My story for Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2015

In the spirit of the “fresh start” I am giving this blog, I feel it is the right time to share a different kind of post with you all today.

National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) week is coming to a close in the USA, and Eating Disorders Awareness Week is ongoing in the UK. In honour of NEDA week, Gena shared her personal experience with an eating disorder over on Choosing Raw, and it resonated so deeply with me that I was inspired to do the same.

b-eat Eating Disorders Awareness Week

Even as I type these words I am questioning whether I will actually publish the final post. Am I qualified to write about this? Isn’t it a bit melodramatic and self-important?

Part of my problem with writing about my relationship with food is that I have never been diagnosed with an eating disorder. I have always been healthy and maintained a relatively constant body weight give or take a few kilos and, as far as I know, have never elicited concern from those around me.

But I see the impact that food and eating has on my mental health, and I see the patterns around the extent to which my eating habits preoccupy me. Moreover, I see how misunderstood eating disorders and disordered eating are, at least in the UK, dominated by the images of emaciated young girls with eyes bulging from darkened sockets and women in high heels kneeling at toilet bowls. In our fascination for the extreme, we have somehow managed to glamourise these tangible manifestations, forcing out the more mundane everyday struggles that many people face with their eating.

I see this most clearly in the fitness industry, and that is the main reason I feel in any way qualified to write this post today. Fitness professionals are all – hopefully – aware of the existence of eating disorders. To my knowledge, most certification courses will offer a paragraph or two to anorexia and bulimia, along with a brief enumeration of some of the more common symptoms such as rapid weight loss, poor complexion, and bad breath. And yet every day fitness professionals and magazines publish blog posts, post Instagram pictures, write articles, and give out advice that, if not directly encouraging and applauding restrictive and obsessive behaviour, I certainly find highly triggering.

Weighing food

But I think I have spent enough time speaking in general and abstract terms about these things, and it is time for me to finally explain why they strike such a raw nerve in me.

Unlike many cases of eating disorders (which, from here onwards I will use as a catch-all term for diagnosed eating disorders, non-diagnosed disordered eating, and all other troubled relationships with food), I had a truly smooth and unproblematic relationship with food throughout my entire childhood. I always had breakfast, I always had a hearty packed lunch and some fruit to snack on at school, and we always sat down to home-cooked, whole food-based dinners as a family. I couldn’t be more grateful for this experience.

My first recollection of using food as an emotional crutch was after the break-up of my first serious relationship when I left home for university. Although I don’t think the odd comfort binge on Ben & Jerry’s as a (non-vegan) first-year uni student is to blame for anything that was to follow, I certainly did at the time. I send an accusing glare at those magazines and online articles I would read that offered weight-loss tips such as “don’t eat for emotional reasons”. I now recognise, of course, that eating food is a highly emotional and social habit, and that that is no bad thing, but at the time these suggestions signalled to me that I could not be trusted around food, and therein lay the crux of my disordered habits.

I don’t have many significant recollections of my first year of university. Those that I do have revolve around trying to focus on studying whilst always having a watchful eye on the clock, waiting for the minute I was “allowed” to eat, and late-night uncontrollable binges that ended only when I was in too much discomfort to eat another bite, at which point I would fall asleep. I never saw this as anything out of the ordinary.

Chesil beach

Unfortunately, that was far from the worst of it. After a few months of bingeing and restricting, I had put on a bit of weight but, more importantly, I had become totally obsessed with food. This became painfully apparent on holiday with my friends that summer; I was uninterested in anything that occurred between meals. A few throwaway comments were made here and there about how much I ate (the old “Wow, look at you, I couldn’t finish mine!” that seems to benign to anyone who has never struggled with their relationship with food) and though the change in my weight and shape was also noted, it was the judgement of my eating habits that was the most hurtful and enduring.

I was so ashamed at having so little discipline, and at this having been noticed. If my first year of university was characterised by a sort of work hard/play hard ethic, my second year was all about control. I developed a strict shopping routine; I went grocery shopping on the same day every week, bought the same thing each time, ate the same things on set days of the week. On each shopping trip I spent about half my time perusing every other aisle of the supermarket, fantasising about treats I would never allow myself. I marvelled at how my housemates came home with foods that were on offer and new items they hadn’t seen before and were curious to try, how they cooked and ate together, how they ate whenever they felt like it. It all seemed so alien to me! In my spare time I read popular health and fitness magazines in print and online and I reached a point where I had read every single article by certain publications. 

In her post, Gena talks about the everyday mundanity of an eating disorder. That second year was a very lonely year. I remember feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, and I don’t remember having any fun beyond my 19th birthday (which falls in the first couple weeks of the start of the university year). 

London rain

Luckily, this was also the year that I became closer with a colleague at my part-time job who had experienced an eating disorder. I had become so isolated – which, ironically, is easy to happen in a house shared by nine people – that I just didn’t know what people without eating disorders did. I was bemused at how my colleague would pop out for lunch and snacks and bring back cookies, just because she fancied them. I must have made a comment about how much I admired that, because she ended up telling me about her eating disorder and how she had decided that life was just too short to be counting calories. She shrugged, “I don’t even know what a calorie is or where you get them” and I enviously thought that must be such a wonderful way to live.

Maybe that kick-started a thought process, but for some reason I found myself looking up eating disorder advice online, and was shocked at how many testimonials I identified with. As a side note, one resource I found extremely helpful was the Vegan Fitness forum – perhaps I had been looking up fitness diets, as I had become very passionate about kickboxing by this time, and had stumbled upon it – where one member was very open about battling an eating disorder and was militant about dispelling food myths and orthorexic ideas. I became a member and started posting more and more regularly, having found comfort in this anonymous online community of compassionate and articulate individuals. Eventually, I questioned why I wasn’t vegan, when I agreed with everything they said and stood for, and I made the lasting transition (I had been vegan a few years earlier but social pressures wore 16-year-old me down).

Although I had resolved to stop losing weight, I still didn’t trust myself around food. The possibility of eating whatever I wanted was strange and daunting, but going vegan had helped. I had new, fun foods to discover, and a community to represent by being healthy and happy. My memories of that final year now are in colour and boast a soundtrack, when the previous years are grey and muted. I discovered Oh She Glows, Angela’s story and her beautiful recipes free from notions of restriction or guilt.

I had also discovered Thai boxing, which I became more passionate about that I had ever been about anything in my life (apart from controlling my diet). As well as a new, real-life community, I had a reason to be healthy and well-fuelled for training sessions.

Lumpini training group

I also met a trainee personal trainer who had suffered from an eating disorder herself; as she asked me to keep a food diary for her to evaluate, she suggested I avoid weighing or measuring my portions. It was another important reminder to me that my obsession with the minutiae of my diet was not a natural part of a healthy, athletic lifestyle.

Although at times working in the fitness industry has been triggering for me, to the point that a couple of times recently I questioned whether I wanted any involvement in it, I am determined to use my experience as motivation to keep trying to change current thinking. Meanwhile, my nutrition studies are proving highly soothing, as I learn more about the intricacies of food and its effect on biochemical processes, and realise that trying to control absolutely everything that goes in is, at best, futile and, at worst, harmful.

Of course, my disordered eating was inextricably linked to a desire for more control in my life. As a perfectionist with an overwhelming drive to achieve, when other areas of life do not offer the possibility for achievement – when work is quiet, when studies are mind-numbing, when relationships break down – choosing to restrict and control food intake creates this possibility to congratulate yourself at the end of the day.

Balance

Without having encountered strong and kind women who had struggled with their relationship with food, I am genuinely not sure I would ever have acknowledged that there was anything wrong. There are so many ways to hide and justify behaviours that are characteristic of eating disorders; indeed, these behaviours are often met with more approval than more carefree attitudes. And as I mentioned, even now, right now, I can still find reasons to dismiss my experience as a disordered one. I have to remind myself of the greyness of those tunnel-visioned years that should have been filled with the joy of freedom and coming into myself.

The theme of NEDA this year is “I had no idea” and I think that is a great focus, and one that gave me that extra push to finish this post and hit “publish” when I began to doubt whether my story was good enough. The fact is that many people, like me, might be battling an unknown demon which hasn’t taken on a form that has been identified, and yet it might be at that stage that recovery might have the strongest chances of being full and lasting.

NEDAwareness week

Please visit NEDA or b-eat, and I highly  recommend Gena’s post or any of the Green Recovery stories on her blog if you haven’t read them yet.

Also feel free to share this post, your own story, or any other resource that might help bust myths and preconceptions. Awareness really does help!

Thank you for reading and for being a part of this!

Beach jump

Come here often?

Hi there. Have we met?

Perhaps we knew each other a while ago, or maybe we just feel like we’ve known each other forever. It’s still me, but maybe it’s not quite me. We’ve probably both changed quite a bit. I hope we still get along!

I didn’t leave a note because I was all out of words. Just like that: one day they were there, the next – nothing. But slowly, as I knew in my heart of hearts they would, thoughts of this humble patch of the internet with my name on it started to tug at my heartstrings and my fingertips.

Things might change a little around here. I’m not too sure yet how, when, or why, but it’s time for some spring cleaning. Nothing too intense, don’t worry; that’s not my style. But I’m feeling different feels and I hope this reflects that. Join me for the journey. Let’s have some fun with our words and our thoughts and remember what we cared about before everyone else decided to tell us what to care about.

These are some of the things that have been happening, in as little order as I can impose:

+ I wrote two essays, both of them brilliant and frighteningly poor at the same time. I hope my awareness of their shortcomings means they will actually have none… that’s how it works right?

+ I ordered room service in a hotel for the first time in my life. At midnight. Home Alone anyone? Thank you, Fairmont Dubai, for one of the most memorable vegan impromptu dinners I have experience thus far (and for the slippers).

Fairmont Dubai vegan room service

+ I made a delicious (albeit slightly modified) sunshiny breakfast quinoa from a Zsu Dever recipe to hit your bookshelf soon. I can still taste it, it was that good.

Zsu Dever breakfast quinoa+ Ben and I bought a bed! It felt so grown-up lying down on the beds in the bed shop with a view to actually buying one for once.

+ If I could eat sun-dried tomatoes and/or za’atar in every meal, I would. So I do. I would also like to eat the avocado toast from Double Take Café every day, but it lives in Toronto, Australia, so thank goodness for za’atar and sun-dried tomatoes (but how good would this toast be with za’atar and sun-dried tomatoes?!).

Double Take café avo toast

+ In Australia I saw a dolphin leaping, a sea-eagle soaring, some insanely big jellyfish jellyfishing, a pelican choking, and a giant rat. Nature is great, but it isn’t great at cuddles which is why we have cats.

Mika+ I got a new tattoo, but it feels like it has been there forever – in a really good way! I knew what I wanted for years but could never picture it in my mind’s eye. Luckily, Sooz at Fifth Dimension Tattoo is some kind of psychic visionary and created the most perfect tattoo for me that I could ever have dreamed up. It’s like she knew me better than I knew myself. It was scary at first and then just crazy awesome.

Cherry tree tattoo+ I went back to a grappling training session for the first time in over a year! Well, I thought it was grappling. It was submission wrestling. It was a breath of fresh air in a suffocating January (figuratively – literally it was more like gasps of sweat-soaked air in a brutally crisp January).

+ I spent some quality time with a friend before she moved back to Turkey. It was sad to see her go but I was super grateful for the bonding we got to do which, let’s face it, never would have happened had she been sticking around. She also made me these totally crave-worthy almond butter biscuits. They are perfect flight snacks!

4-ingredient flourless cookies+ Ben bought us a Nutri Ninja (with Auto-IQ)! Believe the hype. So far my best concoction has included mango, kiwi, banana, strawberries, spinach, pumpkin seeds, matcha powder, and soy milk.

+ We got to look after a dog for a day and got given a bag of Monmouth coffee (Finca Malacara A, since you asked) and a shiny new cafetière for our efforts. Mornings are a different beast, and so am I.

Cat coffee chillSo that’s what’s been. I want to give everything on here a little revamp at some point, but mainly I want to get a little more personal. In my time off I indulged in a lot of reading of other blogs, falling out of love with some, but much more deeply in love with others, and I realised that the blogs I love the most are not necessarily the ones with the prettiest pictures and the best recipes, but the ones that are held together by one author’s voice and passion and honesty.

So in the spirit of treating others as I’d like to be treated, I will try to open up a little more on this space that is my own. If I could serve you some of my fancy new coffee and those melt-in-your-mouth flourless almond butter cookies while we chat, I would.

Tomorrow I’m planning on sharing the most personal post I ever have shared on here. Beyond that, I’m not sure what will be next, but please join me in jumping off at the deep end.

Thanks for sticking around, and speak soon!

Sunday thoughts: 7th December 2014

Is it just me, or do weeks where you start with a day or two off seem longer than the full Monday-to-Friday routine? This has undoubtedly been my most productive week maybe ever but certainly since going independent (and yes, sleeping, eating and training all count as productive, as does napping on the bus when you are stuck in traffic without moving for 20 minutes). So if anybody feels like getting me an early Christmas present, I could do with a couple extra days of the week. Preferably weekend days, but beggars can’t be choosers. Continue reading

Sunday thoughts: 30th November 2014

I think this Sunday thoughts series must be the one that gets written from abroad most often. Here I am in Luxembourg, for the first time in about seven or eight months, and we have treated ourselves to an extra day’s holiday to make the most of the festively laid-back vibe of my home country.

I can’t wait to share with you everything that has gone on in this final week of November, but before I do please allow me to take a moment to remind you of my festive offer on personal training sessions:

End of year promotion Continue reading

Sunday thoughts: 23rd November 2014

After reading back through last week’s Sunday thoughts, I feel a little sheepish posting these as it has been a much less eventful week! So if you haven’t read those, maybe just have a look at them and ignore these ones.

Oh but before you go, I should promote my end-of-year special offer on personal training! I’ve written a short introductory blog post about it over on Great Expectations Fitness, but it’s pretty self-explanatory. Please do share it with anyone who might be interested. Continue reading

Sunday thoughts: 16th November 2014

I can’t believe last Monday was just a few days ago, it seems like we have crammed so much into this week!

Food for thought

Again, not much studying time at all this week. There have been a couple of afternoons at home, one filled with cooking (more on that below) and one filled with writing (more on that here). But a few things on my mind and computer screen, apart from Christmas shopping (did I really just say that?): Continue reading

Double negatives

Sometimes, as a blogger, something will be on my mind that I can’t quite articulate – something that stops me from being able to write about much else, but that I can’t actually seem to formulate an opinion on, let alone a cohesive blog post – and then some internet storm will slot right in and unlock a response from me which allows me to express what has been weighing on my mind.

A few things have been happening lately. Continue reading

Sunday thoughts: 9th November 2014

I haven’t actually told you guys about my epic journey back from Paris last Monday, have I? (unless you are my parents, in which case I have)

See, usually it goes like this:

  1. Walk 1min to station, buy ticket, wait 5-10mins
  2. Get on train, sleep/read/eat all snacks within reach for 1h20
  3. Get off train, avoid walking into busy Parisians through Gare du Nord, scan Eurostar ticket, show passport, get bag x-rayed, go to toilet, wait 30-45mins
  4. Get on Eurostar, sleep/read/wish I hadn’t eaten all my snacks for 2h30
  5. And then I’m in London!

Continue reading

BAM!

Sorry for such an obvious title. But what else could I call a post all about bamboo activewear by a certain company named BAM?

I’ve talked about them before, numerous times, but just to clarify; I am not an affiliate nor did I receive any form of encouragement or incentive or compensation from them for writing positive reviews. I’m just a bit obsessed with their stuff. [Note: since writing this post, they have sent me a range of products from their new collection so that I could give them my feedback and/or review it online, but I was under no obligation to provide said review.]

As well as providing me with some items to try out on top of the range I had already bought myself over the course of a few months, BAM have kindly offered my readers a 15% discount code! Continue reading

Sunday thoughts: 2nd November 2014

Hello, friends! If you were around for last week’s Sunday thoughts, you might recall that I was feeling very much beaten by my unofficial to-do list. Well, this week, I am very much back on track but I can’t take any credit; things just fell into place.

While a busy day/quiet day/busy day/quiet day schedule this week did make it hard to get my head around each day’s workload (fearing the busy days, then adjusting to being busy, and getting day-off anxiety on quiet days), it was ideal for getting stuff done in the big chunks of time. So I’m feeling pretty positive! Continue reading