Find peace with food and overcome disordered eating.
Eating Disorder Therapist
Overcome disordered eating and find peace with food
by Victoria Stockwell on June 1st, 2020

By Victoria Stockwell 

Throughout the noughties, young women appealed to ‘thinspiration’ for advice on how they should look. Instagram was their Bible and the thigh-gap their ultimate goal. Recently however, this disturbingly slender model has developed muscle.

In 2020, the fitness body has become the ideal to which women are told they must aspire.
It is now becoming increasingly difficult to avoid the ever expanding world of ‘fitspiration.’ Via their motivational online content, sculpted gym bunnies and yoga pant clad ‘wellness’ gurus offer us an attractive alternative to being ‘thin.’

While thinspiration placed emphasis upon mental willpower, ‘be strong and get skinny’, modern fitness culture requires resilience of both mind and body. This is indicated by the slogan: ‘strong is the new skinny.’  

Moving away from the comparatively simple starvation method, fitspiration encourages weight loss through ‘clean’ eating and exercise.  On social media, women in neon sports bras inform their followers that today is ‘leg day’; and ‘meal 3’ was salmon with sweet potato. Instagram feeds function as online food diaries as fitness enthusiasts post images of Tupperware-bound protein and greens, accompanied by their macronutrient values and the ubiquitous hashtag #absaremadeinthekitchen.

According to this trend, dieting must be supplemented by regular workouts in order to achieve the new ideal body that is not only lean, but also strong. The concave stomach of the thinspiration era now boasts a six pack; and the thigh gap has been replaced by muscular legs. A model’s rounded glutes are frequently the subject of fitspirational images where women are posed in the squat rack, dripping with sweat.

There are positive aspects to fitness culture, however. It can be encouraging in its (ostensible) quest for health, and is capable of promoting body confidence. Unlike the followers of its predecessor, advocates of fitspiration assert: ‘I work out not because I hate my body but because I love it.’ The women who refused food, or spent their days slumped over a toilet bowl are now positive and strong.

Nevertheless, despite their outward appearance of health, the women who represent this lifestyle maintain an extremely low level of body fat.  According to Muscle and Body Magazine, fitness models usually have 8.5-14% body fat, which is far lower than the 25-31% female average. For women, this can be particularly dangerous since a certain amount of body fat is necessary for their physiological health and functioning.  

Compared to the anorexic girls of the thinspiration era, fitness models have a large amount of muscle mass, which means that they do not look ill and emaciated. Marketed as fitness, the new ideal body makes ‘thin’ socially palatable by transitioning from the darker, self-harming world of anorexia towards a promise of health and happiness.

The danger of fitspiration therefore lies in the fact that it is merely masquerading as health.
With its confounding combination of muscular curves and low body fat, the fitness body is even more unattainable than its ultra-thin predecessor. As was the case with the diminutive form of the Kate Moss ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ era, striving to attain the fitness model look causes serious damage to mental and physical health. The thought patterns and behaviours of fitspiration are potentially as destructive and compulsive as self-starvation.

Attaining such a lean physique involves strict eating regimes and obsessive exercise, yet these activities are disguised by rhetoric of willpower and dedication. Like advocates of thinspiration, members of the fitness culture movement view their choices not as a dangerous obsession, but as part of a dedicated lifestyle. This is reinforced by their mantra: ‘obsession is a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated.’ In addition, the compulsive nature of these behaviours is confirmed by their claims that, ‘once you see results, it becomes an addiction.’

While today’s culture asserts that ‘strong is the new skinny’, this statement is undermined by its replication of many thinspiration conventions. Its followers photograph their meals, share weight loss tips, and post countless selfies; yet with a tighter, more muscular physique as their idol.

As well as promoting the same obsessions as its predecessor, fitspiration offers an even more impossible ideal. Looking like a fitness model requires heavy weight lifting, an impeccably rigid diet, and round the clock commitment; a truth overlooked by some of the young women who become swept up by this culture. Far from promoting a healthier attitude towards eating and body image, the fitness physique is merely a rebranding of anorexia-glorifying thinspiration. Despite fitspiration’s claim that, ‘strong is the new skinny’, strong remains resolutely lean.

by Harriet Frew on May 27th, 2020

Wanting to eat the WHOLE bar - in one go!

I was making the afternoon tea for us 5 in lockdown.

I'll usually have a snack at this time. Biscuits, nuts, crackers, fruit - one or some of these to keep blood sugar levels topped up.

I opened the cupboard door and looked at my chocolate stash.

By the way, I eat chocolate everyday - not in huge amounts but it's one of life's pleasures that I have no desire to give up now or in the near future.

I thought about eating the whole bar - not just a row or a few chunks. THE WHOLE BAR.

And sometimes I might eat the whole bar; I don't have food rules - I like to enjoy food and feel unrestricted.


But I knew I wasn't really hungry. At least not hungry enough to eat it all in go.

What was going on?

I pootled around and emptied the washing machine, whilst touching base with my feelings.


I felt tired, hot, flustered, irritated with working.


I needed a break rather than food. I needed a change of scene and to feel fresh air and sunshine.  I needed a drink of water. I was thirsty.


Food wasn't going to serve me here.

For me - tiredness. It's my biggest trigger for emotional eating.
 - 

When my children were little and I wasn't getting much sleep, I would regularly top up energy levels with sugar to get me through. It was survival.


And yes I also believe that emotional eating is part of life. You can't separate food and emotion.


But it's not helpful, when food is your number one turn-to, to soothe or calm or comfort.


You need to have other strategies too.


If you don't feel your feelings, you cut yourself off from an important internal barometer that can tell you what's right or wrong.

It's impossible to meet your needs properly, when you don't listen to yourself.


HOW TO GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUR EMOTIONS?

1. Slow down and give yourself a chance for emotions to come to the surface.

2. Write down your feelings in a journal.

3. Talk to a trusted friend or family member.

4. Go to therapy and open up within the safe boundaries of the therapeutic relationship.

How are you doing to today with FEELING your emotions?


by Victoria Stockwell 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.






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Find peace with food and overcome disordered eating.