the beginning is always today (part ii)

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a couple of years ago, i decided to cultivate a little garden on our balcony. this turned out to be much more challenging than expected. we didn’t get much more than seven raspberries (which i turned into donuts, obviously). my mother-in-law made some valiant efforts to help but for the last couple of years, it’s been pretty barren out there bar a rosemary plant which i was assured was indestructible but which i’ve been doing a pretty good job of slowly torturing to death.

yesterday seemed like a pretty good day to get back out there and plant some things.

my best friend texted a couple of days ago to ask how my week had been. it’s been hard, i said, but they’re all hard. and they really are at the moment. for every few moments where i feel like i might actually beat this, there are hours of despair, self-loathing and shame.

this week has been even more up and down than usual (as evidenced by the fact that the number on the scales has been ricocheting around). we had an appointment at our fertility clinic and got the go-ahead to start ivf when my period arrives. which is great except my period is currently awol. my doctor thinks that the stress of the last couple of months and the extreme cycles of bingeing/purging/restricting have caused it to disappear. i need to get it back asap. for a little while, focussing on the needing to eat healthily for a potential baby give me some much needed motivation but i soon (ie within a day) slipped back into my old habits. this led to a difficult – but ultimately beneficial – session with my psychiatrist who put some firm ground rules in place as to what i need to do in order to continue with treatment otherwise he’ll discharge me. surprise surprise, i’m a perfectionist who likes structure and rules so i’m actually grateful to him for being ‘mean to me’ (his words, not mine).

there have been many new beginnings. i can’t tell you how many times in the last couple of months there has been a day 1 (after the official day 1) or an email from my therapist that ends with some form of ‘don’t worry, tomorrow is a new day’. but it does sort of feel that something has started to change over the last few days.

i was going to blog yesterday about how it was a fresh start and i was really committed to doing what i need to do (three meals a day, no restricting, no bingeing and definitely no purging) and everything was going to be different this time. but i decided not to because i wanted to see if i could actually do it or if it was yet another false start.

but i did it (just about).

for the first time in a long time, i did have three meals. and although i had a bit more chocolate after dinner than i probably should, i shared it with my husband (rather than bingeing in secret). every minute of the day was hard and i really had to fight for it but i managed it.

and then, i had a really good appointment with a nutritionist today. her enthusiasm and positivity was inspiring. for so long, i’ve been stuck in the past, re-living the night that everything changed. the idea of a future – and a happy one at that – has seemed so far away that it’s not something i’ve ever even been able to contemplate. but it feels a tiny bit closer this afternoon. i know this feeling won’t last forever and my capacity to self-destruct will kick in sooner or later but i need to believe that i can and will feel it again and every time that i do, i get a little bit stronger.

{title quotation attributed to mary shelley}

every meal would be like saying grace

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this week, i saw a nutritionist. i was wary and i was right to be.

i paid £150 to be told, firstly, that i was eating all the right things and that my diet was very healthy. i don’t disagree with this per se but i was 100% honest in my food diary and it didn’t amount to more than a couple of hundred calories a day. nothing was said about this. that seems irresponsible to me.

secondly, instead of practical suggestions of how to eat more, i was left with a two page document filled with a mix of trendy wellness crazes and bad science. it told me to eat more turmeric (“why not try a delicious turmeric latte?”), have a shot of apple cider vinegar before eating and stick to ‘alkalinising’ foods. when someone has an eating disorder which, by its very nature, results in all sorts of arbitrary rules, i feel like the aim should be to try and encourage a more relaxed and healthy relationship with food rather than introducing yet more restrictions.

the second half of the ‘lifestyle’ plan was a list of different (and very expensive) supplements that i should take with a referral link to buy them and which, i presume, will result in a hefty commission payment to her.

a lot of what she said, i fundamentally disagree with being, as may be obvious from the title quotation, a true believer in the doctrine of michael pollan. (another, longer, quotation that i feel is relevant here is from in defence of food: an eater’s manifesto – if you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid products that make health claims. why? because a health claim on a food product is a strong indication it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat). i know that i don’t eat enough and i want (i think) to eat more but i don’t want to get there by artificial shakes (which she tried to sell me on), faddy trends and stuff that isn’t actually food. i like food. i love food. i like the colours and flavours and textures. that’s what i desperately want to be able to eat. i have bigger problems than not having enough turmeric in my life (plus, i cook with turmeric all the time so i’m probably okay on that front. it’s just, you know, everything else).

i’m supposed to follow the ‘plan’ for the next 6 weeks and see if i feel better (how? i feel absolutely fine now). i’m not going to. i’ve forwarded her advice to my therapist, who i’m seeing on tuesday, and will discuss it with him then. fundamentally, i think her suggestions are wrong, not just for me but for anyone with an eating disorder. i think it’s actually quite dangerous. she is chasing me to make a follow up appointment. i won’t be. given that i was referred to this nutritionist by my psychiatrist, i’ve also got serious concerns around whether i need to get rid of her and find myself someone who can actually help. another thing to discuss with my therapist on tuesday (i get the sense he might agree with me; i don’t think there is much love lost between them…). i don’t know what the fall out will be of telling the nutritionist that i’m not going to see her again – i will take my therapist’s advice as to whether i am honest about the reasons why – and/or telling my psychiatrist that i’m not going to see either of them again but i’ll deal with it. more than anything, i need the right people around me now.

{title quotation from the omnivore’s dilemma: a natural history of four meals by michael pollan}

you don’t reconcile the poles; you just recognise them

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this morning, i emailed my pre-appointment questionnaire back to the nutritionist that i have been referred to. i am sceptical about this whole nutrionist thing for many reasons.

firstly, i’m not sure that this nutritionist actually has any proper qualifications or, from the testimonials on her website, any experience with eating disorders. secondly, and perhaps more importantly, she posts pictures on instagram of green smoothies and hashtags them #feelingblessed. no thanks.

really though, i don’t know what she’s going to tell me that i don’t already know. i understand what makes a healthy and balanced diet (as much as anyone can these days with the plethora of mixed messages we get). i’ve experimented with various ways of eating over the years so know what does and doesn’t work for me. i also know that i don’t eat enough and there are a number of things which should be part of my diet that i ‘won’t’ eat.

i also think, despite everything, that the core of our diet (i say ‘our’ because i do all the cooking not because my husband has any kind of eating disorder) is pretty good. although this in turn helps me rationalise my restriction (i’m eating vegetables; how can i be unhealthy? i eat dinner every night; how can i possibly have an eating disorder?). that aside though, our meals are generally based on vegetables with some lean protein and a handful of carbs, generally wholegrain (and way more for my husband than me in case anyone thinks i’m starving him). over the last few nights we’ve had, for example, risotto with leeks, peas and spinach; roasted vegetable enchiladas; roasted pork tenderloin with chickpeas, red pepper, kale and spinach (a recipe from the new jamie oliver book which i think we’ll have again).

even now, i can’t see how that (which also made up the food diary i had to submit this morning) can possibly equal an eating disorder.

but i met up with friends yesterday for brunch and sat there, nursing a mug of (black) tea, watching them all eat variations of avocado on toast and not eating anything myself. after that, i went to the food market on the southbank and bought a brownie for my husband but couldn’t buy anything for myself. i’m supposed to be seeing some other friends today for afternoon tea but i have bailed, blaming work (which is partly true) but really because it’s almost impossible to hide the fact that you’re not eating at an afternoon tea.

i am simultaneously worried that the nutritionist is going to read my form and refuse to see me, not least as my bmi has slipped into the underweight category in the last couple of day, that she’ll think i’m eating far too much and/or that she’ll look at me and think i’m lying because i’m surely too fat for what i claim to eat. i realise that all of these thoughts are totally contradictory and that is one of the things that i find hardest to deal with about having an eating disorder. or, at least, the way in which i live with my eating disorder.

how can reconcile the part of me which pours over cookbooks to find new recipes to try with the part of me which once weighed a chocolate button so i could accurately calculate (and log) how many calories it had?

the part of me which spends hours saving images of food on pinterest with the part of me which knows how much each pair of my pyjamas weighs so i can account for any differences when i hope on the scales in the morning?

the part of me which loves standing over the stove stirring a risotto or filling the kitchen with the scent of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies with the part of me that can’t even contemplate eating a slice of avocado toast with some friends on a lazy weekend morning?

none of this makes any fucking sense.

{title quotation from orson welles}