We have no right to judge their body types.  I believe the media portrayal of celebrity figures have a lot to answer for.  Having articles on ‘who’s too skinny’ or ‘who’s too fat’ or ‘look at their rolls’ alongside each other to me is far more damaging.  The thing is these magazines and online articles sell, that’s why there’s such an abundance of them.  People are inquisitive by nature and sadly judging someone on the size of their waistline makes the front page.

I agree with the writer that it’s a huge worry for our children who are growing up in a much more digital age than I did where access to articles written in a negative way about body image are in abundance such as ‘thinspiration’.  However I believe its about educating people on self esteem and not focusing on purely our aesthetic.  Celebrities and models didn’t cause my anorexia but I would read for hours in forums written probably by girls like me about the weights of these models.  I want to see articles on raising self esteem and tips on how to boost confidence, not pieces set to knock down confidence.

Eating disorders are serious mental health issues with serious consequences.  Working to be pro-active not reactive to them and build up self esteem I believe is vital to helping reduce incidence and improve recovery.

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Body Image

This Body of Mine

The inspiration for the name of my blog ‘So Much More To’ came partly from being asked what my favourite part of my body is.  I thought to myself there’s more to me than my body and I don’t want to compartmentalise too much. There’s also more in life that I want to see/do/discover/experience…….

I wrote this blog post in early January 2014 from my teeny tiny room in a village in Southern Sri Lanka.  I was sat on my bed, totally alone and feeling completely relaxed to write freely.  Promptly after jotting down my thoughts my laptop decided it didn’t fancy working anymore.  I have just salvaged the article so here it is, enjoy.

When I entered Star in a Bra last year I never could I have imagined what an incredible experience it would be.  The excitement of being picked for the top thirty was only just the beginning.  When I refreshed that button awaiting the top ten results and saw my photo I literally jumped out of my seat with joy.  The little girl inside me who had always wanted to be that pretty model having her hair and make-up done finally would be getting a professional make-over.  The day of the top ten photo-shoot was so much fun.  You could feel the surges of positivity towards everyone and their individual stories about their bodies.  I met so many wonderful women that day.  The team at Curvy Kate are a cracking bunch who make everyone moment enjoyable.  It’s not that often that you can feel the backbone of a brand which has integrity and a desire to empower women to feel better about themselves. 

It’s only been since speaking at Bournemouth University last February about my recovery from Anorexia that I realised how important it is for me to be open about it as I had so much feedback from people that it was helpful.  Sitting in front of a room of strangers talking about my past was much more emotionally challenging than I could have realised (there were tears).  I remember vividly not caring if I died when I was ill, how awful is that?  Now that is a thought I could never possibly entertain.  However it stood me in good stead for dealing with the flurry of news stories that followed from my Curvy Kate adventure.  Interviews with The Huffington Post and newspapers such as The Daily Mail online were beyond my wildest expectations of what would ever come from such a horrible period in my life.  But that’s when it made me realise its important to turn a negative into a positive.  Too often men and women are detrimental to themselves over their looks or their size.  Body confidence is a term which has so many facets.  I wouldn’t say I am 100% body confident, there will always be parts I feel good/bad/indifferent about.  But no longer do I let those thoughts prevent me from doing things or eating this and drinking that.  Life is for living, not for spending your time worrying over 5 pounds. 

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At first when I saw this pic and my tummy I was a bit like agh rolls but then I thought who cares and probably ate some rice and curry

Recently someone suggested to me that perhaps I could lose 5kgs (this was in relation to some pain I had been having in my foot).  Now if this had been a few years ago I may have been very upset about their comments.  Instead I explained to them that the time I was 5 kilos lighter in recent years was due to having Dengue fever in Bali and being in hospital and bed ridden for three weeks.  My weight is stable and my body is happy at the size I am.  Now I am surfing every day and doing yoga more frequently I have seen changes which is great because its a sign I am fitter and stronger, not skinnier. 

Last July I was invited do to a nude photoshoot with Cosmopolitan magazine.  Standing there totally in the nuddy with a very sweet photographer was probably one of the most surreal moments of my life.  After my initial “ohhhhhmmmmmyyygawd’ in my head I got into the ‘swing’ of it and loved every second.  All I kept thinking was how lucky am I to have an experience like this??  Again it was a huge boost to my confidence and empowerment.  The picture came out better than I expected (of course I was nervous about how I would look to the world).  Now I have a collection of tasteful shots that if I am lucky enough to have kids they will be hugely embarrassed to see!

I’ve been thinking about tips I can suggest for feeling body confident, some mentally and some physically, so here goes:

1. Knowing your value as a person doesn’t come from your body size/shape
2. Enjoying what life has to offer, there’s more tummy in my bikini these days but it doesn’t stop me wearing one!
3. Putting things into perspective, do people really care that much about how I look day to day?  Probably not. I don’t sweat the small stuff when it comes to what others think about me
4. Wear glitter (I swear it makes me feel good)
5. Wear some Curvy Kate underwear, I always feel great in it
6. Give people compliments, energy follows thought so spread positive thoughts and your energy will be better
7. Focus on your good points, don’t dwell on the negative
8. Embrace the body you have.  I’m lucky to be busty so I may as well enjoy them, a little cleavage never hurt anyone
9. Having negative thoughts about how you look/feel or someone else has no benefits to either person, keep negative comments to yourself and try to re – work those thought processes
10. Get outside and sweat! I feel best when I have been exercising, be it a run, the gym, yoga or a surf.

If you are reading this (thanks for reading) I hope it helps you to love your body more and embrace life!  Say yes to everything and don’t worry about things that aren’t important.  Remember energy follows thought.

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Volunteer

‘No School-No Surfing’ with Kovalam Surf Club

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Whilst researching India and looking for some waves I came across the blog Swell Voyage by Liz Clark which in turn led me to discovering Kovalam Surf Club located in Kerala . One look at their website and I knew this was the first port of call for me when I arrived in India.

Kovalam Surf Club work in conjunction with the charity SISP (Sebastian Indian Social Project). SISP was set up by Belgian Paul Van Gelder who works to improve the lives of the poorest in the area of Vizhinjam in Kerala through education, social work and employment.  The children who attend the school come from extremely poor families who live below the poverty line, sometimes the children need to work to help support the family so SISP provide the income to recover the loss of income. After a week of school the kids can surf with the club at the weekend. Their message is clear to the kids ‘No School-No Surfing’.  The love for surfing and education becoming entwined.  

The kids arrived at the beach at 10am on Saturday and ran straight into the sea. There was a mix of surf boards, boogie boards and rubber rings all out together. I had hours of fun giving pushes to the kids whenever they needed it and giving encouragement and whoopas.  One fellow Ramesh rips and caught every wave he went for absolutely killing it, a great sight to behold.

ImageThe kids enthusiasm for the water was infectious and after having a quick break for delicious packets of rice and curry from Abhi’s Cafe it was straight back into the sea. It’s no surprise that I ended up more than a little sun-kissed from the day but the mild sunburn was totally worth it.

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Helping with the kids and seeing their smiles after catching wave after wave was fantastic. I remember when I was learning to surf loving the acknowledgement of an instructor when they gave a thumbs up so I hope that they felt the same and no doubt being with the club must boost their self-esteem and confidence. I was shattered by the end of the day and ecstatic to have been in the sea with them, their energy was incredible. On Sunday it was back to the sea for more fun and frolics and a few waves for myself too.

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I visited the SISP school and Jelle (Kovalam Surf Club founder and man of the sea) showed me around. I was overwhelmed and inspired by the smiles and hellos and also humbled because I know how lucky I am to come from a place where being able to attend school is easy and I come from a comfortable financial upbringing. Imagine not being able to go to school because your family are so poor that they cannot afford the school uniform or the pens and paper despite that attending the school is free.

Alongside the school SISP have a handicraft centre where beautiful products are made out of materials sourced locally such as coconut shells turned into candle holders, pen pots and sugar pots. To support the replacement of plastic bags newspapers are recycled into attractive paper bags.

ImageJelle showed me the room where sanitary pads are made. This was of particular interest to me as I hadn’t considered how for some buying sanitary products is incredibly difficult due to financial reasons. Through the social work SISP carried out they discovered that the women who were using material as sanitary cloths were frequently getting urinary infections. Now they have machines to turn cotton into affordable sanitary pads which can be sold for a pack of eight for 20INR (The equivalent to 20pence so 2.5p per pad).

ImageImageWomen are given the opportunity to create their own businesses through micro-credit loans therefore becoming more independent, more confident and in-turn happier in the work and home lives.

If you’re in Kovalam be sure to check out Kovalam Surf Club’s shop which is located next to Wilson hotel behind the beach. Inside you will find all the handicraft products including lovely jewellery made from recycled paper and coconut. I nabbed myself a necklace and a KSC vest top, very happy! You can also buy all the necessaries for surfing including surfboards, wax, rash vests and board shorts.

ImageI was thrilled to hang out at the Kovalam Surf Club and meet these wonderful people who inspire all. My five days there being in the sea with everyone, eating at Abhi’s cafe and drinking chai were fantastic and are fondly in my heart, I hope to return soon!

What can you do to help? You can donate to SISP and Kovalam Surf Club, set up a direct debit, visit the centre and school, surf with the kids at the weekends and bring gifts both tangible and intangible which can enrich these families’ lives. 

All links below:

http://www.sisp.be

http://www.kovalamsurfclub.com

http://www.swellvoyage.com/

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