How to keep one’s mind focused on RECOVERY in a world of courgetti and cauliflower rice.

I write this not because I have reached recovery paradise – Eden. I write in order to reach Eden. I am however under no illusion that recovery does not take away any of life’s difficulties. It simply means that I choose not to carry the extra baggage of an eating disorder with me. Watching Nigerians hauling excess baggage at airports reminds me that if I can do without it, it’s better to ditch it. The baggage I have to ditch as I now embrace the joys and horrors of recovery is that of the restrictive/dieting mentality.

It is hard to go one day without hearing about a new diet, clean food fad, cleanse, fast or whatever else. Some may say they’re watching their weight. Nigerians may say they’re watching their height. Whichever it may be, diet talk is hard to escape. It’s not just the average Joe Public engaging in this but also doctors and those in the medical world.

This post was in itself prompted by an article I read about Dr Andrew Renaut who believes that skipping breakfast is the key to losing weight and is also on a mission to ‘educate’ people about the dangers of obesity.

Since I am not a specialist, I will not pretend to contradict him. However, I would like to posit a different theory. BALANCE rather than AVOIDANCE and FADDINESS is the likely key to good health (note I do not talk about weight loss). I do not believe in focusing on losing weight. I simply believe in finding balance and not dictating what one’s body should look like. Breakfast does not kill but dieting sure might. Obesity probably is dangerous in the long run but so is malnutrition and/or being underweight. Malnutrition can exist at any size.

As someone recovering from an eating disorder, I have to find ways to keep my mind focused on recovery even as my body grows to uncomfortable levels. For me, this is like walking down a road littered with chewing gum on the ground and having to hop, skip and jump so that I don’t end up with a mountain of chewing gum under my shoe at the end of each day. It reminds me of the time I lived in France and spent my time dodging dog mess on the ground whenever I went out. It gets annoying to say the least.

The more I read, the less I believe in dieting. We think as human beings that we have a monopoly on intelligence but that is not the case in my opinion. Our bodies are more intelligent than we think. We cannot outwit our bodies by pretending that cauliflower is real rice or that courgetti is really spaghetti. Our bodies will fight back through cravings which can often lead to binges and/or purging (through vomiting or overexercise) and then back to restriction again, therefore undoing all our ‘dieting’ efforts. I choose not to fall into this trap.

What can I do to avoid the chewing gum and the dog mess?

  1. Educate myself. Read lots of literature about the dangers of dieting, recovery from eating disorders and other literature which boosts my self esteem without reference to my size or shape. This has been a godsend.
  2. Remind myself that everyone’s story is different and so are our journeys in life.
  3. Ask myself whether I want to return to the depths of the eating disorder (the answer will always be no). I am by no means ‘recovered’ but ‘recovering’, with all it’s physical and mental side effects, is much better than being trapped in an eating disorder.
  4. Avoid comparing myself to others. Physically or in terms of nutrition. I always used to find it weird to be ‘complemented’ on my unhealthy and manipulated weight. In fact, I used to smirk. Not because I was proud of my shape or size but because I always used to think ‘if only you knew’. If only they knew the hellish existence I lived to maintain that size, they would pity rather than complement me.
  5. Remember that I am MORE THAN and so are YOU. Yep, you heard me. More than our size or weight. More than our bodies. More than our race, gender or other descriptor. More than our names and more than our diagnosis. More than the labels others tag us with and even more than the labels we tag ourselves. More than the food we eat and more than the way we look. Our bodies, in my humble opinion,  are not the key to our happiness. They are simply vehicles which help us live, thrive and navigate life’s obstacles. These vessel will wither, fade away and eventually go onto the scrap heap. I chose therefore to respect, take care of and nourish this vessel. But, I will not worship it. My body is not my god. Nor will I idolise food, diets, fads nor anything else man-made which claims to be the key, the secret, the elusive elixir of life. Don’t get me wrong. Health is wealth but how to enjoy good health is likely not through a lifetime of dieting/restricting or the inverse, bingeing.
  6. In keeping with the thought that I AM MORE THAN WHAT I EAT, I choose to use my time and mind in meaningful ways which benefit myself and others, such as helping those who struggle with literacy and warning people about the dangers of dieting and how diets can lead to eating disorders for those with a predisposition to such disorders. I also choose to spend my time and mind focusing on what I can do rather than how I look. This does not mean I will ‘let myself go’ and stop taking pride in my appearance. It simply means this will rank lower in my list of life priorities. I want to spend good time in the company of others rather than obsessing over food and therefore isolating myself.
  7. Finally, I choose to remember that in the end, WE ALL DIE. It really is that simple. We cannot name the day or time. Some things are beyond our control. I have seen people die prematurely from all sorts of illness who were not overweight. What I remember about these individuals is not their weight or ‘height’. What I remember about them is their compassion towards me, their attempts to understand me, the way they made me laugh, the way they allowed me to cry and be vulnerable in their company. In conclusion, what I remember is the way THEY LOVED ME – for who I am on the inside, not what I am on the outside.

LOVE NEVER FAILS. Diets do.

 

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The key(s) to eating disorder recovery*

In the past decade, I have found recovery out of reach, an impossibility. I have often wondered why others recovered but not me. I have been given opinions by those without eating disorders and professionals.

How to recover according to the church of others

People without eating disorders have told me that:

  1. You need to be determined.
  2. You need to want it enough.
  3. You’ll recover when you hit rock bottom.
  4. You just need to get out there and live and eventually things will get better.
  5. If you get yourself a boyfriend you’ll probably forget all about the eating disorder. 

Professionals have also given their opinion about the key(s) to my recovery.

  1. Engaging in a course of DBT, CBT or some other BT.
  2. Getting to the root cause of why I continue to engage in disordered behaviours around my eating.
  3. Therapy
  4. Medication
  5. Dealing with the depression which I experience with sometimes alarming frequency.
  6. An inpatient admission

The reality of medical support/treatment in the UK

Admission to an inpatient unit in the UK is done for the purposes of medical stabilisation (not recovery) or if you are having serious suicidal tendencies. Given that many who struggle with eating disorders have suicidal tendencies, it is clear that this in itself will not qualify you for treatment. A seriously low BMI and/or medical instability in your blood work are usually required. What generally qualifies an individual for IP treatment in the UK is a severely low BMI which means many anorexics and bulimics** will not qualify.

Access to DBT, CBT and therapy is often subject to a long waiting list so medication it seems may be the only option left to those with eating disorders. But I don’t believe this is the key to recovery even though it may support an individual to get into the mind-frame required for recovery or may impact their actions to some extent. Fluoxetine has been said to reduce the frequency of purging for some who struggle with this.

If like me, you have an aversion to medication, does that mean that you are therefore up shit creek without a paddle? NO.

The key(s) to eating disorder recovery

What professionals and others have suggested to me in the past can only be defined as either triggers or aids to recovery. They can start off the chain of events leading to my recovery or they can support my recovery but they are not the KEY to my recovery.

The triggers to my current foray into recovery have been the knowledge that my life cannot improve unless and until I am in recovery, a change of location, a letting go of the desire to hang onto a particular body type as well as a period of G’ing (gearing) myself up for more. I had a period of about 3 months of telling myself that I would get better even though the reality looked different. Yet, none of these triggers were key to my current state of being ‘in recovery’.

I believe there is 1 key (the main singer in the band/the main act) to being in recovery and being recovered and other tools  (back up singers or supporting acts) which can aid both processes .

THE KEY TO EATING DISORDER RECOVERY IS – FOOD/EATING. I’m sorry to say this but also happy to say this. Sorry because there is no magic wand but happy because that means I don’t have to rely on others or wait for someone else to act before I recover.

Think about it. You can have all the therapists in the world, all the treatment options and food plans in the world, things could hit rock bottom, you could have the best partner in the world but if you don’t eat, you will not recover. It’s brutal but simple.

When I say eating, I mean eating consistently and substantially. It’s taken me 20 plus years of an eating disorder to realise this. No professional I have ever worked with has impressed this point upon me. I’ve been told that ‘it’s not about food, it’s about feelings’, ‘food is not the issue’, ‘you need to get to the root cause of why you keep engaging in behaviours’. But no one has ever said ‘you need to eat consistently and substantially’.

The supporting act or back up singers in recovery for me are:

  1. Myself: making the decision to recover no matter the cost. The cost for me is losing the body which I’ve kept for almost a decade and which I thought allowed me to function, kept the depression at bay and allowed me to feel mildly comfortable in my own skin. I gain so much more than I lose by recovering.
  2. Having the practical support of one or some who know(s) and love(s) me to get me through the uncomfortable, sometimes painful and sometimes distressing process of refeeding.
  3. Encouragers: those who cheer me onto and beyond every new milestone.
  4. Books and blogs from those who HAVE RECOVERED: Bulimia Help by Ali Kerr, Rehabilitate, Rewire, Recover: Anorexia recovery for the determined adult by Tabitha Farrar and BRAINWASHED: Diet-induced eating disorders. How you got sucked in and how to recover by Elisa Oras.***
  5. My current belief that I am the key to my recovery, not a professional and not an eating disorder unit. Professionals and ED units cannot bring about recovery if an individual does not make the decision to actively recover and commit to their own recovery. If the case were otherwise then relapse would not occur. I believe that an over-reliance on professionals can cripple those with EDs. It can stop us from acting and sometimes from recovering. It can however support those who believe that therapists, treatment programmes and/or ED units are crucial to their recovery because ‘as a man thinketh, so is he’. If I believe I can recover without professionals, I will. If I believe I can only recover with the help of professionals, then likely that is what will happen. For me personally, the first option is much more attractive. It means YOU DON’T NEED TO WAIT TO RECOVER.

I CHOOSE TO RECOVER. I KNOW I CANNOT RECOVER WITHOUT EATING CONSISTENTLY AND SUBSTANTIALLY.     

* this entry is based solely on my opinion and experience. What works for the goose may not always work for the gander.

**i hate labels and am using these terms simply for ease. We are NOT the labels others accord us. We are the labels we accord ourselves.  “As a man thinketh…”

***I do not endorse these authors or fully agree with their views. I do however find a lot of sense in many of their assertions and some of their views are aiding my recovery. I take what makes sense and leave the rest.

 

 

Five months on…..

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I have avoided or lacked the motivation to write for a while because things started to go downhill for me halfway through treatment. And when I say downhill, I mean, like a downhill slalom skier on a day when the wind is behind him (or her) and his skis are as sharp as razor.

I was pretty honest with my family and very honest initially with the treatment team. An extremely wise family member advised me to stop writing and to start reading.

“You have written to help others but now you need to read to help yourself”, she said.

I did for a while. I read through old journals to try to inspire myself, I read through old posts to try to achieve the same end but it felt like it was all in vain. Like the rot had started to set in and as though decay was inevitable.

Are there moments in your life where you say to yourself “if only I had chosen to go left instead of right, things may have been different”? For me, that moment came exactly two months and one day into treatment and although what is done is done, it is true that it is in those moments of high anxiety, high sadness, high stress that we need to be most sure-footed. And yet, it is in those moments that chaos reigns in my head and reason gets thrown out of the window like the belongings of a recently discovered cheating spouse.

In my last two months of treatment, I felt to some extent like I had given up on me and consequently or perhaps inconsequentially, some in my treatment team too. Yet no matter what the role of others was, I know that I owed it to myself to continue fighting and I think I lacked this fight towards the end.

At the point of leaving treatment, I had become truly disillusioned with the whole process and it felt and still feels hard to say to those who know me, love me, have or are invested in my recovery that “Hey, I think I am in the midst of a collapse or a relapse” but I think that would be my honest assessment five months on from treatment. Putting on weight is the easiest part of it to some extent. The toughest part is achieving the mental work required to live a live free of food-based limitations.

Sometimes, I look at my time in treatment and wonder what it was all for but I know it was not wasted. Maybe every step I take, even the backward steps, bring me closer to home and closer to the person I was created to be.

There is some saving grace in my story thus far:

a) I now know that I have the best set of friends in the world.

b) I will always remember the kindness shown to me by individuals in the treatment team.

b) I have become so much closer to family members and am able to speak about some of the things which ail me and am more able to say “I have an eating disorder”.

c) I feel very supported in terms of the aftercare that I am currently receiving and for all the butting of heads that I did in treatment, I think having this support now was worth bad days in treatment.

d) I am achieving a greater level of independence and getting to know who I am.

e) I am learning to live with regret.

f) I am learning to live.

To all those who have helped me along the way and who continue to support me, THANK YOU.

I don’t know what the future holds for me and sometimes, that is a blessing and exciting and in low periods, that feels devastating and anxiety-provoking. I will continue to hope that even though I have lived with an eating disorder for many years, recovery may be possible. I know I need to do more than that. I know I need to believe but hey….

We are all ‘works in progress’ right?

Finally, I was recently inspired by Ernestine Shepherd to make a ‘Things which help me list’. This woman is an 80 year-old body builder who started late in life. She embodies “where there is life, there is hope……”. Caveat: I don’t advocate an obsessive regime in any aspect of life but it is more the fact that she knows the things which keep her well mentally and physically and that is what she focuses on.

A good day to you all.

Death by Muffin: Ten lessons from an inpatient eating disorders unit

 

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Although this post is generally about being a patient in an eating disorders (ED) unit, the lessons can also be applied to different aspects of life:

Lesson 1 is about quality of life, lesson 2 and 3 are about patience and having realistic expectations of oneself and others, lesson 4 is about swapping one addiction for another, lesson 5, 6 and 7 are about choice and taking responsibility for your life, lesson 8 is about giving yourself permission to be human, lesson 9 is about knowing when to be selfish and lesson 10 is about learning when to confront difficulties and when to distract oneself from difficulties.

  1. Recovery is a race: Not to determine who recovers quickest but to see who recovers before death carries them away. Death by muffin, jacket potato or cornflakes is unlikely to be seen on an autopsy report. However, death by suicide, organ failure or a heart attack is quite common with eating disorders (EDs). The race to recover is a RACE FOR LIFE (to live and to have a life worth living).
  2. Being in an inpatient unit is unlikely to cure you of an ED:  If it took you 2, 5, 10 years to have a fully developed ED, a 3 or even 6 month stay is unlikely to cure you. An IPU is to an ED patient what a starting block is to an athlete. Even the great Usain Bolt needs a starting block to propel him forwards. He then gets the job done by driving his arms, legs and torso forwards until the end. There is much more work to be done upon leaving an IPU than there is to be done inside an IPU.
  3. Realistic goals and expectations will save you from an achy-breaky heart: I had  2 main goals when I arrived in IPU: desist from disordered behaviours and learn to eat regularly. I met these 2 goals quite quickly. However, the weight target I set myself once in IPU was unrealistic and I have now turned this into a long-term goal. My expectations of professionals were also too high. Human beings and professionals are fallible. I had to set realistic expectations to reduce my disappointment and frustrations.
  4. It is not uncommon to trade one issue in for another: I have always been a sports freak but have taken it to the extreme at times. After giving up running for a year, I have unfortunately found myself obeying the compulsion to run once more. I know this desire to run is born out of the frustrations of being in IPU and also the desire to counter the food regimen. However, I also know that this is something I will continue to address once I have left IPU.
  5. Your recovery, your responsibility: Yes, staff are there to support you to eat, to help you deal with your emotional issues, to encourage you when you are feeling down but ultimately, you are the one with the issue and you will need to be the one to decide mentally to say yes to food, yes to the support, yes to facing the challenges and no to the urge to resort to harmful coping mechanisms.
  6. Being in an inpatient unit will not stop you from engaging in negative behaviours: Restricting, purging, over-exercising, laxative abuse, chewing and spitting, hiding food or any of the other number of disordered behaviours can still continue in IPU. That is why recovery is a choice.
  7. Recovery is a choice: whether you chose IPU or it was forced upon you, there comes a point when you need to make a conscious decision to recover. Tis best to recover for yourself but if something else motivates you in the meantime (a friend or family member or pet) then so be it. Hopefully at some point, you will CHOOSE RECOVERY for you or as the ad says, “because you’re worth it”. 
  8. You are allowed to say “I enjoyed that”: food is something to be enjoyed but the guilt, greed and sadness that can be induced by eating can lead some to deny themselves the ability to enjoy food. Even when food is enjoyed, some prefer not to show this for fear of being viewed as greedy by others. You and I are allowed to enjoy food. No if’s and no butts (pls forgive the play on words).  
  9. Sometimes, it pays to be selfish: If you spend your time focusing more on others than yourself, you’ll likely lose out on the benefits of IPU. You’ll lose the ability to hear and feel what is going on within. Sometimes, it pays to let staff tend to other patients. Sometimes it pays to allow yourself to be the patient rather than the healer. Sometimes it pays to listen to what’s going on in your head than what’s going on in the head of others.
  10. Distraction can become a negative tool: there is a time and place for distraction. At the start of my stay in IPU, distractions were a God-send but at this present moment in my recovery, distraction is more of a hindrance. It stops me from connecting with my emotions and processing my thoughts. Given how long I have spent distracting myself from all sorts of feelings and emotions, I have begun practising the art of ‘feeling’. It’s painful but it’s working out well for me. It’s time for me to address the noise in my head rather than drown it out with more noise.

*Recovery involves..

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Being honest with yourself, clearing your throat and saying to someone ” Look, I think I have a problem”.

Putting things into perspective/considering what is most important in life.

Saying to yourself: What’s more important, avoiding the bloody cake and inevitably ending up on your own or having a piece of bloody cake and enjoying the company of friends and family?

Saying “my body is my body” rather than getting into a boxing bout with God/your parents because you’re not happy with the body He/they gave you.

Listening to that still small voice which lies inside of you.

Saying that my way has not worked thus far so it behoves me to trust in someone else.

Crying out to God, a friend, a family member and saying “Look, I can’t fricking do this. This is too hard”.

It involves graduating from hopelessness to “perhaps things can be different”

Getting your ass into treatment, prescribed or not.

 

Eating bloody bran flakes when you’re up to your neck in bleeding cereal.

Waking up with night sweats because your metabolism has woken up.

Gaining junk your trunk – both physical and emotional.

Feeling so physically uncomfortable that you long for your old physical self.

Taking the cat o’ nine tails and placing it aside when you feel inclined to punish yourself.

Doing less running and much more crawling.

Accepting the ‘you’re looking well’ comments without it completely ruining your day.

 

Accepting the possibility of a life with or without depression.

Wearing the Yes lifejacket instead of clinging onto the No driftwood.

Attending social functions instead of coming up with avoidance strategies.

Having a discussion with others which involves not just your body but your mind and soul too.

 

Developing transparent relationships, not ones shrouded in deceit and/or secrecy.

Allowing ourselves to feel rather than constantly seeking ways to distract ourselves or avoid our feelings.

Walking over flaming hot coals in the belief that it will one day become a walk in the park.

Accepting that there are different paths to recovery and your and my task is to find the one which brings us closer to freedom.

Accepting our imperfections because imperfections make great teachers and equip us with the ability to empathise.

Accepting that it – Recovery – is worth it even when the end is neither in sight nor clear.

 

 

 

*I previously wrote a long post (too long some may argue) on what recovery means to me. What I have come to realise is that the meaning of recovery changes over time. The original version can be found here: https://talesfromlondinium.wordpress.com/2016/11/02/recovery-is/