A few days ago I tried on my wedding dress only to find that I could barely do the zipper up. My initial reaction was to break into a sweat and think about all of the ways I could shed a few kilos before the big day in 2 months. The reaction that soon followed was something very different.
You see in my late teens I had anorexia. I hated who I was and what I looked like. I thought that by being skinny I would be desirable and happy. Fast forward to skinnyme and the reality was very different. I still hated myself but in addition to this I hid myself away from family and friends, embarrassed about my skeletal frame. I became a recluse and a perfectionist. Needless to say I felt lifeless and depressed. My mind was consumed with what my next meal was, how I could avoid eating or where I could hide food so that I could throw it in the bin when I got the chance. I was petrified of food, eating and weight gain. Sounds exhausting doesn’t it? Well make no mistake, it was.
My anorexia was the story I wore until I finally decided that enough was enough. My so called ideal weight and aesthetic had let me down. In my mind I was promised something that did not deliver, regardless of how militant I had been at sticking to my plan. I decided at my lowest and skinniest point to “choose” life and another kind of existence. Gradually I accepted invitations to go out with friends for a meal again. I reintroduced foods I had otherwise banned and began to experience a sense of genuine happiness again. I saw myself deserving of bigger things than the four bedroom walls and restricted foods I had confined myself to.
Close to 20 years later, instead of grieve the time lost, the torture felt and the heart-ache I put loved ones through, I am grateful for that experience. I now truly understand how food and social interaction provide information to nourish the body and stoke the fire of happiness.
Occasionally I am triggered and have found the old self wanting to return with destructive thoughts and behaviour. I short circuit this with a few simple, supportive tools. Many of these are a daily practice so that the old self remains a weak memory.
8 TOOLS I USE TO BREAK THROUGH OLD BELIEFS AND BEHAVIOUR
EMOTIONAL FREEDOM TECHNIQUE (EFT)
EFT has been a big part of my healing journey and continues to be. EFT involves tapping on acupuncture points whilst focusing on an issue, memory or emotional challenge that you wish to clear. Disordered eating is rarely only driven by a desire to look a certain way. My driver's for that kind of control with food was from poor self worth, lack of self love and acceptance. To this day, EFT continues to break through these old self limiting and destructive beliefs. I work with an EFT practitioner and use EFT at home on my own when triggered. Learn more about EFT in this article I wrote recently.
Journalling has been a game changer for me. It has been a platform to regurgitate negative thoughts and a space to express gratitude. Lately it has also been a powerful tool to write down small positive action steps. I journal almost every day, first thing in the morning. Sometimes it’s only a short sentence and at other times it may be a page. I use journaling solely as an outlet and rarely re read my entries. There are no rules with journaling. My journalling style has changed throughout the years and no doubt will continue to. Find what works for you and forget the perfect grammer.
Having a gratitude practice means I fill-up on the positive things in my life and even the things that I don't have right now, but want to embody. If what we focus our energy on expands doesn’t it make sense to fill up on that which makes us smile or that which we want to create? My gratitude practice also includes the benefit I get from that thing I am grateful for. For example; I am grateful for a day full of clients, which means I can pay the bills and continue doing what I love; help people achieve their health goals (or regulate their bowel movements :).
If it’s something that you want to embody you may say I am grateful for this pain-free body. Or as philosopher Henry David Thoreau would say, “I stand in awe of my body”. This vehicle that allows me to pick up my kids and hug my partner. I write my three gratitudes down or say them out loud. In addition to this I announce something I am grateful for in my day to my partner just before we sleep, as does he. Fill up on gratitude and there will be less room for excessive worry. This investment may take as little as 1-5 minutes of your time. Learn how gratitude can lead to happiness in the following studies here and here
If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. Wayne Dyer
TALK ABOUT IT
When I try to deal with worries on my own I ruminate aka mull on them for a number of weeks, sometimes months. However when I express my thoughts and feelings to someone I trust, it helps me move through the concern much faster. In the past I would never talk about my negative thoughts in fear that I would give it energy and it would become part of my identity. Or I was simply ashamed of them. As a result I distanced myself from many because I found it hard to be present. My mind was in constant over-drive, obsessing about my concerns.
It just makes sense to release the valve of our minds and let the worry out. It’s all part of how we process, how we manufacture. You have a thought, you express it, it leaves the body and more room is made available for the new. We are not our thoughts, but if we hold onto them, lock them in our minds and into the cells of our body, they literally do become a part of us. They may even express as an illness. Being vulnerable is often uncomfortable, but has never been an action I have regretted. In fact my strongest, most rewarding relationships have been built on vulnerability.
“What happens when people open their hearts?" "They get better.” Haruki Murakami
It’s important not to spend too much time mulling over self destructive thoughts. I avoid dwelling by regularly attending social interactions such as networking groups, workshops, meal dates with friends or I pick up the phone and call a buddy even if every fibre of my being wants to hibernate. These interactions and exchange of conversation reduce the amount of time I spend alone with my thoughts. People have been a huge part of my healing, whether they were aware of it or not. I aim for at least one social engagement a week.
HAVE A PURPOSE
I help people correct poor gut health and regulate bowel movements. This purpose moves the focus and fixation from myself to the mission I am driven to deliver. As a result my worries seem less important because my energy is not tied up in it. I like to schedule and plan most of my days well so that hours are not spent entertaining obsessive, negative thoughts. It feels really rewarding to help others. In fact studies show that acts of generosity and kindness makes for a happier, healthier person. Want some inspiration read Viktor Frankl's fantastic book - Man’s Search For Meaning.
“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”
Viktor E. Frankl
I AVOID FASTING
Starving and depriving the body gave me a unhealthy, false sense of power and control. This deepened my fear of eating food and led to a deep depression. Instead I take every opportunity, with every meal to eat food I believe will nourish me. Food that I enjoy. Food I am grateful for. Fasting may have it’s place for some people, however in my instance it does not feel supportive to my continued recovery. In fact it leads to a mind consumed by thoughts of food and mindlessly overeating in my next meal. If I'm in a situation such as on a plane or in a hotel where I do not have access to good food I often bring my own, pack a super simple smoothie or moderately undereat to avoid going without. Put simply, going without affects my mental health.
Books, podcasts, TedEx talks and documentaries of people who have walked a similar path and have recovered, or those that address how we can change our thoughts and behaviour have been welcome friends during my recovery. Some of the memorable ones are; Breaking the habit of being yourself - book by Dr Joe Dispenza, Amy Dalton - Finding freedom in facing pain Tedx talk, or Overcoming your addiction with Amy Dalton and Dr Lo - Podcast, The Gifts Of Imperfection - a book by Brene Brown.
In order for recovery to “stick” I have had to adopt an attitude of courage, persistence and faith that there was another way of being. I also had to let go of the belief that I was alone, because my friends we are not alone. We never were. A quote aka mantra that has continually inspired me which I now share with you is;
“You are not stuck where you are unless you decide to be” Wayne Dyer
I have recently become an ambassador for the Body Image Movement. If you want to become part of the healthy body image revolution and embrace that amazing body of yours, like their facebook page and make sure you watch the EMBRACE documentary.