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.

Flushed: Inside Bulimia

 

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

To the buzz of 7am she hits ‘snooze’. 7.10am. Snooze. 7.20am. Snooze. Each day is dreaded and deferred for as long as can be; it is a school day. Another day of skulking along in the shadows of school walls, of silently answering the register and trying to climb the stairs to classes without collapsing into the dizzy embrace of starvation. Running her hands over her body she smoothes over her stomach, ‘how fat am I today?’ feeling the angular jut of her hip bones, ‘are they more than yesterday?’ Conveniently she doesn’t have time for anything more than her morning coffee, the warmth of which gives her a hazy buzz of faint energy to push her on the school bus where she sits by the window trapped behind her own panes of glass that suffocate her with self-hatred, anger and despair.

The noise of chaos has wound to at the full throttled pace at which it will be all day, “Fat bitch. Don’t eat. You don’t deserve to eat. You’re a fat pig. You’re a fucking ugly mess. Exercise. Burn the calories. You can survive off the fat you’re carrying you greedy bitch” and on it goes, tallying calories upon calories, adding, subtracting and goal setting.

If she could just avoid all food completely, if she could just get past those dinner time hours she would be fine, if she could just lose 40lb, she would be calmer, happier, and loved maybe? Instead of heaving into the porcelain whirlpool each and every night, homework would be done, extra study like she used to maybe. She could pull that grade up that’s been slipping so stealthily through her grasped hands. She’s not a D Grade student; predicted A’s the doubt is setting in with teachers. Her future is slipping into disappointed prospects and being flushed away just like every other part of herself, her life, her everything.

In class she answers ‘yes miss’, ‘yes sir’ so barely there, a shell of her former self. No longer is she told ‘quieten down please girls’, ‘stop the chatting’ or ‘I’m separating you three’– now, ‘I can’t hear you’, ‘can you speak up?’ ‘Oh there she is’ on resignation that speaking up is no longer an option.

Lunch is a compulsory routine in the gym alone whilst the echoes of everyone else having fun and hanging out bounce between the corridors and through open windows from the field. Being with people is exhausting. Cracks are showing. “I’m really tired too” – they retort to her passing sighs, “no, you don’t understand” fatigued, she’s unable to muster the strength to say anything; this is a whole new type of tiredness. Speaking, thinking, just existing is a task so soul destroying that she wishes for nothing more than to disappear. Unable to concentrate in class, her head meets the desk discretely and she drifts off unable to stay awake until finally that last bell of the day rings.

The kettle simmers and the taste of her hot chocolate is so soothing, the sugar rush so gratifying: shakes subside and weakness eases. Ready for bed she naps. She hears of her friends talking about hanging out after school, those days are gone. The thought of being around people for any longer than absolutely necessary rises an intolerable frustration. Loneliness is much easier; there’s no pretending to be OK, forcing smiles or hiding behind breaking defences.

Frantically grasping at and pulling boxes of cereal from the cupboard, pouring bowl after bowl she eats so fast she cannot even taste or chew before she even realises that she is in the kitchen. Frenzied with hunger and despair she has mastered the art of eating cereal and toasting slice after slice, smothering it a centimetre thick in butter and marmalade. In between toasting she lathers up pieces of bread and whilst raiding the outside freezer taking solace in knowing no one will notice. Grabbing frozen bread rolls that are too many to be counted, grabbing at frozen meals she piles a heap of chips in the oven whilst defrosting the bread in the microwave, stuffing it all in whether it is fully defrosted or not, whilst another defrosts into a soggy mass of starch in the microwave. Peeking into the food caddy, are there any leftovers from their dinner last night? How about the bin?

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She slows down, bent over nearly double, unable to stand fully for the pain of her distended stomach. Pounding the stairs fearing that she might explode in agony she heaves on 3 time after time, again and again. Saliva, snot and tears stream down her face and arm, her red raw knuckles and puddle of urine on the floor from heaving so hard are the mess she finds herself in every day. This is her secret life, this is what she is becoming, and this is her world of lies, shame and hidden torment. She hates it, but hates to be without it more. It is an addiction.

8f0e7d8485e36888d3d9faf48f0cd15eAlways home alone, there is comfort to be found here from the tip toeing around afraid of making a wrong move and listening to the screams, tears and punching of walls. Bingeing is a whirlwind of turmoil that she so desperately wants to stop but by comparison the retching is peaceful for her, a tranquil haven from reality. It is never enough until she hits exhaustion, until she is collapsing on the floor from violent heaving, and resting in the haze of the aftermath.

Climbing into bed entirely unaware if her parents even came home that night she writes a diet plan for the next month. Her goal weights are beyond emaciation yet she remains a ‘healthy weight’. Diet plans, diet pills and fad diets consume every other waking moment. Tomorrow she vows to not eat. Tomorrow is a new start. Tomorrow will be different, until it pans out exactly the same and with each grinding day, the obsessions entrench, the self-hatred deepens and the original conflict hides beneath another surface, another layer, another mask to wear.

– 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.

The Importance of Talking About Mental Health

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Heavy with lead through every morsel of torso and limb she tries to carry herself tall. Heaving an impossible weight and pushing on she gets by, dragging what may fall behind along the way. A fog has descended and thickened, clouding her vision, judgement and perception. A thick rain cloud of anger hangs over her head, a relentless thrashing of her senses persists. Hearing anything clearly becomes impossible and coping with daily life is an overwhelming task. Her thoughts are foreign to her previous self, morbid, dark and terrifying. Through her diminishing abilities she becomes frustrated and deflated, hopeless and surrendering. She is vulnerable, but not weak. This is no personal flaw and through no personal fault of her own; she is experiencing an invisible illness, a mental illness.

“Mental health problems affect the way you think, feel and behave. They are problems that can be diagnosed by a doctor, not personal weaknesses” – The Mental Health Foundation.

Those around her, loved ones, colleagues and friends may notice a change. Maybe she’s withdrawn, quiet, short-tempered or tearful and they may not understand, or perhaps they fear the unknown. Frustrations can rise, “she’s just not making an effort”, “she’s no fun anymore” and “you just have to get on with it” are all too easy a response, but ask yourself, is it the right response?

As tempers turn into turmoil, frustrations grate and ties wear thin she may start erupting into sky-high emotions, hearing voices or facing difficulties with food. What do you say then? Is she a psycho? Does she need to go to the loony bin and get out of your hair? Or is it just all in her fucked up head and she just needs to sort it the fuck out and stop it, this instant, right now? Believe it or not, these are the nature of responses I have received throughout my own journey and experiences with mental health difficulties. Dare I ask it, would this have happened had my illness’ been physical? I doubt it.

It is an abhorrent suggestion of absurdity to march into a cancer ward and demand that this has to stop, they have to stop their tumours and bodies from being affected by the illness, they must stop making a fuss of it, and they must stop dying from it – and that if they really must continue with this being ill from cancer thing they’ve got going on, could they please do it quietly, out of sight and act as if nothing is happening?

It is a despicable suggestion; cancer and mental illness alike need care, support and treatment yet mental health remains subject to negative attitudes of stigma, discrimination and invalidation yet the remarkable fact is that we all have mental health just like we all have physical health. Every year 1 in 4 of us will be affected, that’s 25% of the population, a whole quarter. Yet the experience of a mental health illness is often one of isolation and shame. The effects of which can be worse than the illness itself.

The invisibility of the illness does not equate to a lack of debilitating effects such illnesses can have on a person’s life: mental illness costs lives, it can diminish lives to a mere state of existence and make every day functioning a seemingly impossible feat. It can be overcome for many, and many people do recover or learn to manage their conditions whilst living fulfilling lives that are worth living again. There is hope, but in order to achieve that people need support, to be listened to, and acceptance.

This is why it is important that we talk about mental health; it affects every aspect of our lives: in how we function, enjoy and cope from day-to-day, and that instead of meeting these conditions with hatred and hostility, they are met with the care, compassion and support that these individuals need.

 

Good Bye January, Hello Time to Talk Day 2018

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January is over. I never considered January to be too bad of a month but everyone constantly goes on about how it’s a bit of a shit month. This year it was a shit month for me. The weather probably didn’t help but I can’t blame the weather for everything because even in summer, if the mood strikes I can spend days in bed on the most beautiful of days. With this in mind as January became another month of lost days, it is somewhat timely that Time to Talk day is today.

Time to Talk, for anyone who isn’t aware, is a day where talking about mental health is actively campaigned for by Time to Change. Time to Change is a charity that campaigns to try to end mental health discrimination by encouraging conversation to harness positivity in the evolving attitudes towards mental health that we are seeing at the moment. In doing so, the hope I suppose is to move towards one of more balance, openness and create a culture in which everyone can develop a better understanding of mental illness and that one can’t just pull their hypothetical socks up.

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The campaign says there is no wrong place to talk about mental health, at the gym, over coffee, or even on a run. I think sometimes just being accepted and given the space to crack on in any way you know how without judgement can be a very welcome break. Most people in my life know I have mental health difficulties. It’s been somewhat of a long-standing issue for me, and one that I have a somewhat fraught relationship with.

When I’m doing well I can reflect and be grateful for everything my challenges have taught me, and how my path has shaped who I am today. I would almost certainly not be as non-judgmental and open-minded had I not had some of the experiences that I have. When I’m not feeling so chipper and dandy however, I cuss every moment of my life wasted on feeling shit, every lost opportunity because I let anxiety win, and every bad decision I’ve made due to my illness. I generally cuss the fact that mental health even exists a lot of the time, and how so debilitating your mind can become.

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I think being open about our mental health can only be positive. I try to be as honest as possible with those around me when I’m not feeling so great, so they know and can know not to take me being an arsehole personally. Let’s face it, mental health can get very gritty. It gets dark, it gets scary and it gets pretty fucked up at times. I don’t think shying away from this is helpful, however, maybe at the gym isn’t the best place to talk about the darkest parts of our psyche. I do think there are times and places that are more suited to certain conversations because even if you’ve finally accepted that you have or have had a mental health condition, there is still judgement.

I think closer, and more intimate conversations are best for challenging any stigma, prejudice or discrimination that may or may not be happening around us. People judge strangers very quickly, and sometimes you might not want everyone to know about your mental health struggles at first because hey, it’s nice to be known for your personality and not an illness that you have to manage. Kind of just like you might not want everyone to know about your bowel movements or sexual health. That’s ok.

Having said that, I’ll probably end up talking about mental health at some point because of my living and general situation, and that fact that a lot of my life still, unfortunately, remains largely oriented around managing my mental health. It’s not all roses and shortbread and that’s ok, for me, for you and for everyone. We all struggle at some point and I don’t think anyone can get through life without being tried, tested or even tortured by our minds albeit to differing degrees.

So let’s talk. This evening I will be heading to Crystal Palace park for a Time to Talk fun run. There’s some useful lists on their sites:
Events nationwide can be found here
Resources that can be found and used here
Tips on starting a conversation here

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