Following 10 years of suffering and fully recovering from Anorexia Nervosa, body dysmorphia and depression, I created Nourishing Routes with a passion to EMPOWER individuals like you to Break Free from Disordered Eating. I believe we all deserve to live more self-compassionately and develop life-long positive relationships with food, mind and body.
Restrictive forms of eating disorders are often associated with individuals being obsessed with pounding away on the treadmill at the gym, running for miles around a park, or ritualistically participating in workout routines from You Tube and Instagram… whether that be weight lifting, press-ups or star jumps.
According to the common myths surrounding eating disorders, this that involve issues around exercise can be easily spotted within the realms of aerobics classes, personal training groups, Interval training squads, and other obvious arenas associated with burning calories and shredding fat.
However, anorexia or other restrictive forms of disordered eating don’t always coincide with issues around exercise in the way many of us think. Instead, more subtle forms of exercise, that aren’t so easily seen, are used to ease anxiety, gain control. We can easily high the fact that we really do have a problem with pure relaxation and not moving, because walking and subtle forms of getting from A to B appear ‘normal’ and in line with public health messages to move more.
This is something I can strongly relate to, and maybe you can too…
For years and years, just because I didn’t own my own gym membership and was unable to run up the street without breaking into a puff and a pant, I believed that I never had a problem with exercise. How wrong I was.
You see, eating disorders are very insidious manipulators. They will keep their sufferers with a gag in their mouth while trapped in a false belief system. Every thought and behaviour seem justifiable and perfectly OK … even when they are doing serious long term harm to their mind and body. One way of doing this is forcing its victims into playing a game of ‘how can I burn Calories or not feel guilty for being sedentary without anyone even noticing … not even you’.
I never knew that I’d ever signed up to play this weird sick game, but I rolled its evil dice every time I went for my pre-breakfast walk, repeatedly made excuses of why I needed to go out and walk somewhere to pick something up, or take regular breaks from work and meetings so I could fit in just a few more steps. If I sat down for longer than an hour, I’d feel a compelling sense to stand up or move around. Even if it was just a few paces to the kitchen, run to the toilet or to grab something from upstairs.
I’d almost always make myself walk a little bit further or the ever so slightly longer route to my destination. Pretty normal right? Perhaps on the outside, but my intentions and need to walk and move came from a non-compassionate place. I felt super guilty for spending time sitting down and relaxing. I never went to the gym or tracked the Calories I was using up during exercise, but I couldn’t fathom how some people could sit inside the house ALL DAY and not need to go for a walk! If I were to do that, I would 99.9% be likely to skimp on food, or ensure that I did extra movement the next day to make up for it (cue eating disorder alarm!!!).
I tricked myself into believing that I really did just want to go for a walk because the weather outside was gloriously sunny, or that my 7:30am stroll helped me to get ‘fired up’ for the day. In reality, I did it because I knew, if I didn’t, there would be a shed load of guilt to endure. Eating food would seem like a double challenge - something I hadn’t earned, or would gain a shi* ton of weight for.
I’d never heard anyone talk about the more secret forms of exercise that anorexia could sneak into a sufferers life, but deep down, I knew that the two were somehow linked in my own life. For example, there were many times where I’d walk out with three coats on, an umbrella and a hat whilst it was pouring down with rain in the dark mornings and evenings despite the inevitability of getting drenched to my knickers.
Yep, I was that crazy per..son walking around looking like a weirdo without a dog in the most severe and windy weather.
My poor dog who I took out with me probably knew that I was as mad as a hatter …. Even crazier still, my dog walks sometimes became ‘no dog’ walks, because I’d still go on the same or very rigidly planned out walking routes even when I didn’t have my dog with me or I feared he would get too wet and cold.
As you may be able to see, I was able to look out for the welfare of others, but not myself. Sometimes, I knew that I was putting myself in danger by walking out alone at night in dodgy areas, or that my walking routine prevented me from learning key parts of a workshop when I decided to sneak out at various points of the session …
On the outside, I may not have seemed different to anyone else, but eventually I knew that I wasn’t quite normal or healthy in my patterns of exercise. Eventually, some warning signs made me realise that I needed to do something about it.
One example is the times I have gone walking out in a horrific storm, regardless of the safety implications. Second, I stupidly decided to buy a step-o-meter “for my health” (whatever). That didn’t lead me to gaining any health, but instead led to me becoming even more obsessed my numbers and the amounts I needed to be walking each day.
Soon, 10,000 steps became a minimum amount, which gradually increased until I couldn’t spend a few minutes being still without the need to walk or move. It disrupted my life, learning opportunities and my ability to accept social invites because I feared we would be sat down far too long and wouldn’t be able to reach X amount of steps! Seriously, there are worse things in the World I could worry about, and I chose something ridiculously insignificant.
Although my walking at the present time isn’t at a severely disordered level ( I thankfully had the courage to throw my step-o-meter in the bin!), it in many ways is still disruptive. Its like a little ticking bomb in the back of my brain that could be triggered any moment.
I really wish that there will be days where I choose to have breakfast in bed, or get up much later than usual because I don’t need to do my morning walk. But unfortunately that is not the current case. Does my walking appear abnormal? Probably not to others living outside the realm of my messed up mind. But it does affect my ability to simply be present and enjoy the day without worrying about when and where I can fit in subtle forms of movement and exercise.
Is this something I would like to be free from? YES, YES AND YES. However, I know it will be a process, and not a quick fix because this is something I have been doing for years on auto-pilot. I am making a conscious effort to cut my walking down, but not only that, be able to make a genuine choice of when I’d like to walk compared to when anorexia would like to walk and how much.
If you can relate to this post in some way, then I hope that you will be able to see that your exercise behaviour is still something to tackle even if it doesn’t happen in the midst of gym bunnies or #FITSPO hashtags (although please do try to unfollow those accounts if you’re attached to any!).
Movement can be an issue no matter how much you walk or how you move. It can be an issue purely because there is guilt and fear attached to NOT doing it.
Even if you walk up the street once per day, but are doing it with the intention to burn off Calories, not feel guilty, or gain permission to eat, this is NOT HEALTHY. Most likely, it is very strongly linked to your eating disorder, just as it has been mine. It has just been playing its little game underneath the surface, making your problems so seemingly invisible that it becomes hard to ask for help.
For example, for several months, I didn’t want to speak about obsessive or compulsive movement because I didn’t want someone to tell me to stop. I thought my level of movement was genuinely for health reasons, and that I needed to do more rather than less (what a load of bull poo lies anorexia gives hey!).
But any way, I want you to know that you are not alone in your struggles with compulsive movement or walking. You don’t need to do a significantly large amount or a ridiculous number of steps per day before seeking help. Even if you’re barely walking 5000 steps, let alone, 10,000, there is still a cause for concern. Movement compulsions strengthen over time, and who knows how insidious and harmful to our physical, psychological and social lives it will be in he future?
It probably goes without saying that we are all deserving of help no matter how much we currently eat or what we weight. The same is true for movement too. So, if you are struggling, tell someone, or be more honest with yourself. I know it can be incredibly difficult, but in order to stop the compulsions, we also need to stop the walking or OCD- like movements completely. Its a little bit like experiencing withdrawal from an addiction to a substance, only in this case, the substance is a compulsion to move!
At the moment, I’m working on not having to do any structured walks AT ALL throughout the day, and instead simply just learning to take a stroll around the shops when it is completely necessary. My 5 dog walks have become 1, and I am still learning lots about why I need to move in the previously very ritualistic and obsessive ways I have done over the last decade or more (Yep, I definitely must be known as the crazy woman walker in my local neighbourhood).
Any piece of recovery is worth fighting for, because it will in some way allow you to reclaim more life back. Just like the eating component of recovery, we must make a commitment to tackling our movement compulsions no matter how anxiety provoking they may be.
Over time, I promise that the anxiety will reduce. We don’t have to give up exercise or walking or movement forever, but right now, no matter what you weigh or how much you do, we need to stop, listen and DON’T go…. Yes, even if that means sitting on your bottom for hours colouring in rather than walking out on a sunny day!
Its bloody hard to do, but worth it for the freedom in the long run. Never having to worry about getting soaked in the rain during icy weather just so I can get my walking fix.
Its a journey, but its one where we will learn so much about ourselves and eventually find out ways we can better cope with life in ways that are self-compassionate and relaxing rather than self-sabotaging and hurtful.
Let this be your permission to be honest with yourself, and make a commitment to better understand your movement habits, ask for help, and conquer this issue regardless of how ‘well’ your body appears. You are 110% worth it.
There was Once upon a Time, and there will be Another Time.
There once was a time where I could allow myself to be happy and nourish myself well without a second thought or a tinge of remorse.
A Time when I actively sought out ways to nurture myself rather than seek ways to restrict, punish, regiment, control, count, and self-sabotage.
As I spend time weighing out my plain porridge oats and almond milk, I think fondly of a time when I didn’t worry about control and how what I place in my mouth will influence subsequent feelings of guilt, negative self-comparison and dwindling self worth.
Instead of the sad bowl of oaty gloop staring back at me, there were once school mornings spent preparing sugary cereal or toasted waffles while happily watching programmes aimed at children atleast 4 years younger than I ….
This was likely followed by a gallon or so of milky tea and 1(or maybe two!) chocolate milky way bars when on the run to school !
Instead of analysing numbers on the packet of an overpriced superfood snack bar,I would happily enjoy the velvety centre of full sized Galaxy ripple, the delicate velvety insides of a bakery fresh custard tart, the gooey centre of a double baked chocolate brownie, or a double helping of of sugary sweetness from my local pic and mix store.
Joy wasn’t something to be calculated or restricted, and food wasn’t ever a symbol of my worth. It was always to be worthy of. I’d be the last person in the world to ever turn down the offer of tea and chocolate biscuits - no matter the time of day or when I had last eaten.
Over a decade on, I long for the days where time wasn’t wasted on ‘ifs’, ‘buts’, ‘shoulds’ and ‘can’ts’ around every single meal. I eat enough …. To get by … to fight another day …. To make it seem I’m just about OK. That will do for now …
But I nostalgically long for the times when I wouldn’t dare say no to a second helping of chippy chips, an extra sized bucket of butterkist cinema popcorn, or a stuffed crust pizza with extra EXTRA cheese…. (not the gluten free cauliflower based ones flaunted on Instagram!).
Food choices boiled down to what would satisfy me most, even if it meant curtailing my side portion of broccoli and peas to make way for the 9 digestive biscuits I would sneak down from the secret top cupboard when no one was looking. My anxiety was purely related to the prospect of getting caught - never the ‘rights’ or ‘wrongs’ of what I did or didn’t eat.
Believe it or not, there was a time when my mind wasn’t a Calorie Calculator. I didn’t even know the word that defined the amount of energy in food, let alone have my whole personal encyclopaedia! The only counting I ever did was proudly remember the number of pizza slices I’d successfully eaten at a Pizza Hut buffet.
It was once a fun challenge to try an eat more than my friends, whereas now any such task would feel akin to being doomed into oblivion. As opposed to my most recent memories of battling parents over not eating enough, I would gladly fight my brother over the last Cadbury fudge bar in the sweet drawer…
Although I still love my cups of tea, the difference is that now mine comes without the added handful of custard creams, let alone the hearty slice of jammy Victoria sponge or the luxuriously buttered fruit scone I would always order in my favourite cafe. Tea was only ever doused with creamy milk … not watery almond juice that taste like someone just squeezed a cherry Bakewell tart through their behind ….
The funny thing is, I know that food is not to be feared, counted, controlled or judged in relation to my worth. And yet, I still automatically do it. Instead of choosing what I’d really like for dinner, my auto pilot is to opt for the ‘healthiest’ ‘wholemeal’ of everything on the menu, and pretending that I’m satisfied after a dessert of fruit, yogurt or sometimes neither.
As I watch my friends and loved one’s happily order whatever they want off the menu, I feel paralysed with fear rather than joy and excitement. Eating out feels like a chore rather than the fun occasion it once was … it feels strange that I ever looked forward to dining out of my own home. At the same time, its part of what keeps me inspired to recover.
Watching the smiles and laughter of others around food reminds me of a time when I could gladly do the same - when life was much more light hearted and made for memory making. It inspires me to strive for caring about myself more, and not allowing life to be squandered away by micro managing my energy intake and the quality of what I eat and when. I hope a time will come where I can fondly walk along a beach with greasy but gorgeous chips.
There will be a time when I can walk around the local park AND order a mr whippy ice cream, no skimping on the flake or raspberry sauce. There will be a time when I can wander a European city early in the morning in hope of finding the bakery that sells life changing pastry that melts in my mouth.
There will be a time where my boyfriend can make breakfast for me in bed without my beady eye or health conscious demands. There will be a time when I can carve out a whole Sunday afternoon to bake fairy cakes with my children and eat them together.
There will be a time when I go to the cinema and order myself a box of popcorn to myself, aside from the pieces I throw at the noisy people sitting in front of me.
There will be a time when I eat a full slice of cake on my birthday, or any other day for that matter. There will be a time when food on a menu is picked for how fulfilling it will be rather than what nutrient quota it lives up to.
There will be a time when I grab myself a handful of chocolate shortbread biscuits to dunk in my tea. There will be a time when my life savings are spent on experiencing life rather than buying expensive snack bars…
There will be a time when I look out at a foreign sunset, enjoying local dishes with a loved one.
There will be a time where I go to sleep not counting Calories, but instead feeling grateful for my life and my body without judging them.
There will be a time when I make peace with food and myself in a way where I can nourish rather deprive the soul that longs to be loved again.
There will be a time when I can just live as me - not a Calorie Counter.
There will be a time when I look back at all of this, and instead of thinking of all the years wasted to anorexia, I will think that the struggle that made me this strong was worth the life I fully lead.
There was once upon a time, and there will be another time. This is the fairytale that spurs me onwards and forwards.
As you set out upon the endurance testing road of recovery, you may begin to notice that not all is what is seems.
Or, more interestingly, you are not what you have seemed.
Of course these vague questions could mean anything, but I’m specifically referring to what it feels like to be living with an identity that has been moulded out of mental illness rather than the real you underneath.
Beyond the eating disorder, there may be a person who is at odds with the one you live with day to day - the one that feels at the mercy of every command an eating disorder that has manipulated you at the expense of your own wellbeing and authentic identity.
Perhaps, with your eating disorder taking charge, you not only developed restrictions and conditions around food and exercise, but you also became someone who enveloped themselves into identities or ways of living that allowed you to gain some sense of success, approval and meaning in the world.
This may have meant striving to become:
The best at schoolThe perfect ‘good girl’The healthy nutrition guruThe ethical vegetarian or planet saverThe successful employeeThe person who is well-controlled and organisedThe individual who has a multitude of talents
You may have also aspired to become someone who has accumulated extensive knowledge of the world and academic topics at the expense of connecting with friends or their inner childhood longing to play and have fun…
For a large part of your life, these goals, identities and ways of living may have felt very real and necessary, but as you begin to recover, you may also feel that something isn’t quite right.
More simply put, you may find that the dreams and ambitions that you were chasing, were somewhat artificially created - as though you have been living with exceptionally realistic bionic arms and legs rather than the ones you were born with.
Even though your exterior and interior identity may have looked and felt exceptionally realistic at the time, during recovery you may begin to notice them for what they really are - part of the nightmare that is an eating disorder or the threads of anxiety and depression that were strongly threaded in the fabric of your every waking hour.
This isn’t to say that every part of your identity isn’t real. You may indeed naturally be a very academically motivated person with a structured schedule and a dedicated heart for saving the planet. However, we must ask ourselves truthfully, is there another part of ourselves trapped helplessly beneath those layers?
For myself, when I dug a bit deeper and deeper, I discovered a very startling truth…
For years and years, I had spent dedicating myself to the pursuit of becoming an extensively qualified academic. In the spare time I had left away from studying my eyeballs out, I would pack my life with volunteering, excessively walking to keep 'fit', researching healthy foods, and deciding to become a life long vegan (for what I saw at the time was purely for ethical reasons).
However, when I truly dedicated myself to the cause of my own recovery, I noticed that the goals and identities I had surrounded myself with, were merely a big distraction and disguise. In a sense, they masked the deep sense of worthlessness I felt inside.
If you’ve ever had an eating disorder or any other mental illness, you may also be familiar with a looming sense of lack - as though if you don’t amount to anything society deems as successful, you will be at the mercy of your own inner demons that await to eat away at you without mercy.
When I began to take recovery to the next level, and eventually become a ‘healthy’ weight again that was safe for my own unique body, I realised that I wasn’t truly fulfilled by the hobbies and academic interests I was used to pursing. Despite venturing out of university with A stars and going on to a well payed job, I felt very unfulfilled. I just knew I wasn’t me anymore... not the real one anyway.
Even though it had been over a decade since I had fell ill, I was reminded that, deep down, something longed for me to be more creative, explore, have fun, and connect with the inner child that I had beaten up and neglected for far to long.
These experiences were nothing less than TERRIFYING. What would it mean to abandon the hopes and dreams I’d worked so hard to achieve, and let go of the identities that had defined me for so so long? I couldn’t rub everything out and start with a blank canvas again!?
The mere thought that I wasn’t the things I had worked so hard for felt as though I really was an out of control worthless person. A fraud who couldn't survive with an eating disorder that couldn't survive in the world without the 'super human' abilities I thought it provided me with. Perhaps I couldn't function or be motivated without it?
In reality, the truth was simply that I needed to go on my own journey to re-discovery. I didn’t necessarily need to erase everything I’d achieved, but to learn the art of relinquishing attachment to those things and learning to live outside the eating disorder world.
We may have accumulated many years of education, awards, talent and ways of thinking about the world. But, we can also hold a much softer grip on these things. If you have created a world out of healthy living or a particular career, this doesn’t have to be your forever. What we have created up until this point, is merely part of the journey. We can always choose to let go, and find something else that aligns with a new way of thinking.
Sometimes in recovery we are awakened to ways of living and thinking that we didn’t know existed. These may include body positivity, choosing a career that isn’t dictated by our current qualifications, taking up a new creative interest or hobby, and even travelling further than you ever have before in your own country or the world.
If you too are at a stage of recovery where you don’t know who you are, or you are simply questioning the identities and responsibilities you have taken on whilst being in the grips of your eating disorder, know that you are not alone and that it is not too late to change your direction in life. It may feel like life will spiral out of control in the process, but often the opposite will more likely happen as you regain the ability to reconnect with yourself in a more compassionate way.
If your previous career interests now feel unsatisfying, then it is completely ok to change direction or take up a new form of study and work life altogether. You may not have the accolades or pay check you always dreamed of, but at the end of the day, what is it that truly makes you happy? Is it following the rituals, controls and expectations governed by the life of mental illness? Or, more beneficially, is it guided by your authentic moral compass to become someone who is passionate about the way you live life and are kind to yourself and others?
In the depths of an eating disorder, it can be so hard to see past the sky scraper high number of rituals and expectations that suffocate each day. Thats why in recovery, when having more room to take a breath, we can recuperate the energy to break down the structures that have kept us blind to ourselves for so long.
Yes, the journey of breaking free from previous expectations and goals and identities may feel terrifying. It’s the fear of walking the unknown path, where the echo of an eating disorder voice may have more reason to lure us back into the safety of restriction and control. However, I would argue that it is ESSENTIAL to walk the path of truth. Even if you can’t see it yet, there is always room to see past the illusion of the world we have been creating.
We can always ask ourselves:
Is this me?Is this the person I want to be?Is this what brings me true happiness?
If the answer is no, then we must find the courage to walk away, or find ways to connect with the truth of who we are.
There is no obligation to know this yet, but it may simply start with the step of finding a new interest or hobby that doesn’t coincide with being seen as a ‘good’, successful, or well controlled and knowledgeable person. It may involve finding local art class, attending a book club, or researching an intriguing topic that isn’t related to healthy eating or exercise.
There are so so many possibilities, and the world is a big BIG place. Its too huge to warrant staying firmly attached to belief systems and ways of living that may be preventing you from living fully and fulfilled.
Know that you are more than a grade on a piece of paper, your job title, your weight, your diet, your number of professional accolades. Underneath those layers of societally governed ideals, there is a whole other part of your personality waiting to be unmasked!
It may not be the controlled, well organised person you expected, but accepting this is a vital part in breaking away from a disorder that thrives on keeping you playing small in the world. With a bit of courage to see past the facade, we can embrace a whole new world that gives us meaning and joy - without necessarily requiring the qualifications and stamps of approval from others we used to rely on.
On a final note, know that you have worth just by being you. Even if from today, you never worked again or fulfilled a certain criteria, just by existing you are working to create the world as it is now and will be in the future.
My advice from here is to gradually unmask yourself in order to become the person who wants to create a kinder world - for yourself firstly, and for others when you’ve learned to be the person who lives from the truth of your own heart. I have faith that with time and courage, we can all find that.
Whether you are recovered from an eating disorder/disordered eating or are still enduring the battle for freedom, you may have experienced times where you have felt lost and unknowing where to turn next. Maybe you have found yourself at a point where you can’t fathom why or how you got to your current point in recovery, and whether or not it is worth continuing the journey. Maybe you have lost the original reason for the fight, or experience the idea that life would be so much easier and ‘safe’ if it took place in a smaller body again, while using food as coping tool to numb out pain and negative emotions.
This might be especially so if you now view yourself as physically healthy/healthier than before, or medical professionals, family and friends frequently comment on how ‘well’ you look… Meanwhile, despite the ongoing daily struggles in your mind, something starts to tell you that you are ok … there is no need to keep moving forward… that you are fine just as you are, or might even be better off if you just started to eat ‘healthier’, lost a bit of weight, restricted food a little more to maintain the weight you currently are.
Instead of hearing alarm bells, what we may hear is a soothing voice that lures us back into the safe and familiar clasp of disordered eating and/or exercising in an obsessive way. It may not look or feel like it, but we can often forget that the eating disorder voice takes many different forms and can easily pounce on us during times of vulnerability. And we all experience those times. No matter how far into recovery you are, or what weight / physical state you are. Sometimes life literally gets in the way, or you might have days where you feel hopeless or as though certain life/goal pursuits have been a waste of time.
But lets hang fire for a second. Despite feeling this way, in absolutely no way shape or form will returning back to an old pattern of disordered eating heal what is really going on. Instead of remembering all the tears, heart ache and piles of S*** that living restrictedly and/or in a smaller body created, instead out mind prefers to remember the limited high points - the times when we were able to feel numb with hunger, or slightly superior in life because of our heightened sense of perfectionism, innate desire to overwork ourselves into success, and the privilege that society still provides to individuals living in slim bodies…
However, just because you currently feel worthless and/or negatively self-compare yourself to others, doesn’t mean that the answer to those problems lies in restriction and self-punishment. Part of the battle requires us to stand up strong, firm and confident in upholding our recovery values, and why its vital that we don’t embark down the same or similar path that created an eating disorder in the first place! At times like these, we need to remember and uphold our recovery values, including how we want our relationship with food to look and feel like. This way, when that dark voice inside decides to bombard us with its self-advertisement campaigns, we can hold our hands up with the truth in our hearts. For example, is that plant based diet or deciding to cut out a food group really going to make you feel ‘better’ about yourself? Doesn’t that clash with your values of being able to eat unrestrictedly and until full contentment in mind, body and soul?
To give you a better idea about what recovery values look like and how they may be used, I will share the top 10 of my own. I used to use these values whenever I felt less than worthy, or triggered by the latest food trend promising social acceptance and lovability if I followed supposedly simple plans, rigid instructions and restrictions…. No matter how pretty and successful the face or Instagram feeds of those campaigns and businesses owners might appear.
Here is my own list of recovery values that allow me to recognise whether that voice inside is me talking, or something a little more sinister with an intention for sabotage:
1) I choose recovery / chose to recover because my life is always meaningful - no matter how slim, self-controlled or successful I appear on the surface. I have the full right to enjoy my life without restriction and conditional love for myself
2) I always make time to stop, listen to myself, and engage in self-care and creative activities that I genuinely love - not out of obligation or because they make me feel worthy and productive
3) I NEVER buy into diet fads, food rules, or regimented eating trends, no matter how glamorised the lifestyle may appear or what health benefits are vocalised by others
4) I choose to move my body intuitively and for fun and enjoyment only - never because I want to burn off Calories, alter my body shape, reach a certain number of steps, or feel like I need to exercise in order to have achieved something.
5) I always make a conscious effort to make food choices that are underpinned by a sense of compassion. The compassion to eat what I will enjoy, and what will best nourish and satisfy my mind, body and soul.
6) It is not my aim to restrict food because I wan’t to lose weight, compensate for something I have enjoyed, meet a certain ideal expectation, follow the rules of a food-orientated lifestyle, or feel like I am a worthy and deserving person.
7) I allow myself to eat an abundance of different food types, and look for new things to try rather than what I can remove from my diet. I also don’t restrict food items because I see them as imperfect, ‘unclean’, lacking in nutrition or ‘unhealthy’. I ultimately aim for balance and not control.
8) I have my own body, with its own unique needs. No one else’s way of living, eating or their physical body can compare or be a basis for judgement and negative self-comparison
9) I give myself full permission to eat whenever, wherever and whatever I want without time restrictions, guilt or the need to compensate.
10) I aim to eat meals and snacks that are often made with fruits and vegetables and ethically sourced. However, this is not my prime focus of food, and I will not fall into the trap of only eating plant-based foods or ‘nutritious’ foods because they make me feel like a ‘good’ person. Eating healthy is a way to nourish my mind and body. Healthy eating is not a source of self-esteem, or a way of meeting the expectations of others/society.
11) I allow myself the time and resources to buy the foods I love, and the permission to thoroughly enjoy food experiences while making positive social connections and new memories.
12) I aim to choose food and self-care behaviours that are in line with what my heart and intuition says - not a Calorie count, nutrition label or a celebrity/influencer. I am my own person, and both me and my body know best.
If you can create your own list, you can even carry it around with you to whip out when you most need it. Even if your values are not in a physical form as yet, it can still be hugely useful to have a memorable set of values to hand that you can use to check whether your urge for halting your recovery or turning back to any form of restriction is you speaking, or something else…
When you find the answer, this allows you to find a way of looking back into the depths of your heart, and acting compassionately in a way that serves your ability to become your best self. Yes, recovery can and will likely be a messy task with times where you feel like running back into the dark. Just don’t forget, you are here for a reason on this planet, and no eating disorder/disordered eating deserves to take the right to live fully and away from you. You are enough right now, and no amount of slimness, healthy eating or restriction will heal the part of you that longs to be loved unconditionally.
Theres not much more that I enjoy than being able to sit down in a cosy chair with a cup of tea while dunking in a hefty chocolate chip cookie in it (sorry to people who think that would be offensively sabotaging tea!).
But its not just any cookie that I’m dunking - I’m talking about the ones where a caramel-like crisp outer layer encases a melt in the mouth gooey centre. I’m also talking about the cookies where you don’t have to read the back of a packet to calculate the Calories (that doesn’t matter in the slightest).
If theres on vital component of recovery, it being able to enjoy the small moments of life, even the simplicity of baking your favourite cookies, licking the mixture out of the bowl, and feeling free to nibble them whenever and in whatever quantity you want. Cookies never need to be associated with guilt, being unhealthy or gluttony.
In fact, I truly believe that the art of simple baking and enjoying the product (filled with REAL SUGAR minus any unnecessary ‘healthy’ substitutes like buckwheat flour, quinoa and whatever other poo tasting ingredient you can think of).
Also, we can sod off the hefty price tag of those ‘healthier’ alternatives, but really, who wants a batch of cookies to cost the amount of a deposit on your mortgage!
Thats exactly what these cookies were made for - allowing your recovery the room to experience enjoyment, satisfaction, comfort and the non-pompous ways of baking. Lets be honest, its the simplest and cheapest of recipes that sound best (good bye coconut sugar, coconut oil and expensive gluten free powders!!!)
To make THE BEST CHEWY GOOEY COOKIES you’ll ever taste, you can follow the simple recipe below for times when you feel you’d like a truly compassion-centred snack that doesn’t conform to societal health standards! The ones below are oatmeal, chocolate and raisin cookies, but you can substitute the addition of chocolate and raisins for the same amount of any other tasty nibbles. These might include fudge pieces, peanut butter, chopped nuts, cranberries, Maltese’s or just about anything you can think of).
To make a hearty batch of 12 cookies, you will need the following:
In bowl 1:
125g of rolled oats
105g of plain flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of cinnamon or mixed spice (optional, but it gives a little depth of warmth to the cookies)
In bowl 2:
85g of brown sugar
105g of white sugar (using both kinds of sugar allows the gooey melt in the middle centre and crispy outside to magically happen!)
115g of butter (or dairy free if you have an allergy)
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
In bowl 3:
50g of raisins
50g of chopped milk, dark or white chocolate (can be chocolate drops).
Feel free to also add your own additions equating to around 100g
Heat oven to 180 celcius, and prepare 2 rectangle baking trays by lining with parchment paper, foil or a thin layer of butter/spread
Portion out all of bowl 1, and mix together before setting to one side
In bowl 2, add the sugar, followed by the butter. Then cream together with a fork or whisk until well combined and creamy.
Add the egg and vanilla extract to the creamy mix, and combine well until a creamy consistency is formed again
Add bowl 1 gradually to bowl 2, and gently fold in until well combined. Once completed, you can then fold in the raising and chocolate chips (or other chosen ingredients)
Once everything is mixed well together, you can spoon on a heaped tablespoon of the mixture onto the baking trays. Try to ensure there are is at least an inch or two between each cookie to allow them to expand (unless you would like a huge cookie in the shape of the tray…)
Lick the remaining mixture from the bowl with spoon (preferably your fingers)
Bake in the preheated oven for 9-10 minutes
Once baked, take out the cookies and wait 5 minutes to cool before removing from the tray
Hallelujah, you have some of the best gooey-liscious cookies you will even lay your eyes on.
Grab yourself a cosy cup of tea, sit in your favourite cosy seat (or in bed), and dunk your cookie lovingly into the liquid. Place the cookie in your mouth, and savour its warming heart-melting flavour, while remembering that you always deserve to eat and enjoy things that taste this good!
If you feel any fear around these cookies, bat it away with the understanding and compassion that you deserve to enjoy the simple and delicious things in life. You are always worth cookies - and especially the ones that go non-calorie counted and fully enjoyed with a steamy cup of tea or even a coffee, hot chocolate or favourite hot beverage. You won’t regret it!
For most individuals, the promise of sun, sea, sand, an adventurous road trip, or a flight to a faraway lands sends them into a flurry of excitement. Likewise, the prospect of going on holiday makes the majority shimmer with a golden glow before they’ve even had a chance to nestle themselves into a sun-adorned deck chair.
However, if you have ever been ‘fortunate’ enough to have endured an eating disorder or any form of unhealthy relationship with food and body, any excitement may be overshadowed by a soggy tsunami of fear, anxiety and over-thinking. Where most people usually travel with another person for yourself you may face taking along an additional and unwanted member of the party - your life meddling eating disorder.
Instead of looking forward to relaxing, trying new foods, or creating new memories, you might be ruminating about how on bloody earth you are going to be able to manage your recovery, navigate a whole new food environment, fit in suitable meals and snacks around a hectic schedule, and consume unknown Calorie items - all the while being surrounded by overwhelming and limitless opportunities to eat around other people.
Aside from any language differences, perhaps the strangest foreign thing you have to encounter is the numerous non-controlled food items, situations that involve exposing your body, bamboozling time differences, and adjusting to routines that don’t follow the orderly schedule that you’re so used to rigidly following back at home…
If this sounds a little bit like you, then don’t despair. After my own fair share of holidays from hell (also due to the pitfalls of struggling with an eating disorder abroad) I’m here to share my top 10 tips on how to stick with your recovery mission as well as even levelling up your recovery while travelling. Yep, that means embracing the opportunity to create new positive memories and level up your recovery, while saying a fond fork full farewell to the prospect of carrying a ton load of meal replacements and ‘safe’ snacks. Believe me when I say, from personal experience, that paying for an extra suit case filled with meal replacement drinks and ‘healthy’ snacks is NOT a good idea!
Whether you are about to venture to another country, embark on a road trip, or even stay in a different city for a few days, the following tips can help you to ensure that you are able to stay on track with your recovery goals rather than be triggered to submit back into the deceitful arms of your eating disorder.
1) Tell someone about your struggles and get them on board with supporting you during the trip
Whether you go away with a partner, friend or a group of family members, it can be a great help to the holiday to have someone who understands your circumstances. Sharing details of your situation and plans for recovery can enable individuals to look out for you when you most need it, and also be aware of still ensuring to make time for meals, snacks and regular breaks. They can also assist in keeping you accountable with your recovery goals, while ensuring that you refrain from jeopardising your wellbeing through over walking, obsessively exercising, not keeping hydrated or skipping meals.
Even if support doesn’t come in the physical form of someone sitting with you for meals or helping you to make decisions around food, having someone around (or even someone you can contact by phone) who you can openly talk to about how you’re feeling can be a great stress and anxiety reliever that aids rather than sabotages your recovery .
2) Reduce as much anxiety around the trip as possible
If there’s one thing that heightens the urge to engage in restrictive eating disorder related behaviours its anxiety. Unfortunately, despite how fun holidays can be, the planning, travelling and decision making involved can lead even the most calmest of individuals to fly off handle. If you know that you too tend to feel an urge to restrict when feeling anxious, especially when travelling, try to reduce this by ensuing that you are well organised for your trip. This can simply involve making sure you pack your suitcase a couple of days beforehand, arriving to the airport 2-3 hours before boarding, and making a list of this things you need to take with you. Some airports also have several cafes and waiting areas that are more relaxing to sit in than the hustle and bustle near the entrance to terminals!
Of course such planning might make you feel tempted to become rigid around exactly what and where you are going to eat, but instead aim to plan a rough guide to your holiday that helps you feel more relaxed rather than obligated to tick 101 things off a rigid to do list. Another thing to take to help reduce anxiety is a roll on form of essential oil blend, such as lavender, rose or neroli. Whether these types of oils work biologically, psychologically, or both, having something soothing to smell can help with feeling more relaxed and activating parts of the brain in a way that helps you to feel calmer (just make sure you pack it in a clear plastic bag if travelling by plane!)
3) Always carry fluid a few energy dense snacks around with you in your bag / carry on luggage and whilst on trips out
While away, it is unlikely that you will always be able to follow an exact time routine around meals and snacks. While this makes holidays a great opportunity to kick rigid habits in the head, its also important to ensure that you still have some food available on you at all/most of the time. Sometimes you never know whether you’re going to get stuck out on a trip, lodged in a long queue, stuck in a traffic jam, or feeling exhausted after a lot of walking in temperatures you are not used to. If you are walking a lot, you might also benefit from having a few additional snacks (scary as it sounds, but can be hugely important).
This might simply be in the form of your favourite snack/energy bars, or some sweets. Chocolate is also a great option, unless you are going somewhere hot, and like me end up experiencing a messy bag full of molten cocoa ! You can also bring an empty refillable bottle that you can regularly top up with water, juice tea or any other fluid. Personally, I additionally carry a mini concentrated squeezy juice bottle that acts as a flavouring to water (making it much easier to drink if water tastes different to where you are used to). Just make sure to always obtain water from sources that you know are thoroughly clean to avoid infection.
4) Find out the types of restaurants and snack/cafe locations where you are visiting, and gauge an idea of the things that are on offer
Ok, so this piece of advice might seem a little controversial, especially if part of your trip is about challenging yourself to eat spontaneously and not spend most of your time menu checking or planning exactly where and when you will be eating. However, rather than being overly rigid or fully spontaneous, you might prefer to find some middle ground. That middle ground can involve being aware of the types of foods and places you will have access to, so rather than menu checking and trying to plan out exactly what you can and can’t eat, you can simply prepare yourself ahead of time to accept what challenges might be placed in front of you. For example, you might feel reassured that there are several pizza restaurants and cafes near where you are staying, and that there are plenty of things off of their menus to choose from.
If you have any dietary requirements due to an allergy, or are vegetarian, there is also the option of ringing where you are staying to see if they have any suitable options for you, or encouraging them to prepare for your arrival by stocking up on suitable ingredients. You could even set yourself some food-related challenges beforehand if you know that you are more than likely to be visiting a certain type or restaurant / cafe.
5) Take distraction activities and techniques
This tip coincides with tip number 2. Whether you are experiencing anxiety over travelling or what you are eating and how much/little you are exercising, distraction activities can be a haven away from self-destructive thoughts and urges to engage in restrictive behaviours. For example, you may wish to take along a few books to read, colouring activities, puzzles and magazines. You can also download some music, podcasts or similar forms of entertainment to your phone / digital device. I also love to travel with a notepad, so that I can record some of my thoughts and experiences, as well as jot down any new ideas for upcoming blogs and creative pursuits.
Having something to hand is a more reliable way of switching off from negative thoughts and feelings much, rather than relying on activities that may or may not be available in your location of travel or even on the plane. Speaking of which, if you are flying, taking along a pair of your own headphones (preferably noise cancelling) as well as an eyemask, blanket scarf and pillow can really help you to set yourself in chill out mode. I also love to take along some mini skin care products for the plane journey (e.g. facial wipes, toner and some moisturiser) so that I can distract myself and use some time up by pampering myself with a comforting skin care routine.
6) Say yes to showing your body rather than covering up
If travelling somewhere sunny and warm, theres a strong chance that there will be some expectations to go swimming, lounge in some swim wear, or at least wear less clothing than you may be used to. As someone who may have a long list of insecurities around their body, the idea of any of these things might bring a wave of panic. In these situations, its helpful to take a step back and think of what you’d really like to enjoy by going away. Do you really want to spend the day boiling hot or missing out on opportunities to have fun by the sea or with loved ones because of your body?
With your answer, you can start to think about how perhaps you can throw some caution to the wind, and set a new intention of learning to expose your body more without the usual negative judgement and fear of what others think. I’m 99.9% certain that most other people will be thinking of their own self-image rather than what your body looks like - matter whether you feel too slim, too big, or just generally ‘inadequate’. If exposing yourself still feels scary and off limits, you can still prepare yourself by packing more loose fitting clothes that can keep you cool, or take a step in the direction of wearing a little less clothing that you would normally (e.g. favouring a short sleeved rather than long sleeved baggy top, and shorts rather than jeans).
Even if you feel unable to step foot into swim wear at a pool, still ensure that you find time for activities that you genuinely enjoy. Don’t allow thoughts about your body to manipulate you into missing out on life and new opportunities. Sometimes we literally have to dive in at the deep end on holiday, even if it means stripping down into small shorts, crop tops and sleeveless garments.
7) Adjust to your new time zone without skipping meals
If you are travelling between time zones in a way that means being set back or forward several hours than your used to, adjusting to this may make you fearful around how it will affect your meal times. For example, if travelling somewhere that is 5 hours behind you and travelling on an early morning flight for 10 hours to get to your destination, you may be wondering whether or not to post pone breakfast and snacks, to the point where you only eat when most people in the new time zone would wake up for food. This might seem ok, but in the process of trying to achieve that, you may be going several hours without food, and end up feeling tempted to restrict more throughout the day or throughout the upcoming holiday.
To help with situations like these, you can alternatively choose to have several snacks to hand (equivalent to a full meal or more) that you can eat at regular intervals. Even if you arrive somewhere in the afternoon, but you would normally by that time be ready for bed, still try to eat something rather than walk around hungry for hours.
If you have travelled sitting down for a long time, there may also be some temptation to compensate by restricting and using the change of time zone as an excuse, but there is no excuse to not eat. I like to alternatively think that my body needs more energy during the time of travel, not only because its usually so tiring, but also because my body will probably be active and alert for longer than it normally would be if I was back home. Even if by the end of the day I eat over 3000 Calories, I have an “I don’t give a dam” attitude because I know whole heartedly that this will not matter one tiny bit in the grand scheme of my life. If anything, worrying about it would only tarnish the experience of travel, while confirming to your worried mind that restriction and control is important in order to maintain order and balance in your life.
8) Try to stick with still consuming 3 meals and 3 snacks per day, but throw specific times out the window!
Holidays are times for spontaneity and not feeling limited by structure. However, there is a fine balance to achieve if you are still in recovery and need to keep your energy levels stable. Regardless of your current weight, its also important not to skip meals - it would be like giving a bottle of wine to a recovering alcoholic. Even if you are moving time zones, you can adjust yourself by still consuming several snacks while you adjust, and then making time to become much more flexible around your usual eating routine.
For example, you may find that the new culture you are in involves eating a little earlier or later. You might also want to add in more snacks due to expending more energy walking and being exposed to extreme temperatures. Ultimately, the aim with this tip is to find a structure that works for you - a balance of continuing to eat regularly, while also allowing plenty of room to in between set times.
9) Challenge yourself to food items that represent the country / state / culture where you are travelling to
The holidays that are least memorable are usually the ones where we stick by our usual routines and don’t dare to try new things. This is especially the case since eating different foods are distinctly attached to the memories we are able to make. How sad it would be if we filled our holiday with eating the same safe snacks and types of meals - all the new experiences we had would more than likely melt into one confusing mess. When away on holiday, to avoid getting stuck in a rut and to also LEVEL UP your recovery game, you can make a commitment to challenge yourself to new foods.
Experiencing new places are much more exciting and fun when you try to immerse yourself as much as possible in their culture. This may mean cosying up in a cafe in France to sip on a gorgeous cappuccino alongside a freshly baked croissant, trying out an authentic pizza and pasta restaurant in Italy, or munching a pasty along the Cornish coast of England. The possibilities are literally endless. When you start living life to the fullest, holidays bring opportunities to create memories that fondly intertwine with pleasurable food experiences - Calories, rigid routines and ‘shoulds’ about what and what not to eat simply don’t appear in the equation.
If this sounds like something you would like to do more of, you can set yourself a challenge while away to eat as many culturally related fear foods as possible. For example, while soon traveling to Disney world, it is my mission to eat as many Micky shaped items and cinnamon flavoured sweet items as possible!
10) Make a plan to reward yourself for your efforts
Going away on holiday with an eating disorder can be a very challenging time, where your recovery orientated resources are really put to the test. Sometimes it may feel like a battle, but through the shear determination of pushing through and making a pledge to choose life over an eating disorder, you definitely deserve to commend yourself. To mark a new stage in your recovery and the challenges you accomplish, you can set aside some time to reward yourself for your efforts. This might involve purchasing a special charm for a charm bracelet, a souvenir from where you are staying, or just about anything that feels good to you.
Rewards also play a significant role in the recovery process, as they symbolise that you are worth treating and deserve to experience life in its most beautiful and enjoyable forms. Rewarding behaviours that fuel your life, rather than an eating disorder, is one huge step in the direction of beginning to reach your full potential as a human being and realising that you are ALWAYS worth love, joy and recovery.
Ultimately ..... any holiday or trip you experience is an opportunity to RECLAIM your life back and develop a healthier relationship with food and body. Don’t use the holiday as an opportunity to restrict, but instead as an opportunity to LEVEL UP your recovery!
Many individuals who have experienced an eating disorder, myself included, may have encountered the distressing situation of needing to gain weight. To onlookers, this seems like a sought after dream - food with no restrictions with endless supplies of chocolate, cakes, donuts and sweets in sight.
But for the person recovering, weight gain can feel such a scary prospect. The idea of eating more and looking different seems like jumping off a cliff with a bottomless pit. There is also the nerve wracking fear that gaining weight will prevent you from being ‘worthy’ of support, and also feeling like a ‘fraud’. Not to mention, breaking away from an identity that might have felt part of you for several months or years may feel like losing a best friend or relationship rather than the real enemy and abusive partner that any eating disorder usually is.
That being said, weight gain from restrictive eating disorders is usually an essential component of any treatment plan, but one that so many people struggle through with seemingly no end in sight.
Thoughts about guilt, shame, feeling fat and being gluttonous plague the mind that longs to be nourished again. It is not uncommon for individuals to set sights on simply gaining weight or being able to restore periods or optimal hormone function as the main symbol of recovery.
And, to tell the truth, those things are usually positive symbols of recovery. But, they are not the whole picture, and don’t always reflect the psychological healing that needs to take place in terms of nourishing the soul. also, you can attain a healthy weight, and yet parts of your body (e.g. vital organs) still require further nourishment.
There are also cases where you may need to exceed your expected healthy weight because that is your natural ‘set point’, or because your body needs to feel safe for a while before it regains its trust
One of the hardest parts also comes with continuing to eat, even though a healthy weight is nearly in sight or has already been achieved (according to clinical standards of BMI). Suddenly, food may appear an unnecessary evil :
"Why do I need to continue to eat if my body has already had ‘enough"
“I don’t need to put on any more weight, or I may become Overweight. Fat. Disgusting".
The last EVIL attempt of the eating disorder voices try to savage us once more - beckoning us into the ‘safety’ of its lethal grips...
But these thoughts are merely there to distract us from nourishing our soul in the way they crave. Weight gain and recovery is never just about the weight itself. In fact, its perfectly normal to be at a ‘healthy weight’ and continue to eat, yet still have an eating disorder due to the way you perceive and think about food.
Recovery and weight restoration is about rekindling a positive relationship with food, without guilt and shame, while also learning to eat in line with your psychological and social needs - not just the physical ones …
From my own personal experiences, in order for ‘real recovery’ to happen, I needed to see beyond the numbers on a scale, or even how my body felt as it gained weight. I had to look within - noticing how my thoughts around myself, food, body and life as a whole was transforming.
Instead of having a BMI goal, my aim became being able to see food in a way I had never saw before. To see food as being a positive element of living, that allowed me to connect with other people, memories, friends, family and new life experiences.
By doing this, I could see the greater meaning of food beyond its nutritional value, and also its impact on my weight. If anything, weight became more and more insignificant compared to the weight I placed on finally being able to live life to the full after so many years of restriction and mental torment.
It wasn’t an easy battle to get to the point where my relationship with food was about nourishment of the soul, but it was an incredible and strengthening journey. Even when reaching a healthy weight, I continued to eat because there were still challenges i needed to face - previous fear foods, meals out, spontaneity around food, eating out in different cultures, overcoming negative thoughts about eating even when full or not hungry. There are a long list of battles I had to face along the road, but boy were they worth all the effort!
This brings me to another key point. Even if you are currently at a ‘healthy weight’ or not severely underweight, by no means should this undermine your deservingness of getting support for an eating disorder. Eating disorders happen at all different weights, shapes and sizes, and just because you don’t fit a certain stereotype, doesn’t mean that you can’t reach out for help.
Everyone deserves to be able to develop life long positive relationships with food, and this means seeing recovery beyond numbers, weights and ideals.
The real routes to recovery arise when we look within ourselves, and use food to nourish our souls on many different levels. For that reason alone, it is 100% ok - essential even - to continue eating and challenging yourself well into the weight gain process, and even after you have gained a ‘healthy’ amount of weight.
Let recovery be defined by the nourishment of your soul, where re-feeding it with love and enjoyment around food is the essential nutrients and vitamins required.