Find peace with food and overcome disordered eating.
Food Freedom Coach
Overcome disordered eating and find peace with food
by Harriet Frew on May 22nd, 2020

THE PERFECT BODY ILLUSION  by Victoria Stockwell 

Do you wish you looked like the girl in the magazine? I will let you into a secret…the girl in the magazine doesn’t even look like that.

I should know: I have been that girl.

Representations of the ‘perfect’ female body are pervasive throughout modern society, consolidated and perpetuated by an omnipresent mass media.

Online, this ideal can be found on a variety of platforms ranging from YouTube workout videos, to image-laden websites such as Instagram.

Every week we are bombarded with around 5000 of these ‘inspirational’ bodies which, thanks to our surgically attached smartphones, can be viewed any time, anywhere.

In today’s hyper-saturated image culture, this aesthetic ideal is extremely powerful; and its prolific distribution serves to reinforce our obsession with physical appearance.

Studies suggest that frequent exposure to these ideals places women, particularly adolescent females, at risk of developing a negative body image.

Comparing ourselves to these blemish-free, sculpted physiques can cause dissatisfaction and contribute to low self-esteem.

In a recent survey, 40% of teenagers admitted that they experienced concerns about their own body image after viewing idealised bodies online.

This comparison often encourages weight preoccupation, and may ultimately lead to disorderly eating in our attempts to replicate the ‘ideal’ body.

This body, however, is far from real.

In 2013, when I entered the fitness competition world and began to post images from my own photoshoots online, my friends and family remarked how tall I looked (in real life I measure a petite 5’2”).

Creating the appearance of height, however, is just one of countless illusions that can be produced using the art of photography.

With technological methods such as digital enhancement and airbrushing, it is possible to mask imperfections and homogenize skin tone.

Abdominal muscles can be made to appear more defined by increasing contrast and deepening shadows; and the body’s silhouette can be adjusted by tightening the waist and enlarging ‘desirable’ curves such as a woman’s bust and glutes.

This photographic illusion is also reinforced by the models themselves, who will often go to extreme lengths to ensure that their bodies are photo perfect.

My own gruelling preparations for a photoshoot included tapering calories, restricting certain food groups, and reducing my intake of liquids.

Having starved and dehydrated my body, on the day of the shoot I would then spend hours spraying dark tan, applying heavy make up, and vigorously backcombing my hair.

After squeezing into a pair of tiny hot pants and a luminous sports bra, I would then pump up my muscles to create optimum definition for the photograph.

Once the lighting and backdrop had been ideally positioned, all that would remain was to painfully angle my body to its best advantage, suck in my stomach, and smile.

The potential harm of this image manipulation, however, lies not in the enhancement itself, but in the photograph’s final presentation.

Despite being overly styled and digitally altered, such bodies are frequently portrayed as ‘normal’ in the mass media.

The constant stream of these images on Facebook and Instagram can therefore distort our perception of what is normal and attainable.

It is common practice for us to add a flattering filter, display our best angles, or even change our faces into a cat before posting a photograph of ourselves online.

This can be fun, or even reassuring if we are not feeling confident about our appearance on a particular day. The danger, however, lies in forgetting that most ‘perfect’ pictures on social media are not candid: they are often staged, well lit, strategically posed, and digitally manipulated.

When I find myself scrolling through old fitness photographs feeling envious of my leaner, more muscular physique, I try to remind myself that the body in the pictures was never truly real. I was starving, uncomfortable, and had a splitting headache brought on by lack of food and water.

If, like me, you sometimes brood over pictures when you thought you looked ‘better’; or compare yourself to the seemingly flawless models on Instagram, please remember that this perfect body does not exist…it is merely an ILLUSION.

by Harriet Frew on May 19th, 2020

Experiencing devastating grief or rushing your child to A and E, after an accident or news that shatters your world in a heartbeat – this is acute stress.

The panic and overwhelm that primes your body to flee and react, as it would helpfully have done, when fleeing from the predator, in days gone by.

Your appetite is nil. Eating’s not even a consideration, as the survival instinct dominates.
Chronic stress is somewhat different. It doesn’t dismantle your world in one fail swoop, but it drips steadily, niggling away at your wellbeing like a persistent child asking, ‘Are we there yet?’ for the 25th time in 15 minutes.

It gnaws in your head, with a persistent buzz that sits heavily, and irritability levels run close to the surface. It drains your energy and often renders the normal ways of self-care redundant.
If you’re in lockdown (and thankfully well and healthy), then it’s no surprise that chronic stress levels are bubbling, with home-schooling and family claustrophobia or aching loneliness predominating.

Food can be an understandable short-cut to lift mood or soothe anxiety, to get you through the day.

You might find yourself desperately craving pastries or chocolate, or simply just wanting to eat, when you know that you’re not hungry.

You find yourself making regular trips to the kitchen, opening and closing the fridge door.
This isn’t a post to berate or chastise you, for using food to soothe.

Eating is an understandable coping strategy, in times of stress.

I know that I’ve been chomping more, on salt and vinegar crisps and KitKats and Chewits (they still make your teeth stick together) and merrily enjoying every scrumptious bite.

I try to eat intuitively and if this is what I’m craving, then I have no plans to deny myself. We’re not going to be in lockdown forever.

If your chomping is getting a little out of hand, then it’s definitely a time to offer yourself a bit of kindness and understanding in relation to this.

There might be feelings to be soothed or standards to be eased. For 98% of us, a pandemic is not going to be the time to write that memoir or read the lifeworks of Shakespeare or learn fluent Japanese.

Even considering such productivity can send you running to the fridge, in a self-sabotaging panic because you feel that you’re failing at life.

Don’t judge or criticise yourself about eating but rather be curious and self-understanding.
Maybe think about what you need, to reduce the stress just a little. Do get out in the sunshine and move gently every day.


Make time for the little pleasures that can sustain and lift your mood.

Reach out to a dear friend on Zoom, who really understands.

Slow down and breathe. Ask yourself, ‘How do I feel right now? What can I do to take care of myself best?’

Offer yourself the consideration and thought that you would show your closest friend, beloved pet, or precious child.

by Harriet Frew on May 8th, 2020

NUMBER ONE - THE MEAL PLAN

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.'

This is such a common belief. Some of my clients are often bursting to see the dietician for getting the holy grail meal plan. The one that gets to give the perfect proportions of all the things they need to eat and will help them dump the eating disorder for good.
It’s such an understandable request. Because eating disorders are all about food, right? Just get that sorted and you’ll be okay.

The tricky thing is, they are about food, but eating disorders are also complex, psychological problems. They’re usually a coping strategy (often unconscious) for underlying distress. If it was just as simple as ‘follow a meal plan; clients likely wouldn’t be seeing me anyway
.
So often what happens – is people see the dietician. They’re told the nutritional info that we kind of all know. Eating a balance of food groups; variety; eating enough – and they feel somewhat disillusioned. Because they could actually have told someone else in their shoes, exactly the same thing.

This isn’t to put down dietitians – as they are crucial in the recovery process -  as people often need permission, informed guidance and knowledge about how to manage their food intake.
But it’s not the magic pill; the wonderful answer; the thing to sort out all problems.

REALITY: The reality of recovery is that a psychological understanding is an important part of the recovery journey. This involves understanding WHY you developed eating issues; what was the trigger; how is the eating problem helping you cope and gaining awareness of this, so that you are able to begin to consider change. A meal plan might be a very vital and important recovery segment, at some point, but it’s not the FIX that we’re hoping for.

Recovery is also about developing a healthier 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. This is a long game – one step at a time.

NUMBER TWO - A QUICK FIX PLEASE

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

We live in a fast paced and instant gratification society. You can buy STUFF on Amazon in a quick swipe; supermarket shopping is 24 hour and we are constantly bombarded with information on our phones – a Google search gives you all the info you need.

It is understandable that we want to apply the same approach to recovery from disordered eating. Who wants a lengthy painful drawn out therapy, when the allure of quick-fix approach just feels infinitely more appealing.

We might have often come from a dieting approach too. Many diets are short in duration and quick with results. Not sustainable results, but RESULTS. We are often lured into the fantasy that changing our relationship with food should be just as easy.

It’s common to see people maybe ditching the crash diets with meal supplements, but then simply switching this to another slightly less intense 30 day lifestyle plan, which is essentially another diet but maybe masked under the veil of clean eating or something else. This is not a solution, just a slight change of direction.

And nevermind that it’s probably taken you months or years to develop disordered eating. The unravelling of disordered habits and healing a relationship with food, is going to take a bit of time.

REALITY: So the reality is that it does take time to recover from disordered eating. However, don’t be put off by this. The journey is rich in not only changing your relationship with food, but also a whole new load of learning about emotions, relationships and finding yourself. It is absolutely one worth investing in.

NUMBER 3 - OTHER PEOPLE NEED TO CHANGE

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

This was me -  100% in my early twenties. I felt angry, disappointed and let down by certain people in my life. I was blaming and took very little responsibility for what was happening.
I worked tirelessly to try and gain the approval and acceptance, of people that weren’t able to give this to me. I was furious that they weren’t accepting of me. I felt entitled to this. THIS IS WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN.

And I thought - how could I possibly accept myself, when others (whose opinion I really valued) did not accept me? It felt an impossible task.

This is such a common theme I see in therapy; people continuing to go back to their childhood relationships – to try and get what they need; continuing to bang on the door of hope that THIS TIME, maybe my parent can really do it for me. Sadly, sometimes this just isn’t possible.

It was a sad grieving process for me, to realise what was possible from certain people around me and what was not. This wasn’t an overnight acceptance or suddenly feeling okay about it. It was a slow and gradual dilution of the raging feelings and a reluctant acceptance of the reality.

In time, it was an acknowledgement of people’s real limitations in what they could give, down to their own childhood wounds. Beginning to understand that they were doing the best that they could at the time. And beginning to have more empathy and understanding for this.

So the REALITY has been that 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.

Recovery is an unexpected and winding road. Every journey will be unique. Often your expectations of recovery may be very different from the reality. This is no bad thing.

Do share any of your own myths v reality with disordered eating recovery.


by Harriet Frew on May 3rd, 2020

The seeds of body dissatisfaction are often sown from a young age, when you are young and impressionable. Hence, it’s tricky to effortlessly discard these old messages, as their roots run deep and entangled into your psyche.

Diet culture

Unless you were raised in a cave, far from anywhere or shielded from the popular media, then you will have undoubtedly absorbed the message that ‘thin is desirable’, from a very young age. From skinny Disney princesses to fat shaming in films, you will have become unconsciously indoctrinated with this pervasive message.

The environment at home        

You will have absorbed the messages from your family, like a sponge. If your mum was dieting or your grandmother made comments about the body size of TV personalities or your dad regularly joked about fat people, around the dinner table – these messages will have become your normal.

Bullying in relation to appearance

If anyone ever commented about your appearance in a critical or judgemental way, then you might feel loaded with shame, embarrassment, and humiliation in relation to your poor body. You may have decided that your body was wrong and that you needed to change it. This may have set you off, on a destructive road.

Trauma

Experiencing any kind of abuse or trauma, can be severely damaging and detrimental to your mental wellbeing. Whether it be a one off event or the relentless drip-drip impact of ongoing abuse, you might find yourself in regular states of fight/flight and fear, and using food (could be over or under-eating), as a coping strategy to soothe or distract.

Friendships

Feeling connected and accepted by your peer group is an essential ingredient of wellbeing, particularly in the choppy waters of adolescence, when isolation and loneliness can feel devastating. If this was a difficult time for you, then living in a culture so attached to defining worth through body shape, no wonder that dieting feels like the solution to boost esteem and feel better.

Which messages stand out for you?

Understanding the deeper roots of your relationship with food and your body can help you take a step back and question the beliefs that you hold so dear.

You might want to throw out any messages that no longer serve you.

You may wish to re-evaluate and consider your own values and beliefs.

If it feels too much to do alone, it could be time to seek out help through therapy.


by Harriet Frew on April 18th, 2020

I hope that you and your families are safe and well.

Your self-worth might have taken a battering recently, with a loss of routine or work; being confined to the house or feeling daily anxiety bubbling away.

Lockdown can highlight any areas where you have become overly dependent on external validation of your worth.

Suddenly, this is taken away and you're left very much in your own head. If you thoughts about yourself are not very kind or encouraging, you might be feeling pretty deflated and low.

If you don’t like yourself, it’s like having a 24-hour bully in your head. The bully notices when you trip up and fall over. It calls you a greedy pig when you eat that 5th biscuit. It tells you that other people don’t like you. It drip feeds criticism and self-loathing. Instead, you need to cultivate a kind and caring voice. It is time for the bully to leave and the caring nurturer to come and stay.

But how to change this?

1. CREATE THE HABIT

Consider the view that this self-love malarkey could actually be a nice idea and at least worth a try. It’s unlikely that you’re going to wake up one day and feel a gushing wave of self-love. Instead, it’s a bit like brushing your teeth or doing your homework. It’s a habit that you need to cultivate. You won’t always want to do it, but instead appreciate that it does pay off to make the effort.

2. TREAT YOURSELF, AS YOU DO OTHERS

Think about how you treat your beloved tabby cat or a dear friend. I am sure that you are thoughtful in your actions and kind in your texts and messages. You take care of them and meet their needs with food and rest. Self-love can involve adding little things to your day that bring you joy and happiness. Eg: a cup of frothy coffee in a beautiful cup, watching your favourite TV programme in your fluffy slippers or going outside on a beautiful Spring morning and breathing in the frosty air.

You’re probably quite good at these things already – you now just need to do this for YOU too.

3. IT’S NOT ALL BUBBLE BATHS AND NAILPAINTING

Self-love is not all bubble baths and nail painting. It can mean saying NO to something you don’t want to do. ‘I can’t do that for you this time but do ask me again’.

It frees you up for a resounding ‘yes’, when you actively want to opt in. So make some time to prioritise SELF-LOVE in lockdown.

Build up those inner reserves, so you feel less reliant on others to make you feel good.

Wishing you and your families health and calmness, through this very difficult time.

Harriet x

p.s. Do check out my PODCAST on Podbean if you haven't already - I'm excited to let you know that my next episode is going to include my very first guest. 





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Find peace with food and overcome disordered eating.