A Reminder of Why I Gained Weight

Sometimes I still catch myself looking back and wondering why I “let” myself gain 40lbs. Who does that? Who chooses to gain 40lbs? I feel like a failure. I cannot figure out why the hell I ever chose to do that. I regret it. But then I push those thoughts away and focus on the here and now.

Things have been slipping for months though. You see despite weight restoring I have never really “normalised” my eating; I still choose the lowest calorie sandwich in the supermarket, I still check the calories for restaurants and choose accordingly and I do not know the last time I chose something because I WANTED it. I avoid dessert unless I can “make up” for it, and I have a huge heap of food related rules. I do not eat things that my disorder stupidly labelled as “bad”; chocolate, burgers, sweets, white carbs, pasta, high fat foods (except peanut butter haha), crisps, non-diet versions of things you can get diet versions of, potatoes, milk, ice cream, chips…you can probably guess the kind of things. I eat the same breakfast, lunch and tea every day, and the same snacks, and the only variation I have managed to add in is different sandwiches at work so long as they are from the healthy living range, and different protein with my evening meal sometimes..but which is still limited to a few options.

I have been at my target weight of a BMI around 20 for a while now, but the food related rules have been plentiful. Eating out still scares me, Christmas still terrifies me although to a lesser extent…and I still often wish I could eat what the other people I am with are eating. I still avoid social situations involving food, I still long to eat certain things and I still feel like I deprive myself. And I convince myself it is ok because my weight is “fine.”

A year or two ago I started exercising again in the form of the gym. I have stuck to three times maximum mostly, with the occasional increase before reducing it back down. Three times is fine, I convince myself…while ignoring the thoughts I have. The panic at not being able to go because it is bank holiday, the panic that I might not fit in three times if I go home. The desire to go every day and the irritable mood I find myself in on my days off. The increased frequency of going an extra day. The obsessive thoughts about burning fat and building muscle.

It has gradually worsened. And in the last 6 months it has completely deteriorated. I had a few weeks where I was running three times, going to the gym three or four, and I ended up triggering an old injury and I felt suicidal. I know that sounds dramatic, but that is what happened. I have been weighing myself daily again, and when I was arrested and placed in a cell (don’t ask!), I was not bothered about the prospect of a criminal record so much as I was bothered about not being able to go to the gym; when I was released I rang my Mum crying that I could not go to the gym (it was too late) and that I was in so much pain I could barely even walk. (By the way I was not charged and I hadn’t committed a crime..it was mental health related and complicated – I will explain if anyone wants to know, but not on here!) I have been going to the gym extra days per week, doing a lot extra cardio and walking 10-20km every day, even if it means walking in the middle of the night.

I should have seen how bad things were getting but I wanted to ignore it. Or rather, because I am a healthy weight, I felt like I had to just act fine, pretend to be fine, get on with it. It was like I did not deserve to feel like I had a problem, and I know that the one person who really knows how things have been has been irritated with me for trying to pretend there is not a problem when it is blatantly obvious that there is, but the underlying issue has been the weight part. How can I need to cut down my exercise or eat more, or challenge my eating rules, when I am at a healthy weight?

But the thing is, being in that semi-recovered but still pretty damn disordered state leaves you not just miserable, but also very vulnerable to relapse, and while I feel like I only relapsed last weekend, it had been coming for a while. Last weekend I decided to lose weight. I was in bed when I made the decision and I planned to simply cut down a little on what I was eating, but then I got up the next morning and ate less than planned for breakfast, then skipped lunch and snacks, ate less than planned for tea, and skipped supper. I went to work without breakfast and had no lunch, I just ate a fiberone bar. Roll on to yesterday and I had a glass of unsweetened almond milk, some egg whites and veg…burnt 500 calories in the gym and 600 calories walking.

And guys, it worked. In 6 days I lost 6lbs. YAY WELL DONE NATALIE (not). How I feel reminds me of a quote by Marya Hornbacher:

“And when, after fifteen years of bingeing, barfing, starving, needles and tubes and terror and rage, and medical crises and personal failure and loss after loss – when, after all this, you are in your early twenties and staring down a vastly abbreviated life expectancy, and the eating disorder still takes up half your body, half your brain, with its invisible eroding force, when you have spent the majority of your life sick, when you do not yet know what it means to be ‘well,’ or ‘normal,’ when you doubt that those words even have meaning anymore, there are still no answers. You will die young, and you have no way to make sense of that fact.
You have this: You are thin.”

You are thin. And that is all you really have.

You are depressed, anxious, isolated, suicidal and empty. But you are thin. And at times your head convinces you this is what you want, especially at the start…but then one day it hits you. I remember a moment where it hit me in my last major relapse. It was 2011, I think. I was on an acute medical ward for refeeding in a general hospital. I took my first shower in the bathroom there and they had a full length mirror. I had been avoiding mirrors, and the sight of my own body reduced me to tears. I was thin, and that was all I was. I was nothing else. I was empty, and dying, and I cried. Usually I was pleased to lose weight, to be told I looked sick, to be wasting away…but it was like suddenly my eyes opened up to the reality, and I knew that this was not a life I could carry on living.

I remember looking at my body, seeing that I really was just skin and bones, and crying. I remember thinking “what have you done to yourself?” I remember having to crawl to get to bed because I could not walk at home, and as soon as I was in hospital, not being allowed to go anywhere except in a wheelchair. How can you be 19 years old and in this state for the third time?

 

 

So yes, I spent the last week losing weight as quickly as I could, taking diet pills that used to be prescription only on the NHS but were then banned for causing heart failure, and feeling moody as hell. I had a rubbish appointment with my mentor at uni. I have laid in bed making weight loss plans. I have worried about managing my degree and work, and doing pretty much anything. I have cancelled plans, avoided going home for my sisters birthday, and to be honest, been a wreck all while hiding what I was doing from everyone.

And then today I got up and I ate breakfast and I walked to Tesco and bought food, and I ate lunch and tea. I took the day off the gym, and after I had walked so far, I forced myself back home…and it was literally force. And I do not know how I have managed it. My stomach hurts. I have cried. I feel like I am about to gain a stone in the coming days and weeks, and I think I need to make the decision that a BMI over 20 is not the end of the world. That if I want to minimise the risk of relapse and stop living my life by so many damn food and exercise rules, I have to accept my body wants to be at a higher weight than eating disorder services told me to be.

Back to wondering why I ever let myself gain weight:

I did not gain weight because I wanted to gain weight. God if I had waited for that day, I would be in a grave by now. And that is the thing. An eating disorder is not a diet. There is no ‘end’. You just keep on going and I am one of those people who either eats nothing, or eats 3 meals and a snack every single day without failure. I am obsessive, and very rigid and that is how I go. There is no middle ground.

I have remembered why I gained weight.

  1. Social stuff! When I am losing weight and restricting I avoid people. I avoid family and friends and anything that might involve food. This is my biggest reason to eat; I am focusing on wanting energy for work and to help at an event on the 7th of June. I have arranged to see friends on both Monday and Tuesday, and my sister for the day after her birthday. This will be challenging, especially with food, but I know that being able to remind myself that eating = being able to spend time with the people I love will help me manage eating properly again. And I am not going to just try and return to where I was a few weeks ago…I want to start eating what I WANT and not trying to maintain a minimally “healthy” weight. I do not want to spend my life micro-managing my eating and weight.
  2. Because when I starve myself and become severely underweight I am an awful person. At my worst, as a teenager, I attacked my family, smashed windows while cooking, threw plates of food that my Mum was trying to force me to eat at her, and hid food in socks, pockets…anywhere. But beyond that…I was silent, empty, dead. I know if I relapsed I would sit with my mentor every week in silence, or talk and feel as rubbish and as guilty as I did yesterday. I do not want that life back. I do not want the life back where nothing is important except avoiding food and losing weight.
  3. I really, really, want to go back into treatment, and USE it. GET BETTER. If I go back there at the end of this year, two stone underweight, I will not be able to use it to get better. (It is not for eating disorders) I will struggle; I will struggle to talk because I will be a zombie. I will struggle with eating there. I will struggle to manage to physically cope with getting there and being there all day. Managing just to sit there in silence would be an achievement. I need to be better than that; I need to be able to make the most of it.

There a whole heap of other reasons; enjoying food, being warm, not wanting my osteoporosis to get worse, concentration, Christmas, energy…but those three are my main reasons.

It feels strange admitting what the last six months have been like, and what it has accumulated to in the last week. It feels scary to admit that I am not as “recovered” as I would like to think, or as I would like other people to think. It is hard to say that I have a lot of things I need to change, and possibly some weight to gain, when I am not really underweight and nobody can see that there is a problem.

But there is a problem. I do not care if you are under eating, or over exercising, or not; I am telling you that if you are psychologically obsessing over food, or have rules surrounding food and exercise that cause anxiety, make you depressed, and that dictate your life to you, you deserve more.

You deserve so much more. And I deserve so much more, and if I want to get anything from this week of hell, it is to get truly better for the first time ever, and make other people aware that being at a healthy weight does not mean you are “recovered”, or that you cannot gain more weight. And that being “fine” does not have to be the end. You are worthy of more than “fine” and I am here to tell you that just like me, you can fight for more. You can fight for more than just “fine” and for more than managing, and for more than having to follow your life with rules. I am here to tell you that being weight restored does not mean you cannot still be struggling, and does not mean you have to pretend to the rest of the world you are ok when inside you are still fighting a battle.

Why we need to get angry at the diet industry.

My postgraduate research is focused on social media and dieting. I have looked at the history of dieting and the role of social media in reinforcing the ‘thin ideal’, and I am now beginning to look at how social media is used by people with or in recovery from an eating disorder and how social media is used for body image activism and education. For my final research project I will be looking at the impact of female fitness and dieting accounts on social media users.

There is a reason I am so passionate about this topic, and that reason is connected to having had anorexia nervosa, but it runs so much deeper than that. My experiences of anorexia as a teenager, developing into an adult, have seen me become very aware of the messages that the diet industry puts out there. I do not buy into any of it. Living with an eating disorder has made me less immune to the diet industry than the typical person is, of that I am sure.

What I have become most aware of goes beyond the impact that diet culture has on people with eating disorders, and my interest now is heavily on the impact of diet culture on everyone. Being surrounded by other people my age (and of all ages) has made me extremely aware of this; as someone in recovery from an eating disorder I often find myself questioning who is the one who has had the disorder. It often feels like the people around me are now more disordered than I am.

I am anti-dieting. Ridiculously anti-dieting. This does not mean I am against weight loss. It does not mean I am against healthy living, nor does it mean I am against exercise, weight lifting, or most other things. It does mean I heavily question standard approaches to weight loss, and how we are defining healthy. It does mean I am against diet pills, valuing ourselves based on our weight or shape, and denying ourselves pleasures in life.

The dieting industry is primarily a money making industry. I often remind myself of that. Those diet plans you pay for? Yep, they care about money above anything else. The message is that if you spend enough money, you can be perfect.

Diet culture has been built around the ‘thin ideal’ that tells us that in order to be happy and healthy we need to be thin; it leads us to judging our self-worth on how we look and what we weigh, and often it even leads us to judging other people in this way too. Weight gain is seen as being related to a lack of self-control and so we see ourselves and others as flawed when they gain weight, and yet often when people gain weight it is because they have learnt to let go of the strict rules and boundaries dieting places on our lives. Do not feel guilty for falling into this trap – sadly, I think we all are guilty at times, and this is because of the messages we receive.

The reality is that bodies come in all different shapes and sizes based on a multitude of factors beyond lifestyle choices; genetics, age, gender, race, physical health, mental health and hormones. Our size changes over time, and it is not something we can always control.

Health is so much more than a number on a scale, and happiness is never going to be found in pounds lost.

We need to learn how to trust ourselves and our bodies. We need to get angry. We need to get angry at a society that dictates how we should live our own lives. Angry that we are sent mixed messages. Angry that we feel bad for eating chocolate, and feel that we are better people for eating “clean”. We need to be angry that we can book a consultation with a plastic surgeon who will point out all of the surgery we need to look better like we are not enough as we are.  We need to be angry that our body dissatisfaction is now affecting the younger generations. We need to be angry that we are being pushed down a road into a way of living that can ruin the happiness of our children. We need to be angry that when we exercise we are thinking about how many calories we burnt rather than running like we did when we were young; for fun.

Health is important, but health does not equate to thinness. We need to be approaching our lifestyle in a way that is sustainable – and dieting is not. We need to be leading a lifestyle that is in balance, and that enables us to eat and exercise and enjoy ourselves.

I always remind myself that nobody is on their death bed thinking that they are glad they said no to dessert every now and then.

 

 

 

No, I do not wake up at 6am.

I do not get up at 6am. I do not start my day off with a coffee followed by a yoga session. I do not eat overnight oats made with almond milk and topped with chia seeds.

I lay in for as long as I can, and stay up as late as I can. I plan to try yoga, and never do. I’ve got chia seeds in my cupboard and I have absolutely no idea what to do with them. I am not an early bird. I waste a lot of time doing not a lot. I work better at night.

And that is ok, and it has taken me a long time to feel ok about it.

There appears to be an installed belief that certain things make you a better person. For so long I have wished I was a morning person. That person who wakes up and exercises before breakfast, has managed a gym session before work. That fills their time efficiently.

I am not that person. I need food as soon as I get up. I prefer going to the gym late afternoon. I procrastinate. I do not drink coffee and if I want a packet of crisps, I am having a packet of crisps. The chia seeds are probably going to remain in the cupboard.

Spending so long wanting to be different, wanting to be what I feel I should be, has done nothing but make me worse. It has done nothing but make me feel bad, guilty and wrong.

I am awful for not doing work for ages, and then doing a heap of work at once. And I say ‘awful’ because people do not see it as the best way to be – but now I am asking why is it not? I get my work done. I produce good work. Just because I work differently to what you do, or differently to what is apparently ‘ideal’, does not make my way wrong.

No I do not eat chia seeds. I eat far too much peanut butter. I have crisps with my lunch everyday and I do not measure out everything I eat. I eat the way I always have. I eat what I want, when I want, making sure I get everything that I need. I am at a healthy weight, I exercise regularly. I do a lot of the things we are told not to do. I eat sugar. I eat ‘junk’ food. I skip the gym because sometimes skipping the gym is good for my soul. I always eat after 8pm. I am sat typing this at 00:19 in the morning.

Finally I am at peace with this. Right now, this works for me. I am sorry if you think this is bad. I am sorry that my way of working is not of the standard you expect. I am sorry that we live in a world that makes people think they are better than someone else because of the way they live their life.

But I am here telling you it is ok to be the way you are, if it is working for you. And it is also ok to be working on things. I want to start yoga. I want to meditate when I wake up, and when I go to bed. I want to start lifting heavier weights at the gym. I am a work in progress and that is ok.

 

 

 

 

 

 

End of my undergraduate degree (and a little update!)

I handed in my dissertation last week, and my final assignment this week, and I don’t know if it hasn’t hit me yet or if I’m just not a very emotional person, but it hasn’t bothered me that much! Everyone keeps asking how it feels and I don’t really have a response!

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I also had a final presentation and the transformation with my confidence has been incredible over these three years. I know I talk about it a lot…but in first year I didn’t do my presentations and so I got ungraded for one, and capped at 40% for the other because my lecturer agreed I could hand a paper copy of what I would have said. Second year I did them, I’m not sure how well. This year I have been so much better. I mean my hands shake and I feel terrified but even turning up is a big deal with me! And a friend commented on how I seem like the calmest/most confident person in our group hahahaha if only she could see me inside!!! But it feels so good to see this progress. It means more to me than any qualification or grade, as insane as that sounds.

Today was a big one! I never go out with my friends, but it was one of theirs last day here before they move back home and I went. Not only did I go but I ate waffles!!

waff

To think that when I was 15 years old I had a crisis meeting with mental health services because I hadn’t eaten all week and then I ate a grape and had a total meltdown, I feel this is a pretty big deal. It is probably the most challenging thing I have done in recovery (oh and a pizza a few months back).  And it was so lovely to see my friends, and I am going to miss them so much.

girls.jpg

I also met my best friend at home yesterday after seeing my psychiatrist. I met her at the anorexia nervosa day programme I used to go to and we’ve only actually been really close for 9 months-ish but she is literally such an amazing person. It sounds cheesy but she brightens up my life so much, she really brings out the best in me. She makes me feel ambitious and determined, happy and just able to be myself. She is probably the most amazing person I have met in my life. I haven’t had someone I can call a best friend in so long, I thought I’d never get that close to someone again, but this girl is like a second sister to me. She is a ray of sunshine even when things are tough. She makes my mood go from pretty damn low to absolutely amazing just by being herself. I am so lucky to have this girl.

I have been struggling a lot this last few weeks. I had an incident 3 weeks ago, which I am absolutely determined will be my last, but it has led to such an insane number of hospital appointments and I might need surgery and I am sick to death of hospitals/clinics right now. I have been to the therapy preparation group twice now and it’s, overall, good. I lost it on Tuesday-Thursday and was adamant it is stupid and I am not interested in going, but I have come through that now ha! There has been an issue within my family that has basically changed my whole life. I don’t want to go into it, but I’ve lost a member of my immediate family. I think I am fine with it, that I am coping, but then there are moments where it hits me and those are pretty tough – especially with things like finishing university and graduating, knowing that person isn’t going to be there. My psychiatrist told me I can get upset, that it is ok. That I won’t disintegrate, and I keep reminding myself of that.

I have been referred by occupational therapy for camouflage make-up and I’ve seen some examples of how amazing it is (this guy with full body tattoos had them all covered and you couldn’t see them at all!) and it is going to be so so life changing for me. I’ve also booked a holiday to Marrakesh at the start of September with my best friend! And I’m going camping in the peak district in a couple of weeks with my sister which is going to be so lovely. I love a walking holiday. I haven’t been on holiday since I was 18 for various family/health related reasons so this is all very exciting.

I guess I am learning that I can be both happy and sad and that is ok.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking for participants in an online focus group on mental illness and UK newspapers

I am looking for a few people (12-20) to take part in an online focus group that is in a forum style. There is one active group right now, another will be made once the first is completed for those who have not taken part in the first.

The topic is the portrayal of mental illness in UK newpapers, and more specifically, whether the portrayal has changed. The only requirement is that you read UK newspapers (print or online).

You do NOT need to have a history of mental illness. If anyone is interested use the link below or message me and I’ll talk you through how to do it if you struggle. There are 4 topics and a lot of questions but there is no requirement to answer or comment on everything. I will be commenting on replies to create a two-way conversation.

This is the link: https://focusgroupit.com/groups/d46db971

If the number of questions overwhelm you, it’s fine to do as much as you have time for and it’s going to be open for a few weeks too.

Thank you!

Last night with my housemate

The second of my three housemates moved out yesterday and to celebrate the end of second year we went to a pizzeria for nutella pizza! I haven’t had pizza in 9 years and it wasn’t as scary as I expected! Oh wait, that’s because food cannot be scary. I choose life any day.

My housemates don’t know about my eating disorder. My housemate doesn’t know how big of a deal that pizza was, nor how much she means to me. I wanted to do something with her for the first time (and enjoy it) more than I was afraid.

For a long time I have let the fear win, not this time though.

Recovery is a choice, and it’s not easy but it is worth it.

pizza