Running on Empty: Bulimia, Food and Positive Body-Image

27 Feb

Those of you who know me in person or have seen the documentary may know that I have bulimia. Last week was eating disorder awareness week, and also –weirdly – a week where I had a bit of a relapse. So, in the spirit of “a problem shared is a problem halved” I thought I would take to the keyboard to write on the subject.

As I have previously said on the documentary, taking the step to being publicly naked (and not having the world respond in horror), as well as seeing, unhindered, the diversity of shapes and sizes the human form has to offer continues to be a very liberating experience for me. But naturism is just one of the strategies I use to manage my eating disorder, I hope to use this blogpost to share a few other methods I use to get by.

For me, bulimia is all about control. Nowadays, I only tend to feel the urge to binge, purge and fast when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed or out of control. Fasting was/is all about control – I might not have had control over how my mind or body worked, but I could at least rigidly control what went into my body. I’ve always kept a list of “allowed foods” and “forbidden foods”, and the more out of control I felt the more slender my list of “allowed foods” became. When I felt really out of control I would crave my “forbidden foods” so much that a binge would result, followed by a purge and consequently more fasting.

To a large extent, going vegan gave my diet a set of rules and order that allowed me to feel in control, whilst giving me a relatively large and varied diet to keep me at a decent weight. There are plenty of other good reasons to go vegan, but it continues to be a really good framework for me to use for managing my relationship with food. It also allows me to have a readily acceptable explanation for having a restricted diet which means I don’t have to out myself as bulimic or have unnecessary awkward conversations with people if I don’t feel up to it.

I won’t deny it – I’m completely obsessed with food. Part of what drew me to help create this blog was the fact that it gives me a reason to think about food all the time in a way that isn’t self-destructive. When you live in a world where you need reasons to eat (beyond being hungry), it’s a pretty good reason to be cooking and eating. As a general rule, I pretty much only ever eat when I’m with others, and so the blog serves as one reason to have people round for dinner.

One of the strategies I use when I’m feeling close to falling back into the habit of fasting is to arrange lunchdates with friends. After my hiccup last week, I arranged breakfast, lunch and dinner dates with housemates and friends for a week after. I usually have at least one meal a day communally with my housemates. I feel blessed to be living with supportive people who I can talk to about these issues, and who I trust to nag me the right amount about eating.
For me, naturism has had a big part to play in helping me manage my eating disorder. Being publicly naked for the first time was absolutely terrifying, but the fact that those around me didn’t react in horror at my body was incredibly liberating and genuinely had a massive impact on my self esteem. However, it was/still is scary as fuck sometimes and isn’t the answer for everyone, but maybe something to consider.

Other strategies I use:

Find other (less harmful) ways to feel in control. When I feel close to relapsing I often go on a cleaning spree, organise my diary (and schedule in some pampering time) and go straight edge.
Communicate. A problem shared is a problem halved, and it really makes a difference to talk to people who are good at listening; whether that is friends, counsellors, etc. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone – get a diary and write it down or submit a postcard to postsecret.
Its OK to give into cravings for “forbidden foods”. If I feel a strong urge to eat a milk chocolate bar, I do. Its better that I eat one milk chocolate bar every now and again, than I wait until a binge and eat 12 mars bars in one sitting. If, like me, vegan food is your “allowed food” than always having a small amount of vegan “milk” chocolate around is a good idea.
Resist self critical thoughts. Any time that you hear *the voice* in your head, talk back to it internally using “your own” voice. By doing that, you don’t just quell the problem of “guilt” in the short term, you start to separate your ill self from your real self and to push the ill part of you further into the past.
– If you need help with finding out information on the net, get a friend to search for you / with you so you can avoid all the “thinspiration” sites.
Employ harm reduction techniques: If you are binging and fasting, make sure you are taking vitamin supplements and keeping hydrated (purging can really dehydrate you). If you are purging, chew antacids to neutralise the extra acid in your mouth afterwards to avoid messing up your teeth. Avoid taking laxatives or diet pills, they can really mess you up!
All your feelings are valid. And if you need to, you should find someone to talk to about them. A lot of people feel like their eating/ body image isnt “serious enough” to ask for help. But if its a problem to you, its a problem!
Remember your friends and family love you! They aren’t perfect but they are usually acting out of concern.
– Check out B-eat, a great support network!

How to be a good ally:

Read up on other people’s experiences of eating disorders. It’s your duty to learn about this sort of thing, don’t expect your friend to be in a position where they can teach you about it. Also, don’t assume that one persons experiences of having an eating disorder will be the same as anyone else’s.
– Foster body-positivism within yourself and your attitude to others. This means avoiding re-enforcing fat-prejudice by saying things like “but you’re not fat”, etc. Organise politically for body-positivism, and actively change the environment around you.
Don’t comment on how your friend’s body looks. Saying “you’re too thin” is still a negative comment about someone else’s body.
– Be there when your friend wants to chat. Employ active listening.
Don’t try to “fix” your friend. Let them know that you are there for them if they need you, and actively make yourself available for them.
Be patient, your friend might get angry or upset with you. Make sure you always employ non-violent communication: i.e. saying “I feel x when y happens” is less accusatory than saying “you make me feel x”
– Power struggles over food and eating are damaging. Consent is important. Never try and force someone to eat if they don’t want to. Avoid criticising your friend’s eating habits, instead focus on their feelings. Your friend is probably making themselves feel guilty and ashamed for the both of you – don’t try and guilt them into eating.
– Another thing to do is to think about how family/household approaches to food may support (or otherwise) the person with an eating disorder. Do you always hang out in the kitchen? Would having dinner in front of the tv help take the pressure off? Some people find being involved in cooking helpful, others not so much. How about skipping or growing your own food?
– Being stressed and upset can only lead to more harm, so make sure you time to pamper yourself and make sure you are OK too!

If you have any other positive tips, stories, resources or advice, please feel free to post in the comments (or even write an article for us!) – Thanks to everyone who has contributed helpful advice so far. Please read the above section on being a good ally before posting a comment, anything that isn’t positive about other people’s bodies will be deleted.

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43 Responses to “Running on Empty: Bulimia, Food and Positive Body-Image”

  1. Riley February 27, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

    Aw, the picture of you and Luke is well sweet. Love you Jess!

    • radicalrabbit February 27, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

      Also: willies! I think this is the first time for the blog!

  2. Riley February 27, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

    Also, one good tip I came across for supportive friends and family is to find positive reinforcement that doesn’t buy into the eating disorder’s logic. I.e. saying “I’m happy to see you looking so full of energy” rather than “But you’re not fat!”.

    Another thing to do is to think about how family/household approaches to food my support (or otherwise) the person with an eating disorder. Do you always hang out in the kitchen? Would having dinner in front of the tv help take the pressure off? Some people find being involved in cooking helpful, others not so much. How about skipping or growing your own food?

    • radicalrabbit February 27, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

      I plonked this in the main post! 🙂 Good advice!

  3. Hannah February 27, 2012 at 5:01 pm #

    Excellent and very thought-provoking post, Jess. xx

  4. Alex February 27, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

    You’re so brave to talk openly about this Jess.

    I’d like to add that seeking professional help is highly advisable for anyone with an eating disorder. I think many people feel that their disorder is ‘not serious enough’ to go to a doctor with; this is not true – if it interferes with your life, then it’s a serious problem. If you had a physical illness, you would be unlikely to think you could cure yourself, but would seek medical help; the same logic should apply to a mental illness. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has a very high success rate for eating disorders, and I’d recommend it to anyone seeking to recover from an ED.

    • radicalrabbit February 27, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

      Yeah, I think I’ll add that into the main post!
      Thanks alex x

  5. hopeandrealityblogLauren February 27, 2012 at 5:16 pm #

    I have bulimia too, and have only started to deal with it despite it ruining my life since I was 8 (I’m 24 now). I went into treatment for 9 weeks and things were looking up. But I’ve been in relapse since last week and I have never felt so physically, emotionally, and mentally unwell. I know I will never be “cured” but I am gutted I relapsed so quickly. Now trying to pull myself out. I would be dead if I didn’t do something when I did. But your article was very good, and I actually watched the ch4 program when I was in treatment! And since I got out I’ve been meaning to write on your blog that it gave me such inspiration. So thank you for that.
    I would also add seek professional help. I have had terrible experiences with GPs and other so called “professionals” but my current GP is great and works with me and where I’m at, and doesn’t talk about weight or body image. EDs are in the head, not what is on the outside which is a common misconception. Anyway I’m rambling, but just wanted to let you know that you have given me inspiration when I was in treatment, and then this coming through on my email has come again at the right time 🙂 take care beautiful. X

    • radicalrabbit February 27, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

      Hey, thanks for getting in touch. I’m glad that sharing my story has been useful to you – I know it has been useful to me to get it off my chest, and I’m glad people are listening! Its something that I have been working up to since starting this blog, and now seemed like the right time.

      I want to tell you to be strong. But I know when your’e in relapse its so damn hard to just be, rather than “be strong/resilient/etc.” But know you have my solidarity, and a licence to ramble as much as you like on here. Take care ❤ x

      • beth February 28, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

        thanks 😀 right back atcha 😀
        x

    • Alexandra Hill March 2, 2012 at 8:23 pm #

      Just to say, don’t give up on being cured! Finding the right doctor/treatment can be a godsend. I was lucky enough to be part of Christopher Fairburn’s CBT trials in Oxford 6 years ago and have been literally 100% ED free for 4 years now 🙂

  6. Ellie February 27, 2012 at 5:16 pm #

    Thank you for this article! It spoke to me in a lot of ways and the advice is brilliant. The defining moment in my recovery from anorexia/bulimia was when I learned to eat intuitively and to practice mindfulness with my eating; i found Susie Orbach’s work really useful for that but there are a lot of other resources. x

  7. beth February 27, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    wow first off nice one for being patient with yourself and working to manage it. its great to have someone come and write the intimate parts of having an eating disorder as i find the media really glam it up! the vegan diet really helped me get back on track but now and again i do relapse and binge (usually not vegan foods – i will defiantly be using your tip on having vegan choc somewhere, as no doubt it lessens the guilt afterwards). I just remind myself this is one binge out of a whole month or however long and tomorrow i will be back on track. i think its brill that you have a close network around you! even if your friends don’t have all the answers someone to sit with or eat with really does reduce the amount of stress or paranoia i get when i know its food time. your blog is really well written and your attitude seems positive. keep working at it man!

    good luck,enjoy your food and never forget to communicate with people close to you 😀

    • radicalrabbit February 27, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

      Thanks! Yeah, I usually binge on the non-vegan foods. Although vegan cream eggs are definitively the way forward for me! 🙂

  8. Kirsty Clark February 27, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

    You rock….probably in more ways than i can imagine. You just seem like gorgeous folk….doing a great thing. And though you are not seeking outside affirmation you have lovely bods too. It’s not about the ups and downs it’s about how we deal with them. This may take us back to the part where you rock! 🙂 x

  9. Paul February 27, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

    I just want to say a big ‘thank you’ for you honesty in this post. I can also strongly recommend the mindfulness approach – it has helped me massively in terms of accepting and tolerating difficult emotions instead of trying to strangle them. Check out Tara Brach’s ‘Radical Acceptance’ on that note. Shared nakedness is another form of self-acceptance of course…

    I don’t know you personally, but I do feel that you are doing brilliantly in how you’re dealing with this. And you’re also helping other people along the way 🙂

  10. Jose February 27, 2012 at 8:07 pm #

    Thank you for your honesty. Enjoyed reading you blog. Best wishes!

  11. Martin B February 27, 2012 at 8:20 pm #

    Great article! I love you all for your honesty and for increasing the awareness of naturism and body confidence. I’ve been a naturist for years and I have a disability, it has actually improved my confidence and I don’t worry about my body image, I’m happy in my skin. Keep up the good work guys! Love Martin x

  12. Helen J Gauder February 27, 2012 at 9:17 pm #

    well said Jess, authentic, caring, thought provoking, supportive and very touching x Ro let me read the blog with (joke) ‘instructions’ not to look at the photo’s but i looked anyway 🙂

  13. Sabine February 27, 2012 at 9:40 pm #

    I think it’s great that you have the courage to write this and tell us about how you’ve managed your relapse.
    I’m sure it will be helpful to a lot of people.
    🙂

  14. veganactivist February 27, 2012 at 10:21 pm #

    Thank you for your bravery.

    I find that veganism has helped me, as well, in my issues with food and self-esteem. Strange how the discipline of avoiding animal products for ethical reasons has this ‘side benefit’ of discipline and rules for those with eating disorders, but if it works, it works. It’s a more positive way of looking at nourishment, too.

    All the best on your journey~

  15. STAN February 27, 2012 at 10:46 pm #

    Wonderful article, naturism is good encouraging one to look after the body. K get occasional problems with depression in winter and that can lead to taking on unhealthy foods, even today m y optician has advised that I need more fruit and veg

  16. naturistreview February 28, 2012 at 3:56 am #

    I can say many things about your post, but the best is probably thank you. Your post will help a lot of people.

  17. naturistreview February 28, 2012 at 3:59 am #

    PS> can I re-post your article on my blog with full attribution? I think it will help a lot of people.

    • radicalrabbit February 28, 2012 at 9:52 am #

      As long as the post links back to here, thats fine x

  18. Reino Göransson February 28, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    About body-image and the needless need for Clothes i think i may have a slogan:
    “Clothes is a Trap Set to Humiliate You”

  19. Joe February 28, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    You’re both brave and wonderfully self-aware Jess. Vulnerable and exposed but emotionally stronger than you (may) think. Your honesty is awesome.
    I wonder if there is a connection for you between a psychotherapeutic need to talk, explain, expose yourself and strip away and the value you find in naturism? As if you’re daring people to look away, risking rejection, and to your welcome surprise they don’t.
    I was in analysis for five years and my “cure” turned out in the end to be simple – to love myself more, accepting who I was and that lead me to love and to empathise with others more too.
    Seems to me you have a tremendously supportive network of housemates and people responding to this blog who love you lots. Also I reckon you’d make an intuitive counsellor yourself. Anyway keep listening to your own inner voice – and face down the voice! It’s the one that is risk-adverse, hates change and wants you to stay mired and stuck. Here’s a big hug for the journey.

  20. naturistreview February 28, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

    Reblogged this on Naturist Review and commented:
    “Naked Vegan Cooking” has graciously allowed for the repost of this article. Thank you Naked Vegan Cooking for making a difference.

  21. John February 28, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

    Oh my. And I thought you were just a young guy who’s getting a good start on not being overweight as the years pass! (Similar to the way I was, though I’ve always been a normal eater). But yes to naturism as a way to validate one’s own body. It ought to be prescribed everywhere.

    Among bodies, there’s a lovely variety out there, and even as the world gets more crowded, there’s room for all of us. And you know, we are meant to eat in order to maintain that body: if we’re lucky, we get enough food, and if we’re really lucky, we’ll get food that we can enjoy eating.

  22. Stewart Lever February 28, 2012 at 6:11 pm #

    It takes a lot of courage to share our deep thoughts & emotions so, give yourself a hug!
    But my personal experience in dealing with the death of my Anne 10 years ago confirmed that when I talk about my pain, people were there to support me.
    I found writing about my feelings helped me immensely, mostly songs & a radio play. Being naturists, our coping with Anne’s mastectomy after her breast cancer was easier than both of us thought. (smiling) I remember both of getting the giggles when the nurse showed Anne how to stick on her pink silicone boob!

    Carry on being beautiful Jess.
    Stewart 🙂

  23. Emmy Crooks February 29, 2012 at 2:47 am #

    Thank you for this article! The advice to respond to that niggling and entirely unhelpful mental voice with my own was fantastic, and something I’ll put into practice.

  24. Fay March 6, 2012 at 12:04 am #

    I stumbled across your blog and I just wanted to thank you so much for sharing your story. I have suffered with bulimia for 12 years and am also vegan. Like you, I have found veganism a hugely positive way of helping me cope. I identified with so much of what you said and I felt compelled to write and tell you how much I appreciated you talking so openly. Bulimia is often shrouded in so much secrecy and shame, but by speaking about it, maybe it loses some of its power over us.

    How very brave and beautiful you are!

  25. Joe March 9, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    I’ve just come across a possibly helpful organisation. Their website has free downloadable advice and they offer a Manchester-based peer mentoring service. Sounds good. It’s Anxiety UK at: http://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/professionals/ (PS: I don’t work for them….)

  26. louise March 18, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

    you guys are seriously beautiful. ignore any negativity, its just jealousy from people who wish they had the confidence with their bodies that you have. loving the riot dont diet mantra.

  27. PlantPot July 20, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    I wanted to say thank you so much for writing this – and to all of you for this blog in general. As a long time vegetarian and aspiring vegan who is currently in the grips of anorexia, this sort of thing is exactly what I need to read. It seems most people are incredibly negative about the link between eating disorders and veganism (and in fact view them as almost synonymous). Do you happen to have any links to any other blog, academic or medical sites that deal with issues in a non-critical way? I know I will have a fight on my hands convincing people that my veganism is due to a desire live more ethically, and that it could actually be helpful to my recovery, and I want to be armed with information supporting this! Thank you again. 🙂

  28. Laura July 25, 2012 at 11:53 pm #

    This is truly inspirational, well the whole website is really but knowing that you have an ed and can still embrace nudity is mindblowing for me. I’ve struggled with my weight and body image for years, binged, purged, starved and the thought of showing my body to anybody makes me feel quite sick…I hope one day I can and its people like you who give people like me the courage to change. So thank you.

  29. Stephanie January 2, 2013 at 1:15 am #

    I just want to say how fantastic I think you are for being so open about your illness. I to suffer with bulimia and have been in intensive counselling the last few months.
    I’ve just watched the documentary and I hope one day I’ll be as brave as you to maybe do something similar! Start riots not diets!!!!!!!! X

    • radicalrabbit January 6, 2013 at 1:54 pm #

      Glad you enjoyed the programme Steph! 🙂
      It took me a while to get there but I’m sure you’ll get there too. Much love ❤ x

  30. Kayleigh January 18, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

    This is an old article, but I only just read it. I am actually mostly recovered from my bulimia now, although I still have the odd relapse and find myself making excuses for eating habits that are really not okay. I think that eating a vegan diet is actually really good for me because I don’t have the guilt about the cruelty and environmental issues with animal products, and also a lot of the food I cook just feels really healthy and nourishing, even if it’s made out of peanut butter or some other high-fat vegan food. It helps me to think of food in terms of its nutritional value and how it keeps my body healthy.

    Anyway really, I just wanted to say that it’s a good article and also that I used to think that I’d spend the rest of my life binging and purging until either it killed me or I killed myself, but now bulimia feels more like something that will always be there, but something that I now have the strength to manage most of the time. Hopefully anyone else suffering from an eating disorder will feel the same way (or better) about their illness in future too. It is possible to get better.

  31. mark December 15, 2013 at 6:19 am #

    great to have you talk about about the issue since few guys ever talk about it. great to see you guys with so many positive messages about body image and food issues, and great recipes and friends around.

    thanks

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