Destination, Barcelona.

Features, Uncategorized

People travel for many different reasons. To find themselves, to lose themselves, to escape daily life and to experience the unknown. Travel is a mental journey, just as much as a physical one. For me, travel is what I turn to when I don’t know where I’m headed. When my life reaches a sudden point of change and I am forced to decide on the next step, that step is usually in the direction of the nearest airport check-in desk.

It all started when I finished school and didn’t know what I wanted to study at university. Instead of dealing with this unnerving prospect, I decided to take a gap year and booked a flight to South East Asia. I spent six months backpacking through various countries and while I was there decided I wanted to study many things, photography, psychology and nutrition, to name just a few. I ended up choosing none of these subjects but having one of the best experiences of my life. Fast forward three years and I graduated from university and was faced with the even more daunting task of entering the ‘real world’ and perhaps even finding a job, so me and my best friend – neither of us particularly thrilled by this prospect – began planning a trip to Indonesia and Malaysia. When I was diagnosed with a chronic illness last year, despite the fact that just getting out of bed was the last thing I felt like doing, I cautiously packed my bags and spent two weeks travelling up the Croatian coastline with my boyfriend. The amount of prescription drugs I was carrying was enough to get me stopped at security, but the best medication was being in a new country, experiencing the unknown, discovering the undiscovered.

This habit of reaching for my trusty old backpack when things get complicated has stuck with me as the years have gone on – although admittedly now it is often a suitcase I’m packing for a weekend mini-break, rather than a six month expedition. When I’m feeling low or unfulfilled I find myself scrolling through stranger’s beach snaps on Instagram, manically Googling holiday deals online and day-dreaming about my next adventure.

Recently, my agreeable nine to five existence came abruptly to a halt and I was faced with whole load of those dreaded, daunting decisions, so naturally I reached for my laptop and Lonely Planet and began planning a trip.

Funnily enough, one thing I don’t mind deciding on is where to travel to on my next journey. This time I settled on four nights in dynamic Barcelona. A city bustling with art, culture, history, shopping, beaches and of course, nightlife. I would go so far as to say that Barcelona is the pretty much the perfect destination for a mini-break, whether you have in mind a romantic escape for you and your other half or an energetic girls weekend away. Culture buffs, sun-worshippers, shopaholics and alcoholics, Barcelona will prevail. Absorb yourself in Gaudi’s awe-inspiring architecture, soak up some sun on the beautiful coastline (the weather was just about warm enough for sunbathing when we visited, although I didn’t brave the bikini) or treat your tastebuds to the illustrious tapas dishes and sip copious amounts of Sangria. Do any or all of these things. This city is what you make it.

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Don’t Forget to Breathe

Fitness
Photo Credit: Wari Om Yoga Photography

Photo Credit: Wari Om Yoga Photography

Starting a new exercise that you’ve always wanted to try, is not dissimilar to asking someone you’ve fancied for ages to go out with you. It takes confidence and you need to build up the courage to make the first move. You are leaving yourself totally exposed, treading on unknown territory and you probably put it off for quite a while. For me, my date was yoga.

Yoga is an exercise I had wanted to try for many reasons but never knew how to go about it. I had always felt intimidated about making the first move, how would I know where to start? What would people think of me? What if I couldn’t do it? I looked up classes and stumbled across different types, which of course, meant nothing to me, so I freaked out and retreated back to my comfort zone. When my friend and I set off across South East Asia last year, yoga was on our bucket list. I finally lost my yoga virginity in Indonesia, in a small bamboo outhouse in Yogyakarta, just me, my companion and a fellow traveller were led by a beautiful french instructor. Finally taking a class made me feel silly for all the worrying and deliberating I had put myself through, I was completely defying the point of yoga. The atmosphere of the class was calm, relaxed and not in the least bit competitive, in fact it was so calm I actually nodded off at the end (this is highly embarrassing and I wouldn’t recommended it, but apparently it happens all the time.)

Now, in slightly different circumstances and certainly a less exotic setting, I have found a yoga class in my hometown and I am a convert. I am only on my second class, so am by no means an expert, but already I feel like a yoga enthusiast.

We practise two different types of yoga in each session, Yin and Yang. Beginning with Yang, which involves more movement and is more strenuous on the muscles, and finishing with Yin, for relaxation. That does not mean however, that the Yin is easy, it can involve holding positions for up to five minutes, which in practice is actually pretty tough.

Two classes down, I have learnt the importance of focusing on breathing and that this may be the best life advice I have ever received. When holding a position, particularly in Yin Yoga, it’s inevitable that wandering thoughts will sneak their way in, this is where you learn to patiently put them to one side, and return back to concentrating on your breathing. Breathing is the only bodily function we are able to control, and it will always be there, taking a moment to reconnect with it is something we should actively practice, and obviously not just in terms of yoga.

What I love about the class is that our instructor drums into us throughout, that every body is different. The more yoga you practice, your body will get used to the stretches and you will find you can push yourself further, but there is no competition.There is no right way to look when you are holding a stretch and there is no shame in not being able to push yourself as far as the person next to you, each of us is made up differently and we all have our own limits. Yoga is individual and unique to each person.

For me, this is what yoga is about, taking time out to feel calm, be myself and absolutely not think about anything else. In turn, I’m hoping this will make me happier, healthier and more productive in other – less calm – aspects of my life.

Make 2015 Your Best Year Yet

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January is a strange time, we are full of hope for the coming year, full of motivation to kick those bad habits, full of ideas about how we can better ourselves, convinced that this year will be the year we become everything we have always wanted to be. This time last year I wrote about why I didn’t believe in New Years resolutions, that if you want to change something about your life you shouldn’t wait until the start of a new year, do it whenever you like. While I still agree with last year me, this year I have found myself – or rather the underlying anxiety in me – coming up with endless lists of resolutions. These resolutions are not things I need to give up or change, they tend to be things I need to add to my life, in other words, ways to improve myself.

It wasn’t that 2014 was a bad year for me, in fact I would say it was pretty good as years go. I travelled to seven different countries, in Europe, South East Asia and North Africa, with two of the best companions I could ask for. I continued to write and blog and receive inspiring feedback from all of my readers, as well as reaching my highest views yet. I got a new job and I managed to stay healthy.

This said, I still find it much harder to write about the things I did achieve last year compared to the things I didn’t. Therefore, my mind has gone into overdrive with hobbies I must take up, classes I must start attending, books I must write, jobs I must apply for etc. etc.

I am attempting to think rationally, to think about small things that I could add to my life in order to take bigger steps towards what I want to achieve in the long run. So here I’ve shared my list of ideas – notice the lack of the word “resolution” – for how to have the best year yet. Just in case you are feeling overwhelmed by the January expectations too.

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Write – anything and everything. Makes notes, write a blog, start on one of the books I’ve been plotting in my head for years, try a new style of writing, write more poems.

Organise – start organising every aspect of my life, starting by buying a diary then moving on to my laptop, my room, documents, my wardrobe and so on!

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Eat – and enjoy it. Try new foods, new recipes, cook for others and myself. Learn to appreciate and have fun with food – eating isn’t just a necessity, it’s a life skill.

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Meditate – every now and then, make time to take time out.

Clear out – clutter, work my way through my space one draw/cupboard at a time. I have gathered an unhealthy amount of “stuff” over many years. They say a clear space means a clear mind.

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Laugh – all the time. Surround yourself with people who make you laugh and have a positive influence on your life, as I get older it becomes clearer and easier to recognise these people.

Work hard – at every endeavour, give 100 per cent to everything then I can’t blame myself when something doesn’t work out

Worry less – about everything. Shrug things off. Worry less about worrying less.

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Travel – continue to see the world, visit as many new places as possible and take too many photographs.

Have a good one!

Hanging Out In Krakow

Features, Food

Briefly put aside Krakow’s extensive, captivating history and the horrors which bring 1.4 million fascinated tourists to the area each year, and the city itself can best be described as, well, a lovely place.

While the Auschwitz museum and memorial is responsible for the majority of these visitors, I couldn’t think of a nicer place to return to after perhaps one of the most overwhelming and emotionally exhausting days of my life. Though it doesn’t take long to complete TripAdvisor’s Krakow ‘must-do’ list – we found we had ticked almost everything off in a couple of days – it is the diverse selection of “hang-outs” which will keep you enthralled day after day. Oh, and the vodka is pretty good too.
Eszeweria, Jewish Quarter

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I confess, I had a little help from The Guardian in finding this little gem, suitably hidden in the Jewish Quarter of Krakow, this bar is the archetype of the bohemian bar. One gloomy, bare-walled room, leads to the next, winding through the dusty antiques and clusters of locals chatting in the candle-light. Screaming character and authenticity, Eszeweria is no attempt at capturing the spirit of Kazimierz, it is the real deal.
Alchemia, Jewish Quarter

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If you have been to Kazimierz at night, you have probably been to Alchemia, as it is the place to go to enjoy a drink whilst experiencing the atmosphere of the former Jewish district. This it does exceptionally well, with its candle-lit rooms, forgotten photographs and intriguing furnishings, the only downside is, every tourist in Krakow is doing the same thing.
La Habana, Jewish Quarter

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Looking for something a little bit more Cuban? No, I wasn’t either, but La Habana was just across the street from our hotel and I couldn’t help but be intrigued by this shabby looking little den. A super-friendly barmaid offered us a selection of vodkas to try (but they also have a extensive menu of beer cocktails,) while subtle lighting and Latin American tunes offered a laid-back but cheerful atmosphere and the locals puffed away on hand-rolled Cuban cigars.

Staropolskie Trunki Regionalne, Old Town

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This place is somewhere between a bar and an alcohol shop, with a friendly sign outside inviting passers by to come and try traditional polish tipples, namely, vodka. Though pretty intimidating at first – the selection of flavours is quite spectacular – after a couple of free taster shots we were happily sitting, sipping and watching the world go by. I challenge anyone to leave this bar without falling in love with vodka all over again.
Cryano de Bergerac, Slawkowska 26

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We spent our last evening dining by candlelight in the brick-lined cellar of one of Krakow’s many old buildings. This cellar has been transformed into one of Krakow’s premier restaurants, serving gourmet French and Polish cuisine in spectacularly authentic surroundings and has seen guests such as Roman Polanski and Prince Charles dine at its tables. Although a bit on the more expensive side for Poland prices, the ambience and location, not to mention the mouthwatering food, were worth every zloty.

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!

Overcoming the Post-Holiday Blues

Features, Fitness

They say all good things must come to an end, so what happens afterwards?

I hadn’t thought much past the four flights and two days of travelling which I faced in order to get home. When I had thought about returning home, it consisted of the very basic and shallow luxuries such as sleeping in my own bed, not having to worry about toilet roll and eating copious amounts of cheese. It hadn’t occurred to me that after the jet lag had worn of, reality would kick in and I didn’t have a plan for reality.

After a few flight extensions I had spent a total of four months in South East Asia with little else to worry about apart from what I would have for dinner that night and whether I would get any sleep on the night bus. I hadn’t had a moment on my own (aside from showering) the whole time and this was perfect for me. When you’re on the other side of the world with your whole life confined to a backpack, problems I faced at home on a daily basis were non existent. My own head was no longer the enemy, it was my survival kit.

Life was much simpler and I had subconsciously gained perspective and a contentment with myself, but on returning to the UK, familiar feelings of anxiety, emptiness and a lack of motivation had me wondering if this had just been circumstantial.

Most people are familiar with that impending feeling of dismay that surfaces in the final few days of the holiday and sticks around for at least a good week afterwards. Returning to reality after having a week – or a few months in my case – of escapism is an anticlimax to say the least, everything seems dull compared with the sun-soaked greener grass. It seemed I had an extreme case of the post-holiday blues.

I’m sure I won’t be the only one to find themselves suffering this summer, so here is my tips for dealing with a case of the blues.

 

1. Sort your life out

I have a terrible habit of not unpacking when I return from a trip, usually because I’m depressed and I hate unpacking. Actually, as soon as you get home you should unpack your clothes, do your washing and de-clutter your life. It will give you so much space – both physically and mentally – and make your home a much nicer environment to be in.

2. Relive the memories

As painful as it may seem at first, getting all your photographs together and looking through them is a great remedy for holiday blues. Put a slideshow together to show your family and friends, they will appreciate it, plus you get to relive all the best times through them, you’ll soon be laughing as you try to explain that photo!

3. Go outside

If you’re lucky enough to have a bit of British sunshine, make the most of it. If you’re not working have a day out, go on a picnic or even just sunbathe in the back garden. It might not be as spectacular as your previous surroundings but the sun has the same effect wherever you are, and vitamin D is your best source of happiness.

4. Catch up with friends

Make time to see friends you haven’t seen for a while, this will cheer you up instantly, they will be dying to hear your stories and you’ll find yourself eager to tell them.

5. Eat well

Summer is the season of strawberries – and all other fruits – so there is no excuse not to be consuming them by the punnet. For me, coming home meant I could indulge on all my favourite foods I had craved whilst being away, but getting back into the routine of eating a balanced diet is so important to help you feel good. If you’ve overindulged on the all-inclusive, make sure you go back to a balanced diet as soon as you get home. Eat well and you’ll feel well.

6. Get moving

This point needs little explanation, but get exercising (outside if possible) and you’ll have your positive frame of mind back in no time. Especially if you’ve spent the last two weeks lying on the beach, it’s time to get moving again. The longer you’re stopped, the harder it is to get going again.

7. Grab a new book

The bookworm that I am, finding a new can’t-put-down novel always cheers me up and keeps me occupied. Summer is a great time for new releases and must-reads so engross yourself in that book you’ve been meaning to read, to help pass the long summer hours.

8. Think positive!

Thinking positive can seem impossible when you feel surrounded by negativity, but it is so worth it. Just one small positive thought can make a world of difference to your mood. Try and look for the positives in every situation, you might be feeling miserable because your trip is over but that is only because you had such a damn good time.

 

 

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The Top 5…Islands To Escape To

Features

South East Asia is home to some of the worlds most exciting culture. I feel lucky to have experienced just a fraction of its’ mind-altering temples, vibrant cities and limitless jungle, but there’s something about South East Asia that steals hearts all over the world time and time again, it’s islands and beaches.

A self-confessed addict of all things sun, sea and sand, some of the best parts of my trip were spent taking in idyllic surroundings on a quest to find paradise.

Here’s some inspiration for your escapes this summer, the best of the desert islands I found:

 

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1. The Gili Islands, Lombok

For those who have been to the Gilis, they need no explanation of why they’re my number one. Made up of three islands, Trawangan, Meno and Air, the Gili Islands are the definition of an island escape. The more developed Gili Trawangan is becoming known as the party island of the three but it still harbours a relaxed, friendly vibe, whereas Gili Meno and Gili Air are perfect for the castaway experience. Snorkelling with turtles had to be the highlight for me.

 

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2. Koh Rong, Cambodia

Only discovered in the last three years, Koh Rong truly is, unspoiled paradise. White sands, turquoise water, fluorescent plankton and Long Beach the greatest stretch of untouched beauty I have ever seen. With only a few places to stay, accommodation is bamboo huts on the beach and electricity for just a few hours a day. It is untouched which means the wildlife is too, including venomous snakes. Despite my snake phobia it was worth every minute I spent on edge. I went for one night and stayed for five.

 

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3. Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

On the East Coast of Malaysia I caught the Perhentian Islands just as the season was reopening. Coral Bay has a sunset like no other and it’s worth taking the small jungle trek to Mirah Beach, a small stretch of sand but once you get here you pretty much have your own private beach.

 

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4. Kuta Beach, Lombok

Not technically an island, but the scenery at Kuta Beach deserves a mention. The unblemished golden sand and sparkling blue water are surrounded by lush green hills which offer sensational views of the surrounding bays. The lack of tourists made Lombok, for me, the Bali that most travellers go in search of but rarely find.

 

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5. Monkey Island Resort, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay is a masterpiece. I took a boat from Cat Ba Island through the floating villages and towering islands to the private bay where Monkey Island Resort is situated. The remote setting is the perfect place to get lost and waking up in the morning to the views of Ha Long Bay is really something special.

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.