Finding my “healthy me” voice: A story of hope and recovery from an eating disorder
by Amanda Englishby (Part Two)
So here I am, my first meeting with the Eating Disorder group. Sitting in the waiting room I look around at the posters for help/support on the walls, and the display of inspirational quotes, and roll my eyes a little. I feel guilty for wasting their time. To me, I don’t look “that bad” and I’m sure others are a lot worse off. I honestly feel I shouldn’t be here.
I walk over to grab a coffee from the little refreshments table in the corner. Coffee, tea, milk. No sweeteners? Just sugar. Oh well I will go without. I sit drinking my bland, unsweetened coffee, checking the thinness of my thighs once more and wait to be called. Still thinking I don’t “really” have that much of a problem. I have just gone to the toilet, in case they weigh me during my appointment, and check I am still on the same loop-hole on my belt. Phew! No expansion.
None of us looked emaciated
When I walked into the group therapy room I expected to see a number of females younger than me who looked emaciated and who would be quite mad at me for attending the group and wasting a valid seat as I don’t look like I have an eating disorder. Wrong! The four other members in my group each had the same uncomfortable smile as myself; one male older than me, two younger females and another female of a similar age. None looked emaciated and two stated they were classed as obese. I felt confused.
That confusion evaporated when the therapy sessions began. Yes we had each walked a different pathway to get here, but now our journey was the same: the journey to recovery.
Over ensuing months these group members became my friends and we supported each other each week; slowly sharing parts of ourselves and our stories, crying, laughing, venting and more.
Two therapists tactfully helped us to feel at ease by creating a comfortable and safe space; inviting us to help establish group rules and boundaries on things like confidentiality and triggers. They assured us that we could be as open or closed as we liked but participation was the key if we wanted results.
Relief in admitting I have an eating disorder
The weeks went by, our trust and comfort expanded, and our education increased. We began to recognize and admit that we each had an eating disorder. This was a really hard step to make; to let the resistance go and accept we did actually have a problem. Though at the same time I felt a huge sense of relief, because now I knew I had a problem, I could do something about it. Maybe I could start to live like everyone else; eat cake, enjoy fish and chips and all the other tasty treats I hadn’t allowed myself for years.
I could feel my hope rising. I could be like those happy people I had marvelled at who didn’t waste their time and energy thinking obsessively about what they ate or experienced negative emotions about their food. Oh the freedom I could have. Yet I still questioned: “Can this be possible?” I mean, realistically this had been me for 13 years. How can you change 13 years of programming? In reality YOU CAN and I DID.
I realize now that these questions were not from the “healthy Amanda,” these were the powerful thoughts of the Eating Disorder kicking in and demanding that I “stick with what’s safe Amanda, this is what you know, don’t change, change is uncomfortable and scary.” It really did have that much control. I will come back to the “healthy Amanda” and “Eating Disorder voice” later.
Starting to understand the effects of the illness
The format of the group sessions was always the same. We each checked in at the start giving a general overview of our week (the ups and downs). This was great for awareness, building relationships and a flag for further support if needed. Oh we shared allsorts; comments that had upset us from close friends and family, other traumas, challenges, “wobbles” and celebrations. We all had at least one mini melt down during these check ins.
After the check ins we would be introduced to the session aim and explore this aim via a mixture of teachings from the therapists, practical worksheets and group discussions.
We were educated about foods with regards to nutrition and health and the benefits for our mind and body. I found this fascinating as I now understood why my energy, memory, focus and mood had decreased and my stress and anxiety levels were sky high.
Letting go of ED’s hold is scary
No wonder I had been running around as a scatty, tired, snappy, stressed out mess. All because I hadn’t been feeding my mind as well as my body with the nutritious foods it needed to function at its best.
We learnt about body weight, BMI, scales, measurements and why it was not beneficial to use scales to monitor our weight. Therefore we were encouraged to not use them. Did I run home and throw out the scales? No chance.
Change was and is scary for anyone. This had been all I had known for so long and drastic changes like this had to be made slowly. I was only able to stop using scales at home with one-to-one support in future sessions. Even then the eating disorder tried to pull me back by replacing the scales with a measuring tape.
Tip: Please try to get rid of the scales
Developing healthy thoughts and beliefs
We explored our distorted beliefs and the rules we had created around foods. I started to acknowledge that the foods on my “not allowed” list were actually not that bad. Foods like cake, avocados, chocolate, crisps and cream were all okay in moderation and all formed part of a healthy/balanced diet. I also didn’t need to burn them off. Wow! I really had created my own bizarre world with regards to food and exercise. Or should I say the “Eating Disorder” had. It had taken all sense of normality away.
If you have not had an eating disorder some of these thoughts may seem irrational. Though please remember that this is a severe mental illness that affects our thoughts and behaviours. Our usual “healthy minds” would never choose to think or behave in this controlling manner.
Another of the group sessions focused upon social media (magazines in particular). We discussed the huge impact it can have on society and how the media can feed people’s eating disorders by offering comparisons, contradictions, uneducated views and opinions. We each brought in a selection of magazines, discussed the articles and concluded that buying these would not help our progress in recovery.
Tip: Please avoid purchasing magazines
Letter-writing and journaling are self-help tools
The most effective exercise I experienced in the group sessions was the “letter writing,” where we each had to write two letters. One letter was written to our eating disorder as our best friend and the other to our eating disorder as our enemy. This is certainly an exercise I would highly recommend.
We were also encouraged to write a journal through our therapy. This is a brilliant tool for acknowledging and releasing our emotions, thoughts and feelings as we do not always feel comfortable with voicing them in person. It is also a great way to express yourself, reflect on your progress and it sometimes helps to put things into perspective.
Tip: Start a journal
The illness is about more than “simply food”
After the group sessions we moved on to one-to-one therapy and now I had to dig deep and start working through the life traumas and experiences which had led me to form an eating disorder.
An eating disorder is not simply about “The Food.” The food is a behavior that has been formed to cope with or survive through a specific trauma, event or situation. It was time to accept and deal with mine.
Fortunately my therapist focused on “self-compassion.” Many people suffering with an eating disorder tend to avoid this area. I had forgotten how to give my body and myself the love and care it craved and, more than anything, deserved.
I cannot stress enough the importance of “self compassion” work. I was taught how to bring in and listen to the “Healthy Me” voice at times when the “Eating Disorder” voice kicked in.
An example here could be when choosing a lunch option (will I choose a salad or sandwich):
ED Voice – Don’t eat the sandwich, stick safe and go with the salad. The sandwich will make you fat and you will have to go for a run later to burn it off.
HM Voice – What would you really enjoy eating right now? Have the lovely sandwich. People eat sandwiches every day, don’t run it off and don’t get fat. How many slim people do you see eating sandwiches? Lots. So enjoy a sandwich like everyone else. A sandwich is normal and healthy.
Tip: Start working with self-compassion tools
Loving and feeding self like a dear friend
This was one of many techniques we worked on which helped me to learn how to love myself again and treat my body and myself as I would a dear friend. Others included writing letters to my future and past self, meditations, and visualizations.
Beside the therapy, a dietitian continued to help me to expand my range and quantity of foods. We worked out a healthy eating plan and monitored my intake on a weekly basis, making slight and gradual changes so it wasn’t overpowering.
The food portion booklet that the dietitian gave me was an eye opener. My portion sizes were way out of context and, to be honest, my “normal portions” would barely feed a rabbit. It was helpful to see the truth in black and white and to acknowledge and accept this information was justified, as sadly at that time I rarely believed the words of others.
Withstanding ED’s pull and connecting with emotions
The process of change/recovery was hard. The powerful eating disorder liked to pop in unexpectedly and try to halt my progress.
I sometimes wanted to screw up the food diaries, scream at the therapists and not write down or discuss any emotions that I was feeling. I cried in many sessions.
I wanted to go back to what I knew and, in my mind, what was easy. However, with the extra support of my therapist, I was learning to be kind with myself, bring in more self-compassion and focus on the future. A future of recovery.
Laughing, relaxing and starting to live
As I worked through my adversities, and practiced the tools in and out of sessions, I gradually started to notice changes. And so did others! My sense of humor began to come back and people could be more relaxed in my company as I was less tetchy and structured. My social life increased as I said “yes” to invitations and allowed myself to enjoy some of the foods on my old “not allowed list.”
No longer did I take the compliment “you’re looking well” as “you have gained weight and look fat.” I stopped looking at others’ food and comparing it with my own. Now I focused on enjoying my food and knowing that my option was healthy for me.
When I caught sight of my bottom in the mirror I started to encompass and love my womanly curves. Whoohoo! I was starting to “live” instead of merely exist. Oh, and energy? This soared through the roof.
I no longer felt shattered by lunchtime and actually felt like a woman in my thirties, not eighty-plus.
A happy confident lady
My overall confidence increased and as a result I started to attract men. This wasn’t my intention, though I guess they started to see what others could see – “a happy confident lady.” It was certainly a bonus.
I have been recovered for three years and aim to stay here. The road has not been straight and the odd “wobble” has occurred from time to time. However, now I am aware of my triggers and know this is all part of my healing. I also have the tools to use if needed.
You are worthy of recovery – book an appointment today
Here’s to giving you the hope and evidence you need to see that you too can live a happy, healthy life. There is a future of freedom ahead and you are worthy of recovery. For yourself and everyone who loves and cares for you go and get the help you need. Book an appointment with your doctor today. If you need support talk to a friend or family member and ask them to go with you.
This life is precious and so are you!
A happy, strong, resilient and positive young woman is how most people would describe me today, and it is with great pride that I can say: “Yes! They are correct.” However, for most of my life this exterior has been an exhausting veneer. My desire to help others masked many years of trauma, challenges and periods of extreme adversity and resulted in the development of my 13-year-long eating disorder.
My life began in a pretty county named Lancashire in the North West of England, where I have enjoyed a rewarding career as a teacher for most of my working years. However, being a natural healer and having a high level of emotional intelligence, my interest in helping others naturally never stops when the school bell rings. It was this awareness (alongside my own personal “spiritual awakening” as Brene Brown would term it) which led me on to my own rugged path of self-discovery and spurred me to set up my own business as a Coach and Reiki Healer. This has been hard work and has involved years of training, working with different analysts, exploring varied forms of alternative therapy and taking myself away on a year’s sabbatical in Australia, New Zealand and Bali.
Since my return to the UK I have helped many people to change their lives via one-to-one coaching, teaching, group workshops, Reiki Healing and writing pieces for websites based upon my adversities. I help people to shed limiting beliefs, and move forward to the life they desire and more importantly deserve. I believe that my journey has been for a reason: to now help and heal others in as many areas as possible.
Recovery is possible and you deserve it!
To contact Amanda directly, email her on: firstname.lastname@example.org