Why I Still Struggle In Recovery

TW: Eating disorders, weight loss

Recovering from disordered eating is very complex. There’s the physical aspect of it, your body readjusting, but the really daunting part is the mental and emotional side. For me, I don’t think it will ever fully leave me and I think that tends to be the consensus among most people who have struggled with these issues. I wrote earlier this month about what recovery means to be but I thought I’d be brave and be honest about what I still struggle with.

The biggest thing that really affects me regularly is diet talk and body shaming. This ranges in severity from people moralising food, which is irritating but not the most unsettling, through to people shaming themselves and berating themselves and pledging to “make up” for what they’ve eaten. The worst bit about it is the fact that it’s totally normalised. No one bats an eyelid at someone calling themselves fat (and using it as a negative) or broadcasting to anyone who’ll listen, that they have to be “good” and not have certain foods. And they do so without any thought for the people around them. The quote that always sticks with me is that every time we shame our own bodies publicly children (and all other people really) are listening and learning. Maybe it’s too late for my generation and possibly even for the next one growing up now but you have to hope that things will start to change.

Along the same lines is people commenting on what I’m eating. This is rife at my work and it’s so infuriating. It’s a difficult thing to confront people on because it’s so ingrained in our culture. The majority of people probably just consider it making conversation, or at worst mild teasing when in reality it can make things very difficult for those of us who are just trying to eat without comment or judgement.

Anyone who’s been reading my blog for a while will know where I stand on before and after pictures. They are troubling on a purely theoretical level but for someone who is in recovery or recovering from an eating disorder they are so hard to deal with. Even when I wasn’t well the last time and was talking about my weight loss a lot I never posted a “transformation’ picture. I’d like to think that no matter how sucked in to that world I got I never would. Selling the idea that one body is better than another because it’s smaller is messed up. It’s not the images themselves that are the problem necessarily, in a lot of cases it’s the caption. “Can’t believe I ever let myself get like that” “I’m disgusted looking at the picture on the left” are examples of the kind of thing that’s heartbreaking and deeply disturbing to read.

Although, in the moment, when these things crop up, I can be very unsettled and anxious I don’t blame the individuals. Diet culture permeates every form of media, it enters the classroom and the doctor’s office, it’s no wonder that so many people buy in and don’t even question. They don’t question the system that they are supporting whether directly or indirectly and in most cases they don’t question, or have no idea, about how they are affecting others, across society in and in their direct social circle. It’s estimated that as many as 1 in 10 American college women suffer from a clinical or near clinical eating disorder, statistics on that don’t exist for the UK but it would be hard to imagine they would much better. Due to the fact that eating disorders are massively undiagnosed the chances are there are people around you who have suffered or will in the future. That’s worth thinking about.

V ❤

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I Feel Like A Fraud

Lately things have been tough. As part of Mental Health Awareness Month I’ve made it a priority to be even more vocal about it however one area I’ve been silent on is poor body image and low self esteem..

There have been a few reasons for that, it’s still hard for me to talk about, the comments you tend to receive when you talk about these kind of issues border on unhelpful to triggering but the main one is, being so aggressively body positive, whenever I feel less than 100% on that front I feel like a fraud.

At the start of my last descent into disordered eating, I turned my back on the movement and bought into diet culture as the answer to my problems. I have learned from that now – no matter how I feel about my body during these low/anxious/stressed times taking action to fix my perceived flaws on my body won’t solve the problems and it won’t even change how I feel in my skin. All of those changes come from within.

So here is the reality of where I’m at right now. My mental health has affected my eating habits and I haven’t had as much energy to be physically active. As a result my body has changed, or my perception of it has changed. Bodies change, grow and develop every day of our lives and change is not a negative thing. Living in the world that we do, we are taught that certain changes should be celebrated and others shamed or rectified as quickly as possible. When I’m already feeling anxious or low it’s harder to silence the thoughts, apparently I still haven’t unlearned those norms, and over the past few days I’ve really struggled.

REALLY STRUGGLED! To the point that I’ve had ALL of the intrusive thoughts. Thoughts that I need to change how I live my life, go backwards on my recovery and restrict myself and my life experiences, all on the off chance that it may result in me existing in a smaller body. How messed up is that?!

I know that a lot of you lovely body positive activists will read this and understand where I’m coming from and I know in reality that none of this makes me a fraud. I still believe so strongly in body positivity and the benefits of embracing it over diet culture but anxiety and low self esteem plants these seeds of doubt in my brain.

I am redeeming myself by making a body positive action plan rather than a diet/workout plan. This way I feel like I’m being pro-active and working on myself which will hopefully quell the anxiety and make positive progress on building up my body image again.

How do you cope with self doubt or bad body image? Let me know in the comments.

V ❤

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GF8WG – A Review

GF8WG or in other words Grace Fit’s 8 Week Guide is a weight lifting programme designed by Grace over at GraceFitUK. I started this programme as a friend of mine had picked it up, was really enjoying it and had found it to be more body positive, or at least less body shaming, than other things she’d tried in the past. Oh, how wrong we were. But first the positive aspects.

It’s an 8 week plan split in to two lots of 4 weeks, with 5 work outs a week. There is also a glossary with a description and images of each exercise which I found really useful as although I know my way around the weights section of a gym there are many different names for exercises and there were some things in the guide that were totally new to me. For the first week of each section the workouts seem to take forever, not in a bad way, but when you leave the gym you look at the time and realise you’ve been in there for 2 hours. Once you are used to the moves, know where you’re going and what equipment you need, they do speed up a little.

Like most weight training programmes the guide focuses on one area of the body per session for example, legs one day, back and shoulders another etc. From the offset it’s pretty hard going if you are pushing yourself and lifting heavy each time. I have never known DOMS like it but once I got my protein consumption well timed and did plenty of stretches they lessened. I did find that I quickly gained strength and was reaching for heavier weights however I did modify the programme. My physiotherapist advised me that the guide uses too many reps to be building true strength. That’s when the cracks started to really show.

When you purchase the guide you can join a Facebook group with other people doing it. What I wasn’t prepared for, although with hindsight I probably should have been, was the level of body shaming. People were criticising themselves for “flaws” that I didn’t even know existed. “Hip bumps”? I thought that was just your hips. I understand that good nutrition is important especially when you are taking part in such intense workouts but that’s not the kind of discussion that was always taking place in the group –  in reality it was diet chat verging on eating disordered behaviour, and NO ONE was calling it out. “An eating window”, “trying to be good”, “I was bad this weekend and now feel so guilty” were all phrases that cropped up a lot. On more than one occasion someone posted a fat shaming meme that everyone laughed along with and it was all just a thoroughly unpleasant environment. A strength training group for women had the potential to be so positive and empowering but it just wasn’t.

Over time I also came to realise that the guide itself wasn’t really about strength training, rather looking a certain way. It’s called “build a booty” or something similar which I had hoped was just a marketing gimmick but it would appear from advice I’ve received from my physio that is is a “vanity strength” programme. While not going about it in the same way as skinny teas or similar products it’s still peddling the message that one body type is better than another. It’s very much on trend with Kim K and the like selling the idea that you need to have a big bum and a small waist. The thing with bodies is they all naturally have their own shape and that doesn’t change along with the trends.

In the process of doing this guide myself and others felt ourselves becoming more critical of our bodies, focusing on the visual changes rather than becoming stronger and fitter. Hannah documented those changes on her blog, and she also spoke about them in her recent body positive post which is here..

I still use the document as part of my workouts, it was a great introduction to new lifts and exercises, but I pick out the exercises I enjoy and mix it in with other things like body weight training, but I’m no longer hung up on following the programme and I feel so much better for it.

Have you picked up an exercise programme you really love or do you know of any good body positive ones out there? Let me know in the comments.

V ❤

#Blogmas 4 My Winter Fitness Goals

If you follow my blog you will know that I got injured in the summer and have been going to physio and trying to recover for a few months now. I’m doing much better now. Obviously my hypermobility is not going to vanish, it’s always going to restrict what I can do in terms of physical activity but over the winter months I really want to start getting fit again.

I’ve set myself a few little goals for December and in January I’ll probably do an update post.

  • Go to the gym 4 times a week – That may sound like a lot when you consider I haven’t been to the gym regularly in months and I’ve been injured but I’ll definitely be easing myself in gently.
  • Do physio/rehab 3 times a week – Over time I’ve actually found some of my physio to be really relaxing so this is as much about unwinding than it is about physical fitness.
  • Walk outside (other than my walk to and from work most days) – Weather permitting, obviously I’m not going to do this when it’s icy and risk injuring myself further, but particularly on bright days I’m going to try and get out for a walk in the middle of the day. Fresh air, day light and movement are a winning combination!

It goes without saying that while I’ve set some loose goals this is meant to be fun and if I’m not enjoying it then I will stop. I don’t want to get sucked in to negative patterns of thinking or forcing myself to exercise ever again.

Do you have any winter fitness goals? Leave them in the comments.

V ❤

#Blogmas 3 Staying Body Positive During Party Season

Christmas party season is upon us. A time to eat, drink, be merry and feel good about yourelf while doing it.Of course not everyone will be celebrating Christmas but regardless of your faith this time of year, when workplaces wind down and schools are on holiday, it’s a great time to catch up with people and enjoy yourself. Unfortunately it’s also a time of year where the diet industry are pushing their products hard and companies are trying to sell you underwear to hide “problem areas” in your party. That’s even before we get into the language that’s being used around food during the festive season such as “being naughty”. It’s a season that’s hard to navigate with your body image and self esteem intact even for the most body positive people so I have compiled a few tips to help you on your way.

Firstly know who your allies are. Ideally these will be people who you will have around you during the festivities but if you’re not lucky enough to have any colleagues or friends who are body positive then you know that there are plenty of us that you can connect with online. You can always email me or find me on twitter for a chat. I struggle to find allies who don’t use moralistic language around food, especially at work, but I try to ignore it on a day to day basis and I’ll just carry that forward into the festive period.

It’s a terrible thing to have to consider but if you are easily affected by negative comments plan for them in advance. For example if you know that Auntie Sheila will quiz you about your weight or how much you are eating, approach her with your head held high and if you can you could even get in there first. Sometimes we have to accept that certain people are never going to be body positive and we will have to protect ourselves around them. Picking your battles and going in to social situations prepared is certainly better for your self esteem and mental health.

When picking an outfit for a party, it goes without saying to wear something that you will feel comfortable in. It’s ok if it’s not pushing you out of your comfort zone or flaunting your body. Yes, that’s a part of body positivity, but when you are catching up with people you haven’t seen for a while or surrounded by people you maybe wouldn’t normally choose to spend time with it’s ok to pick something “flattering” for an easy life. I will be doing just that for a few events over the Christmas period. It’s exhausting to fight the fight everyday and even body positive activists need time off.

The most important piece of advice really is YOU DO YOU! Wear that revealing dress if you feel good in it, eat that bit of cake if you want it and have an amazing time whatever you are getting up to.

V ❤

The Struggle To Find The Right Gym

I’ve considered and reconsidered posting this for a long time. It was written in September and when I wrote it I was still livid. Reading back over it I realise that I still stand by what I said so I want to share it with you. Please do comment honestly with your thoughts. I know that many people disagree with me on some of the issues, but come on now, fat suits at Pride as a marketing tool, surely everyone can see how problematic that is. Anyway enough of the ranty pre-intro, here goes…

Maybe you’ve seen via Twitter that I’ve become very unhappy with a particular gym company. I have been a member of PureGym for a short time, maybe about 6 months, and I’ve never particularly liked it but this weekend took a turn. I was returning to the gym for the first time since I had a very bad fall related to my hypermobility at the start of summer. On arrival to the gym I was bombarded with what can only be described as weight loss propaganda advertising a weight loss class my gym is running. We’re not just talking a poster here or there. This was a poster in every possible place you could put one, including not being able to enter the changing rooms without passing a “before and after” picture with some kind of “inspirational” blurb, or being unable to use the toilet without seeing an advert for the class staring at you. When I finally reached the gym area there were two large whiteboards set up. One advertising the class and the other advertising “National Weight Loss Week” which is apparently a thing. To top it all off the public address system they use, which is always far too loud to listen to your own music over at a sensible volume, was blaring out an advert every few songs with the cracking tag line “why not fast track your fitness and join Pure Loser?” because we all know weight loss and fitness are the same thing right?!

 

After all this I took to Twitter calling PureGym out on this and questioning whether everybody really is welcome like they claim in their marketing. I am yet to receive a response.

 

Through my tweet and others picking it up and sharing it I discovered that PureGym recently used people dressed in fat suits in an attempt to recruit new members at Manchester Pride of all places. As a friend of mine said when we were discussing this, the Pride movement is one of acceptance and love and one of the least appropriate places for body shaming. Not to mention the fact that LGBT* people are often at increased risk of self esteem and body image issues. Yet again, on this occasion, as far as anyone can tell PureGym have not publicly responded to any of these complaints.

 

Clearly this is not a company I want to be giving my money to. The only problem with that is that in Aberdeen City centre it is the only reasonably priced gym. That’s the only reason I joined there. Since I moved to the other side of town, my old gym, which I loved is just too far away. So I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. I want to work on my fitness and work out for enjoyment, stress relief and to get me motivated for the day ahead but is doing so in a toxic environment really worth it?  Due to my joint issues I really need gym equipment to have a proper workout and as you will have seen in an earlier post I’m really keen, now that I’m able to, to work out more.

 

I’ve paid for this month anyway so at the moment I’m making the most of my membership, going regularly, taking luxurious long showers, blow drying my hair etc and making sure that the company doesn’t make a profit off me while I decide what I’m going to do.

 

Have you had any uncomfortable experiences with a gym company like this? I’d like to believe gyms could play a part in recovery, and have had conversations via Twitter with Health At Every Size trainers and those who use them, who see huge psychological and physical benefits to their workouts and training. Unfortunately as far as I can tell from scouring the internet, while these trainers do exist in the UK, they haven’t reached Aberdeen yet. Maybe in the future when I move to a bigger city I will be able to find what I’m looking for. If you have had any experience with the Health At Any Size movement I’d love it if you got in touch.

 

V ❤

How To Exercise For Enjoyment

So many people exercise because they feel that they have to in order to look a certain way and they end up sucked into boring routines, endless cardio, forcing themselves to exercise even though they are tired or not in the mood. This post is about rejecting all of that and exercising purely for enjoyment..

One of the key things, at least for me, was to stop equating exercise to calories. If you work out in the gym and the machines you use measure calories burned there is sometimes a way to turn that feature off which is the easiest way to do it. Otherwise trying to ignore it is the other option. I recently changed gyms and the only cardio machine where you can completely turn the calories display off is the rowing machine so it is taking a bit of getting used to.

Finding activities that you genuinely like is the other crucial thing. I know a lot of people who love to run and are never happier than when out frolicking through parks or whatever it is they get up to out there. For others they couldn’t imagine anything worse than the tedium of running for miles. It’s all just personal preference. The best thing is exercise is literally any activity where you are moving your body and getting your heart pumping or stretching your muscles. It doesn’t have to be a structured, daunting task.

We often put a lot of pressure on ourselves when it comes to our work outs for example thinking “I’m going to the gym and will run for x number of miles and deadlift x amount of weight”. I still struggle with setting these kind of tasks for myself when really I should go and enjoy what I’m doing and listen to my body. If you set these targets too high then it can lead to low self esteem and mood after your workout as well as detracting from your enjoyment while you’re there as you are constantly stressing about reaching this target. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t set goals for yourself but like with everything in life they should be realistic and gradual. This post is focussed on purely enjoying what you’re doing, not training for a specific event.

Fuelling our bodies properly before exercise is crucial for enjoyment of the work out as well. When I used to go to the gym after work this was something I often struggled with, if I left it too late to eat before going I’d be bloated and lethargic but if I didn’t eat before going I’d be too hungry to do anything having not eaten anything substantial since lunchtime. It’s a difficult balancing act but feeling satisfied and hydrated will definitely help you have the most fun during exercise.

If you do feel that you’re pushing yourself really hard in a gym session that was meant to be for relaxation or fun it’s worth asking yourself why. Certainly with me when I go into a gym environment it’s very easy for my mindset to shift back to where it was a couple of years ago and I start to think about pushing myself and “results” and burning off x number of calories etc. Stopping and taking a minute to snap out of that mindset can be very worthwhile to stop things spiralling.

Everyone is different and everyone’s experience of exercise will be different but for me these are some of the key things to consider when I exercise purely for fun and I hope that this may help others. If you have any other tips leave them in the comments.

V ❤

Life (& Physio) Update

This post follows the thread of a few of my recent ones. It’s not filled with rainbows, sunshine and smiles so sorry if that’s what you’re looking for today. In all honesty I’m feeling a little bit crap.

You will all have gathered that recently I was ill, plus I had a bad fall a few weeks ago as a result of my hypermobility and I really hurt myself. Having pretty much recovered  (or so I thought) I did my first gym session in a while on Saturday morning (a week ago at time of this post going up) and it’s really upset my joints. I rowed 5000m for the first time in a long time, if ever, thinking it would be fine because it’s low impact. Unfortunately I was wrong. The full range of motion really hurt my already injured right knee and the repetitive motion aggravated my left shoulder (which constantly subluxes). As I write this my shoulder and arm are aching while simultaneously feeling numb. My prescribed physio exercises are making my shoulder feel worse so needless to say I’m getting pretty down about the whole thing.

I honestly believe that had I been doing this rowing before I started at physio, my shoulder wouldn’t have been this painful. One of the goals of my physio (decided on by the therapist) is for me to become more aware of how certain parts of my body work, namely little muscles that control joints and bigger muscles. I feel that my lack of awareness of these parts has almost been a coping mechanism for me and now that I pay more attention to what my joints are doing it’s hard to switch off from little niggles that then become bigger niggles. Fingers crossed it’s a getting worse before it gets better scenario.

Meanwhile I’ve been trying to slowly build up my walking again. After my fall I was trying to rest as possible but I’m slowly getting back to using my fitbit and aiming for an easier 10k step goal as opposed to my usual 15k where I’d always really be aiming to get to the high teens or low twenties. After walking I’m still getting a fair bit of pain in my right knee especially when it’s bent in a sitting position or at night in bed so I’m trying not to do too much no matter that it’s tempting when I’m moving around pain free.  Deep down I know the fact that I’m taking things really slow and not pushing myself is such a positive thing. It shows how far I’ve come that I’m accepting my body’s limitations and not pushing it to do more than it can do in order to look a certain way or to present a particular lifestyle to the world. However that doesn’t stop me feeling like a blob.

  • I know there is nothing wrong with my body and whether or not I’ve put on weight while I’ve been injured is not an issue. Unfortunately at the moment my brain seems to hear less of the rational thoughts and more of the “blob” thoughts. The good news, however, is that as I’m writing I’m munching on some of childhood favourite sweets, strawberry vampire fangs” and wearing one of my favourite crop tops that I wore outside today!! I’m definitely not letting the negative body image thoughts take over.

Bumps In The Road

Personal, mental health related, post coming up. People are always asking me how I became body positive and how long it took. As this post will show it’s a journey that’s ongoing. You don’t just wake up one morning having rejected all of society’s health and beauty standards feeling fantastic about yourself. (If that did happen to you email me because I need to know your secret.)

Some of you are probably already aware that I suffer from hypermobility. The worst joints for me are my knees and I recently suffered a very bad fall that resulted in me being referred for, very necessary, physiotherapy. Physio has always been triggering for me – the irrational side of my brain that associates “exercise” with weight loss, punishing myself etc takes over especially in a scenario where the exercise is prescribed and I feel forced into it.

Following my initial appointment with my new physio, which was traumatic in itself and I cried during most it, I really really struggled. Some of you may have noticed through my social media accounts that I was in a bad place. My self esteem and body image just took an absolute nosedive and I was having urges to engage in self destructive behaviour. A huge part of my recovery process has been focusing on only exercising when I really want to. If there is ever any doubt about why I’m doing it or whether or not I’m really in the mood for it, I don’t do it. Pushing myself to work out when I’m not feeling like it leads to the horrible feelings I was experiencing post-physio appointment.

Understandably the first few days were really tough. On a physical level the exercises are very easy and gentle but simply taking the time to do them was insanely triggering and upsetting.  I was forcing myself to do at least some of the routine every day and my moods were getting worse. I reached out to a few of my friends and talked things over but I still felt caught between a rock and a hard place, physical health vs mental health. It wasn’t until someone who I really trust told me that this was simply far too triggering and I should stop that I realised this was on my terms and I was in control of this process.

That was such a huge step forward on my body positivity journey. Up until now my focus has been on feeling good about myself no matter what size/weight I am or what I eat etc and all of that is super important but the journey doesn’t stop there. The next stage for me is, with all of that in mind, being able to look after my physical and mental health simultaneously. I know it’s going to be very difficult but physio is a really good place to start. Like everything in life, with body positivity or recovery from an eating disorder/mental health problem, once you’ve reached a point where you’re relatively comfortable and can function relatively normally, it’s easy to become complacent and accept that this is as good as things will get. For some people in some scenarios that is the case, and everyone’s journey and recovery is different, but for me I know I’ve been coasting for a while and can definitely still work on a few areas.

A few days after the initial breakthrough I started finding one of the exercises getting a little easier, and I was more aware of my body (part of my issue is that I have no clue how to control the smaller muscles that we all take for granted) and that gave me a little boost. Unfortunately for the past few days I’ve had the flu (by the time you read this I will hopefully be much better) so I’ve not been doing the physio but a huge part of this process is listening to my body and I know that my body needs to rest at the moment.

Have any of you had a breakthrough on your body positivity/recovery journey recently? Leave a comment below.

V ❤

Self Care Ideas

Lately I have noticed on Twitter and through blogs that a lot of people are struggling with self care, whether that’s finding an activity that works for them or they are unsure where to start. Firstly I will give my two pennies worth on what self care is to me and then give you a list of different things you could try, as always I will try make the list as accessible as possible.

Self care is a funny one. We all do it without even realising it every day. We get up in the morning and we brush our teeth and wash ourselves – this at the most basic level is self care. What we are referring to in this post is the time you put aside for yourself, to relax, unwind and take care of your mental health. Often people feel guilty for taking this time, there’s always something “more important” they should be doing, but let me tell you from experience this is important. It’s important to stop burnout and to keep you feeling good.

The other struggle people seem to have is that they don’t know where to start and what constitutes self care. Before I provide a list of ideas I just want to say that different things work for different people and some of the things I mention below as self care ideas such as working out or cleaning, may actually be triggers to some people so please only do what you’re comfortable with. I’ll break the lists up into “Active Self Care” and “Restful Self Care”.

Active Self Care

  • Cleaning your room – This gives you time to think and there’s no better feeling than going to sleep in a bed with nice clean sheets surrounded by a clean environment.
  • Going for a walk/run – When you’re stressed out getting outside can be such a big help even without moving around. Adding the movement is optional of course but sometimes it helps to clear the mind.
  • Go out with friends – I know what you’re thinking “self care isn’t a team sport”, but it can be. If you are really wired, stressed out and know that being by yourself is going to make you feel worse it is excellent self care to recognise and acknowledge that and make a plan to circumvent it.
  • Play video games – I’ve included this in the active section as although usually this is a sedentary activity it can get you pretty pumped up and wake you up. 
  • Stretch/Yoga – If, like me, your anxiety causes your body to tense up, stretching is a great way to relieve all that tension.

Restful Self Care

  • Allow yourself worry time – Scheduled worry time can help so much throughout the day. It doesn’t stop bad thoughts from popping in to your mind but it makes it easier to cope with them by deferring them to be dealt with later during the allotted time.
  • Read a book – As a distraction technique this one is great if you are at a point where you can still focus on something and concentrate. Immersing yourself in a good book can really take you away from all your worries.
  • Treat yourself to a favourite snack – There’s no reason to attach guilt to this like so many do. You are allowed to eat food that you enjoy.When using this as self care you can be mindful of the flavours and textures and focus on that as you enjoy the snack.
  • Watch something funny – As many of you will know this is my go-to self care if I’m anxious, particulately if I’m heading towards full blown panic. The laughter helps to calm me down and watching a film or tv show acts as a great distraction
  • Have  a bath – Another of my go-tos. I don’t know what it is but there is something very calming about being in the water. It gives you an opportunity to relax and think over your day plus make plans for tomorrow.
  • Do something creative – This could be writing down your thoughts and feelings, drawing, colouring in, making something. Just a way to channel how you’re feeling in to something positive. On my body positive journey there have been times when I’ve found it useful to write a letter to myself.

Do you have any self care tips? Leave them in the comments below.

V ❤
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