You Got Me, Yeah?: 10. Don’t Forget To Live

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There are a multitude of aspects, behaviours and attitudes that are helpful to adopt when supporting someone through either living with, or recovering from an eating disorder, however, there is also one vital factor to not forget – and that is to try and live your life as normally and fully as you can with the person you are supporting be they a spouse, child or friend. In addition to valuing their needs as a sufferer and their disorder, it is also of paramount importance to factor in an awareness of your own needs, and being able to fulfil them as best you can in the given circumstances.

Perhaps, if your spouse is suffering you will crave more touch and intimacy as this may, understandably so, be difficult for the sufferer with the eating disorder to endure: however, maybe you can find other ways in which to enjoy each others’ company and closeness. If they are OK with hugs and cuddles, a stroke of the hand or their head then trying to savour this touch might help – as many people suffering from eating disorders due to various reasons struggle with being naked or sexual contact.

It may me plausible that through your loved one suffering from an eating disorder you have lost a vital emotional crutch and support as you feel unable to confide your difficulties to them. Chances are, they still want to be there for you so don’t feel like you can’t talk to or confide at all in your loved one. Maybe it might be an idea to seek additional support from charity organisations one services in your area such as those provided by Carers Services and B-eat.

Then there is the matter of having fun. Although an eating disorder is a struggle, the person suffering, and you – their support, are still allowed to have fun. Despite everything going on you are still allowed to try and do enjoyable activities even if this means forcing yourself in the knowledge that you may well most likely feel better afterwards. Go out, see galleries, go fishing or camping, or watch a film. Whatever it was that you enjoyed doing before, with the person you care for, then do it.

I think this is especially important in helping the sufferer to maintain a sense of their true identity and personality aside from their eating disorder. All too often they become “the bulimic” or “the anorexic” – and the ill mindset doesn’t mind, but it does make recovery that much more difficult if someone feels that they are nothing much more than there disorder. How can they let go of their disorder eventually if they feel there is nothing left of them without it? If they feel they are no-one without it? Therefore it is important to emphasise this person’s interests, positive traits and engage in real life activities with them.

It may also be important for you to go out on your own, or pursue an interest of your own so that you too don’t lose your identity to the disorder and become known as nothing more than “the carer”. So go on, play scrabble, or watch comedies, or simply run around the house messing around being silly.

Laugh and live alongside

the eating disorder. 

Useful Links:
Beat Eating Disorders, the UK’s leading eating disorder charity:
Online chat support
Online group support
Local HelpFinder

You Got My Back, Yeah?: 9. What Recovery Is, and Is Not.

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There have been times of confusion within myself in regards to understanding what recovery from an eating disorder is, and is not. It is important here to be realistic. Recovery is definitely possible, if you have a realistic expectation and acceptance of what that means for you.

For me, it meant not having a dire need deep within myself to be less, smaller and smaller. It meant not being deeply angered and upset at seeing a weight that would be considered “healthy”. It was being able to regain some form of true enjoyment for food that went beyond, “I can’t believe this is only 5 calories!”, but instead to enjoy the taste, texture, the energy, the feeling of having eaten a good meal and nourishing my body. It meant being able to go to the gym and not only focus on calories burnt, and having goals beyond burning hundreds of calories but instead being able to focus on stamina, heart rate, and strength. It meant not calculating a tally of every calorie I’ve eaten all day every day, physically or mentally. It meant not weighing myself 20 times a day and being so OK with it that I have better things to do. It meant not having an inch goal for my waist, and not making restrictive dieting plans designed to retain order and control over all of my life problems.

You can see, from just these few aspects how much of a journey recovery is. I could go on more, but the ultimate bottom line is that for me, recovering from an eating disorder meant losing the obsession, the compulsion of the obsession and being able to enjoy food without being racked with guilt, shame and anguish. It also meant learning to accept my body, and learning to not hate it. I didn’t have to love myself, but I didn’t want to loathe every aspect of myself. Finally, it meant learning what triggered me, and learning to manage, control and if necessary, walk away from those triggers. Walking around certain fashionable shops when I’m not feeling my best for example is a minefield of triggers that I sometimes just need to walk away from – but I can and I do.

Having said that, there are some little quirks that remain from those days, but for as long as I am able to manage them and control the need for control then that is recovered for me. I have had to explain and justify many of these quirks to my partner as she initially saw them as “eating disorder related behaviours” that she would otherwise consider concerning.

For example, if I am eating a new food, most particularly cereals and nuts, I will weigh them out into a ‘portion’ as indicated on the packet. Sometimes, I do not necessarily know the calorie content of my breakfast, but I will have checked that it is reasonable, balanced and not overloaded with sugars when I was browsing the cereal aisle. Another thing is that, I will read food labels in the shop, but that is to make sure I am happy to eat it. Are there chemicals that I’m not too keen on? Is it overloaded with sugars and saturated fats for the portion? Is it balanced nutritionally? I would prefer to call this healthy awareness and concern for what I am feeding myself. If it has passed the test in the supermarket, then I do not worry about it at home so much.

I have also retained a need to ‘feel in control’ of my life, but I have found other ways in which to fulfil that need. In the first instance I make my own choices and can say no. Another is that I will keep records and diaries detailing factors of my life that I can monitor: my exercise regimes, my moods, my energy, what time I woke up at, how I felt and what I did. Even though it doesn’t really mean I am in control of every aspect of my life, the awareness of where I am at, and recording all of those factors has replaced my need to record food, calories, weight etc. I also record my weight but I weigh once every 7-14 days, and record it on a ‘Healthy BMI’ app in order to keep my focus and weight goals healthy: the goal being, stay in the green.

So even though I am somewhat picky about the health content of my food, I sometimes weigh my portions, I weigh myself, I make lists and recordings of factors in my life to feel in control, and that I need to do that in order to feel sane is not pathological because it is not interfering with my ability to function. In reality it is working with my neurotic traits in order to function at my most. I have shifted those needs from unhealthy focuses to healthy focuses and am able to put limitations on any urges that may arise. So it is fine to weigh my dinner as long as I am not getting distressed over every gram to the exact figure – and that once I have finished my dinner, I move on; it no longer bothers me. In addition, weighing myself helps for those moments when my mind is playing tricks on me and making me feel like my body is expanding by inches upon inches in a matter of hours, when I think I can ‘feel’ how my lack of exercise has affected my thighs, and ‘see’ how my face is bulging amongst folds of exponential fat. I can stand on the scale now, see that I am a ‘healthy weight’ and rationalise that I am fine. It is OK. I do not need to go on a diet. Especially as a few times in those moments, I have not budged a pound on the scales, which furthers my evidence that it is all in my head and that now I am aware of that, it is my job to manage those feelings healthily.

Despite that on the surface, the needing of weighing scales in the bathroom may seem eating disordered, it is not that mere fact but how I interact with those scales and what they mean to my day that us of importance. Accepting that management for me is as good as it gets, and that I need to remain aware of my vulnerabilities is recovery. Now when I think about food, I think about enjoyment, health values and new recipes. More over, it no longer consumes my existence.

Many people I have spoken to who have suffered from eating disorders admit that “it never 100% goes away, it remains a battle” but what is important is how you manage that battle in order to win. How you turn how you fulfil the needs that you do through the eating disorder into healthier methods and modes is what recovery is about, in addition to learning to think, view and accept a different healthier perspective of the world, your body, food, weight and coping, and how you relate to each of these aspects of living.

10. Don’t Forget to Live (Click)

You Got My Back, Yeah?: 8. You Still Need to Eat: Leading By Healthy Example

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She ate sweet treats, cake, ice cream and chocolate as she liked, but as she liked was in moderation.

When suffering from an eating disorder, even facts can form the twisted distortions of reality. Especially as there is an over-abundance of food and healthy eating myths plaguing the Internet and mass media. Some of them can be taken out of proportion and extenuated to facilitate and justify eating disordered behaviours. Others are entirely false but can be somehow twisted, manipulated and rationalised in order to form a new knowledge upon which to justify engaging in eating disordered behaviours.

My partner often led by healthy example. She was not a health conscious foodie, nor was she ever interested in “good food, bad food”. For her, “good food” tasted good and felt good whilst “bad food” would simply be anything she genuinely hated the taste of, peas for example, and rhubarb, and very creamy foods. She liked what she liked. She ate when she was hungry and stopped when she was full. She ate sweet treats, cake, ice cream and chocolate as she liked, but as she liked was in moderation. It was a bit of what she fancied when she fancied it, and enough of it to satiate her fancy without heavily overindulging. Sometimes she overindulged if something was so delectable that she just couldn’t bear to leave it, a Toby Carvery roast for example. She enjoys healthy foods, and these, for her are good foods as well. She also maintained her weight as best as she could – and has never been on a diet in her life.

The only “good and bad” list that exists in her world of food is really, “favourite foods” and “foods I hate”. Nothing is out-of-bounds – unless it contains peas – and starving herself in order to later indulge never hit her agenda. Denying herself to shed some weight, or being at all conscious of calories never crossed her mind. She barely even knew what a calorie was a few years ago – and has only been enlightened by yours truly, a knowledge of which she isn’t bothered by.

With a good knowledge of general healthy Vs unhealthy, her main priority in regards to food is to eat it, enjoy it, and leave it when she has had enough. She led by example. There were many times when we’d be out and she would be hungry. I would vow a promise to eat “later” but agreed to sit with her whilst she ate. A few times this meant sitting in restaurants whilst she ate her meal and I drank a coffee or picked at a starter salad. This was important because by doing so, we weren’t allowing my abnormality to infringe upon and deny her entirely of her normality. She wasn’t going to skip a meal because I didn’t feel like eating. She wasn’t going to restrict her food intake because my face told of my horror that the plate of nachos she was eating was even legal, nor would she let my misconstrued beliefs affect her knowledge of reality, health, and her enjoyment for food.

Her attitude and beliefs about food helped me when I was coming out of believing everything the eating disorder said because her example re-educated my understanding of food for purpose, control and enjoyment.

In contrast to believing that the sole purpose of food was to make us fat and feel disgusting, I now know the purpose of food is to fuel and nourish our bodies. Instead of believing that by controlling our food intake we are exhibiting exquisite control over our lives and feelings, I now understand that the use of food for control is not healthy and food should form a part of your life, not control your life. Alternatively to not understanding that any food besides cups of tea could be a source of genuine enjoyment, or that any enjoyment derived from food wasn’t a fabricated chemical manipulation by corporations’ to later make you feel like shit and fat, has changed, and now food is also a source of enjoyment, joy and exciting interest – and that I am not greedy for experiencing food in this way. A lot of my learning in this was by healthy example.

9. What Recovery Is, and Is Not (Click)

You Got My Back, Yeah?: 7. Affirming Truths and Healing

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All the good I had achieved and all the good that I was.

I hated myself. I hated the way I looked, the way I spoke, the way I thought, the way I felt. Everything, if there was something about yourself that could be hated, I hated it about myself. I wasn’t good enough, I was too much, too annoying, fat, idiotic. I wasn’t talented and all my previous achievements were nothing more than a stroke of luck of over-exaggerated praise from over-enthusiastically nice people being, well, over-enthusiastically nice.

My perception of myself was distorted. Like everyone I had my weaknesses and faults, but also, like everyone, I had my positives, my talents, achievements and qualities. I had achieved in my life and I deserved every right to feel proud and positive about those achievements, such as going to university and getting published in print media. I had positive qualities such as being fun, able to laugh at myself, and being quirky. I did and could make friends, and had a good heart and was very caring. These affirmations and qualities were all focused on my person, my self, my core person. I was a good person and what mattered most was beyond looks and appearance.

However, I had good qualities physically too. My height, my legs, eyes and apparently the huge cheesy grin that lightens up across my face in the presence of joy and happiness. They are apparently beautiful. I didn’t believe it, and sometimes I still struggle to believe it, but I no longer hate every aspect of my physical entity, at least not all of the time or most days.

My partner would remind me of all the good I had achieved and all the good that I was. She would sit with me at the table and together we would write affirmations to later stick on the fridge of these ounces of goodness, encouraging me to think of them myself, but helping me along the way should I struggle. This helped form the foundations of learning to love myself, and if I couldn’t love myself yet or entirely, to at least liking myself enough to not hate myself. By doing this, we took the first steps towards long-term healing together – and this has very little to do with food.

8. You Still Need to Eat: Leading By Healthy Example (Click)

You Got My Back, Yeah?: 6. Being Treated Wholly

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I was also still a whole person.

I wasn’t spoken about as if I wasn’t there. I didn’t have decisions made for me, on my behalf without being informed. I was consulted about my care plans with the healthcare workers that helped the most, and who I ultimately trusted the most. I was respected, treated as a whole because yes, I had an illness but I was also still a whole person. I could still communicate but just needed extra time sometimes if my thoughts were slow. I could still feel, think and I was still as intelligent as I had been prior to becoming unwell. I could still joke and laugh.

Some healthcare workers emitted an air of assuming I was stupid or stunted intellectually for having such difficulties, who spoke about me as if I wasn’t there or who didn’t inform me truthfully or adequately, sometimes if at all, of my care plans – which made me feel disrespected and ultimately hindered our professional relationship from being at all useful – the result being that at times I felt more sub-human than I was already.

7. Affirming Truths and Healing (Click)

You Got My Back, Yeah?: 5. Privacy Vs Secrecy

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They thrive in secrecy and breed behind the closed doors of silence.

Eating disorders are secretive illnesses. They thrive in secrecy and breed behind the closed doors of silence. However, secrecy and privacy are separated by a fine line, which was respected. I had diaries within which my thoughts, calculations, graphs – whatever I was using to document, chart and fulfil my obsession with food and weight was untouched by anyone but myself. In here I could write my dark thoughts, my lists upon lists of obsessions, and my drawings to express myself. She saw of it what I showed her. I trust this very much to be true, as I trust her very much. She would be honest with me about everything, even if I didn’t want to hear it – and I her. This provided me with a sanctuary within which I could express myself, and help deal with the thoughts and feelings that arise from an eating disorder.

6. Being Treated Wholly (Click)

You Got My Back, Yeah?: 4. Boundary Control

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It sounds like I wasn’t allowed to do much, but that wasn’t the case.

I wasn’t allowed to binge and purge in front of her. I wasn’t allowed to purge when she was in the house if I could help it (sometimes this didn’t work so well in practice). I wasn’t allowed to not eat all day. I wasn’t allowed to work out too strenuously or often. I wasn’t allowed to buy diet pills or other such diet aids. I was informed if I was pushing my eating disordered beliefs onto other people, making them feel guilty or overly conscious. I was made aware if I was being prejudice about overweight people, if I was scowling at someone whilst they ate or being insensitive in regards to food.

It sounds like I wasn’t allowed to do much, but that wasn’t the case. They were boundaries to keep the eating disorder in check and help prevent it from getting worse than it was. This won’t always work as everyone is different. Some people won’t be able to abide by these boundaries just as I’d likely not be able to abide by those that others have but they were boundaries to try to keep the eating disorder contained. Sometimes I’d try to violate these boundaries or sneak around them, exercising a bit more than we agreed, walking a bit more than I’d said I had but with this, we worked together. I doubt though that these boundaries would have worked had we not been able to accept, acknowledge and be open about what was happening. Had she not tried as she did I would have been more inclined to listen to my eating disorder voice telling me to violate and disregard every boundary – but our relationship gave me the strength to do my best to work with her.

5. Privacy Vs Secrecy (Click)