Magazines; Friend or Foe?

This is a topic very close to my heart and so i wanted to post a blog. I am sharing this as magazines did play their part in my eating disorder journey and by making some small changes i was able to overcome some detrimental habits and allow my positive body image to grow.

To what extent do magazines play a part in eating disorders?

As each and every person is different this will vary on a scale of having no impact at all to a very damaging impact. Don’t get me wrong i am in no way suggesting the magazines we all know and ‘love’ are the cause of eating disorders but i do feel that they are a huge driving force fuelling already existing eating disorders and can help body image issues to begin and grow.

Firstly lets look at the content of a magazine. I did a little experiment for this blog by taking a woman’s magazine, i had a flick through making a note of the topics, stories, articles and photos that i found. Although i am not going to name the magazine it was interesting to see just how focused magazines have become on the ‘body’. Every other page seemed to contain materials that will be considered detrimental to someone with an eating disorder. From looking at this one magazine it seemed to demonstrate the content that most magazines advertise:

  • Advertisements promoting ‘nutritional’ supplements, claiming that they can be taken to speed up metabolism, used as a meal replacement with guaranteed fat loss fast. Many of these are supported by photos of people who have clearly spent the past year in the gym every day! This is false advertising and not to mention would look very appealing to someone wanting to lose weight fast in the grips of an eating disorder.
  • Promoting diets that are designed to drop a dress size in a week, lose half a stone in 3 days and again show images of people who are not ‘healthy’ not real people. These diets are not supported by any real evidence or studies. They often limit you to a small group of foods which is very restrictive, restriction being the key element of an eating disorder (alarm bells)
  • Diet plans that eliminate whole food groups such as carbs or fats. There is no ‘true’ information educating people as to why carbs are vital to a healthy diet. These magazines just see them as ‘bad’ and so try to put a blanket ban on them. Again from an eating disorder perspective this is body destroying and unhealthy for the general population, not just those with eating disorders. It is encouraging people to eat in a restricted way which either encourages the eating disorder behaviour to continue or allow new ‘rules and restrictions’ to develop.
  • Shows fast weight loss that is not healthy or sustainable
  • Advertisements for beauty products and clothes often portray models who are not a healthy weight, many are extremely thin, by doing this they are saying that their products are aimed at this group of people, they are promoting beauty and thinness.
  • Many images in these magazines have been photoshopped and airbrushed. Most people in magazines look ‘perfect’ and flawless – which is completely fake.
  • Stories about celeb weight loss and gain. Stories of concerned friends of celebrities who have lost weight too quickly because they are ‘hardly eating’ or eating certain things or exercising too much. The journalists ‘guess’ at what these celebrities are doing to lose weight or what they are eating. Very rarely is this accurate, they are just assuming. Without realising that people with eating disorders will be reading these articles and using them as ‘advice’ and following the crazy low calorie diets.

With all of the above found in one magazine it is easy to see how we are surrounded by this image of what society and media are portraying as ‘healthy’. It is an extremely distorted view to healthy, but by showing it to us consistently it becomes the ideal, what many men and women aspire to.  This has been created by society and ‘we’ are all buying into this by our weekly purchase of a magazine. Losing 1/2 a stone in one week is perceived as a good thing, just as eating one meal again is shown as an achievement, as being in control.

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Magazines capture such a wide audience with girls as young as 9 and 10 picking them up and flicking through. Should magazines feel responsible for the ideas than can become ingrained in young girls minds? Everyone will have their own views on this however it is something that i feel very strongly about. On a personal level I have a young niece who is into all things girly and i am sure it wont be too long before she is picking up mummy’s magazines! I wouldn’t feel comfortable with her getting her hands on these through fear of the images and advice being given.

It is not just young girls, but teens, young women, women in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s etc that can and will be influenced and affected. Even men’s magazines have the same concerning materials. Pick up a men’s mag and you are guaranteed to see an article on how to ‘get ripped’ and ‘why women like men who spend x hours in the gym’. Magazines have a huge impact on most of society.

Even those people without an eating disorder can be left vulnerable, feeling down about their body. The most confident of individuals can be left questioning their diets and exercise routines wondering if they could do with ‘toning up a bit more’. So just imagine the impact that all of this information will have on someone who is already suffering with an eating disorder and serious low self-esteem and body image concerns.

I will be 100% honest as that is what i vowed when i began to blog, to share my experiences with the view to helping other people feel they are not alone. When i was in the darkest depths of my anorexia i would spend so much money buying all of the womens magazines, but the only interest i had was the diet and exercise pages, i wanted to know what celebritites were doing to lose weight, what so and so kept in their fridge, how many hours Mila Kunis was exercising to get in ‘shape’ for her role in x movies. I would flick through all of the magazines ignoring anything that wasn’t body/weight related. I was drawn to stories of celebrities looking ‘scarily thin’ sparking concerns from friends. I would take it that step further and google the celebrity to see if i could find any other articles about them online concerning their fitness plans and diets. My point is that it is such a consuming illness that magazines are fuelling the disorder, planting ideas in peoples minds.

When stuck in an eating disorder it is very difficult to see rationally and we wouldnt think to ask: How much is actually real? Does the editor really know what so and so had to eat last night, or are they speculating. Now i am in a much stronger place i am able to look rationally and question this. Talking of reality and magazines can you guess what i am going to say?

P H O T O S H O P

This, is the all time ultimate catastrophe of the magazine world (in my opinion). Photoshop, a great tool for designers and people who use it for productive reasons, genuinely improving images, but when you take a photo of a perfectly healthy woman and begin cutting and shaving bits off, this is when it jumps so far over ‘the line’ that it becomes unacceptable. I get angry when i think about what is done to these images. To demonstrate what i mean about cutting off bits and editing there is a really powerful video showing what can be done via photoshop. Have a look at the video on (youtube.com/watch?v=wA331SpzYy4) to see how the drastic change is carried out. This tool can be used to change a person from what they are naturally to what magazines see as ‘desirable’, what society thinks we want to see. (basically what is going to sell!) These images are changed so radically they end up looking completely different to the original model.

5-photoshop-magic-before-after1

Think of what you would like to change about your body. With photoshop is can be done. Whole body shapes can be changed, boobs can be made bigger, waists can be edited to look tiny, cellulite can be erased, thigh gaps can be created, faces can be altered to give high cheekbones and arched eyebrows, even the colour of someones tan and hair can be changed.

When i was seriously unwell and obsessed with what i saw in magazines my boyfriend carried out an experiment to try and show me once and for all that what i was obsessing over and comparing myself to was in reality fake. He took a picture of me and showed me exactly what can be done to a photo. By the end i was 2 inches taller, my legs were more defined, my thighs had been shaved, everything looked different, i was completely out of proportion which is often the case with models in magazines. Even my hair colour was different and i was tanned! But my point is, i was a completely different person, i didn’t look like me. I realised that what i was obsessing over didn’t actually exist. Initially i felt angry that what i spent so much time looking at and trying to achieve wasn’t real but then i became grateful that i was able to experience this. It was helpful because although i did still read these magazines i stopped focussing on what people looked like and stopped believing in what i saw. That was step 1 to moving away from my magazine obsession.

While i was in hospital i found it stressful reading magazines that focused on exercise and weight loss because i was an inpatient on a weight gain diet and i knew i had to give up these habits that magazines were encouraging. I tried to distance myself from it because it was making me feel so bad. As i joined a body awareness group and my body image began to improve i made the decision to throw out all of my magazines and in honesty it felt strangely empowering. After doing this my body image began to improve further and it was such a relief not NEEDING to read them. I didn’t miss reading these article and i can see how detrimental they were to me [not to mention inaccurate].

Don’t get me wrong i love celeb gossip as much as any girl but for the stage i am at, i don’t feel i need to be immersed in the negativity that comes with the magazines. If you are struggling with or addicted to reading magazines for the wrong reasons and if you feel any of the following apply to you i would try to break the addiction that i did – stop buying these magazines and more importantly throw away that stash under the bed that you have saved!

Do you:

  • Buy magazines purely for the diet and exercise tips

  • Do you flick through the magazine only stopping to read the weight related articles

  • Do you buy more than one woman’s magazine a week?

  • Do you look at the cover to determine if there is enough diet and exercise tips before buying?

  • After reading these magazines does your body image get worse

  • Do you look at the models wishing you looked more like them?

  • Overall do these magazines make you feel bad about yourself?

If any of these apply to you its time to be honest with yourself. It’s time to ask yourself the question. Are magazines really helping me? Are they fuelling the eating disorder? and can i recover when they have such a part in my life?

I will blog later about some of my top tips on how you can move away from reading these magazines, these are all things that have helped me and i would love to share these to help other people. As i have mentioned before i may not have a psychology degree and i am definitely not a therapist but i am equip to pass on all of the tools that have helped me get to where i am today.

Thats all for now

M x

Magazines; Friend or Foe?

Those Three Little Words

Someone made a comment to me today (actually it was just 3 simple words) and i began to reflect on something that i really struggled with when i began re-feeding in hospital. I wanted to blog about this as i know that so many others will be struggling and i want you to know that you are not alone. However uncomfortable it is hearing these three words there is more than likely a reason for the reaction it brings out in you.

Three words that cause dread to anyone in the grips of an eating disorder (and those who are recovering, even those who are recovered) Three simple words that are intended as a compliment, words that thousands of women all over the world would love to hear every single day, but sends eating disorder sufferers into a fit of panic and anxiety.

Can you guess what they are?

That’s right, hearing the words ‘You look well’ or a variation on this ‘your looking great’ ‘wow you look so much better’ and ‘it’s good to see you are getting back to normal’

We have all been there and just hearing these phrases now has probably brought back feelings both positive and negative (sorry about that) to how you have felt in these situations.

I felt it important to write about this because it is one of the hardest, mood destroying, soul destroying parts of recovery from an eating disorder and can be experienced from day one of recovery all the way through the stages and ultimately when you reach a healthy weight, especially when you reach a healthy weight.

I remember the first time i heard this in my latest (and final) re-feeding. I think that i had just been admitted to inpatient treatment and i had a family visit. I can only have been in hospital a week and already i got the ‘your looking better’. Of course what was really meant was i no longer look ready to drop, not so grey in the face and actually functioning! I had colour in my cheeks and was smiling (the first smile they had seen in a long time) You look well didn’t carry the meaning of how i interpreted it. Of course i didn’t look ‘well’, but i looked better than i did prior to admission. My family may have just been being polite because that is what you tend to say to people who are in hospital. They never expected their three words to have such an impact on me. I don’t think that they thought anything of it after it was said, but i did.

What was actually said, ‘Your looking well’ said as a two second passing comment.

What i heard, ‘Wow, you have put on weight, you don’t look ill anymore, you must be getting better, why are you in hospital, you cant be anorexic anymore, see, eating wasn’t so hard was it?’ Amazing how those three little words can be heard so differently when they fall upon eating disordered ears. Of course i didn’t look better, i hadn’t even gained any weight, i still looked like a walking zombie but that didn’t matter, it is what i heard. It is what the anorexia heard and held on to.

So, why do these comments make us feel so awful? I wont sit here and pretend that i have a psychology degree but with the first hand experience i have i feel qualified enough to talk about this. It will be different for everyone however i am sure that i am scratching the surface here, i am definitely on to something for hundreds of people who have been or are in the same situation as i was.

YOU LOOK WELL    YOU LOOK BETTER

Well and Better. These imply health, they do not imply illness, suffering or being sick.

As someone suffering we don’t want to be healthy because it symbolises that we are well, and if we are well then everything is OK. If everything is OK we are not struggling, if we are not struggling then we are better.

Well, Better, Healthy = NORMAL

From experience my eating disorder was a coping mechanism, a way of showing my family that i was not OK. I was suffering and struggling with something that was so deep rooted but i couldn’t tell them what. I didn’t have the words or strength to talk about it. As i wasn’t able to talk  i did the one thing that i knew how to, i lost weight. I lost a lot of weight, very quickly. As long as i was losing weight and at an increasingly low weight i was unwell. I was ill. They could see that i was physically suffering and this was enough. Really i was suffering mentally, i was mentally ill but because this was too hard to admit or show i just maintained an unacceptably low weight so they would know something was wrong and i was not well.

As i gained weight they were seeing me ‘get better’ (physically) and hearing people say ‘you look well’ felt as though i had been kicked in the stomach a thousand times over. People thought i was better and physically i was no longer unwell but mentally nothing had even begin to change at this stage. This is where my relapses occurred. This comment triggered at least three relapses, causing me to lose weight as fast as i could getting myself back to my ‘safe zone’ of looking unwell. Hearing these comments was just too difficult and as mentally nothing was getting better i was not able to see past the weight gain.

It wasn’t until i had learnt to talk that i began to show people that i was still unwell even though i was back at a normal healthy weight.  There came a point where my family began to understand that i was still very unwell and this made it easier to accept the ‘you look good’ comments because my weight wasnt serving a purpose of showing that i wasn’t well anymore.

I remember the day that i went to see my mum and dad and my dad said to me ‘your looking really well’. Instead of that initial sinking feeling i smiled and said thank you. I genuinely felt proud. I wanted to look good. It was nice for them to see me looking well and also for me ,as my body image was improving my aim became to look healthy  and strong not skinny.

I cannot begin to explain how good it felt to be able to accept a comment like that, that i have been avoiding for over ten years.

It does still fell strange when people who are not so close as my family tell me that i look well because i know that to them they think i am fully better and that the weight gain did symbolise becoming well. I don’t blame them because i cant expect them to understand the complexity of the eating disorder and the purpose it served. Anyway it doesn’t matter what those people think, i don’t need them to know if i’m better or not. The only thing that matters is that i’m able to be more open and honest with my family and now they know what is going on with me. I am learning to communicate through healthy alternative means that are not food or weight focused.

My advice to anyone out there who hates hearing these comments, if it causes you to breakdown then try to ask yourself why? On the surface you may think that you just don’t want to look ‘better’ or ‘bigger’ or ‘normal’ you want to be ‘thin’ but if you dig a bit deeper then over time you will see that there is more to it than that. Those three words are/were symbolising something to you. If you are like me then try to learn to communicate by telling people how you feel rather than seeing weight loss as your only means.

I no longer need to maintain a low weight because i am able to say ‘yes, ok i am struggling a bit at the moment’. I don’t need to lose weight to show this. This was a really important realisation for me which helped me being to recover and see that i don’t NEED to lose weight, and you don’t either.

M x

Those Three Little Words

Back to (a new) reality.

Ends and beginnings.

I have had such a fab week in the Lake District. This trip was intended to be a celebration of discharge, an ending. I have been able to look back and reflect and see how far I have come. 

However although I have celebrated the end of my treatment and would happily stay in the Lakes for a few more days it’s time to focus on the beginning.

However clichéd it sounds, when something ends, something new is waiting to begin, it’s true. I have had my little celebratory break, now it’s time to close the door to that chapter of my life.

  
 I have spent years suffering, hiding away and finally spent a very difficult 10 months in hospital. I will never forget that time, the lessons I have learnt, all of the advice I have been given and even friends I have made. But as I travel away from the Lakes, back home, I travel back to reality. But not just boring old ‘reality’, my new reality. I will be going back to real life, in a way that I havnt experienced before. Today a door closes, ready for a new one to open. Today I will look back over the holiday. I won’t be down and suffer the holiday blues because I know what comes next.

My new chapter.

Next week I go back to work. This is a big thing for me. It’s the next step, another sign that I am getting my life back on track. So although I’m going home, I have more exciting things to follow.

  

Thank you Lake District for an amazing week, I have been able to achieve so many things, things I couldn’t do last time I was here and if I am honest, never believed I would do again

  • Very long hike
  • Walks around little towns stopping for coffee and cake
  • Eating out each night in a different restaurant
  • Trying puddings 
  • Trip to the aquarium and riding a steam train
  • Relaxing in a spa, having a massage, walking round in my swimming costume

Most importantly 

  • Spending quality time with my partner, being able to have a laugh and a joke.

I will definitely be coming back to the Lakes next year, but first I have a year of my life to really live.

When one door closes another opens.
M x

Back to (a new) reality.

Two words… Body Image.

Body image, body awareness, body shape. Whatever words I use it comes down to one thing: how comfortable you are with what you see in the mirror.
For me body image is what I struggled with most. When I started receiving treatment I couldn’t see any way that this would improve, or even begin to get any better. I had hated my body image for so many years, it felt ingrained. I wanted recovery but I had accepted that no matter what help I got I’d still hate what I saw in the mirror. 
Big baggy jumpers became the everyday wear. This was fine in the winter on cold days, but not so appropriate in the middle of summer!
I would spend hours in front of the mirror ‘checking’. Checking I hadn’t gained weight since the last time I looked, grabbing, pinching, touching my stomach. I hated myself, I hated how I looked and wanted to cover up at all times. I couldn’t get changed in front on my boyfriend and would take my clothes into the bathroom so he couldn’t see me.
Body image can change. I don’t no at what point I finally accepted my body and started to become a little more comfortable in how I look but it did happen. Yesterday was eye-opening for me in showing me just how far I have come on the body image front.
As some will know my parter and I are in the Lake District and we went to a spa day yesterday. I did this because I wanted to do something nice for him but I also knew how many challenges it would bring up for me, from an anorexia perspective:

  • 2 course lunch out
  • massage, letting someone touch me, feeling exposed
  • wearing a swimming costume all day

But I did it. Not only did I do it but I wasn’t as aware of my body as I expected to be. I spent most of the afternoon wearing a swimming costume, getting in and out of the pool, walking to the jacuzzi, sitting in the sauna and steam room. The best part- I didn’t feel the need to cover up. Ok, so I might not have been the most confident person there strutting around the pool! But I didn’t need to cover myself or hide away. It wasn’t until towards the end of the day that I noticed my posture had changed, instead of how I normally sit with my arms wrapped around my body covering my stomach I was able to relax.

It was an amazing feeling, looking backover the day seeing what I had achieved. Not too long ago I wouldn’t have contemplated a spa day but I showed myself I could do it and I’ve shown how much my body image has improved. 

I had an amazing day, spending time with my partner and allowing myself some ‘me’ time. There were no longer three people in our relationship, anorexia did not get any attention and was out of my mind most of the day.

It felt great.
This is what recovery looks like, noticing the little improvements along the way, most importantly being proud of them and seeing what a big deal they are.

So, if you hate your body image and can’t see a way through that, just remember I was in the same place. I even told my doctor that they would never be able to help me change how I felt about my body, but look at what I have just achieved. You can too. And you will.
M x

Two words… Body Image.

Opening my eyes and seeing for the first time.

This is what it feels like. Having an eating disorder leads you into a different world, dark, self-absorbed and narrow. I found that I lost focus of the real world and didn’t (or couldn’t) see what was around me whether it be people, places, or family.

As a celebration of my discharge this week my partner and I decided to go to the Lake District, a place we went to last year. However last year I was so unwell that I never truly appreciated the amazing place that the Lake District is. I was so unwell and focused on myself, avoiding food and needing to exercise that I didn’t have enough space in my mind to take in and appreciate what was really important. We decided to do the trip again and I am so grateful that we did.

I can’t tell you how amazing it felt to do a proper hike, to have energy to walk and fully take in the views around me. In the higher areas the views were simply breathtaking. Being able to spend the day walking with my partner, admiring the views, talking about the future and enjoying the great outdoors and being together was simply amazing. If that isn’t enough motivation to keep me going when it feel I am struggling then I don’t no what is.

  
Looking back to last year there was no way I would have sustained that distance of walking, let alone be able to really appreciate the Kentmere valley for what it was. Though feeling tired from a long day walking I felt great, I felt inspired, I felt exhilarated.

  
The best part, from a recovery point of view is that it was normal. We went for a long hike and had lunch on the way, when we got back we treated ourselves to ice-cream and continued our lovely day with fine dining in a Thai restaurant.

Life is for living, and this one simple day has helped me to see that. There is so much out there, you just need a little glimpse of it. You need to be able to open your eyes for what feels like the very first time.

M x

Opening my eyes and seeing for the first time.

Hello world!

Hello Everyone!

I am new to the world of blogging however i have good intentions for beginning to blog.

For the past 10 years i have suffered from the eating disorder anorexia nervosa, a severe mental health disorder. It ruined my life for a very long time and almost destroyed me on several occasions. Never in a million years did i expect to recover (or even begin to recover).

I have spent 10 painful months as an inpatient at an eating disorder unit and am proud to say that after an emergency admission, recovery programme and period of stabilisation i have been discharged today.

18.08.15 a date that will remain with me for the rest of my life.

I have decided to start blogging to share with people my experiences and hopefully (everything crossed) inspire other people and show that recovery is possible.

I want everyone to know that however hard you think it is, however dark each and every single day is, however stuck you may feel recovery is possible. I may not be 100% recovered, (does that even exist?) but i am well on my way down the road to recovery and i will never look back.

My blogs will focus on recovery, what i have learnt, friendly advice and will be aimed to educate and give people hope. Even if just one person takes something from my blogs i will have achieved what i set out to do.

Recovery really is possible, you just have to believe.

M x

Hello world!