As long as you’re healthy!

I went to a hospital appointment with my wife this week. We saw a therapist that is used to dealing with disabled people every day – it is her job to find people the best wheelchair for their needs. As part of her job, she will be used to dealing with people just like me. I am a disabled person who sometimes walks, sometimes uses crutches or sticks and sometimes uses a wheelchair. As it happens, this appointment was for my wife. I’ve been to her wheelchair appointments before though, so this therapist knows me.

At the moment, my legs are reasonably reliable. I’ve been able to walk more, though it’s painful and I am unsteady, it’s a real pleasure to be ‘on my feet’ a bit more. Coming to terms with my body as it is, means embracing all the things that are difficult and accepting my limitations while celebrating all the things I am able to do, even though they might be impaired.

When the therapist asked who I was, and I gave my name, she asked if Letty (my wife) and I were related. Letty and I looked at each other, and said in a slightly comical tandem way ‘we’re married’. I saw the light bulb click on. ‘Oh, it Imogen, she’s is stood up’.

Once all the work to Let’s chair had been done and we were finishing up, the therapist said her goodbyes to us and as I was leaving she said ‘and Imogen, it’s lovely to see you looking so well…’ To be fair, she stumbled over her words, I could see her realising what she was about to say just as it was leaving her mouth. Really what she meant to say was just ‘it’s nice to see you’, because she knew – as a health professional – that I wasn’t any ‘weller’ or healthier simply because I was standing rather than sitting. Funnily enough, when I sat on a chair during the appointment, she didn’t comment that I had started to look unwell….

This isn’t the first time someone has commented on my ‘health’ because of the way I look. And it is something I’ve noticed is a huge issue in the body positive community. It would seem that recently just as much as we are subject and held up to stupid, unobtainable beauty standards, we are held equally to ridiculous health standards.

Let’s start by being clear. YOU CANNOT TELL HOW HEALTHY SOMEONE IS BY LOOKING AT THEM.

IMG_4445

You cannot assume that a wheelchair is unhealthy, just like you shouldn’t assume that a fat person is unhealthy. Conversely, there is no reason to assume a thin person IS healthy. Once again for those in the back .. there is NO WAY to tell how healthy someone is by the way they look.

Now, we’ve talked about my impairment before. So I’m sure you will remember that it is genetic. It isn’t going to go away, and I will never meet the ideal ‘health’ standards that some people seem very worried about. I will always have difficulties with day to day tasks and my body will always need assistance in maintaining homeostasis. As my body has been changing over these past few years, my impairment has changed along with it, and whilst a few of those things were impacted upon by weight, none of them were caused by weight alone. And conversely, as my body changes again in recovery, so will my impairments. The important thing to remember here is correlation does not imply causation.

The political rhetoric that fat people are ‘crushing the NHS‘ and that OF COURSE being fat will kill you, is everywhere, but when you start to break this stuff down, just how true is it and just how much of this is people buying into or perpetuating diet culture?

Let’s start with this, a 44yo ex-football player died suddenly this week despite having been incredibly ‘fit’ and ‘healthy’ all his life. In fact, it’s not uncommon for seemingly ‘healthy’ people to die suddenly. And what about those incredible people who’ve lived extraordinarily long lives citing smoking 30 cigarets a day or drinking nothing but red wine as the secret. Why is it that we are so worried about the health of fat people and no one else when in reality we are all at risk of the same diseases?

And don’t be fooled. We ARE all likely to get the same diseases, regardless of weight. In fact, studies now are confirming what fat activists have been saying for years .. fat people are healthy .. .. overweight people are at no extra risk of mortality and even that overweight and obese people live longer! That’s if you can work out who the overweight people even are because it turns out the BMI index has been mislabeling people as overweight and obese in the first place.

All this focus on fat people though, and we’re missing the real truth. Diets are far more likely to harm your healthFluctuations in weight have been proven to damage your health, in fact, weight cycling causes chronic inflammation and let’s not forget that eating disorders have the highest mortality rates of any mental illness. But why would the diet industry let those secrets reach you, they’re making millions by making you feel awful about your body, and the worse you feel about yourself the more likely you are to buy into their latest bullshit diet in a bid to ‘feel better’. The biggest laugh of all is that scientist have suggested that up to 80% of your body type is actually determined by your fucking genetics! And you can’t diet your genetics different!

What about all the other things that can cause illness? How about stress? Because it turns out that low-calorie diets cause cortisol levels to rise, meaning your body is under physical stress. The sad truth is that psychological stress is just as likely to raise mortality also. So why the fuck are we adding to the distress people already have to deal with in life? If we know that the mortality rate for those with mental health conditions is three times higher that those without, why on earth are we creating a world where people are literally driven to the edge of sanity purely because of how they look? What’s really fucked up is that those feelings start in childhood, I couldn’t believe it when I read that 80% of 10yo are scared of being fat and 90% of teens are unhappy with their body shape. Is this really the life we want our children to grow up into?

Let’s pause for a moment though, because maybe there is a chicken and egg element here too? Imagine you have been going about your life with no issues around food or movement, you’re at your set point and life is peachy. But then something happens, you break your leg, you develop cancer or an autoimmune disease, I mean just any number of life-altering things could happen .. but you go on with life, only now you’re not able to move as much, or you can only eat specific foods, or you throw up all the time and your weight changes. Have we considered that health might trigger someone to become fat rather than fatness triggering health problems?

A recent study proved that fat shaming actually makes people’s health worse. The notion that you might be encouraging someone to lose weight – or even ‘focus on their health’ by shaming them actually has the reverse effect..

Professor Rebecca Pearl, of the University of Pennsylvania, said: “There is a common misconception that stigma might help motivate individuals with obesity to lose weight and improve their health. 

“We are finding it has quite the opposite effect. When people feel shamed because of their weight, they are more likely to avoid exercise and consume more calories to cope with this stress.

And what’s worse is that by isolating people, by pushing them to the edges of society because their fat, you’re adding loneliness to the list of things that might actually harm their health. As someone who has experienced fatphobia and fat shaming first hand, I can assure you the knock-on effects are huge. You might think that hearing things from your friend or family are specifically bad, but actually, strangers making comments in the street is something I found to be especially embarrassing. The worst of all though was the bone crushing shaming I received from medical professionals.

As someone who has experienced fatphobia and fat shaming first hand, I can assure you the knock-on effects are huge. You might think that hearing things from your friends or family are specifically bad, but actually, strangers shouting comments in the streets is something I found to be especially embarrassing. The worst of all though was the bone crushing shaming I received from medical professionals. I wonder how many fat people struggle to maintain health because they are shamed out of visiting their medical providers or refused treatment until they’ve lost enough weight to satisfy some doctor they’ve met once. I remember the outrageous things doctors said to me, denying me treatments that could have been considered life-saving, simply because they decided I was too fat.

I still can’t seem to get people to understand just how unwell I was at my lowest weight. Whilst still meeting acceptable beauty standards, I was so malnourished that my hair started to fall out, my periods stopped, my bones started to weaken and my sex drive completely disappeared. The psychological effects were even more difficult to deal with though, I couldn’t focus on anything except food, I was absolutely exhausted all the time, I felt perpetually anxious, and life felt totally unmanageable.

What makes me more frustrated today though, is that people who claim to be body positive, who share their thoughts in a supposedly safe space, are still insisting on health shaming. The knock on effects of this is enormous and you don’t realise the damage you’re doing to all the intersectional members of the community.

We seem to all be able to agree on one thing, that the ideal beauty standards are bullshit, that they are damaging and that we should be fighting as a community, to change the fucking world. So why is it so hard to understand these impossible health standard are just as unobtainable, just as irrelevant and just as harmful.

If you are in the body positive community and you believe that you should only accept your body when it is healthy, then you’ve already excluded me from your movement. If you think that your healthy body will last forever, and you are only worthy while it does, then you’ve just excluded yourself from this movement. You’ve just excluded every person who ever experienced any aspect of poor health, illness or disability. You’ve just excluded who this movement is for, those who have no access to representation, no access to a message that they are good enough, and no access to a world that tells them they have any fucking value.

There are two things that we as a community need. The first is to stand firm together to not only to reject beauty standards but also to dismantle this idea that we need to be healthy to be worthy. Without that, we are tripping ourselves up and selling ourselves short, we are taking away a vital element of our movement that lets everyone know they have worth regardless of health and ‘wellness’. But secondary to that, we have to find a louder voice for disabled people. That voice has to reach not only the corners of the community but the corners of the world. Just like fat people, people of colour, queer people and those from all of our wonderful intersections need to be represented out in the world, so do disabled people. I want to see bodies that represent me in the media. I want to voices that represent my voice in the media. I want to know that the world outside the body positive community values and respects me and bodies like mine.

It might seem like a long way off, but the fat acceptance movement has been doing amazing things with body positivity. We see plus size models in our media more, we see fat bodies on our TV screens, we even celebrate beautiful fat bodies sometimes.. and that’s what I want for disabled people. I don’t want us to be Paralympians, I don’t want us to be pitied, I don’t want us to have to be inspirational or the curse of the NHS, I want us to be accepted and celebrated just as we are.

Unhealthy, disabled, broken, fat, fucking glorious, fucking proud and so fucking worthy.

Advertisements

The future is Fat

Recovery feels like such a huge word. And some days I’m not even sure what I’m recovering from. I seem to have had all the eating disorders/disordered eating patterns over my lifetime, over weight as a kid I remember stealing food and binging on it when people weren’t looking. As an adult I just ate as I pleased but still binged regularly, often with friends in a somewhat fucked up but social acceptable way. In my late teens I starved my self, just eating one meal a day in order to lose weight. But once smaller, my eating habits reverted back and I soon found my self fatter than ever.

When I started losing weight this last time, it felt quite in control. I just counted the calories I ate and did a little more moving about when I felt able. I felt like I’d educated my self, before I never felt I understood anything about nutrition or how bodies worked, so it felt ‘different’. The longer the ‘diet’ went on, the more I learnt about food and nutrition and bodies and biology and the more I altered my actions to fit all this information I had gained.

But what started with a good education in food and nutrition, over time, spiralled into more and more control, more restriction, more fear foods, less and less nutrition, less health and certainly less wellness …

And after those years of restriction, came the binge eating.

My God, the binge eating. As a rule I don’t do numbers, but I gained so much weight in such a short period of time. Once on honeymoon, it was like flood gates opened. I fell into everything I’d kept my self from eating for years, there wasn’t a moment I wasn’t consumed with what I might eat or drink next.

When I finally started reaching out for help, I brought every book on Amazon on Binge Eating that I could find. I assumed I simply needed to refocus my will power, put all my rules back in place, get back ‘on the wagon’ .. we’ve all been there, haven’t we. You fall off the diet, you gain a ton of weight, and so you re-focus and start something else. I couldn’t have physically removed any more food groups from my diet, I was already paleo (no wheat, gluten, dairy, soy, sugar, legumes .. low carb, high fat, mid protein, full fucking shit show) .. I started my Whole30 in January 2016 after binging all Christmas and freaking out that I was about to ‘lose it’. It felt like these new guidelines would somehow reinvigorate my health and weight loss, but we all know what it actually did, it fuelled my already eating disordered brain and landed me even further away from the happiness I truly desired.

The problem with restriction, be it physical restriction or mental, is that eventually you will cave.

Psychologists called Herman and Polivy at the University of Toronto have underlined the effect of food restriction on willpower in an experiment on dieting and non dieting students who were invited to eat as much ice cream as they liked after being given three different “pre loads” – one glass of milk shake, two milk shakes or nothing at all.
While the non-dieters behaved as expected, eating less ice cream after one milk shake than none, and even less ice cream after two, the dieters actually ate most ice cream after the biggest “pre load”.

According to the psychologist the effect of the milk shake was to undermine the dieters resolve, temporarily releasing them from their vows of abstinence. After the milk shake, instead of doing penance for the calorific sin, the dieter persists in sinful indulgence, say the psychologists. After all, if staying on the diet is no longer possible then why not make the most of the situation. This seductive thought process – I may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb – is a trap which awaits all dieters. After succumbing to one biscuit you feel such a failure you consume the whole packet. You decide to ditch the diet for the day and start again tomorrow.

And this isn’t just someone pontificating, have you heard of the Minnesota Starvation Experiment? Basically, they took a group of men, and restricted their calorific intake for 24 weeks to see what would happen as a result. Their findings support the comments above. The men ate uncontrollably once they were able to indulge again.

The 3 month refeeding period involved trying several different combinations of protein, vitamins, and levels of calories. Dizziness, apathy and lethargy improved first, but persistent hunger, weakness, and loss of sex drive persisted for several months. The men described “a year long cavity” that needed to be filled. The day after they were finally released from the study, one of the men was hospitalized to have his stomach pumped after binging

One of the most watched fat shaming shows in the world, Biggest Loser, have you see it? No? Basically they take a group of self confessed fat people, feed them next to nothing and make them work out for at least 8h a day so that they drop weight at a rate of knots. I mean, the transformations are incredible, you can’t deny that, but the shame these poor people are subjected to is horrific, and of course many of them end up gaining weight back again.

Six years after dramatic weight loss on the TV show “The Biggest Loser,” most contestants in a recent study had regained the pounds – and on top of that, their metabolism had slowed and they were burning fewer calories every day than they did before their stint on the show

As if the prospect of ‘recovery’ isn’t frightening enough, its pretty much guaranteed that for me it will include weight gain.

Intuitive eating isn’t a diet, I guess maybe it’s a lifestyle? I’m reluctant to give it a name because I wouldn’t want anyone to think it was just the latest way for me to control food. That is absolutely not it’s aim. And it’s important to note this isn’t a ‘hungry/full’ diet either. Intuitive eating is about listening to your body, making piece with food, moving because you love your body and accepting whatever size your body naturally falls at.

It sounds easy, but it’s a fucking mine field. Not only am I fighting the biology of someone who’ve been starved, but I’m fighting all the awful muscle memories too. I’ve ignored hunger for years. I’ve been drinking to excess in order to remove hunger. I’ve been eating food for calorific value rather than what I felt my body needed. I’ve binged to the point I’ve thrown up. I’ve totally lost sight of what hunger or full or thirsty feels like. I’m still struggling to move past foods I’ve labelled good or bad. I constantly over think food, only giving my body an amount I think it ‘should’ need rather than listening and assessing what it’s clearly telling me it needs. And on top of that, I’m dealing with the bullshit things I say to my self, I’m constantly talking my self down from the panic about the weight I’ve gained, anxious about what other people might be thinking or saying about the difference in my body. Not to mention the worries about the future, how big will I be, what kind of fat phobia will I face, how will those changes test my body positivity… I mean I could go on and on

On top of all the indisputable physical evidence that periods of starvation are followed by binging, metabolic changes and weight gain, these are other mental and physical scares that I’m learning to manage.

When you spend years ignoring what your body is trying to tell you, when you berate your self constantly, when you avoid social situations, talk about diets with your friends incessantly, recovery isn’t just about what your eating, your whole world has to change.

For me, the one saving grace and the only real thing keeping me going, is knowing that I have an entire movement on people behind me. Being body positive isn’t like being in a club, it isn’t exclusive, you don’t have to do anything or be anything to be part of it. My instagram time line is full of the most incredible and inspiring women, they are fat, they are disabled, they are trans, they are people of colour, they are from all over the world, speak a host of languages, but we all say the same fucking thing. I accept my body, as it is today, unconditionally and without judgment.

And that is how I will survive recovery. With unconditional kindness and non judgmental compassion. Whatever happens, however my body looks, no matter what, I will aim to live truly with in that.

One foot in the grave

When I started my Instagram, I was in my late 20s. I’d been incredibly unwell for many years, spending months at a time in hospital, weeks in intensive care and years of being unable to be active in a day to day existence. I mostly photographed impairment related stuff, hospital admissions and appointments, little bits of my day to day.

I’d not long met my future wife when I started and with improving health I decided weight loss would be an important next step. Very quickly things became about dieting, and that’s what my Instagram transitioned into.

Over the next 4 or so years, my focus moved from me as a person to this supposedly inspiring story about losing weight.

Before I go any further, I was to apologise for the harm I did during this time.

If you followed me, as a way to motivate your self to lose weight. If you beat your self up because the disabled woman managed it when you didn’t. If I made you feel shit about your food choices. If I made you feel judged, belittled, unworthy or sad. If I encouraged you to diet. I am truly sorry. I honestly thought that it was what would be best for you. I couldn’t have been more misguided, and I know the enormous amount of damage I’ve done by perpetuating diet culture.

In January of this year though, after flying home from visiting a friend and having binged on an entire family sized box of biscuits, I started following Alice on Instagram and the focus of my images shifted again.

I fell head first into body positivity, non judgmental compassion and self acceptance. I don’t do anything by halves, so as soon as I had committed my self to this total turn around, my feed was immediately filled with a totally different focus and perspective.

Having people who share in and follow my journey (can we think of a different word? This sounds a little too much like I’ve been in big brother!) is such a wonderful part of Instagram and is honestly a huge support as I navigate life. The support I gain from those around me, and the insights I’m offered by those who chose to interact with me is a constant motivation. I honestly don’t know if I could have made this change – and sustained it – never mind thrived on it – without you.

What I have noticed of late though, is just how many of those wonderful people are just dipping their toe. Fingers in many pies. Feet in both camps. I am followed by a whole cohort of ‘Slimming worlders’, people counting calories or people who run 25k a day.

I totally get it. You’ve been told your whole life that you need to be thin. That you should be small. That the definition of beauty is related to your relationship with gravity or a number stitched into the back of your jeans. You’ve been encouraged to shrink your self away. Encouraged to restrict, over exercise and morally judge your food as a way to maintain this.

Changing that mindset is huge. Moving away from diet culture is terrifying. Unlearning all the things you’ve been taught your whole life feels impossible and then the inevitable ‘what if I get fat’. Well, what if you gain weight? I have. I couldn’t tell you how much, but I’m at least 3/4 dress sizes bigger than I was this time last year, are you disgusted with me? Do you think me less beautiful? Less worthy of respect or compassion?

When leaping into the unknown of body positivity, its important to remember what this actually means.

Body confidence: This is just about you. It’s about feeling good in your own body. It is individual. You may even be able to see confidence in someone.

Body positivity: This is about everyone. This is a political movement.

Just to expand a little. Body positivity actually started in Fat activism. It began in the late 70s in America, and took until the mid to late 80s to make it to the UK. Over the next few years, the movement started to globalise and gain momentum. “By the 1990s, input from the fat acceptance movement began to be incorporated into research papers by some members of the medical professions such as new anti-dieting programs and models of obesity management”.

Fat activism, fat liberation, size acceptance, was started and is still needed because fat people face a level of discrimination that is simply unacceptable. But on top of that, women of all sizes are told constantly that they are not good enough, that their bodies need to be small, fit, toned. Body weight, beauty, fitness, it’s all being forced on us constantly and the diet culture it is all part of is what fat activism started to fight against.

Learning to be body confident is YOUR journey. That is about learning to love, feel happy in, accept the body you currently reside in, without judgement and with kindness.

But being body positive is about becoming a voice in a political movement, it’s about being an activist (ACTIV-ist). Its about rejecting the diet culture. It’s about encouraging body confidence in ALL BODIES. Its about supporting the fat activists who started this very movement and continuing to work with them to pull down the media driven, discriminatory, body focused world that is damaging so many people.

If you are going to use the term body positive, you cannot pick and chose witch body types you find acceptable because that is not body positive. 

As Michelle Elman points out in this quote, true body positivity is about a complete acceptance of ALL BODIES. That includes all intersections of the community, including but by no means limited to, people of colour, fat women, trans women, disabled women and those from the LGBT community.

Body positivity rejects all fat phobia.

It is super important to discuss fat phobia because there is a large number of people recovering from eating disorders in the body positive community and they almost always come from a place where a fear of becoming a fat person drives at least some of their illness.

Fat phobia is the fear of being or of becoming, a fat person. It is dangerous because it means that fat people are stereotyped without justification. It is assumed that a fat person must be lazy, unhealthy, eat a poor diet and are entirely unlovable. On top of that, fat people are berated and bullied in the street, are paid less in their job and denied health care all because the world subscribes to ludicrous notions they’ve been force fed by everyone since they were kids. Fat phobia is perpetuated because of the discrimination fat people face, it’s not just the fear of being a fat person as such, but the fear of enduring the vile ways in which at people are treated in our society. And the truly sad thing is that many women fear this judgement because they currently judge other women those ways themselves and know too well how they would be treated were they to become fat.

I will go into this in more detail in another blog, but in the mean while, you can read more about the specific definitions of fat phobia here and a really great post about stereotypes here.

Denouncing fat phobia, educating your self about the bullshit you’ve been told in regards to fat bodies, actively having non judgmental compassion for not just your own body but all bodies, is true body positivity and positively contributing to the community is the only way to be a body positive activist.

I understand why so many of my followers have their feet in both camps. But you may as well have one foot in the grave. Whilst you’re still entrenched in diet culture and fat phobia, you may be learning body confidence but you are not body positive.

Letting go of all that you’ve been told and shown about fat bodies is a big ask. But education is the key here and google is your friend. The more you challenge your own fat phobia, the more you break down the judgments you place on your own body. This positive cycle can only support your movement from the crippling diet culture into the freedom and acceptance found in body positivity.

I have spent years in your camp. I was stood next to you. I feared the fat just as you do. And shamefully I judged fat bodies and accepted those bullshit stereotypes just as you do now. But there is more to life than this, there is better for us as women. We can rise together. We can accept that we had it wrong. We can reject the lies and the hatred. We can all be part of this movement. Together we are a truly powerful force. Together we can stop shrinking our bodies to fit someone else’s idea of beauty and well-being.

Together we can shout so fucking loud, take up so much fucking space and educate so many fucking people that we spare this destructive life for our children.

a5c4264420444c9f28a38137811badbc

Fail.

I am ALREADY a failure.

I am already a statistic.

I have already regained some of the weight I’ve lost, and I expect will gain more over my lifetime.

95 percent of people who lose weight regain it — and sometimes more — within a few months or years.

By JANE FRITSCH MAY 25, 1999.

But I call bullshit.

I didn’t fail anything.

The diet failed me.

Despite the fact that I’ve watched women diet and regain weight a million times over my lifetime, both in my own circle of friends but in the media in general, I honestly didn’t realise that diets don’t work.

And I can hear you, it kinda did work for me, I am still considerably ‘lighter’ than I was previously. BUT, I also have a serious mental health condition that was caused by what I’ve put my self through in order to look like this.

When you start dieting, you start thinking about what you SHOULD eat, and not what you want or need to eat. You start attributing worth to your food, rather than focusing on nourishing your body AND your mind. (See blog post for a discussion on the moral values we place on food).

Before long, you start to feel out of control. You’ve stopped listening to your body, you’ve stopped working WITH food and started managing every meal by how many calories it contains, how much fat or protein you have left to eat or if is on your list of approved foods.

But you can only feel out of control when you’ve been desperately trying to control something in the first place. What might it feel like to just let go? Learn to listen? Do you best to NOT judge your food, or your self?

If someone had told me at the start of this year that I would have a packet of chocolate digestive biscuits in the kitchen, I would have laughed at you. Chocolate digestives with a proper cup of tea – that was my nemesis – my kryptonite. When I ‘fell off the wagon’, it would almost always be directly into a packet of biscuits. Or at least that’s how it would start. Then it would just be a free fall into anything I could get my hands on.

I am one of millions of women who would say things like ‘oh I just can’t have those in the house’, ‘once I’ve started I just can’t stop’, ‘I couldn’t just have one’! .. the prospect of just eating whatever I wanted was truly terrifying, laughable even.

But letting go, giving my self unconditional permission to eat WHATEVERIWANT was the most powerful, radical, political, fingers up to the oppressive diet culture we are surrounded by.

Now, I truly eat what I want. And despite popular belief, I CAN be left around a packet of biscuits. Because when I want one, I have one. In fact, if I want 3 or 4 I have them too. I’ve stopped judging my self, stopped berating my choices, punishing my body for its cravings and started allowing my self some fucking compassion.

My body craves chocolate digestives just as often as it craves broccoli. It craves fish as often as it craves a spoonful of peanut butter. I no longer attach any moral judgements to those cravings and have learned not only to allow the things I desire, but also when to stop, when to wait to see if the craving passes, when to put things away and when to go back and finish the packet. True trust. True freedom. A true FUCK YOU to all the people who tried to sell me a lifestyle that is painful, restrictive, damaging and unsafe.

Just eat the fucking biscuits.

Weight of worth

When I first met Abby, I was interviewing her. I’ve employed my own Personal Assistants for years now, I find it’s the best way to have people around me who are just what I’m looking for rather than agency workers who can be hit and miss. As an independent disabled person, that’s really vital to remaining autonomous.

I remember that day really clearly. It was beautifully warm, we sat outside by the water and I was so fucking happy.

My weight loss journey was already in full swing. I’m reluctant to ‘pin point’ where I was with numbers, but seeing as it gives some context, I was wearing a dress size UK12/14 so I’d probably lost about 8st or 50kgs.

Once I’d finished asking Abby about her work history and why she wanted to work with me, we kinda got chatting. I specifically remember saying to her that I was losing weight and wanted someone who was able to cook beautiful food that would help me reach my end goal. She was obviously impressed at what I’d achieved and equally surprised when I said I wasn’t finished. Mostly because she was exactly the same height as me and wore exactly the same dress size. Looking back, I really wish I’d stopped at that point. But hindsight gives 20:20 vision.

When she asked me what I did to lose weight, I explained, with pride, that I just calorie counted, that I ate anything I wanted as long as I was under my calories. I went on to stress the point that I WOULD NEVER GIVE UP CAKE. EVER. … EVER. She laughed, and agreed that sounded wise. But over time, especially as weight gets harder to lose and you read more about food, it becomes harder and harder to justify that slice of cake over other foods.

As you glide and slip into diet culture, you start to lose track of how you felt about things when you started and the balance and health that you crave to begin with is soon lost sight of. I remember reading articles about nutrition, gathering information about what foods you should be eating and what you should be avoiding and before long, food came with a moral code.

When you start putting foods into groups that are good and bad, it seeps into your blood. Into your very being, and before you know it, it’s in your every thought.

‘Maybe just have salad instead of chips, that’s a better, healthier choice’

‘Oh I ate a few chips, I’ve done so badly’

‘I’ve eaten so much, I’ve made such bad choices, I feel awful’

‘I can’t believe I’ve eaten so badly, I hate my self’

‘I am useless, I have no will power’

‘I’m fat and useless’

‘I’m ugly, I hate my body, I hate being me’

‘I don’t deserve to be here, I’m such a bad person’

You might think these are a bit of a stretch, but I can assure you, the more you moralise food, the quicker you end up in this cycle.

It was only two years between telling Abby I’d NEVER give up cake, and me starting a strict Whole30/Paleo lifestyle. (No wheat, no gluten, no grains, no legumes, no dairy, no soya, no sugar, no. fucking. fun.)

In that time, I went from seeing food as an enjoyable part of life that could nourish me and help keep me as well as possible, to having a huge list of ‘bad’ foods that would make me unwell, make me fat and ‘ruin’ my day.

The list of no go foods turn into forbidden treats that are harder and harder to resist, usually leaving people feeling powerless around them, falling head first into whatever it is they’ve been denying themselves and binging. Here starts the cycle of ‘tomorrow is a new day’, ‘the diet starts tomorrow’, ‘I’m back on the wagon’ and of course the ‘last supper’ eating .. ‘well, I’ve ruined today, I may as well eat everything I could possibly want and just be better tomorrow’. For me these cycles started few and far between but eventually came to a head when they were happening almost daily.

Not only that but now the shame associated with eating ANYTHING I considered to be ‘bad’ was horrific. I found my self consumed with anxiety if I ate a meal with garden peas in, and if I ate something ‘worse’ like chocolate, the shame was truly bone crushing. In fact, as time went on, the shame associated with eating AT ALL was huge.

2333

The truly sad thing is that it seeps beyond food. It turns inward, and infects your every thought. Soon who you are as a person is judged by these moral ‘decisions’ you make daily, and every time you slip, how you feel about your self, your self worth, it is rock bottom.

As someone who considers themselves in recovery from an eating disorder, I can assure you that these habits are fucking hard to kick. And what’s even harder is being around other people who are still entrenched in diet culture, moralising food and speaking about them selves in a similarly disparaging way.

Listening to other women talk about them selves, out loud, in such horribly negative ways is truly soul destroying.

I don’t think ANY woman deserves to feel so terribly about her self. I hate that it’s normal. I really hate that it’s okay for a woman to say out loud, when having a second chocolate digestive, that she’s just being horribly greedy and showing her awful lack of will power. Where on earth did this come from?

For me, this is specifically difficult to deal with. Partly because currently I’m only tentatively in recovery, and each day is a battle, hearing my thoughts and assessing them for disordered eating patterns, it’s exhausting. Trust me my brain needs no encouragement to slip back into bad habits, and filtering out the words women often mindlessly spew can be painfully difficult.

But as a broader issue, if we are judging our selves by these widely inappropriate standards, isn’t it reasonable to assume you’re judging ME by them too? So I assume when I eat that second digestive biscuit, you’re thinking that I’m greedy, that I should show some will power, that I’m fat and ugly.

And I think that’s how we’ve all ended up here. That’s how we’ve all ended up in a place where we’re so bloody desperate to be thin, because we believe that the judgement we berate our selves with, is being applied to us by every other woman who lays eyes on us.

I can already hear you, ‘it’s different when it’s my own body’, every woman I’ve ever pulled up on this has uttered that excuse. And when my wife pulled me up on it, it’s exactly what I would say to her. But it isn’t fucking different. It’s just another way that you justify speaking abusively about your self .. and indirectly EVERY OTHER WOMAN with a ‘flawed’ body.

Worse of all, it’s condoned. Magazines, media, social groups, your mother, auntie, sister, daughter, if everyone does it then it’s okay? But it’s used to control you. To keep you under the thumb, to keep you buying into diets, buying into capitalism.

What if we all dropped this righteous ideal, started allowing our selves the foods we crave whilst learning to accept the body we have? Would that in turn help us lift other women up? Would it help us dispel the myth that fat is bad, that weight gain is unhealthy and that bodies have to look a specific way to be accepted?

If you wouldn’t say it to your mother, to your daughter, to your best friend .. don’t say it to your self.

Ready, steady, 1, 2, 3…

As any good dieter will tell you, it’s all in the numbers. How many calories are you eating. How much weight have you lost. What size clothes are you in. Those little numbers become like crack to most dieters.

For many of us, those numbers become the be all and end all. And in a bid not to ‘lose count’, we track our progress on handy little app’s that infiltrate our every waking moment.

My drug of choice was MyFitnessPal. That little app lived in my pocket for about 5 years. Now another number became important, how many days had I logged in consistently for.

When I first started losing weight, it was quite a natural evolution. I’d been having carers live with me for a long time, but I changed how the set up ran and it mean I had different people working with me. Because my impairment was so severe, I was unable to prepare my own meals and I was reliant on others to supply all my nutrition.

With my mental health the way it was, and with carers who didn’t always have great communication, we neither of us could research recipes and cook from scratch, so my default was microwave meals and take aways.

Once the changes in how my care was provided started to take effect, I suddenly had access to a very different demographic of carer. And along with that came access to younger women from a community similar to my own who were able to prepare simple home cooked meals.

The first few stone just fell off. I didn’t even notice.

img_2070

When one of my new carers told me she planned to drive to work and was happy to drive me places, I decided to invest in a cheap second hand manual wheelchair and worked hard on my ability to move from one chair to another without the aid of a hoist. Once out of the house, although I couldn’t push far, those extra movements coupled with my evolving diet meant my shape soon started to change further.

I remember the first time I was able to go into Primark and buy size 20 clothes. The first time in my 20s I’d been able to shop in a high street store that wasn’t Evans. And let me assure you, Evans in the early 00s wasn’t what it is today!

Seeing that size 20 was the first number that triggered me to go further. And that’s when I downloaded MyFitnessPal and instead in some scales.

Now my mobility was improving, I was able to stand for a few moments, I could stand on the scales. I could use the hand cycle. And I could easily turn down the cake being passed around because I was high on shrinking.

I remember adding people on MFP and seeing the green numbers under their names, telling me exactly how much weight they’d lost, before I knew anything else about them. Katie, a friend I still communicate with today, had lost over 5st .. oh I remember with such envy wishing to see that number under my own name.

The numbers just became more and more important. Over the months are years, what had gone from a ‘just making different choices’ had turned into logging every teaspoon of cinnamon I added to my curry (8 calories per teaspoon .. I wonder if I’ll ever forget those numbers?), every clove of garlic, every single morsel of food that passed my lips was logged.

And if I couldn’t work out how many calories was in something, the panic was horrid. I would do my best to log the nearest thing to whatever I’d eaten, or just add a random amount of calories so that I stood a chance of being under my calories each day.

The obsession. The dedication. It’s scary to think about how it controlled my life.

Now let’s add in the step counter. The calorie burns at the end of each day. The number of numbers I needed to see were adding up.

Shamefully, Instagram eventually fell into my counting obsession. How many followers, how many likes on each photo. It all added up.

It is entirely possible that for many people they’re able to manage using something like MFP without the side effects I experienced. And I would like to give it it’s due, because I did lose a significant amount of weight and meet some amazing people who I’m still in touch with. But those positives are absolutely outweighed by the all consuming eating disorder it fed into.

Letting go of numbers is a constant battle. It’s hard to reconcile that those numbers, in many way, did save my life. I am confident I wouldn’t be here had I not changed the way I approached my well being. But those numbers also left me as unwell as I was when I started, just in a very different way.

I couldn’t tell you the number of times I logged into MFP each day. The number of times I checked my weight. The number of clothes I’ve had to buy as my dress size changed. But I can tell you that not counting now is both the most incredible liberation and the most terrifying challenge.

No longer counting calories was an absolute. Moving into an intuitive eating patten felt like my only option. Using what I know about how food makes me feel, I aim to eat a diet that nourishes my body without any restriction on specific foods. Eating like a normal person is a constant challenge. But alongside TRUE compassion and REAL body acceptance that ISN’T rooted in a media driven body image is the key.

Don’t get me wrong. I fight my head every day. But it is becoming easier to listen to the calmer, better fed, more reasonable, compassionate voice that comes from deep within my soul and ignore the highly anxious, panicked voice of my eating disorder.

I don’t know where my body will be in a year, but I do know that wherever we are, I will be doing my damnedest to love, cherish and nourish it.

Not all bodies are good bodies..

I am a disabled person.

You might not know that about me, because these days, I don’t look very disabled.

That isn’t always how it’s been though. And I want to share some of my story with you.

I was born with a genetic condition, it’s a connective tissue disorder that means I’m not held together very well. It differs in each person, but for me my joints are all very unstable (sometimes popping out of place, or even dislocating totally), they cause me pain and make my mobility really difficult. I also have serious complications internally too, the condition means my swallow is floppy (I choke on fluids, and they drip into my lungs), my lungs don’t always have the strength to arrange breathing effectively, my stomach is too disorganised to sort out digesting foods properly, my bowels are sleepy and hardly move and my bladder can’t let any urine out. The secondary problems I have mean that I can’t manage my hydration levels, nor can I sustain a good blood pressure or heart rate, often leaving me dizzy, dehydrated or just passed out. On top of that, I have limited energy each day, lots of pain and take a host of drugs that make me sick and sleepy.

When my condition first started to effect me, I spent years struggling to manage, stuck in a cycle of boom or bust. Weeks of running around like a ‘normal’ person, followed by weeks in bed wondering if the pain might actually kill me?

As I got older, my walking became much harder to organise, my limbs struggled under the extra pounds I carried, my lungs failed to deliver enough oxygen and I threw up after everything I ate. I was so frustrated with my body. It wasn’t us against the world, it was head vs body, every. bloody. day.

It was exhausting.

Loving a body that ‘fails’ you on such a basic level is really fucking hard. So we just stopped speaking. I stopped listening to her pleas for more nourishing food, for movement where possible. She cried out for no more tobacco, for life sustaining treatments to be carried out with regularity. But I shouted over her. Put music on. Turned the TV up. Ate so much she couldn’t open her mouth to speak. Did anything I could to avoid the conversation I didn’t want to have.

img_0026

Over the past five-ish years, I’ve changed the conversation with my body considerably. I started by beginning a dialogue, both with my body, with my then girlfriend (now wife) and with a fucking good therapist.

It started with just wanting a little better for my body. Nothing fancy, nothing complicated, just a little tiny bit more .. just to see, just to dip my toe in the water of life and see how it felt. Because for 5 years, I was dependent on a ventilator, constantly fighting blood poisoning, in hospital for months at a time, unable to balance my mental health and my physical well being. It wasn’t that my mental health caused my problems, it was that it left me in a position of being unable to deal with them and in turn, things just became progressively more unmanageable.

My therapist never challenged me to do anything, and my partner never asked one thing of me, but quickly I felt like I could have a life that looked different to the one I’d fallen into.

As I’ve moved through the last few years, I’ve attempted to listen to my body in a way I simply couldn’t before. You have to understand, the pain I feel isn’t warning me that something awful is about to happen, or that I’m injured in some way – unlike most people who would probably take themselves off to the Dr or hospital if they suddenly felt terrible pain, I’ve experienced years of it, I have just had to switch off in order to carry on living. My bladder doesn’t tell me I need the toilet, it instead creates intense spasms that bring tears to my eyes and cause me to leak urine, these are particularly difficult to ignore but also provide no relevant information for me. I think you get the point I’m trying to make. Being in tune with a body that sings almost exclusively out of tune can be painfully unbearable.

Focusing on a body that doesn’t live up to your expectations makes it so hard to see past negatives. How can you possibly feel beautiful when your body is useless? I’m sure you can understand why ‘faulty’ soon became ‘fat’, ‘useless’ soon turned into ‘ugly’, my functionality becomes my physicality.

img_0045

On top of however you may feel about your own body, we have to consider how the outside world reacts to YOUR body. As a person who uses the medical system often, my body is talked about and treated like a carcass on a  conveyor belt. You never forget the first time a young doctor forgets to introduce himself before putting his hands inside you. And then there are the strangers, the guys in the pub who think you’re ‘beautiful .. for someone in a wheelchair’, or who ask ‘what’s wrong with you’ before they ask your name. Your body is suddenly everyones business, doctors get opinions on you, people on the street get to comment and ask about you.. it’s hard to feel positive about something that other people seem to have such an objection to. And let’s not even get started on how it feels knowing that over 40% of people would still abort a disabled baby…

So how easy is it to move into a body positive space? To learn body acceptance, self love .. even compassion?

Well the answer is challenging. Especially when many members of the body positive movement don’t quite understand the issues that disabled women face. And on top of that, many of the less well educated bloggers talk LOTS about how to stop focusing on your physicality and start focusing on what your body can do, what your health gives you, how ALL BODIES ARE GOOD BODIES. But that actually isn’t true. My body doesn’t really live up to anyones idea of a ‘good’ body, but it’s my body non the less and it is just as entitled to love, respect and compassion as the next body.

I think eventually the only freedom comes in not expecting ANYTHING of a body. I have had to stop looking at other people and thinking ‘my body can’t do that’, or ‘I don’t look like that’ .. and the aged old ‘I wish … ‘ (fill in the blank with any number of bullshit things I’ve wasted wishes on in my lifetime.. smaller thighs, bigger tits, smaller waist, to be taller, I mean I could go on..) There is something truly powerful in the surrender into ‘I have no power’, perhaps I’d even go as far as to say there is something spiritual in it.

Perhaps as a community we are still setting ourselves up to fail by introducing more narrow constructs to live by. We talk about loving ourselves, or hating ourselves, we are stuck in extremes, it’s either good or its bad. Normal or broken.

letty-imogen-74

Body positivity is a journey. It will ebb and flow like all relationships do. It’s not an ‘on it’ or ‘off it’ thing, there will be moments of the day that feel easier than others. The compassion I talk about means that I don’t beat my self up when I *do* have an awful body day, and it helps me celebrate good body days. And in the mean while, I focus on what my body does give me, not in terms of physical reward or physicality, but in terms of an ability to be with my wife, to share friendships and love, to be present in life where possible. That, in and of its self, is pretty fucking wonderful.

This post was inspired by the incredible Michelle Elman