Mental Health Awareness Week: Self-Love

As I mentioned in my previous post, my campaign for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is centred around self-love. Today I’m tackling the subject of body positivity.

At 17, I developed a rather unique eating disorder – it was a mixture of starving myself and binge eating. I used to wake up at 5pm just before my parents got home from work, eat 3 packets of crisps and loads chocolate, have a couple cans of fizzy drink and then wait for them to come home. Because I’d be awfully bloated from this binge eating, I never used to be able to eat dinner properly in the evenings with my parents, so I’d normally end up crying at the dinner table because I was sad about the eating junk food earlier in the day. It was a vicious cycle – wake up late, binge eat unhealthy food and then cry about it after. 

I started to lose weight rapidly and my parents delicately suggested it might be time for me to seek help with my weight and food issues. After undergoing intense psychotherapy for about a year, I grew to understand that I was essentially punishing my body for battling against itself after I had my gallbladder taken out at 16. Because I struggled to recover from the surgery in time to sit my a-levels, I performed rather catastrophically in my first year of college. Thus, to retain some sense of control over my life, I decided to limit what I ate in order to control my weight. When I started seeing quick results from this awful diet of mine, I ran with it because it gave me a sense of achievement. The way I looked at it back then was, “maybe I failed my a-levels, but at least I’m one step closer to being a side 8.” I had a terribly unhealthy and negative relationship with my body which in turn affected my mental well-being detrimentally. 

7 years later and I finally have a better relationship with my body. My eating habits have dramatically improved – I’m eating minimum 2 meals a day instead of 1! Breakfast is still a sticking point for me as I hate eating when I wake up in the mornings but I’m always eating something during the day, every other hour or so at least! I’ve learnt to accept that whilst I’m battling health issues with my body at present, and having done so since 16, I shouldn’t be punishing my body for its struggles. I should be celebrating my physical and mental achievements. Going through the pain, the surgeries, the countless procedures that I have over the years has made me a stronger person. It sounds incredibly cliche but it took being sick to appreciate how healthy I am now. 

Since I started personal training in the gym, I’m also painfully aware of the bad habits that can be picked up from excessive and obsessive exercise. My personal trainer kept me in check every now and then, even in lockdown, to keep me motivated to exercise whenever my body allowed me to, and maintaining a healthy, balanced lifestyle has always been at the heart of our training together. Everyday I’m trying to ensure I don’t go overboard with my exercise routines – I give myself rest days every other day to ensure my body isn’t being worked into overdrive. With my current condition and the painful periods during that time of the month, I’m unable to move from my sofa let alone work out so I make sure I give myself a week’s rest, too. 

My personal training sessions have taught me that it’s not about looking my best, it’s fundamentally about feeling my best. Whatever my reflection shows me in the mirror doesn’t compare to what I think of myself from the inside. In an era defined by social media which essentially only reflects the best moments of people’s lives which they choose to share, we find ourselves subconsciously comparing our progress to one another. With the rise of fitness content creators comes a dangerous need to look as good as they do, to eat as clean as they do, and to work as hard as they do at maintaining a conventionally attractive physique created by society, yet deemed perfect by our own selves. Even I find myself wishing I was as toned as a Gymshark model but I have to remind myself that I am not an athlete – I have not been training rigorously. Any progress I make should be celebrated, not belittled in comparison to that of others online. We spend so much time thinking about how we can improve our appearances when our focus should be on improving our state of mind, our perceptions of ourselves. I have good days and bad days just like everyone else, but I’m grateful to be surrounded by so many people who are such positive sources of light and encouragement in my life. They celebrate my successes, support my achievements and promise me a safe place to land if I ever fall into the trap of feeling low. 

Your self-worth is defined only by how you see yourself, and the relationship you have with your body. If you want to exercise 7 times a week, you can but you don’t have to. If you want to eat healthy food everyday of the week you can, but again, you don’t need to. Listen to your body and work out what’s best for your mind. Our bodies are essentially vessels for the mind and we ought to treat both with simultaneous care, love and respect. 

A x

Lockdown Update!

The past few weeks have been filled with the chaos and fear of uncertainty, and an unprecedented lack of control over the events around us. Human nature dictates that the one thing we despise more than anything is being told we cannot do what we want – the element of choice has been inexplicably stripped from us. This is something I think we’re all finding incredibly difficult to wrap our heads around. Routine has been forbidden, our entire way of life temporarily jeopardised. And with that, comes a distinct increase in anxieties over the near and distant future.

For someone that normally thrives off routine and structure, this lockdown as thrown me ever so slightly. Not going to work every day, hitting the gym and not being able to socialise has proven hugely challenging, but here are a few ways I’ve kept myself busy and thus, somewhat sane.

Reading – I used to consume books within a day way back when, so I’ve recently started re-reading some of my favourites which had a profound impact on me either growing up or more recently, from poetry to prose. I find losing myself in a book keeps me centred and acts as a very therapeutic form of escapism.

Fitness – three months ago I began my personal training journey after quitting my job at the last minute (one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!). Having the sessions come to an abrupt halt significantly impacted my mood recently so I’ve decided to start doing home workouts. They take a lot of improvisation, but I was thankfully blessed with an incredible personal trainer who still motivates me every day – I’ve incorporated all of our prior training into these home workouts as best as physically possible, using weights and resistance bands where feasible. Not going into work every day has meant I have much more time to devote to exercise, and since introducing a routine of training every other day, I find myself feeling much healthier and happier, physically and mentally.

Writing – I’ve always considered writing to be my greatest form of therapy since I was a teenager, and during times such as this there is no greater way to comprehend any negative (and positive!) thoughts and feelings than writing them all down. Even if it means keeping a journal, or jotting things down when feeling overwhelmed, expressing them in words rather than keeping it bottled inside has worked wonders.

Spending time with family – I don’t think I’ve ever spent as much time with or even seen my parents as I have done in the past two weeks! But it’s been a blessing to sit with them every day and talk properly. We motivate each other and pick one another up if we’re ever down and I believe in a time like this, that is more important than ever.

Leaving the house once a day – endometriosis has somewhat put a spanner in the works with this one as I do enjoy just going for a simple walk in the park every now and then. When I’m in a lot of pain, or even when I’m not, I sometimes try to distract myself with being around green space and nature, which really does work wonders when you’re stuck inside each day! Being quarantined indoors makes you appreciate nature and all it has to offer.

Stay in touch with friends – I’ve come to appreciate my loved ones even more so now! Even just checking in with each other is so important, but true friends provide stability in times like this. If it’s for a gossip, a vent or just to chat about being bored, it’s nice to have someone on the other end of the phone in the same position, who understands and listens.

As I said before, there is great fear in such uncertainty. Not being able to do what you want can at times take a huge toll on your mental wellbeing. But staying indoors means saving the lives of our loved ones and the vulnerable, so it’s really a no brainer. If we can survive this, we can survive anything. And it makes the future that much more promising.

Stay safe, stay healthy and stay positive (and stay INSIDE!).

A x

“Work Smarter, Not Harder.”

Sigh.

I was on Facebook not too long ago and came across someone saying this. Multiple times. And I began to get increasingly frustrated with its context.

In this age of crash dieting, juice diets and fitness fads, there’s a slight issue which continues to crop up on my social media accounts and hits a nerve. Recently, I was told about a new “way to lose weight.” I’m not going to name the company but their suggested method of losing weight is to take their “capsules” which supposedly contain “30 kinds of fruits, berries and vegetables” that you take daily. Instead of eating food during the day, they advise you to drink their milkshakes which are also “plant based and a healthy alternative to food.”

In other words, you pop two pills and drink milkshakes all day so the weight will drop.

I have never tried diet pills and I most certainly don’t intend to, so I cannot personally admit or deny their effectiveness. However, I have read reports by scientists, health experts and a personal trainer who have all agreed that this system does NOT work. You are essentially starving your body of necessary food groups such as fat and carbohydrates in order to shed a couple of pounds. The worse aspect; the pounds aren’t actually shed at all, but put back on once you eat normally.

In 2014 I developed an eating disorder. I stopped eating completely, lost so much weight that the doctors became concerned and recommended a complete lifestyle change.I also required therapy to work through and come to terms with what I was suffering with – I’ve underlined the word because going through something as damaging as an eating disorder never really leaves you. It remains in the back of your mind as a constant reminder of what once was: in some ways, it still haunts me. When I look at pictures of myself on holiday, I grimace at the bones sticking out. It’s one of the worst things anyone can go through.

That is why I’m so against diet pills and more specifically, the idea of someone starving themselves to lose weight. Furthermore, over the last year or so, I’ve managed to turn my life around despite all the health conditions I’ve run into along the way. Like most people, I work my absolute hardest to be a healthy weight and a healthy person in general. They do say that if you’re not soaked in sweat, you’re not doing it right! There’s simply no easy way to lose weight.

The company I referred to above work as promoters for their products; their employees talk about the benefits of their products and how becoming a part of their team is the best thing you can do. Ultimately, they’re working from home (ideal, right?) by selling products to desperate women predominantly. They also get paid a HELL of a lot for conning customers. This is where I saw the titled remark of working smarter rather than harder, and thus is the point of my article.

Duping customers is not in my nature and certainly won’t open as many doors as my current job has. Starving my body will not make me as healthy as doing exercise and eating healthy will.

A x