Designed to help those struggling with disordered relationships with food explore triggers and understand how automatic patterns of anxious, or negative, thinking can maintain disordered relationships with food, especially across periods of high stress.
Designed to help those struggling with disordered relationships with foodexplore triggers and understand how automatic patterns of anxious, or negative, thinking can maintain disordered relationships with food, especially across periods of high stress.
Combining experience with theory this book is packed full of useful advice, practical exercises and my “top tips” to help empower you to challenge your eating disorder, build self-awareness and understanding into your recovery.
I am passionate about empowering people through their recovery and believe community based interventions are crucial for supporting the Mental Health burden faced by the NHS. Together we can provide an environment that fosters proactive approach to recovery and empowers those who are suffering.
Are you suffering from disordered eating? Maybe you have past experience with emotional under or over eating? Or a diagnosed clinical disorder such as Anorexia or Bulimia nervosa? Maybe you’re supporting a loved one through their recovery? Anxious about the Christmas season approaching?
It is no surprise that Christmas and New Years bring a load of seasonal struggles to those suffering with an eating disorder.
With the heightened focus on foody events, drinks out, meeting relatives you’ve not seen in years, and then the mass of confusing chaos that is “diet Jan”. Recovery can be more of a battle field compared to other months of the year.
I am here to tell you that Christmas is such a fantastic time of year and those festive fears have no right to dictate your enjoyment of the season.
They can be overcome, planned around and communicated in ways that enable you to “Cope At Christmas” without taking steps back in your recovery.
Josceline is a Graduate Psychologist, media representative for Beat, the U
K’s leading eating disorder charity, public speaker, eating disorders recovery mentor and mental health campaigner.
After her own recovery from battling anorexia nervosa she was inspired to start her website, with the sole aim to raise awareness about mental health and help empower people to take the front seat in their recoveries.
Josceline was published by the British Psychological Society in their student journal, Psych-Talk, on the neuropathology of eating disorders and has twice been a guest speaker on the BBC’s popular news show Victoria Derbyshire discussing barriers to accessing mental health treatments. She has also had articles published on the Daily Mail, Real People Magazine and The Surrey Advertiser.
Currently Josceline is involved in public speaking and workshops, in schools and at Surrey University, as well as working with individuals on a one-to-one basis as a recovery mentor.
Exercise and regular movement does an abundance of good for your mental and physical health. It can help decrease anxiety and depression, build confidence and aid the development of positive body image. But when addressing the role exercise has in the recovery from an eating disorders it’s a tricky one.
Exercise is unlikely to benefit health when it’s fuelled by fear and stress rather than fun. For eating disorder sufferers this is largely the case. Exercise can become a maintaining factor in the illness, a way to punish your body for food you’ve eaten, or “earn” the right to eat.
Unfortunately this has now become a “socially acceptable” form of self-harm, promoted on social media and fuelled by many other “fat-phobic’’ messages in society.
So, Should You Exercise in Recovery?
There is not real ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer per say. Recovery is hugely individual, what triggers one person may not influence another.
There are times when exercise is dangerous on the body, like at very low body weights and when you have not eaten enough. Risk of injury, fainting, even fatalities are all common to those over-exercising with eating disorders. When I was ill I exercised to fulfil my eating disorders demands.
I didn’t enjoy what I did, it was ritualistic, obsessive, and I often found myself in the gym purely based on the demands of my eating disorder; lethargic and under-nourished.
So when I was in recovery, I stopped exercising altogether, for about a year, and then gradually added it in (with some slip ups) as I got physically and mentally stronger I wont sugar coat it, it caused a mass amounts of anxiety and fear to begin with. But I was determined that I would build balance into my lifestyle and enjoyment into my movement.
Taking time off was not going to be forever, just for now, just to challenge the feeling of spontaneously combusting if I didn’t ritualistically work out.
It is through trial and error that we learn to balance our bodies needs in recovery.
We have to test out and challenge our anxious thoughts, and see just what happens when we do what the eating disorder tells us not do to do.
Exercising should NEVER come from a place fuelled by fear, obligation or anxiety.
Rather it should be for fun, from a place of self-compassion and desire to see what your body is capable of.
This can take a while to achieve if you’ve been stuck in this cycle of destructive exercise for a while. Rest assured you can break free, and I whole heartedly believe with the right support you will.
Read my TOP 5 TIPS FOR BALANCING EXERCISE IN RECOVERY
Often we find it hard to stop.
We are great at offering self-care and wellbeing advice to others but risk burnout and stress, ourselves.
Sounds silly but for many of us just ‘chilling out’ can be really hard.
It’s something I hate doing, and so I realised it is a challenge I needed to face.
In this post I share my top tips for how to switch off without feeling bad about it!
Go slip on those snuggly PJs, grab a cuppa biscuit, and enjoy todays post.
The alarm goes 6:30am and from then on I am constantly doing, and constantly thinking. My mind is a buzz of productivity and creativity, and my body a buzz of activity; bustling around, numerous jobs, activities, studies and commutes.
At the end of my day I love nothing more than to feel I have achieved. You know what it’s like to have that deep satisfaction of ticking all the boxes on the ‘to do’ list; so great. Only then am I allowed to snuggle up on the couch to watch an episode of Bake Off or Blue Planet. However, more often than not ten minutes in and I end up once again with my laptop out, work head on, feeling “guilty” for taking time off.
Sounds silly, but for many of us just ‘chilling out’ can be really hard.
It’s something I hate doing so I realised it as a challenge I needed to face, and I know I’m not the only one!
What happens after a while? Burnout. The stress headaches begin. The anxiety creeps in. Sleeping becomes disrupted. Guilt and Perfectionism? …lets not even open that can of worms. I feel rubbish, achey, and begin picking up every illness under the sun.
Basically, my body is telling me “whoa slow down and chill”, but my mind is telling me “you ought to be doing something productive”.
Can You Empathise?
Often we find it hard to stop. Many of us are often great at offering self-care advice to others, then ignore the signs of burnout and stress in our own lives. Recently I decided enough was enough. I needed to listen to my body, to take care of myself and relax.
The idea from going from always “doing” to learning how to just “be” made me kinda nervous, I felt bad, and at first I found it hard. But as the weekend unravelled, the effects on both my body and mind were unsurprisingly awesome.
Top Tips To Swicthing Off
Split your “to-do” list into “ought to do” and “want to do”: This was actually a tip from my old man, who told me to re-structure my to-do list into things I “want” to do and “ought” to do.The want to do list is what you find important, what you feel you’re missing out on that you want to do more off, these things will motivate you, bring a smile to your face and give you peace of mind.
Be honest with yourself and you’ll be surprised when you listen to your body and hear what its telling you it wants to do…it may not want to go to the gym today ya’ know.
Don’t be afraid to take time off! Not books. No emails. No researching. These will get done but are placed int he ought to do column for when feeling more refreshed. You’ll find coming back more relaxed and rested you’ll have more motivation and energy, so productivity in the long term is greater!!
Go Exploring: Autumn is my favourite season, but I felt I was missing out on all the fantastic smells, colours and walks that I love at this time of year! I spent a weekend exploring some of my favourite countryside getaways. This cleared my mind and eased the tension headaches. My body appreciated the gentle movement, and I was able to spend time with close friends and feel, for once, a little more relaxed.
Don’t be so hard on yourself! If you begin to feel guilty about taking time off for you challenge those thoughts and remind yourself that you are hard-working and deserve some down time. Often this is because we are perfectionists and believe we need to constantly be bettering ourselves and making advances in work, relationships, studies..
Try talking to yourself like you were your best mate. Hopefully you’d never tell them to continuously push themselves into overworking without recuperation, so why put these harsh expectations on yourself?
Get earlier nights: Sleep is SO important. Your body heals faster when you sleep, and cortisol levels (the stress hormone) decrease allowing your body to deeply relax.
If you find it hard to sleep then try going into bed a bit earlier, have a relaxing bedtime routine with limited use of blue light from TV and electronics. Things I love are a good book, scented candles and having a hot water bottle so I can get seriously snuggly. If you can’t sleep after 40mins I’d have a break from bed; get up, make a herbal tea, stretch, and then go back and try again.
Wine is Always a Good Idea… Whilst I will not advocate downing bottle upon bottle of wine, and vast quantities of chocolate, a nice glass of red I find soothes the soul, and relaxes my mind…and what’s wine without the cheeseboard or chocolate ‘ey?
There’s even been recent research (published by Nature) suggesting that a glass (or two…) of red wine may lower perceived stress and increase longevity.
[How great is research like that?! I’ll happily be a volunteer.Winning] Whatever your choice of tipple, be it a hot choccie, or gentle camomile and honey, make space for that little something calming and comforting.
Don’t Take Life So Seriously:
The most important self-care tip! We live in a culture of work-a-holics. But seriously chill, there is time! You don’t have to have everything sorted out, or be productive every second of every day. Do stuff just because it’s fun, silly, stupid or new! Spend time making memories with friends, do the things you love, with the people you love in the places you love. You’ll find doing things that make you smile and laugh more take your focus off the stressors and give a healthy perspective on life.
Just hanging around
Myself and Frank the Pink Flamingo
I hope this post has helped you think about the things you feel you really “want” versus “ought” to do, and how to incorporate some real rest and relaxation time into your busy-body weeks!
If you have any other tips and tricks post them in the comments below!
Remember: Rest and relaxation is integral to our mental health and wellbeing. So In the long term will make us more productive and happier.
Be sure to check out my other blogs and click follow for weekly posts!
It’s now November [what the ..?! How’d that happen…] and in my family that’s a cue for premature Christmas songs and getting busy in the kitchen making lots of Christmas goodies!
Christmas has always been my favourite time of year, and let’s face it what’s Christmas without the amazing array of food.
The warm comforting smells sum up Winter, and spark nostalgic memories; Christmas evenings filled with games, music and laughter.
This hasn’t always been the case for me though.
The years spent battling anorexia turned Christmas joys into Christmas fears.
Christmases spent anxious in tears.
Christmases on meal plans, worried and concerned about every spoonful to come, every meal out, and dreading every party.
For those suffering with an eating disorder Christmas can be a serious time for struggles and set backs.
Coming into my fifth year of recovery it is lovely to be able to once again embrace the season’s festivities. Over the years I have learnt to hold a more realistic and educated perspective by continuously, and immediately, challenging faulty thoughts, behaviours and communicating anxieties.
This is my wish for all of you this season.
So, without further ado, let’s kick start the festive period with a seasonal “sod off” to your eating disorder.
Here are my Top Tips for Surviving Christmas Time
(ft. mistletoe, and glass upon glassful of wine…)
1. Don’t restrict/skip meals.
Compensating and restricting your eating in the weeks leading up to Christmas parties, meals out is more likely to increase anxiety as it puts your body under huge amounts of stress.
Restrictive eating has been found to be associated with overeating later on in the day, that may spark binges for those susceptible.
Keep to a routine, and if you’re nervous about an upcoming event or meal out simply find out what will be on offer beforehand and pick a couple of options you think you’ll be able to manage, that way you can feel more chilled in advance and focus on the social side of season!
2. Movement should be optional and not obligatory.
You do not have to “work for” or “work off” your food. You deserve to eat food and enjoy yourself just like everyone else, regardless of what you have or have not done.
This is where diet-culture often wins us over, because in the next few weeks we will be inundated with advert after advert for workout DVDs, all this rubbish about detoxes, cleanses, and loads more dieting messages reminding us to hit the gym hard before we have any festive foods.
Remind yourself that these are marketing gimmicks; existing to make sales, and caring about their profits and not your health.
Instead of believing you have to run yourself into the ground, be gentle, do things you enjoy; go on wintery walks, do gentle stretching like yoga.
Move because you want to move, and in the ways you love to move.
3. Be Aware of Faulty Thinking Traps:
Christmas can be a playground for eating disorders, freely swinging guilt and shame around so that you end up perpetually swung into the control of your eating disorder. Thoughts and feelings can feel extreme, self-punishing, all encompassing.
But remind yourself they are lies. What you eat is not to be internalised as a reflection of who you are as a person; you are not bad, nor are you guilty, or greedy, or shameful for nourishing your body.
Write down these faulty thoughts on note cards along with some counteractive comebacks, have them handy so you can remind yourself that actually everything is ok.
Instead of allowing the season to hold you back, use it as a chance to push you forward!
I have often dealt with people who say it’s easier to avoid certain situations, or eating certain foods, so as not to evoke negative and uncomfortable thoughts/feelings. But this doesn’t help you challenge your irrational food fears, and by remaining captive to your eating disorder you are preventing little steps forward in your recovery.
Make a little list of foods you tend to avoid or feel anxious about, and then work them into your meals and snacks. Have a trusted friend that can support you trying these foods out and help you handle anxiety around this.
You may wish to journal how you felt before, during, and after eating them. I promise you will survive to see that nothing bad happens.
The more you practice this task the more you break down barriers and increase the variety of foods into your diet.
5. Try Something New!
There is so much more to Christmas than food!
Get festive with crafts, movies, winter walks, visiting German Markets, seeing the lights, games. These and many more are all great distractions away from negative thinking and ruminating thoughts.
6. Make Self-Care A Priority
Give yourself space and time to calm your thoughts and feelings; breathing exercises or having something soothing (I used aromatherapy candles and music) can help if you are susceptible to panic attacks or extreme anxiety.
This will also help aid digestion, and may help reduce any pain, discomfort or bloating caused by tension and stress around food often confused as GI dysfunctions such as IBS or coeliac – no self diagnosis please.
6. Take One Day At A Time.
For many the social occasions are more than just the day itself and many have extended Christmas and New Years plans. This amount of socialising and foody events may feel very overwhelming when you think about it all at once, so don’t get ahead of yourself. It may be helpful to take time to sit and plan, with a clinician or any trusted other, ways to manage the upcoming season so that your health remains stable.
Knowing where you will be for events, looking at menus in advance, or having some pre-made snacks are all ways you can make sure you feel comfortable socialising this season.
Remember that the season is more than just food, so what else can you get up too with friend and family?!
7. Ditch The Diet and Body Talk:
I used to dread coming back from my treatment at Christmas just because it meant hearing the words “you’re looking so much better” repeatedly said to me.
Now, to many this may seem bizzare, because surely that’s a lovely compliment to hear?!
And true, it is….now!
But, when ill with an eating disorder, such comments are likely interpreted as “looking bigger/fatter”. This it then associated with many other hugely complex underlying beliefs and labels: being bad/unworthy/unloveable/not deserving treatment/care…feeling out of control.
A complex can of worms you just didn’t wanna open…
It’s worth telling friends, family members in advance not to comment on your appearance, and abstain from topics of conversation regarding body image and food talk.
None of this talk on “good or bad foods”, or “such and such will go straight to my hips…”…tell them toleave that diet-trash talk out of the picture for their sake as well as yours.
Personal reflection; it definitely helped me to challenge this warped interpretation by remembering they hadn’t seen me since I went into hospital, really they were just thrilled to see me back at home for Christmas, and actually what they were referring to was my bubblier, brighter side that was shining through now I was becoming “me” again.
When I was more motivated in recovery I would challenge these thoughts and ask myself why was I interpreting comments in this way, and why I felt the need to look “ill” – what was this function playing for me? what was I actually trying to vocalise through restrictive eating and self-starvation?
Deep stuff I know…but just points to ponder.
8. Communication is Key:
Believe it or not but people do care about you.
Talk to whoever’s cooking for you, and be honest about how you’re feeling to your friends and family, the more they understand how you’re coping with things the more they can support you at meals and in states of high anxiety.
Whether it’s going for a coffee with a mate, or having a hug from your parents, if you need it, ask for it.
You Got This!
Christmas is a hard time for those with eating disorders, so don’t be hard on yourself, and don’t expect every day to go perfectly. Take small steps to challenge your thinking and your eating.
It’s only one month. You will survive to see that nothing bad has happened!!!
You do not need to work for, or work off, what you eat.
Your eating disorder has no authority to restrict or rule your life.
Above all else, remember that you deserve to enjoy Christmas, just like everyone else.
Dear parents and carers… My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Remember to not neglect your own needs. For more info please check out the blog written by guest writer on my site, and one strong mummy, Janet Richards, sharing her top tips.
If you liked this post please don’t forget to leave a comment, follow the blog and my social media tags!
So if you have read a bit about my own journey you may be aware that my first Uni experience wasn’t all peachy, and in 2011 I ended up relapsing and dropping out of my first degree up in lovely Leeds!
Recently I have completed my undergraduate degree in Psychology at The University of Surrey (highly recommend, excuse the cheeky plug) so I decided a post on “How not to relapse whilst at Uni” would be very relevant.
I felt this was an important subject to chat about because University can be a stressful times, and trigger an array of unhealthy behaviours and mental health problemsif not managed. For those about to start University who may be more vulnerable to relapses with disordered eating, anxiety or depression, understanding how you can manage relapses and stress is integral to being able to fully immerse yourself in your Uni experience regardless of the inevitable work pressures.
I will add a little disclaimer here that whilst these things have helped my experience at Uni they may not be what is right for you. I was also in a very different mental/physical place starting this degree than I was in my first Uni experience. So I had given myself time to build a solid foundation from which I had built my confidence up in my ability to manage my anorexia. Therefore I would really consider if this is you to not rush into a degree but if you need time out, take it! Do you. You got time….believe me!
Anywho.. without further ado here are my 6 top tips for relapse prevention at Uni:
Know some possible triggers prior to starting. This may involve some detective work. So sit and make a brief list of possible triggers – stress/break ups/isolation/illness – that may be a personal ‘risk’ for you relapsing.
Find out what resources the University offers and pin these to each possible trigger. It is not a weakness to go and ask for help or support, it actually shows a huge amount of independence and responsibility for your health and wellbeing – and a healthy you means a happier, more social and fun you! So make yourself known at your wellbeing centre, or use the ‘stress management’ workshops that they provide if/when you need them. If a trigger is isolation for you then make sure you are getting involved in a club or society that can offer you stress release, friendships and social support.
DO NOT neglect your social life. Be involved in your Uni – join a sport club, or society, take up a new hobby. Just anything that gives you the ability to disconnect from your work, and yourself and reconnect with others and unwind. There will never be another time in your life [probably] where you are faced with SO many opportunities and so cheaply; chances to travel, fundraise, play for a sports club, learn new languages. So whilst grades are all well and good remember that these extra things also add to your character, your identity, build life long friendships and add to the CV.
Eat well. This is VITAL for anyone going to Uni with previous disordered eating. I don’t care if inflation has made food shopping ridiculous I will find a way to make sure I am eating well, fuelling my body with food that keeps it healthy and active […including chocolate, baking ingredients and the odd bottle of Gin…]. Just because work is full on and days can be long does not mean you skip meals. Your friends may – but maybe they didn’t have a previous history of eating disorder! You can shop wisely – there are always cheaper brands and student cook books with healthy recipes! And if all else fails there’s ready meals and Deliveroo. So no excuses.
Plan your time. Time management helps de-stress you, puts you in control, and means you will feel prepared for exams/assignments. You can factor in social events, sports, gym etc… Even plan your meals in advance so you’re ahead of the game if this helps you.
Family time. Ok, so I come from Guildford and studied in Guildford so it made this a tad easier […I moved out ok]. But for me, my family are my absolute rocks. And if I felt stressed/anxious and in need of a little pick me, or god forbid it some good ol’ dad jokes to kick my arse into gear, I’d pick up the phone, or go home for a few nights. Now I am aware that not everyone has an amazing relationship with their family, and in this case search out the friends on your course, your lecturers who can provide some pastoral care and a good kick in the right direction. Once again I’m blessed that mine have been above and beyond incredible throughout Uni.
In summary the main gist is a) Do NOT sit back but be proactive, b) Plan and manage your time, and c) use all the social support, clubs, societies, wellbeing services you need!! We all have different thresholds for stress tolerance so just be aware of yours and the impact it’s having on all levels of your health and wellbeing. You want to be able to have the best time at University so make sure you take control in a healthy way that puts your needs first. It’s not selfish; it’s sensible.
Living with a child with an eating disorder is tiring, challenging and often very isolating. I know my own parent’s compromised their social contact and lost out on experiences with friends due the emotional fatigue and time restraints the illness caused them.
It is very important to remember the wellbeing of the wider family and carers is just as crucial as supporting the sufferer.
For optimal recovery the support system around them needs to be at it’s strongest – you are their fortress – but your needs should not be discounted, and for you to be a solid rock for them you need to have your needs met as well.
I first met Janet Richards approximately seven years ago; sadly it was under unfortunate circumstances since it was her daughter, Emma, now one of my dearest friends and fellow recovery troopers, who also received inpatient treatment at the same psychiatric hospital as me.
Since supporting her daughter through anorexia, Janet Richards, Emma’s strong-minded and determined mother, now works alongside Winchester CAMHs (child and adult mental health services), setting up a parent ‘buddying’ system through the ACE programme they have already running there.
Below she shares her an insight to her story and 12 “top-tips” for parents, friends and carers, who are living with the commotion and confusion that having an eating disorder can cause.
Hello, this picture of my daughter and me was taken whilst away in Gran Canaria earlier this year. Six years ago, I couldn’t even dream of a holiday as Emma was receiving in-patient treatment psychiatric unit for anorexia nervosa. This was where we met the lovely Joss and that friendship between the girls has continued.
The two years were horrendous, but we got through it and now she is an amazing young woman studying for a degree in mental health nursing. During the desperate dark days early on, I attended a support group who had invited a mum and her daughter recovering from anorexia. It gave me so much hope that I hung onto their story – it was a light at the end of the very dark tunnel. Since then I have tried to give support as an ‘expert parent’ to other parents now in similar situations either through ED support groups or individually. But I am one person, and so through the ACE programme that Wnchester CAMHS is running I am developing a ‘buddying’ programme to encourage other parents and young people to become buddies to help support those in need.
So when I am asked about the advice I would give to parents with youngsters struggling with Eating Disorders, I try and make it as simple as possible. So I’ve come up with a list of things that I wish someone had told me when my daughter was going through her dreadful journey.
And don’t you just love the benefit of hindsight!!! Here goes:
Don’t waste energy on blaming yourself, anyone or anything else – you’ll need all your energy to preserve your sanity!
Maintain positive intent – in order words you have absolute conviction that they will recover.
Realise you can’t make them better – the only one that can is them!
Ensure that you have a core of resilience & strength, which means taking care of yourself by taking time out to do ‘nice’ stuff for you.
The medical professionals know the theory but are very unlikely to understand the suffering – they will probably lack any practical experience with a loved one suffering, so try and find someone who has lived the nightmare & can give you support.
You will be their absolute rock whatever they throw at you (& I do mean physically!) so don’t underestimate how important you are to them.
Try and keep an environment that optimises their chance of recovery –In terms of action, you can try and ensure that they have an environment in which they can recover themselves. Examples being:
Staying calm (as possible)
Having a life yourself, which means going out for dinner with friends/partner – yes if it is at a mealtime!
Don’t add stress by going on holiday together – if you need a break take one on your own or with just your partner
Establish boundaries & stick to them even though they are very ill individuals
Drink red wine – it can soften the pain & get you through the next meal!
Don’t walk on egg shells: Walking on eggshells (or being afraid of saying the wrong things!) isn’t going to make them better so don’t get twisted up on thinking about how to say stuff – say it with love, compassion but positive intent!
Recognise the excruciating fight going on in their brains – its exhausting for them.
Recognise that your son/daughter is still there, but has been hijacked by an evil spirit. You will get odd glimpses of them & hang onto those sightings.
Everyone’s journey is different but you are not alone….
For more information about supporting your child and yourself please look at the following links:
Have you ever caught yourself scrutinising yourself in front of the mirror?
You stand there, staring hard, taking in all the small marks on your face, noticing all the freckles, birthmarks and spots.
You look hard at your thighs, the tiny bit of belly fat that you’ve accumulated over a few nights of late night drinking and pizza sessions.
Then to make matters worth you click onto Instagram only to spend the next hour trolling through feeds of thin, toned beautiful (yet photoshopped) pictures, and everyones green smoothies and poached eggs.
Instantly you’re filled with unnecessary guilt and regret.
They all appear so happy and confident.
Your comparing turns to despairing. You begin to feel imperfect in comparison to these supposedly ‘perfect’ ideals.
Before you know it that well known negative self-talk record hits repeat.
It is estimated that 1 in 100 will suffer from some form of eating disorder, body dysmorphia or muscle dysmorphia.
Unsurprisingly this correlates with the increase in social media, “fitspo” accounts, dating apps, and commercialised diets.
Exposure to thin ideals in the media has been shown to adversely influence how one perceives their own body image and internalises feedback from others.
Comparing yourself endlessly to those you meet or see on social media, in magazines or TV, increased your risk of developing mood disorders (depression/anxiety), and higher levels of internalising thin ideals (Tiggemann, 2004; Yamamiya, 2005). In short, what we feed our minds with literally has the power to transform our personal growth, impact self-esteem and confidence in our own skin.
We live in a warped society whereby beauty, weight and shape equates to our self worth, happiness and success:
Dion’s (1972) ‘beautiful is good’ hypothesis: a remarkable amount of research supporting the influence appearance has on how we judge others, with more attractive pictures yielding higher ratings of happiness, success, likability and health.
Women who view these images on a regular basis have reported higher levels of body dissatisfaction; lower self-esteem and positivity about their futures. However, if they were told that the person they viewed was unhappy or unsuccessful this had reduced effect.
The more you tell yourself negatives, the more you’ll believe them.
Have you ever come away feeling good about yourself after comparing yourself to others?
No. You feel inferior. It saps your confidence.
The problem is the more you allow yourself to listen, and believe, these thoughts they stick like glue, becoming hardwired habitual thought processes you just can’t seem to switch off.
Hebbs Law: “what fires together wires together”.
It is widely used to explain how we form automatic memories, but this is also applied to automatic thought processes and addictive behaviours, which are learnt.
Such as having a cigarette with a glass of wine, even though you swore you’d quit!
Negative self-talk is poisonousand often is a reflection of the faulty, internalised beliefs you hold about yourself.
So Lets Get Positive.
Cognitive restructuring, or, thought correction, involves a desire to change your thinking by challenging negative and faulty errors. Unlearning behaviours and changing your internal belief system doe not happen over night. It takes perseverance and practice to literally re-wire the way you think.
The following are four common thinking errors and some practical challenges to help start your journey towards balanced thinking:
Black-and-White (or dichotomous) thinking.
You fit yourself into one of two extremes; there is no continuum or ‘grey area’. You then judge yourself harshly; find yourself easily stressed and unable to see alternative explanations or logical reasoning.
e.g: ‘fat’ or ‘thin’, ‘failure’ or ‘success’, ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
Do you judge others by extremes? Then why judge yourself by a harsher standard.
Start to see the continuum, notice that not being a 10 does not automatically place you at the bottom as a 1.
Eliminate the loaded language you use in the extremes. E.g. “I’m scrawny” becomes “I have a thin physique”. It’s less damning and emotionally unloaded.
Comparisons to Unrealistic Expectations.
You pit yourself against ideals and spend more time focusing on what you don’t have than what you do have. You end up making copious social comparisons wanting the desirable characteristics others display and believing they must be happier because of them.
You may also believe you ‘ought/must/should’ have certain attributes, and with unobtainable ideal of ‘perfection’ you always fall short, thus you find yourself constantly beaten down and falling short.
Remind yourself that no one is perfect. In fact perfection doesn’t exist because it is a subjective phenomenon. Media is photo shopped and even your friend with the gorgeous smile hates elements about herself, but she rocks what she’s got and so should you.
When you find yourself making a negative comparison balance it out with a positive to compare yourself favorably.
A mental compliment to someone is not an automatic criticism of you. Learn to give and receive compliments, then repeat them to yourself to allow yourself to believe and see them.
Reduce the time you spend scrolling through social media/Instagram, and filter out accounts that constantly make you feel downhearted.
You place your own beliefs, and evaluations about yourself into the minds of others. If you assume that your worth is defined by your appearance and you worry what others will think, you will find yourself falling into the category vulnerable to projection, and miss-reading peoples body language and behaviours.
What contradicting evidence do you have? Are these thoughts reflecting how you feel about yourself?
Remind yourself that it’s not you, and that the person probably seems off because he/she is having a bad day. Remind yourself of the other options for the behaviours.
Remind yourself that no one else sees you in the critical way you see yourself. That is what needs to change.
You have tunneled vision and focus on the one thing that is wrong, rather than looking at the picture as a whole. The opinion you have is biased, and it’s as if all other compliments, achievements and positive attributes are insignificant because you put so much emphasis onto this one aspect of yourself.
Stick positive post-it notes around your mirror so whenever you catch yourself scrutinising yourself you read a positive statement back. Then walk away from what you’re doing.
Take a step back and look at the bigger picture; notice that your thighs are in proportion to your body or that your smile isn’t as wonky as you thought.
Ask yourself why that part of you should mask the rest of you so much? It doesn’t define you, therefore you won’t let it.
These are just a few small steps to start you off on your journey to breaking maladaptive thought patterns, and comparative behaviours.
I hope you have found it useful, please do get in contact for any other advice or questions related to this or any of the other blog posts!
Since it’s ‘World Eating Disorders Action Day’ I wanted to write a a post debunking nine common myths about eating disorders, and just offer some personal reflections from my own journey.
If you are currently struggling with an eating disorder, or any mental health illness, please be reassured from this post, and the other blogs on my site that they canbe conquered.
Get the Facts right: 9 Eating Disorder Truths
Truth #1:Weight is a poor indicator of mental health.Many people with eating disorders look healthy, yet may be extremely ill. Although weight and BMI is used in the diagnostic criteria for eating disorders they are poor indicators of health, both mentally and physically [you can read more about this here].
Truth #2: Food and weight isn’t the main problem. This is the most misunderstood and hard to understand truth to get your head around. People often think anorexics don’t eat at all (wrong), or that all eating disorders are driven by wanting to be thin in order to look good. The truth is they are hugely complex, food and weight is the fear, it is the surfacing problem used to control deeper issues such as low-self esteem, depression, dampen down emotional distress, such as previous traumas. In some respects they are a method of self-harm. They also have ties with psychosis, anxiety disorders and obsessive compulsive disorder.Weight loss is the addiction and drive, food and weight is the fear and controlled to deal with these underlying issues.
Truth #3:Families are not to blame. Families and friends are the greatest allies in treatment and recovery for the patients’ and providers’.
Truth #4:An eating disorder diagnosis is a health crisis, it disrupts personal, and family, functioning. They have major physical consequences associated with them that can continue to impact health even after recovery, making early intervention vital.
Truth #5:Eating disorders are not choices, but serious illnesses with many biological, social, psychological and environmental factors contributing to their onset, development and recovery prospects.
Truth #6:Anyone can develop an eating disorder. Eating disorders affect people of all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, body shapes and weights, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic statuses. New statistics have found that one quarter of admissions for bulimia and anorexia are in fact males.
Truth #7:Eating disorders carry increased risks for suicide and medical complications even after recovery. In fact they have the highest mortality rate out of any psychological illness, with around 40% not surviving, and can impact on fertility, bone density and cardiovascular health.
Truth #8:Whilstgenes and environment play important roles in the development of eating disorders, there is no one determining factor found responsible for their development, making them a hugely unique experience for each person as well as being complex disorders to treat.
Truth #9: Full recovery from an eating disorder is possible. Early detection and intervention are important and have been found to have the best outcomes for future health.
1. Everyday is a journey.
Although I would say I am ‘recovered’ I am still unsure what this means. There are times when I am certainly fine, and other times where my anxiety and stress causes me to become more conscious about food and weight. I have noticed this is usually when I feel I lack direction or purpose. Therefore having goals and ambitions has been a huge factor keeping me well and most importantly keeping my eyes upwards and outwards.
2. Reaching Out.
I am thankful someone came and expressed their concerns back in 2008 (you know who you are!). Many people don’t know what to do or say to someone they may have concerns about regarding their eating, exercise or any imbalanced behaviours.
My best advice for this: keep a calm approach, be empathetic not aggressive, express concern lovingly, and realise that at the end of the day it’s up to them to admit to a problem and ask for help to change behaviours [click here for the blog on advice for parents by parent support worker, Janet Richard]
3. Negative people who bring you down – get rid of them.
I am such a believer in positivity and surrounding yourself with things (activities, people, places) that make you feel your best! This can be hard if negativity is coming from close family or partner relationships.
I am lucky to be blessed with very close and supportive family, where although at times there have been things they have not fully understood about my past disordered thinking/eating, they always took the time to try and understand and best support me in correcting these behaviours.
If you are in an abusive relationship with friends or family, try and separate yourself and build a life away from them – accept they may never fully “get it” and spend with those who do love you wholeheartedly for you, and that you have fun with!
4. There is no point comparing!
With any body dysmorphia, low self esteem, eating disorder etc…comparing is automatic. But comparisons are toxic. Learn to love yourself (easily said). Our individual perceptions of what ‘perfect’ looks like will vary hugely, whether this is in your work, a partner, how you look etc.. We live in a world where we strive for perfection, but perfection doesn’t exist!
I am sick to death of seeing posts on social media like “do guys like curves or skinny girls”, “big boobs or big bum?” …you know what, learn to love how you’re made, and I don’t just mean your body I mean yourself. There is nothing more sexy and appealing than someone who is just happy in their own bubbly skin and rocking on with life. This was hard for me as during my recovery gaining weight made me feel like hiding from the world. But through being able to get involved in charity events, volunteering, having a job and studying again I found I really didn’t need my eating disorder and found the young lady I was becoming far more beautiful than what I was before.
I recommend noting down your achievements, your quirks, your passions and look at these and be proud!
I was introduced to Dan through social media; a talented young man no doubt, whose passion for writing shines through his own WordPress site. Just like many other talented artists, Dan too has unfortunately endured, and overcome, his own mental battles.
His account below is not only fantastically articulated, but bravely allows us all a glimpse into what was once his world, and what now is his future.
Depression through the eyes of Dan Kelly…
When were you first aware you were depressed? What triggered it?
Depression is a word that gets thrown around a little bit too much. Quite often we associate a bad day with being depressed – sometimes, we just have bad days, or weeks and months, and realising that comes with a paired requirement to recognise what’s going on in your life. What is making you trip and tumble?
Depression is a little more deep-rooted, and comes down to a question of existence; it’s debilitating, smothering and a shadow that threatens to throttle you in the bed you’re fixed to. For me, I started experiencing that feeling at college, and it came and went in the 8 years since. The more distanced from myself, my identity and who I wanted to be, the heavier and faster it came – that’s the best way I can describe it at this point in my life.
Many people say that you can’t overcome a mental health illness without dealing with the trigger, did you ever find out the trigger illness?
We’re all products of our biology, environment and how we perceive these through our psychology. There are endless things I could identify as a cause for how I felt, from relationships with family members and friends from school in my childhood to how I saw romantic partners as that ‘final part of me’, as if there was a void to fill with endless women. Some of these I have dismissed some make total sense, but what makes more sense than anything else in this world, and will make sense to both you and your readers, is sometimes we feel lost. We don’t know what to do, what’s expected, what the point of it all is, and sometimes a bad thing can happen that just makes all of that all the more prevalent. Maisie(a friend of Dan’s) passing away was a very bad thing to happen in my life which undoubtedly effected me, but what it did was bring to light that I didn’t know who I was as a person.
How did it (if at all) affect your friendships/familial relations/daily functioning?
When I was depressed, and following on from Maisie passing on, friendships were fine until I became restless. Connections with my family members were fine until I became irritable. Relationships were fine until I became curious about what was over the horizon on the greener grass.
How did you find the quality of the help provided to you by the health care services?
The service I used was ‘there’ – I’ll give it that much. I have a lot of NHS staff in my family on the more clinical side of the hospital, but the actual process of getting help with mental health support took months, and this is where they falter.
Who’s fault? Well, when there’s no money to call upon, you can only look to an inconsiderate government to blame – but that’s a discussion for elsewhere.
CBT is not a miracle cure, nor should it be prescribed to every single person. It douses fires, but doesn’t extinguish the crackling underneath. I also, however, think it’s worth noting that, ultimately, even with endless amounts of counselling, CBT and so on, it’s down to me. It’s down to us. It’s down to you. You are the only person who can take steps and be honest with yourself. Scary, right? Absolutely. But the view as you climb the summit only gets more and more stunning.
I couldn’t agree more, and it’s having this outward approach and motivation that can be so hard to keep through recovery.
Did you find, being male, prevented you seeking help or admitting that you had a mental health disorder? Or subject you to any greater discrimination or stigma?
Being male did initially stop me, yes. However, this is only down to my own misconception of what it is to be a man. My advice there is this: you’re a man, sure. I realise you’ve got something dangling down there, but you’re a human first and foremost. Focus on that – if you need help, just flipping take it. It’s there, so look for it and use it.
Stigma? None. Discrimination? None. Once you do it and talk to the right people, you’ll see that everyone that matters will kind of get it.
What were the factors that helped the most in your recovery?
It’s great to talk about mental health problems, because it’s part of a process that allows you to recognise what you need to work on – then it’s all down to you. Depending on myself more and more is an amazing feeling.
What were the things that weren’t so helpful and how did you overcome/avoid these (if any)?
The thing that didn’t help me was having conversations with people that weren’t taking me anywhere, and I had to learn that whilst speaking to people is good, not everyone is worth speaking to. Whether it’s parents, close friends or even your counsellor (and if the latter is true, ask for a new one), you need to make sure that you’re going away from conversations with something clear to work on, a positive step of some sort when you open your heart up.
How has your experience shaped who you are today? Has it changed how you view mental health issues?
Please don’t think I’ve made it. I’m not always happy, but you’ll get a far more solid base if you start to look for what you’re missing from life and focusing on that.
A solid base? Hippy shit, right? When you get it and it’s there, you’ll feel it and know it. I’ve gone straight for the cliché and started learning about Buddhism, Taoism to be precise, I started writing and designing again, and I feel great at the very least while writing this.
I started assessing my beliefs and knowledge (noticing the differences between the two) about questions such as; What happens when you die? What do I really want from a relationship? Do I really hate my job, or am I just approaching it wrong? And when I’ve answered them, being honest enough to look back and realise when my answers reflect what I think I should say rather than my true self. It takes time; it’ll come, and be kind to yourself.
And mental health? You should be training it as much as you do your squats (which should also be a lot, ladies and gents). The School of Life is a fantastic resource, and read read read – let your mind escape from time to time.
Dan is a deep, creative and insightful thinker and writer and I have no doubt that he will continue to inspire many through his talents of design, writing and humour.
I truly believe that his last point relating to finding your ‘solid base’ is crucial to having a sound mind. Practicing self-love is a daily exercise, and requires mental and emotional effort. There are many resources you can find online, and through mental health services to help with this, and I personally think it’s integral to everyone self-esteem and confidence.
I hope you have found Dans account inspiring and insightful. Through sharing stories and reflecting on each others journeys I believe it will empower those to keep moving forward in their own recoveries.
Do get in touch if you have a journey you’d like to share!