Today is the 3 year anniversary of my first therapy appointment – marking the start of my journey to recover from Anorexia. As with the previous 2 years, I wanted to write a post reflecting on the past year including both the good and the bad, of what’s probably been my hardest year so far in recovery, along with my hopes for the future.
This is a pretty honest and open post – whilst I’m so proud of the journey that I have been on and the hurdles that I’ve overcome in the past year, I haven’t been having the most positive time recently. I cover everything from reintroducing gluten to my job, blogging and my relationship with exercise. If you’re in a position where you think that you could find anything that I’m going to talk about triggering then please maybe give this one a miss.
Over the past year there has definitely been a big switch in my attitude and approach towards food. I realised that I had developed such an orthorexic mindset – I was so fixated on everything being ‘free from’ and homemade – everything that I ate needed to have an associated benefit or be as ‘clean’ as possible. I’m glad to say that in the past year I’ve become so much more relaxed when it comes to these aspects of making food choices. It’s meant that I’ve been able to order options when eating out that I never would have ‘allowed’ myself to before, and try new products from the supermarket. Whilst I love wholefoods and piling my bowls with veggies, I’ll happily eat Oreo’s, pizza, peshwari naan and loaded nachos now too – because there’s no reason that anything should be off limits.
At the start of summer, I reintroduced gluten in to my diet after unnecessarily avoiding it for 3 years. I wrote a post addressing why I’m no longer gluten free, so won’t go in to too much detail here but to get straight to the point, I realised that my decision to avoid it was for nothing but disordered reasons. Reintroducing it has enabled me to enjoy so many more foods and I definitely feel a lot more relaxed around my food choices, especially when it comes to eating out. I can order pizza without requesting a gluten free base and not having to search the supermarket for gluten free options has saved me a whole lot of time and money.
This is definitely something that links in with finding more balance. It took me almost a whole year after my 18th birthday to finally have a drink – up until then I’d swore that it would be off limits for the rest of my life but again, that was my eating disorder talking. At the end of the day I’m 19 years old so what would you expect? Now that I’ve developed a more balanced approach, it’s definitely something that I enjoy.
Obviously I was initially worried about how it would affect my weight – there was a time when I thought that the extra calories, or ‘liquid calories’ were completely unnecessary, but now I love nothing more than a gin and tonic or going out for cocktails. Whilst I actually don’t drink that often, it’s definitely something that I’m glad that I’ve been able to become more comfortable with and it’s benefited me socially too.
Reintroducing gluten is something which was definitely a catalyst for me to introduce more variety in to my diet. Foods which were ‘off limits’ I can now enjoy and it inspired me to get my recipe books out and start creating more recipes of my own again too. One of my favourite books from the past year and something which has definitely helped me to branch out with my food choices is Lucy Watson’s Feed Me Vegan. With alternatives to pizza, burritos, curries, smores and my favourite nachos – it’s something which has helped me massively. Not only that but I’ve also expanded my choice of fruits, veggies and snacks rather than always sticking to the safest option.
Cramming In, Not Cutting Out
I used to frequent the free from aisle searching not only for Vegan options, but foods that were free from sugar, preservatives and gluten too. I had such an orthorexic mindset – everything had to be homemade or fresh. I fell head first in to the clean eating trap and wrongly avoided so many things that I actually enjoy. You wouldn’t have caught me drinking a coffee and whilst I still love a matcha latte, I have to admit that the Beanies flavoured coffee’s taste a whole lot better!
This past year I’ve learn to put the focus back on cramming in, rather than cutting out. I’ve shifted my focus to loading my bowl with nutritious and delicious foods, rather than focusing on everything that I shouldn’t be eating. I definitely became fearful of certain foods such as soy, quorn, sugar and pre-packaged falafels but I’ve now reintroduced them and realised that not only do I love the taste, but incorporating them in to your diet in moderation is actually far healthier than excluding them. I’ve found more peace with food and realised that it’s OK to eat something just because you love the taste without it boosting your immunity or detoxing your liver.
I’ve definitely made progress in the past year and whilst it’s something to be proud of, my relationship with food still isn’t 100% there. I can appreciate that not every meal has to be absolutely amazing – I used to feel so guilty if I didn’t 100% enjoy something, or it didn’t taste as good as I’d expected. But food isn’t always going to taste the same and that’s OK, because there’s always another chance to eat it!
I’m nowhere near as rigid and strict as I was with food timings either which is a huge step for me. I definitely still struggle with guilt, pre-planning my meals and there are times when I won’t ‘allow’ myself to eat over a certain amount or listen to my hunger queues. I still have a lot of routines and rituals around food which I need to break. Recently I’ve acknowledged that I definitely don’t eat ‘normally’ – eating meals takes up much more of my time than it should and unfortunately food is still a major form of control in my life. But the fact that I can acknowledge that these things are a problem is an achievement in itself too. Although the steps that I’ve made in the last year might seem small to some, they’ve all been in the right direction.
Social and Family Life
Over the past year I’ve not only become more comfortable eating out but I’ve expanded my choice of restaurants too – whilst I use to stick to health food cafe’s or vegan restaurants, my favourite places to eat out are now the Indian and local pub, where surprisingly they offer some of the best vegan options! Don’t get me wrong, I still love visiting new foodie spots but I’m not as obsessed or fixated as I was and it’s actually made eating out a whole lot more enjoyable. For the most part I’ve also stopped looking at menu’s and pre-planning what I eat beforehand, which also contribrutes to me enjoying the whole experience more.
One of my proudest achievements of the past year is that I’ve started eating meals with my mum again. For the past 3-4 years I ate almost all of my meals alone – I became so self conscious and fearful of eating in front of other people, not to mention that I’d become so fixated on the fact that I had to concentrate so intently on my food. We started by introducing 1 meal a week where we eat together, which has since increased to 2 or 3.
Whilst I still find it stressful at times, I’m growing to love cooking for the both of us and introducing her to some of my favourite plant based recipes. Our favourites are loaded vegan nachos complete with the dreamiest chilli con queso (honestly I would eat that meal for dinner every night if I could) and Deliciously Ella’s spiced peanut sweet potatoes – oh and we love a good peshwari naan from the Indian too.
I’m so happy to say that I’ve reconnected with my Grandparents and Dad who I completely cut off for 3 years. It makes me sad to admit that my eating disorder prioritised everything else over time with them – I became so selfish and developed almost a hatred towards them but I know that they understand that it wasn’t me. Now we’re making a regular effort to go out for dinner together and for the first time I’ve felt comfortable opening up to them about my eating disorder. They’ve been trying to educate themselves too – reading up on Anorexia and veganism as well. Whilst I used to find their comments triggering or unhelpful, looking back I know that they only ever had my best intentions at heart, but I was so consumed by my eating disorder that I couldn’t see past it. I’m so happy that we’re now able to go out for tea and drinks together and that we can openly chat about things and it’s something that I definitely need and want to challenge myself to do more of. For so long I completely isolated myself but time with loved ones is so precious and I’ve realised that it really doesn’t matter how good your food is, if there’s no one to enjoy it with.
Anorexia is so selfish – it takes everything from you and all that you begin to care about is yourself, food and exercise. My mum is the only person who has stuck by me for the past 4 years and I couldn’t be more grateful, although at times I probably have forgotten just how much it has affected her.
The past 4 years obviously haven’t been easy for her either – I’ve realised that I probably am difficult to live with. It’s something that I am ashamed to admit, but my mood and routine all have an impact on her and the way that she lives her life too. To say my mum has given me some tough love recently would be an understatement – whilst her being so honest with me has at times been upsetting, it has been 100% necessary and given me the push that I need to realise how much I really do need to recover because as she put it – Anorexia has taken everything from me and provided me with nothing in return.
Social life is something which is always playing on my mind – whilst I’m so grateful to have formed friendships with two of my best friends via Instagram and for the girls that I’ve met through work, I still struggle a lot socially.
Being socially isolated throughout my last year at high school was a major trigger for my eating disorder, since then I have made friends but I still don’t have a friendship group or the ‘normal’ social life that the majority of other people my age have and it affects me on a daily basis. My social events tend to be every 4-6 weeks, if I’m lucky but when I go out I absolutely love it. It was towards the end of my second year in recovery that I went on my first night out and it’s something which has continued throughout the past year. Whilst I wish that they hadn’t been so few and far between (one night out every 4 months just doesn’t cut it i’m afraid) they’re occasions that I absolutely love! I just so desperately wish that it was something that I could do on a weekly basis.
Something which majorly challenged me socially was going to stay with Laura in Dorset for a few days over the summer. I was definitely anxious about changing my routine and food and not being in control of my day but it did me the world of good and I had the loveliest time! We had some of the best food, explored Dorset and it was definitely the mini break that I needed. It helped to open up my eyes to normal eating and I felt so free. It was so lovely to sit and be in the company of a friend, rather than spending the evenings alone and I’m so glad that I pushed myself to go.
I think that having a better social life and being around people who have a healthy relationship with food would be so beneficial for me in terms of recovery. When you don’t have people to go out and do stuff with, it’s far too easy to become stuck in a routine. I definitely feel isolated a lot of the time, but on the other hand it becomes a viscous cycle as when I am asked out, I worry about how I’m going to fit it in to my routine or the impact that it will have on my weight. This coming year I definitely want to push myself outside of my comfort zone, challenge myself to meet new people, say yes more and be more social.
Unexpectedly moving house twice within the past year has definitely been a stressful experience. At times it was challenging and I definitely unnecessarily worried about food but it provided me with an opportunity to challenge myself and be more spontaneous with my food choices. I’d grown up in that house, went through the depths of my eating disorder and started recovery there so it definitely brought up a lot of anxiety about how my routine would change when we left. Whilst a year ago I would have thought you were joking if you’d told me that I would ever move, now that we’re settled I can definitely say that I’m a whole lot happier here.
I’ve continued working in the same smoothie bar over the past year. I’m still so grateful for the girls that I’ve met through work – we’ve all become quite close and whilst some of us have left and moved on to other jobs it’s so lovely that we all keep in touch and meet up when we can. I’ve definitely become a lot more confident in work – taking over new roles and having more direct contact with customers in the cafe has definitely given me a lot more confidence which I’ve been able to translate in to every aspect of my life.
I always excelled academically and the fact that my eating disorder took away the opportunity for me to complete my A levels the first time round is definitely something that I struggle with. I’m so torn between whether to return to education or not and in all honesty, right now I have no clue what to do!
So many ideas have been thrown around over the past 6 months – completing A levels, getting an apprenticeship, or even going to uni. It’s a big decision to make but I’m not even sure what course I would want to do. Obviously nutrition and psychology are of an interest to me, but I want to be 100% certain about the course that I choose and not fall in to it for disordered reasons.
I’m not sure whether I need to properly recover first, or whether it’s something that would help me to recover. I feel a little lost – as if at times I don’t know what I genuinely enjoy and I can’t even remember the subjects that I enjoyed at school. At the same time I feel like there is definitely a lot of pressure on young people nowadays to have everything figured out and to adhere to the expectations of going to uni and getting a degree. Whilst I am thinking about the idea, I’m also trying to accept that it’s OK if I decide not to go to – qualifications aren’t everything and it definitely doesn’t determine your success. In terms of uni, I definitely worry about how I would cope moving out – but I know that at the same time it would provide me with the social life that I’ve spent so long wishing for.
One of my biggest achievements in the past year is how much my Instagram and blog have grown. It’s something that I started to fall in love with again over the summer and I’ve completely thrown myself in to. I became a certified health and wellness influencer, started working with brands and most recently set up as a sole trader – all of which is so exciting.
I set up this blog in 2016 as a hobby; to open up about my struggles and to see that it has come full circle and is helping other people is so rewarding. I continue to be open and honest about the things that I struggle with, because I know that knowing that you’re not alone is something that I found so beneficial when I was in that place myself.
I’m so proud of the content that I have created and even prouder of the positive impact that it’s having. My stats have reached a point that I never thought they would and I love nothing more than being tagged in your recreations of my recipes or hearing that one of my posts has inspired you in some way. I want to show people that plant based doesn’t have to be over complicated or expensive and is in fact incredibly delicious. Recipe testing has forced me to challenge myself and try new foods too. I even managed to post a new recipe every single day as part of my Veganuary series, which was quite the challenge but something that I’m so glad that I did.
I can say that my blog is something that I am so proud of and without it, alongside my Instagram account, I honestly don’t know where I would be; it keeps me motivated, provides me with purpose and I’m so excited to see how it can grow from here.
I can honestly say that I never exercise with the intention to lose weight – I genuinely love challenging my body and seeing it become stronger. I still take Maisie on walks, do yoga, HIIT workouts and over summer I attended spin classes – which was something that I grew to love. Entering a gym environment after so long was obviously daunting at first. I definitely worried that people would be judging or watching me but once I got in there I realised that all of my anxiety and worry had been completely irrational and in reality everyone is too focused on themselves. It was so nice to push myself out of my comfort zone, try a new form of exercise and exercise in a group of people too.
I recently dedicated a whole Instagram post to how beneficial yoga has been for me in terms of recovery. It’s something that I genuinely love and makes me feel so much better about myself both mentally and physically. I love that so much focus is on the breath and being in the present moment, rather than aesthetics or physical results. I practice every morning without fail and it’s something that I now can’t imagine my life without it.
Routine and Rest Days
I’m so proud of myself for reintroducing a rest day and recognising that it’s both completely acceptable and necessary. I’ve also reduced the intensity of my workouts, opting for yoga instead of HIIT workouts most days and I’ve managed to reduce the amount of walking that I do to. I’ve learnt that you don’t need to walk X amount of steps or exercise in order to a) earn or b) burn off food. But it’s definitely a relationship that requires some strengthening – there are definitely times when I feel guilty or force myself to exercise. Going forward I want to develop a more relaxed approach to exercise and learn more about moving my body intuitively.
I don’t know my weight and I haven’t since 2016. For me, it’s something which has been so beneficial for me mentally – I’ve let go of all control that the number of the scales once had over me, instead focusing on how my body feels. In the past year I’ve learnt to be kinder to my body and more grateful for the work it does that often goes unappreciated on a daily basis and I’m definitely more confident in my appearance. Like most people, I still struggle with bad body image days but I’ve developed coping mechanisms to help me to deal with them better and I’m slowly accepting and learning to love my body.
In February last year I made the decision to have hair extensions fitted and it’s one of the best decision that I have made. Losing a lot of hair due to my eating disorder was a major knock to my confidence and finally being able to style and wear my hair down again has given me such a boost! It’s made me feel more confident when going out socially and in all honesty I don’t think I would have ever started going on nights out had I not done it. It might sound shallow, but you don’t realise what a huge part of your identity and femininity it is until it’s gone. Whilst I’m still working towards getting my natural hair to a point where it’s at my healthiest – me and my hairdresser are always mindful of protecting my own hair, having extensions has worked miracles for my confidence.
What I first thought was just dry skin slowly progressed in to a severe case of chill blains. The pain was waking me in the night, I completely lost sensation in one of my fingers and it became so unbearable that I had to visit GP, who prescribed me a course of antibiotics along with management tips. She came to the conclusion that I’d developed them as a result of poor circulation, linked to my eating disorder.
Whilst it’s not been the best experience by any means, in a way it’s proof that everything happens for a reason. It’s led me back to the GP and reopened the conversation about my eating disorder and the possibility of returning to therapy. It’s definitely made me acknowledge the physical implications of my eating disorder and the steps that I need to take going forward. I hadn’t actually visited the GP since late 2017 – I thought that I was so much stronger for attempting recovery alone. But weirdly I am so thankful that I had to go; I’ve found a doctor that understands and has agreed to support me and although it hasn’t been a pleasant experience, the outcome has been positive.
Where I Am Right Now
In many ways this year, in particular the past 6 months, has probably been the hardest for me in recovery. Whilst I have come so far, there’s still such a large proportion of my life that’s ruled and dictated by Anorexia. I feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place – and in some ways it feels so much worse than the place that I was in 3 years ago. Whilst back then I was so consumed by Anorexia that I couldn’t truly see the damage that it was causing, now I can acknowledge and identity every thing – my routine, mood, hunger. I know what I need to do and I want to get help – but there’s a small part of my head that’s causing a complete mental block. I can sit and talk about all of the things and behaviors that are wrong, yet part of me can’t stop them. In all honestly part of me is scared to take the next step and fully recover – it’s been a huge part of my life for so many years that I don’t know who the person is left behind after it. But what’s even scarier is spending my whole life dictated by anorexia – and that’s why I’ve started seeing the GP again.
I was weighed for the first time since 2017, I had my blood’s done, I’m being referred to the endocrinologist and I’m going to be having regular appointments. I feel pressure to be fine, but I’m learning that it’s OK to struggle and ask for help and that’s not a sign of weakness. Whilst I have progressed so much on my own without therapy, I can’t do this on my own anymore. I’ve definitely come to realise that the negative experience that I did have at the eating disorder service has somewhat been detrimental to my mental health and now maybe it is time to talk to some one again.
The past 4 years of my life haven’t been spent the way that they should have and in many ways, my teenage years haven’t been what I expected at all. In a way I feel like I don’t know who I am anymore. Anorexia has taken so much away from me and unfortunately, it’s time that I will never be able to get back. Whilst it’s something that fills me with so much regret, it’s also given me the push that I need to continue with recovery because if I don’t recover now then I’m so fearful of what my life will become. At times I think that I have lost sight of what’s important and prioritised food and exercise when I could have been spending my time and energy on other things. Dedicating so much time and energy to food and exercise has definitely prevented me from working more and being more social.
Next month I move in to my 20’s, having done what seems so little with my teens and I don’t want to be filled with the same regret about my 20’s. I’m so tired of living this way and I realise that I need to find some inner strength from somewhere, because I’m the only person who can change that.
Whilst recovery definitely isn’t a linear process, I am grateful for the opportunities that it has provided me with. Not only has it enabled me to meet two of my best friends, I’ve connected with so many like minded people and it’s led me to this very blog, which has no become a business for me. I’m so grateful for the support and opportunities that I’m provided with on a daily basis. I’m not quite sure what my next step is, but if I’ve learnt anything in the past year, then it’s that a little uncertainty is OK and I have faith that everything will work out in the end.
In some ways I don’t want there to be a 4 year recovery post – quite frankly there shouldn’t have to be. It shouldn’t be taking me this long to recover. But I do believe that recovery is possible and I hope that if there is another post like this next year, that I can say that I pulled myself out of this rut and finally recovered.
I love hearing your thoughts and feedback so please leave your comments and questions below, or let me know over on Instagram @nourishingyas.
Other posts in my Anorexia Recovery series:
- Introducing Yas: The Story So Far
- Anorexia Recovery: One Year On
- The Next Chapter
- Anorexia Recovery: Two Years On
- My Vegan Journey
- Anorexia Recovery: How To Deal With Bad Body Image