It’s National Eating Disorders Awareness week (NEDA) and it is encouraging to see a reduction in the number of ‘before and after’ posts being made in a bid to ‘raise awareness’. It seems that in the past, this week had unintentionally contributed to the stigmatisation of eating disorders and the association with emaciated bodies, which is problematic as NEDA is intended to be about reducing the stigma around eating disorders and encouraging people to seek help. This is why it’s so amazing to see more posts about recognising signs and symptoms, support for sufferers and loved ones, and post recovery stories. The true aim of NEDA is really shining through this week, and this post will hopefully add to the money pile as I intend to talk about how I rebuilt a healthy relationship with food, and what recovery means to me.
When I decided it was time to fight my anorexia and depression, I can’t say it was ever an easy decision. I knew in my heart that I wanted to live life to the full and spend it with loved ones, but the constant defying of my internal dialogue was a battle and a half. In the early days of my newfound motivation to live, I decided that if I had to restore weight and eat again, I was going to eat whatever I wanted and enjoy it. This meant daily frijj milkshakes in varying flavours, cinnamon swirls, Belgian buns, happy meals, super noodles, pastries, and quite literally anything I desired at that moment in time. You might wonder about the nutritional content of my diet, however this mind-set reversed so much mental and physical damage that I had done to myself for so long that I hardly think the nutritional content bares any importance. When you’re recovering from an eating disorder such as anorexia, I think it’s important to know that nothing is off limits; it’s about learning to fight the temptation of starvation and re-developing/ listening to your hunger cues. To enforce a strict calorie plan with specific nutrient requirements can be beneficial for some, but to me it just looked like another way to control my diet and life, and I didn’t want to be a slave to food or my mind anymore. I longed for a life where I could enjoy every mouthful of food without guilt, and I came very close in the early days, but I had a long way to go.
During the next three years, I thought I had finally developed a normal relationship with food. I was still eating whatever I wanted; however my body image was crashing. During the initial 6 months of recovery I had really disconnected with self-esteem issues and body image, mostly because I had started to take anti-depressants. Yet when I came off of these, I realised my mind was still sick even if my body wasn’t. Or rather, I now look back and realise this, as at the time I thought it was normal to live with 50% good days and 50% bad days. Society is so focussed on body image and food and self worth being tethered to these, that I had just assumed I would forever be in a constant state of love-hate towards my body, as most people I knew felt this way too. So for a few years, I yo-yoed between excess cardio at the gym and continuing to eat what I wanted, unsure what I was really doing and definitely not getting anywhere with my mental state.
It wasn’t until last summer after having an eye opening experience on my first holiday alone did I realise I still had it all wrong. Whilst visiting some friends in California, I had decided once again that I needed to make the most of my travels and eat everything and anything I wanted. But this time, I had realised the error of my ways. Every time I made the decision to eat something, I felt guilt because of the societal tether of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods. Every day I had my ‘little treats’ and I always felt guilty for having them because they were ‘low nutritional value’ or ‘high sugar’ and fell into the vicious cycle eating/ guilt/ cardio/ eating/ guilt/ cardio. I finally realised that although I physically didn’t meet the diagnosis of anorexia anymore, I was still trapped by my own thoughts and societal constraints. I decided that when I returned home, I was going to embark on a journey that would repair my relationship with my body and food all in one swift move. And I’ll tell you what; I’d never look back.
For the past six months, I have completely ignored the idea of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods and stuck to the ‘if it fits your macros’ mantra. Along side this decision I have been weight lifting to build strength and work on my self-love, as the cardio addiction was unhealthy and unneeded. Together these two new aspects of my life have opened my eyes to all the damage I have just enlisted here in this blog. Without getting up and doing this for myself, I never would have broken away from the societal expectations of dieting, depriving myself of ‘bad’ food, calorie restrictions, only liking certain parts of myself, etc. Now, I live for myself. I eat foods that I enjoy regardless of how much sugars they contain or how many calories. Guilt and food should never go hand in hand, and this is something I have finally managed to attain. I can recognise when my body is hungry and when it needs certain foods, and I eat according to what I need as well as what I want. I have found a healthy balance of food and self-acceptance, and I can proudly say that I have never loved myself more than I do today.
Rekindling my love for food and flavour has been the best decision of my entire life, and I would highly recommend reading ‘Eat Up’ by Ruby Tandoh, as she puts things so much more eloquently than I do (and describes the magic ritual of eating a crème egg rather beautifully). I think developing a healthy and balanced relationship with food is so important for self-love and self-care, and has significantly reduced any chances I ever felt at a relapse, to the extent that I feel I can’t relate to my past sick self at all. So this is my piece for NEDA week; that recovery is a much longer journey than you think it will be, potentially life long. But it will absolutely be the best decision of your life, and you will grow stronger and healthier day by day with every cheese string and crème egg you consume. Don’t let diet culture supress your recovery; cut all ties with that epidemic and let your recovery flourish into something beautiful and wholesome.
For more support or information you can visit Beat or have a look on our Advice and Support page.
Written by Jess Bragg