Growth: The Uncomfortable Comfortable

If I asked you to walk home in the rain, how would you respond? Would you tell me to open my eyes; it’s raining, duh? Or maybe you might feed us both an excuse that you don’t have your umbrella and it’ll ruin your hair? What if I told you that sometimes taking the uncomfortable option can help you grow? Now I know you’re not a thirsty plant, but hear me out! Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is essential for developing resilience, a “Fuck It” attitude and for finding out what you are really made of. Most of the time, these uncomfortable situations that we frantically avoid aren’t all that bad, such as walking home in the rain. Sometimes they may even be a source of joy, imagine that! Walking home in the piss wet rain could be a highlight of your day? Maybe you think I’m full of shit. Maybe I am, but let’s ignore that for a moment because there is one person who we owe it to to do the things that make us feel uncomfortable – and that is ourselves.

Every day I see people that inspire me to push myself, whether it’s that they have something that I want *ahem a Marathon Majors 6-Star Medal cough* or they’re holding the first copies of their newly published book – I’m jealous, so shoot me! I just want to smell crisp new pages covered in my words! What lies between where I am now, and where I want to be is very simple and very painful: a whole lotta growth.

Make yourself do unpleasant things so as to gain the upper hand of your soul – W.E.B. Du Bois

This is where owing it to yourself to get comfortable being uncomfortable comes into its own. Do you remember any of your teenaged growth spurts? Those HURT! Growth is uncomfortable, and of course, it takes effort to grow, relentlessly unforgiving and continuous effort. You owe it to yourself to challenge yourself and get comfortable being uncomfortable. By becoming comfortable with discomfort we learn how much we can push ourselves, we realize and learn our limits, and that our resilience reaches beyond our own imaginations.

The option to stay exactly where we are is always there. When we have had enough we can always stop and decide if we like it just as it is. Maybe you do, or maybe it’s just easier to stop, for a long time self-harming was more comfortable than facing the rawness of my psychology and mind, learning to eat was more uncomfortable than starving myself and there came a point when being unwell becomes more comfortable than undertaking the journey to becoming well because being unwell was all I knew- I soon learned that growth happens in the most treacherous and uncomfortable of waters, as the adage and many a meme go. It’s true. That shit is scary and itchy ants-in-your-pants uncomfortable. The best teacher and arena I have found in persevering through discomfort has been exercising, without it, I doubt I would have recovered as much as I have.

Sometimes when you’re covering a large distance in one go, hi there marathon, or hiking and climbing up a mountainside (Tryffan, we have unfinished business), it is uncomfortable. It is hard. In each task, by putting one foot in front of another, a very simple yet vastly symbolic act, the finish goal will eventually appear. In continuing to show up for yourself through the challenge and continuing to push on through the burning quads, aching knees, jarring concrete and absolute monotony that can be associated with covering distance, you get there and all of a sudden the intense and immense gratitude, pride, sense of accomplishment that you feel makes it all completely 100% worth it. You don’t forget the pain, this isn’t childbirth, it just all becomes worth it.

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So taking this ideology into a bigger playing field is the next step, and they don’t always have to be huge strides of progress that are acquired during an activity for it to be worth it, next time it’s raining, which if you’re in London is probably tomorrow lets be honest, walk for a bit in the rain even though you don’t want to go out in it. Go for that walk in the cold. Take your shoes off, feel the ground and the cold iciness of a wintery puddle submerge your toes. Practice different types of discomfort, physical, emotional, mental: turn the heating down to below comfortable for a day, have a cold shower, go for a run up a hill. This is the reality. Life isn’t always sweet, it’s mostly pretty grim. In practise, you empower yourself to manage situations when you lack control over a situation. Sit in the overwhelm and when exposing yourself to uncomfortable situations, go ahead and nurture yourself as well. Self-soothe yourself through the discomfort, learn how to do this for yourself. Figure out whether it’s a mantra that you repeat in your head, a texture that you feel, a particular way of fidgeting your fingers that is soothing. This is great practice for self-soothing in situations that are uncomfortable where you have no control over being able to escape them, i.e. depression, anxiety, that presentation in front of your colleagues, public speaking, a race, a challenge, commuting on an overpacked tube at rush hour. It doesn’t mean you always succeed, just that you will succeed more than when you couldn’t tolerate any discomfort.

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Why Loving Your Reflection is Just Another Unrealistic Expectation

At face value the body positivity movement may seem like the perfect antidote to unrealistic body goals, the continuous merry-go-round of dieting and the perpetuation of thin ideals from the fashion, media, fitness, retail, and industry that uses models and their bodies to promote products and ideologies. The incessant nature is that although these images, which are often digitally manipualted, don’t cause eating disorders or disordered eating, they can instill unrealistic ideals upon which to focus on, whether you are male, female, trans, and not even preidpsosed to eating disordered behaviours. The vast majority of us don’t fit the eating disorder category, and I would argue that a lot of dieting practices that are normalised in magazines and on wellness websites are dancing on the very thin line between normal dieting behaviours and disordered eating behaviours.

Body positivity on social media has come in all shapes and sizes. Some people promote the message by getting into their underwear and shaking their bellies in front of the camera, all in a bid to help you feel better about your own belly. Some people spread the message by telling you that you are fabulous and perfect just the way you are. There’s a lot of work going into challenging societally ingrained fat phobia, which is great, however sometimes I can’t help but think that the message gets a little lost and mixed up at times.

There is a common misunderstanding that if you have ever had any body hang ups, which is going to be pretty much all of us, that learning to love yourself and your body is the perfect antidote. A key tool used in hating our bodies, our reflections, is a major focus in learning to love our bodies – or so you could be forgiven for thinking. What if you have spent years and years of your life thinking of yourself as actually abhorrent? What if you have hated yourself to the point where you have hurt yourself in some way to try and fix “it”, whatever “it” might be? This could be in the shape of a number of different ways: binge eating, purging, exercising as a form of punishment, skipping meals, fasting behaviours, self harm. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

The pressure to love your body is a tall order for anyone who has struggled with their body image. How about we turned learning to love yourself on its head? What if learning to love ourselves happened by not focusing on turning the tyranny of your relationship with your own reflection 180 degrees on its heel is not the best focus. Another idea that offers an antidote to body bashing it a hashtag circulating the realms of social media: #BodyNeutrality. Body neutrality removes the pressure of having to love your body to have achieved success in not hating yourself. It means instead that accepting your body and being relatively neutral about your body image instead of trying to love what you previously thought to be unlovable. It is less extreme, less demanding and in being as such, more realistic. The pressure to always be happy and smiley about yourself is removed, but so is the need to berate yourself unfairly. The pretence of loving your belly has been removed, so if you are having an off day you need not feel like a failure for wishing your belly would just shrink. Instead body neutrality means accepting the thought, and not letting yourself be mad enough to diet over it. It offers us a middle path in a world of extremes. I think this is in fact much more empowering and I’ll tell you why.

Illustration by TheNourishmentNinja

Body neutrality means not hating your body or parts of it. It means that off days when you do momentarily hate your self are ok, and instead of havign to U-turn that entirely, into loving yourself, you can instead be neutral. You don’t love your body, but you don’t hate it either. It is very much the mundane and very boring mid-ground of body image, that is in fact potentially much more empowering. You are no longer focusing on your reflaction, or how well you take a photograph from this angle vs that angle. In fact, the mirror plays such a minor role in your day to day value of yourself that you have so much more free headspace for embracing life beyond your body, your image and your looks. Think about it. If you are no longer so hooked up on trying to turn your reflected self hate into self love, the absolute antithesis to what you know, you instead have loads of energy to instead focus on life beyond the skin you’re in, you can hit a middle ground which is in fact much more conducive to living your life away from your looks, and with all of this free energy and head space think of all the burgeoning possibilities that await you: climbing a mountain, planning trips away in nature, learning s new skill or a language, swimming in some wild waters, and baking some beautiful cakes from your grandmother’s recipe and eating them!

Go and laugh until your belly hurts, then roll on the floor clutching your middle and laugh some more. Go and challenge yourself in a way that exercises your mind and character and therefore giving you some brilliant stories to tell for years to come. Laugh at yourself when you fall over, pull a goofy face and let people learn to love you for who you are: your quirks, your mannerisms, your little weirdo ways because really, focusing on our reflections remains a narrow view of the world, of our lives and of our worth, whether we are singing our praises or chastising our very existence.

Be brave. Cover your mirror up and see how you feel only using your reflection to check you’ve not got toothpaste all over your face before leaving the house. Be brave. The greatest empowerment is to free yourself from the suffoctaing restrictions of being hyper-concerned about things you cannot and can change, but maybe your efforts are best placed elsewhere. Of course take pride in your appearance if it makes you happy to wear some make up – but don’t let it define you or how you see yourself. Our bodies are merely a vehicle through which we live, and it is the most dull thing about us as people, and eventually, if you have the privilige of reaching old age, looks fade and bodies change – would you rather be the one who was a stunner when they were younger with nothing more to offer? Or the one with banging stories of adventures, mishaps and hilarity calamity renditions of a life lived beyond the mirror, a life lived not enslaved to learning to love a reflection.

 

Orthorexia is the New Anorexia, and It’s Not Cool

Social Media is bursting with #BodyPositivity #LoveYourself and #ICanSoYouCan to messages seemingly aimed at the average health conscious woman. At face value it seems like a pretty brilliant and groundbreaking trend that’s taking over. People are going to fitness events more, we are health conscious now thanks to a decade of public health campaigning.

Dig a little deeper and there’s another layer to this trend. People who have recovered from eating disorders posting transformation pictures from then and now. They’ve usually managed a level of good weight restoration – which is great. They often claim psychological healing from the eating disorder too, and who wouldn’t believe that when someone has restored and maintained their weight? That is what eating disorders are all about right? Weight. No, nope, nada, that statement couldn’t be any more wrong. Eating disorders are a psychological illness and mending the mind takes much longer than weight restoration.

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Especially when those same people are posting comparison shop of body shape and muscle with their weight displayed in numbers on each picture to prove that you can be smaller and leaner at a higher gravitational mass. The point seems to prove that weight loss doesn’t always count for stronger and weight gain can mean a leaner body. I don’t know when it was discovered hat muscle is more mass dense than fat. I think it was a long time ago. The proportionate representation of a Kg of each next to each other send this message home enough. I don’t know about you but I don’t need six packs and weight numbers emblazoned across two pictures to show me as well.

Back to the #BoPo trend, why am I sceptical of the complete recovery claims and love yourself campaigns by some influencers? Because the same woman pushing these messages of self-love seems to have migrated from one way of obsession over her body and food to another. I know, it sounds hypocritical considering my ED past and that I’m now studying nutrition, but hear me out on this.

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I’ll be frank, seeing your perfectly lean body, with no cellulite or wobble with a six-pack and long blonde hair (Why are so many successful influencers white and blonde?) does not encourage me to feel all #bopo about myself. The lack of diversity amongst the influencers is a whole other matter but in this instance I think what has really occurred is a shift from one beauty ideal to another in the last decade. This woman has successfully transitioned with the trends, from skeletal to sculpted. I further this stance by pointing out the body positive and self love messages still all revolve around “I love what I see in the mirror” or how they look clothed, barely clothed and basically it all revolves around reflections. Self love isn’t found in your reflection, it is deeper than that. Imagine a couple who are shit hot, heck, I hear this is what Love Island is about – what happens when they irritate each other or age, or sag – will they still be in love if it’s all based on a skin deep love? Anyone will tell you these kinds of relationships are shallow and won’t last at the very least.

Going back to the body trends. In the 90s we had heroin chic, then that was deemed too dark so we transitioned to 2006 with Nicole Richie, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Mary-Kate Olsen who could be summed up at the time as bones, bones and more bones. They were idolised as the beauty ideal, put on a perfection pedestal that translated to being as skeletal as possible without being sectioned or dying because then you kind of lose by default. Thinspo became a thing, and sometimes the ones who did die from their eating disorder were further idolised by many as being the ultimate goal. These people were as unwell as it sounds. Many were genuinely unwell, how do I know? I was one of them. However, the mass media (this is pre-social media boom) perpetuated these images, this ideal and humiliated any celebrities who had cellulite by blowing the picture up in their magazines and encircling said fault with a fat red circle.

We’ve moved on from that. Its been 10 years after all. However, the retaliative movement was health and fitness: strong is the new skinny, suns out guns out and all that jazz. It’s not all bad, but there is a dark under layer of migration of pathology with food, body image and exercise emerging in the surfaces of popular media, magazines (ahem, Women’s Health) and social media platforms (Oh Hai Insta!). During the process super foods became a thing thanks to clever marketing and buzz words. Paleo, veganism and the ultimate heathen of ‘healthy living’ that we all utter under our breath as if he who should not be named, clean eating. We bought it. We buy it every time and in a capitalist society why are some people pushing these ideas? Obviously, there is dollar in health. There always has been and always will be. Each trend earns some people big bucks.

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Most of them have a singular continuous trend threading throughout them since the thinspo days of 2006: restriction. Each fad is a new way to restrict the diet, introduce vast numbers of rules around eating and achieve beauty ideals. Except in 2006 we knew being so thin meant an anorexia/eating disorder epidemic, not the trends and trend setters are more sinister; they’re disguising their restrictive eating and compulsive relationships with exercise and their reflection as health. We’re buying into it, they’re getting paid for it. the difference since 2006 here is that making money from social media didn’t really exist then. If it did I think a lot of people would have made a living from being anorexic and online; just like hoards of people are now for being orthorexic or an over-exerciser. We are paying them for their compulsions, and they are lying to us and more importantly, themselves. Evidently, I have a massive problem with this.

To all the body positivity social media gurus with six packs, steel thighs and a built derrieré from going to the gym more times than I blink in a week, I’m calling you out and I’m hoping that more people see through the rose-tinted veil of beauty you show to us. Orthorexia is the new anorexia, and it’s not cool.

Belly and Me Volunteering for Beat Eating Disorder Charity UK

Once upon a time I would regularly stand sideways in the mirror to scrutinise my body. Standing on the end of the bath I would use the huge wall sized mirrors to view myself from every angle possible. I would pick at bits that I particularly hated about myself to really ruminate and focus on, and trust me there were many.

In all of this extensive scrutiny my belly was the main focal point of my relentless barrage of self hatred. From taking selfies on dodgy cameras in the 2000s, to checking every reflection opportunity regardless of how skewed it may have been: the TV screen, changing rooms under dodgy lighting, and window reflections. I wouldn’t call it vanity although I understand that it may sound that way. It was never to admire myself, or to check my make up but instead to check how fat I was, and how much of a failure I was for not having lost any weight.

I used to stand in first position (ballet) and check my belly, my waist and shoulders from the back and side. Eventually I started measuring my waist multiple times a day because in my mind the weighing scales just didn’t show “progress” quite as well. I was in the depth of my eating disorder. Regardless of which eating disorder I was engaged with the same insecurities prevailed; the same poses regardless of how much weight I lost, didn’t lose or gained.

I will never get those hours back. For a long time, part of recovering from an eating disorder is removing triggers from the home: bread, cereal, weighing scales, mirrors, or whatever it is that you struggle with in particular. I only just recently graduated to getting a full length mirror again. I found it helpful in the process of learning to not obsess over my reflection and body shape or size to not have one. With just a head sized bathroom cabinet mirror to check for toothpaste, mascara smudges and whether I could push it another day without washing my hair. I’d consider these the basics. Now I have a full length mirror that I briefly check my overall outfit in sometimes. No belly checks. No shoulder blade analyses. No standing in first position and taking measurements.

I may have gained weight and realising just how much no one gives a fuck is brilliantly liberating. Sometimes now when I’m watching TV, or sat on the bed idle I actually like to rest my hands on my belly. Sometimes it pokes out from under my top in front of my friends and I’m not embarrassed anymore; it’s my belly and I’m healthy. It doesn’t mean anything more or less than that. It doesn’t need to be toned or trimmed or flattened. Sometimes it’s quite comforting to poke and prod my belly whilst sat around. I have no idea why or what exactly caused this seismic shift in mentality, but I’m quite affectionate of my belly and if I see it jiggling in a video it doesn’t upset me like it used to.

 

See here, I am having the time of my life running through ridiculously deep autumn leaves. My belly is jiggling. Yes I noticed it. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t but look at that smile; that is more important to me.

Using my body to feel good and strong is more important to me. Wearing clothes that are comfortable and I feel nice in is important to me but the size label in them isn’t. I am proud of my recovery from my eating disorder. It was one of the hardest battles of my life and an experience I will never forget. This experience fuels my passion for nutrition, health and empowering others to make peace with their bodies and food. Soon, my belly and me are going to start training to be a Beat online mentor.

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There’s serendipity in this. Maybe all those hours I spent body checking, weighing and measuring myself wasn’t a ginormous waste of time. Something good can come from this in relation to my purpose on this earth; from that experience I have gained a passion, a purpose and a drive to help others. I feel that this is finally going to start happening in real terms with this volunteering opportunity and I’m really proud of that, perhaps more proud of that than my little belly.

 

Dumping “Body Image” in Return for “Body Love”

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Diet culture is everywhere. It is pretty difficult to avoid, especially when dental adverts are colluding success rates with weight loss rates, and big influencers like Kim Kardashian are partnering with companies like Flat Tummy Co. to promote appetite suppressing products to their hoards of followers. It is difficult to believe that being in a body that doesn’t fit the beauty ideal of slim, toned and strong is OK. It’s hard to believe that you too are an acceptable body or that you can run a marathon.

Bryony Gordon and Jayda Seza ran the marathon this year in their underwear to show that runner’s bodies come in many different shapes and sizes. Being a different size to the bountifully pushed ideal does not mean you can’t enjoy physical activity, that you can’t be strong and most of all that you can’t be healthy. There are so many brilliant body positivity activists now showcasing that you can be “bigger” and healthy. There is a wave of activists fighting back against the body fascism and fat phobia in the name of “health”.

Since recovering from my eating disorder admittedly with a helping push from my meds increasing my weight in a way that was out of my control, I learned to relinquish any form of “control” over my body. I knew this time around on Quetiapine that it worked for me, but for it to keep on working for me I had to stay on it. Without it I relapse, plain and simple. A toss-up occurred between keeping a sense of control over my “recovered” weight and remaining mentally unwell, or relinquishing such control and giving the Quetiapine a real chance to work in the longer term. This was a very scary time for me. I have spent a decade of my life at war with my body, trying to control it and living in the safety confines of my eating disorder. Suddenly, recovery took a whole new turn – I wasn’t only maintaining a “healthy” weight, I was letting this medication cause havoc with my appetite and metabolism. If I had any hope of maintaining some stability with my moods though, this was it. Having tried most other medications suitable for my illness that this was the one that worked if I let it – and by let it I mean staying on it regardless of the weight gain. I made the only decision I could if I wanted to really start building any sort of future for myself. I stayed on the medication.

I learned a lot during this time. I learned that being well in a bigger body was definitely the right decision. My fitness journey into running, climbing and falling in love with movement, in addition to my studies in anatomy and physiology have caused a complete dimensional shift, and ultimately an entirely different view for me, on what body image is.

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Although I am no longer a skinny, my stomach has an extra padding of fat as opposed to the almost concave structure of previous years, and my thighs touch for the first time in my life. I have boobs, which are great although still slight, and it is easier to catch myself at an angle wherein which I have a double chin on show. I can shake my arms, and they wibble a little, and I have speckled cellulite over my thighs and bum when I tense. Speaking of which, I still have absolutely no bum. I need a larger size of clothes than I ever have previously yet still, no bum, and you know what? I am the most comfortable I have ever been with my body.

Yes, it looks a certain way in pictures and mirrors – but really, my body is not a picture. My body was not made solely to look a certain way. My body was made to function, to breathe, contract, relax, move, jump, run and skip for joy. My body lets me enjoy the senses of living be they the smell of fresh bread or dog shit on my shoe. My body brings me enjoyment in food, and digests it pretty well as energy in order to continue functioning as the amazing, complex piece of biological machinery that I am. Not only do I function, but my body allows for me to have a mind and a conscience. My body allows for emotions, and it fights diseases so I can still keep on enjoying experiences and living healthily. My body is not a picture. My body is so much more than that.

The sum of all this? I value my body more for what it can do, where it can take me, and the experiences it can give me. I’m no longer so hung up or concerned with looking a particular way, but more in doing particular things. Sure sometimes I have a momentary dip in confidence, sometimes I catch myself iterating diet culture messages of too much, need to lose weight, pain is gain and all that tom fuckery – but my choice in responding is to try to check in with myself when I notice these thoughts cropping up. I remind myself I am more than my mirror image and always will be.

I want to climb walls, and climb them better. I want to gain strength and resilience, and run all these races that I’ve signed up for. I want to dance, and move, and shake and enjoy what my body makes achievable for me every single day. I want to celebrate my strengths, and work on enjoying my body in more ways than I can possibly imagine. I can eat wonderful foods thanks to my body. I can conquer feats I never before thought would be possible for me like The London Marathon. I can have sex and enjoy all the sensations that brings. I can get myself around every day, and my legs do a fucking fantastic job of getting me around London on my bike. My arms do a great job at allowing me to do all the things I enjoy:  writing, reading, playing the ukulele really badly, climbing, eating, drinking, and in a hap hazardous way they contribute to my atrocious list of dance moves that I like to bust out when the party’s right. My eyes, they let me see all these beautiful sights that make me thankful to see everything I can: nature, skylines, sunrises and tropical storms. I can smell the warmth of the rain, and the freshness of cut grass and fresh coffee. The complexity of these joys cannot be captured in a photo or a mirror. Life is richer than that and so am I, and so are you.

My awkward smile may hint at the joys I have been experiencing, and my over excited crazy photos may capture a moment, but how my body looks, fuck that. It’s not important. I am healthy. I am capable, and I am taking advantage of those biological wonders that nature has blessed me with. So it no longer matters that I don’t fit into my skinny jeans, and it no longer matters that my arms aren’t spindly spaghetti features. My face is no longer structured by emaciation and malnourishment, and my waist is no longer so tiny it’s to die for, quite literally. My body is giving me life, and it is up to me to capture and cherish that fact.

So for as far as my body image goes, it’s not about image; it’s about sensations, feelings, experiences and love. Instead I will say that my body image is largely irrelevant but my body love is engaging with a pattern of exponential growth.

So there it is. I fucking love my body – and I bet yours is pretty darn fabulous too regardless of how it looks.

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