What Respecting Your Body Might Look Like

What does it mean to respect our bodies? If you follow me on Instagram, then you may be painfully aware that I’ve developed infection action a week before Ride 100. In the end, I realised the right thing to do for my self and my body, was to defer until 2020 and this got me thinking about what it means to respect our bodies.

So often you see and hear of people who have injuries yet persevere without any let up on their bodies, in order to achieve the goals they set for themselves. The thing is, the more broken your body becomes the less able you will be able to achieve those goals and challenges that your heart is so very set upon. Resting and not exercising can be pretty rough when you’re used to being active and you enjoy being active, but in the long run, treating your body well and knowing when to rest, knowing when to take it easy, and when to not push on through with brute determination can be just as important as being able to commit to any form of training plan at all.

How we relate to and treat our bodies really affects our performance and ability to achieve. Instagram is littered with stories of injuries, permanently damaged ligaments and sad stories of people who fell in love with running until it destroyed a part of their body, usually in the lower limbs. It’s great that the love of running has become a popular love to have, but overdoing it only shoots yourself in the foot; rest, as uncool as it may be on Instagram, is essential. So back to the original query, what could respecting your body actually look like? Here’s a list of what I personally consider to be essential components in treating your body with the respect it deserves.

1. Listening
You know when you have a plan but your body aches with tiredness? Or when you feel so hungry after increasing your training load, and it goes against your planned intake? This could be an ideal time to practice listening to your body. Sometimes you need to eat more, and at other times you need more rest. It’s very easy to schedule plans without forethought to how your body might respond, or need. Just remember, our bodies are not computers or robots that can be mathematically figured out in an absolute formula. Sure there a formulas in nutritional science for guidance, but these are really for guidance only – so treat them as such!

2. Nourishing
Sometimes when you’re training you may have a dietary plan that you’re following. Maybe you are trying to gain muscle, or lose fat mass for your sport. There’s nothing wrong with that. Nourishing your body looks like choosing a varied diet, plenty of fruit and veg, some good quality protein and plenty of carbohydrates. Yes, carbs! We need carbs and the occasional treat. Don’t forget to have your cake and eat it!

3. Resting your body
You may have heard before that when you’re training for a marathon, ideally you need closer to 10 hours of sleep than the original 7-8 recomended in The Sleep Foundation guidelines. Sometimes you’ll be feeling fine on less sleep, and sometimes you will need more. If you’re feeling sluggish and a bit out of it, maybe it’s time to hit the sack for a nap ,or even better, an early night?

4. No Pain, No Gain? Within reason
Sport doesn’t come without its risks of injury and a good session lifting weights can leave you sore for days with DOMS. However, there is a difference between DOMS and an agonising cramp in your Achilles. A lot of people push through and persevere despite their bodies telling them to stop and attend to a niggle or injury. It isn’t heroic to persevere through your pain at the expense of your body. So when you’re calf is giving you grief, or your knee feels a bit knackered, instead of seeing it as something to push through, how about seeing it as an opportunity to care for your body and show yourself some love?

5. Showing some appreciation
Without our bodies we wouldn’t be able to do anything. We wouldn’t be able to run, play our A-game on the pitch, or travel easily from A to B. Our bodies fight infections and repel illnesses, they make babies from two cells, and they maintain a very delicate and complicated balance within our bodies called homeostasis. If we had to think about all of the mechanisms that our body does to maintain this balance, we’d not have much time for anything else.

6. Trusting our bodies
By not undermining your bodies’ ability to do what it needs to in order to stay well, as is assumed when going on a detox diet or cleanse we allow our bodies to get on with what they’re designed to do. Sometimes things go wrong and eventually we all die, but in the meantime, put faith in your kidneys and liver, because detoxing sends you the message to yourself that your body isn’t capable or adequate enough already, and usually it is.

7. Wearing clothes that fit
Feeling comfortable in your clothes, instead of trying to fit into a specific size can make a real difference in how fat you feel, from anecdotal experience. Anyone wearing clothes 1-2 sizes too small is going to feel out of sorts, lumpy and frumpy here, and spilling out of your clothes there. Just wear whatever fits irrespective of the clothing size label. To put this in perspective I have clothes from a 10 (apparently), up to a 14. I’m more a solid 14. This means I don’t look at or buy clothes in a 10-12 anymore, and I have passed all of these sizes in my wardrobe onto the charity shop. As soon as I stopped trying to squeeze into these sizes, or trying to lose weight so I could fit into them again, I started to feel more comfortable and at ease with my body.

8. Tend to your illnesses
Getting the right help and treatment if you are unwell is a great way of showing your body some love. Sometimes they can’t fight illness on its own, and a little help is needed. Maybe this is via using antibiotics for a nasty infection, such as the one that inspired this post, or taking antidepressants to manage a depressive episode. This might mean visiting the pharmacist, who are very highly trained medical professionals in their own right, or your GP. Don’t try to muscle through without advice or try to outdo an infection if it gets ya; modern medicine is wonderful at helping us to overcome such ailments as they arise.

 

Beat: The UK’s Charity Antidote to Wellness Wankery and Eating Disorders

If you are worried about your relationship with food, who do you turn to? Your mates? Your GP? Or maybe you might turn to many of the numerous blogs, instagram pages and podcasts out there #wellness? Turning to influencers to make sense, I mean afterall, they’re flawless skin, pert tits, perky bum and six pack is the picture of health, right? Surely they must know what they’re talking about when it comes to wellness, diet, and exercise, or maybe not; influencers and #wellness are in a very committed marriage with diet culture. They’re like the grandparents who have been married  since forever #adorbs. This marriage though is #toxic needs to get a divorce, but there doesn’t seem to be one on the horizon *sad face*. Wellness industries and diet culture are like salt and pepper to your scrambled eggs, left and right to your Sat Nav and milk and sugar to your coffee.

A recent study by Christina Sabbagh looked into the validity, accuracy and evidenced based quality of weight management and nutrition of nine influencers, defined as having in excess of 80,000 followers on at least one social media platform. By assessing each blog against twelve criteria, including evidence based information, the use of reliable sources, and clearly stating the difference between opinion and fact, only one passed each criteria – and they are a UK registered nutritionist who is degree qualified. Nine is a small smaple size, but the strength of the results cannot be ignored: there seems to be a clear trend. Especially with many of the influencers having had no accredited training or education in the advice they are pushing on their sites. [More info here]

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A lot of influencers post before and after wellness photos. Before they were skinny and weak and barely eating coupled with pubishing exercise regimes that proved detrimental to their health. So are the influencers really as #healthy, #wellness, #blessed as they seem? Maybe, but most likely not. Are they really the place to turn to if you have concerns about your own relationship with food? Perhaps you’ve been bingeing in the evening, or skipping breakfast to shed some pounds and the result is that now you are in a somehwat chaotic place with your relationship with food. I don’t have the answers and I’m not going to pretend I do, else I would be falling into the wellness wanker world, no, I’m going to tell you about Beat – a wonderful UK based charity that I have been volunteering for.

Beat is the UK’s leading eating disorder charity. They provide information and services for people experiencing eating disorders, or who may be concerned about their relationship with food – I’m looking at you, the chaotic eaters who feel lost and overwhelmed with food, the fearful who are scared and anxious about eating, and the compulsive overeater who sweats hours in spin class just to try and burn it off. Beat have a lot of helpful information on their website, which can be found here.

What do Beat offer?

  • A phone line that you can call for advice
  • Information
  • Online 1-to-1 chats with a trained advisor (that’s me), like MSN messenger
  • Online group peer support sessions – also facilitated and moderated by trained advisors (Hi again, also me)
  • An email service that people use for seeking help and advice for themselves, loved ones and/or in general. (Me again)(This list is starting to look like it’s all about me, ha!)
  • A service finder application that you can use to find other eating disorder support services in your area using your post code.

So why did I choose to volunteer with Beat? Beat was the first website I was signposted to when I first opened up about my struggles with eating to a teacher way back in 2006. At the time was called EDAUK (Eatign Disorders Association UK): yup, it was that long ago and it was pretty basic. The most useful websites were all American (they get the best of everythign I swear). At the time I was obsessively surfing online between information sites, and other sites where people with eating disorders congregated online at the time (more on that another time). With the majority of sites being USA specific and although they had a lot of information that was useful about eating disorders in general, the support at the time was quite basic and non-interactive.

Sometimes I imagine how useful it would have been to have these online services when I was struggling back then, and as I became increasibly isolated by my bulimia, if I had had somewhere to chat in a safe space about what I was experiencing. Pro-ana sites mainly gave me a space to feel less alone – it would have been nice to have a healthy version as an alternative option; eating disorders are incredibly isolating experiences, particulalry when you have bulimia because a) it takes up a lot of time and b) there is a lot of shame around it when compared to the glorification of anorexia. It is that bit more shameful, that bit infinitely more disgusting and that bit more time consuming, mentally and physically.

So if you’re struggling with any eating difficulties, whether you have an eating disorder diagnosis or not, get in touch with Beat. They offer a good variety of services, and they are all confidential. Finally, if you think you might like to also become a Digital Volunteer, more information can be found here.

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.

The Face of Diet Culture: The 10 Year Challenge

The 10 year challenge shines a light on how much we as individuals have changed but how much has the face of diet culture changed in the last 10 years? In 2009, the same year that I left home to go to fashion school in London, starving yourself skinny was still cool. The severity of health implications related to the thin ideal came to a spearhead in 2006 when fashion model Luisel Ramos collapsed and died whilst participating in a fashion show. She died from heart failure related to malnutrition and ultimately anorexia. 6 months later her sister, Eliana Ramos who was also a model died due to complications related to malnutrition and anorexia nervosa. The same year, Ana Carolina Reston, a Brazilian fashion model also died due to complications from Anorexia Nervosa. The size 0 debate was started and the fashion world came under the spotlight – and this wasn’t a case of any press is good press. Many government and health bodies made the call for a minimum BMI requirement to be implemented for all models participating in fashion week events. In research links were drawn between the portrayal of excessively thin bodies as desirable, and the social pressures this placed on women to conform [2]. Size 0 was sold to us and we bought it with dire consequences: thin was in.

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During my 2 years at fashion school I remember hearing club kids talking about how many drugs they were doing and how long they’d managed to not eat for, with the aid of said drugs. Cheekbones and collar bones were in, even if that meant looking gaunt.With the rise of mephedrone at the time whilst it was legal, this wasn’t a difficult feat to be achieved. There were numerous times people weren’t in the studio from dealing with the aftermath of having taken mephedrone (Meow meow/Mcat) [3]. In fact, gaunt was good and not eating was cool. Some tutors would joke about how the cheesy carb fest the canteen was bad for your waistline. Thin was in at whatever cost, health was out.

Needless to say, in this environment I relapsed into my eating disorder and I relapsed hard. At my lowest weight, whilst I was an outpatient at an Eating Disorder Service I received the most praise for my appearance I have ever received to date: “you’re so beautiful”, “how do you do it?”, and on Facebook photos, “OMG gorgeous

This trend is evident beyond the realms of my fashion school anecdotes and misadventures with anorexia; a lot of people are reminiscing about similar changes in their 10 year challenge posts. It turns out that a lot of people in 2009 were skinny and in retrospect, feeling weak, unhappy and generally like a bag of shit. That’s how forcing your body to weigh much less than it is wants to be feels, like an absolute huge bag of shit. Fatphobia was high, and even healthy weight individuals were deemed as “curvy” or “plus size” – I mean honestly, just fuck right off.

These social pressures and appraisal did nothing to help me towards recovery and subsequently a few years later I left the fashion world pretty much over night. Size 0 sucked and the fashion world soon realised how much it sucked for business due to the public health, government and public backlash to promoting such severe thinness ideals. Surely this was a good thing? We were moving away from aiming for waists comparable to the average 7-year-old.

Heroin chic of the 90s had gone and pro-ana sites, blogs and forums were easily found and plentiful online. Entire communities gathered amongst the anonymity of the online world. Safe havens to encourage the pursuit of thin, and the glorification of such ideals became known as thinspiration, or thinspo for short. Fast forward a decade and strong is the new skinny; thinspo has been replaced with fitspo. Instead of collar bones and rib cages we now idolize sculpted bodies, low body fat percentages and big muscles. On the surface it seems health driven but when you get down to it, maintaining such low body fat percentages and building such quantities of muscle mass is just as difficult an ideal to work towards: it is also big business. It costs to get those muscles, cue the introduction of “clean eating” instead of dieting, phrases like “it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle choice” and the rise of the social media influencers. Now people are paying crazy amounts of money to try to achieve a particular aesthetic. When you dig deep, it’s not all that much different, but instead with the introduction of classism – not eating is essentially free whereas superfoods and trendy gym classes are in the KERCHING!  regions, cue M.I.A. “I just want your money” (song title ‘paper planes’).

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The rise of visual social media platforms and smartphones making everyone a photographer, instagram has been a mass playground and propagator for fitspo, clean eating and ultimately a shit ton of social comparisons based on these visuals. Does my smoothie bowl look Michelin start enough? Are my abs clean-cut enough? How about in this pose? Additionally there are apps to add abs and change your photos to be who you want to be – so god knows how much of this stuff we see online isn’t even real, and here’s the catch, we compare ourselves anyway; it’s natural. Of course, we’re always going to come up short in such comparisons. Just as we always came up short to the photoshopped thinness of models in magazines and on billboards.

There have been associations made between exposure and engagement with healthy eating communities on Instagram and orthorexia tendencies [4]. Orthorexia is an obsession with eating clean foods, without impurities. It manifests as an obsessive preoccupation with eating perfectly and results in the cutting out of food groups deemed not pure enough [1]. In the rise of clean eating and the idea of purity invading in on our eating practices it’s a wonder of whether we are eating something because we like it and it tastes nice, or whether it’s trendy, seen as the new cult super food or looks good on Insta? The social pressures amongst these online communities is high, and food shaming is definitely rife like a plague amongst these online circles. Just as with starvation practices, this takes us away from listening to our bodies and their needs because external forces are dictating what, how much and when we eat.

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Although we might not be starving ourselves, models might not be collapsing and dying at fashion shows and smoking cigarettes instead of eating lunch the question lies in really contemplating just how much has really changed? How much of this change is a mask of the same old issues? The same motivations, feeding into the same desires and issues around controlling our bodies, minds and emotions? When we are so focused on our bodies and controlling them down to every minute detail, we do not have the energy to focus on bigger things. Being super lean and strong is not empowering if you’re obsessed with what you can and cannot eat. Fitspo is not empowering if it makes you feel like shit. Being enslaved to your reflection and how you look is not empowering. It might feel as such sometimes but if it’s taking away from your life in any way then it’s time to reconsider how we relate to fitspo and slogans such as “strong is the new skinny”.

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The irony of a lack of focus on holistic health in the health and wellness industries is laughable at best and shameful at worst. Are we really progressing away from hyper-vigilience around what we put in our mouths and the impacts this ha son our body shape in the pursuit of health, or is this a new era of diet, health and wellness fuck uppery? My advice for seeing between the lines? Be critical, be analytic and if an image is prescribing an aesthetic ideal get the fuck outta there quick sharp. Being pained by attaining a certain look is not progress, but instead the falsification of progress. For real change we need to call this shit out and disempower the hold they have over us as individuals, communities, men, women, and especially for our children. We need to learn to know better.


Sources:
[1] Beat (2017) Orthorexia. Available at: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/types/orthorexia .
[2] Costa-Font, J. & Jofre-Bonet, M. (2011) Anorexia, Body Image and Peer Effects: Evidence from a Sample of European Women. London: London School of Economics and Political Science.
[3] Rebekah Brennan, Marie Claire Van Hout, (2012) “Miaow miaow: a review of the new psychoactive drug mephedrone”, Drugs and Alcohol Today, Vol. 12 Issue: 4, pp.241-253, https://doi.org/10.1108/17459261211286654
[4] Turner, P.G. & Lefevre, C.E. Eat Weight Disord (2017) 22: 277. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40519-017-0364-2

 

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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