Let’s Talk About Nutritionists

Food, News

With so much conflicting health and diet advice being so casually thrown around, sometimes knowing what to fill your fridge with can be a nightmare. For someone deep in the throws of disordered eating and struggling with its complexities, a qualified nutritionist can seem like a light at the end of the tunnel. No one knows better what we should and shouldn’t be putting in our bodies than a nutritionist right?

Well that’s exactly the problem. Now anyone can become a ‘qualified’ nutritionist (note my use of quotation marks here) by embarking on an online course which takes just 6 days to complete. The issue was flagged up in the recent BBC Three documentary, Clean Eating’s Dirty Secrets – which is well worth a watch, by the way – in which presenter and blogger Grace Victory was able to enrol on the course at literally the click of a button, despite her openly having a history of disordered eating.

It is extremely unsettling that what should be an accomplished and respected profession is so readily accessible. For someone who suffers from troubled eating behaviours, whether presently or in their past, becoming involved in one of these courses is like adding fuel to an already roaring fire. Nourishing the obsession in such a way would undoubtedly have a drastically detrimental affect on their health.

Then you have those who believe that calling themselves a nutritionist entitles them to give sound dietary advice, reeling off long lists of foods to be avoided at all costs and pushing their latest money-making plant based craze on vulnerable followers. Yet what’s worse, is that their so-called qualification means we believe it, however far from accurate and extreme the advice may be.

In the UK, more or less anyone can call themselves a nutritionist because it is not a restricted title. To be a dietician however, requires at least four years of studying at university and to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council. Qualified dieticians undertake clinical placements and are trained to interpret blood results and medical notes, in other words, they can detect other deficiencies and health concerns caused by disordered eating. Even professionals who call themselves nutrition therapists are often self-regulated and have not completed this essential clinical training and are therefore not suitable to work with someone suffering with an eating disorder.

It is vitally important that anyone struggling with eating seeks the right help from someone who is going to give the right advice. Their Instagram bio may describe them as a ‘qualified nutritionist’ but they could just be another wellness blogger.

For those seeking help from a nutritionist, ensure that they are registered and are a full member of the Association for Nutrition.

Weight Is Just A Number

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No one likes stepping on the scales to be faced with the horrible reality that they probably ate too many slices of cake last week. The chances are you’ve had your suspicions about those extra couple of pounds for a while but have been in a firm state of denial with yourself. Finally, you pluck up the courage to see for certain and can deny it no longer – the numbers don’t lie after all. While to most, a little weight gain is a minor confidence blip, an inconvenience, for me it’s a minefield. No matter what size I am, I spend my life both dreading it and trying to avoid it, in equal measure.

So when I started to return to health after an illness that saw me shrink to just under 8 stone, the joy and relief of recovery was tainted by the fact that I would inevitably gain weight. I knew it was something that needed to happen – I was the thinnest I’ve ever been, even when in the throws of an eating disorder, I just wasn’t prepared for how horrific it would be when it started to become physically noticeable.

I didn’t notice for a while, I was too busy thinking about what I was going to eat next, high on the excitement of being able to enjoy food again and while I was aware that the food I was shovelling into me wasn’t particularly good for me, I was powerless to my appetite. White bread, smothered with Lurpak became the staple of my diet, I would go to bed dreaming about McDonald’s double cheeseburgers and my boyfriend watched in awe as I devoured sticky toffee puddings every weekend at dinner. Concerned by these new eating habits, I broached the subject with my dietician and of course, there was a perfectly reasonable explanation. My body was starving. I should point out that by this point I had been ill for a considerable amount of time, struggling to eat barely anything most days and what I did manage to eat, my body wasn’t absorbing any nutrients from. It turns out the human body is a pretty intelligent organism and it knows what it needs. I was craving these calorific foods, high in fat and carbohydrates, because my body was severely lacking the nutrients that they provide. The dietician reassured me that once my health and weight began to return to normal these cravings would stop and my diet would stabilise and she was right. Now that my body is nourished again, the bizarre cravings have stopped and I’m back to eating the balanced diet I had before, I’m back to myself again.

What isn’t quite as simple however, is accepting myself. As much as I know that gaining weight is a good thing, I can’t help but be disgusted every time I look in the mirror. When I step on the scales and the dial inches up a few more notches, my heart sinks a little bit more. Each time I’m offered a well-meaning compliment along the lines of,  “You’ve gained weight,” I die a little bit inside.

My arms – the only part of me I have ever considered as slim enough – now appear twice the size they used to be, my collarbone is no longer protruding and the gap between my thighs is getting smaller by the day. While all of these are positive signs, physical indicators of good health, I hate each and every one of them and I also hate the fact that I hate them. I’m happy my body is healthy again, yet I can’t accept it in its healthy form.

The worst part is not knowing if what I’m seeing in the mirror is as it really is or if my mind is lying to me, distorting my view with it’s dysmorphic tendencies. I might feel bigger than I’ve ever been, but the scales say I’m no heavier than I was before I fell ill – a healthy weight – and the numbers never lie, right?

I may be healthy physically, but mentally there’s still some work to be done. I need to listen to my body and to trust it, if I’m craving that slice of cake it’s not because I’m fat and greedy as the voice in my head would have me believe, it’s because my body needs sugar. I need to train my mind to work with my body rather than against it so that the dinner table is no longer a battlefield. I need to learn to love my body and to look after it, because it is healthy and for that I am grateful. For me gaining weight is the first hurdle, but the real recovery begins after.

Be Balanced Not Clean – The #EatClean Backlash

Food, Uncategorized

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The ‘clean eating’ phenomenon has been clogging up our Instagram feeds for too long. It is finally starting to face its inevitable backlash and I for one, am glad. The ‘eat clean’ hashtag has been deceiving us for long enough, with Instagrammers and food bloggers convincing us that their raw, vegan, plant-based or superfood diet is not in fact a diet, but a simple lifestyle change resulting in a healthier way of living. We are led to believe that not only will eating clean help us lose weight, it will give us clear skin, shiny hair and resolve a whole range of health issues from digestive disorders to reducing the risk of certain cancers. Sounds too good to be true right? That’s because it is, unfortunately behind all those filters lies an unhealthy truth.

The irony is, that I actually enjoy many of the foods that fall into the ‘clean eating’ category, but it’s the term that I dislike. Describing a particular way of eating as ‘clean’ implies that any other way of eating is ‘dirty’ ‘unclean’ and generally negative, therefore shaming those who are not on the bandwagon. It’s that issue again of labelling certain foods and in this case, even entire food groups, as ‘bad’ and if we consume them, that makes us bad too. This is not just true when it comes to others, but also ourselves, leading to self-persecuting behaviours which are at best a very unhealthy way of thinking and at worst the early symptoms of an eating disorder. Lets remind ourselves that being healthy is not just about the body but the mind too.

Great British Bake Off star Ruby Tandoh, who has spoken publicly about her battles with eating disorders, has been one of the first to lash out against ‘clean eating’, penning a controversial column for Vice in which she attacks food bloggers – and now authors of their own cookbooks – such as Ella Henderson (now Mills) and the Helmsley sisters, the leaders or shall we say, instigators of the clean eating craze.

http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/ruby-tandoh-eat-clean-wellness

Like Tandoh, I bought into the clean eating concept, believing that I was heading towards a healthy lifestyle and that eating clean was a positive way to deal with recovery – I could concentrate on what I was eating, rather than not eating at all – and not only were these foods okay to eat but were actually good for me. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I was actually not recovering from my eating disorder at all, just channelling in a different way. I became obsessed with what I could and couldn’t eat, overcome with an astonishing sense of guilt if I so much as looked at a carb. For me, and for many, eating clean is just another way of controlling what you’re putting into your body.

Orthorexia, an eating disorder which stems from an obsession with ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ foods, is not yet officially recognised by the medical profession, but this doesn’t mean it is any less dangerous. I don’t want to presume, but the fact that there has been an increase in the number of people suffering from this disorder in recent years, correlating with societies preoccupation with clean eating, I think speaks for itself. Food snaps and selfies of post-workout abs on Instagram, are just a part of the latest wave of thinspiration. These images which fill up our news feeds are just as detrimental as the photos of thigh-gaps and collarbones which I used to scroll through on Pro-Ana sites. Only now, the problem is that it brands itself as ‘wellness’, fooling us into believing it is a positive, healthy lifestyle. ‘Wellness’ is a term that should mean caring for and nourishing the body, but in this case, it is quite the opposite. While it is true that not everyone who chooses to ‘eat clean’ will develop an eating disorder, we need to be aware of the dangers and we need to stop branding these trends as healthy, preferable ways to live.

To me a healthy lifestyle is about being balanced, not clean. Cutting out entire food groups unnecessarily is not balanced and certainly not healthy. Eating healthy is not a new concept or a latest trend, it is what we’ve been doing for years – eating three meals a day which include fruit, veg, meat, fish, dairy and carbs. There’s a reason that these foods make up a balanced diet and that is because they contain the nutrients that our bodies need to survive. It’s incredibly simple, so why is this so often forgotten? Food is a resource for life, not the object of living.

Near the end of Tandoh’s column, she cites an experiment in which a group of women were fed foods they knew and enjoyed and then the same foods in a pureed form. The results showed that their bodies absorbed more nutrients from the meal they had enjoyed eating than from the less-palatable pureed form, proving that taking pleasure from what we eat leaves us better nourished.

So there you have it, scientific proof that enjoying your food is good for you. What you enjoy is down to you, there’s no one size fits all when it comes to diet and the best part of being balanced is finding foods that both you and your body love. Try new foods, experiment with recipes, learn to cook, go out to dinner and most importantly, ditch the #eatclean for #balancednotclean.

How Hannah Altman is Glitterbombing Beauty Standards

Features

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“Sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what little girls are made of.”

Not according to Hannah Altman, a 20 year old photography student from Pittsburgh, who is, to put it bluntly, glitterbombing, beauty standards through her thought-provoking, poignant exhibition of feminist art. Hannah’s photo series, titled “And Everything Nice” is a distinct expression of the pressures on women to look a certain way. In the photos, of which her best friends are the models, Hannah substitutes glitter for various body fluids, including blood, vomit and tears to draw attention to societies instinct to sanitise and ornament women’s bodies. Hannah has used glitter visualise the pressure women feel to be attractive regardless of anything else, despite what might actually be going on.The result is a striking and haunting look at today’s beauty standards.

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http://hannahaltmanphoto.tumblr.com

7 Ways to Make Sure Your Easter Isn’t Ruined by Your Eating Disorder

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If were being honest, for most of us Easter is about one thing, chocolate. It is for this reason, that after Christmas, Easter comes in a close second as the most difficult time of year for people with an eating disorder. For some, Easter means overindulging on chocolate eggs and hot cross buns, or sitting down to catch up with family over a traditional holiday meal, for those with eating disorders, Easter often means guilt, anxiety and fear. There is no avoiding the fact that holidays are stressful – I mean, they do involve family and food, at the same time –  but there are some ways to take control and make sure your Easter isn’t ruined by your eating disorder.

  • Talk to someone close to you and that you trust, about your concerns. It’s easy to get trapped in your own head, getting an outside perspective can make a huge difference. A problem shared and all that.
  • Plan ahead. If you know you’re going to be seeing family and friends who haven’t seen you for a while, be prepared for any questions that might come and think of your responses in advance. This way you don’t feel unprepared or put on the spot.
  • Be Mindful. Practice some Mindful Eating techniques throughout the day to help you stay in control. For example: eat small or moderate amounts every few hours, before eating ask yourself, am I hungry? Am I thirsty? What type of food or drink do I want? Eat slowly and think about the taste, texture, smell and sound of the food. Check in with your hunger signals every few minutes. Stop eating just before you feel full, and wait at least 20 minutes before eating again if you are still hungry.
  • Relax. Whatever your plans are over the weekend, make sure you allow some time for yourself. Take time out to do something you enjoy, and something that doesn’t revolve around food. Go for a walk, listen to music, read a book – it is supposed to be a holiday after all.
  • Remember that holidays were made for overeating. People will eat too much chocolate and then they will talk about eating too much chocolate. Remind yourself that these comments are not aimed at you.
  • Remember also, that all eyes aren’t on you. Although it feels like it everyone is watching you, judging how much – or how little – you are eating, this is not the case. Most people are actually too preoccupied with their own food – humans are pretty self-involved, especially at meal times.
  • Enjoy the fact that it is totally acceptable to eat chocolate for breakfast, lunch and dinner – and at various intervals in between if you so desire. Guilt is inevitable, but keep it under control by being aware of how you feel, you know better than anyone what your limits are. Easter or not, it’s your body and your mind, you decide what they can cope with.

Happy Easter!

Are Shop Mannequins Glamourising Eating Disorders?

Fashion

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It’s not the first time a fashion retailer has sparked controversy, and it certainly won’t be the last. Karen Millen is the latest high street brand to hit the headlines for using, what can only be described as, dangerous mannequins to display one of its new season dresses. If you haven’t already seen the photo which swept across Twitter last week, the mannequin – which is reportedly an industry standard size 10 – quite clearly shows protruding collar bones and very visible ribs. Much like the model who wears the dress on the Karen Millen website, funnily enough.

Of course the image has sparked outrage from many Twitter users, including mental health campaigner Laur Evans, who was first to spot the mannequin in the West Quay store in Southampton and brought it to the unforgivable attention of social media.
However on the flip side, I have seen some responses from people questioning why this is even an issue. Having visible collar bones is not uncommon if you’re a slim size 10, and besides, doesn’t everyone knows that mannequins aren’t a realistic representation of women?

There are two things that bother me about instances such as this when they crop up on our Twitter feeds every too often. Firstly, is the fact that shop mannequins do not normally have bones on show – if they did we wouldn’t be shocked when confronted with it – but lets not even go there. This mannequin would have to be specially made, meaning the company has made a conscious decision to portray this. I can only speculate on the reasons behind this, does it make the dress look more appealing? Does it encourage more people to buy it?
I can’t answer these questions for sure, but say both answers are yes, it is ignorant and irresponsible that a respected brand would resort to these measures in the marketing of a dress, particularly given the much increased awareness of eating disorders triggered by the fashion industry.

Which leads me nicely on to my second point. The mannequin is extremely triggering. Collarbones and ribs are a core theme of the “thinspiration” sites that plague the internet and ruin lives, yet here it is so blatantly and unashamedly on display in a high street store. It is also not just in terms of eating disorders that this mannequin is damaging, it is aesthetics such as this which fuel the negative body image that dominates our culture. Sure, we may know deep down that mannequins aren’t what real women are supposed to look like but imagery like this affects people and ends in many women feeling insecure and inferior.

As a brand who describe themselves as ‘for the confident, uncompromising woman of today,’ Karen Millen really do have some explaining to do.
This mannequin is not about celebrating different body shapes, it is simply using bones to sell clothes.

Time to Talk Day – Take 5 To Blog

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It’s Time to Talk day. People across the nation are taking 5 minutes to have a conversation about mental health, whether it be at work, with friends or online, and the response has been huge. Here is my #Take5ToBlog entry, have you taken your 5 today?

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1. My name is Sarah and I have experienced depression and Anxiety and have also suffered from the eating disorders Anorexia and Bulimia.

2. My mental illness has affected me in both positive and negative ways. Over the years, it has negatively affected every aspect of my life including family, friendships, relationships, and university. However, it has also helped to shape the person I am today. I would never choose to live with a mental illness but it has strengthened my character and become the source of inspiration for much of my work.

3. My greatest source of support has been… I wouldn’t say I have had one consistent source of support. More recently, there is one friend who has seen me at my absolute worst, never judged or abandoned me and was the catalyst for my recovery. After feeling consistently let down by the NHS over many years my blog has been my main source of support and motivation for getting better and staying healthy. Then there’s my boyfriend, who is responsible for making me happy on a daily basis.

4. My hope for the future is that people will no longer feel ashamed or embarrassed to talk about their mental health and that mental illness will be recognised and accepted just as physical illness is. I believe that if we can diminish the stigma we will save more lives. Mental health is not a taboo.

5. I’m taking 5 on Time to Talk day because openly speaking and writing about my experiences has helped me in overcoming my mental health problems and facing some of my biggest fears. I consider myself extremely lucky to have survived my mental illness and to be in a position where I can help others to do the same. My hope is that my words will encourage just one person to speak out, seek help or even simply, to not feel so alone.

If This Girl Can, so can you

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Sport, a word that instantly fills me with dread and conjures up uncomfortable flash backs of desperate attempts to get out of P.E lessons, which involved disgusting maroon hockey socks, chin pads and the girls changing room. This changing room has made such an impression in my memory that despite not being subjected to it for at least seven years, thinking about it now I can almost smell the sweat and mud as we peeled those hockey socks off our legs. I can practically feel the shame and embarrassment sweep over me as I wrestled to change my shirt in the corner without anyone catching a glimpse of my stomach or my M&S AA-cup. Obviously I know now that these feelings were much exaggerated by puberty and the fact I was a 13 year old girl in a room packed with other 13 year old girls. The shame I felt then was totally unnecessary, but due to my severe lack of self-confidence I spent six years of my school life not just dreading, but going to extreme lengths to avoid sport.

For this reason, I am not at all surprised to hear that there are 2 million fewer women partaking in sport than men in the UK. I am finally free of it, why would I put my self through that again by choice? And for enjoyment?

Although my issues with sport are deeply rooted, most women are familiar with the fear of judgement that comes hand in hand with exercising. Whether it’s when getting changed at the gym, making the walk from the changing rooms to the poolside or your thighs jiggling when you run past someone in the park.

The “fitspiration” that plagues the internet is just as damaging as the “thinspiration” found on Pro-Ana sites and has made exercising about being thin, ripped, tanned and flawless. It might not be perfect, but Sport England have done their research and recognise that something positive needs to be done. The campaign is their attempt to encourage women to get involved with sport – and it works.

Playing sport is about teamwork, friendship, stress-relief and enjoyment, which is why I think the This Girl Can campaign is great. It does exactly what it claims to – watching it made me
want to get active, it made me want to play sport, a feat which I never thought possible. The women in the advert look happy, healthy and they’re doing it because they love their body, not because they hate it. They look like women I know and if they’re doing it, why can’t I?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=toH4GcPQXpc

10 Superfood’s to Add to Your Shopping List

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In my previous post I wrote about why we shouldn’t be “detoxing” this January, but that is by no means to say that we shouldn’t be trying to live and eat healthily. The problem with detox diets is that they more often than not – well pretty much always, actually – rely on cutting certain foods, and sometimes entire food groups out of your diet. I prefer to focus what I can add to my diet to improve it, rather than what I have to take away, or deny myself.

I’m getting personal now, but for me, restricting certain foods can be triggering, and what starts out as a seemingly innocent quest for a healthier diet, soon turns into an obsessive, guilt-ridden nightmare, over which I have no control. I find that concentrating so hard on what I can’t eat – the forbidden fruit, so to speak – sparks negative thoughts and sets me up for a fail from the very beginning. You know that old saying “we only want what we can’t have” yeah, that pretty much sums me up.

So, I have eventually learnt from my track record and am now taking a different approach to improving my diet, by adding new foods. Nope, not taking anything away, just adding some new ones into the equation – and yes I am feeling okay! For once, I am actually trying to eat better for the health benefits rather than to lose weight and I have to say I think I could get used to it.

Of course, I’m not just talking about adding any old thing you fancy to your diet, I’m talking about the foods that have proven health benefits, the foods that can do great things, I’m talking about, drumroll please, the superfood’s.

Obviously this list could go on and on, but here’s just a few of my favourites to inspire your tastebuds!

Quinoa

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Spinach

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Beetroot

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Sweet Potato

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Blueberries

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Greek Yoghurt

Pomegranate

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Avocado

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Why NOT to detox this January

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It’s a new year, that must mean a new you, right? And when I say a new you, I mean a skinnier, healthier, fitter, less toxin filled version of last year you, of course. Which newest, craziest celebrity fad diet are you using to attempt to achieve this “new you”? Well if you’ve been reading the tabloids of late it’s probably Gwyneth Paltrow’s Red Carpet Detox Diet, but don’t panic if this isn’t the detox you’ve opted for, the Red Carpet Detox adheres almost exactly to every single other detox cliche around, it just happens to be this one which has the media’s attention at present.

Alongside articles related to said diet, I keep coming across the question, can celebrities make you fitter? “No. No they can’t” I want to scream. They’re not nutritionists or personal trainers, they are simply people in the public eye, who for whatever reason society has chosen to idolise, and therefore will believe anything they say.

What I’m getting at is, this January don’t fall for the detox diet. A diet which recommends excluding almost entire food groups and advocates obsessive, unrealistic eating is not just unhealthy but nutritionally ignorant and encourages weight obsession. Although thankfully most people will never suffer with an eating disorder, many at some point in their lives, will experience phases of disordered eating, of which detoxes such as this are a prime example. While it is disgusting that the media promotes this disordered eating, by forcing these diets and detoxes upon us, it shouldn’t surprise anyone – the western world is obsessed with food, with eating it and not eating it. So much so, that what we eat has almost become a statement about our life and who we are. At the end of the day detoxes are fashionable, just as being skinny is, and who doesn’t want to be fashionable and skinny? Even if they do come at an ever-increasing price, that price being your health.

What we should be aware of is that these diets are concocted on the belief that women are so shallow and silly, they will follow anything they’re told to, just because a celebrity has been name-dropped in there. Yeah its offensive, but sadly its true, and even more worryingly, quite often the theory works.

Celebrities can’t make you fit or help you lose weight, only you can do that and the only sensible, effective way is to eat well and exercise often. Don’t detox, its unnecessary, unhelpful and unhealthy.