Those of you who know me in person or have seen the documentary may know that I have bulimia. Last week was eating disorder awareness week, and also –weirdly – a week where I had a bit of a relapse. So, in the spirit of “a problem shared is a problem halved” I thought I would take to the keyboard to write on the subject.
As I have previously said on the documentary, taking the step to being publicly naked (and not having the world respond in horror), as well as seeing, unhindered, the diversity of shapes and sizes the human form has to offer continues to be a very liberating experience for me. But naturism is just one of the strategies I use to manage my eating disorder, I hope to use this blogpost to share a few other methods I use to get by.
For me, bulimia is all about control. Nowadays, I only tend to feel the urge to binge, purge and fast when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed or out of control. Fasting was/is all about control – I might not have had control over how my mind or body worked, but I could at least rigidly control what went into my body. I’ve always kept a list of “allowed foods” and “forbidden foods”, and the more out of control I felt the more slender my list of “allowed foods” became. When I felt really out of control I would crave my “forbidden foods” so much that a binge would result, followed by a purge and consequently more fasting.
To a large extent, going vegan gave my diet a set of rules and order that allowed me to feel in control, whilst giving me a relatively large and varied diet to keep me at a decent weight. There are plenty of other good reasons to go vegan, but it continues to be a really good framework for me to use for managing my relationship with food. It also allows me to have a readily acceptable explanation for having a restricted diet which means I don’t have to out myself as bulimic or have unnecessary awkward conversations with people if I don’t feel up to it.
I won’t deny it – I’m completely obsessed with food. Part of what drew me to help create this blog was the fact that it gives me a reason to think about food all the time in a way that isn’t self-destructive. When you live in a world where you need reasons to eat (beyond being hungry), it’s a pretty good reason to be cooking and eating. As a general rule, I pretty much only ever eat when I’m with others, and so the blog serves as one reason to have people round for dinner.
One of the strategies I use when I’m feeling close to falling back into the habit of fasting is to arrange lunchdates with friends. After my hiccup last week, I arranged breakfast, lunch and dinner dates with housemates and friends for a week after. I usually have at least one meal a day communally with my housemates. I feel blessed to be living with supportive people who I can talk to about these issues, and who I trust to nag me the right amount about eating.
For me, naturism has had a big part to play in helping me manage my eating disorder. Being publicly naked for the first time was absolutely terrifying, but the fact that those around me didn’t react in horror at my body was incredibly liberating and genuinely had a massive impact on my self esteem. However, it was/still is scary as fuck sometimes and isn’t the answer for everyone, but maybe something to consider.
Other strategies I use:
- Find other (less harmful) ways to feel in control. When I feel close to relapsing I often go on a cleaning spree, organise my diary (and schedule in some pampering time) and go straight edge.
- Communicate. A problem shared is a problem halved, and it really makes a difference to talk to people who are good at listening; whether that is friends, counsellors, etc. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone – get a diary and write it down or submit a postcard to postsecret.
- Its OK to give into cravings for “forbidden foods”. If I feel a strong urge to eat a milk chocolate bar, I do. Its better that I eat one milk chocolate bar every now and again, than I wait until a binge and eat 12 mars bars in one sitting. If, like me, vegan food is your “allowed food” than always having a small amount of vegan “milk” chocolate around is a good idea.
- Resist self critical thoughts. Any time that you hear *the voice* in your head, talk back to it internally using “your own” voice. By doing that, you don’t just quell the problem of “guilt” in the short term, you start to separate your ill self from your real self and to push the ill part of you further into the past.
- If you need help with finding out information on the net, get a friend to search for you / with you so you can avoid all the “thinspiration” sites.
- Employ harm reduction techniques: If you are binging and fasting, make sure you are taking vitamin supplements and keeping hydrated (purging can really dehydrate you). If you are purging, chew antacids to neutralise the extra acid in your mouth afterwards to avoid messing up your teeth. Avoid taking laxatives or diet pills, they can really mess you up!
- All your feelings are valid. And if you need to, you should find someone to talk to about them. A lot of people feel like their eating/ body image isnt “serious enough” to ask for help. But if its a problem to you, its a problem!
- Remember your friends and family love you! They aren’t perfect but they are usually acting out of concern.
- Check out B-eat, a great support network!
How to be a good ally:
- Read up on other people’s experiences of eating disorders. It’s your duty to learn about this sort of thing, don’t expect your friend to be in a position where they can teach you about it. Also, don’t assume that one persons experiences of having an eating disorder will be the same as anyone else’s.
- Foster body-positivism within yourself and your attitude to others. This means avoiding re-enforcing fat-prejudice by saying things like “but you’re not fat”, etc. Organise politically for body-positivism, and actively change the environment around you.
- Don’t comment on how your friend’s body looks. Saying “you’re too thin” is still a negative comment about someone else’s body.
- Be there when your friend wants to chat. Employ active listening.
- Don’t try to “fix” your friend. Let them know that you are there for them if they need you, and actively make yourself available for them.
- Be patient, your friend might get angry or upset with you. Make sure you always employ non-violent communication: i.e. saying “I feel x when y happens” is less accusatory than saying “you make me feel x”
- Power struggles over food and eating are damaging. Consent is important. Never try and force someone to eat if they don’t want to. Avoid criticising your friend’s eating habits, instead focus on their feelings. Your friend is probably making themselves feel guilty and ashamed for the both of you – don’t try and guilt them into eating.
- Another thing to do is to think about how family/household approaches to food may support (or otherwise) the person with an eating disorder. Do you always hang out in the kitchen? Would having dinner in front of the tv help take the pressure off? Some people find being involved in cooking helpful, others not so much. How about skipping or growing your own food?
- Being stressed and upset can only lead to more harm, so make sure you time to pamper yourself and make sure you are OK too!
If you have any other positive tips, stories, resources or advice, please feel free to post in the comments (or even write an article for us!) – Thanks to everyone who has contributed helpful advice so far. Please read the above section on being a good ally before posting a comment, anything that isn’t positive about other people’s bodies will be deleted.