Not thin enough? Ditch this notion right now. Disordered eating isn’t about your body weight, shape or BMI, it’s about what’s going on inside your head. Anyone of any size can have an eating disorder. Don’t ever tell yourself you’re not thin enough or not sick enough: if you’re struggling, you’re struggling. Anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating and other eating disorders are not determined by the number on the scales.
Be honest with yourself: If you find yourself anxious around food, constantly counting calories and weighing yourself, lying about eating or hiding food, avoiding mealtimes with others, bingeing or purging in secret, regularly skipping meals, eating to the point of sickness, harming or hating your body, exercising after eating to compensate - these are all warning signs. Once you’ve acknowledged the problem, get help fast. Make an appointment to see your GP, visit beateatingdisorders.org.uk or reach out to others online. Help is available but you need to ask for it. Swift action is essential: the longer you live with an eating disorder the harder it is to recover.
Invent your reason to get better: Focus on your dream, goal or reward: you need something greater than the eating disorder in order to beat it. Write down where you want to be in six months or a year’s time: this could be going to university, pursuing a new career, travelling the world, anything which motivates you. Be honest about how the eating disorder is holding you back, and start making changes today.
Emotional support: As well as professional/nutritional support and advice, you need human interaction and kindness. Keep seeing your friends and family. Don’t isolate yourself, get involved in volunteering, travel, join colleagues for a drink after work, go for a massage, maintain physical contact with the outside world. At my sickest I avoided hugs (they made me want to cry) but trust me, they help. And be kind to yourself too: allow yourself treats. Drink wine if you like it, take hot baths, go to the cinema, join a book group. The more interests you have which are unrelated to food or exercise, the more of your identity you preserve from the eating disorder. Stop the internal warfare: it doesn’t get you anywhere.
Don’t label foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and don’t obsess over so-called ‘clean eating’. Becoming preoccupied with ingredients, cutting out ‘impure’ foods or eliminating entire food groups could be a sign of orthorexia. Avoiding everyday substances such as wheat, dairy or sugar can lead to restrictive eating patterns and nutritional deficiencies. Don’t follow health & wellness bloggers who promote unscientific and unhealthy ‘clean eating’ messages.
Eat real food: you don’t need to cleanse or detoxify your body (that’s what your liver is for) and you don’t need to juice your food. You don’t need to avoid gluten and you don’t need to eat raw or go vegan. Kale may be healthy but it won’t change your life. Normal food is fine for normal people!
Stop feeling guilty or greedy: If you’re struggling with anorexia you need to delete the word ‘greed’ from your vocabulary. You are not greedy. Your brain needs food to function. Be strict with yourself: fuel your body the way you put petrol in the car. You’ve proved you can starve, now it’s time to make up new rules. Use your willpower to regain weight and get your life back.
Ditch the size zeros: This sounds trivial but it’s crucial. Go through your wardrobe and throw out the super-skinny clothes. Be ruthless with yourself: you’re an adult, you shouldn’t be wearing children’s sizes. And when you’re going through the process of weight gain, wear loose, comfortable clothing. Don’t weigh yourself (see below) and don’t wear tiny clothes and that’s half the battle won. Donate anything which is too small to charity and move forward with recovery.
Step away from the scales. Of course they have a place in the doctor’s surgery, but you don’t need to become a slave to your bathroom scales. You are not a sack of flour, you’re a human being. If you’re weighing yourself obsessively every day, it’s time to break the habit.
Treat recovery like an experiment: Remember, nothing is irrevocable. Just try gaining weight and see what a difference every kilo makes. If you really hate being well, you can go back again, but just try eating. I promise you’ll never want to get sick again: healthy feels amazing.
The A-Z of Eating Disorders by Emma Woolf is out now.