Tag Archives: Exercise addiction

Signs of change and coping with cheese – how my eating disorder recovery looks now

vd9j4ghMental health problems have a way of taking over. I’m lucky enough never to have been hospitalised or signed off work. Life has always stumbled on. But moods and behaviours creep in and twist their tendrils around daily life. They trick you into thinking they’re normal, into nourishing them. It’s not until they start to suffocate and strangle even the simplest of things that you recognise their power. And then it’s too late for an easy fix.

This year I’ve started the long process of hacking away at the thicket and pulling up roots that go incredibly deep. It hasn’t been easy. But now I’ve made some space it’s much easier to see what a tangle I was in.

Eating new food

I recently turned 33 and enjoyed a breakfast made for me by Alex without having to purge it through exercise.The day before my birthday last year I was panicking over choosing something nice (and therefore different) for my birthday breakfast. I cried outside the bread shop. I ended up with toast and even then it was a tricky day.

Letting go of control in the kitchen

I no longer have to have control in the kitchen. I’ll eat something made for me by someone else – even if I didn’t see whether they used butter or check how much oil they added.

Reaquainting myself with cheese

I had cheese on toast for the first time in two years last week (cheese has been a scary food for years).
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Recovery is long, messy, uncomfortable and emotional – but i’ll keep trying (and talking)

Glad to have an eating disorder?

I'm not linking... but you can Google...

I’m not linking… but you can Google…

Apparently Liz Jones is glad she has an eating disorder. In her latest piece for the Mail, she tells us that recovery is so hard that it’s easier not to try. She’s lived with an eating disorder for so long that she’d rather take refuge in behaviours that feel safe than deal with the messy and fluctuating business of balanced eating.

She’s lived with an eating disorder for so long that she’d rather take refuge in behaviours that feel safe than deal with the messy and fluctuating business of balanced eating.

Yes, recovery is bloody hard work

She’s certainly right about that.

If you’ve lived with a restrictive eating disorder then gaining weight is quite literally your biggest fear. Recovery means choosing to face it and having the courage to live with it every day. It can be weeks, months or years before it stops being scary and difficult at least some of the time.

Food isn’t just nourishment. It’s both punishment and reward. It’s at once the scariest and the most important thing. Recovery means learning to manage this complex twist of emotions at least three times a day. Forever. It means dealing with other people’s opinions and comments on your changing body.

You’ve probably developed tests and checks to make sure your body is ‘right’ – restricting or purging until you ‘pass’. Recovery means ‘failing’ those tests without spiralling into self-doubt and recrimination. Hundreds of times a day.
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The next step in recovery – letting go of clothes that don’t fit

Too small

img_3546I’m selling some of my favourite clothes. Some of them are definitely too small. I bought them when I was at my lowest weight last year. Fitting into a smaller size was an unhealthy but irresistible boost to a fragile self esteem that had narrowed to focus only on my weight and ability to exercise to exhaustion.  They hang in my wardrobe now and remind me, daring me to go back there. It would only take some long runs and a few weeks of restriction. They are better off living with someone who is naturally a smaller size.

Close fitting

Some of them still just about fit. They’ve always been close fitting, that’s just their style. As a result they are often barely worn – rejected because my muddled mind translates their constant pressure on my skin as a sign of being too big.

But now I’m working to reduce my exercise without restricting my food. My body is softer and larger. Getting dressed is one of the most difficult times. Tight and restrictive clothes risk triggering an avalanche of recrimination, irritation and anger. Yesterday I threw a banana at the wall. It’s funny now but at the time I was so angry at my mind for telling me I had to choose fruit over toast until I had run (on a day when I wasn’t supposed to be running at all).

My favourite clothes are a tangible reminder of change that doesn’t always feel welcome. I’m trying to learn to like a softer, curvier frame but it’s hard. I’m scared of losing control.  I’m fighting to stay away from unhealthy patterns of thought that started carving deep grooves in my mind when I went on my first diet aged 9. It will always be much more comfortable to let go and slide back into them than to resist and live day in and out in a body that feels heavy and uncomfortable.

It’s easier if I don’t risk it, if I say goodbye to those clothes and that time and look forward.

Letting go

I can’t afford to buy a whole new wardrobe but I’ve bought a few larger sizes, baggier clothes. They help me forget the discomfort and move my focus to all the other brilliant things in my life – work, family and friends I love.

In the past the fact I KNEW they were a bigger size would ruin this comfort. That disordered inner voice would keep reminding me that wearing a larger size meant I’d failed. That I wasn’t in control. Ridiculously I would rather be uncomfortable and sad in clothes too tight than admit I am bigger and be happier in clothes that fit. But this time I’m determined to make real change – for my mind, for my body and for the hope of conceiving.

In her brilliant memoir of anorexia and bulimia The Time in Between, Nancy Tucker writes about a pair of shorts…

“One of the most painful things about this period is The Shorts. I have a pair of denim shorts whose label bears the glorious declaration ‘Age 6-7’ and they become one of The Voice’s favourite instruments of torture…. eventually it is a panting struggle to pull them on and when I take them off I have crusty sores on my skin where the denim has rubbed me raw. I don’t know whether it is because I need reassurance that my body is still acceptably small or because the pain of wearing them serves a hair shirt, self flagellation purpose, but from the time I hit my lowest weight to three, four, five months afterwards, The Voice insists I wear these shorts every day”.

Her anorexia was far far worse than any disordered eating I have experienced. But her words show the incredible power that the warped voice of eating disorders can give to clothes and clothes sizes. After 23 years of letting buttons, zips and waistbands rule my life, it’s time to start letting that go.

 

What I’d tell my 2015 self about dieting, body positivity and accepting medication

One year on...

One year on…

Yesterday we celebrated our first wedding anniversary. Our wedding was a magical day but, in the two years since we got engaged, life has taken some unexpected turns.

My mental and physical health has taken quite a bashing.  I’m not fully recovered – and I’m working hard to challenge and change thought patterns and reactions that have been deeply ingrained for many years. But I’m gaining more perspective with each month that takes me further from the trickiest of times.

So what would I tell the Clare who said ‘yes’ under that tree on Hampstead Heath in 2015.

You can’t control a wedding diet – change the dress, not yourself

I thought I would be able to diet just enough to feel comfortable in a gently corseted dress – and then stop afterwards. But my disordered eating lurked much closer below the surface than I realised. It wasn’t long before my eating, exercise and emotions got horribly tangled. I thought I would never go back there but I slid into militant calorie counting, restriction and purging through exercise with the excuse that it was ‘just for the wedding’. The dress was too big, I spent our honeymoon struggling to find a manageable balance and it took my periods stopping to shock me into making a change.

You need medication – and that’s fine

“You were so proud of yourself,” my mother in law said. And I was. I had been fighting my medication for years, trying to cut down and come off. Stopping was the hardest thing I’d ever done.

And when I finally fought through the initial withdrawal symptoms I thought things would get easier. Instead they got harder. More chest pain. More tears, panic and anger. Suicidal thoughts. More running. More fighting my body. It took three months to realise I couldn’t do it. That nothing was worth the destruction those months had wreaked on my body, our health and our relationship.
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We need to talk about mental health and trying to conceive #takeoffthetape

Find out more about Mind's campaign here: http://www.mind.org.uk/get-involved/take-off-the-tape/

Find out more about Mind’s campaign here: http://www.mind.org.uk/get-involved/take-off-the-tape/

Mind has been asking people to #TakeOffTheTape and share something that makes them anxious. Something they haven’t spoken about before.

I thought I would use the opportunity to write about something that’s hardly spoken about at all.

I’m finding it incredibly hard to balance trying to conceive with managing my mental health.

We don’t talk about this. We don’t even talk about the first twelve weeks of pregnancy much (as I’m well aware from my work with the Miscarriage Association). Trying to conceive often happens in almost complete secrecy. I didn’t realise how it would interact with my fluctuating mental health and I wasn’t prepared.

It’s taken a while to get to this stage. The doctor who removed my coil last year strongly implied that it would be best to continue with my efforts to come off my Citalopram. She moved me to Sertraline (it’s considered safer in pregnancy) and told me to try and reduce my dose completely over the next month.

Coming off medication

In fact it took me three more months. I’ve been trying to come off anti depressants for a while anyway (after a muddled fifteen year relationship with them) and trying to conceive gave me the strength to make it through a hideous withdrawal period. It was probably the hardest thing I have ever done. Alex didn’t have much fun either. I’ve written about it here.

I’m more vulnerable to hormonal changes now. I still have very dark times when everything seems hopeless and I can’t see a way through the next ten minutes let alone the rest of my life. Difficult images and ideas jostle with an endless repetition of fears and doubts. Sometimes the same phrase over and over again. They whisper just below the surface of my consciousness. They’re loud enough to wear me down and shrink my focus to a single point of constant worry – but not quite conscious enough for me to recognise what’s happening in a way that helps me stop.

One these days I’m separated from the world by thick glass that bounces every negative thought straight back at me, infinitely magnified. My attention is forced inwards but my mind is everywhere but present, infecting all it can with worst case scenarios. I can’t look up and out, can’t see the variety of the world and my place in it, can’t take a long deep breath. My chest physically hurts and I feel constantly sick with the fight or flight chemicals flooding my poisoned body as it tries to deal with the powerful threat of my mind.

The inevitable uncertainty and lack of control

These times are getting further apart and each one adds detail to our understanding of the best way to manage them. But trying to conceive has made my anxiety worse. It’s given it another peg to hang its hat on. Issues with eating and body image are often about control (with an emphasis on control over your body) – and anxiety hates uncertainty. But trying to conceive is a very uncertain time. What my body does – and doesn’t do – isn’t completely under my control.

I was managing my mental health to the extent I felt I was in a position to come off medication – in order to do something that has made the problem worse again. The irony isn’t lost on me – although on bad days it just makes me  want to cry.
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Coming off anti depressants – withdrawing from Citalopram and Sertraline

Day six in Foster’s brain and all is reasonably calm…

trainers and pillsAs I write I’m on the sixth day without any form of SSRI at all. This is new territory for me. I’ve taken them every day for 15 years (with terrible healthcare making it much trickier).

Three months ago I moved to Sertraline. Two months ago I was down to 1/4 of a tablet per day. Then I started alternating days. One month ago I moved to one day on and two days off.  Over the Christmas break I’ve been attempting one day on and three days off.  This time round when it got to day four off I decided to keep going.

It’s been a LONG time coming. I’ve been bobbing around the 20-30mg mark for years. I tried to come off them in 2008 but didn’t get below 10mg Citalopram before an abortion and a move to London meant I needed more support again. I tried in 2012 but again couldn’t drop below 10mg. In  2014 I got to 5mg before it became unbearable and ended up slowly and frustratingly working my way back up to 20mg.

Dealing with withdrawal symptoms

My chest sometimes feels uncomfortably tight and I’m still welling up at the slightest thing but I haven’t had any big uncontrollable surges of irritability (horrible), anger (scary) and panic (painful) since before New Year. The worst day was the first time I got to three days without. That afternoon there was little to be done except pick my sobbing self up off the bathroom floor and breathe deeply in showers as hot as I could bear. I would lie completely still in bed hoping for sleep but fearing the threat of my mind building, rushing and slipping away into a place of panic and pain that felt unknown and terrifying. It’s really scary to feel genuinely out of control of your mind. Luckily there was only one afternoon that bad.

I only feel completely safe when I’m exercising and in the calm and blissful hours afterwards when I’m myself again. I’ve ran hundreds of miles. When my knee gave out I cycled hundreds more. I discovered spinning. I’ve been chaining Kalms and I haven’t had a good coffee or a glass of wine in weeks (interestingly when you’re recently married and of a certain age people tend not to push alcohol on you, even at Christmas!). But I’m nearly there. I really think I might be.

Luck, love and incredible patience

I’m  very very lucky to have such supportive and loving friends, family, work and (most of all) my husband Alex. My family love me unconditionally even when I’m unforgivably difficult. My friends make me feel myself again just by being in their company. But Alex is endlessly patient. Those surges of anger and irritability disguise themselves as reactions to things happening day to day. They show their ugly faces in snippy comments, slamming doors and helpless tears. He recognises these as symptoms. He knows that deep down they’re not my fault. He doesn’t react to them as if they are.  This is perhaps the most helpful but also the most difficult thing someone can do to support your mental health. He’s an absolute hero.

(I’ve also written about managing depression and anxiety in relationships here)

New understanding and techniques to manage my mind

There’s been plenty of dramatic lows and a few proud highs in this particular journey. But a lot of the experience of living with and managing this stuff is the day to day mental grunt work. Looking after yourself. Recognising triggers and identifying negative thoughts. I’ve been doing a lot of that too.

I love a metaphor when it comes to managing my mental health.  Metaphor helps me identify Mix tapesand pin down my experiences. This is a step towards understanding and managing them. It helps me regain perspective and use the language of shared experience to transfer and talk about some pretty intangible feelings.

Over the last few months I’ve found a couple of new ways of thinking about my experiences which really help day to day. The tapes and the oil painting. I’ve written about them here: The Regret Tape and the I’m Not Good Enough Mix – new metaphors and thinking tools for managing anxiety and depression.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next and I’m going to try not to beat myself up if it doesn’t go quite as planned. But I’m cautiously pleased and proud to have made it this far. The sun is shining and I’m off out with the dog (he helps a lot too). I might even treat myself to a (decaff) coffee.

P.S – An important extra

It’s worth emphasising that I spent a long time reducing my Citalopram and then Sertraline slowly in 2015. I did the withdrawal and reduction with advice from my doctor. This is a personal account of an individual experience. Mind has a lot of great info on coming off psychiatric drugs which it’s worth looking at if it’s something you are thinking about.

Exercise addiction and eating problems – good days, bad days and thought gremlins

A non-artists impression (!)

Thought gremlins – a non-artists (!) impression

It’s been a few months since I last wrote about the tangle of eating, exercise and emotions I have found myself in this year.

I’m tired. More than anything I’m tired of thinking about food, eating, exercise and what I ‘should’ be doing. It’s just so tedious. Meditation, interesting work, DIY, time spent with friends and crafting gives me a break for a while but I can’t just turn it off completely.

I’m working on accepting that this particular punishing thought gremlin will take up brainspace for a while yet. I’m not going to waste the space I have left worrying about how much he’s around. That seems counter-productive.

Instead I’m trying to tame him by guiding  my thoughts in a healthier direction and gradually diluting them with new perspectives and approaches. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it only gives me glimpses of how things could be. This makes it worse when he grips back hold.

In the grip of the thought gremlin

When he’s got a grip he still sets tests for me and makes me feel awful for failing them . Do certain clothes fit? Do my fingers fit around? How does my body look and feel?

When I ran a 5k 10 seconds slower than my PB he whispered that it was because I was getting fatter. He didn’t care that it was still a sub 20 minute time. Achievements and compliments slide off him and fall forgotten.

Sometimes he chooses to berate me about how stupid I am to worry about it at all when so many people are dealing with astronomically more pressing problems. He’s not going to let me cut down on exercise too much right now – but he’s going to try and stop me enjoying it by telling me I’m doing too much as well.

A bad day

A tyranny of bartering and balancing. Reassigning guilt and promises. Negative and positive calorie credit. Pinching, pulling, judging and comparing.

Trapped by a grotesque distortion of natural processes that mend and fuel, store and burn energy. That keep me alive and moving hard and fast and well. I’ve hated every inch of skin. I know every fold and dimple intimately. Every tiny growth, bulge or change tells me I should be better.

What I have eaten today? Lost track, list it again. Over and over. Test my wrists, check my bones. If I list it in sections and move the biscuits to mid morning it sounds ok. Doesn’t it? Lost track, list it again. Maybe write it down. It’s ok that it looks like a lot, I ran yesterday and went spinning this morning. But that was to make up for last night when I had pudding. And couldn’t stop eating it (“because of your pathetic lack of self control” – thanks thought gremlin!). So I’m not really in credit, I should run this afternoon. But my knee. My bloody knee aches. If I was sensible I’d rest it. Even thinking of running on an injured knee shows I have a problem. But my trousers feel tight. I feel enormous. My wedding ring feels tight. I could swim. But that doesn’t burn as many calories. It doesn’t give me the FEELING. If I could just run today then that would reset everything. I can start being sensible tomorrow. If I cut down on food then I won’t have to exercise as much. But I don’t want to get back into restricting, it takes up too much headspace. I just want to eat normally. All this exercise makes me hungry. Maybe my knee is ok anyway. I’ll have a cold bath afterwards. Then I can have a nice dinner without worrying. Then the thoughts will calm down for a while and I’ll be able to focus on other things.

I refuse to restrict any more. I’m holding on to normal that way. And I’m HUNGRY. Instead I fight the urge to run and run and spin and swim and drain my body of energy then, as the voices quiet and I feel free of guilt, eat my way back to the same cycle.

On days like this it feels as if even a good day is one where the judgemental voices are appeased not forgotten. How do you stop when eating and exercise are always going to be part of life?

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Exercise addiction – managing the tangle of anxiety, eating and exercise.

Last Sunday I spent all day exercising

ImageIt started when I pressed snooze at 6am and cancelled my spinning class. I’d been in the gym at 6.30 all the previous week and had just returned from a busy couple of days running and walking in Cornwall. I was exhausted. But I didn’t get back to sleep. Anxiety levels rose. Getting dressed I was acutely aware of all my clothes, how they pressed against my skin. I couldn’t find anything I felt comfortable in. My hands felt swollen and my chest tight. My mind was whirring with calculations and lists.

It wasn’t until after a session on the cross trainer, a long swim and walk with the dog that I felt like myself again. A combination of relief from thoughts about overeating and, much more importantly, relief from the anxiety that made it matter so much in the first place.photo (1)

Yesterday evening I ran a very long way* because I ate some cake and chocolate buttons at work. The morning spin class stopped being enough.

It’s not so much the calories – although that doesn’t help at the moment. It’s a craving for that feeling after exercise where your thoughts are calm and still, your body feels tired but deserving of care and nourishment and your mind doesn’t have to calculate or judge because it knows you’ve done enough to rest.

“a craving for that feeling after exercise where your thoughts are calm and still, your body feels tired but deserving of care and nourishment and your mind doesn’t have to calculate or judge because it knows you’ve done enough to rest. “

Immediate relief vs long term recovery

legs and knee supports

Knee supports – NOT the answer to EVERYTHING

My knees and hips ache and sometimes even crunch. They need a break.  I am finally cutting down the running in favour of spinning, swimming and cycling.

But the daily doublethink is still absurd. Cold baths and a knee support is not going to allow me to run miles and miles however much I wish it would. Immediate relief still trumps long-term sensible decisions too much of the time. Even if that relief is tinged with guilt and frustration.

I’m planning my next exercise session whilst I’m in the middle of the previous one. I try to be more sensible but those persistent thoughts keep popping up.

‘You could run tonight. You could just do an extra session on the cross trainer after spinning. You could fit in a swim tomorrow morning if you get up really early. Remember how good it feels when you’re done, how much more you enjoy your food when you feel you deserve it, how much easier it is to rest and to concentrate when that anxious energy is stilled’.

Once I imagine that feeling, it’s hard to turn away from it.

But that feeling is lasting a shorter and shorter time. When I’m exercising twice a day and feeling anxious and panicky when I can’t get moving it’s time to get some help.
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How can exercise help depression?

what role does exercise play in managing depression

Earlier this week, when the ‘exercise no help for depression’ stories were published on the BBC and the Guardian, I quickly pulled together some of my initial thoughts and frustrations with the way the research was reported. Since then, I’ve had a chance to think about it in a bit more depth.

The debate on exercise and depression

I watched the debate and discussion throughout the day. Those involved came from a range of perspectives and angles. Many people who got involved had experienced depression themselves. Some were in the middle of a bad episode, others had experienced it in the past or felt that they were ‘managing’ their depression to prevent relapse.

Some had found exercise improved their mood or helped them manage, others not. For some it depended on the severity of the depression experienced. For some, exercise was not considered ‘helpful’ unless it formed part of a ‘treatment’ leading to a cure. For others if it enabled them to manage better on a day-to-day basis this was enough.

What was interesting was that while some were supporting or arguing against the research itself (that one particular form of facilitated ‘encouragement’ to exercise doesn’t help in treatment) many were responding to the simplified message in the headline – that exercise doesn’t help depression.  And many responded with the simple answer, ‘Well, it helps me get by.’ While the Department of Health can conclude that TREAD, in the way it is currently delivered, does not work, the mass of anecdotal evidence that this study has generated should give them pause for thought. Continue reading