Our superficial world

So far, one of my favourite things about working with children is their purity. So many things to say about this but the most relevant part is that watching them eat gives me so much joy.

Apart from today, at snack-time, a 5 year old girl was enjoying her food and rambling while she was eating. At first, I liked it when she was talking about how she’s always hungry and that she eats so much because she said it so shamelessly. Until she said, and I paraphrase, “I don’t want to eat too much though because then I will be fat and I want to be beautiful”. What the actual f**k. I knew this wasn’t going to get through to her but I said “But being ‘fat’ doesn’t mean you are not beautiful”, trying to say it in a way that she would understand. And she dismissed it saying how if you eat loads you will be fat and she wants to be really, really beautiful. I wish I remembered exactly what she said but this is enough for you to know what I am talking about.

I’m not overly surprised because HK is quite appearance-based anyway and in general, if so-called “adults” believe in these ridiculous ideas, they were probably fed them from a very young age too. For instance, a wedding day. Why do people want to look good or better or lose weight or fit in a dress or lose the chub to fit in a smaller suit for one, single day. One day. 24 hours or less. I have seen surrounded by so many millennials who change their whole lifestyle to, essentially, look better. Go to the gym 5 times a week, eat hummus and carrots for lunch, cut out the carbs, go on a sugar-free diet, eat soup as a meal replacement, eliminate the gluten, order a skinny instead of full-fat latte erghhhh. We are all going to die in the end. And these people who have limited precious, time on this planet are obsessed with what they look like.

I just find it sad hearing this from a 5-year-old girl. Just as it makes me sad that a strong, powerful 30-something year old girl boss, who I totally admire and look up to, is reduced down to another superficial woman who I can’t help but lose respect for. It’s bad enough for men to have these ideals, let alone our own gender! She had expectations of brides to put effort into losing weight for a wedding photo and a wedding day. I mean isn’t a wedding day about having all the people you like in one room and having a party and enjoying themselves, instead of restricting and controlling and working your arse off months or years beforehand to look slimmer for a couple of photos to put up in your future house, that won’t even matter anyway because at some point in the future, no one will know that we existed on this Earth. I digress (lol). Not only that but from knowing this person, her eating patterns; meal choicesl and comments regarding weight, fat and body image have always been geared towards this ridiculous mindset which contributes to this age-old public belief that skinny, or for men, muscly is good.

The superficiality extends to a number of topics I would be happy to ramble about some other time. From women not wanting to go out with men shorter than them, to marriage being the default relationship status, white being the default race, straight the default sexuality and male the default gender. For another post on another day.

Disclaimer: I know everyone can live their life any way they want and they will, just as I can live my life however I want to.But I can’t help but think these things when I see the general public with these beliefs.

Binging Abroad

What happens when you put a binge eater in a city where every other street number sells food at a ridiculously cheap price? Where there are three 7/11s down one short street that takes 5 minutes to walk down, not to mention the crazy number of bakeries I pass every day. Where there are holes in the wall efficiently selling street food to busy Hong Kongers everywhere you go, from early in the morning to late at night.

It felt like food was everywhere in the London, when I walked past a number of Sainsburys, WHSmiths, Boots, LEONs, Marks and Spencers’ and corner shops on my commute home from work. But it couldn’t be ANY easier to get your hands on food in Hong Kong.

Yes, I have been binging. Of course you have, Cynthia. You’ve thrown yourself into a situation where you’re far away from your family and friends. Sure you have family members here, but no one you really know or who you can freak out to. And starting from scratch with the whole friend thing.

You’ve thrown yourself into a new job, a teaching job. You can’t just get on with your work and hide behind your computer anymore. You are dealing with human beings. Little human beings, not machines or numbers or chemical solutions or software. They are not just regular children, but children who are rich and spoilt with a helper and working parents who they barely see.

You’ve thrown yourself into a new work environment.. colleagues who don’t give you a proper welcoming and who stick to their familiar cliques. Immature colleagues who talk about things that you don’t care about. I mean this is fine and not “a-b-normal”, but combined with flatmates who don’t socialise and no back-up friends to fall back on lol, you’ve spent a lot of time by yourself. It actually felt really good – I was voluntarily spending loads of days by myself, doing what I wanted and not making plans to meet up with people. But I can definitely feel it impacting me negatively now. The spending too much time by myself is linked to the binging and this has happened before and I need to actively start investing in future Me, so the crazy in my head doesn’t get too out of hand.

Hmm what else.. you started this whole “adventure” when your mental and physical health energy bars were 70% filled. Pretty good considering where you were a couple of years ago but it didn’t take long for that to slide down past the halfway point, turning that life bar red. In reality, this looks like emotional eating, relying on food, mindless binging, stopping at all those Circle Ks and 7/11s on your way home. Insecurities, spending money on anything edible. Buying the plethora of new junk food options in the city. It looks like writing it all out in my journal in the hopes that I figure out the why and that I can control myself enough for it not to happen again tomorrow. All the processed food, refined carbs and sugars and gluten and dairy that I shouldn’t be eating is taking a toll on my body and it’s not fun to deal with.

On top of all this eating stuff, it opened a whole can of worms which often comes back to test me. Calculating, obsessing about money, food, exercise, health and everything else. Losing perspective and not even trying to practise mindfulness but going with it instead, because it’s easier. Being hard on myself. Judging.

Note to self, remember to love yourself and to choose “recovery”. Whether that means choosing to turn around and go home instead of stopping at every place that sells food, or forgiving yourself that you didn’t. It means not judging yourself for the way the day panned out and not letting the morning, the past 2 hours or the whole day of eating destroy your chances of achieving a different day tomorrow, this week or this year.

💪

She’s losing the plot

I have worked way too hard to get to this stage to go back and decide that I want to stay in the exact same mindset that I started with.

All the old suspects have come swarming back and I have not been fighting it. Food, money, exercise, work, body image, perfectionism, high standards, calculating, mindlessness, not managing my feelings or thoughts blah blah blah. I have worked so hard to engrave brand new pathways in my brain but these days, I’ve been returning back to the old ones. Stepping back and forth, back and forth. Reinforcing the deep ridges I have created over the years. I used to try to choose to walk completely off the beaten path and opt for the better Me, but this month I have slipped back to the old routine.

The hardest challenge that I have faced so far in my short and relatively easy life is to, put it simply, make my head go in the opposite direction. Like in a pinball machine. Those flippers that make the ball change direction as if from nowhere. It is so unbelievably hard to redirect your brain like that. Feel. Think. Stop. Notice what you’re doing. Identify what you’re feeling. Understand why you are feeling it. Facing the problem and feeling the uncomfortable, negative emotion. Gain perspective. Choose to love yourself. Choose recovery. That times one hundred billion for every thought, action and feeling I have every day. It’s not not tiring.

It’s affecting my body again too. I’m just slowly undoing the whole “looking after myself” thing that I have been trying to do for the past few months this year. Everything snowballs and I just let it happen. It is so SO much easier to just go with it and let the mini You in your brain walk through those neuropathways over and over. Less effort.

What to do..  Remember what your overall goal is. To love yourself and choose recovery. To make the most of the short life we have. To have fun. To choose fun. And joy. To choose living a full life instead of that life you know all too well. Not that one. No one wants that one. It’s not life.

Post-multiple-binge take-home messages for hopeless Me:

  • Remember, this is a part of it. You do well. Then you don’t do well. The not doing well comes quite a lot. You know this. You’ve been there. A gazillion times – which also means you’ve got yourself out of it a gazillion times. Picked yourself up. That was all you.
  • It is understandable. E.g. in this situation: new country, new work, new colleagues, new culture, new language, new flat, new food. Far from family, friends, home. Far from “familiar”. You get it. You get why it happened and you shouldn’t be surprised. Do that picking yourself up thing we just talked about.
  • You are fricking forgetting about all the things that you have been killing so far. Write that long list in your journal. Give attention to all those things.
  • You are more than this. There is more to life than this. This is irrelevant. List –> journal again please.

Last note: mini celebration for making space to write this down and processing all of this instead of just watching Queer Eye.

And now? Season 3 Episode 2 hehehe 🙂

Binging Abroad – Context

Maybe no one needs to know about this but people should be talking about eating disorders more so why not talk about it like a normal subject.

This week, I would’ve been in Hong Kong for a month. I’ve been planning dreaming of doing this for years and years now. And I was probably in the best place I’d ever been and it was the right time to do it – uni was what triggered all of this stuff in the first place (which in hindsight, would’ve come out at some point down the line) so moving away from Asia would have been the stupidest thing to do at that time. It started in 2013 and I remember the binging was present even then. I hated uni and the food was there to help me feel better.

Later down the line in 2016, I started my first job a week after graduation which was when I saw my first therapist and when the eating-disorder-Me emerged too. I was pretty much starving myself without knowing it and this was also when my regular binging began: once a week. I was still getting to know myself and what was happening in my head. Physically, my health was super bad – I was malnourished, tired, weak, skinny, had no period and kept waking up super sweaty and not able to breathe. I was showing classic disordered eating patterns slash mindset – the obsessiveness, calculation, perfectionism. I was honestly thinking about food every second of the day – what I had eaten, what I will eat, what I wanted to eat. I didn’t realise that this was just the start. At one of my doctor’s appointments, they measured my BMI and said I was borderline anorexic. I was relieved that a professional recognised it as something serious and used it to start eating more, which meant I leant into my binging tendencies. People who suffer from eating disorders often slide between the different types and this was what I did. I was restricting less but binging more. During this time, I went to the NHS’ free 6 CBT sessions for binge eating. I stopped my other therapy and remember buying one of my first self-help books.

Mid-2017, I left my job and the next half a year was a bit of a blur. I was gaining weight which was good but my binging was getting worse. I had 6 sessions with a different therapist which improved things for a bit but then I think I was depressed from Spring 2018 to Summer 2018. Maybe I wasn’t and maybe it was something else but to put it briefly, I stopped caring about EVERYTHING when the complete opposite is kinda my specialty lol. Things were dark and binging hit rock bottom, sometimes happening 7-8 times a week. Fun fact: side-effect of binge eating disorder = spending unreasonable amounts of money on food too. Again, fast forward a bit and I got myself out of this deep, dark hole I dug for myself and felt lighter. Obviously it took a stupid amount of strength and a lot of time but I gradually got closer to neutral. The binging eating was still there though in the background. I started seeing therapist no. 4 who was amazing. I mean each of them gave me something but this woman gave me the most valuable tools to attack my eating disorder. After 3 months therapy, it was the end of 2018 and I was absolutely not cured of the disorder but I felt like I had gotten everything I could have from her and it was time for me to apply what I learnt to life. Binging was about 4-5 times a week at the start of 2019. Between Jan 2019 and Jul 2019, there were a handful of times when I hadn’t binged for 2 weeks but was generally doing it 2-4 times a week.

Obviously, a whole load of stuff happened in between – including some fun, new health things that popped up which I’m still dealing with right now. I overeat pretty much daily, especially as I am now in Hong Kong (which I do want to talk more about – binge eating in a new country woo) but generally, I “binge” about twice a week now. It’s work in progress and a “constant battle” but I like talking about it so others can too. But there you go. A whole lot of my head that you didn’t ask for! 🙂

Mmm kale

I’m on this candida/anti-candida diet at the moment. This means no gluten, no sugar, no dairy, no caffeine, no alcohol. 1 portion of carb a day and bone broth as meal replacements when possible. No fruit. A handful of blueberries or half a banana, if I MUST have that sugar hit lol. It means almonds but not cashews, brown rice but not white rice, spinach but no cabbage. Sweet potato but only half a cup and meat but preferably organic. 3 tbsp of coconut oil a day and cider vinegar in your water before meals.  And trying not to take my supplements, that look exactly the same, at the wrong time of day. Avoiding processed foods – which means avoiding spreads, bread, biscuits, crisps, ANYTHING THAT’S BEEN THROUGH A PROCESS. It means preparing my breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in advance and not really being able to buy anything on the go.

Why am I doing this I hear your ask. I am no expert but I’ll tell you what I think I know. There’s an overgrowth of bad bacteria/yeast in my stomach causing an infection. These infections are quite common and can also occur in the mouth, throat and vagina. My gut bacteria is super imbalanced. This bacteria thrives on all the things I listed above so when I eat these foods, I’m feeding it. This ‘diet’ is to starve the bacteria of its fuel, to lessen the awesome symptoms I’m getting from them. We all know the link between the gut and brain by now blah blah blah. Poor gut health can cause depression, anxiety, mood swings etc. The gut is apparently home to around 80% of your immune system too (please don’t quote me on this) which means this yeast is changing my body in all kinds of fun ways.

This candida infection and other gut problems are not uncommon in people with eating disorders. Whether you’re depriving your body of essential nutrients (which I have most definitely done) or destroying your stomach lining binge eating (*puts her hand up again*), it causes a  lot of strain on the innards. So my body has been malnourished, fed wayyy too much or been overexerted over the past five years – big woop (Note: the far from healthy internal monologue which unfortunately has, will or is plaguing a LOT of people out there in this universe, for me, existed long before that – but more on that juicy stuff later).

So right now, I’ve got all sorts of things going on mentally and physically because of this infection that the nutritionist thinks I have. I have a love-hate relationship with food and I can’t wait for food to return to something I enjoy and love and make for the people closest to me. Binge eating disorder comes with urges and triggers and at earlier stages, viscious cycles of restricting and binging. I use food for comfort, to celebrate, to socialise, to express myself, to relax and have fun. I eat when I’m sad, happy, stressed, lonely, bored. Being prone to anxiety and overthinking and stress and worry is an understatement for me and makes this whole thing a tad harder, but I am well on my journey to learn how to manage all of that!

I’m still learning how to face and tackle my problems without using food as a coping mechanism, so call me over the top, but it feels like every few minutes, I have to consciously manage my thoughts and feelings and not turn to food. And right now, if you’ve seen me lately, I’m a bit of a hot mess. What’s really good is this whole gut-brain link is exacerbating the situation by making my emotions even more intense and out of whack than what I have achieved on my own yayyy. Not only are there cravings that come from this awesome brain of mine, but the bacteria are living things and they are causing these physcial cravings – I have been feeding this ‘monster’ for a long time now and giving into these cravings but now I need to stop and he’s not even a little happy about it. I’d never thought it was a physical thing too, I always thought I just didn’t have any self-control but my cravings for carbs, sugar and processed foods are a real thing and my nutritionist says so and she seems cool so I trust her.

I’ve been writing this on and off for a few hours now so don’t remember what my point was, but I guess it’s a good introduction to the “breaking the diet” and “erggh this is so hard”- themed posts that are coming.

A big fat chunk of writing

For me, it started with: Fear of gaining weight. It’s definitely not something I’m proud of and it’s still something I’m tackling right now, but I think a lot of people in this world have issues with this and we’ve got to talk about it. Fatphobia sounds like jargon, but it’s a real thing and that’s what I’m going to call it from now on. Even if you’re an accomplished CEO woman or a 30-something year old man who works out, there’s this whole thing surrounding Fat. It seems like almost everyone has something against it, even if they don’t have an eating disorder. Fat is bad, right? People go to the gym to get rid of it; eat less carbs and sugar to avoid it; and buy the right clothes to hide it. Fat is considered unattractive, ugly and < skinny. In this society, it equates to lazy, unhealthy and a lack of self-control. Luckily, I’m equipped with more awareness, now that I’ve read articles, watched videos and listened to podcasts surrounding this topic. Because, what is wrong with fat? Who created this rule that says it’s bad, ugly… evil? Fat does not mean any of these things. We need fat to live, to function. Our body needs it and why does it matter if it shows. As long as you’re strong, healthy and happy, how can fat compete with any of that?

But what’s so messed up is even though I know all these things, my bad habits and thought patterns get in the way. A massive trigger for me these days is seeing my closest friends and family change their diet and exercise routine to be “healthier”. Sure, I definitely believe people can do those things to improve their health – but what’s always hidden amongst and intertwined with this whole motivation towards a healthier mind and body is weight loss. They want the number on the scales to go down, not stand still. Their arm fat to go away and their belly to flatten. I am naturally a very calculative and obsessive person; it’s in my DNA, it’s what creates a lot of my ED and I’m learning to manage it in all aspects of my life. But what I’m saying is that’s what I am almost always like in my head, especially when I unintentionally isolate myself from the world. I don’t talk to many people at work, just focusing on leaving 8 hours later and fixating on how badly I’m doing on my recovery journey. I postpone replying to friends’ messages, ignore people at home and go straight to my room after a binge. What has helped me over the years is seeing people let themselves enjoy food and not base their decisions on their looks. People who are more relaxed about food and exercise and don’t perceive X as a third of one’s daily fat intake or Y as the amount of sugar it contains. I used to and still sometimes restrict and calculate and obsess and I don’t want to be like that. Watching my friends enjoy junk food and exercise only when they feel like it, helped me do the same. They helped me see food as something to be enjoyed – and enjoyed with other people, not on the kitchen floor, stuffing biscuits down my throat because I feel guilty about binge I just had. They helped me relax about exercise, not to be so strict with it, seeing it as something to improve my mental health. But when I see those closest to me start restricting, watching what they eat, changing their diet and trying to fit in as many gym sessions in the week as possible, I see them.. prioritising their weight, thinness and appearance. I see this everywhere, at work, at the gym, in media – I know I don’t know the full story, see this through a negative lens and am extra-sensitive to these things because of my ED history and experiences but I get annoyed and angry. Again, not something I’m proud of as well as something I hope to be rid of in the near future, but yes, annoyed and angry at those that change their whole lifestyle so it revolves around their appearance. It’s exactly what I’ve been fighting, since my ED started years ago and everyone in this society seems to be convinced that that is what‘s most important in life. Not only that, I see myself binging. In my head, I’m the epitome of someone without self-control. I’m not trying hard enough or being strong enough to fight my urges to binge. I’m not actively trying to form those new neuropathways to create different habits and eliminate those that are damaging my mental health and my body. So on top of the frustration I feel about how twisted the world is, I feel guilty and less than those who can actually control themselves. People who have healthier mindsets, better eating habits and more self-control. Who are focused and driven to have a balanced diet and to be honest, a mindset towards food and exercise a billion times better than mine. It sounds ridiculous but I feel jealous, guilty, annoyed at the world, angry at myself with more of that shame and disappointment that I mentioned as the cherry on top.

Anyway, that’s a ‘clippet’ of what my eating disorder is. Of what binge eating disorder can be like for some people. There is so much more to say but I’ll get to that. I’m a bit of a rambler and when I get given a topic that means something to me, you’re in for a treat.

It was National Eating Disorder Awareness week last week

Everyone needs to be more informed about eating disorders. There is more to it than anorexia and bulimia; body image and losing weight; being skinny or obese. So many people have eating disorders and some might not even know it yet. ED appears in different forms, in people of different sizes, ages, genders, ethnicities etc etc. Yes, men get eating disorders. And yes, you can look and be a healthy weight and still have an eating disorder. There is so much for everyone to learn and I can’t wait to enlighten you all!

Eating disorders are all about secrets, control and habit.. sprinkled with (or drenched in) a bit of shame, guilt and embarrassment. It’s there when you wake up, go to work, see your friends and fall asleep – not just when you eat. It takes over your life and is packaged with a whole lot of invisible physical symptoms too – woop. As with all other mental illnesses, it’s a journey and a battle; you don’t simply eat a packet of crisps or lose a little weight to get rid of it.