Nothing will prepare you for recovery. You don’t think you need it or that your worthy of it – you probably don’t even think that your ill enough. But you’ll come out of the other side and realise just how bad things had got and how much stronger you are for making it through.
There are two things relying on you to feed them today. The first is your body, the second is your eating disorder. Feed one. Kill the other. It’s your choice, please make it a wise one.
Today marks a year since I attended my first appointment to begin treatment at the Eating Disorder service – the day that I finally took the first steps towards beating this. And to say that the past year has been a rollercoaster would be an understatement; there are times when I thought that I wouldn’t even make it out alive but here I am, stronger than I have ever been. So I want to take this as an opportunity to reflect upon and share my experiences from the past year to show you that this journey, although it be a very difficult one, IS possible.
Acceptance The first step in recovery is accepting that you have a problem and that you need help – yes I understand that it sounds completely cliché but it couldn’t be more true. I was diagnosed with Anorexia in November 2015 and was later admitted to hospital in January. During that time I continued on a downward spiral because I was so blinded by my eating disorder that I didn’t think I had a problem. The only thing that I can liken Anorexia to is being possessed – your complete thought process is taken over and you have little room to think about anything else. I was so consumed by my eating disorder that my lowest weight was never enough, I wanted to push that number down further and further and when I was told that my weight had gone down I couldn’t have been happier. In the eyes of Anorexia I could never be skinny enough, thin enough or ill enough. I was so blinded by this illness that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend why people thought I needed help. And at the end of the day if you don’t think you have a problem, there’s not going to be anything to solve. But my admission to hospital (although I believed it to be unnecessary at the time) was definitely the best thing for me and 100% the wake up call that I needed. It made me realise how ill I was, the pain that I wasn’t only inflicting on myself but everyone around me. I finally accepted that I wasn’t ok, that I couldn’t live like this anymore and so in March, I attended that first appointment fully open to the treatment process. I wanted recovery.
Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
‘Therapy’ I’ve made it no secret how much of an awful experience I had at both CAMHS and the ED service and if you followed me on Instagram throughout those months, you would have seen it all. At my first appointment, all control over my food was taken away from me and handed over to my mum – no cooking, no baking, no food shopping – pretty much no contact with food at all. This was the part of treatment that I had always dreaded the most and all of my worst fears were confirmed. I wanted to keep control over my food, I even thought that I could increase my portions alone but looking back I know that it wasn’t me who wanted control, it was my eating disorder.
I have differing opinions on the approach that was taken towards treatment – whilst letting my mum portion my food and introducing 3 meals & snacks was beneficial in helping me to gain weight, it only led to me developing more rituals around food. I understand the reasons behind being made to eat 6 times a day but it’s not ‘normal eating’ by any means. I was also told that I had to eat exactly every 3 hours, thus I became obsessed with timings, down to the exact minute – If I ate breakfast at 6.01 then snack would be 9.01, lunch at 12.01 and so on. And yep 6am for breakfast? I was forced to wake up early everyday just to eat. Having my whole day revolve around the next time I was going to eat did not help matters, and so I developed issues regarding routine etc which I’m still dealing with today. None of these habits, nor any of my thought processes were addressed during ‘therapy’ – I received NO mental help; the 4 months that I spent there were solely concentrated on weight gain. I asked for mental help and was told that they didn’t give it. No mental treatment for a mental illness? Yep, makes no sense to me either. The relationship between myself and my ‘therapist’ was very much a turbulent one – when I cried she told me I was acting like a 7-year-old, when I laughed I was accused of conspiring, my self-confidence was completely crushed by repeatedly being told that I would never achieve anything. All I ever wanted was help, so why was she so reluctant to give it? My experience there was honestly traumatic and I could go on all day about all of the shit that I went through there but to put into perspective how awful things were, I’m currently in the process of filing a formal complaint.
From my own experience of therapy and stories that I have seen other people share, I truly believe that there is a huge disconnect in the treatment of eating disorders. MAKING SOMEONE GAIN WEIGHT WILL NOT CURE THEIR EATING DISORDER ALONE. Forcing me to gain such a large amount of weight in such a short space of time with no mental support would only have resulted in me relapsing. Since discharging myself from the service, I’ve been taking a slower approach to weight gain and concentrating on my mental health – an approach which has very much worked for me. I have come on leaps and bounds mentally since I left there; I no longer feel bound by the number on the scales, I don’t have a strict routine nor do I rush to make food for a specific time and I don’t force myself to leave the house and exercise everyday. I’m also a lot happier in general – any mental progress that I’ve made was by no means a result of ‘therapy’.
You choose it. You choose it every damn day. You wake up, ask yourself the same question: is this really worth it? The answer is your breakfast. The answer is your functioning heart. The answer becomes your life. It never gets easy but instead, simpler. And your answer gets louder. So you choose it everyday until it is no longer a choice, until there is no longer a question.
Gaining Weight It’s important to remember that anorexia is a mental illness – the weight loss is simply a side effect but the root cause is so much more than that. I could write a whole other post on how I strongly believe that weight restoration and recovery are two separate things – you can gain weight and have made no mental improvement but at the same time, recovery isn’t possible without weight gain. People make comments to those will mental illness that they wouldn’t make to those with a physical one, and they also make comments to those with anorexia that they wouldn’t make to someone with any other mental illness – simply because all they concentrate on is the physical implications. Just because someone is gaining weight it does not mean that they’re cured, it does not mean that they’re OK (something which my therapist very clearly failed to understand).
Gaining weight in recovery is hard because it goes against everything your eating disorder wants. I felt as if all of my hard work was being unraveled – I’d spent all these months starving myself in order to be skinny and now I was being forced to do the exact opposite? But what I came to realise was that I wasn’t just ‘skinny’, I physically looked disgusting – I was near on my death-bed. One of the best pieces of advice that I’ve received was from a nurse who told me that food is my medicine; other people need tablets to get better but eating is what will make me healthier and that’s something that I remind myself of to this day. And eating won’t make you fat – recovery is simply a process of weight restoration meaning that it’s weight that you never should have lost in the first place.
It’s also important to remember that recovery looks different on everybody. In the early stages I used to compare myself to other people a lot, girls in recovery who naturally have smaller frames than me, which only made gaining weight harder. Comparison is literally the thief of joy, so slowly I’m learning not to compare myself to other people because I’m me and that is good enough. And no, I don’t have a thigh gap anymore but I’ve accepted that there’s fuck all I can do to change it – that’s just my genetics and how my body is built. Sure I can get one, but I have to nearly kill myself to do it and that’s so not worth it when nut butters exist.
The problem is that you don’t just choose recovery. You have to keep choosing recovery, over and over and over again. You have to make that choice 5-6 times each day. You have to make that choice even when you don’t want to. It’s not a single choice, and it’s not easy.
Finding Veganism I began transitioning to a plantbased diet in March, at the beginning of my recovery and I can wholeheartedly say that it has helped me so much on my journey. Whilst many people are quick to make the assumption that it is a disordered decision, for me it has been the exact opposite. I’ve been told countless times that this is a diet and that I could never possibly gain weight by eating this way but I guess they’ve all been proved wrong now, hey?! I think it’s safe to say that I’ve never loved food as much as I do now. I never feel as if I’m restricting or depriving myself and that’s how I know that Yasmin made this decision and not Anorexia. I love digging into big marinated kale salads, bowls of roasted veggies, hearty stews and platefuls of tahini and avocado toast but I equally love big bowls of chocolate oats, raw ferrero rochers, salted caramel protein bars and raw chocolate brownies and that’s what life is about: balance. I no longer feel the need or want to count calories or track macros because I know that with every mouthful of food I’m truly nourishing my body with the most wholesome foods (that also happen to taste utterly delicious). Without veganism, I don’t think that I would be this far along in recovery.
The sun is a daily reminder that we too can rise from the darkness, that we too can shine our own light.
Support and Inspiration
- Deliciously Ella is one of my biggest inspirations – without her books and recipes I wouldn’t have fallen in love with plantbased food and cooking, nor would I have converted to veganism (something which has helped me immensely) and I am eternally grateful for all of the hard work that she does, from her recipe creating to her business ventures I wholeheartedly believe that she is one of the most inspirational women out there and I am so grateful for everything that she has taught me.
- Madeleine Shaw along with Ella, is one of my biggest inspirations. From her delicious recipes and advice videos to her passion for yoga I am so grateful for everything that Madeline has taught me. She’s inspired me to follow in her footsteps and study at CNM to pursue a career as a nutritionist and I can’t thank her enough for teaching me that healthy food isn’t bland or boring.
- Fightmaster Yoga without Lesley, I wouldn’t have developed such a love for yoga – practicing daily has been so beneficial for both my mental and physical health. She’s taught me that exercise should be part of my life, not my whole life. Her positivity and smile never fails to brighten my day and I am so grateful for her and all of the hard work that she does. Her strength and determination inspires me so much, along with her quotes, affirmations and happiness tips – I genuinely believe that she is in part responsible for me becoming a happier and stronger person.
- My mum It’s always been just me and my mum but I never realised just how much I needed her until over the past couple of years. She is the strongest woman that I know and the support that she’s provided me with over the past year has been my main motivation to recover. Without her, I don’t think that I would be here now. Her independence and strength inspires me on a daily basis and throughout everything she has always been my rock – from staying with me in hospital to attending my therapy sessions. I always feel so guilty for everything that I’ve put her through, but I will never forget what she’s done for me; my best friend and my biggest support.
- Instagram Community I first set up my Instagram in January 2016 as a recovery account and I am so unbelievably grateful for the support from everyone on there because without speaking to people who genuinely understand what it’s like to live with an ED, I don’t think I could have made it through. I am so grateful for your comments, support and advice and you all continue to motivate and inspire me on a daily basis and I am forever grateful – seeing your posts never fails to brighten my day so never give up on recovery because you are all so worthy.
- So many amazing bloggers and brands who have taught me about proper nutrition and that healthy eating should never mean deprivation. In particular the team at vivo life – especially Josh whose blog posts have provided me with so much proper education on food and nutrition. Some of Josh’s blog posts (1, 2, 3) were so instrumental for me in ditching the macro trackers and starting to lead a healthier, balanced lifestyle. Also niomi smart, healthy living james, happily holli, eat nourish love, minimalist baker, livia’s kitchen, naturally sassy (and so many more) whose recipes, positivity, blog posts and stories inspire and motivate me on a daily basis.
Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.
Moving Forward, Self Acceptance and What I’ve Learned My mindset has done a complete 360 over the past year – I thought that I would be trapped with those thoughts of restriction and self-hatred forever but I’ve come out of it at the other side and it’s crazy to think just how different my thought process is now.
This whole journey hasn’t been easy by any means and there have been SO many times when I wanted to give up and there are still days when wake up feeling like that. But I’ve learned that proper education on food is so important and the things that your eating disorder will make you believe can sometime be absurd. I completely cut out carbs because I thought that they would make me fat, to the point where I wouldn’t have even eaten a grape (laughable I know) but the reality is carbs won’t make you fat, nor will eating at 9pm or that extra biscuit. I now eat 30x the amount of calories that I used to at breakfast and I don’t even feel an ounce of guilt for it! I’ve learned that I should never feel guilty for eating – for nourishing my body and providing it with the food that it needs to survive. I have confronted so many fear foods; bananas used to be a huge one but there fifteen of them in the fruit bowl right now! I don’t track calories or count macros and I’m in the best place that I’ve been with food in a long time. I don’t feel weak all the time – I can exercise, I’m gaining muscle and I have so much more energy. I genuinely have a love and appreciation for food that I never thought possible, I love cooking and eating and I’m so bloody proud of myself. I’ve gone from being depressed – I couldn’t laugh, I didn’t want to listen to music to being able to smile, laugh and enjoy myself again. Food isn’t constantly on my mind and I’ve realised that there’s so much more to life than appearance and weight – in the grand scheme of things neither of those matter. I always thought that being skinny would make me happier but if anything, it only brought more pain and sadness into my life. Instead, I’m learning to love my body and accept it for what it is and I’m thankful that it keeps me alive.
I’m not saying that I’m recovered – I still have a far way to go both physically and mentally but I’m doing everything that I can to get there. I don’t talk about my eating disorder a lot on Instagram anymore or on here for that matter, simply because I don’t want to give it any more ammunition or constantly be associated with it. I am Yasmin – I don’t want to become Anorexia. I’ve come to hate being around certain family members because they constantly relate everything in my life back to it. In fact it’s so refreshing to speak to people eg work colleagues or my driving instructor who don’t know anything about it because there is life beyond Anorexia.
I didn’t think that I would be able to make it out of those darkest times but things are finally looking up for me and I know that this is just the beginning of a much brighter future for me – I started my own blog, I have a part-time job at a local health food cafe and I am so thankful to have a boss who despite knowing my situation has given me an opportunity. I also hope to start studying at CNM this year. In many ways I hate that this happened to me – so much of my life was destroyed; I lost my education, friends etc but concentrating on the negatives is far too easy. I refuse to fall victim to my circumstances and be consumed by self-pity because at the end of the day things happen for you, not to you – whilst life probably (definitely) would have been better had I not suffered from Anorexia, it has also shown me a lot. Without everything that I’ve been through, I wouldn’t have met such incredible people, or developed an interest in all things plantbased and want to pursue a career in a field that I’m genuinely passionate about. Otherwise, I would have been starting uni this year to study for a law degree and right now I can’t think of anything worse.
The past year has in many ways been both the best and the worst but I’m now a stronger and happier person. There are still days when I hate my body – truth is I’ll probably never be 100% happy with it but I’m slowly learning to accept and love it. There are days when I think being ill seems more appealing than recovery, maybe people might care more – but those days are fewer and fewer and I realise that losing weight isn’t worth it. I can now differentiate between what I want and what Anorexia wants, I’ve relinquished control and it feels so good. As much as the world around us likes to put a focus on how we look, there is so much more to life than that. Starving yourself doesn’t make you strong, strong is waking up everyday and defying that voice in your head that tells you not to eat or tells you to walk a little bit farther. And beauty isn’t defined by the gap between my thighs or how much my hip bones stick out – it’s what inside that counts, the twinkle in my eyes, my smile and my laugh. Recovery has brought me so much more than starving myself ever did. So what’s my plan going forward? To continue improving my mental health, strengthening a positive relationship with food and gaining weight – although my focus is not on a specific number on the scales, but simply on getting my body to a point where it is fully happy and healthy.
Recovery is a journey, I’m by no means there yet, nor do I feel as if I can pin point the final destination but I’m nowhere near where I was this time a year ago and for that I am so bloody proud of myself. I never thought in a million years that I would be in the position that I am now and I can’t wait to see where this next year takes me.
In the end, she became more than what she expected. She became the journey, and like all journeys, she did not end, she just simply changed directions.
Please do not suffer in silence, if you think you or someone you know has an eating disorder seek medical advice. And remember, I’m only ever a message away if anyone wants advice or support.