Strolling through the town centre of my home, there is a line of people snaking down the street outside the school uniform shop. It’s been like that every single day this week, if not last week too. Yesterday it bent round outside M&S like a COVID cobra…
And of course, at the entrance you’re greeted with our very mutual friend of the year – all hale the hand sanitizer. (Is it just me or can you tell which shops have gone for the cheap stuff? – you know what I mean, the wallpaper paste you have to shower in once you’ve popped your hand under that pump, just to get your hands dry – the temptation sometimes being just to wipe them on the nicely hung clothes. Also smells of crap… then there’s the 4* stuff that shyly plops enough on just to cover your hands, smells like alcohol, so you know it’s doing its proper job…)
Anyway, my point of the COVID cobra, was to reflect on how much this virus has taken over what we normally take for granted – especially being the close of August. As a kid, that was getting your new school uniform in the summer hols – for an exciting but brick-shitting new term with fellow (mixture of likability) pupils. That crisp white polo neck collar. The shoes that smell gorge but give you blisters for the first 3 weeks. All of this was enjoyably stressful. Now, it seems like the energy families would normally put into a couple of days at Butlins, needs to be saved for the uniform shop. As a (forever) single, nearly-30-year-old… I take my hat off (not my mask because that would be rude) to every family that has gone through that this year. And I really hope your children return to school, happy, excited, and not intimidated by this situation… at least in time.
Back off tangent, here’s four things August has taught me about my relationship with food and my body…
1. Showering is bloody good for your head.
If I was some professor of showering, I would say each shower boosts mood/self-esteem by 2%. So twice daily would be 4%… and a whole week would be 28%. (get me, thinking I’m Professor Salt at Self-Care University… ) For someone who went at least 2 months before August without ONE of those watery, sprinkly experiences… I am your guinea pig, so trust me on this. By the way – the 2% boost thing, I would say only works in week doses. So you can’t just shower for 3 weeks straight, do nothing else and expect to be living your dreams and dancing on tables. See it as every Monday resets to 0%… if showering once (often the hardest time when you aren’t motivated or are feeling low about your body or life in general)… that 2% boost could be enough to motivate you to do the next thing. I don’t know how it works, but for me, I guess it’s a sub-conscious way of telling me my body is worth something (even if shower-time is a max of about 4 minutes).
2. Spending more time with people that have an alright-ish relationship with food (I mean, yet to meet those who have a great one – hopefully me one day) is very, VERY helpful and lovely.
I have lots of friends who struggle with food, and I love them to absolute smithereens. All of them. And I always try to enjoy them as a person, and not a disorder. Because however ill someone is, there is always that glimmer of the real person beneath that – and it’s important to try and help bring it out.
When you’re still in recovery yourself, and feel very fractured with your food/body vision goggles, it’s also important to have friends that you haven’t met through mental health services, or a diagnosis being the mutual connection between you. (AS WELL as, not instead of…)
Spending time with friends disconnected from disordered eating (even of a reduction by about 60% – Professor Salt here we go again), knowing that their head isn’t trapped in that dark place you are smashing the walls down in and working hard to get out of… is very enlightening. I’ve learnt to have a good laugh and heart-to-hearts with some special people, without feeling on edge about food or the way I look. You forget sometimes how to be friends with people that don’t have the same struggles as you… because you’re scared of the judgement, or that they won’t understand. But not revolving your life or friendships around your mental illness can be very refreshing and uplifting.
3. It’s pointless comparing your food or body to someone else.
When you over-analyse your relationship with food, it’s tempting when you’re eating out – or even eating in at home, to compare food, and level of ‘guilt’ expected by that little nagging voice. Or – when you see someone not eating, it’s easy to assume they are ‘healthier’ than you, ‘less greedy’ perhaps. However, you don’t know what they eat for the rest of the day – this is only a snapshot… and people have different routines around food and habits according to what time they are most hungry during the day. I love when I feel comfortable to eat around friends on my own, or when friends can do the same. That’s when you know there’s a lot of trust in a friendship. I have so much respect for people that can do that – be it family or friends. It’s a very under-rated, very desirable trait in a human being if you ask me.
As for comparing bodies – someone can be skinny and lead an unhealthy lifestyle – alcohol addition, drugs, poor dental hygiene, and smoking for example. An ‘average’ weight or even slight overweight person can lead a life without any of those listed things, except eat a bit more and maybe exercise… and actually be healthier in many cases. Weight is NOT an indicator of health.
4. Sweeteners (artificial) are very addictive, sneaky buggars.
Since about I’d say, 8 or so years ago… I’ve worshipped Pepsi Max. If a hot drink had milk in it… I’d have to click my little red sweetener dispenser (5 times for a coffee – TWELVE, yes 12… for a tea – which I worked on reducing to 8 – medal please?). Don’t get me wrong, those falsely-sweetened beverages got me through SO much, mentally. Even if they weren’t good for me. I’d see one as a comfort, a hug, during the last eating disorder unit I was in. Something I could be in control of – if I had to eat x, y and z that my Anorexia doesn’t approve of, I can drink something that it still has control over – to taste the sweetness without the guilt.
Not everyone drinks artificially-sweetened drinks for weight control, many prefer the taste – but usually because the chemicals are addictive. But again, as in my last blog post, where is your mind-set at too? I remember waking up in the night, having starved myself and drinking up to 2 litres of sugar-free fizzy drinks to fill my stomach up – to tell it a lie, basically. Even when consciously I am far, far away from that part of my life, now I am questioning every choice I make I am always now trying to discourage what might subconsciously be feeding my everyday decisions. I’ve often drank Pepsi Max and sugar-free drinks, even sometimes now but not a fraction as much, in response to a hunger signal if I’ve ‘not yet planned to eat’… or as an automatic response. But from my experience, I feel like always relying on that signal to drink a sugar-free drink actually made me feel MORE out of control, that false signal following the fake sugar – making me feel MORE hungry. I felt well and truly addicted… and to be a slave to anything freaks me the hell out.
Even though I am top of the list of Pepsi Max fans, (I even jokingly said I’d have a Pepsi Max can design for my coffin)… and I love to pop open a can now and again or enjoy drinking a (usually, strangely deliciously un-fizzy) pub pint of it… it is not an automatic choice of mine whenever I am thirsty now. I’m no health-guru at all, but lately I’ve found tea – the different herbal ones very soothing after eating, and throughout the day. No I don’t particularly find the taste lovely, but prefer massively how it feels on my head and my stomach (and also with the intention to cut caffeine so sleep improves). It’s a bit of a rebel-against-the-sweetener-addiction moment of small joy. Then, I find that instead of craving more sweet stuff – and instead feeding it more falsely-sweetened stuff, my cravings go. And my head calms down a lot. (I am currently in therapy for Bulimia – the LAST I hope of years and years – as I honestly feel like I’m getting through the last hurdles) so the thought of feeling hungry all the times scares me a LOT. And I found drinking endless sugar-free drinks contributed to this for me.
(I do still bloody love a slurp of Pepsi Max or a Fanta Zero… just not as often, which makes the occasion all-the-more special!)
I hope this was of some interest, and maybe help? But if not, as we all are extremely unique – especially when it comes to food and our bodies – that’s fine. Don’t take my advice as gospel, all I can do is share my experiences and what has worked for me.
As always, thanks for reading.
Let’s step into September with our ‘brave pants’ on together!!
(artwork by myself on the iPad, but inspired by an existing photograph on the internet for which I cannot take credit for)