Tag Archives: recovery

How do you choose what to eat?!

TW – Trigger Warning – this post contains discussion about food and anorexic thought processes and may be triggering to people to some people. Please exercise causing if you choose to continue reading.

Many of you will know, I recently fractured my jaw and this has led to a severely restricted diet as I had metal work holding my teeth tightly shut to pull my fragmented mandible into correct alignment. At best during the last 9 weeks I’ve been able to get a teaspoon into my mouth and manage smooth soup, at worst, it’s been smoothies and milkshakes through a straw. Unfortunately, this has led to weight loss and the restriction has triggered some familiar thoughts linked to previous experience of anorexia.

2 days ago, I was given fantastic news, I can now open my mouth fully and I’m able to chew food again! I’ll be having the metal work removed within a few weeks so the end of the ordeal is finally in sight!

The hospital has a Costa and I’d been dreaming of enjoying cake from there for weeks! But…standing in front of the array of cakes I simply could not decide, I realised, I had no idea how to choose! The part of my mind that was looking after my fractured jaw needed to choose something soft and easy to chew (rational wise-mind), the part of my mind controlled by anorexic urges was frantically trying to calculate the calories (automatically) but there was a part of me that simply wanted to choose something I liked!

I’d thought about trying to plan for this moment but I’d not wanted my hopes to be dashed. The recovery of my jaw had not been a smooth road so I thought it was best to protect myself and be prepared for not getting the all clear news.

So, how do I choose?!

I love carrot cake but this one had walnuts in it and I’d been advised to avoid nuts at first. I love chocolate cake but I’d been drinking a lot of chocolate milkshake so I wasn’t too enthusiastic about eating a chocolate cake right now. Some of the cakes looked a little hard for the first thing I was eating (pastry/tiffin/crunchie etc). As I gradually ruled out more and more cakes, the choices were reducing which was helpful…or was I making excuses to avoid calories? As I stood there with the waitress waiting for my order, the pressure was on, anxiety raising in my chest, every fibre in my body wanted to turn and run…

I wanted cake, but at the same time, I didn’t want cake if it was going to be this hard! I wanted to enjoy this experience but it was becoming too stressful!

As I’ve noticed a lapse in symptoms of anorexia, fortunately I’m able to catch myself and make a conscious decision not to go down that route – I really do not want to experience that dark hole ever again! But it’s reminded me of some of the difficulties I thought it would be interesting to write about them so people might understand what it’s like to try and recover from an eating disorder.

I, like most, had a dietitian support me to make changes as I tried to put on weight and break free from anorexia. I was advised to make changes such as increasing portion size and varying the foods I ate. So, for example, I was advised to add a sandwich to the fruit I was eating at lunchtime. Simple enough, right?! But, how do I choose which bread to buy If you’ve not eaten bread for years? Have you seen how many types of bread there are in a supermarket?! Up to this point I‘d chosen food based on calorie content, an anorexic mind then persuades its host that it’s its personal choice to want that specific brand. At my worst, I would visit multiple supermarkets for specific brands of specific foods, it didn’t feel like a choice, it was a compulsion.

Confused in the supermarket

So, trying to recover, standing in the bread aisle:

  • Do I go for the most eye-catching brightly coloured packaging? Sounds weird, but it’s a way of choosing!
  • Do I go for the “moral high ground” and choose organic?
  • Do I want large slices or small slices? Smaller, right? Oh no, hang on, that’s probably a disordered thought… But, why would I go for large slices?!
  • Do I like seeded or granary? Is wholemeal different from wholewheat? How will my gut respond to fibre?
  • Do you want a half loaf, just in case you don’t manage this challenge you don’t want to waste too much? Or should I assume success?
  • How about cost? Is more expensive bread nicer? Should I calculate cost per slice or per portion? I don’t want to get a taste for expensive bread, do I?

As soon as you start comparing breads, it’s all too easy to compare calorie content and bam, easy, decision made. Who’s going to bother going through the palaver of the above when it’s so much easier, simpler and far less anxiety provoking to just pick one up based on calorie content?!

And that was just bread for a sandwich, don’t get me started on the margarine/butter debate or sandwich fillings!!

It’s important to remember people trying to recover from other eating disorders may choose food based on, for example, how comfortable they are to binge/purge or how the food makes them feel when they eat it (emotional eating or eating to avoid boredom). Any eating disorder restricts your ability to choose food based on a) whether you like it and b) whether it has a helpful nutritional content for what you need.

It’s so hard to remember, when in this state, food has no moral value, no food is good or bad, food is fuel with nutritional value and should be consumed without guilt or shame. Recovery is hard when surrounded by modern diet culture that normalises, even endorses, unhealthy restrictive eating habits.

When you’ve been absorbed by an eating disorder, you lose touch of your likes and your dislikes – not only can you not remember them but you don’t think you ever had any, beyond preferring foods with a lower calorie content. “Seriously, I love cucumber and water for lunch, it’s just what I prefer!” Yeah, right!

Fortunately, my current situation has only been for a few weeks so I can remember the foods I like, I will be able to fall back into my healthy habits easily. When you’ve been surrounded by an eating disorder for a long time, many years for most, sometimes decades, the disordered habits can be so ingrained that it’s hard enough to even imagine things could be different and it can feel impossible to go through the process of change.

I’m here to say, change is possible, stepping out is hard but once you’re broken away from food rules and rituals, freedom tastes fantastic!

You are never “good” or “bad” when it comes to food. Food has no moral value. It’s just food.
Image of my tattoo

What does my tattoo mean?

I’ve finally done it! It may surprise some people but I’ve finally been inked and I have some permanent body art I absolutely love! For me, it’s been a long time coming. I thought long and hard and whether I wanted one at all and I considered very carefully the content and placement of said tattoo.

The cat

My pencil sketch

I’ve had cats as pets all my life. I don’t just love cats, they’ve been an integral part of my mental health recovery. When in a dark place, a cat does not judge you or treat you differently, they do not worry about what to say or how to treat you; if they want food or fuss, they pester you, they lead a simple life but I love their individual characters. At times when getting on with humans has been too difficult, I’ve always found comfort in the companionship of a cat.

Milly has taught me to be more laid back. Rosa taught me to be content with the small things. Figgy teaches me everyday that being an idiot is ok!

The cat in my tattoo represents the comfort and relief I find when in the presence of a cat. But from my position of comfort I can reach for…

The butterfly

A symbol of freedom. As a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis and dries out its wings, it’s undergone and incredible transformation and now has the freedom to fly. Mental health recovery is a fragile entity, not to be taken for granted. As a butterfly has the freedom to fly, it’s also vulnerable to the slightest insult.

Butterfly is also a symbol of hope, bravery and commitment.

The semi colon

The body of the butterfly is a semi colon and represents the idea that my story is not over. It was coined by the semi colon project to be shared by people who’ve been touched by suicide. I have attempted to take my life on a number of occasions but I live and my story goes on.

I’ve joined a community of people who believe we have a collective responsibility to prevent suicide by sharing information and resources. If I can have just one more conversation about suicide prevention, it;’s worth it. Hopefully, it’ll start many conversations!

Designed by me

Lots of my sketches

After looking at numerous pages of Google images and trawling Pinterest, I knew what I wanted, I hadn’t found the exact image, the best way to explain it was to draw it myself so that’s what I did! It took a lot of drafting, I’m no artist! But I got there eventually. The final design s a combination of the cat drawn by me, refined by the tattoo artist and the butterfly designed and drawn by the artist.

I think there’s beauty in the simplicity of the lines. I didn’t want it to be any specific cat or species of butterfly – what they represent is more important.

Placed on my back

To represent my perseverance to put my mental illness behind me.

While I’m glad to have serious episodes of mental illness behind me, I can’t say that about physical illness. I continue to have serious neck and back pain caused by arthritis in my spine and fibromyalgia. I feel like, by putting something pretty on the area that’s causing me grief, I’m doing something to counteract my feelings of annoyance and frustration.

Hidden by my clothes

Because I know there are people out there who judge: People with tattoos, people with scars, people with mental illness.

I did wonder about having it visible and laughing the face of judgment but I’d rather people get to know me and then they find out I don’t fit the stereotypes they’d expect. They way I can challenge their judgments they hold. I do, also, need to consider my professional life. It’s a shame that people make judgments and assume stereotypes but in my professional life, I’m in a position of trust and I need to put my clients first and consider how they feel – I don’t want them to be distracted by my tattoos.

Visible on occasion

While my tattoo is for me, I didn’t get it for anyone else, I not averse to positive feedback! I’ve chosen a position that I can choose whether or not I have it on show. I think it’s quite pretty and while there are people who’re against tattoos in general, I think if people see mine, on the whole, people will not be offended by mine, so I going to enjoy choosing clothing based on how low the back is!

My tattoo

Represents how I live my life – in an incredibly careful and considered way! Maybe I overthink things sometimes but then I’m able to step outside the box into the unexpected too!

“You’re so lucky!” Really?! Am I really?!

Teensy bit of a rant alert…!
If I happen to mention that I work part time, people, more often than not say “wow, you’re so lucky!” When I’m heading out of work early afternoon on a Thursday, wishing everyone a “good weekend”, people say “you’re so lucky” with a tinge of envy.
I must say, I’m incredibly fortunate that my husband and I are in a position where we can afford for me to bring in a part time wage but I’m not sure where luck comes into that. My husband has worked very hard to get a good job and he continues to work hard to bring home a comfortable wage.
I wonder if people forget that I only actually get paid for the work I do, it’s not like my company has said “yeah, we’ll keep paying you full time but you don’t have to come in every day”! I’m not on much above the hourly living wage for, what can be, a pretty full on job – and this is pro rata!
There are many reasons why I am part time, the one that benefits me the most is that I have time to look after my health. I have had serious mental health problems and currently suffer from arthritis and fibromyalgia so I live to constant severe pain and punishing fatigue. Working full time, I had limited time to look after my health, I need to make time for regular exercise/physio session and plenty of time out.
Lots of people can manage their chronic illnesses by taking a few pills – I do have a lot of pills to that but I also have to do regular exercise sessions, this take quite a bit of time out of my day and just like you’d never expect someone to miss a few days of their pills – nor can I miss a few days of my exercise regime.
When working full time, it was really hard to physically fit exercise sessions into my day, let alone feel motivated to do it because work was taking such a toll on my mind and my body. If I did manage to fit in a session, it was usually at the expense of a social engagement or other activity I would have liked to have done.
So, in order to properly look after my health, working part time is our current solution, if I continued full time, chances are, I was heading for a crisis and would have needed me to take time of work sick and when it comes to chronic illness, this may have led to me being off work permanently.
So, if “lucky” is, waking up with fewer spoons than other people, being in constant physical pain, struggling with brain fog and pervasive fatigue (but having to go to work anyway) and having to go to the gym 5 times a week to manage the symptoms of my chronic illness, then yeah, I guess I am, very lucky!