Lessons of Hope and Recovery: PART 2

So here’s the next part of my seminar – if you haven’t read yesterday’s post, I’d recommend that you do, because that is the start of my posts this week. Here is my first lesson of hope and recovery:

6This first one has taken me right from being a little girl up to just a few months ago to full-heartedly absorb. And trust. For so long, this statement seemed like a lie. Like how are you supposed to control your body without counting the number that’s hidden behind everything you eat? When I was allowed to start cooking my own meals on the Eating Disorder Unit, I protested that I have to still count calories of everything I was adding into the pan, so that I can divide it all up and know how many are on my plate. They tell you all over the media, like it’s another way of breathing. There’s this invisible threat that if you don’t count calories then you’ll put on weight, that you’ll be fat. That to be attractive and an acceptable weight to society, you have to count them – no two ways about it.

But when I came round to realising that – no, you don’t (and it’s taken me well over my last inpatient admission on an Eating Disorder Unit to believe that, at 27 years old) there was part of me that was set free. Like a hamster from it’s cage. What did people do before calories were ever counted? Before they were ever a thing? Before there were so any options of the same type of food – fat-free that, low-fat this? Was everyone overweight? No, course not. Choices around food were much less, and so was obesity. Think of the Victorians. People were slim, but they ate butter, proper milk, proper everything. They had no choice – and in that way, they had it easy. We need to stop counting calories and start trusting ourselves a bit more. We need to start monitoring our emotions and getting help with them, not the calories, because they’re what cause the undereating or the overeating. We need to start trusting ourselves to judge portion sizes. We know, deep down, what is enough and what is too much. Being over-bombarded with different diets and nutrition information has made us lose sight of how simple it can be.

See, because calorie-counting has become the norm in today’s society, I struggled to let go of my obsession around this for such a long time. I thought I could ‘recover’ but still count calories. And I’ve tried and tried to apply this for years, in-between being in hospital. But if you give an Eating Disorder an inch, it will take a mile. I’ve stubbornly defended myself when people told me “you can’t choose to keep a little bit of your Eating Disorder”. And stood here today, I finally understand. Counting calories can completely take over your psychological wellbeing. Food becomes numbers, and before you know it you’re a walking, talking calculator. Instead of enjoying an experience, your internal calculator is tip-tapping away and you see any food above ‘x’ number of calories as the enemy. If I felt socially anxious, I’d find myself re-counting the day’s calories, which I realised became a distraction from what my real struggle was. At my worst with Anorexia, I weighed absolutely everything – down to lettuce, cucumber and sauces, so I could cement that number in my head; so I could reassure myself of the calories which meant I could take control of the day. Whatever was thrown at me, I had this stroking the back of my mind. It wasn’t a comfort for long, because I began to feel tormented by the demands to calculate and plan everything. Calorie-counting became this big hot meteor shattering my brain cells.

Now, I have to tell you something. Admittedly, at the moment I am not comfortable with my weight, or the way I look at all. There is still a bit of weight that I would like to lose – because a side effect of my Bulimia, is putting on weight. It is scientifically proven that vomiting does not get rid of all the calories after a binge. I feel trapped in my body – one that just reminds me of the Bulimia that has ruled my life for too long. But – I’m not going to go on a ‘diet’. I’ve made that forever-promise to myself. And I’m definitely going to resist the temptation to count calories. When I have finally managed to stop my binging and purging addiction, I will naturally lose a little bit of weight, but I have gained enough self-awareness, I hope never to return down Anorexia’s path. The only way, for so long I escaped my Bulimia was to turn back to Anorexia again. Fighting off Anorexia’s temptation is a daily fight. I will not force myself to lose weight under a time limit or get an ideal shape in my head, I will eat balanced – meaning colourful salads but also proper butter on toast, and ice-cream. (not together…)

Diets, long-term don’t work, and I refuse to be back on that yo-yo, which I found myself on before my Eating Disorder developed. You are on a diet every day. Diet just means what you ate this morning and choose to eat for the rest of your life. So let’s stop using it to mean ‘I am currently depriving myself of food so that I can lose weight quicker’. We are so desperate for a quick-fix nowadays, that we’ll try anything.  And that’s what worries me. My wish for you all is to pursue a healthy, balanced lifestyle and never have to restrict yourself from any food group. From any of your favourite foods. Have that slice of birthday cake – but leave it at the one slice. Have that pizza – but is it enough to share or save some for tomorrow? Trust yourself to make these choices.

Move a bit more. Go for a walk or a jog, or take up an exercise which you enjoy. Because exercise, when you get in to it, is like going for a mental poo, I like to call it. That’s a much, much more valuable reason than using it just for weight control and the shape of your body. You feel more focused afterwards, and I’ve found when I’ve encouraged myself to exercise after losing confidence in people seeing me do it, that I actually feel like I have more energy for the day, not less. Again, only within the last year or so, I’ve seen the point in exercise. I used to associate exercise with punishment, or as work to be put in to deserve lunch. So being in recovery and being told exercise is healthy at the same time, became confusing. It would often trigger me to restrict if I started exercising. I didn’t see the point of exercising unless it was to lose weight. But now, when I have the confidence to do it, I feel the rewards are so much more. My head feels clearer – and yes it’s hard not to make eye contact with all those numbers on the treadmill, but I no longer feel I have to get back on it, if during a workout I’ve burnt 3 less calories than last time. And no longer do I equate exercise with what I deserve to eat.

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