Ice-cream: The Final Frontier

I’ve been practising intuitive eating for a good two or three years now. I’ve discovered I’m not particularly a biscuit person, I’m not addicted to chocolate, stale crisps are not nice, mature cheeses are too strong, and I feel better in myself when I add in gentle nutrition.

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So why was I still struggling with ice-cream?

I couldn’t figure it out. I’d made peace with so many of my former binge foods, but I still struggled to recognise when I’d eaten enough ice-cream, and before I knew it, the whole tub was gone. I knew it was THE most significant one for me, the first I used to reach for, the most comforting, the one tied up in childhood memories. But I’d made peace with pretty much every other food I used to abuse myself all those decades. What was it about this particular one?

I began to despair that I would never be free. I would never feel safe. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t make peace with that amazing sweet, frozen, comforting tub of dairy?

Then, one day I realised.

I was still restricting it.

Not in the same way as all those other foods, but restriction all the same.

My freezer was always full. There was very little space. So I could only ever buy one small tub of ice-cream at a time. That would get eaten quickly, then there would be no ice-cream available until my next food shop a week or so later. The lack of space meant ice-cream was always a scarcity, and that scarcity meant a scarcity mindset, more cravings, and the potential for more binges.


And there was such an easy fix: make space. And that’s what I’ve done. I decluttered my freezer and ice-cream now has a permanent space in my freezer. And now I can finally start to make peace with it.

Making space. Making peace. They’re both so essential to recovery. Making space to grow, to feel, for everything other than constant thoughts about food. Making peace with yourself, the you who was entwined with the eating disorder, the one who lied. Making peace with the loss the eating disorder caused, the wasted time, energy, brainpower. Making peace with the physical damage caused, too.

And so I face this final frontier. Yet again, I find myself making space, and making peace, to recover from this illness which has taken so much.

Resolutions to aid Eating Disorder recovery

It’s that time of year again. Christmas is over and we’re being bomabarded with diet and fitness ads, “New Year, New You” slogans, and promises of increased health and happiness. So to counteract all that, here’s some suggestions for New Year resolutions which will actively support your mental health and aid your recovery. How do I know? I’ve done them all. Take a look and choose whichever one speaks to you to try in 2023.

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1/ Detox your Social Media feed

Social Media can support your mental health, it just depends how you use it. Unfollow everyone who makes you feel bad about yourself: no more fitspo, what I eat in a day or heavily photoshopped images. Replace them with accounts which make you smile, challenge diet culture and disordered eating, and expand your world.

2/ Start journalling

There’s no right or wrong way to journal. It can take any format you like: buy a pretty book with inspirational quotes, record voice notes, make mood boards, doodle or paint, try stream of consciousness writing, post on social media, start a blog, or write a good old fashioned diary. It’s a great way to release emotions, a form of mindfulness and creativity, and an excellent way to challenge the perfectionism that goes hand in hand with the eating disorder mindset.

3/ Smash those scales

I’ve been there, and I know that constant weighing only ever made me feel worse about myself. Even when I was losing weight, getting on those scales was just reinforcing my belief that a number, my size, was the most important thing about me. So when the numbers increased, I felt truly awful about myself.

If getting rid of the scales entirely seems too much, try cutting down to weighing once a week, the recommended amount in BED recovery, as a starting point.

4/ Be more mindful

I was rarely present when my eating disorder was in control. Letting things just be, with curiosity, was the opposite of that mentality of needing to control, atone for a past binge, or plan the next one. The brain power needed for those constant thoughts about food left so little space for being in the moment.

And that’s precisely why mindfulness can be so helpful. Short, structured exercises to help you get used to being present, noticing thoughts and feelings, can be a fantastic resource as recovery progresses. Mindfulness apps and courses are a great way to get started and learn different techniques.

5/ Be kinder to yourself

All that criticism you pile on yourself every day. All the shame and guilt. How’s that working for you? I’ll tell you what it did for me: it just made me feel worse and worse about myself, and fuelled increasing binges, further restriction, and more frequent purging.

How would you talk to a friend going through your situation? Why not try treating yourself with that same compassion? Hey, I get it. I didn’t feel worthy of it either to begin with. But the more compassion you show, the worthier the recipient feels, whether that’s your friend or yourself.

6/ Challenge your inner fatphobia

We’ve all been brought up to believe fat is bad and thin is good, and that belief can be a real barrier to recovery. As a starting point. try following a variety of fat creators on social media to help get used to seeing a range of different bodies. Then start reading about the history of the BMI and the diet industry. Be prepared: this one will probably bring up difficult emotions.

7/ Learn a new skill

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Have you always wanted to speak a foreign language? Learn to paint? Bake? Why not finally give it a go? Whether you enrol at your local community college or join an online forum, learning something new is one of the Five Ways to Wellbeing for a reason. It challenges the brain, increases self esteem, and can be a way of connecting with others. It’s also another way to challenge those perfectionist tendencies, because no-one is perfect at something they’re doing for the first time, but that doesn’t mean that trying can’t be fun.

8/ Give to others

Another of the Five Ways to Wellbeing, volunteering, giving or helping others in some way has been shown to be really beneficial for good mental health. It can be as simple as taking the time to pay someone a (non-appearance related) compliment or as involved as giving up a few hours a week to help a local charity. Either way, giving to others takes focus off yourself and your worries for a while, helps you connect with others, and just somehow feels good.

Thank you for reading and Happy New Year! Which resolution appeals to you most?

It’s been a year!

On 24th July, 2021, I wrote the post “I binged today. Here’s what I learned.”

At the time, it didn’t cross my mind that I’d go a whole year without a full-on, painful, BED-style binge.

Yet here we are, in August 2022, and I haven’t binged like that since. There were so many points where it could have, and previously would have happened, and yet somehow it hasn’t. And I’m not even sure why.

I’ve certainly come very close. I’ve planned binges, bought binge foods, then put them away. I’ve had days when I just wanted not to feel, to numb myself, but used other ways to cope. And I’ve had days when I’ve eaten past fullness, just to take the edge off.

I’ve had plenty of days when I’ve hated my body, wanted to shrink it, trade it in for one that works properly and doesn’t hurt. When I’ve blamed it when something went wrong. I spent every day at my parents’ home in oversized and black clothes because when I packed, I was taking my anxiety about travelling out on myself.

I’ve delayed eating until lunchtime, even dinnertime some days. I’ve eaten nothing but binge foods every meal for days at a time until my body has screamed for something green.

I’ve eaten mindlessly. I’ve gone for weeks at a time without moving my body. I’ve had days when I’ve eaten nothing at all thanks to migraine induced nausea, and days where I’ve done nothing but graze.

But what I haven’t done is fall into such a pit of self-loathing that my only response is to binge until my stomach is so bloated and painful I could cry.

Why am I telling you all this? Because recovery isn’t about being perfect. Aiming for perfection can contribute to an eating disorder in itself. No, recovery is messy. It’s one step at a time, then sometimes three back. It’s learning as you go along: learning from mistakes, as well as successes. And it can look different every single day.

You take each challenge, each new experience as it comes. Leaping into the unknown, sometimes curious, sometimes terrified, holding onto the knowledge that whatever you face it won’t be as bad as before, when you were in the depths of the disorder, unable to see a way out.

Then little by little, the good days start to outnumber the bad. You face challenges, and change, and upset, and disappointment, and don’t automatically default to those old eating disorder coping strategies: bingeing, purging or restriction.

And one day, seemingly from nowhere, you realise that the eating disorder is no longer in control. It’s not screaming anymore. It’s a whisper, sometimes so quiet you can barely hear it. Sometimes it’s not even there at all.

It’s been a year since I last binged. My eating disorder is no longer in control. I’m in recovery. And I couldn’t be more proud.

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It’s been a few weeks since I last wrote a post. I’d convinced myself that I’ve been too busy. And it’s true, a lot has happened since I visited my parents.

I’ve started a new job, which has meant a lot of new things to learn. I’ve started physiotherapy, and been diagnosed with fibromylagia. I was caught up in a rather nasty Twitter storm. I attended a real life Mental Health event after over 2 years of campaigning online and appeared on a podcast for the first time. I’ve met up with friends. And on top of all that, there are a couple of eating disorder projects I’m contributing to in the background.

It’s fair to say there’s been a lot going on.

But I always find the time to write when I really want to. So today I turned on my computer and asked myself why.

And the reason? I’ve been avoiding, of course. The amount of online shopping I’ve been doing should have told me that. Or the amount of mindless scrolling on social media. My new ways of numbing myself now that binges have taken a back seat.

The sheer amount that’s been going on means I’ve got a lot to process. A lot of emotions to feel. But just doing everything I’ve been doing with chronic pain and fatigue is exhausting in itself. And on top of that, I’ve been really tired of feeling so much.

I’ve made a few breakthroughs in the last few months, and that’s amazing. But I had feelings fatigue. I just needed a break, to avoid and feel numb until I have the emotional energy and resilience to start processing again.

The last couple of weekends, my body has forced me to have a break. My migraines have returned, enforcing bed rest and cancelled plans. I’m still waiting for the new medication the rheumatologist advised and hoping it helps with the fatigue and lack of energy. Until then, it was inevitable that my body would rebel against the new stresses it is under.

Because change is stressful. Even positive change. And I know I probably haven’t helped matters by refusing to face that.

I’ve been focusing on getting through, and riding the worst of the thoughts and feelings as best as I can when they come up. But avoiding the rest.

I will return to processing and healing soon, I know I will. I’ve come too far to give up now. But I’m tired, and I need an rest. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve pushed too hard and too fast before in my recovery and it never ended well.

So I’m allowing myself to take my time, and avoid if I need to, while I get used to all the positive changes I’ve made recently in my life.

If you’re feeling tired and in need of a break, too, know that it’s OK. It doesn’t mean you won’t ever get there. It just means that all journeys need breaks, stops along the way, so you can rest, recover, and make sure you’re still on the right path.

Never discount the power of rest and recuperation. It will give you the strength you need to continue on the road to recovery. And if the rest includes a little avoidance, then that’s OK, too.

Sunshine through the rain

I’ve been crying a lot lately. So much that I even caught myself crying on camera. But the shocking thing to me is not that I cried. It’s that I allowed the camera to keep rolling, then posted it online. I pushed myself so far out of my comfort zone that I showed my vulnerability, my emotions, to any stranger who cared to watch.

You see, there was a time when I went years without shedding a single tear. Throughout my teens until I was 21, I became extremely successful at blocking my emotions through bingeing, with a side of alcohol. So successful at burying all my pain that I ended up with my first episode of depression in my final year of university.

Even then, when I had learned that crying was a necessary evil, it was done in private and as little as possible. It was something I struggled to do, something I continued to avoid, something I swallowed down. Because crying was a weakness, a vulnerability. If I showed I was weak, that gave others power. And that was something I could never allow.

But over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed how often I’ve laughed. Over the tiniest things: social media posts, puns, something a friend said, even physical comedy, which I never found funny before. I’ve noticed how I have felt happiness, joy, as easily as sadness, anger, and pain.

Then I realised. In blocking out my sadness, negative emotions, and vulnerability, I’ve also blocked out happiness, positive emotions, and sensitivity. I didn’t allow myself to be sad, but doing that meant that I didn’t allow myself to be happy either. By not crying, I missed out on laughter.

Don’t get me wrong. There have been times when dulling those negative emotions has been necessary to keep me alive. I’m not ashamed of taking antidepressants when I had suicidal thoughts. They helped me stay alive, they helped me through the pain of therapy and early stages of recovery from BED. There are times when feeling those negative emotions is a very bad idea.

But at some point in recovery from BED it’s important to learn to accept and live with emotions. And I wanted to share that when that happened for me, it gave me the freedom to enjoy those good emotions, too. Bright lights of joy shining on tears of sadness: a wonderful, miraculous emotional rainbow. I’m hoping for a pot of contentment at its end…

I binged today. Here’s what I learned.

I say I’m in recovery from BED for a reason. It might be over four months since I last binged, I may be succeeding in my intuitive eating journey, but at times of stress, I still sometimes return to those thoughts and behaviours that sustained me since childhood.

Today was one of those times. I started the day doing stomach exercises, and since then have cried and eaten to the point of pain, stretching out those sore abs.

It was time to get out the emotion wheel and figure out what’s going on. I try to use each relapse as a learning exercise. Here’s what I learned today.

I looked at the wheel and realised my emotions today were in the dislike area.

Why these feelings? I thought back and yesterday I caught sight of myself in a shop mirror and felt disgusted, repelled. How had I let myself put on so much weight? I realised I had been feeling this way about my body all week. Yes, I have been more bloated than usual (the joys of IBS), but I was wearing a dress I bought 2 years ago, so the facts didn’t add up.

Then I realised how far I had been out of my comfort zone all week. I had a hospital appointment on Monday in a department where I had experienced weight stigma. Even getting there involved driving the furthest I have in a year.

On Tuesday I met a dozen colleagues indoors for lunch. No masks, no social distancing. For the first time in 18 months. I have been extremely careful during the pandemic, only meeting others outdoors or with masks. Recently I have struggled to leave the house at times, so this was a massive step. This was followed by a face to face meeting I had been dreading. Again, indoors and without masks.

Wednesday and Thursday included more difficult meetings. Plus a glut of new referrals. And all this through a heatwave, which meant less sleep and a reduced appetite all week.

In other words, this week provided the perfect storm for a binge. Increased stress and anxiety, less sleep, lower food intake, and all the extra energy used by getting ready and actually leaving the house. No wonder I was bloated. No wonder I was extra hungry. No wonder I reverted to default mode and took it out on myself.

Thankfully there aren’t many weeks like these for me. But the reason I’m recording it is to remind myself how far I have come. This is only my second binge this year, and both times I was able to pinpoint why and get straight back on course.

If you’re reading this and you’ve binged too, please believe me when I say it’s OK. You don’t need to punish or hate yourself, or feel ashamed. Look at it with curiosity. What was the binge trying to tell you? What can you learn from it? Take that forward with you to help you next time.

Recovery isn’t linear. It’s messy sometimes. But that’s OK, because most worthwhile things are. And I’m here to tell you that recovery is so, so worthwhile.

Have decades of eating my feelings down made me emotionally illiterate?

I grew up believing feelings were bad. I was told I was too emotional, oversensitive, that I needed not to take things so personally. So I stopped talking about feelings, and did my best not to have them. Bingeing became my go-to when I needed to put a lid on those pesky, unwanted emotions.

The only problem is, when you don’t feel emotions how can you figure out what they are? If you don’t talk about them, how can you learn to label them, know what their purpose is? Over the past few months, I’ve been noticing clues that this is a skill I lack.

I recently did an online course where we were asked to name emotions we wanted to feel more. I was stumped. I really struggled to come up with the required three words.

I’ve been more anxious about leaving the house during lockdown, but my anxiety has presented itself differently to last time I had it. I found myself procrastinating and putting off going out. It took months to figure out why I was doing it.

I’ve been crying a lot at little things lately. I don’t know why. I can’t label what I’m feeling. I don’t know what’s wrong, or how to fix it. All I can do is allow myself to feel whatever it is, and not fall back into old habits.

There are some emotions I can label. The big ones. Anger, sadness, frustration, love. And joy! An emotion which has come with recovery. When I first started recovering, every emotion, including joy and happiness, came in an overpowering wave which was expressed through tears.

Finally, I’m at a point where I’m not completely overwhelmed by or scared of emotions. But I am confused by them. I know the words, the labels, for feelings. But that knowledge is abstract. I don’t truly know what they feel like in my body. And if I can’t label my emotions, how can I work out why I’m feeling them or what they are for?

I know that trusting myself and my body is my path to recovery. But it seems like I still have work to do. I need to go back to the beginning and pay attention to my moods, look at an emotion wheel and label how I’m feeling. Learn what those moods are trying to tell me. Then use that knowledge to work out what I do next, so that I continue to grow and evolve. Because what use is recovery if I don’t?

ED recovery through chronic illness

It was all going so well. I had gone through therapy, weaned off antidepressants, and quit smoking. I was learning to deal with emotions, hate my body less and treat it better. But gradually, I started to feel more tired, have pain in my hips, ankles and feet, until walking up the hill to my home left me in tears.

In the words of Alanis Morrisette, “Isn’t it ironic?” All those years of treating my body with contempt, yet it had served me well. The moment I started trying to respect it, it stopped working properly. I sometimes joke that it went into shock and doesn’t know how to work on nutrients and fresh air…

More symptoms have joined the party over the last 3 years or so. The migraines are probably the worst, because they leave me bed bound and nauseous for a day or two at a time and out of sorts before and after, which is how I am today.

And through all of this I have had to work on recovery from a lifetime with an eating disorder, with all that that entails. Learning to feel and process emotions while grieving and angry at the loss of my health and energy. Learning to be kind to a body that sometimes doesn’t do what I want it to. Learning resilience while fatigue and pain strip it away. Even struggling with the urge to binge to compensate for not being able to eat during a migraine.

In some ways lockdown has been helpful. Everyone has been stuck at home. I haven’t missed out on anything. It has given me time to rest, take stock, work out what my body is capable of doing. I started to exercise a little when my body allows, stretching and strengthening to support those aching joints. It gave me the opportunity to start writing and coming to terms with everything that has happened.

As I write, I still don’t know what is physically wrong with me. I have had a number of tests, but am waiting to see a new rheumatologist. I am hopeful that there will be a treatment which improves my symptoms and my quality of life.

But whatever happens, I know that I will find a way to overcome it and not let it define me. Because I have survived everything so far. Because I have shown time and time again that I am stronger than I ever thought possible. Because I deserve recovery, and I deserve happiness. And so do you.

Stigma and Time to Change

This blog was written for a local council to mark Time to Talk Day 2021.

A 2015 parliament paper* describes Mental Health stigma using Time to Change’s definition: “the set of negative attitudes, pre-judgements, prejudices and behaviour that can make it harder for inviduals with mental health problems to live a normal life”.

Time To Change has been challenging Mental Health stigma since 2007 on a national level, and more recently on a local level through its community hubs. I am a “champion”, or volunteer, with the Northamptonshire Time to Change Hub. Champions have lived experience of mental illness. My experience goes back to childhood, although my first diagnosis, depression, was at 21. It wasn’t something I shared. No-one did back then.

At the time that parliament paper was published in 2015, I was receiving treatment for depression, anxiety and Binge Eating Disorder. I was also rebuilding my life after literally losing everything. The reasons for this were complex, but mental health stigma and discrimination played a part, even though I did my best to assert my rights.

I had started a new job, and was open about my mental ill-health for the first time. To a point. Because anxiety attacks are difficult to hide. I was wary and careful to notice how my new colleagues responded. Most people accepted me without judgement, and it was such a relief! My new employer also allowed me the space and time to go through therapy and group work with the Eating Disorders Service, and phase off my anti-depressants when I was ready.

It hasn’t all been perfect, thoughtless comments are still commonplace. Particularly around Binge Eating Disorder, which most seem to think is about greed and lack of willpower. I have received so much diet advice over the years, even from healthcare professionals who should know better. But I’ll save that for Eating Disorders Week in March…

I first heard about Time to Change and Time to Talk Day in 2017. The message struck a chord, and I decided to write an email to my team, thanking them for their support and acceptance. I remember being so scared as I pressed “send”, then shedding more than a few tears at the kind responses I received. At this point I realised the power of sharing my story, not just for others, but for myself. My aim had been to help prevent other people from going through what I had, and yet the more open I was, the more my own self-confidence grew.

It is now 4 years since I sent that email. This Time to Talk Day I’m in recovery and talking to strangers online. It has become second nature for me to challenge mental health stigma whenever and wherever I see it. I am learning that I am enough, that I don’t have to hide who I really am. I am finding my voice. I have started to write. I have a sense of belonging I never had before. Yes, I have helped others by being a part of the Northamptonshire Time to Change Hub, but it has given me so much in return.