One day at a time

Don’t ask me how it happened but more than three weeks have passed since I last posted here. I know some of my readers (particularly my non-London friends) start wondering whether there’s something wrong if I don’t blog. But this time, my absence is down to being very busy with work (in a good way), with my social life (in a good way, too) and to feeling as peaceful and content (generally, most of the time) as I felt on the eve of my birthday – and therefore not having quite so much to say.

Because this blog, over the last few years, has been a place to work through my struggles, to find some catharsis through the act of writing and creativity, to understand what’s going on in my head by getting it out of my head and hopefully to inspire and encourage a few people along the way.

But right now, there aren’t so many struggles, even if it feels dangerous to say that, to write it down. And the struggles I have are short-lived – short-circuited by writing in my diary, taking ten minutes out to meditate, pray or phone a friend. I guess this is one of the gifts of working at something for a long time (in this case, recovery from addictive behaviours and self-sabotaging thought patterns) – at some point, it really starts to work.

But there’s a reason why the recovery movement (be that recovery from alcoholism, drug addiction, food addiction, love addiction, codependency and so forth) uses the slogan, “One day at a time”. I remember in the early days when I was trying to quit compulsive overeating, starving and generally messing around with food for purposes other than nutrition. Back then, the idea that I only had to get through that one day, that I only had to get my head on the pillow that night without having stuffed my feelings down with food was a real life-saver. I’d tell myself that whatever I wanted to eat in that moment of madness, stress, anxiety, anger or tiredness late in the evening I could have the next morning if I could just hold out that long. On many occasions, that promise to myself got me through. And of course, the next morning, with the benefit of sleep and a bit of distance from my emotions, the crazy, compulsive feelings had subsided and I no longer wanted the cake, chocolate or (often in my case) the organic cereal and natural yoghurt (I was always quite a healthy binge eater – in the later stages, at least).

Today, now I’ve made peace with food, ‘one day at a time’ means something a little bit different. It means I try not to project into the future, live in some fantasy land or imagine certain outcomes in my head. I try to remember that all I have is today and that, for today, I have everything I need to feel safe and happy.

This is particularly important when I’m dating. I know I’m not the first female to let my mind race off into some fantasy future where men are concerned and I won’t be the last. Many of us do it, but then we share it, laugh about it, and with a bit of luck, haul ourselves back to reality and remember to keep it in the day. Do men do this too? I’d be interested to know. Guys?

Of course, this is much easier to do if we’re starting from a solid base – if we have a lot of our needs covered and we’re not desperately looking for someone else to fill the gap. And while I guess it’ll never be perfect (because I’m human and perfection doesn’t exist), I feel I’m more in that place than I’ve ever been.

There isn’t such a great, gaping hole inside, such a deep longing for love or such a big fear of loss and abandonment as there has been in the past – because I’m giving that love to myself and I’m showing up for myself. I’m taking care of myself – emotionally, physically and spiritually. I’m resting when I’m tired, crossing things off my ‘To Do’ list when I feel stressed, strengthening my body through exercise, meditating most mornings and eating well. I’m pursuing my creative dreams – slowly, very slowly when it comes to the book, but I’m pursuing them all the same – and increasingly I’m doing work I enjoy that fits with who I am rather than with the image of myself I wanted you to have. (Last week, I had the privilege of speaking to a group of sixth-formers about eating disorders, anxiety, stress and perfectionism and it felt like such a gift). My finances are reasonably manageable – I have a good idea of what comes in and what goes out – and I have a little home of my own, so I’m not in need of rescuing. I have fun and exciting things in the diary that I’ve chosen to do because I love them and they make me happy, irrespective of anyone else. And I feel supported and loved by my huge network of friends and family members. Thank you all for that.

In short, I’m pretty confident that whatever happens, I’ll be OK.

And I guess it’s that confidence – that trust in oneself and, in my case, in God – that helps me go out there and take some risks with my feelings and my heart.

If I fall, I know the ground is really well cushioned. I feel anchored. I feel held.

Interestingly, this has just come to me, but this sounds like the secure base that, ideally, all children grow up with, which is something I was researching recently for work. Babies and toddlers feel confident to go out and explore the big world because they know they can always come back to the safe embrace of their primary caregivers. Their parents’ support is consistent, unwavering, like a safety net. Psychologists say these children grow up with healthy self-esteem, a strong sense of self, an ability to take risks and they’re less prone to anxiety.

Exploring the world as a little person without a secure base can be a scary experience and those fears, that sense of trepidation, that idea that the world isn’t a benevolent place and nobody’s got our back can stay with us for years. We either shy away from taking chances or we cling to things or to people to support us that actually can’t help – in other words, we look for love in all the wrong places.

Some of us didn’t grow up with a sense of a secure base for one reason or another and we spent a lot of years looking for love in the wrong places or trying to keep ourselves safe from hurt. But the amazing thing is we can recreate the secure base for ourselves, as adults.

And once we’ve done that, we can send our inner children out there to join in with all the other kids, to get messy, play and jump from great heights, safe in the knowledge they’ve got somewhere to come back to if they end up bruised or things don’t go to plan.

I guess that’s what I’m doing right now – I’m encouraging her (me) to get out there and play, reassuring her it’s safe to take a chance because I’ve got her back.

Posted in Addiction, codependency, Recovery, Relationships, Spirituality, Trust, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How did I end up here?

This blog post could go two ways.

It could either turn into a sombre reflection on the fact it’s my birthday tomorrow and my life looks nothing like I expected it to look at this age and stage. I could ramble on about how I started this blog at 40, filled with excitement and hope for the year ahead, never imagining that three years would go by and I’d still be here, writing about similar things (I’m laughing out loud as I write that!), still struggling with some of the same issues, ruminating over some of the same stuff, procrastinating over some of the same actions.

Still – yes, still – trying to work IT all out, whatever IT is! Still – yes, still – trying to find THE ANSWER – even if I’m not quite sure what the question is. Because what is it all about anyway? And why am I so determined to figure it all out, to get it right, to arrive somewhere (as I wrote in my last post), rather than to just enjoy the journey.

So instead, this post is going to go the other way. Rather than a sombre reflection on another year passing by and a critical analysis of how I got here, it’s going to be a celebration of where I am today, of everything I’ve got to be grateful for and of all the things I have to look forward to.

I’ve no doubt there’ll be plenty more ups and downs, twists and turns and unsettling bumps along the way but right now, in this moment, I feel content, happy even. I use those words rarely, always fearful that precious moment of contentment will be snatched from my grasp before I have the chance to savour it. But I’m daring to use them today – on the eve of my 43rd birthday. I’m daring to register them here, so I can look back and read them when I’m hitting those inevitable bumps in the road.

My search for happiness (if it exists – perhaps contentment is a better word, or peace) has taken me around the houses. Half-read self-help books line my shelves or are gathering dust under my bed (and if I’ve got one of yours, I’ll return it next week!). Leaflets and magazines advertising personal development workshops and courses are piled up in a corner of the living room. And if you were to examine my Internet search history, you’d discover I’ve looked up pretty much every psychological condition – along with causes, symptoms and remedies – under the sun.

Everything I’ve done, no doubt, has helped a little bit and I can’t quite put my finger on what, if anything, has made a difference in recent weeks. But I’m finding I’m waking up a lot of the time filled with excitement, hope and with a big smile on my face. And when I do wake up with anxious palpitations (which I do sometimes), I find I can ground myself much faster – with a bit of prayer, meditation and writing – and find some peace.

I’m also finding time and space a few mornings a week to stop by the local park and say hello to the deer, ducks and goats. Yes, we have a little chat in the sunshine. And I’m putting on cheesy music and dancing around my living room and kitchen (which are one and the same thing).

Oh yes, and I feel loved, really loved, which I realised as I picked up the birthday cards from my door mat this morning. I’m not loved, perhaps, in the way I wanted or expected to be at this age and stage, but I’m incredibly loved by family and friends. And I’ve learned to love, if I wasn’t quite sure how to do it before. And that’s all very special.

But at the core of it all, I guess, is a new level of acceptance. An acceptance that I am most definitely not in charge. That I can do my best, step out in faith, take steps to look after myself and courageously seek the things I would like in my life, but that trying to engineer a particular outcome – for the next years, months, weeks or even the next day – will only send my head into a spin.

Recent experience has taught me that the level of peace and contentment I feel is directly related to the degree to which I am able to surrender my life and hold my dreams loosely. It’s that peace and contentment that has me waking up filled with excitement for my day and dancing around my kitchen.

So, on the eve of another birthday, it’s all about acceptance and surrender.

Happy Birthday to me!

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Shortcuts

Wouldn’t it be great if we could take shortcuts – if we could get where we wanted to go with a click of our fingers or make things happen with a twitch of our nose (anyone remember Bewitched from years ago?), without having to go on what can often be a lengthy, painful and circuitous journey first or put in lots of time-consuming effort?

So we could have the book written and displayed on our bookshelf without actually having to sit down for hours, days, weeks, months or even years to write it.

Or we could have that amazing, loving relationship we’ve always wanted without having to do loads of work on ourselves first to break our self-defeating, self-sabotaging patterns or to build our self-worth. Or without having to go through that tricky “ordeal” stage of negotiating boundaries, making compromises and confronting our fear of commitment, pain and potential loss. (I’ve linked before to Recovery and The Couple Relationship - a talk in which psychotherapist Paul Sunderland describes the three stages of a relationship: the ideal, the ordeal and then the real deal. Or in some cases, the no deal!).

Or we could have a strong, supple and pain-free back and legs that will carry us as far as we want to go without having to work out to strengthen our muscles or doing four hours of Pilates a week (which I’m doing right now) to resolve problems we’ve ignored and allowed to get worse over years.

Or we could have a mind that’s free – at least for a small part of the day – of worry, stress and anxiety, without having to learn the difficult art of meditation, be that mindfulness or some other form.

Or we could have the body we’ve always wanted and be the weight we’ve always dreamed of without having to limit our food intake or deal with the underlying reasons why we’re overeating in the first place.

This was my story. In fact, the other stories are mine too, but for now I’ll focus on food.

Following on from my previous posts – Food is my friend and Finding my way back – I wanted to share something of the shortcuts I endeavoured to take before realising that I couldn’t resolve my issues with food, eating, body and weight simply by trimming stuff off the surface. I had to go to the root.

I’ll begin with the diets – the two that stick out are the egg diet (eat loads of eggs and little else) and the cabbage diet (lots of cabbage soup – yuk). I did both in my teens and no doubt repeated them later in life. The promise was that you could lose a stone in a week. Then there was the straightforward starvation diet – try really hard not to eat anything all day, except perhaps for a few apples. Diets always backfired because I’d end up ravenous and unable to stop eating once I inevitably began again – and because I didn’t understand why I was overeating in the first place.

But I’ll be here all day if I recount all the ways I tried to resolve my food issues by just focusing on the food. And I’ve mentioned all the running I did already, so I won’t go on about that.

I will mention the diet pills, though, partly because I feel sad that I took them, and that they were given to me without any health checks or questions about my emotional wellbeing.

I remember rocking up at a private doctor’s surgery in Mexico, handing over a cheque or some cash (I can’t recall) and receiving in return a small tub of pills, unlabelled if I remember correctly. I’ll never know what was in them, but some form of speed wouldn’t be a bad guess.

The idea was to speed up my metabolism so I could lose weight, even though I only had a stone or so to lose. They worked, to a degree, on the outside at least – although I put some of the weight back on again pretty soon (and no, I’m not recommending them to anyone!).

I did the same once I got to Brazil. I went to a private doctor and was prescribed a different set of diet pills – again, I couldn’t tell you what they were. And these magic pills, together with periodic starvation and plenty of running and spinning classes, helped me to get down to a weight I deemed acceptable, perhaps even the weight I’d always thought I’d wanted to be.

But – surprise, surprise – once I’d got there, I wasn’t happy. I was still miserable and still obsessed with food, diets, my body and my weight.

So the problem, actually, wasn’t on the outside and it couldn’t be addressed by focusing on what I put in my mouth. It was only by going right to the core, addressing the root, exploring why I felt the need to use food as a crutch to cope with low self-esteem, low self-worth, fear and pain that I could find any peace. And that journey has taken years – maybe a decade – and it continues today.

In my case, there was no magic pill and there was no foolproof diet. The journey has been long and arduous at times but, right now, I wouldn’t change it for anything.

And I’m reluctant to admit it but I guess shortcuts won’t work in other areas of my life either – the book, the relationships, the Pilates. I need to do the work, build solid foundations, strengthen my core. Bewitched, after all, was a “fantasy sitcom”. It’d be nice to twitch our nose and just make stuff happen, but that’s not reality.

It's the journey, not the destination (Photo by Dan/freedigitalphotos.net)

It’s the journey, not the destination (Photo by Dan/freedigitalphotos.net)

There’s a line in the literature from the Alcoholics Anonymous fellowships that talks about how members “trudge the road of happy destiny”. Now, “trudge” may not sound a particularly appealing way to journey but as well as “plod” or “walk laboriously”, it’s also understood as “to march steadily” or “to walk with purpose”.

But the key to this phrase for me is “the road OF happy destiny” rather than “the road TO happy destiny”.

As a compulsive achiever, I’ve always wanted to get somewhere, to arrive, to reach a set point. Or I’ve always wanted to sort things out, to fix myself, to get things right as quickly as I could.

And I’ve always thought happiness was over there.

But actually, the journey continues and will always continue until I’m no longer around – and the joy is found along the way – on the journey, not at the destination (although we hope there’ll be some joy there too if we ever get where we think we’re going!).

With that in mind, I’m happy to keep on trudging.

Posted in Addiction, Body Image, codependency, Eating disorders, Happiness, Relationships, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Finding my way back

Always smiling - at least on the outside

Always smiling – at least on the outside

This photo was taken when I was 22. I’d just finished at Oxford University and was about to head off to Italy to drive minibuses across Tuscany for a high-end travel company. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with my life but I knew it had something to do with languages, travel and adventure. Driving minibuses and planning champagne picnics for well-to-do British ramblers in the Italian countryside seemed like a good place to start.

Sometimes I look at this picture and I don’t think I look too different to how I do today. On other occasions, I really notice the few extra stone in weight I was carrying and the baggy shirt that I used to cover up the parts of me (which was pretty much all of me) I didn’t like.

The smile is still there, though. It always was – whether I felt it on the inside or not. But as I wrote in my last post – Food is my friend – it often disguised a deep sense of shame, pain, chronic self-consciousness, low self-esteem and disgust with my appearance. It also masked a pretty much constant mental obsession with my weight. I wonder how I ever had time to think of anything or anybody else – maybe I didn’t – when all my thoughts were taken up with what I had eaten or not eaten and how to avoid eating anything else.

That extra weight was an outward manifestation of the turmoil going on inside. It also acted as a layer of cushioning that I hoped would keep me safe from the world, safe from having to engage with people at a level that involved the potential to get hurt. And the mental obsession distracted me from feelings I didn’t want to feel.

That photo is also a reminder to me that our lives rarely turn out as planned. We take unexpected detours or we’re thrust onto a path that we don’t think is ours. Sometimes we find our way back, sometimes we don’t.

And sometimes we find that the detour leads us to a place that’s far better than anything we could have possibly imagined.

If you’d have told me, when I was 10, 12 or 14, where I’d be and how I’d look at 22, I’d have struggled to believe you. Up to that age, my life was all about being thin and staying thin by avoiding food and running fast.

And if you’d have told me, at 22, that it would take years but I’d eventually find my way back, make peace with food and end up looking not too dissimilar to how I looked at the age of eight – give or take some wrinkles and curves – I wouldn’t have believed you either. I may have hoped that you’d be right. Or perhaps I’d have wondered what you were talking about, perhaps I’d have been stuck in denial, somehow thinking I was happy. (Which isn’t to say we have to be slim to be content – it’s just in my case the overeating was a form of self-harm).

But I did find my way back. It was a circuitous, often painful route, full of difficult lessons. But it was a route dotted with amazing adventures and people I’ll never forget.

Maybe my path was never going to be a straightforward one – neither in the past, nor going forward. Because if you’d have told me I’d be approaching 43, be single and living on my own in a London flat, I’m sure I wouldn’t have believed you either.

But somehow, today, that all seems OK – more than OK. The past, though it saddens me at times, is simply that – the past. And the future? Well, from where I’m sitting right now, that feels bright.

MelittlegirlSeems my dress sense Mecropolympicshasn’t changed too much over the decades and the broad smile is the same. But these days, I’m pleased to say a lot of the time I’m smiling on the inside too. And although I’m a work in progress, I’m delighted to be on the road to becoming the person God intended me to be.

 

Posted in Addiction, Body Image, Eating disorders, Faith, Happiness, Recovery, Self-Acceptance, Spirituality, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Food is my friend

In recent months, I’ve shared some of my culinary adventures on Facebook – my first attempts at making soup or my forays into baking coconut and banana bread – and a few friends have expressed surprise that I got to 42 without exploring the joys of cooking.

But for me, making soup and baking – and inviting friends around to share what I make – are major steps.

Because for most of my life, food was my enemy, not my friend.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while or if you read its predecessor (Just As I Am – An Experiment in Self Acceptance), you’ll know my problems with eating disorders, erratic food consumption and body image began in my early teens, if not sooner, and continued through my 30s, when I got in to recovery and began to come to terms with my eating issues, explore their root causes and learn tools to help me make peace with food.

So until relatively recently, I had little interest in food for its nutritional value, for pleasure, or for taste. And I had little interest in spending my precious time cooking.

Instead, my life was about avoiding eating for as long as I possibly could to try to get thinner, then inevitably bingeing on food – including things I didn’t really like – then punishing myself with a period of starvation and hard-core exercise. Food was something I was scared of, something I ran away from and something I used to beat myself up with.

I ate to suppress my feelings, to numb myself out, to keep fear, pain, anxiety and low self-esteem at bay. I binged to comfort myself, then I binged again because I felt ashamed. Then I starved. And then I ran, ran, and ran some more.

Thinking about it now, it seems such a crazy, self-defeating, road-to-nowhere cycle – starve, binge, run; starve, binge, run – but I kept doing it, over and over again.

Yes, I had some favourite foods but there were so many feelings and so much shame attached to eating that it was hard for me to enjoy them. And yes, there were favourite restaurants, but consuming food in public was challenging. I always felt fat, no matter how slim I was, so when I ate a decent-sized meal in public, I’d fear I’d be judged for over-indulging (‘Oh, that’s why she’s fat,’ I’d imagine people would say). So I’d choose the salad, or the grilled fish and vegetables or some other low calorie option.

And then I’d go home and raid the fridge.

My erratic eating went hand-in-hand with my work life. The more stressful the job or the tighter the deadline, the more I’d starve or binge. The more I felt exposed, unable to meet my incredibly high standards or attain ‘perfection’, the more I would starve or binge. And the more I ignored my real feelings – anxiety, exhaustion, fear – the more I would starve or binge. Food was my crutch and, at the time, I may have even thought it was my friend. But with friends like that …

Inevitably, the more I punished myself with food, the more I hated my body – no matter what it looked like. When I lived in Brazil in my early 30s, I was probably thinner than I am today or at least more toned, because of all the running. But I cringed every time I stripped down to my bikini on the beach – which was most weekends. I remember once I was due to go to a weekend-long beach party with a friend and a bunch of guys and girls I’d never met. All I could think about in the run-up to that was what I would wear, how I would look and what they’d think about my body. What a sad waste of my precious time and energy. And not only did I eat more because I was so ashamed, but I drank myself silly too. Alcohol was my second crutch.

Diet coke was my third. I couldn’t get past 11 am at work without a can (the bubbles would fill me up and help me avoid eating for as long as possible) and I couldn’t get beyond the afternoon slump without a second. If I worked late, I’d have a third. It doesn’t surprise me when I look back that I couldn’t survive without my coke fix. I’d either skip breakfast or eat some ‘slimline’ cereal packed with sugar or sweeteners, along with watery, skimmed milk, and follow it up with some lettuce leaves for lunch. I’ve been educating myself for years about the importance of eating protein with every meal and keeping blood sugar levels steady to avoid the spikes and slumps that inevitably trigger cravings and a binge. It’s amazing what a difference it makes.

My relationship with food isn’t perfect today (and I’ve learned that perfect doesn’t exist) but when I think about how I used to be, I sometimes feel like a different person. I don’t recognise myself when I whip up a batch of soup, bake some coconut bread and roast vegetables in the oven, all in an hour or two. I don’t recognise myself when I sit down to food I’ve cooked from scratch and actually savour its taste. I don’t recognise myself when I don’t obsess about food in between meals or think how I’m going to run off the calories I’ve consumed. I don’t recognise myself when I’m not hopping on and off the scales several times every morning, adjusting the dial (I weighed myself every morning of my finals exams at university). And I definitely don’t recognise myself when I pass over the fat-free yoghurt or low-fat coconut milk in favour of the full-fat versions. For years, everything I consumed was low-fat or slimline – and no doubt packed with artificial chemicals or sweeteners. Today, that feels like half-living. Full-fat coconut milk, avocados, nuts and other good fats are a staple of my diet. And unlike in the days of slimline foods and starving, my weight doesn’t change.

In many ways, it’s a miracle – but who knows if I’ll ever be out of the woods completely. Food was a crutch for so long and it’s still my first port of call.

Yesterday, I felt anxious about something at work and I instinctively reached for a cup of muesli and yoghurt, one of my main comfort foods. Ok, so a mug of gluten free muesli and organic natural yoghurt is barely worth mentioning compared to what I used to consume but I’m aware that in that moment, I wasn’t eating because I was hungry, I was eating because I was scared. And when I try to fit food into a fear-shaped hole, of course it doesn’t fit. When I eat to soothe my emotions, my stomach becomes a bottomless pit and I’m at risk of not being able to stop.

Fortunately, I’ve come a long way, I’m conscious of what I’m doing and I know how to draw a line. I can call a friend and share how I’m feeling, I can write in my diary or go out for a walk until the discomfort passes – it always does. Then I can return to savouring food because it’s tasty, enjoyable and nutritious, as I did last night.

And when I eat in a balanced way – when I don’t diet, starve or binge – all those body image problems seem to dissolve. I can walk on a beach in a bikini without feeling self-conscious or fat. I still have my niggles. I can still fall into the familiar trap of looking at my body with disgust or giving my wobbly bits a poke. But they feel like momentary lapses today rather than a way of being. When I’m at peace with food, my weight seems to take care of itself and I’m at peace with the way I look.

I can also start cherishing my body for what it can do for me rather than for the reaction it may provoke in others. Which is why I’m investing a fair amount of money and three hours a week in intensive studio Pilates. This isn’t about burning fat or getting a trimmer waist. It’s about working towards a pain-free, supple body that can take me on long walks, bike rides, swims and even runs. Because when I exercise for the right reasons and not to punish myself for what I’ve eaten, it feeds my soul.

Here's one I prepared earlier: coconut bread from a few months ago

Here’s one I prepared earlier: coconut bread from a few months ago

I’m writing this today not just because of the pleasure I got last night from baking coconut bread, roasting butternut squash and making lentil soup, then eating in silence and savouring all the tastes, but also because of what I’ve heard and read in recent days about diets and body image.

BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour has been talking a lot about body image, eating and diets in the past few weeks. Therapist and author Susie Orbach (I can recommend her book ‘On Eating‘) spoke about women and body image and took some emotional calls from women who’d struggled for most of their lives with food and body image on January 13th; there was a feature on ‘Every Other Day Diets’ on the 15th, and a follow-up on men and body image on the 20th (you can find them all on this iTunes page if they’re no longer live on the Woman’s Hour podcast).

I was really moved by Susie Orbach’s exchanges with a number of distressed callers and loved what she had to say about getting in touch with our bodies and our hunger. But I was disappointed there wasn’t more of an exploration of the deep-seated issues that often lie behind negative body image and unhealthy eating behaviours.

I understand that today more than ever, the media and the fashion and beauty industries propagate negative body image among women and men. And for some people, the reason for body hatred, poor self-esteem and erratic eating may be down to what they see and hear. I believe TV, films and fashion magazines have a lot to answer for, particularly when it comes to the messages they’re feeding to today’s young girls.

However, in my case and in the case of many other women I know, our unhealthy relationship with food began decades ago, in our childhoods, when it became a substitute for love, for feelings of safety or security or a means to soothe fear and pain. And that way of reacting to the world, of using food as a crutch, continued into our adult lives. Our views about food and our eating patterns became entrenched – habits we couldn’t break – all inevitably exacerbated by the media, the fashion and beauty industries and the opinions of our peers.

In these cases, sometimes the only way to resolve these issues is to go back to their root and work through our past. At least this is what I’ve had to do. Years of psychotherapy and sitting in support groups of fellow overeaters, undereaters, anorexics, bulimics and exercise addicts have helped me change my relationship with food and find the tools to cope with my feelings instead of turning to the fridge.

It hasn’t been an easy journey but it’s brought me to where I am today – to a great degree of freedom around food and body image and to a new sense of joy around cooking and sharing food with others. (I smiled to myself last night as I greased the baking tin with full-fat coconut oil and poured the full-fat coconut milk into the mix. What a turnaround from all those years of fat-free, starvation diets and distressing binges.)

We are all individuals. We are all at different places and have different reasons for behaving in the way we do.

All I know is that I was exhausted from fighting with food, weight and negative body image and I only found freedom when I realised the real battle I needed to fight ran a lot deeper.

Your story may be different but whatever it is, I wish you peace around food.

Posted in Addiction, Body Image, Eating disorders, Health, Recovery, Self-Acceptance, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Do nothing; rest afterwards

You can tell I’ve been busy recently as I haven’t found the space to blog.

I say ‘space’ rather than ‘time’ because I probably could have found an hour or so to scribble a quick post. But what I feel I haven’t had much of in the last few weeks is ‘space’ – space to process, space to think, space to connect to what I’m feeling deep inside, space for my creativity to flourish, space to do that most wonderful of things that I do so rarely: NOTHING.

Oh, to do nothing! At the thought of it, I take a deep breath and my shoulders sink down from their usual position far too close to my ears. If you have any tips on how to do nothing, I’d love to hear them. I always seem to be doing SOMETHING. Even my leisure time isn’t particularly leisurely. I’ve got a lot to learn.

Happiness is ...

Happiness is …

I’ve mentioned before that I have a framed card on my bathroom wall of a woman snoozing in the sun, slumped in a deckchair. The message reads: ‘How beautiful it is to do nothing and then rest afterwards.’ I bought that card partly because the woman reminds me of my mum, who can sit in the sun until the cows come home, but partly because I need to be reminded everyday that it is, in fact, beautiful to do NOTHING and then rest afterwards. So far, though, the message hasn’t quite sunk in. In fact, it was almost two years ago when I last blogged about that same card and my need to do less (Great Expectations). A fair bit has changed since then and I deserve to give myself credit where credit is due but it’s a little concerning that very little has changed in the ‘doing nothing’ department.

Of course, NOTHING doesn’t have to mean sitting motionless or zoning out on the sofa in front of the TV. To me, it can also mean hanging out with friends, walking in the park or by the sea, rambling through a forest or up a hill or going for a cycle. But whatever the activity, to qualify as NOTHING I’d say it needs to be done without an agenda, without trying to achieve something or tick something off one’s list.

In other words, the walk in the park would be to enjoy some peace and space in nature, rather than to burn off a big lunch; the ramble would be to smell the pine forest or hear the sound of the sea rather than to reach a set point and then come back again; the cycle would be to switch off my thoughts, rather than to work through my feelings or train for a longer ride; and the time with friends would be timeless, effortless, unscheduled, fun and free.

Thinking about it, I’m quite far away from that kind of NOTHING, although I’m closer to it than I ever was. There’s always stuff I need to get done (or I think I need to get done), plans to make, things to achieve, dreams to pursue. And having realised I won’t have any friends to hang out with unless I put dates in the diary, I’ve taken to scheduling rather a lot.

I guess that’s the same for most of us and perhaps it’s inevitable and not necessarily the wrong way to go about things. Having a sense of purpose, direction, something to do or a coffee date planned can help ward off a depressive slump. And having a vision for our lives, as I wrote in my last post, gives us an impetus to do what we can to meet the desires of our heart.

But couldn’t there be one day a week, or perhaps two, of NOTHING? A day without an agenda, a day when we just go with the flow? A day when we go out for a walk without knowing where we’re heading or when we meet a friend without any plans and just see what we fancy doing – if anything – there and then?

I guess our ability to do nothing and then rest afterwards is a reflection of the degree of faith and trust we have in the world, in life and in ourselves. Of course, realistically, other factors come in to it – the number of small children or elderly parents we have to look after or the amount of disposable income we have. But whatever our circumstances, I believe faith and trust have a role to play.

Because doing nothing flies in the face of control and it’s when we’re most in fear – the opposite of faith – that we most try and control the outcome.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be tempted to look at those who are getting things done or achieving a lot and think they’re the ones who’ve got it all going on, that they’re the people to emulate. But perhaps it’d serve us better to aspire to be like those who are doing less, those who are quietly surrendering their days and their lives, those who are just letting it all flow on by.

As ever, though, I’m left with questions and contradictions.

How to square the ‘doing nothing’ or at least ‘doing less’ philosophy with what we know about the benefits of having dreams for our lives and taking action towards them? I don’t have the answers but for starters, I’d guess that we could keep the word ‘vision’ in the forefront of our minds rather than ‘goal’ and that when we take our action we don’t strive, grasp, grab, exhaust ourselves or stress too much when things don’t work out as planned.

Instead, we trust. And maybe take a bit of time out to sit in a deckchair.

Funnily enough, this blog wasn’t going to read like this. I’d planned to write about relationships and commitment or about my inner introvert. But here I am letting go of my agenda and writing about doing nothing, writing what came to me and what flowed.

And I’m looking at the big 2014 year planner I’ve put up next to my desk – with the idea of being more organised with my time – and thinking the first thing I need to do is to write NOTHING or NO PLANS in capital letters on one day every week.

So perhaps the message is starting to sink in, slowly, gently, in its own time, which I guess is quite fitting really.

Posted in Creativity, Faith, Happiness, Leisure, Trust, Women | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Looking forward

It’s been a while since I made New Year’s resolutions. I decided a while back that they no longer served me – I would set myself unrealistic goals then beat myself up for not sticking to them.

In the past, those goals often involved weight loss and I’m incredibly grateful that I no longer wake up on New Year’s Day feeling that I need to starve myself for weeks to lose the excess Christmas weight. Yes, I indulged a little over the festive period – mince pies, Christmas cake, Christmas pudding and a little bit of chocolate – but I indulged in moderation (if that makes sense) and I don’t feel the need to go on a crash diet. Healthy eating, yes – sugar isn’t good for me and I’m discovering that I’m better off without certain foods in my diet – but that’s as far as it goes. As I eat well and exercise, my weight takes care of itself. Given where I’ve come from and my eating history, starting the year free from the need to diet is an absolute miracle.

But even if I’m not making resolutions as such, the start of a year has significance and I like to see it as a useful marker to plan the kind of year I would like for myself.

I’m actually really looking forward to 2014. I sense that it’s going to be a year of change – change that no doubt will be difficult and challenging but that will hopefully take me a lot closer to the kind of life I long for.

I’m excited about being much more intentional about the way I use my time and spend my money. I’m excited about confronting my addiction to adrenalin – stress, tight deadlines, rushing, lateness, being unprepared. I’m excited about scheduling nice things into my week, month and year – weekends away, holidays, courses and so forth – rather than leaving everything until the last minute or ending up missing out on things I really wanted to do and feeling annoyed with myself for not making the most of my time and money. And I’m excited about the prospect of moving to live by the sea and having beautiful scenery on my doorstep.

Happy 2014! Photo by hin255, Freedigitalphotos.net

Happy 2014! Photo by hin255, Freedigitalphotos.net

Of course, moving out of London – if I follow through – will be the biggest and scariest change but I have to listen to my heart. I spent Christmas in North Wales and the few days I got out to walk on the beach and look at the hills lifted my spirits to such an extent that it brought tears to my eyes (good tears or perhaps tears of longing – a longing to experience that feeling every day). I then compare that to how I felt arriving back into the craziness of London Euston station or walking towards the underground so I could meet my friend for a cup of tea – my heart sank (because of the underground, not meeting my friend!) – and it’s absolutely clear to me that I deserve to give myself the gift of living in a smaller town by the coast. Inevitably, as I write that, I think of all the things I would have to leave behind – friends, networks, communities – but fortunately, it’s one step at a time.

So while I’m not a big fan of resolutions – even that word sounds harsh, punishing – I do believe in having a vision and living intentionally. So on New Year’s Eve, I got out a drawing pad and some coloured markers and had a think about what I would like my 2014 to look like. What I came up with is a mish-mash of words and pictures that goes something like this:

Sunshine, freedom, a Volkswagen Golf, the sea, swim, hike, bike, camp, climb, drive, dance, travel, love, joy, smile, time management, money management, peace of mind, clarity, abundance, gratitude, community, belonging, partnership, spontaneity, coach, write, teach, inspire, love who you are.

My vision is to create space for more of those things in my life this year (and to buy a Golf with the proceeds of my time and money management and subsequent abundance and then use that to enable me to travel, swim, hike, bike, camp, climb and so forth).

But the great thing about this New Year is that I’ve realised that if nothing changes, if everything stays exactly as it is in this moment, then that will be OK. In fact, it’ll be more than OK – it’ll be really great.

Because I think the biggest gifts I can give myself in 2014 are acceptance and gratitude for who I am, where I am and everything I have.

So on that note, I wish you all a Happy New Year and a 2014 filled with peace, abundance, acceptance, love and gratitude.

Posted in Addiction, Eating disorders, Fun, Love, Recovery, Self-Acceptance, Travel, Women | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment