Tuesday, March 06, 2018

If Britain needs to go on a diet, do I?

Oh calories, diets, Public Health campaigns, obesity epidemic headlines, it's all over the news AGAIN and I'd be lying if I said I was okay with that. I'm not okay with the bombardment of yet more 'should and should not' rules of eating. It's a constant threat to my recovery. 

I'm finding the more 'physically recovered' I am from anorexia, the more these campaigns bother me. They stick in my brain and make eating more complicated, they blur the lines between 'recovered me' and 'anorexic me'. 

It feels like it applies to me. Today it's made me feel guilty about having a breakfast that tops 400 calories, because PHE's top doctor says "The agency is also launching a campaign encouraging adults to consume 400 calories at breakfast and 600 each at lunch and dinner."

I know in reality that my lunch and dinner are never close to 600 calories each, but if I could logically believe that and ignore the message, I would. I really bloody would. But if that were easy, the last decade of my life wouldn't have been f*cked up by anorexia. 

When people think eating disorders feed on skinny models, airbrushing or vanity they forget that for some people anorexia is more likely to feed on campaigns like this. It's also like other eating disorders don't exist when we talk about this. We seems to forget that some of our overweight population will probably be suffering silently with eating disorders too...I'd put money on it.

I want to scream it’s not it’s the fact that these campaigns exists, because I realise they are needed to tackle an obvious obesity crisis, but they exist in a society where eating disorders are also a problem.They are also costing the NHS and lives. study by BEAT in 2015 found treating eating disorders DIRECTLY costs the NHS between £3.9 billion and £ 4.6 billion a year, and, potentially, up to £1.1 billion of private treatment costs too. Combine that with lost income and all the bits like carers eating disorder rack up a bill to the UK economy of between £6.8 billion and £8 billion A YEAR. Meanwhile, this much discussed obesity epidemic costs us £6 billion. Yep. 

On an another personal note, I’ve woken up this morning having the messages about the need for this 20 percet reduction in the calories of food by 2024. A call for 13 food groups to be targeted to make cuts, more calories warnings, more signs in takeaways and PHE saying, 'it would be prepared to ask the government to legislate.' if supermarkets and alike didn't buck up. So, today I’m going to call them out, embrace this - because doing all that will help make my life a little easier. 

Do you know why? Because when I go into a supermarket or restaurant and they've dropped the calories in their foods, maybe, just maybe I'll allow myself to eat it. To buy a bread roll, a dip or a savory snack. Safe in the knowledge that my eating disorder is a little less worried about it. 

Why? Because every day I wake up worried that I am greedy, fat, eating too much and 'one of the people that needs to listen'. So if you’re telling me to reduce my breakfast for my health, it gives me a legitimate reason. Officially, I’m not considered to be anorexic anymore, so in my mind it’s obviously not that driving the urge to reduce? It’s because I’m following guidance I don’t want to be overweight or greedy do it? 

I know this sounds like I’m taking the piss a little, but I’m not. I honestly believe these campaigns are affecting me more than more time goes on. The thing is, like for thousands of other people, the rules I have around food do affect my life and possibly always will. Then campaigns like this just make it feel like I have to be more restrictive with my diet. 

There is a very obvious obesity epidemic, but the thing that gets me is that over and over again we print calories on more menus, talk about reducing sugar over and over, about moving more and eating less - but I've said it before, and I'll say it again, "your healthy eating campaigns are wasted on me." 

It makes me question if they have even thought about who it is listening to these messages the most? My money is on people like me, ironically, the people that avoid those 13 food groups anyway.  But maybe I should embrace it. Look forward to the day when sugar and fat and calorie content is reduced? It means that my anorexic brain will let me eat junk. Or maybe I’ll still avoid it anyway? 

NEED HELP? If you're are worried you or someone you know if suffering with an eating disorder, be it anorexia, bulimia, OSFED, binge eating, emotional overeating or orthorexia, you can find info and support online at BEAT's website - HERE 

Sunday, March 04, 2018

#EDAW2018 Namaste and me

Firstly, picture the scene if you can, me, late 2012, very anorexic, very anxious, my brain going to thousand miles an hour and generally a bit scatty, not really caring, and sitting in the therapy clinic with a very chilled out therapist who says ‘right Sarah, we’ve tried CBT, let’s give active mindfulness a go...” that was one of the first sessions I had with Dr B. I remember thinking at the time ‘what the hell are you going to make me do, weirdo....’ People had spoken about mindfulness but I’m much more of an ‘action person’. I just don’t do meditation.

I suppose I got my back up about mindfulness from the off. I tried to do it, tried to meditate. I tried to embrace it and to do the whole ‘let it happen and let it go’ listen to his voice and remain present, but it just wasn’t working for me. 

So yoga then? Is it about my mind or body? Well, both. For some context, I’ve tried yoga over the years, a few sessions here and there, but generally at a leisure centre and focused around fitness weight loss and middle-aged women in lycra. None of which were helpful to me and my mental health. I’d always wanted to rock up and be the bendiest; thinnest and best. But wasn’t, obviously. 

Now, after years putting it off because my own issues with body and making excuses, last year I walked in to Sky Blue Yoga studio at the Northfield Centre in Stafford. I took a big gulp and thought ‘I can do this, I know how to breathe, I know how to stretch...’ I told myself I’m just going to have to see how it goes. And the rest is already history.

I'm now practicing almost daily, mixing a hot vinyasa flow class, with Yin - is a slower practice where you hold your asana for longer, and Yoga Nidra - which is also called 'yogic sleep'. I’m pretty sure if Dr B saw me doing yoga Nidra on a Sunday, he drop down dead in front of me out of shock of seeing me setting aside an hour for meditation.

Nidra is purely the practice of focused breathing, body scanning, switching the sides of the brain used and listening. I love it. I also practice dhama yoga wheel, which really stretches me and is all about balance and coordination and core. Nell, my teacher who’s own learning of yoga theory inspires me to read more and guided savasana is more helpful than any meditation I had in hospital, (as is Kelly's - seriously, these ladies need snapping up by the NHS!)

But all in all I’m loving it. I’m not just turning up and working out. I am taking this with me outside the studio. Learning more about yoga, being a yogi and the theory behind it. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to following a religion! 

Take Sankelpa - the setting of an intention or dedication for yoga practice - it is much like the ‘rewiring’ challenges in the active mindfulness therapy I had. It’s like a metaphor to translate yoga off your mat and into real life. This to me is what makes yoga a lifestyle, rather than something I’m doing just for exercise. My intentions have ranged from ‘Believe am enough’, to ‘focus on breath not body’ and so on.

For some reason yoga and it’s theory clicks with me more than reading books about meditation or trying to practice pure mindfulness. I’m doing it with out thinking. Those days when I have yoga after work it’s like a reset button, it’s teaching me to be more present. I’m slowly learning through yoga to act without ego. With that I mean not to be doing what I think I should be doing, but just what my body is craving. Regular practice is teaching me that taking a moment breathing and just focusing on purely that can put everything else aside and seem less pressing.

I believe finding Nidra or gentle yoga class earlier in recovery would have helped me massively. It’s got the potential to be a really positive things for someone fighting anorexia, after all it is about connecting with your body. Creating new prana. You need to know where your body is, what it can do, when it feels sore and when you need to back off. The more I read, the more I am understanding about yogi lifestyle, the more I accept, and let go. 

According to yoga tradition, there’s a part of us we can’t see. It’s where our energy flows, There are seven key parts, the chakras. Ancient yogis taught that when energy becomes blocked in a chakra, it triggers physical, mental, or emotional imbalances that lead to things like anxiety. 

Never before did I think that focusing on certain part of my body, be at the root or the solar plexus, recalling chakras, could make a difference to my wellbeing. But trust me, it does. I’ve felt really connections to asanas, the poses, which are believed to balance places linked to body or anxiety, I’ve almost cried when practicing pranayama with mantras about self esteem or grounding. I always walk out, standing a little taller. A little more balanced. The release in tadasana, just standing strong in mountain pose, alive Is simple but powerful. It’s just standing up. But it’s not!

Not only that I have met some inspiring people at the studio too. Those who share the same ethos as me, they are not people with multiple disorders, those in and out of therapy or people that simply do yoga for the way it looks to others. They believe in the practice and that’s inspiring. Some of the people at the studio live yogi lifestyles. 

It’s often said when one door closes another opens, and it seems to me that as therapy closed, both at the eating disorders unit and private counselling stopped benefiting me, the door to the Yoga studio opened.

Having done CBT and mindfulness, and all the bits in between, during recovery and before, I can honestly say yoga is more than enough in terms of therapeutic time than I need. Plus a glass of gin and a massage now and again, it’s changing my life, one savasana at a time!

I've also been speaking to Kelly, one of my fabulous teachers at the studio, about how we could work together to help more people with EDs try yoga. I think that people with anorexia especially, could really benefit from practicing Nidra. I’m hoping that one of the positive changes I can make this eating disorders awareness week is to set the ball rolling in implementing this onto the ward at my old hospital. I know If I had been told I was practising yoga in hospital it make me feel better, and maybe, just maybe I’d have been a little more accepting of those mindfulness sessions with Dr B if yoga had taught me to just breathe...? 


Don't forget that if you are suffering from an eating disorder - YOU NEED TO SEEK HELP and speak up about it. Don't wait, there are services out there for you: Check out https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/support-services

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

#EDAW2018 Why I waited...

Why wait? That's the theme of this year's Eating Disorders Awareness Week. New research by Beat found that on average, people with eating disorder symptoms wait 149 weeks before they seek help. That’s almost three years, 37 months or 1,043 days. Well,

I am not sure if this is acute symptoms, you know, the weight loss, restrictive diet, loss of periods..etc...or the wait between first feeling like absolutely shit about yourself, not good enough, hating your body, cutting out bits of food and exercising a little out of guilt? Because if it is the latter things, I reckon my wait was about 1015 weeks, or 7109 days - that's 19 years, 5 months, 17 days.
So why did I wait THAT long? Okay for the first 8 or so years, I admit, I was getting help. But for anxiety and phobias, all to do with food, but never for anorexia. So, obviously, I didn't have an eating disorder*  (*allegedly!) 

Later on, and definitely from about 2009, like it or not, I honestly believed anorexia served me, that it made sense, that it was helping me deal with life around me. It was making me feel pretty damn good at the time. I waited because, firstly, I didn't think I had an eating disorder and then because of that feel-good feeling it was giving me. I was high on it I waited because I didn't want someone to take that feeling away. Why would I?

Of course, everyone who suffers with an eating disorder will have a different experience and varying reasons why an eating disorder developed in the first place and a whole host of different barriers for waiting to speak up. Some from inside, others because of the world around us.

For me, maybe it's also because no one else ever really mentioned a specific eating disorder as something I was suffering from. After all,  62% of adults are twice as likely to list weight loss or being thin as a sign of an eating disorder over any other. so if I wasn't underweight, who was going to mention anorexia, of all things?

I felt like a fraud for even being signed off work for stress and anxiety, let alone because I was suffering with some sort of 'eating disorder'. So, I wasn't going to be the one who brought up my low calorie intake, my now obsessive exercise regime or the hours I spent on Pro-Anorexia forums, or the nights I spent body checking and weighing myself. I waited because I was doing 'just fine' in my eyes. 

The way that an eating disorder feels likes it serves a purpose to the sufferer means it's unlikely to be us that speaks up first. The fake sense of friendship and security my 'lifestyle' gave me was the reason I waited. Honestly, I didn't want it taking away. So, I didn't believe it was anorexia back then, even though I knew the symptoms, and was logging on to forums where 'ana' and 'mia' were spoken about.

To stop this delay between first psychological, and sometimes physical symptoms, of an eating disorder and someone getting help, it has to be then, down to more awareness. More people need to know the signs and how to talk to the person showing them.

I reckon I would have kept waiting to speak up if it wasn't for a close friend calling me out. Saying the word 'anorexia' for the first time. Then, family helped stop the plates spinning and I move home. At this point, whether I believed it was anorexia or not, I was finally sick of waiting. Sort of. Because once I'd decided this, I had the wait for assessment, the wait for diagnosis, then for the effects of treatment to kick in and the wait for acceptance that I actually had anorexia.

A lot of waiting, right?

Moral of the story is simply that waiting until crisis or just waiting longer than we should reduces the chance of beating an eating disorder. It is waiting that benefits no one but the eating disorder.

For me personally, I am thankful I had people around me that DID know the signs and symptoms and spoke to me because at that time I would have waited so long, that I would possibly been dead. Looking back I wish that I had spoken up sooner about what was going on, wish that I hadn't waiting to break up with 'ana' and get help....don't let you or someone you know make the same mistake as me. 

#WhyWait #EDAW2018 

- How to tell if someone has an Eating Disorder CLICK HERE

- Get help: Beat Adult Helpline: 0808 801 0677 Beat Youthline: 0808 801 0711