Faking My Health

I have read so many articles written by people, mainly women, in the fitness industry who have suffered from eating disorders. The story always goes, “I wanted to get lean, look good, be fit… abused food… binged and starved… banned carbs… cardio… cardio… more cardio… no energy and training suffered… became depressed and withdrawn…” And then suddenly! “I got into lifting/crossfit/bodyweight training and I ate to perform! I added carbs back into my diet! I ate more and trained less! Look at me now I am RIPPED and I squat two times bodyweight!” And every one applauds. Not that I am trying to belittle anyone who has had this experience or written about it. I just don’t think it’s that simple.

No one ever talks about relapse. No one ever admits that after they “recover” they suddenly find themselves spiralling back towards being so out of control in a desperate attempt to gain control. It can creep back ever so slowly. You feel a bit stressed. You start feeling unhappy in yourself, unhappy with yourself. Training isn’t giving you that same high. Maybe your nutrition is off? So you cut down on quantity or you reduce carbohydrates or lower fat. Next step, start separating foods back into good and bad. Safe and unsafe. If you only eat certain foods, specific amounts, then training will be better, you will look better and you can stay in control. Eating less is giving you more… You are back in the red. You are back being ruled by your head and unable to listen to your body. You develop rituals, and rely on these to feel in control and keep your stress levels low. But you are stressed all the time because keeping your food perfect is exhausting. All of a sudden you realise your relationships are breaking down. The worst part is you don’t even care.

I have Bulimia. I have recovered. And then relapsed. I got better again. Then relapsed. Recovered. Relapsed. Relapse. My biggest fear is being overweight. Even though I’ve never actually been overweight. That’s how it started. It was purely body image. I couldn’t starve myself so I taught myself how to be sick. As things began to get more severe and my eating disorder progressed it became emotional. A response to stress, anxiety, feeling unhappy, feeling worthless and a form of self harm. It’s been part of my life since I was 17. There have been periods of time when I’ve been severely underweight, completely disassociated from anything going on around me. But the one thing that I feel makes Bulimia so awful is that most of the time it’s completely invisible. It isn’t always about weight loss and body image. The behaviours are a result of emotional triggers. So you can eat a normal diet, and still binge and throw up. And no one knows. You learn tricks to keep it hidden erasing all evidence that it ever happened. I have spent the whole of 2013 and 2014 trying to keep it a secret from everyone. Because I am struggling but I let people think I am strong.

When I was in California last year, I got my diet clean and gave up caffeine. I had a lot of support with this. I figured I was done with the eating disorder, that I was finally able to let it go. But I under-ate and I lost weight, which was probably one of the worst things that could have happened. Because when I got home I immediately went back into the mindset of “now I’ve lost weight I must not gain it back”. So I started monitoring my food obsessively. I started to eat less, and so I had less energy, was more hungry, and thought about food more. I was back in the real world having to deal with life and I couldn’t keep it up. I started being sick again. So one more time I failed in being able to get better.

Until last year I didn’t realise just how ingrained these behaviours are in me. Put me back in the environment where things escalated and I revert back to old habits. I was responding to bad feelings with bad thoughts and acting it out. I was experiencing a psychological and physical addiction to it. It was the one thing I could use to completely shut myself off from everything going on around me. In those moments I felt like someone else, and the voice that begged me not to do it me not to do it becomes muted. I was always fully present in these moments.

So what are some of the consequences of 8 years of an eating disorder? I’ve damaged my jaw from constantly forcing my hand in my mouth, I’ve scraped skin off the back of my hands with my teeth, I’ve weakened my oesophagus, the back of my throat is scarred from all the acid, I’ve ruptured the blood vessels around my eyes, made my nose bleed, thrown up blood, caused insomnia due to electrolyte imbalance and dehydration, erratic moods, lost my periods, and really it’s a miracle that I still have all my teeth considering how regularly they were rinsed with stomach acid. This is the real reason why my digestive system is so damaged and why my metabolism isn’t functioning the way it should be. And that’s the irony. The very thing I want is the thing I’ve been stopping myself from having. My health.

At the time a big part of me didn’t care that this was happening because I could still do handstands, ridiculous stretches and other movements. I could post pictures on Facebook showing people how strong I was and how skilled I was, doing it for completely the wrong reasons. I didn’t post a photograph from a few hours later, crouched over a toilet with my hand pushed down the back of my throat, vomit dribbling down my arm, with a comment saying “Look how good I am at throwing up!” You always want to portray the best version of yourself to other people. Show the best parts of yourself. This is the most disgusting, humiliating part of me and it makes me a hypocrite to try and advise people on their own health.

I’d become so used to these feelings and behaviours that I stopped trying to stop. I figured my eating disorder would always be there and I would always hate my body. Then I moved to another country thinking that would fix my life. Well apparently that never works and I just bought all my issues over with me. But I stopped being sick. Maybe it was the sheer exhaustion of what I was doing to my body. Maybe it was because I was no longer in the same environment. Or maybe I finally allowed myself to hand over some control. Whatever the reasons, I stopped. I was sick the day before I flew out to Japan. I had no idea when I stepped off the plane that I’d left it behind in England.

What I did bring with me was a damaged digestive system, a metabolism that didn’t work properly, a shoulder and wrist injury, broken down muscles and a pretty tired mind. It’s not an exaggeration that I had to start from scratch with my training 6 months ago. I had become so weak. But this is the first time in my life where the desire to be able to perform certain skills and to be able to move my body well is greater than wanting to look a certain way. This is the first time my health is being put first. The more I eat and the less I monitor what I eat, the more my body is changing and adapting positively to training and the stronger I am getting. Strength is all relative and maybe I am not strong compared to a lot of people but I feel strong. That’s something that I haven’t experienced in years. And it’s not the single arm lever or the bent arm stand or touching my feet to my head that has changed the way I see myself, it’s a change in how I feel about myself.

When it comes to recovery I don’t think that training is the answer. I don’t think the “right” diet is the answer either. I think anyone’s experience with an eating disorder is incredibly individual and personal. To really simplify it, it’s based on how you feel about yourself. Freeing yourself from something you have such a strong dependancy on is a slow and complicated process. So for some people lifting a ton of weight is enough to lift self esteem, enough to break their habits and change their belief system. For other people it takes a lot more than that. For some people nothing is ever enough to change things.

I guess my one fear is that there is always a chance it could come back. Always a chance I will get ill again. It’s taken so much to get this far away from being sick, but it only takes making myself sick once for it to start all over again. That’s the part no one wants to admit. For now it’s not part of my life and I have to remember despite the fear, it’s my choice to keep it that way.

I don’t want to fake my health anymore.

Letting go, I am finally seeing things from a different perspective.

UmedaThank you to Laura, for your help, input and support with this post.


Where I Work, Where I Play

I have two jobs. I work for two amazing companies, which gives me two amazing support systems of people who have been training me and teaching me to become better and better at what I do. So far I haven’t written anything about either of these but now I want to share more about this part of my life.

I live and work in Japan for JungleGym. This is where I teach kids, basically how to move and have fun doing it. I get to play with kids. Life at the gym is bright and colourful. It’s my second home and magical things with training happen here. I’m a GMB Trainer but also work for GMB Fitness as an Admin Assistant, answering emails. Here everything is online but it’s also a place I love being part of. Neither of these are jobs I thought I would end up doing but I love both, wouldn’t want to be doing anything else and am so grateful to be learning what I am from them.

Recently I’ve been thinking about how teaching children compares with advising and supporting adults. I get a lot of emails from people asking which programme they should choose or where they should take their training next. These are totally valid and important questions. But how do I know? I often respond with a question “what excites you?”. I want to know when they imagine themselves training what do they see? I want to know about their goals. If they say “Rings excite me and a biggest goal is to achieve a muscle up”, then there, they’ve answered their own question. They just need a bit of guidance or sometimes a lot of guidance, and it’s pretty cool if I can help them figure out what they want.

With children things are different. They don’t need so many complicated reasons why. They are never focused on the end point. (Sorry the end point doesn’t exist anyway). They are only aware of what’s happening right now. I worked that one out by seeing how much I can engage them when I teach. Turns out even when you speak a different language it’s not hard. They just want to play, laugh and do cool things that they can’t do at home. I say to them this month we are going to practice rope climb. We are going to do lots and lots of rope climb. Most of them don’t understand my English but they hear the word “rope” and move from sitting cross legged to seiza as they smile with excitement. They don’t need convincing why they should be doing it. With them it’s simple.

Communication with emailing adults can sometimes be difficult, mostly because it’s through a computer. You have to take on board not only what’s been written, but look at what they think they need and then figure out what they actually need. If I’m reading and replying to an email, meeting that persons needs is the most important thing in that moment. But I have to make sure I communicate with them in a way that I know they will understand and respond to positively. Sometimes when I’m reading back over my responses I can’t believe how many words I put into a sentence to explain something. Maybe it’s the English language or maybe I am overdoing it. Either way I want to make sure I am being helpful and clear so I will use many words if I feel I need to.

Communication with children involves simpler language and is a lot more animated and expressive. But in my case even more so because I am speaking English to Japanese kids. Also try learning and correctly pronouncing 60 Japanese names. It’s been challenging. I’ve had to learn how to put sentences together in a way that they can kind of understand and find words that I know they will understand. I communicate physically through body language, and demonstrating what I am asking them to do. They also feed off your energy. You’d be surprised how much of an impact a smile can have. They liked to be chased, they want attention and interaction, even if they don’t speak the same language. It feels like it has taken me forever to figure all of this out and be able to teach in a way where I am 100% comfortable and relaxed but also excited.

Being able to react and adjust things as you go is a skill I’m learning. I have an outline for my classes each week but I know that depending on the number of children, the age of the children, and the actual children in that class, it’s going to have to be done a certain way. Even with a rough idea things can still change and being able to adapt to this was something I struggled with in the beginning. The same applies to training. You can never guarantee you will be able to follow a programme without having to modify it, without getting an injury or without life getting in the way. I know I will get emails from people asking what to do when they are experiencing difficulties and so I have to be able to think about solutions and they can make changes based on their situation. Always be prepared for things to change. It’s how life is.

So my final thoughts. Adults are great at overthinking. Wanting to do everything and if this can’t be simplified then never able to do anything. Children want to do everything so they are always doing something. Anything and everything you do is going to be beneficial in someway when it comes to moving your body. Goals help give more structure to the path you’re taking but they aren’t essential. The biggest outcome we want is not only a strong body but confidence and a strong mind. We teach kids so if they get in a difficult situation they know what to do. They can protect themselves. If that confidence isn’t built up when you are a child, it’s hard to find it as an adult and so we want others to give us the answers. But the ability to do whatever you want is inside everyone, you just have to find it. When it comes to training, start off keeping things simple, there is no need to overwhelm yourself. Think about play and for a second think like a kid. Forget about looking for “the right thing”, “the perfect programme”. Then trust yourself that you are making positive decisions for yourself. And when you really can’t trust yourself or you get lost or stuck, that’s what we are here for. Any trainer, any coach. Just like I am for the emails flooding in. Just like I am for the kids I teach.