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.

Brighton Marathon: The Unlikely Road To The Satisfaction of Socks & Sandals

Marathon running is more of an exercise for the mind than the body. Making your body run 26.2 miles in one go without stopping is tiring work, don’t get me wrong. The real task though is how much can you endure on the day? How much can you dig deep and keep going when the sweeper bus stops to ask if you want to climb aboard the not-so-fun bus. Through the window you can see tired broken people, tears, distant stares and silver blankets prematurely adorned.

You may have seen in the media recently the upset caused by London Marathon for the 7:30 pacer and her fellow backpackers, recruits on the day to finish the route in a requested time frame – and even so, they received hurtful words, and constant goading for 26.2 miles. Like I said, a marathon is a mental game of keeping going enough as it is, so for the people who held their chins up and refused to give in – fucking well done! I was offered aboard the sweeper bus three times, on the last coming dangerously close to caving.

It has now been a while since I ran Brighton, fully recovered and got back into the swing of normality without marathon madness, and had time to reflect on what went better than last year, not so much and lessons learned. I got a 20 minute PB on London last year. Brighton is not an overall PB kind of course; it’s hilly, windy, bleak, lonely, miserable and undulating in the most undulating sense of the word undulating. Did I mention it was uncomfortably undulating? I got a PB for half marathon distance, which now stands at a 2:51:44 according to my Garmin.

When Dad and I crossed the start line we were amongst the final handful at the back of the pack, even further back than Dave the Running Samaritans Phone. The course doubles back on itself a lot, which can be motivating and soul destroying in equal capacities. Some times it gave me the illusion that people were not all that far ahead so keep running and that’ll be you on the other side of the road soon. In the same breath, seeing people running the final kilometres of the race as I was just crossing halfway was a very bitter moment for me.

For the first few miles dad and I took it in turns to over take one another, back and to back and to. I took off. (This sounds much faster than it really was.) We thought we had said our goodbyes for the rest of the course, until I stopped for a toilet break. This is all well and good except there was a few of us, and as I waited my dad caught up to me. At the time this was a relief because his phone had pocket dialled me a number of times. I had phoned him back to no answer and consequentially in true anxiety girl style, I jumped to worrisome conclusions of heart attacks, rolled ankles and muscle cramps. He catches up to me and he’s just fine. His version of events is that I keep calling him. He had no idea he’d been phoning me so all was well. Not far behind my Dad though was the sweeper vehicle.

The sweeper vehicle is not for road sweeping; it is for people sweeping. Slow people sweeping, injured people sweeping, poorly people sweeping, the sweeper bus of broken hopes and dreams chased me from that moment in the race right until the end, threatening to gobble me up in a sorry mess. This shit me up. I won’t lie. So I bloody well got a wiggle and a wriggle on to try and make some ground on the sweeper bus of broken people.

With my London Marathon experience having been such a dreamboat, I do wonder if perhaps Brighton was a bit miserable because I had a normal marathon experience. When you hear about people with Bipolar, a classic “mania story” is of someone running a marathon without training. I am by no means special, others have done it including Jedward (way to put myself down there), and I”m sure many other idiots like myself. I’m not sure everyone who commits to such an act of stupidity however has such an epic day out with it. The power station miles in particular were just horrible.

Each time I was running towards the town centre I realised that the view and sightings of Brighton pier were very much deceiving in how close I really was, or was not to the half way point, and on the way back in from the other side, from the finish line. The second half of the race has since been very much talked about as being a wind tunnel of misery amongst fellow Brighton runners on social media. The power station miles provided very little to look at and very much to overthink about, like the pain emanating from my lower half of my body. It was grey. It was cold. It felt more like the march of the hobbling zombies than a marathon at this point. Eventually, the 23 mile marker came and i could finally, finally say to myself “it’s just a park run to go”. It was around this point when i was kidding myself that I saw my Dad on course for the last time before the end. Up until this point, every time we had seen each other we high fived, did a thumbs up and beamed a smile at one another, evidently pleased with the results of our high hopes and poor training. Not this time; I needed a hug.

Just passed 23 miles I could see the pier in the distance, which signified the finish line on the horizon, much like a mirage in a desert, but it wasn’t sunny or sandy, it was grey and concrete. The joy soon wore off as the sighting became a torturous tantaliser of the end that never seemed to come. I kept going and kept going, catching up to the team pushing a dying man in a wheelchair, and eventually saw a friendly face. Jarnail from Chasing Lights was cheering and despite having not seen him for months I dramatically threw myself at him for a hug, and to snatch a brief moment of less gravity on my feet. He ran the remainder with me until he was ushered off the course. It really helped me to have that someone running with me. No amount of sugar, or electrolytes, or sports drinks could have rivalled the support of finding a friendly face in the crowd who is willing to jog along side you. Then another friendly face shouted me, my friend Maryke then joined us too, and then another, Elle. Then the finish line set up came into view, and I could not have been happier tho see the finish I’d been so patiently awaiting to arrive on the horizon since mile 23.

As soon as I sat down on the other side, having survived my second marathon, I put on my socks and sandals. I felt like a very stiff and rigid champion wearing the footwear of dreams: socks and sandals after a long race are indescribably wonderful. When I saw my Dad coming out of the finishing area we had another longer hug. I think he was a bit broken because we don’t do long hugs very often, but after gruelling distances and challenges when he admits he’d like to cry and doesn’t, we instead have a long hug.

In the end, I feel blessed to have the privilege to run a marathon for the sheer challenge of it. I felt blessed that my friends had come to support me, eat food with me, and that my dad was there too. After all the life difficulties I have had with my dad, I think running sickly distances together has really brought us closer together – and that is as good a reason as any to keep doing them. It was hard, and I probably won’t be doing Brighton again next year but never say never.

Eat Your Food, Take Your Meds

Have you ever thought is strange or inconvenient that you need to eat every single day, multiple times a day? Think about it for a moment. Every day we need to eat. What would life be like if we didn’t need to eat every day, multiple times? More convenient? Time saving? Resource saving? Picture this.

You wake up in the morning, pop the kettle on and make your breakfast. You sit to the table as you do every morning, and you stare. You are staring at your food wondering why on earth you need such sustenance to survive, pondering the meaning of this breakfast before you. You flirt with the idea of going without the food. The idea flirts back. You think “fuck it!”, pinch your nose, screw up your face and close your eyes. You jump feet first into the deep waters of curiosity to see whether or not you swim. It doesn’t kill you immediately but you don’t quite glide through the water either. It makes you uncomfortable but still you tread water, keeping your head bobbing beyond the surface. You are surviving. It makes you feel a bit queesy, a bit confused and a bit off. Perhaps you need to just muscle through? Brute use of sheer willpower is definitely what is needed. You knuckle down and do some problem solving, still bobbing. Maybe you just need to learn how to survive and thrive without the food, just as our ancestors adapted, you can too.

Missing one breakfast won’t have a huge effect on your health. It certainly won’t kill you. Perhaps you peruse, eating is a habit that can be changed. Are you addicted to food? The phrase is currently brandished across headlines after all. You continue with your plan to keep missing food at more meals and subsequent breakfasts. It starts to wear you down. You feel rough, you feel edgy, and very much unlike yourself. This is when the going gets tough. This is your time to rise up and adapt as your ancestors did.

With time you begin to realise that thriving this way is absolutely impossible. The next day at breakfast you pop the kettle on and prepare your food. You sit down and feel grateful for having changed your mind about eating your food at breakfast. You are relieved that you can sit down and eat your food, comforted by the knowledge that you have tried and tested the curious alternative. You eat your breakfast. This experience does not make you immune from dabbling your toes into this pool of ponders again because always, what if? Do I really? And is it so? Float around our mind.

I wasn’t talking about food very much at all; this is an experience I have with my daily medications, particularly my main Quarterback, Quetiapine. Quetiapine is an atypical antipsychotic that is pretty nifty medicine. A common occurrence in those living with Bipolar Disorder is that once feeling well and stable for a while, we wonder if we are ready to come off of our medications and manage without them. Sometimes we’d wonder if we were ever unwell at all, is it all a fallacy.

It makes sense that we experience these episodes; when you feel well why would you continue to take medicine every day? The catch really is that we are well because we take the medicine every day – and that can sometimes be a difficult idea to hold on to when you think about how well you are now with your healthy coping mechanisms and social support network, your backlog of lived experience and a well stocked kit bag of coping tools.

Every single time my Quetiapine goes below a certain level I become unwell. I am familiar with the territory because the ways in which I become unwell are ways that I have spent years of my life living – the same symptoms and experiences relapse into the forefront of my life and very very quickly I lose my ability to think, be rational, function, get up, be motivated, tolerate people and annoyances, or stay very much with it at all. I descend into a foggy and slow confusion, much like living in sludge. I stare at walls for hours, if not days, at a time. I watch TV without really watching it. My memory stinks and so does living like this. Essentially, I am very disabled without this medication at the right dosage.

For those living with bipolar, it can take years and years to get an accurate diagnosis. Afterwards, it can take years and years to find the golden snitch of which medication combination and what dose works for each person. I am hopeful that we have finally found mine, alongside my extra nifty and extensive tool box of coping mechanisms. There is no shame in relying on medication to be well and healthy; these tablets save lives.

The September Issues in Marrakech

[When I wrote this] I was supposed to be relaxing in a gite in the Atlas Mountains of Morrocco. The people who I met the previous Sunday and shared an evening meal with will have been doing exactly that after summiting the highest peak in Northern Africa, Mt Toubkal. Instead I am at home in London, having slept for the majority of the last few days.

There are a few times of year that are particularly difficult for me with my mental health: March/April and September in particular. I have a feeling that it is related to the changing seasons, and others have theories that it is a result of my daily stresses and goings on each time. It could even be related to historical events playing with my memory and emotions on a subconscious level. There really is no knowing of the exacts except for that they happen, and they happen at these times of year. After a number of years I have named them the Spring Bounce and the September Issue. I am not the only one to have such a pattern to their moods and well-being, it turns out that a lot of people, particularly those with mood disorders like Bipolar, struggle immensely at the onset of spring and autumn.

It could be a vast number of things but the experience feels familiar: moodiness, snappy encounters and a general grey scaling of everything: colours, smells and tastes. I need a lot of sleep: this means a long night and 1-3 naps during the day. I need a lot of cups of tea for soothing the soul, because is there anything that a cuppa can’t help with? I have a weird relationship with my appetite. I want sugar and comfort foods, yet at the same time everything tastes muted and I desire much less of it. I am slow. Speaking in sentences can at times be difficult because my words get muddled and I certainly don’t seem very capable of speaking and thinking at the same time. I feel like anyone who laughs within earshot of me is laughing at me after saying mean things. This has resulted in some stern stares to try and figure out the truth and if I need to confront them. Sometimes when this happens I turn around and no-one is there. The sun in the day may as well be night time all the time right now because that is exactly how it feels.

So instead of being up a mountain, hanging out and exploring I have been sat in my flat in London trying to minimise the effects of my mood on others as much as possible.

I was unsure about whether I should go to Morrocco or not and I went anyway with the theory being that I would never know unless I tried. Additionally, it could have gone very well or very badly. When I booked it in september, with the prior knowledge that i struggle at this time of year, I naively thought that having something to focus on and look forward to, and essentially distract myself would end a potentially self fulfilling prophecy of The September Issue’s reoccurrence. Of course, just as with the september issue of our favourite fashion magazines, nothing is going to stop the september issue from launching and being ever so extravagently big and jam packed with chaos, whether its mental health chaos or fashion chaos. I have had a brilliant summer, it’s in the top 5.

Even though I got to Morocco I had a break down on the sunday evening and walked home, having excused myself early from the group meal, crying. I decided to sleep and see how I felt in the morning however, after packing and prepping for the day ahead I just broke down crying. It would not stop. I knew at this point that pushing myself further would not reap any good results. When I cry like this, it is usually only going to get worse until I sleep extensively. It happened in Berlin last year, also in september, and at home. Even this morning, although apparently over nothing I cried and cried and cried until I eventually went to bed to sleep it off. No trigger. No cause. No reason. It just is.

Sometimes the right decision is not the one you want to make. There are many lessons yet to be learned. Even with potentially over doing it on the insight and reflection stance I will probably still make mistakes and much to my dismay, may never be fully in control of all of my mental health shenanigans. Sometimes when you live with chronic mental illness you have to make difficult decisions because ultimately, no matter how much I try, my illness will most likely always hinder me in some way. I won’t let it defeat me. I can’t. Instead all is can do is all that I will do, to keep working on getting what I want from life by working with my illness.

How Gratitude Can Help Improve Body Dissatisfaction

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The power of practicing gratitude has the potential to be something quite incredible. Culturally in the West we are conditioned almost to always want for more, or with our bodies ironically we want for less. Less waist, less weight, less is more when it comes to beauty and looking good, or so we are told. We are primed to be perpetually discontented, dissatisfied and looking to others who always seem to have more of whatever it is we want: friends, tech, clothing or, ticking more beauty standard ideals with their appearance.

Like any other skill in our tool box of tricks to get us through our days reasonably content and in one piece, it takes a bit of practice in order to change our thinking patterns. The good news is that it can be done and that it can be an effective tool to develop a healthier relationship with your body and body image.

In a study conducted by Armstrong State University, USA, gratitude and cognitive restructuring were compared for effectiveness in reducing body disatisfaction amongst college age females. The group studied had not sought clinical help for body disatisfaction and eating disordered related issues. The importance of body image and dissatisfaction is that the feelings we have towards ourselves often permeate other areas of our lives: body disatisfaction has been associated with depression (Jurasico, Perone & Timnko, 2011) and social anxiety (Cash, 2011) for example.

Cognitive restructuring is a CBT technique. CBT is an established treatment for many mental health and well-being complaints including: bulimia, anxiety, depression. SOURCE THIS. By comparing a gratitude based intervention to an established intervention such as cognitive restructuring, the effectiveness of each intervention on body dissatisfaction can be compared.

The strength of using gratitude based interventions for body dissatisfaction is that it increases appreciation for non-appearence based aspects of one’s self and life: gratitude interventions have been found to be causally related to improvements in intrapersonal and interpersonal aspects of well-being including: increased happiness, decreased depression, improved pro-social behaviour, decreased aggression, improved sleep and concentration (Watkins, 2014).

There does need to be more studies in order to confirm or dispute similar findings. However, with this in mind gratitude is a promising intervention for people experiencing body dissatisfaction without a clinical diagnosis of an eating disorder.

Gratitude works is by changing perspective on what is important in life and how and what we judge ourselves and ourl ives to be worthwile. This study illustrates the potential effectiveness that can be had from introducing and working on gratitude in order to improve well being and happiness.

With this. Line of thought fresh in my mind, and my own practicing of gratitude lately I will be exploring some personal experiences of gratitude and how practicing gratitude has helped me alter my automatic thought patterns over time. As a disclaimer I am not suggesting gratitude is a cure-all, but more of a handy tool to help contribute to a changing way of relating to the world around us.


References:

Cash, T. F. (2011). Cognitive behavioural perspectives on body image. In T. F. Cash, & L. Smolak (Eds.), Body Image, A Handbook of science, practice and prevention (2nd ed., pp. 39-47). New York, NY: Guilford Press

Juarasico, A. S., Perone, J., & Timko, C. A. (2011) Moderators of the relationship between body image dissatisfaction and disordered eating. Eating Disorders, 19, 346-354. doi: 10.1080/10640266.2011.584811

Watkins, P. C. (2014). Gratitude and the good life: Toward a psychology of appreciation. New York, NY: Springer Science

Wendy, L. Wolfe & Kaitlyn Patterson (2017) Cpmparison of a gratitude-based and cognitive restructuring intervention for body disatissfaction and dysfunctional eating behaviour in college women, Eating Disorders, 25:4, 330-334, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080.10640266.2017.1279908

To The Bone Behind The Mask: Inside Anorexia

*Trigger Warning* – If you are experiencing or have experienced an eating disorder this post may be triggering for you.

The song of the morning birds has just begun, she can see through the crack in the curtain that the morning dawn is about to break. Her partner remains still as the night, unaware of the creeping day ahead. Pushing and kicking the duvet between her legs she rolls over to try and grasp at another few moments of peaceful slumber, “why is it that she can’t stay awake during the day and can’t sleep at night?” Tucking her extra pillow between her jarring knees for padding she twists her body so the least of her jutting angles are bruised from the mattress.

The tranquillity of peace is unbeknownst to her. Her only peace is found when calorie limits are adhered to, when pounds drop or measurements shrink; and despite the constant battle with herself and others, these moments are few. The human body can only lose at such a rate, she can only muster the strength to push herself to such a limit, and below nothing, there is no less to eat. Of course, she does eat, just not every day, but what more can she do to please this need?

The ruminations never desist, they merely quieten in a moment of victory, a moment when she has “done well”; she has adhered to the strict regime set by her demon of X calories, less calories, less calories. The congratulatory prize is small, a minor victory – and after a while does not extend to the praise of those around her as it had done when she began losing weight. No longer is she cooed with, “oh you look so beautiful”, “oh don’t you look marvelous, look at her cheek bones and toned stomach” or, “I’m so jealous, how do you do it?” There is a fundamental issue with society here; she was never overweight in the first place and she was never fat despite repetitious hollers. Her stomach isn’t toned, it’s bordering concave; her legs aren’t sculpted; they’re weak, aching and bruised; her arms possess no strength, they’re minute and painfully angular; her face isn’t chiselled like a catwalk model, but gaunt, lifeless and exhausted.

Her complexion pales whilst she walks through town smelling the foods she can’t have, staring in the windows of restaurant chains and eyeing up menus that she can’t even dream of ordering from. The thought fills her with a fantastical excitement at how good it must taste, but the engulfing fear and dread of actually eating it is too much. She had once felt empowered by her ability to say ‘no’, to deny herself and to not need but now she needed, and she wanted so desperately to say ‘yes’. She had become powerless to her disorder.

Wandering into the supermarket she’d stalk the aisles. Picking up foods she felt intrigued by and looking at it closely through the packaging. Turning it over and looking at the calories and fat grams, 90% of what she picked up had been a far cry from what she was now “allowed”, but with each package the fascination grew: if only she could taste, feel and enjoy food: longing to let herself need, to find true enjoyment and to just eat. Each packet was sat back on the shelf for someone else, someone less greedy, and someone who deserved to eat it. Aisle after aisle: dairy, confectionery, foreign food, it all amazed her. To just read the labels and ingredients engaged every morsel of her obsession until the anxiety and pressure to actually buy something began to creep in and ruin her fun. Leaving with nothing, she tried to sneak out without raising suspicion with security. She hadn’t stolen anything, but didn’t want to be pulled over because who spends two hours in a supermarket looking at food to walk out seemingly empty handed? She was painfully aware that her behaviour would be deemed as unusual.

When she got home, her cupboards were filled with foods she could eat. Feigning enjoyment of these choices to herself she was convinced that water on cereal was delicious and how could anyone not like a bowl of lettuce and mustard? Her demon had tricked her, fooled her into thinking in new ways and instilling relentless rules of survival: cutting up food into the smallest pieces possible, chewing x amount of times each time, no eating after 7pm but no eating before 5pm either, always eat alone, measure everything, weigh ten times daily. It went on. It went on and on. She was governed by barking orders from this voice within.

She had to keep it a secret. She had to lie. She had to remember everything she ate for the last fortnight. She had to count how many items she had consumed. She had to count calories or every bite, medications and vitamins included. She had to walk here, there and everywhere that she could. She had to exercise. She had to listen, she had to comply, because if she didn’t she would be berated to a withering heap. “You’re a fat bitch!”, “You greedy cow”, “You’re a failure and disappointment.”

Once immersed within the health services she has only more people to hide from, to lie to, to fight against. She is a slave to her own game. It’s not working out so well now; she has lost her autonomy, her independence, and her freedom. Caged in a cell of constant torture she is a shell of who she used to be: no longer laughing, no longer energetic, sociable, fun or fulfilling her potential.

What started as a diet to save her from “fat” hollers, what had started as a method of ‘self-improvement’ is gradually destroying everything she was. What started as a means to control her inner turmoil and world has grasped at her every molecule and refuses to let go. Entrenched, she is obsessed and caught up in the relentless need to abscond from greed, to not need and to be less. The “oh you look so beautiful”, has turned into, ‘Is she OK?”, “She looks so unwell.”, “I don’t know why anyone would want to be that thin. It looks disgusting” but the truth is, in her eyes for as long as she is alive, she will always be fat. She will never be thin and never has been thin and that really, ‘thin’ has become irrelevant. All she ever wanted was a bit of control, and to feel a bit better.

– If you want more information or are affected by this story, something-fishy.org and B-eat are good organisations for help, support and more information.