STARING at the Instagram post, I felt a wave of anxiety. It was a simple picture – a perfectly styled platter covered with colourful vegetables – but instantly my hands went clammy and I could barely focus.
The old me would have felt inspired by such a low-calorie plate of food, but now I was strong enough to scroll past.
Even so, it was just another reminder that despite it being two years since my eight-week hospitalisation for anorexia, it’s incredibly hard to recover in a world where everyone strives to be thin.
It’s no surprise really. Despite the hashtag #thinspo being banned by Instagram, a quick search brings up over 34million posts tagged with #cleaneating, while #fitspo appears more than 48million times. That’s all in clear view of the estimated 1.6million people in the UK affected by an eating disorder – a number that has almost doubled in the past five years.
“Social media can have a huge impact,” explains specialist eating disorder dietitian Ursula Philpot. “Those in the grip of an eating disorder look for anything that may reinforce the reasoning behind their behaviour or disguise what they are doing. Sites like Facebook and Instagram are packed with this sort of content.”Milly Smith speaks out about our society's damaging diet culture
Psychiatrist Dr Frances Connan agrees, adding that there’s also huge concern about the restrictive nature of the fad diets often celebrated online.
“More and more people tell me they are gluten-free, dairy intolerant or vegan because they’ve read somewhere it’s a healthy way to live,” she explains.
“But these food fads normalise an eating disorder, making any attempt at recovery even tougher.”
TV producer Laura Hearn, 35, fell into the grip of bulimia and anorexia in 2000 when she was 18, following the death of her stepdad Michael in a car crash. What began as grief-stricken bingeing and purging became a decade-long battle with food. Throughout uni she lived off sweets and Ribena, putting her body at risk of bone disease and organ failure.
“At first I denied I had a problem,” remembers Laura, who now lives in London. “But it got to the point where I could hardly eat anything at all and I went from a size 10 to around a size 4 in just a few months.
“I remember my sister Liz taking me for a weekend to Bath in 2003, hoping that being away from regular life might help me start eating again. But it didn’t. Instead, I ended up freaking out while we were at dinner. She couldn’t understand that I didn’t want food in me as it felt dirty. I felt like I was in control of what I was doing, but of course I wasn’t, and my family were so worried.”Model Amanda Essen says body building saved her life after anorexia battle
After that weekend, Laura’s dad John* tracked down a treatment centre in Chichester for her to attend, but Laura didn’t respond well.
“On the first day they gave me a baked potato,” she recalls. “I cried hysterically and refused to go back.”
Several unsuccessful stints at various outpatient treatment clinics followed, but keeping up the good work when out of the clinic and without constant surveillance was too hard.
Laura’s recovery finally began in July 2010 – but not until after she collapsed on the Tube.
“I was on my way to meet my mum,” she remembers. “I had barely eaten all day and I remember everything going black. I just lost consciousness. Somehow I managed to get myself off the train and on to the platform, but it absolutely terrified me.”
As no other treatment had proved successful, Laura’s family decided to admit her for residential treatment in California for six months, costing them over £40,000. Her mum had to sell her house to pay for it.
“I starved myself totally for two days before I got there,” remembers Laura. “Everyone was made to eat the same food, including fajitas, beef sandwiches and even McDonald’s. I cried throughout every meal at the beginning, and I felt guilty about the financial strain I’d put on my parents – I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like, but Mum never made me feel bad. She simply said any parent would do it for their child.”
I had barely eaten all day and I remember everything going black. I just lost consciousnessLaura HearnTV producer
Laura had to follow a regimented schedule of medication, mealtimes, therapy groups and occasional chaperoned walks from the treatment centre. In September 2011, she was considered recovered enough to return to her flat in London. Then aged 29 and desperate to get her life back on track, she enrolled in an outpatient treatment programme.
However, being back in the real world without the rules and regulations of residential treatment proved difficult.
“People just don’t realise how hard it is to recover when your issues involve food,” she explains.
“You can’t abstain from it like you can with an addiction to booze or drugs. I made sure that a lot of the time I ate with other people in order to force me to do as they did.
"I also went back to work as a TV producer, which gave me confidence in myself again.”
However, even the simplest of tasks, such as a weekly food shop, was –and still is – testing for Laura.
The compulsory nutritional labelling of food was launched by the Department of Health in 2013 in a bid to help people make healthier choices, but for Laura it’s proved to be a potential trigger.Anorexic woman blasts NHS after docs tell her she's 'too fat' for treatment
“It’s definitely not helpful for someone like me,“ she explains. “I have to → work hard to ignore labels and make sure I eat food because I want and need to, not because it will make me thin.”
And as the experts warn, re-entering the complicated world of social media also poses an ongoing risk.
“I find the whole clean-eating trend difficult to deal with,” admits Laura. “The idea of food restriction is almost celebrated online. I have to be very resilient and know what’s right for me, such as not being tempted to cut calories with something like courgetti. It’s annoying because part of me would love to sign off social media forever, but I’ve found lots of support in other people sharing stories similar to mine.”
People just don’t realise how hard it is to recover when your issues involve foodLaura HearnTV producer
Laura, who has since founded an eating disorder support website called Jiggsy’s Place, also discovered that even going to the gym caused issues.
“I don’t go any more, as the temptation to overdo it is still there,” she admits. “When I was ill, I’d work out like crazy then change back into my work clothes when I got home before anyone noticed. Now I just go horse riding or occasionally do yoga.”
When 25-year-old communications manager Ellie Parkins finished her initial treatment for anorexia, she discovered that trying to return to the same life as her friends would prove a challenge.
“I was 17 when I was diagnosed by my GP,” she remembers.
“I was so tiny that I was getting bruises on my spine and hips from my mattress.”
Ellie’s eating disorder had taken hold just months earlier, after years of being bullied at school for being shy.
“Within six months, I’d dropped from a size 12 to a 6 by living on low-calorie nibbles, coffee and chewing gum,” she remembers.
“Secretly, though, I was desperate to be helped, so when my parents insisted on taking me to the GP I went along willingly.
"During the appointment it became apparent how ill I had become – and how important it was for me to be treated quickly.”
For the next three years, Ellie endured intensive psychotherapy as a day patient at The Recover Clinic in London. “My program consisted of two one-to-one therapy sessions per week and nutritional therapy with an eating disorder specialist,” she explains. “Weight was never the main focus – it was more about addressing the underlying emotional issues.”
After finishing her treatment in May 2014, Ellie was a healthy size 8.
But she soon realised that even just an innocent chat with friends about the latest celeb eating fad would forever be off-limits.
“I find things like that quite hard to deal with,” she admits.
“Those conversations – such as who’s doing the Bullet diet or trying paleo – really hit a nerve. It’s the same with fitness social media accounts.
"I used to look at them, but soon realised that even though these women aren’t your typical ‘skinny’, they still have insane control over their body and food.
"Thankfully, nothing has made me relapse, but it has made me re-evaluate some of my friendships. While I haven’t cut ties with anyone, I keep some of them at arm’s-length.”
Those conversations – such as who’s doing the Bullet diet or trying paleo – really hit a nerveEllie Parkins Communications manager
My own illness crept up when I was 22, after I landed a job on a luxury fashion magazine.
I’d always prided myself on a healthy relationship with food, but then I began skipping breakfast in a bid to fit in with my fashion colleagues. As more time went on, my plate became increasingly bare.
After visiting my GP for back pain and witnessing his horrified expression at my protruding bones, I learned of the harm I’d caused my body. In six months, I’d lost 20% of my body weight, going from a size 8 to a size 4.
What followed was two years of outpatient treatment, and later two months of inpatient treatment, involving weekly therapy sessions, bone scans and plenty of full-fat milk. Eventually, I reached my goal of a healthy BMI of 18 and was able to rebuild my life.Brave anorexic shares her incredible story
But like Ellie and Laura, I realised that recovery isn’t without stumbling blocks, such as trying not to fall victim to the various products promising flat stomachs.
That’s why in 2016 I decided to create a website, along with fellow journalist and recovered eating disorder sufferer Laura Dennison, 24, that supports those affected by disordered eating.
Called Not Plant Based, we provide relatable stories from those affected by eating disorders, as well as busting diet myths – and we celebrate all food.
We’re not the only ones offering this type of support. Among the clean-eating queens and fitspo fanatics, you’ll find bloggers such as Jada Sezer and Grace F Victory, who embrace their fat wobbly bits and discuss body hang-ups.
Between them, they have hundreds of thousands of followers to share their message with.
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“Despite the obvious dangers, social media can be great for someone recovering from an eating disorder,” explains Ursula. “It allows a generation of voices who are promoting a healthy relationship with food to become heard.”
Of course, people like us may never receive the same likes on our pictures of potatoes as we would an avocado, but they are the things that nursed us back to health.
If that’s not #wellness, I don’t know what is.
- For information, visit Beateatingdisorders.org.uk and Notplantbased.com.
- Follow Laura @JiggsysPlace.
- *Name has been changed.
Hair & make-up: Sara Bowden.
Styling: Jemima Fleming.
Source : https://www.thesun.co.uk/fabulous/5284135/recovering-anorexic-clean-eating-mental-health-advice/