Is What You Eat Making You Ill?

Food

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To say I have always had a complicated relationship with food would be an understatement. Me and food have been in a volatile, long-term relationship since I can remember, while various phases of my life have come and gone, good old food has been my ever loyal companion. It has certainly not been a relationship lacking in passion, it has destroyed me and then it has helped to heal me – we have both hated and loved one another, sometimes to dangerous extremes and often at the same time. It’s been rocky, but food has never given up on me.

There’s nothing quite like being diagnosed with a chronic illness to make you re-evaluate some stuff and for me, a huge part of this stuff was my diet. While there is little scientific evidence to show that diet has any direct impact on the disease, there is no question that food affects the symptoms. The problem is that these are different for every sufferer, for every individual it is a case of trial and error and painstaking food diaries until you eventually figure out what works for you – and even then this is subject to change. So my life became centred around food once again, only this time for entirely different reasons. After years of counting calories, shunning food groups and dreading meal times, now all I wanted was to be able to eat a what I considered to be a ‘normal’ meal. It’s kind of ironic really – in that cruel way life likes to laugh at you from time to time – eating was literally making me ill.

Knowing as you do by now my affiliation with food, it won’t surprise you that when I heard about a food intolerance test a local health food shop was offering, you couldn’t sign me up fast enough. Admittedly, people are sceptical of such things and rightly so, I’m not entirely sure how it works myself, although I’m led to believe it has something to do with the pulse. These tests aren’t cheap (decent ones, anyway) and they’re not as reliable as a medical diagnosis, but they don’t pretend to be either. They are aimed at people who suffer from a range of medical conditions, from IBS to Eczema and are there to help you figure out if what you’re eating is worsening your symptoms or making you ill. Although my nurse may be inclined to disagree, food does have an impact on the body – it can improve symptoms just as it can worsen them – sure a gluten-free diet may not be as affective as a heavy course of steroids but looking to the long-term it’s a more realistic approach (plus, its side-effects don’t include leaving you looking like you’ve shoved too many Maltesers in your cheeks.)

I left the test feeling fantastic, brimming with information and advice – given to me by a very helpful dietician – about how to manage my illness, what supplements I should be taking and the actual effect that food could have if I played by the rules. It was the best decision I ever made, until I sat down, studied my results properly and realised that I could no longer eat anything. When I say anything, I mean gluten, dairy and sugar, which to someone who loves bread, pasta and cheese as much as I do, is basically everything. As well as the main culprits, it also turns out I am “sensitive” – the correct non-medical term, as they are not diagnosed allergies – to sweet potatoes, mushrooms, beef, grapes and strawberries to name just a few.

A few weeks down the line, I wish I could say I have embraced this new lifestyle with open arms and now exist on a completely free-from diet filled with plants and beans, but I am only human. It’s tough and it’s a work-in-progress that I will no doubt share with you if you care enough to follow. However, whilst I regularly rue the day I ever took the food intolerance test – particularly as the boyfriend devours his double cheeseburger with sweet potato fries – it was certainly an eye-opener. As mere human beings food is a huge part of our lives but we really have no idea what we are putting into our bodies or what the hell is going on inside there. More and more people are announcing their intolerances and cutting out certain foods, even if their reasoning is as simple as it makes them feel better, we’re starting to realise that food isn’t just fuel, it is medicine.

In an ideal world, I would have everyone take a food intolerance test, but then in an ideal world I would be able to eat pasta for every meal without consequence. I believe we could all benefit from knowing if what we eat is making us ill. In the meantime, my love-hate saga with food continues, but the relationship is blossoming – I’ve purchased recipe books and even started to bake. I’m slowly learning to love the food that loves me back, it’s not easy but I’m in it for the long-haul this time.

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The Big Fat Lie

News

nicole

“Big Fat Lie” is an incredibly accurate way to describe an eating disorder, which is exactly why, I imagine, Nicole Scherzinger has chosen this as the title for her new album in which she addresses her own struggles with an eating disorder.

Nicole has been open about discussing her struggles with eating disorders since 2012 when she first spoke out about her battle with Bulimia on VH1’s Behind The Music, but recently she spoke to Digital Spy about overcoming the disease and how her fight has helped make her the success she is today.

“[That fight] is a big part of who I am and what has gotten me here. And what has gotten me to this place of strength.”

Nicole has done what unfortunately so few sufferers find the strength to do, and has found a form of therapy in talking and singing about her struggles.

“I realised that, even though it was a hard subject for me to talk about, when I did I was able to help other people and inspire other people.”

For me, this quote completely sums up the fact of the matter. It is incredibly painful for someone to talk about what they’ve been through, whether they are in the public eye or not, but it is those who do, and those who recognise how important it is to do so, who can inspire change. I completely applaud Nicole for writing music so openly about her eating disorder, when celebrities come forward about their own issues, it gives me almost a feeling of unity. It doesn’t matter how “famous” someone may be, the pain they have felt is as real as yours or mine. The influence which celebrities have on society means that when they speak out they not only raise awareness but also offer reassurance to sufferers in the knowledge that they can identify with the same battles. I am thankful to Nicole for recognising this and being brave enough to speak out. I’ll be giving Big Fat Lie a listen when it comes out on the 20th October.

A Girls Gotta Eat… Indonesian Cuisine

Food

Wherever you are in the world, trying the local cuisine is one of the best parts of travelling, it can’t and shouldn’t be avoided. Trying different cuisine can be daunting for even the most adventurous foodie, particularly when you have never come across it before – and quite often are not entirely sure what it is! However, there is a buzz to experimenting with the unknown which I have grown to love, despite doubts which have held me back in the past.

While in Indonesia, I did something very out of character and took a cooking class – until now the furtherest I had ventured in the kitchen is adding mushrooms to my pasta bakes at Uni. With the guidance of a very talented local chef, I immersed myself in all parts of the course, from buying the -very fresh- ingredients at the local market, and experience in itself, to learning how to cook Tempe (fermented soya beans) to finally trying all of the finished products at the end – which turned out to be some of the best dishes I ate over the entire trip.

Here is a little taster of the dishes from that day, my next challenge is to try them at home!

 

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Fresh ingredients being bought from the local market

 

Ayam Goreng (Fried Chicken)

Ingredients:
1kg Chicken
1/2 litre Coconut Oil
1 litre Water

Spices:
5 pieces shallots
5 cloves garlic
50g palm sugar
10g tamarind
salam leaves (bay leaves)
salt and pepper

Method:
1.Wash chicken
2.Crush the spices until fine
3.Boil chicken in 1 litre of water and add all spices, cook until the chicken is half done
4.Fry the chicken until crispy
5.Serve with sambal

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Chicken boiling while Sayur Lodeh is prepared

 

Sayur Lodeh (vegetarian)

Ingredients:
50g long beans/green beans
50g spinach
50g tofu
50g pumpkin/aubergine
300ml coconut milk
3tbsp cooking oil

Spices:
3 shallots
3 cloves garlic
1 red chilli
1 green chilli
1tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
3 tsp white sugar
2 bay leaves
2cm galangal root

Method:

1.Wash spinach and long beans and put to one side
2.Cut long beans to about 3cm in length
3.Cut tofu into cubes 1cmx1cm
4.Peel the pumpkin/aubergine and cut into cubes
5.Chop the shallots and garlic into thin slices
6.Heat oil in a pan and fry the shallots and garlic
7.Add coconut milk, then herbs and hard vegetables
8.Half cook the vegetables and add salt, pepper and sugar
9.Finally, add spinach and cook all vegetables until soft
10.Serve in a soup dish with rice and fried tempe.

 

Sambal

Ingredients:
2 shallots
2 cloves of garlic
5 red chillis
1/2 tomato

Method:
1.Fry all ingredients together with cooking oil
2.Crush together until fine
3.Serve as a dip

 

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Serve prepared sambal with crackers or sliced, fried potatoes

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…and enjoy!

Be Mindful for Better Mental Health

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The word Mindfulness is being heard a lot more as part of our everyday language recently, as it has become a successfully proven counselling technique for mental health recovery, but also an increasingly popular technique, used by many for coping with the stress of every day life. Mindfulness was first recommended to me by a dietician about a year ago, as part of my recovery process, but it wasn’t until I tired a mediation class in Yogyakarta, Indonesia that I saw the full extent of how effective therapies such as this can be.

The setting for the class was a stunning Chinese Buddhist temple, in the heart of Yogyakarta, the city which locals and now me, believe to be the heart of Indonesia. To say I was apprehensive as I entered the temple, where there was only the rich, enchanting colours and the flicker of candles for company, would be an understatement. I had not expected it to be a particularly easy experience, but as I cautiously wandered further in, I started to wonder just how much I wanted to try this meditation malarkey.
Eventually I came across a local man, who looked just as confused as I did at my being there, and he led me to the back of the temple where two other local women were waiting for the mediation session.

“It’s our first time too” one of ladies said, in English.

My apprehension turned to relief. As with everywhere and everyone I encountered in Indonesia, it takes barely the time spent saying hello for the locals to make you feel welcomed and comfortable.

The session itself was led by a very tall, very limber local man. As would be expected, we sat, cross legged on cushions facing him, the lights dimmed as he talked us through the initial process of relaxing the body and then the mind. Then we began meditating. I urge you not to be put off by the term meditating, as always there are pre conceived ideas and much scepticism, but if you take away all the judgements and pre conceptions, it is really quite simple. Meditation is different for everyone and it takes many different forms but basically, it is a process in which you completely relax both your body and mind, in order to improve your mental health, clear your mind and live a simpler, clearer life. Still sound silly now?

For me, there was nothing spiritual about meditating. Obviously, it is an important part of some religions and other beliefs about it may be much more extreme, but the fundamental thinking and meaning behind it is something which I feel I could definitely apply to my own life, and no doubt many others could too.

I won’t lie, it is incredibly challenging, to completely empty your mind and remain focused for such a period of time is something which takes endurance and an awful lot of practice and I admired those at the class who had the mental strength to overcome any physical or emotional pain which crept upon them.

After the session was over I was left feeling surprised by my own reaction to it. I realised that during the mediation I had felt very connected to, and at peace with body. I had felt like I had control of my body and that it was a part of me, just as much as my mind is. Afterwards I became aware of how detached from my body I usually am, for me it is a shell I must exist in, a very flawed shell at that. For the first time in a very long time I wanted to take care of my mind and body alike, as though they were one. Me.

I know how ridiculous this sounds to the sceptics reading, who are probably thinking I went away travelling and "found myself." I too would of be one of them if someone else was to write this. It isn’t for everyone, but it is something to think about, and perhaps something that could be used to improve mental health in the chaotic, modern world we live in.>

Bikini Body, Why Bother?

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So tomorrow I will be jetting off to Indonesia. This means many things are happening for me right now, excitement, nerves, and perhaps the most dominant, massive body image worries. It is not unusual for me, or a lot of women, to suffer with body confidence issues in the weeks leading up to a holiday, particularly if that holiday includes sun, swimming pools and a lot of flesh being on show. Usually around this time I would be losing my mind (no pun intended) counting calories and desperately trying to resist carbs whilst checking my physique in the mirror 27 times a day. This time however, I have tried not to take this approach with my pre-Asia preparation. Though I might still be plagued with self doubt, the thought of slipping into my bikini provoking sheer terror, this time I have bypassed the two week panic fast – which usually happens when I realise I’m running out of time and must do something drastic and quick – and have just, gone to the gym.

As a result, I feel toned, healthy and positive. I don’t feel exhausted, depressed, lightheaded or any of the horrific side effects that come with restriction and starvation. My body is nowhere near how I would like it to be before I bare almost all on a beach, but it is healthier and therefore it is better.

My point is, as the time approaches when everyone starts the annual marathon to the perfect bikini body, the best advice I can offer is exercise, and don’t panic. Don’t let your mind drag you back into old habits just because the rest of the world seems to be on the latest 6 week fad diet. The beauty of overcoming an eating disorder is that it puts you in a better, stronger position when you come out the other side. You have a heads up over the rest of the serial dieters, you know first hand that fasting and diets don’t work and you are learning to accept yourself the way you are.

New Statistics, Still No Closer to the Truth

Food, News

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As concerning as it is, it always restores a little faith in me to see eating disorders being talked about and addressed nationally in the press, as I fear coverage of these issues is getting dangerously thin on the ground. This is until I read further and discover just a bunch of more empty figures and lack of solution. Perhaps this is why, after reading such news reports, I find myself charged with conflicting emotions and opinions, but all eventually pointing to the same thing, despair.

The fact that the number of eating disorder hospital admissions has increased by 8 per cent, for me, can be seen in a number of different ways. The thing that automatically springs to mind is that this is a negative, although unsurprising outcome, but on reading into it I came to the conclusion that this is actually, a pointless statistic.

For one thing, those 2,560 admissions do not take into account those who are treated as out-patients, as the majority are, and even more importantly, the many people who suffer from eating disorders and do not seek help or receive treatment at all. For me, the truth and the real seriousness of the problem lies with the unknown numbers and this is where our attention should be focused.

Though the rise in admissions could be seen as a positive thing, the fact that more people are seeking help could mean that awareness of the seriousness of eating disorders and the treatment available has increased, this is only, in my opinion, a weak possibility. As much as I would hope this to be the case, the truth is much more likely to be sinister, simply more people are suffering.

However, aside from lacking veracity, this collection of data did uncover some very important points. It won’t shock anyone to hear that nine times as many females as males were admitted from 2012 -2013, the most common age of admission for girls was 15, age 13 for boys, but there were children aged five to nine, and even, distressingly, under fives admitted. (I found it particularly interesting – and a bit strange – that The BBC failed to put this last part in their report.) The age of admissions is a shocking statistic which anyone would hope will spur on some serious action to be taken, children under five suffering from these illnesses is something which I and most of society cannot and should not be able to comprehend.

Although the 2,560 people admitted may be the most severely ill, they are receiving the help they need, and this does not provide an accurate reflection of the problem. What about the rest of the story? What about those who are suffering in silence and living in denial? The truth is, eating disorders take many forms, in many people, of many different ages and the scale of this suffering can never be truly expressed in the form of a government statistic. It is real, it is boundless and it needs to be addressed.

Fashion Mocking Mental Health, Now That’s Depressing

Fashion

Imagine my horror when, scrolling down my news feed yesterday, I came across a link to this petition:

https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/urban-outfitters-we-are-urging-you-to-halt-all-production-of-their-eat-less-and-depression-t-shirts-both-of-which-are-glamorizing-mental-illnesses-and-could-have-potentially-devastating-effects-on-your-young-target-audience

The petition is fairly self explanatory, to halt the production of these T-shirts from – what happens to be one of my favourite high street stores – Urban Outfitters. Although Urban Outfitters is famous for its novel, “edgy” brands and slogans, this back and white crop top emblazoned with the word “depression” is more than just a step too far. It is just not okay, and has quite rightly sparked great uproar, accusing them of mocking and glamourising mental illness.

This is not the first time Urban Outfitters has been involved in a scandal like this. In 2010 they sold a T-shirt with the words “Eat Less” in bold letters across the front. The best word I can find to describe the production of these T-shirts, repulsive.

It turns out, regarding the current issue, Depression is actually the name of the clothing brand that designed the T-shirt, however I still struggle to see the need for Urban Outfitters to sell this top in a society where one in four of us will suffer from some form of depression in the next year. Each designer to their own, but I can’t say I agree with mixing a serious mental illness with a lighthearted fashion brand. Fashion is supposed to be fun but not when it is making fun of an illness which destroys lives and especially not when it is at risk of glamourising that illness to young girls. As for the “Eat Less” conundrum, well, you don’t really need me to go into that one.

As someone who feels passionately about both mental illness and fashion (in very different ways, obviously,) I hate to see the two being entwined together in such a sinister and negative way. Fashion has endless potential to portray positivity, inspiration and creativity, I just can’t understand what would possess someone to design these clothes, let alone sell them and – heaven forbid – wear them.

So as it seems this is a recurring sales technique for Urban Outfitters, with various other clothing designs causing outrage over the last few years, it seems there is only one option. I must boycott Urban Outfitters. Just as we would any other brand or media form which shocked and disgusted us in this way. I can’t say I’m not disappointed, the idea is really quite depressing.

Kesha – Showing the World She is a Warrior

Features, News

 

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On Friday, singer Kesha became the latest celebrity to speak out about her eating disorder, when she checked into the Timberline Knolls Centre and gave this statement to the press:

“I’m a crusader for being yourself and loving yourself but I’ve found it hard to practice, I’ll be unavailable for the next 30 days, seeking treatment for my eating disorder … [and] to learn to love myself again. Exactly as I am.”

Being in the public eye, a celebrity always receives much more of a reaction from society when going public with an issue like this, which is why I have to admire Kesha’s bravery and that of the other celebrities who have spoken openly about their problems over the years.

However, going public is a gamble and there are both positive and negative repercussions when a celebrity admits to having an eating disorder. In some cases it can be a valuable and important message to others who may be suffering, particularly young girls who might idolise and look up to these celebrities, and I would like to think that it may encourage others to get help themselves.

However, unfortunately, the media has a tendency to focus on the negative aspects. I have already read a number of online articles scrutinising Kesha’s weight over the years and discussing her previous diet and exercise regimes. The other worry is the glamorisation of eating disorders, which often happens when they appear in the public eye associated with celebrities and supermodels. As much as society has started to move away from the idea that anorexia and bulimia are glamorous lifestyle choices, rather than serious diseases, there is still no doubt that young people and teenagers are susceptible to being influenced by the lifestyles of celebrities.

Although Kesha has done an extremely courageous and brave thing by getting the help she needs and doing it publicly, what her fans and the rest of the general public will never see or hear is the hardship she will face on her journey to recovery and for long afterwards. When celebrities do speak about their eating disorders the common occurrence is for them to emerge from rehab after a short time and as far as anyone is concerned, they are perfectly healthy again, all relationships with food restored. In reality of course this is not the case and Kesha among many others will still be battling her eating disorder behind closed doors for a long time to come.

These factors make me question just how positive celebrities speaking out actually can be, does it paint an unrealistic picture of an eating disorder? In 30 days time when Kesha makes her post-treatment statement to the press, some will know what is going on beneath the bravado, the challenges she has still to face and what recovery from an eating disorder is really like. I hope that her courage continues and that her influence will encourage others to take the same brave steps.

My Walk To Freedom, 2013

Features, Food, Opinion

As 2013 draws to a close, it wouldn’t be right not to finish the year with the obligatory reflective blog post.

For me, this year has been a significant one. I graduated from university, began a new relationship and began recovery from an eating disorder. As much as this year has perhaps been one of the most important and successful years of my life, it certainly hasn’t felt like that a lot of the time.

As proud of myself as I am that I finally sought help for my eating disorder, recovery isn’t easy and it certainly isn’t quick. Recovery is a lonely, confusing and scary place to be. Without the comfort blanket of the eating disorder for reliance, but still without a healthy attitude towards food, it is easy to relapse and even easier to beat yourself up when you do. That was my reasoning for setting up this blog. I wanted to reach out to others in recovery and talk about eating disorders.

This blog is perhaps my greatest achievement of the year. Speaking openly and publicly about eating disorders, is something, which 12 months ago was completely unfathomable to me, yet somehow, at the end of 2013 here I am, writing this post. It may not reach many readers and it may not be a national phenomenon, but to me this blog in a success in its own right. I still have that overwhelming sense of sickness and fear every time I hover doubtfully over the ‘post’ button, and I still worry constantly about how others will react to what I’ve written, and if I’m being really honest, what they will think of me and how they will judge me. Simply the fact that I am writing this blog means that I have spoken out and tried to make a difference, even if I haven’t managed to reach out to anyone else – which I sincerely hope that I have – I have definitely reached out to myself.

I will leave 2013, still worrying about how many calories I ate yesterday, but feeling proud and lucky. Proud, because I have achieved something I never thought possible, and lucky because I have began to overcome something which too many people do not. I will also leave thinking of those who haven’t been as lucky as I have and those who are still suffering and I urge them to have the courage to seek help.

2013 was the year I realised that I hadn’t failed at anorexia and bulimia, I had beaten them.

 

SARAH

The Christmas Fear – Dealing with Overindulgence

Food

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It’s that time again, when the mulled wine is flowing, turkeys are being stuffed and mince pies are everywhere in sight. Christmas, it’s the most wonderful time of the year? Not if you are battling an eating disorder. If you are one of the many sufferers, you are most likely counting down to a time full of dread, guilt and self-hatred.

There are no words I could write that would magically rid these feelings, but here I have offered some (hopefully) helpful advice, on how to deal with overindulgence and disordered eating, this Christmas.

Keep Moving

It’s not always possible or realistic to exercise regularly at Christmas, but if you can, do it. Even if it’s just a stroll on Christmas Day, exercise will keep you feeling positive and healthy even when you’re surrounded by guilt-loaded foods. it will also help keep guilty feelings at bay and discourage binging.

Know Your Limits

Overeating is so easily done at this time of year, it’s cold, it’s a holiday and everyone else is doing it, but it’s important not to lose control of your eating. Know what you can manage and don’t try to push yourself too far at the risk of binging, but at the same time don’t shy away from the kitchen because it’s the easier option.

Don’t Over-Do the Drink

Drinking too much is almost a Christmas Day ritual, but it will only make you lose you inhibitions and therefore your control. Don’t be tempted (as I have been) to drink yourself numb on the run up to dinner to avoid dealing with those unhelpful thoughts and frustrations, it will only make things a great deal worse – trust me.

Recognise the Unhelpful

It’s difficult, but recognising the unhelpful thoughts is almost half the battle. Once you are aware, it is much easier to try and combat them and overcome the guilt pangs.

Distract Yourself

One positive about Christmas Day is that there are usually people around and it can be easier to find a distraction. If you feel urges coming on, try to distract yourself in some way, go for a walk, anything which will help to remove yourself from the situation and gain some perspective.

Stay Strong

Cheesy as it sounds, it’s important to remember how far you have come and the strength you have shown. Don’t let this one day take that your achievements away from you. It’s possible that you will feel out of control but remember that it is just that, one day.

Don’t Give In to the Guilt

This is much easier said than done, and it is unrealistic to not expect any guilt bogging you down, but don’t let it engulf you. After all, it is Christmas and it’s tradition to eat more than you would on a regular day. Providing you stay in control and fight the urge to binge, the guilt you’re feeling is unnecessary, it can be overcome and you can enjoy Christmas.

Seek Support

If you are someone who hasn’t started recovery, and is still suffering with an eating disorder on your own, maybe it’s the time to talk to someone. Coping with these thoughts and feelings can be a lot to deal with, particularly on holidays such as this, it can tend to make you feel even more alone and isolated, increasing the obsession. If, like many, you find yourself plagued with guilt, regret and hatred after Christmas, speak to someone and get help. Don’t spend too much time suffering in silence.