What nobody ever tells you – dieting and eating disorders

In my teens, I read a lot of books on eating disorders. Alternating between anorexia and bulimia, I was interested in the science behind it; the effect starvation and purging has on the body, the personal accounts. I didn’t want recovery – most of the books were bought by my mother in a futile attempt to shock me into eating ‘normally’ – but I did notice one glaring issue which never seemed to be mentioned.

How do you diet when you’ve had an eating disorder?

My answer is: with a lot of struggling and heartache.

There seems to be an assumption that if you have ever had an eating disorder (or are experiencing bulimia or binge-eating), you won’t ever feel the need to diet. This is wrong on so many levels, mostly because weight gain happens to the best of us. The difference is, when you’ve somewhat recovered, you no longer want to go down the route of starvation or calorie counting, and simply want to lose weight in a safe manner. It’s very difficult to do, and I’ve found it almost impossible.

Currently, I’m slightly overweight and would like to lose about a stone so my clothes fit properly again. I would also like to eat healthily to help my body deal with poor health. However, having eating disorders lurking in my past means that every time I start trying to lose weight with the best of intentions, those feeling of control and inadequacy inevitably come back and I find myself fighting a demon I thought had been destroyed. I’ve tried so many times to lose weight but without fail the old issues rear their heads.

I will be the first to admit that I am a weak person, especially when it comes to willpower. I enjoy a good binge, but not the feeling of total desolation afterwards. I enjoy having control over my body, but not the inevitable calorie-obsession it brings. For all intents and purposes, I am no longer anorexic and doubt I ever will be again, but my mind doesn’t know that. When I try to lose weight, it panics. It convinces me to restrict and remove as much ‘bad’ stuff from my body. I have litle control over this, and I can only assume it’s the same for others.

There is no greater expert on nutrition than somebody who has had an ED. We could be the best dieticians and nutritionists. We learned from the university of eating disorders.

However, all the knowlege in the world doesn’t help when it comes to struggling with the mindset left behind from anorexia and bulimia.

The ED mindset is a strange place and although I’ve experienced it myself (and, to some extent, am still experiencing it) I can’t begin to explain it in a way which makes sense. Written down, it seems ludicrous that such thoughts would ever seem rational, yet they do.

Why don’t ED books cover this subject? I can’t be the only person who would like to lose weight without submiting to the old thoughts and feelings, yet it is NEVER mentioned. Perhaps it’s seen as a trigger subject, almost taboo in a world where weight loss is everything. Yet it’s a real problem, and one which seems to have no easy solution. I’d hazard a guess that a lot of cases of recurring EDs are possibly due to attempts at dieting gone wrong.

And dieting is a massive industry. Just look in your local supermaket or phamacy. Pick up a newspaper or magazine. It’s everywhere, further confusing the mind of people who are trying their best to lose weight in a sensible way. Pills and shakes offer quick, easy weight loss. Diet tips galore. BMI charts in GPs surgeries and hospitals. We’re constantly being bombarded with images and suggestions of weight loss, and the importance society places on it.. Is it any wonder we get so messed up and confused?

It’s not just food, either. Try going to the gym to get fit when you’ve had an ED, and see if you can restrict your levels of exercise. I certainly couldn’t; when I was fitter and more mobile, I joined the local gym in an attempt to tone up after extreme weight-loss after eight months of sickness (an infected gallbladder). I started out with wonderful, sensible intentions but soon found myself going every single day, for hours on end. Two hours on the treadmill, an hour on the cross-trainer, an hour on the bike, followed by a swim and half an hour on the rowing machine. Every day. Yes, I became much fitter and did tone up, but I was simply finding another way to control my body. I panicked if I couldn’t do the right amount of exercise, became reliant on it. I buzzed off the feeling of achievement, even as my muscles started tearing from so much overuse.

Yet when you join a gym… they never ask if you’ve had an eating disorder or an addiction to exercise.

I appreciate that most people would simply lie when asked, but it still seems irresponsible. I suppose the owners of gyms don’t really care as long as they’re getting paid.

What this rant comes down to is that nobody is a superhero. With the best of intentions, we can still fall off the wagon. An eating disorder is a form of addiction, but unlike alcohol or drugs we can’t avoid food forever. We have to develop a relationship with it which is less damaging than it used to be. EDs don’t just disappear once you become a normal weight. They’re always lurking, waiting for when you’re feeling vulnerable.

Love was just a word before you showed it to me

Another pointless day, although I did get up early after forcing myself to go to bed around 10pm last night. I didn’t think I would sleep, but I’ve started taking Amitriptyline regularly again and I managed to get off after half an hour. Lots of weird dreams, mostly about O; why am I dreaming about him? They’re in no way romantic or sexual, but are happening very frequently now. Sometimes I think I’m dreaming about O, and it turns out I’m actually dreaming of S… I seem to be mixing the two together in my sleep, which is odd because they’re nothing alike. I suppose my relationship with O was my first real experience of proper love, and the way I feel about S is getting confused with that. My mind can be a strange place. What I have with S… it totally eclipses my experiences with O, it’s not jealous and bitter.

Speaking of S, I’m missing him. We did speak of perhaps meeting for a drink tonight, but I’m not sure I can cope with the transport problems the strikes are inevitably going to cause. I’m feeling tired and bloated and I suspect that if I met him I’d leave early because of how I’m feeling. I’m not too bad emotionally, but physically… I’m still being hit by that metaphorical train every morning. Hopefully tomorrow will bring some answers, or at least an opening to get some answers. I’m not sure I can keep up with feeling okay when my body is raging against me. All I want is to feel okay.

Had my hair cut and dyed at the weekend; I confess I ended up attacked it with Crazy Colour a couple of weeks ago. The bright orange was fading horribly, and even though I’m fair I ended up with dark roots. I went from this:

To this:

Crazy Colour in Fire

… to this:

Fudge Paintbox in Vendetta Red with blue/black lowlights

I suppose I can never be accused of blending into a crowd.

A mile and a half on a bus takes a long time

The keys on my laptop have finally unstuck themselves, so I can write again without screaming in frustration and hitting them as hard as possible. I was beginning to think I’d have to take it apart, which I really didn’t want to do. Serves me entirely right for eating, smoking and drinking over it. I need to stop the bad habits.

Today has been much of a muchness; bad horror films (the House On Haunted Hill remake is beyond awful), coffee and too much food. The weather is terrible and I still don’t have much energy. Dad’s been ’round today to put the shower curtain pole back up after it fell on me last week, and to shout at mum as usual. This is yet another reason why I need to get out of here; they seperated for a reason and I shouldn’t have to listen to the constant bickering. Nothing gets done while he’s here, yet mum won’t quite cut that cord. I understand that she needs him to fix things around the house, but it’s been five years since he retired and very little has been achieved except for things being broken and hurled around when he gets in a temper. Of course, it’s then up to me to listen to mum letting off steam; which I don’t really mind, but I feel trapped in the middle. I simply have no opinion either way; he did very little to bring me or E up, he abused my mother, he won’t give her money she’s owed from his retirement… why does he still come here? I just want to wash my hands of him, and it’s hard to do so when he’s here. It makes it painful, even though I know I’m doing the right thing by denying him a relationship with me.

This weekend I learned a few things; mainly that I don’t like pumpkin pie, and that it annoys me when people in the UK wish me happy Thanksgiving. I dislike most public holidays (Christmas especially) and having a tradition forced on me which isn’t even relevant is frustrating. Still, I quite enjoyed the Thanksgiving dinner S’s landlord’s girlfriend put on, even if it was awkward at times trying to have conversations with die-hard Christians without somehow offending them. Even a conversation about music turned a bit awkward when Aphex Twin was mentioned. S and I spent most of the party hanging out in the kitchen and garden with his landlords son and his girlfriend, talking about astronomy, computer games and experiences with drugs. God knows (ha) what the timid young Christian couple would have thought of that. I mean, they were nice people but… well… too nice. Too afraid to have their own opinions. The smallest swear word or slightly dirty joke was met with blushes and stares. They left early. They simply weren’t my kind of people, I suppose.

S got wonderfully drunk on J&B and we fell asleep together. Woke up the next morning with a sore head (I only had a few fake-Malibu and cokes, but I suppose the Metformin is reacting with alcohol) and we spent most of the day in bed. He’s adorable when he’s drunk; nothing like the experiences I’ve had before with boyfriends getting pissed and either shouting at me or ignoring me entirely.

I have an appointment with my doctor on Thursday morning; I need to get to the bottom of all that’s going wrong with my body. Along with exhaustion and nausea/vomiting, I have a rash all over my feet and on my right hand. I’ve seen a doctor twice about it, and nothing they’ve given me (steroids, anti-fungals) has even begun to work. Sometimes it hurts so much that I can’t sleep – the skin is red raw and full of cracks and deep holes where the skin has simply died away. It’s not eczema, I’ve suffered from that since birth and it’s not the same thing at all. I’ve been suffering with this rash since the summer, and I’m at my wits end. I’ve tried every natural remedy, I’ve tried leaving it alone… nothing fixes it, and it’s depressing me. It feels like my whole body is being attacked.

We’ve Changed

All these emotions
Are now leaving
Everything I thought
I believed in
Replaced by someone
Something new
A different me
A different you.

You don’t look
The same
Your touch
Has changed
Your eyes
Are now colder
Your face
Is now older.

I feel
Your skin
But it’s not you
I feel
Your touch
But it’s changed
So much
I taste
Your kiss
But these aren’t
Your lips
You have changed
And I’m not
The same
person I was
I shut her out
I closed the door
I resented her
She had to go
I left behind
Everything I know.

I look at you
In tears
I swallow
My fears
I know
We’ve both changed
But you’re just
Not the same.

And while I’ve been
While I’ve been
It was all
For you
It was all for

I stare at your
Try to see through
Your disguise
Trying to find
Somewhere inside.

I know
We’ve both changed
Nothing could be
The same
I just wish you
Could see
I’m just
a better

You’re someone new
I know I am too
And it secretly thrills me
It openly kills me.

(c) 2008

White Noise

Tuning into radio stations
just to hear a voice tonight
but all I hear is white noise
broken fragments of songs
which never had any meaning
to us.

Dialling your number
just to hear it ring out
just to make contact,
I know you won’t answer.

You couldn’t fix this.

White noise
will never be music.

(c) 2008

We might kiss when we are alone, when nobody’s watching

Today, life is good. I won’t write a long entry because the keyboard on my laptop is sticking; my own fault for jamming the keys with tobacco. For the same reason, I haven’t replied to comments, but I’ve read them all and perhaps tomorrow I’ll see if I can unclog the keys.

S took me for a meal at my favourite pub tonight. We got tipsy on red wine (my lips are still stained) and I got fat on tiramisu cheesecake. I’ve been smiling ever since. We talked about moving in together and about our future. Our future.

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down

I held back from writing anything today, or last night. I didn’t want to upset the delicate equilibrium I’ve found myself in.

I recently read something on another blog which interested me a lot. In it, the writer compared the ‘good’ times with mental illness to remission. I always associated remission with cancer, but they have a point. It made me think that perhaps I’m currently aiming too high, and instead of forcing myself into failed recovery, I should just aim for that point where I’m comfortable and safe. The depression, anxiety and eating problems may come  back, but is that really such a bad thing? During the good times, I can equip myself with skills to help me cope, appreciate hindsight and learn a few lessons. From now on, I’m no longer going to think about recovering; after all, I’ve struggled throughout my whole life and achieved very little in the way of progress, and perhaps that’s because I’ve wanted to be better and normal right now.

I always get through the bad times, and I could benefit from reminding myself of this on a regular basis. It’s never killed me (although I’ve tried), and it’s never entirely ruined my life.

I told S about the letter. I still haven’t let him read it, but that’s more down to practicality than anything; I’d have to copy and paste it into Word or Notepad and, if I’m on his computer, delete his history. I’m still not ready for him to see most of this. His response was typically S:

“Unless you’ve got ten children or are HIV positive and haven’t told me, nothing you say will make me leave”.

Send me the pillow / the one that you dream on


I was thinking about things you don’t know about me. After nine months together, there’s still so much I have to tell you, and sometimes I wonder how I’ll ever manage to be honest about those parts of my life. I’m never quite sure what holds me back; fear and the worry of judgement, I suppose. Which is ridiculous, because I know you’re not the type to judge and if you were going to, you’d have done it long ago.

One thing you don’t know is that I used to spend a lot of time writing letters. It started when I hit puberty, and carried on until everything turned to shit in my twenties. I wrote my way through every little drama. Teenage angst was smoothed over by pages and pages of poorly-handwritten letters to everybody and nobody. Sometimes I would give them to the person I was writing about, but more often I ripped them up and threw them away, worried that laying myself bare on paper would somehow destroy the tiny grasp I have on the world. When I felt brave enough to share my letters, they never got the desired response. This is why I’ll never show you this. I don’t want to be disappointed by you.

You know I felt bad today. I told you, although I held back from pouring out the emotions I wanted to. I’m frightened of overwhelming you. I wasn’t lying when I told you I was scared of life never changing and the fear I’d always be ill… but I didn’t tell you just how the reality of that scares me. I told you I’d spent the entire day in bed feeling sorry for myself, but I didn’t let on just how low I became or how much I fear for my own future. I’m frightened that my dreams are dying, and that I’ll become worthless without hope to hold on to.

I used to have so many dreams. I wanted to be a zookeeper, an astronaut, a writer. I wanted to dig up dinosaurs. When the dreams became more realistic, I wanted to be a secretary or design clothing. I wanted a nice house with a garden, a car, a big kitchen and somebody just like you to come home to every day. I wanted a social life and close friends I could depend on. Eventually, I wanted a family. All normal dreams, things people achieve every day… yet as each day goes by, I feel as though those things will never happen. Even though I was ill throughout my childhood and teens, I thought that things with work out when I was older and that I’d follow the path everyone else took. Perhaps with a few deviations along the way, but that I’d eventually settle into a normal life. Really, that’s all I’ve ever wanted.

Now I look at myself and my situation, and those dreams seem so damn far away. I can’t grasp them anymore, I can hardly see them. I get frightened on public transport. I panic when something’s been moved and I can’t find it. I destroy friendships so they won’t have a chance to hurt me first. I can’t walk down the street without hurting all over. I can’t eat without the fear of calories taking me over. I can’t reach for something on a shelf without my arm muscles giving up on me. I can’t stand still for more than a few seconds without pins and needles shooting through my legs. Heck, I can hardly stand at all. Just walking to the park with you cripples me for days. I catch every virus going. I lie awake at night, hurting so much in my heart that I think I’ll explode. My past is a dead weight I carry around with me, always waiting to trip me up and bring me crashing down. I refuse to focus on my own face in a mirror. I want to hide from everything. Sometimes, I don’t want to be here at all.

Then there’s you. Loveable, adorable you. The only man who has never asked anything of me, who has never let me down or betrayed me. The one who always sends me a goodnight text, and who always remembers to kiss me before we fall asleep together. You who holds my hand in public and tells me every day that I’m beautiful. Who makes me coffee in the morning and doesn’t complain when I’m too tired to do anything but sleep. You who rubs my shoulders when I’m sore, who always notices if I have new clothes on. You, who has always been there for me.

I took a chance with you. If hearts can truly break, mine was in a thousand pieces when we met. I wanted a friend, and what I got was more than I could ever have imagined.

I feel that you deserve more than this nervous wreck of a girlfriend. I hang on because I know that I can be better than this, and because I know that, with you, I have something most women only dream of. I don’t understand why somebody so perfect for me has been given to me; I don’t think I’ll ever understand it. I don’t feel worthy of it, but I do know that you make life so much more bearable. Before you, I was waiting to die. How overdramatic does that sound? It’s true though. I was watching life pass by, waiting for a truck to hit me or for my body to finally just pack in. I was considering doing something downright crazy, just so I could be locked away, away from the pressures of having to live a normal life. You always say how I seem so capable and confident… but I’ve been wearing that mask for a long time.

I love you, so damn much. More than I ever thought I could love anyone.

I just wish I could love myself.