Tag: diet

Greek deliciousness and changing tastes

Continuing to share photos of our experiences in Greece, I think some of the foodstuffs are worth their own post!

The vegetables alone deserve a mention and the Greek treatment of them is totally different from the UK’s. Above is a picture of part of my lunchtime snack at the shopping mall. It’s a roast aubergine with tomato, courgette, herbs, olive oil and a little Greek cheese. (Similar and even tastier than this was vegetables “imam” style, involving aubergines slowly baked with a tomato sauce, which we had at a little restaurant by the Cathedral.) Greek meals incorporate vegetables as an interesting, focal part of the dish or course. They are bursting with flavour already from the climate but as well as this they are prepared with love, whereas in the UK we often drop them on the plate to tick the “5 a day” box and eat them as a chore to be got through to deserve the enjoyment of the meat or sweet. I think we miss something there.

On a similar line, that’s a Greek salad.

Fish and seafood is also important and I tried quite a bit. Sardines are totally different and definitely not tinned there. But much as I wanted to, as they look great and my fiancé enjoys them, I could not get my tastebuds round calamares (squid):

I think I’ll stick to photographing them 😅!

Greek breakfast usually involves hard cheeses and cold meats, and even stuffed vine leaves on occasion, as well as eggs, bacon, fruit, bread, cereals, yoghurt, nuts and so on being available at the hotel buffet.

Not forgetting sweets and desserts:

These macaroons and truffles were just a couple of the amazing selection at a sweet shop near our hotel. The sweet shops we saw also sold a huge variety of nuts – often a better variety than I’ve come across in many health food shops – as well as honey, preserves, halva and candied / dried fruits.

Finally, there are our delicious aperitifs at a rooftop bar looking out over Athens (incredible view to feature in my next post!).

Before we went, I was not sure how I would find following the diet I need to at present because of my EDS and gastric complications (no wheat, minimal gluten, minimal grains, no milk or yoghurt or soft cheese). I found it much easier than I had expected and that there were loads of available choices. I couldn’t try any of the pasta or pizza which was a shame but there was so much else to choose from. There are fewer gluten-free substitute foods on the menu, for example, I got the impression that restaurants don’t typically offer gluten free bread or pasta. However with so much else free from gluten to choose from, they aren’t missed (and they don’t feature much in my regular diet anyway). Admittedly, for someone who is celiac and has to be stricter than me, or who is completely dairy intolerant or vegan, it would be harder when dining out.

Eating felt much more enjoyable than it usually does. Everything just tasted riper and better. How much of that was objectively true and how much my “grass is greener” perception because of being on holiday, I’m not sure! Meals felt more filling more quickly. Or was it the heat?! I didn’t feel the intensity of hunger and cravings that I hate – maybe I shouldn’t but I do – and I didn’t feel out of control. I didn’t feel such a desire for sugar and have to deliberately choose to substitute it with protein, as I’ve been trying to. I just wanted other things. Back home, my regular food tastes rather lacking. On the positive side, this inspires me to learn to cook some Greek dishes once my house move is complete and we are married in the autumn.

Ginny xxx

Reforming my food intake – eating disorders v changes for healing

TRIGGER WARNING: this post discusses diet, eating disorders and food restrictions.

I was back at hospital a couple of weeks ago with another bowel pseudo obstruction, with a lot of pain and bleeding. Scary. Thanks be to God this was not as serious as the obstruction I had last year. However over the past year on the whole I have had a marked increase in gastric symptoms which are part of my POTS and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. It’s painful and disruptive. Possibly it’s also doing the rest of my body no good if I’m having inflammation or not absorbing nutrients properly.

I’ve decided to change how I eat along the lines of what I’ve read can help people with my conditions. It will involve a lot of protein, cutting right back on wheat and sugars (this will be hard for me!) and eliminating junk food. It will be quite bland at first whilst I find out what foods work for me or not. I don’t have celiacs but people with POTS and EDS can have problems with wheat that aren’t celiacs.

I’m conflicted because any strict diet, food restriction or elimination is triggering to my eating disordered thoughts and voices. Moreover I can’t deny that I’m hoping that my change in diet will lead me to get back control of my hunger, cravings and bingeing and that I’ll lose weight. I really want to sort my stomach problems but control and losing weight are hugely strong desires too. I’m overweight and repulsed at myself.

Possibly what I’m doing isn’t what professionals would think is a good idea if you have bulimia, binge eating disorder or a history of anorexia. Usually elimination of foods isn’t advised and you are supposed to listen to your body’s cues. I have no idea how to safely listen to my body’s cues. It seems to constantly scream “hungry!” In a way, am I listening to my body by recognising my gastric issues and the fact that my current eating is doing me no good? But I’m furious with myself for the binges and constantly want to punish myself. The diet that I’m going to be following will cut out a lot of foods I binge on. Will that stop my binges being triggered? I’m hoping so but I just feel I know I’ll lose control.

I’m trying to think of the changes as a long term way of eating, making it work for me throughout my lifetime, not a fad diet; also I’m trying to remember the fact my body needs this to get better.

Ginny xxx

Facing how much I need to lose

Warning: this post contains discussion of weight, weight loss, body image and eating disorders.

I have lost control of my eating and my body size completely. I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been. I’m disgusted at myself, expanding and ballooning. The voices love it – greedy, pig, ugly, foul, repulsive… we’ll always know how bad you really are… images of rotten evil and greed bursting out of my skin… cut it all off, cut it out… 50 kilos. Lose 50 kilos then keep going.

It’s so much and so unattainable I let the despair close round me. It’s cold and numb first, then comes the bingeing. I don’t know if it’s a result of the despair. Often it’s a result of hunger that won’t be satisfied and demands more and more, til I get rid of it by purging til it hurts so much.

I am fat and more than fat.

I want to lose 50kg. I have the idea that then I could look at myself without so much hate and disgust and then the voices might be satisfied for a while, if only I could maintain it. Objectively I know losing 50kg would be too much and would put me in the anorexic weight range. I know losing 40kg would put me at the very bottom of the healthy weight range. I desperately want this then desperately want those 10kg more, to get rid of the fat greedy consuming thing inside me. To get rid of the evil inside me. Then I could look at myself. Then I’d have control back. Then maybe it would stop. Please. Please would it stop.

Why can’t I just do it, like I always did before? Why have I lost control?

I’m trying to be objective. Trying to think about losing 20kg first. Trying to focus on goals, not specific weight targets week by week but on good things that are coming and that will be even better if I lose the weight – going abroad in February for my fiancé’s work, being able to do more of my physiotherapy exercises, our upcoming wedding, and so on. Trying to remember that my fiancé does not think I’m disgusting or greedy or bad or anything else the voices tell me, and that he loves me and does not require me to change. Yet I have his support to lose some weight to take care of my health and that’s a wonderful help.

I’m going to try to identify specific actions I can take to stop bingeing and start losing weight.

Looking objectively, why do I think my weight has gone up out of control?

  1. Greatly reduced mobility because of my degenerative health conditions getting worse. I used to walk loads a few years ago but now I need a wheelchair.
  2. My medications – quetiapine and other daily medications I take increase my appetite and affect metabolism and cause a lot of weight gain.
  3. Binge eating repeatedly on sugary foods and other carbohydrates. Insatiable hunger. Yes I frequently purge or restrict after but it can’t get rid of everything and it’s dangerous in itself.
  4. Relying more on convenience foods because I’m not well enough to cook and at times when I’ve been really short of money.

How can I change this?

  1. I can’t exercise in the usual sense of the word but I can prioritise my physio exercises and then when I’ve lost some weight, going swimming. I’m changing my daily routine to make sure I fit these in.
  2. I can’t change my medications, at least not short term.
  3. I will not keep trigger foods in the house. At first I will greatly restrict the food I have in the house so there is literally nothing to binge on. I can’t leave the house unaided because of my health so won’t be able to go and buy more. My fiancé will help me get small quantities of non triggering foods and occasional treats only. I’m amazingly fortunate to have his help. This isn’t a permanent solution but might help for the first couple of weeks.
  4. Though I still need to rely on convenience foods because of my disabilities, I will stay within a daily calorie limit.
  5. I will research any advice I can find for coping with binge eating disorder.

How can I keep the rational part of me in control rather than whatever drives the insatiable hunger? I really don’t know what drives it. When I was anorexic I had found something that shut off the hunger, but I don’t know what it was. The disgust I felt for myself then and the disgust I feel for myself now are pretty similar. In fact I feel more disgust for myself now. If disgust doesn’t shut the hunger off, what does? I think if I knew that, it would stop me bingeing.

Ginny xxx

Ten dishes challenge #6: chicken stew and exploring wheat-free

Since the new year, actually I’ve been much better than usual at cooking meals, though usually I haven’t managed to remember to take a picture to add to this series, hence the lack of updates. A significant reason I’ve done better at cooking is that I was preparing food to share with a couple in my block who were in serious financial difficulty, and also cooking for another friend who is very unwell and struggles to eat at all let alone cook.

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I’m motivated to cook when I feel it’s to help or care for or simply for the enjoyment of someone else. This can help me overcome feeling too exhausted to do it. When I’m cooking for others, there is actually some joy in it even if I’m battling the chronic physical pain. The thoughts and voices that taunt me that I don’t deserve good food, must not eat, fill my head with repulsion at myself and greed and failure, do not come so loud when I’m cooking for others and sharing the meal. When I’m with others, I don’t binge eat and I cannot purge food. Perhaps it isn’t the ideal way out of these eating disorder symptoms – I have to be able to feed myself for myself in the end – but the more times I do cook, do share food, do manage not to binge eat and purge or restrict for long periods, the quieter the voices become even when I’m alone. It’s a very slow process and can still be awful but I think it’s a strength that will slowly grow.

The other major change in the last month is that since I was in hospital with stomach problems, I’m on a wheat-free diet because I was advised to try this. So I’m finding out new recipes or adaptations to recipes. As much as possible, I’m finding foods and ingredients that are naturally wheat free, because a lot of replacement products are very expensive, especially the processed ones. A very small loaf of gluten free bread will be £2.50 rather than 80p for a similar sized normal loaf; a packet of wheat free biscuits may be up to £3.00 rather than 75p or less for regular supermarket biscuits. I can’t have these things regularly on wheat free, at least not when I’m relying on Benefits whilst I’m signed off work. The plus side of this is that it leads me to cook more and eat more fruit, veg, beans, meat and dairy. My food bill will increase a bit nevertheless but I don’t think it will be unmanageable if I’m very careful to go for cost effective recipes. In fact, I’m often enjoying finding a new variety of foods and the altered diet. For example, I’m going to try making my own bread using wheat free flour. I discovered these funky coloured carrots that were tasty roasted:

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It’s not all saintly. Chocolate definitely still features in my diet! 🙂

For the first couple of weeks I was out of hospital, my stomach was very unsettled and I was mainly eating rice, rice crackers, cooked vegetables and fruit, peanut butter then gradually some egg and cheese as well. Most meals were looking something like this:

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Slowly, as my stomach is a bit better, I’ve wided my diet again with meats, yoghurt, various treats or desserts like chocolate, or fruit bars, and I’ve tried some wheat free cereal a couple of times. It’s a gradual process and I’m still feeling unsettling effects from the stomach problems I had.

I’ve also returned to using my Nutribullet, which I find most helpful for upping my vegetable and fruit intake with juices, ensuring I have high fibre intake and consuming things that can be harder to get into my diet. In the winter, I don’t enjoy eating a salad as I might in the summer, but I can make a yummy smoothie with some raw spinach and mixed leaves, avocado, banana, apple and a little lemon juice.

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The result does slightly resemble the bathroom suite my parents had in the 1990s, but I promise it tastes good. (Warning – in my experience, home made juices, whatever the ingredients even if you use brightly coloured fruits, tend to turn out green or brown. This may not look appetising however if you can overcome the colour they usually taste good.)

Yesterday I made a chicken stew with lots of veg and mashed potato, which I was very pleased with as I used not to be so confident cooking meat. I had the day at home so was able to pace the preparation better than usual. There was plenty left over that went in my freezer.

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Thanks be to God for helping me to rediscover some joy in food, some opportunities to share and eat with others and enjoy it, and gradually continue on the path to a more healthful diet and feelings around food and my body.

Ginny xxx

Meet Bert

Hello. Meet Bert.

No, not that Bert! (NCIS joke, sorry.)

I have a way of naming inanimate objects, especially in the kitchen. This is my slow cooker, Bert:

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I’ve had Bert for a year but only today taken him out for his first use (and naming). How bad is that, I know. That’s how reluctant I can be to cook for myself and I’m trying to break that. Hopefully, Bert is going to cook a nice soup tonight, for tomorrow’s buffet dinner. I know I’ll be up til late finishing preparations for tomorrow so I can keep an eye on it. It takes 3 hours.

Two friends will be coming tomorrow, one when she finishes her shift at the hotel where she works, and the other will arrive earlier and we’ll go to Mass together. He has had an indescribably difficult time recently so I’m glad we can celebrate a little together.

I realise soup (and hippos) is a fairly un-festive topic for Christmas Eve. A more appropriate post follows very shortly!

Wishing you a happy evening…

Ginny xxx

Clip from NCIS – possibly series 2 episode 23 according to YouTube, though I am not sure about that, I think it is series 3 ; with thanks to MetalRixer for the extract. NCIS directed and produced by Donald Bellisario / Don McGill, property of CBS / Channel 5 and respective artists.

Exercise without returning to extremes

WARNING – this post discusses weight loss and eating disorders

I saw the nurse today as I had to have an ECG. I’ve had a lot of chest pain lately which is thought to be costocondritis but the GP wanted to check my ECG again. I’ve also been potentially diagnosed with another condition but that’s a story for another time.

Whilst I was there, the nurse took my weight and height and we decided I’m going to try the exercise referral scheme again (to a different gym this time), to have support to try very gentle swimming or at least exercises in the water.

It is time for me to do something about the fact that I am really upset at how much weight I have gained in the last 2 years, through poor diet and through my medications and being very sedentary as I often can’t walk more than a very little way unaided. The weight is increasing my hate of myself and my body. Not succeeding in losing it by my familiar means over the last few months has increased this hate even more. I know this isn’t a healthy thought pattern and I know many of my “familiar means” are eating disorder behaviors. At the same time, I am now slightly overweight according to BMI recommendations, so I need to lose weight for my physical health; also I need to care for my body’s needs by eating healthful meals rather than oscillating between starving and junk food, as has become my habit through lack of money and depression. I need to try to do some kind of exercise to improve my physical strength to manage the pain from my chronic conditions better.

So I have to figure out how can I manage my situation now and the changes I need to make without plunging deeper into eating disorder thoughts? How do I start an exercise programme without using it to punish my body? How can I keep track of my weight and control my diet without returning to my totally addicted state and the ever-present revulsion at my body tipping back over into self-harm and purging?

Does anyone have any thoughts about how to lose weight and change your eating to get back to a healthy weight range, when you have a history of binge-eating and bulimia? Are there any particular resources on this topic? I know that somehow I need to address the pervasive disgust I feel towards my body and ideally I’d do that first, but it has been present most of my life and I can’t allow my weight to grow to an even more unhealthy level. Most of my life since age 3 when my abuser started to use weighing me and controlling my food as one way of punishing and shaming me, I’ve been overweight, severely underweight or plummeting or ballooning between the two. I have lost all concept of normal food intake and normal appetite.

Ginny xxx

Ten Dishes #3 – full of beans

This month has been even tighter than usual financially. Someone extremely kindly gave me some groceries to help. I received a few items I wouldn’t usually cook with. Two of these were a tin of ‘tender broad beans’ and timed cannelini beans. I decided to see what I could make with those using just the ingredients I had already in the cupboard.

This was the result:

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It is hard to make it look appetising in the photo however it was actually really nice (though I slightly over cooked the rice)! I used onion, tinned chopped tomatoes, salt and pepper, mixed herbs and some stock. Using half the beans made plenty for my dinner plus another generous portion I put in the freezer. I still have the other half of the beans left over in the fridge to make something tonight. So all in all it has been extremely economical.

I think it was also nourishing and healthy. I’m really trying to take steps to improve my diet at present because it had become so poor due to trying to keep costs down. I am very unhappy with how my weight has been increasing with my medication and I really want to try to take control back in a healthy way that looks after my body.

Ginny xxx

A closing drawbridge and a silent cry – Eating Disorders and Personality Disorder – #5

A closing drawbridge and a silent cry – Eating Disorders and Personality Disorder – #5

Protection in emptiness

Eating Disorders and Personality Disorder – #5

“You will never touch me”

[I am sorry I have not updated this series for a while!]

In my first period of anorexia, one of the greatest functions of my eating disorder was a kind of defiance and separation. Anorexia definitely changed my personality, or rather, it was often as if there was a separate personality, much stronger than my own, rising inside me and gaining strength as I got thinner. She was strong and defiant and could not be hurt. She could keep me away from everyone and every thing that hurt me.

I was about 15 by this time and had suffered at least 11 years of emotional, physical and sexual abuse and exploitation. The family unit of my mother, my father and I were increasingly isolated and cut off into my mother’s sick (in both senses of the word) world and anything that tried to penetrate it led to terrible consequences (her sickness, her threats to kill herself, her threats to abandon the family, her threats of breaking up the family or of me causing her and my father to die, be taken away and so on). Anything that posed a risk to the world of her twisted thinking, delusions and manipulation had to be invalidated or removed. Visitors weren’t allowed to come into the home. Any social contact had to be planned and rehearsed beforehand, carried out to Mother’s specifications, reported back to her, analysed against her pre-prepared script. The daily routine had to run exactly according to her needs. She had to be recognised as super-human, a genius that nobody could ever sufficiently understand, the victim of everyone’s cruelty and misunderstanding who was so gracious as to forgive everyone because she “loved” them so much. Appease, pacify, agree, conform….the disaster wouldn’t happen, maybe….

My eating disorder couldn’t appease, pacify, agree or conform. It couldn’t be manipulated or invalidated. My eating disorder could defy, protect, shield, consume, grow stronger, defend, refuse to succumb and refuse to be controlled or analysed by her and even refuse to recognise her at all.

I remember that eventually, as my weight dropped and dropped, even Mother started to worry I was too thin and getting weaker. She’d encouraged my eating disorder at first, requiring my weight loss and dieting and reminding me how ugly I really was. Eventually it snapped out of her control and I think it was the one thing that actually scared her.

One evening, she called me into her bedroom. She told me to get undressed and stand in front of the full-length mirror. She’d done this many times before in order to shame and humiliate me and to slowly and methodically point out all the bits of my body that were bad and “too plump” and “too much fat”. Usually it followed a ritual weighing and reporting of my weight to her, her disbelief and being forced to repeat weighing myself in front of her. Now I flatly refused to weigh myself in front of her, but delighted in doing it in my bedroom in secret (always in exactly the same place, lining the scales up with a particular pair of floorboards) and was satisfied with the thrill of seeing the pounds drop. But for some reason, this day, I did obey her to get undressed and stand in front of the mirror. This time, instead of pointing out the places I was too fat, she pointed out where it showed I was too thin. Even I was shocked when I was forced to look at where the normal shape of my behind had started to flatten and disappear at the base of my spine. She continued telling me I was too thin and how she was worried.

A thrill of power went through me. It was frightening but I had never felt power like that. No, I thought. No. This is my body. All mine and you will never touch me again. In total silence I walked away from the mirror, away from her, out of her bedroom back to mine and got dressed again. I resolved to lose as much more weight as I possibly could and get as sick as I could, because this meant she would never ever touch me again. I hated her at that moment. I don’t think I was thinking of the sexual invasions, specifically (and indeed a lot of them I didn’t even accept as invasions at that time), but of all the hold she had on me and all the hurt. She would never do it again.

I had an awareness, somewhere, that she was worried for me and she was upset, and that my father was too. At that time, the need for the protection and power of my anorexia was much greater. I had become quite a nasty person, disregarding the hurt I was causing people who loved me (my dad loved me, if my mother didn’t). Or the anorexia in me was quite a nasty personality and I was becoming that personality. The power of anorexia was stronger than my usual nature.

Of course, it didn’t really stop me getting hurt, and it hurt lots of other people in the process. Eventually, it was acknowledging my father’s fear of what was happening to me that started to bring me out of this first period of starvation. To this day, I am not quite sure what, at that time, made me acknowledge that and shifted the balance of power towards empathy and reason, and away from the protective force of anorexia.

Ginny xxx

A closing drawbridge and a silent cry – Eating Disorders and Personality Disorder – #2

A closing drawbridge and a silent cry – Eating Disorders and Personality Disorder – #2

Protection in emptiness

Eating Disorders and Personality Disorder

Chapter 2 – My History, 1 of 2 : ages 3 – 16

In this chapter, I’m going to tell you a bit about the history of my own eating difficulties, as an overview. I am not going to go into detail of my feelings and the reasons I started to restrict or overeat at each stage, as I will go on to that in subsequent chapters.

I have done my best not to go into any detailed description of the techniques I used to eat less or conceal how little I was eating and so on, as I understand that this can be triggering for people who are unwell with eating difficulties.

It has proved much more difficult to write this “history” than I anticipated. I think what lies behind each of the periods of my life is more raw than I had admitted to myself.

Although I probably did not meet clinical criteria for an eating disorder until I was about 15, my relationship with food and my body was distorted throughout my life from preschool age.

I first knew I was “fat” when I was 3 years old. I remember vividly sitting on the stairs. It was shortly after Easter. On Easter Sunday I had been given a chocolate Easter egg with my name iced on it, and some other chocolate treats. As a typical child, I guess, I delighted in the egg. I shared it with my Nana and my parents but probably not very generously! (Typically, again, for a 3 year old.) I remember that on that Easter Sunday, I was praised for sharing. But then that day on the stairs (I don’t know how long after Easter), my mother was calling me “greedy” and shouting at me for how I had stuffed my face with chocolate and everyone else just had a crumb. I remember so clearly and it hurts even now. I remember knowing I was greedy and bad, and FAT. How exactly I knew to make that link, I am not sure, but I knew it meant FAT, and BIG, and that was bad. Perhaps I had already absorbed some of my mother’s preoccupation with food and body size.

My mother began weighing me in secret around this time, and keeping the fact hidden from my dad. (My dad recalls this and has told me about it. I myself recalled it from when I was a little older, maybe 5 years old.) When my dad found out what she was doing, he told her to stop, and she agreed, but actually continued with increased frequency and forbade me to tell my dad.

From the age of around 6, she would regularly tell me that I looked “too plump” and would send me to weigh myself and report back to her my weight. She would not believe the figure I told her and would then have me get the scales, bring them to her bedroom or the upstairs landing and weigh myself in front of her. Then she would stand me, often undressed, in front of the long mirror in her bedroom and point out the bits of my body that were too plump and too fat. Then I had to go on a diet until she considered I had lost enough weight. She did not want my father to know so I still ate the main course of the evening meal, but the diet meant no snacks or biscuits (most of the range of sweets and chocolates children ate were banned in any case) and something like lettuce and rice crackers or a small amount of plain pasta for lunch. Not the most extreme by any means, but I didn’t like it. When I got older, it meant exercise in the living room as well, sometimes with exercise videos and tapes.

I did dance classes from the age of 3 or 4; two or three classes twice or three times a week. This was about the only contact I had with other children and the outside world (my mother taught me at home until secondary school age and almost completely restricted any contact with friends or wider family members). In my classes, I knew that I was bigger than the other girls. I think partly I actually was rather a fat child and partly I was very tall for my age and so of a larger build than the other girls. In any case, candy pink leotards and tights or white ankle socks were not the most flattering outfit, to say the least!

I wanted to be little, thin and tiny. I wanted to be the smallest, not the biggest. From as soon as I could start to read (which was early, around 5 or 6 years old), I would go through my mother’s Prima magazines whilst she was asleep (there was a big stack of back issues beside her bedroom mirror).  I’d look at the pictures of the women there and, as I got older, read the diet features where you were supposed to live on grapes, yoghurt and hard boiled eggs. I remember in particular, one picture of a woman in a sparkly red dress. This was the late 80s when the extremely thin, emaciated look of models was popular, perhaps even more than it is today. I had pretty much uncensored access to these magazines whilst my mother slept. (My dad would go to work but my mother frequently would not get up until a good 2 – 3 hours or more later, during which time I’d play by myself or read books and magazines that I could find lying around.)

My mother, meanwhile, was very concerned with her own weight. She was convinced that she was fat (she was not). Her morning toiletry and beauty routine took an incredibly long time. She would spend a long time on extremely precise application of a lot of make up, then in front of the mirror looking at her body. One of her delusions with her schizophrenia was that she was being bitten by insects or that there was poison under her skin, which she would try to scratch out in front of the mirror. Her eating patterns were very irregular. She would eat nothing at all during the day and instead smoke a vast amount and drink coffee and later, wine. She would then eat an evening meal (except during the terrible arguments, when she might not even eat this). I thought that was how grown up women ate and waited for it to happen to me that I didn’t want to eat any more during the day. I didn’t have enough contact with anyone other than my mother to know that this wasn’t normal. I thought something was wrong with me that I still ate breakfast and lunch.

Food was also a big focus of my mother’s ill thoughts and actions. Arguments often started during the evening meal. If the argument (her shouting, crying, threatening and so on) had already gone on all the day until she suddenly went away to bed, it would resume over dinner on my father’s return from work. When I was older and had been out to school during the day or, rarely, elsewhere, dinner was the time for her cross-examinations about what I had done, what marks I had got, who I had seen, what conversations I had had, what I had said and what the other person had said, usually followed by a rehearsal of why that was not good enough and exactly what I had to say the next time and what the  other person would say in response.

During dinner she would watch me intently, observing in minute detail how I held cutlery and crockery, commenting and criticising and even accusing me that particular mannerisms or movements were done to punish her or because I was “pretending to be a little girl” and knew it would upset her. My father and I had to give effusive praise of every part of the meal if she had cooked it. She had a rotation of elaborate dishes. Not liking something was not acceptable. Other times she would completely stop cooking at all for months on end. The food had to be set out in dishes in a particular arrangement on the dinner table. She would eat with particular precisely repetitive actions that on top of everything else, just raised the tension to absolute boiling point. If she was eating yoghurt from a bowl (it had to be decanted into a bowl, never eaten from the pot), she would circle her spoon twice clockwise and twice anti-clockwise round the bowl, then tap it three times on the top of the bowl, before taking each mouthful. As a result, she ate incredibly slowly. My father and I had to sit still until she had finished. (Even writing this my anger is boiling!) If she was angry, or going to accuse me of punishing her in some way, her actions became more elaborate and pantomime-like. It was frightening and the spring that lived in my stomach around those years coiled tighter and tighter waiting for the explosion that came no matter what I did, anyway.

By the time I went to secondary school aged 11, having been taught at home by my mother from 4 – 11 years old, I was probably a completely average weight. I was still tall although not quite as extremely so as when I was younger. I was not particularly slim but I was not fat either.

At school, able to choose what I wanted for lunch and with some spending money for break time, suddenly I was away from my mother’s intense scrutiny of my food intake. She would always watch me extremely intently if she was sitting with me when I ate. At dinner time I hated the feeling of her intense gaze. It was strange. In other ways she almost ignored my food – for example, I got my own breakfast (unless my dad did before he went to work) and lunch from the age of around 6 years old. After her hospital admissions started I often cooked all or part of the family evening meal, when I was around 8 years old. But when she was present, she watched intently, worrying and judging and controlling.

So with this new-found freedom at school, I wanted to try all the foods my friends were eating which I had not been allowed. I wanted to eat sweets when they had them. I was hungry with the busy school schedule. The result was I did definitely have too much candy and sweet food in my diet. I ate it in secret from her, fearful of what her reaction would be.

Unfortunately, when I was around 12, my physical health problems started, first from an ankle injury and then a serious knee injury, following which I was on crutches for a long time. I have a mild form of joint hypermobility which did not help.

Not able to continue my dance classes or to join in sports or move around so much whilst I was on crutches, my weight started to go up. I yo yo’ed for a while, restricting severely when I was on a diet (drinking only fizzy drinks during the day at school and eating nothing) and at other times eating far too much sweet food. My physical health problems did not really get any better from this age and I was in constant pain in my legs and back (apart from a brief period when I was about 14).

By this stage, my mother was going into hospital with increasing frequency. When she was at home, she seemed the more angry with me. I was starting to challenge more her world that was wrapped up in the schizophrenia and closed in at home, I guess. She became angrier with me for my weight. The weighing had become less frequent but she would still call me to stand in front of the mirror and undress for her to show me what was wrong with my body. I was plenty old enough now that I did not want to do this in front of her.

Nevertheless, I did want to lose weight. I still wanted to be the thinnest, the smallest, the youngest. Over the summer I was 14, turning 15, I started to diet in earnest and this was probably the start of the longest period I had yet spent on a diet. I also started cycling into the next town, swimming, then cycling home. I had gone from being fairly inactive to doing a lot of activity. My stamina had increased and I pushed and pushed myself. I would swim 30 – 50 lengths of the 50 metre pool and cycle 5 miles there an back. Though I hated my body at this time, looking back I can see I was strong and fit for perhaps the first time. All I saw was fat, and my mother ensured that it stayed that way and commented constantly on my food combinations and portion sizes and if I went down a clothes size, would say it was ridiculous and I could not be that size, the clothes were sized wrong and I was much bigger. Nevertheless I enjoyed my swimming and cycling. It gave me some freedom to get away from my mother and out of the tiny village where I grew up. I was free of her whilst I was cycling and swimming and it was something she couldn’t take over.

When I went back to school that autumn, I was pleased with the comments on my weight loss. I continued to further restrict my food intake and fill up on fizzy drinks. I would skip breakfast, hiding it from my dad, and eat only vegetables sometimes with a tiny bit of potato or pasta at lunch time. I was in a musical production with my school, which I also loved (plus more time staying at school for rehearsals equalled more time escaping my mother). I was losing weight very rapidly now and by the time the performance came, the costumes that had been ordered to fit to me a few weeks earlier were hanging loose and had to be pinned in. I collapsed from exhaustion on one day and was so very cold and could not get warm. Although nobody appeared to notice at the time, and I certainly did not acknowledge it, I was probably entering the underweight range at this point.

I then took my dieting further and further and could not stop. My memory of this time is really not at all clear so it is hard to write about. People started to express concern – teachers and even other children at my school who normally hardly paid me any attention at all. I hated the concern and attention and was angry inside. I didn’t want anyone to notice me. I didn’t want anyone to stop me. I was fine. They should leave me alone, I thought. Nothing was wrong and what right did they have to try to reach me. They didn’t understand.

I kept on going swimming in this time, but my energy was now wearing out fast and the distances that I could swim were reducing. It was as if a switch flicked. For weeks I was able to push myself on, swimming 50 or 60 lengths of the pool despite being underweight, determined to go further and further and wishing I could keep going forever. That was safe and everything else stopped. But then within a couple of days, the power had entirely gone. I was so, so cold in the water. It was hard to move. I was being dragged down and it was so so very cold. Everything was pain and not being able to breathe. Even getting changed and getting into the pool took longer and longer and I could see the teachers watching me now. Suddenly it wasn’t where everything stopped anymore – I was being watched there too. I can still remember the last day I went swimming and the cold I felt then somehow seemed to get right inside me and I could not warm up and the feeling did not leave me for years.

I was still dropping weight and by now experiencing physical effects. Downy hair grew over my arms. I was shattered all the time. I caught a cold and cough that I could not shake and would cough over and over in the mornings waking up. It hurt. My skin cracked and split and didn’t heal. I was freezing cold and even basic things like washing and changing became painful because I could not bear taking my clothes off – partly from hatred of my body but a big part of it was the intense cold. I bruised easily. I injured my toes in a fall and the bruising did not clear up for months. I started losing bladder control, often barely making it to the toilet in time. Moving anywhere was such an immense effort and I walked more and more slowly.

Somehow this did not stop me or shock me. I brushed everything off. Nothing mattered because it was all obscured by the need to become smaller and disappear and shrink. The drive not to eat was overpowering. It was a desperate, driven, angry need.

My parents were late to express their concerns. I had done quite a good job of hiding from them what was actually going on and how much food I wasn’t eating. The illness made me nasty and devious. I did not tend to wear revealing clothes anyway and wearing more and more layers against the cold hid how thin I was.

When they did express concern I was furious. It was probably the one occasion on which they both, eventually, when I was severely anorexic, expressed unified concern for me. This stunned me. I hated inside that I was hurting and worrying them. Yet, starvation was stronger.

It was my dad who got me to admit to having a problem with my weight. He spoke to me one morning before my mother had got up and there was something in the distress in his eyes that finally shocked and scared me. I admitted that morning that I had a problem. I was 15 years old.

There were still many months before I actually began to regain the weight. During this time I suffered a serious back injury from which I still have disc damage. I was painfully helpless and I think this made me start to hate the disorder. I was walking with crutches and could not get up from a chair or out of the bath without help. The starvation which had previously protected me now threw me into far more intimate dependency on my mother than I could stand.

Nevertheless, I received very little medical input or help. My memory around this time is again very very poor. It was a really distressing time and I can remember arguments I could not cope with and immense sadness and fear and anger. I know now I was causing my parents a massive amount of hurt and pain and I feel terrible guilt for this.

My mother, in her illness, was adamant that I should not have help from the GP or specialists. My GP wanted me to attend a centre nearby for children and teenagers with eating disorders and to go to therapy and group sessions there. My mother did not want me to have this. She told me what to say to the doctor and what to hide so that I would not be sent to this centre. As she had done with the threats of her, my dad or I being sent away when I was younger, she made the idea that I might be sent away to a hospital into a terrifying thing that would destroy her and mean I was sent away from the family permanently.  She coached and rehearsed me on exactly what to say. She said that she had to be in complete control of my food.

For some reason, her power over me was so great that I went along with what she wanted me to say. For some reason, the doctor believed it. For some reason, my father did not know what was really going on.

So I didn’t get the referral. I didn’t see any specialist. I saw the GP for monitoring a few times, where I’d be weighed and spout the rehearsed sentences that would make it clear that I did not need any help and supposedly was completely in control.

What realised a few years ago, when I was working in an eating disorder service, is that at this time at the age of 15, my BMI was about 13 (I will not share my weight as I know that this may be sensitive and triggering to anyone in the midst of struggling with anorexia). I had Anorexia Nervosa so severe as to be considered life threatening.

When I realised just how unwell I was when my mother had done all she could to prevent me from getting help, my view of her started to change. I believe now that she prevented me from getting help from a specialist because she knew that if I was seen by a psychiatrist, the abuse she was subjecting my dad and I to might be discovered.

A physiotherapist I was seeing for my back injury realised exactly what was going on, I think. My mother hated her. The physiotherapist urged me to try to get more help. I was too much wrapped in my mother’s constructed world to understand what was happening to me. I could not speak outside of what she had told me to say and pretend was true.

I started to gain weight and I could walk again, but just as she said, she got complete control of me again.

This is the first time I have written about this period in my life. It is very very hard and it feels incredibly shameful. I am not ashamed of having had an eating disorder and/or still having eating difficulties. I don’t know exactly what it is. Somehow telling the story seems scary, unreal and I think part of the problem is knowing it won’t just be hidden inside anymore now that I’ve written it.  It hurts much more than I thought it would. However, I think it needs to be said. It’s almost as if the purpose the starvation served is lessened as I tell it. That probably doesn’t make sense right now but in my later chapters I hope it will.