Eating Disorder Awareness Week

Thoughts

TW: Eating disorders (no numbers, specifics or ED behaviours included)

1st-7th March is Eating Disorder Awareness week in the UK. An Eating Disorder is a mental health condition where you use the control of food to cope with feelings and other situations. Unhealthy eating behaviours may include eating too much or too little or worrying about your weight or body shape. Some examples of eating disorders include avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and anorexia. There’s no single cause and people might not have all symptoms for any one eating disorder. It’s also possible for someone’s symptoms, and therefore their diagnosis, to change over time.

I want to start by exploring some common misconceptions when it comes to Eating Disorders.

MYTH #1: Someone must be underweight to have an Eating Disorder
FACT: Often when people think of someone with an Eating Disorder, they think of someone who is significantly underweight. However, although weight loss is typical in anorexia, most people with an eating disorder stay at an apparently “healthy” weight or are “overweight” (as commonly measured by the BMI scale). If the person does need to restore their weight, this is only one aspect of treatment, and being weight restored does not mean that the person is recovered. The thoughts and behaviours that come alongside the eating disorder also need to be addressed.

MYTH #2: Eating Disorders are a choice
FACT: Eating disorders are complex illnesses – there is no single cause. Instead they are thought to be caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors. Eating disorders are extremely distressing for both the individual and their loved ones, and often are accompanied by feelings of shame. They require specialist treatment, but people can and do get better. Eating disorders are mental health disorders and are never a personal choice.

MYTH #3: Eating Disorders only happen to young girls
FACT: Research shows that eating disorders do not discriminate – they affect people of all genders, ages, ethnicities, sexual orientations, weights, and socioeconomic statuses. Many people think of Eating Disorders as a ‘heterosexual, white, female’ problem and as a result, males, people of colour and those from the LGBTQ community are less likely to be diagnosed and face greater barriers to treatment.

MYTH #4: Eating Disorders are a diet gone wrong
FACT: Although for some people, one trigger for an eating disorder may be that they have been dieting, eating disorders are not “a diet that has gone wrong”. They are serious mental health disorders which can go on to have adverse effects on physical health which can be fatal.

Now we’ve busted some myths, it’s time to get to the scary part. I’m Alice, an Events Manager, book worm, lover of stationary.. and I have an Eating Disorder. I have had an Eating Disorder since my teens and it is something which I will continue to be in recovery from for the rest of my life. I say that because every day I have to make the decision to choose recovery and some days it is easier than others. My Eating Disorder stemmed from control (see Myth #4 – NOT a diet gone wrong) and even now, when I feel overwhelmed, controlling the way I eat or exercise is an easy way for me to feel on top of things. This works, momentarily but then it can lead me to a place which is difficult to climb out of. Accessibility to Eating Disorder treatment has historically been restricted to people who fit a certain appearance (young, thin, white, female – see Myth #3 for why this is wrong), and in my case this meant when I reached out for help, I was seen as not yet thin enough to need help. The message I heard loud and clear was “If you want us to help you then you need to lose more weight” and that’s exactly what I did, at the further detriment of my physical and mental health, personal relationships and general life. After time and further requests for help I was able to access the support I needed and I sit today in a much better place when it comes to my body and food. Thankfully, a shift has started to happen to see Eating Disorders as a mental illness with the possible side effect of losing weight, but, there is still a long way to go especially in understanding the disproportionately unfair in access to services for marginalised people. Eating Disorders do not discriminate, so why do our measurement and treatment systems?

The thin ideal is consistently sold as the key to happiness and health. Interestingly, when I was my thinnest I was the most unhealthy (and certainly the saddest) I have been in my life but no-one said a thing… apart from to praise me for losing weight. With the rise of Social Media filters and Instagram nutritionists selling their latest ‘Wellness plans’ there is no wonder that more and more of us want to change the way that we look. Contributing to this – the representation of fat people in TV and film, often only awarded the storyline of desperately trying to lose weight or to serve as the butt of everyone’s jokes. Judging people for their weight seems to be the last acceptable form of prejudice and I hope within my lifetime that we see a change in this narrative.

There needs to be education around health being a whole spectrum of things and not about making ourselves smaller. This includes considering language we use about bodies and food, especially around those which we have influence. I dream of the day that we all celebrate the food that we eat and the amazing things that our bodies do for us.

To read more about Eating Disorder Awareness week and support available, visit Beat.

A huge thank you to Meg, Clare and Zoe for reading and giving me feedback on this post before publishing.

How to fail

stuff

I recently started listening to Elizabeth Day’s podcast where she invites celebs to share 3 of their failures. It’s really great. If like me, you’ve been living under a rock, here it is and you only have 79 episodes to get through. God speed. Inspired by my new listening & my pal Imi’s post I thought I would share 3 of my own failures. Recognising where you’ve failed gives you the chance to celebrate where you have succeeded and more importantly recognise that failing is ok, that it is all part of being a wonderfully flawed human.

Doing a forward roll

I cannot do a forward roll. I never have and I never will. For the first 16 years of my life this was extremely stressful. Through the primary school ages, I dreaded the lessons when those squishy blue mats would be brought out ready for tumbling. Need someone to demonstrate a perfect teddy bear roll? Sign me up. Need someone to demonstrate a perfect forward roll? I suddenly really need the toilet. I remember once at a church BBQ I got all of the adults to take in turns to coach me how to do a forward roll. I wanted to be able to go into school next week and not feel sick with nerves that I’d be asked to do one and maybe I just needed the right teacher. It felt like everyone in the whole world to could do a forward roll except me and when I still couldn’t do one after 3 hours of coaching and a regular intake of hot dogs I thought my life was officially over. I despairingly asked my sister’s friend what I should do about the dreaded p.e. class coming up next week because I had checked the weather and it was going to rain which meant we’d definitely be on those pissing blue mats. He wisely suggested I forget my p.e. kit. So I did. Crisis averted. For now.

Through the secondary school years, the stakes felt even higher but luckily my forgery skills had come on since the age of 6 and I could get myself excused from any lessons that included the word gymnastics. Weirdly 10 minutes into the lesson I would suddenly realise I had a letter saying I couldn’t participate due to cramps (sorry Mum!). It goes to show that no male p.e. teacher had a good grasp of menstrual cycles because my periods lasted for weeks on end and none of them pulled me in for a chat, concerned about the sheer amount of blood I must be losing.

Luckily, since secondary school I have never been asked to do a forward roll and I have since met other people who can’t do one either (solidarity, my friends). This failure embodies my complete fear of letting other people down but in hindsight I don’t think anyone was particularly bothered by my lack of gym mat skills.. except me.

Driving

I am 29 years old and I cannot drive. I would much rather walk, run, cycle, get the bus, crawl or skip thank you very much. The thought of driving makes me feel sick and I don’t know if I’ll ever get to the place where I actually want to learn to drive. I fleetingly did driving lessons shortly after my 17th Birthday and I think I got to the bit when you start doing manoeuvres and then my driving instructor quit and I convinced myself it was because I had let him down in some way. After that I did a few lessons with a new instructor who was so passive aggressive she made me cry and I vowed I would never try again. I hate being bad at stuff and I thought I must be the worst person who has ever tried to learn to drive. In reality, I had hardly had any lessons and it takes time to be able to safely drive a hunk of mental around the mean streets of the very small town I grew up in which in hindsight would be a much easier place to learn in than the big bad city of Bristol. Sigh.

I still feel frozen with fear at the thought of getting back in the drivers seat. I don’t think it’s too much of a big deal that I can’t drive until I want to do a big food shop or not get on a Megabus which always smells of feet.

Boundaries

Boundaries is such a buzz word at the moment and I use it a lot but I absolutely suck at actually implementing them. The queen of multi-tasking, answering emails at midnight and putting away laundry whilst also on loud speaker chatting to someone I definitely didn’t need to be chatting to. The nature of my anxiety means that I love having a packed diary because the more I do the less I need to think. My favourite days at work are the ones that whizz by because I just have so much to do and it’s only recently that I’ve realised how unhealthy that is. For years I allowed my time to be sucked up by everything and anyone and never carve out time for me just to be. I think I’m getting better at this but I can easily find myself slipping back into it because old habits die hard. I said to my therapist once that I was exhausted because so many people needed stuff from me, I was trying to keep so many spinning plates spinning and it just wasn’t fair. Rather than sympathising with me she told me that maybe I find my worth in needing to be needed and she’d absolutely hit the nail on the head. I am regularly serving from an empty cup & I.am.thirsty.



Lockdown 2.0

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On the eve of the lockdown 1.0 I was bubbling with enthusiasm of the all the things I could do with my newly awarded free time. Dreams of finally getting through the never ending lists of hobbies, to-dos and activities finally seemed like they could become reality. I managed to ignore the fact that there was a huge virus travelling around the world and instead saw it as paid time off to do what I want, as long as it involved staying indoors and not seeing anyone. On the eve of lockdown 1.0 I moved in with my girlfriend which brought a new and exciting space to exist in, walls to be painted and drawers to be organized. I was ready to get shit done and I did. I painted and read and swam in rivers and cleaned and enthusiastically took part in video calls.

On the eve of lockdown 2.0 I feel numb. I’ve gotten back into the swing of being at work, seeing friends and had finally managed to achieve a pretty good balance of life stuff. I’d re-launched my business and people were hyped about it. I have no energy to be excited about another round of free time. I went to the library on Monday and found no books I wanted to read. Nothing is grabbing my attention. I already feel bored and we are only on day one.

Things that felt exciting in lockdown 1.0 which I now couldn’t care less about:

  • Having free time
  • Animal crossing
  • Zoom quizzes
  • Zoom calls
  • Anything about Zoom
  • Wild garlic
  • Banana bread
  • Sourdough starters (rip)
  • Being productive
  • Being positive

So I guess this time round it isn’t about thriving and it is about surviving. My only goal for each day is to eat and breathe and not look at the news too much.

God speed & please don’t invite me to your Zoom quiz.

Six months of not being the only person who notices that we need to buy toilet roll

stuff

This weekend, Zoe and I celebrated our 6 month anniversary of when she referenced me as her girlfriend and I said I hadn’t been asked yet so then she asked me to be her girlfriend and I said yes which meant that I had my first ever girlfriend which was terrifying and exciting. We decided to go for a lil spa break at a place which offered an outstanding deal and we don’t really understand how they make any money from it. For £100 you get – a 3 course meal with a bottle of prosecco, an overnight stay in the hotel, breakfast, an afternoon tea, a hot tub and a massage. This is where we went and you should definitely book.

I originally planned to write about our stay and try out as a travel blogger but now that I’ve sat down to write, that doesn’t really fill me with joy and now I feel like I want to write about having a girlfriend and stuff so I think this is the direction this is going to go but who knows. This year on my Birthday I told my parents that I was dating a girl and it was a pretty big deal. I’ve had lots of boyfriends (show off) and heterosexual relationships were where I was comfortable and I understood my role in as a doormat. Just kidding. Sort of.

Earlier this year I went back into therapy and dedicated myself to healing. I was anxiously attached to anyone that gave me attention, co-dependent and a hot mess. My therapist is an angel and helped me navigate some really tricky stuff. I wanted to be by myself and continue my journey to being confident in my boundaries so that when or if I had a new relationship in the future, it had the best chance to succeed and I had the best chance at being properly happy.

Whilst going through these sessions, which honestly changed my life, I was getting closer to Zoe and realised I fancied her. I spoke about it in length with my therapist because 1) I was confused AF because I thought I was straight and 2) I didn’t want to be doing my classic move of jumping straight into a relationship when I hadn’t healed from the last. I needed her to tell me that my feelings and what I was doing was ok but she refused because therapists won’t tell you if you are right or wrong which is v.frustrating but v.fair because ultimately I had to give myself the permission to explore my sexuality and be open to a new relationship if I was ready.

Spoiler: We got together, I came out to my family and friends, I got a tattoo of a naked lady, there was a pandemic and we moved in together after 17 days of being a couple and now we are living happily ever after.

Dating women is great and I would highly recommend it. Here are a few of the many things that I appreciate about being in a same sex relationship.

  • When you come on your period unexpectedly there are tampons in the bathroom cupboard
  • When you get bored of your own clothes you have instant access to a whole new wardrobe
  • You can shock old people by holding hands when you walk down the street
  • When you mention your partner and someone references them as ‘he’ you can be be really offended and very pointedly say ‘she’ in your response
  • You can confuse people as to what your relationship is. Are they sisters? Friends? LOVERS?
  • Women can orgasm multiple times
  • I get to be a girlfriend and not a mother, therapist, PA and cleaner*
  • There’s no stress of being the only person who notices that you need to buy toilet roll*
  • My partner is interested in what I need from the relationship*
  • I no longer have to micromanage my partner’s life*
  • We do things just because they need to be done and not because one of us (me) has sent 23 passive aggressive texts about doing the hoovering*

*I know, I know — #notallmen. I’m making a major generalization here based on my personal experience of some of my previous relationships with men and my current relationship with a fantastic woman. If you’ve got yourself a man who puts in the work then go you. Please get him to tell his friends and encourage him to lead a seminar asap.