Find peace with food and overcome disordered eating.
Food Freedom Coach
Overcome disordered eating and find peace with food
by Harriet Frew on March 25th, 2020

The world as you know it has been turned upside down, in a few short weeks.

Anxiety, panic and uncertainty rule and this is an incredibly difficult time.

And it’s a particularly challenging, if you’re struggling with disordered eating and poor body image. Controlling food and weight are already existing coping strategies for underlying distress. The current contagious and heightened anxiety, not surprisingly can add fuel to an already burning fire, exacerbating your symptoms.

You might be worried about getting access to your normal and safe foods.

You might be eating less or more, in reaction to the stress of it all.

You might feel worried about self-isolating and not being able to exercise.

You might be stuck inside with family or friends, feeling significant strain on these relationships.

So how to cope through this tricky time?

1, ACCESS TO YOUR SAFE FOODS

It’s a reality that you might not be able to access your regular, safe foods in the way that you normally would.

Going to the supermarket may have become extremely stressful, busy and over stimulating.
You might feel massively anxious and panicky. This is understandable. You don’t need to feel guilty for having these feelings.

Stop, pause and take a breath. It is helpful to accept that things are going to be more difficult for a few weeks.

Trust that you will find a way through. It does not have to be a catastrophe.

Trust that you have the resources to problem solve and keep yourself safe.

Trust that you can rely on others and ask for their support too.

You will need to adjust a little. You can do some meal planning and reach out to a friend to help with this. It could be beneficial to think ahead before going shopping, or sending someone on your behalf, it if feels too much.

It could even be an opportunity to push yourself, out of your existing comfort zone, to experiment and try different foods. You may survive this considerably better than you imagine.

2. BINGEING ON STOCKPILED FOOD

You may have cupboards bulging with dry goods, in anticipation of the isolated weeks ahead. This may provoke intense anxiety, triggering fears of binge eating and losing control around these foods.

To help prevent this, ensure that your body physiology is stable, by eating regularly and a balance of food groups, and at intervals throughout the day (ideally 3 meals and 3 snacks). Do not restrict or deprive yourself of food, as this will absolutely render you vulnerable to binge eating.

Don’t go crazy with the stockpiling of food, if this is hugely triggering for you. It is also likely unnecessary and disadvantages others. Trust that there will be enough.

Being socially isolated; in close contact with family members and losing your daily routine: these can all potentially trigger feelings of anxiety, loneliness, boredom or upset. You will be vulnerable to emotional eating and using food to comfort of self-soothe.

Work to be aware of your feelings and to tune into them with self-compassion and understanding. You might need some distraction activities on hand and a self-care toolkit, ready for challenging moments.

Remember, that it’s okay to set boundaries and say no, if needed. You might feel drawn into a role of caring for everyone else, but remember that your needs are important too.

3. FEAR OF WEIGHT GAIN DUE TO LIMITED ACTIVITY

Many people with and without disordered eating, are talking openly about fears of weight gain. This can be hugely triggering if you have issues with food.

It’s a reality that your regular routine and exercise patterns are going to change for a while. Again, some radical acceptance of this is incredibly helpful. It places you in a position to have some control and a problem solving approach to the situation.

Your body is not going to drastically change, in a few weeks. You don’t need to catastrophise.
If you’ve been compulsively over-exercising, this could be a time to gently address this and begin to tolerate a new level of activity. An obsession with exercise is often a weary and exhausting thing, with a complete absence of joy. Take the chance to challenge this now.

Think about some movement daily, with a focus on the mental health benefits, such as improving mood, decreasing anxiety, better sleep and body image. Try and be creative and make it a happy experience, rather than a ‘should’. Maybe do an online workout, gardening or do some yoga in the front room.

You could write yourself a timetable and divide your day up into blocks. Time previously spent over-exercising could be directed towards social connections or enjoying an arts or crafts activity.

This is an incredibly tough time, if you’re struggling with disordered eating and body image. Work to self-care and consider how you can make the coming weeks, a little easier. Do stay connected and ask for help. Many counsellors are not offering on-line support; this could be a time to think about this.

by Harriet Frew on March 13th, 2020

The burden of perfection is intense in society today. Social media floods us daily with filtered, airbrushed, carefully chosen pictures, of people living happy lives, looking attractive and achieving wonderful things. And it never goes away! It is present, relentless and fully accessible 24/7.

If this alone wasn’t enough, the constant pressure to achieve is omnipresent and even encouraged. We are all supremely busy, almost wearing this as a badge of honour – achieving, climbing the career ladder, parenting and excelling in our hobbies. Understandably, we have less time for face-to-face relationships and deeper connections.

Switching off from the busyness can increasingly involve time spent alone, whilst scrolling through our feeds and distorting further our perceptions and expectations of what is real. There is more opportunity than ever before to compare, compare, compare and then to feel inadequate.

Some of us will be more prone to the vulnerabilities of perfectionist striving, than others. Early experiences from often well-intentioned demanding parents, critical teachers or other authority figures can engrain deeply the messages of self-worth being highly dependent on grades, achievement or looks. Acceptance or approval can begin to feel highly conditional on us meeting these expectations, with the strong fear that we are undeserving of love or acceptance unless we continue to strive, achieve and perfect.

Long after the early authority figures have disappeared from our lives, or faded into the background of daily life; we enter the adult world, with the internal critique embedded firmly in our psyche. It feels normal and almost right to self-impose these often impossible standards. Thinking is also rigid being very black and white: ‘I am perfect or I’m failing’. Shades of grey feel incomprehensible or just a bit ‘meh’ - ‘Why bother if I can’t be perfect?’ It is this perspective that can often leave people feeling reluctant to change their perfectionist drive. It might not feel achievable to feel good about yourself, whilst simultaneously relinquishing perfection.

5 tips to dilute perfectionism and boost self-esteem


1. ACKNOWLEDGE
Frankly acknowledge that perfectionism is not doing you any favours. In fact, it is actually preventing you from feeling joy and satisfaction from your achievements. Predominantly, you are likely feeling a failure from not meeting your own expectations. How often can you realistically achieve perfection? 1-5% maybe? There is significant room for fruitless berating of yourself for the other 95-99%.

2. ROOTS OF PERFECTIONISM

Understand where the early perfectionist messages are rooted. What experiences have contributed to you believing that you have to be perfect? Write this down in a journal and begin to view it from a new and different perspective. Consider the types of authority figure you would have liked to have had in early life. What kind of qualities would they have demonstrated to support you in feeling encouraged, accepted and wholly good enough?

3. BELIEFS
Question your beliefs about needing to please, perfect or appease others in your life today. Will you really be rejected for not being perfect? Do people care as much as you think? Often, we are placing far more pressure on ourselves than others ever would do. People often prefer someone who is real, genuine and imperfect. Perfectionism can lead to competitiveness, rigidity or coolness which can be off-putting.

4. SOCIAL MEDIA
Be mindful of your social media usage. If you are comparing yourself and feeling low, then take a step back. Observe the images that are presented with a critical eye. This is just a snap-shot of someone’s life and is not the day-in-day-out real-life story. Understandably, people will post their best photos, accompanied by a favourable filter. How can you to compare yourself to these? You can also reduce your social media engagement if you find this triggering.

5. FOCUS INWARDS
We are all flawed human beings with our strengths and weaknesses. No-one, yes, no-one has it all sorted out! Remember this, when you are tempted to idealise someone and assume they have it all together. There may be aspects of another that you wish to emulate or aspire to, but no-one is faultless. Instead, focus inwards and notice your own positive qualities and strengths. This is not about being arrogant, but rather having a quiet, inner acknowledgement and acceptance of the things you can do well. Jotting these thoughts down in a journal can be helpful, enabling you to begin to shift your focus. If you struggle with this exercise, ask a friend whom you trust to feedback to you.

If you are struggling to control your inner perfectionist and are longing to feel self-acceptance, now could be the time to reach out and get support through counselling. Counselling can offer an opportunity to gain greater awareness and understanding about why you are self-critical. You can learn to become kinder and self-compassionate, which can ultimately improve your mood and sense of wellbeing.


by Harriet Frew on March 6th, 2020

1. GET TO THE REAL STUFF BENEATH THE SURFACE

Body image perceptions (the thoughts, feelings and vulnerabilities about your body image) might have VERY LITTLE to do, with the reality of your body.

You can project feelings, thoughts and vulnerabilities that are too painful to acknowledge, onto the body.  We can all be vulnerable to doing this.  You might have a ‘fat day’, when objectively nothing has changed about your body, but it feels physically different. Underneath the ‘fat feeling’, you may be feeling upset, angry, sad, anxious or something else.  You don’t feel this feeling; instead you ‘feel fat’.

With eating disorders or disordered eating, the level of projection and splitting off from the painful feelings is more extreme.

Projecting onto the body can feel safer than feeling the underlying feelings.

Often, the projection onto the body is quite unconscious.

Projecting on the body then gives us a ‘false solution’ for managing the distress. Eg; go on a diet – I’ll lose weight and feel better. This temporarily gives a feeling of control and mastery but doesn’t fix the problem.
 
So when you're ready, to improve body image, you need to do the deeper work of getting in touch with the underlying feelings. You might need to do this in the safety of therapy. You could also do this with a trusted friend or mentor.

2. RADICAL ACCEPTANCE

You only have one body! So much of this is determined by your genetic make-up. You can’t change your height; your overall body shape; the length of your limbs; the shape of your face or whether you have freckles or dimples. You can’t really change your set-point or weight significantly, without serious costs to your health or by experiencing miserable deprivation.
 
Beating yourself up for something you cannot really change is pointless and destructive. On some level, you need to develop a RADICAL ACCEPTANCE of the body you’ve been given and begin to learn to look after and take care of this body, as this is your one vessel for life.
 
Improving body image takes time. It is a long game, but one absolutely worth investing in.

Do share your thoughts.

Harriet x


by Harriet Frew on February 17th, 2020

When you’re embarking on the recovery road from disordered eating, you can have an ideal fantasy about what this might look like.

And maybe some of your preconceived ideas will be true. Others will most certainly be not.
Here I share some of my own recovery myths versus the reality.

MYTH: Recovery is about seeking out the perfect meal plan from an external source, with precisely the right balance of food groups to meet my needs. I will follow it to the letter and food peace will be mine.

REALITY: Recovery is about developing a healthy relationship with food. This means eating a variety of foods, including protein, carbohydrates and fats; eating tasty foods; childhood favourites; eating from restaurant menus and my old forbidden foods. There is no perfect food equation but I can learn to trust my body, to tell me what it needs.

MYTH: It’s a quick fix. Just give me a 30 day programme and some strategies.

REALITY: It’s absolutely a marathon and not a sprint. It took several years to develop disordered eating; I can’t unravel this overnight. That’s okay though; recovery is possible and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

MYTH: If other people would change and start being more accepting and kind towards me, then I could finally accept myself.

REALITY: It is a grief to accept that some people in my life could not and cannot give me what I need; it is a hard lesson to accept this fully. However, I can have compassion for others, as they were doing the best that they could at the time. I have had the opportunity to reflect and gain awareness of my own situation. This means I can choose to parent myself in a very different way.

MYTH: I’m either recovered or I’m not. It’s black and white.

REALITY: Recovery is a messy, grey, convoluted path that continues well after the symptoms have disappeared. But that’s okay – everyone is on their own journey.

MYTH: Therapy will help me turn off all negative thoughts and flick the switch in my brain to find food harmony.

REALITY: Therapy helps me gain awareness, understanding and insight. I begin to get to know myself better and to recognise how self-critical I can be. Change is a gentle, nudging process and sadly, there is no magic wand to adjust my thoughts.

MYTH: I am feeling the body positive vibes daily.
REALITY: I am working on body acceptance and building self-esteem based around my deepest values.

MYTH: I’m going to become an extroverted, sophisticated, academic, smartly turned-out, non-frizzy haired woman who takes on the world.

REALITY: I embrace the fact that I’m a red lipstick loving, frizzy haired, leopard coat (fake) adoring, introverted, compassionate, therapy obsessed woman who takes on the world, but in a subtler and quieter way.

Do you have any recovery myths versus reality to share? Do let me know in the comments.

by Harriet Frew on February 3rd, 2020

 
1. If you have disordered eating, you might be out of touch with your emotions. It is likely that this problem preceded issues with food, but it’s probably become a whole lot worse with development of eating disorder behaviours. Restrictive eating, binge eating, purging over-exercise – these are all ‘effective’ ways to numb, distract and dissociate from emotions. The feelings underneath may feel too risky to get in touch with. But cutting off from emotions is massively detrimental to mental wellbeing long-term. You are losing a valuable internal barometer that guides and informs your decisions.

2. Your biology – if you are born being more sensitive (thin-skinned) than others, you will feel your emotions deeply. It will give you the advantage of possibly being more empathic, tuned in and intuitive in communication with others. The downside is that you might feel things to your core and your emotions can feel overwhelming at times.  To manage this, you will need to learn to have ways of protecting yourself from the world at times; learning to set boundaries can be key.

3. Lack of skill – some children are extremely fortunate that through good parenting and also school experiences, they have learned how to regulate their emotions very effectively. They may have taken this on board quite unconsciously, and not even see it as a skill. This has been learned by a caregiver helping the child to name, feel and process emotions helpfully. If you haven’t learned this early on, then there is no reason why you ‘should’ know how to do it. The good news is that new skills can be learned – with emotionally intelligent friends, in therapy or other forms of personal development.

4. Reinforcement of emotions – sometimes we have learned ‘negative’ ways of coping with emotions which have been reinforced by others around us. Eg: shouting and yelling to get what we want, rather than asking for this assertively.  Or adopting pleasing behaviours of compliance and submissiveness (and burying our true emotions), to gain acceptance from those around us. You might feel rejection for revealing your true self.

5. Moodiness – we are all vulnerable to mood fluctuations day to day. Mood can be greatly affected by our self-care (enough sleep, food, rest etc) and also around interactions with others. Gaining mastery over our emotions involves being able to make decisions not just based on our current mood, but what is going to be ‘effective’ for us long-term. Eg: I might feel like not getting out of bed in the morning and going to work. However, I appreciate that getting up is a good thing to do and is going to help me move towards my longer term goals and help me contribute to the things I value.

6. Sea of dyscontrol – sometimes we can feel so overwhelmed by emotions that we can’t see the wood for the trees. We are flooded with emotion and we have to wait for this to subside, to begin to unpick what has happened.

7. Emotional myths – we might hold on to messages from the past that are unhelpful around emotions. Eg: ‘It is weak to show emotion’ or ‘I’ll be exploited if I show how I really feel’.

Are you in touch with your feelings today? What has impacted your relationship with your emotions and food?





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Find peace with food and overcome disordered eating.