Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Counting Compulsions: Fitness apps and anorexia

Fitness Apps, they're everywhere nowadays aren't they? If people aren't checking their wrists for their Fitbits steps, they're logging calories on their phones, even competing with others for weight loss victory. However, when the person glued to the smartphone is someone with an eating disorder, these 'motivational' apps can become less helpful, more harmful. 

An exclusive story by BBC Hereford and Worcester journalist Felicity Sanderson highlighted the issue in a report in the West Midlands today. An issue I have experience of personally and one which, in 2016 with apps-galore, I think needs talking about more.

A young woman called "Sophie" shared her story, of becoming 'addicted' to the apps from the age of 14. Now 18, and in recovery she wants to let others know just how addictive they can be. I for one share her experience, and know we're not alone.

In the depths of my own battle with anorexia, I logged every single calorie eaten or burnt and tracked my weight obsessively. But even more dangerous I connected with other eating disorded users too

People on diets may motivate each other towards health, but for people suffering with a mental illness like anoreixa, it's pushing each other towards death

After what was probably more than a year hooked to my phone at any chance I could, I confided in a friend as I entered recovery. She had to delete the app and lock me out of my account. It was the only way I could stop logging every single calorie. 

The issue for me now is the fact they're everywhere. Someone with anorexia (and let's face it - those numbers are growing day-by-day) can go unchecked using them. It also perpetuates the myth that they are 'fine' and just 'doing what everyone else is'. But it couldn't be more different. 

Remember here girls and boys, apps alone don't CAUSE anorexia, but they don't help promote a healthy recovery either.

Sufferers using them is something which needs talking and not just talking about, but tackling too. No where more so than on eating disorders wards. Even my own team were uneducated and shocked to see the prevalence of proana sites, communities on the likes of Instagram and Twitter. In just one or two clicks sufferers can spiral into a world which will only ever compound the illness. But there is also hundreds - if not thousands - of men and women with anorexia using these apps to normalise their illnesses, to strengthen them. 

No, we can't shelter sufferers from a world of fitness crazes, diets and calorie counting at our fingertips, but we can wise up to just how many people with anorexia are hooked on them.

I believe it's up to eating disorders services to screen for usage, and to check if their inpatients are using them on wards or outpatients are logging the calories they burnt walking to the hospital.

I know I did. 

To read more about this head over to BBC Online
You can watch the BBC Midlands Today report HERE
You can follow Felicity on Twitter @flissanderson 

For help and advice on eating disorders please contact the UK Charity BEAT 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

From thigh gaps to gym shots

How fine is the line between thigh gap worship and praying for your first ‘proud’ glute shot?

It’s also becoming harder to see the wood from the trees with tiny, so-called ‘clean eating’ pictures and the images of meals someone with anorexia is trying to pass as a plate-full of food porn.

This is why I have an issue with the ever growing amount of ‘fitspro’ out there. Of course, I am coming at this after having had anorexia and battled with over-exercise – but also as someone who’s coached elite gymnastics and really does understand the difference between an eating disorder, diet, training (over training), fuelling our bodies and being healthy. Spot the difference here? 

I understand there is a difference here between people getting fit, being elite athletes or eating healthier to lose weight and those recovering from an eating disorder. Not everyone who exercises religiously does so obsessively and not everyone who eats a restricted diet has an eating disorder. But some do.

For the latter, it’s even more dangerous. It’s switching one obsession and body and food-centred lifestyle for another. I’m also talking as someone who’s at risk of falling into that trap. Also, let’s be clear here, I’m not talking about running to clear your mind or going to yoga classes to ease an aching body (and mind) or choosing to eat healthy foods. All very sensible right?

I’m talking about the blurred bit on social media – because haven’t we tried to ban another group of people continually posting semi-naked pictures of themselves online? Recently I wrote something on Instagram stating that it's just ass dangerous – and the founders of the #GirlGains hashtag tell me it’s meant to “be something where like-minded girls can encourage each other to be the best version of themselves personally, professionally or in the gym.” I understand, fully and trust they know their own limits - but...

Sounds great, but to that I would say the pursuit of being the best that I can be almost killed me with exercise and food. I was with like-minding girls on a pro anorexia forum too. I was also with ‘like-minded’ people on a mainstream dieting community getting motivation for weight loss.  Putting that message across through the same strict and defining rules is putting as much pressure on men and women to always have to better themselves and not be content with what they have.

I feel it’s even MORE dangerous because it’s accepted by society. Where people squirm at images of frail, thinspo and thigh gaps are seen as disgusting – the super-toned-healthy-dedicated ‘athletes’ are accepted? Happy, free looking girls prancing around a beach in a bikini or toned women posing in gym bathrooms, looking for 'Likes' or RTs - looking for acceptance from others for their bodies. For each of them, how many are weeping into their black coffee on the way home from a workout? 

It’s like the pressure and obsession is masked, for many, by a drive health and fitness. Personally, my own eating disorder and drive came from the fitspro camp long before the thinspro one – I just slipped and anorexia consumed the last remaining bit of me doing it for ‘health.’

Back to the point, let’s be realistic here, how many people will search for motivation for themselves on Pinterest, Instgram and Twitter and see #Fitspro images with phrases such as “No Squat. No Butt” or “Dear Fat – get the F*ck out my body” or the now infamous Kate Moss quote changed to “Nothing tastes as good as feeling fit feels.” And so on.  The same way someone with anorexia might idolise someone who’s thinner than them or more ‘dedicated’ to their disorder, I can't help but see the link here?

How many people see these images and then feel frustrated, upset and sometimes ANGER against their bodies? Jealous that they haven’t got a set of glutes like one girl and the defined abdominals of another and go to the gym out of guilt? 

Don’t get me stated on the same underwear mirror shots of women (and men) calling themselves #AntiLazy or micro-analysing their bodies. To me this is a mirror image of the same mirror posing rituals I went through at the height of my eating disorder, and long before.

In terms of diet and food rules, I struggle to fathom how obsessively counting calories is any different to refusing to eat meals that aren't ‘perfectly’ balance or counting macro nutrients? Or getting obsessed over the amount of protein, fat or carbs you eat, or when you eat them. Setting rules about pre and post work outs, making endless jars of prote-oats or brownies, or pancakes. 

How is only allowing yourself lean meat and spinach for five days and then binging on carbs and sugar on a rest day any difference to binge eating behaviour?  One of the diagnostic factors for anorexia is assessing the amount of time thoughts about food and body consume. You’re telling me all that planning and counting doesn't take up too much time. Let us not forget there is orthorexia too.

As I am coming from an eating disordered point here, I'll end with that. There seems to be an ever-increasing number of people recovering from eating disorders holding on to food rules and body obsession replacing thinspo with fitspo. On the surface it doesn't look like recovering to be the best they can be, but instead looking for the next 'fix' for the perceived wrong bits of their bodies. Is giving Barbie a butt just changing what we think we should be?

Friday, August 22, 2014

BROADCAST BITS: Everything is Just So

Where will you take your child's imagination next?

 Five thousand families visited the 5th Just So festival in Cheshire this August and so did I...

Broadcast on BBC Radio Stoke (August 2014)

Visit the event website here :Just So Festival