On my initial assessment with Nicole, it’s safe to say that I didn’t meet many, if any, of the criteria on the Intuitive Eater Questionnaire.
After over 11 years of Anorexia Nervosa and compulsive exercise, I was fully entrenched in a restrictive mindset and totally reliant on a meal plan to keep me safe. With this intense restriction of my food, came intense restriction of my life; I couldn’t develop or maintain relationships with friends or family, I couldn’t easily pass through school, university or work and I definitely couldn’t easily make the most of my hobbies and interests. With countless bouts of treatment over the years, including 9 rounds of CBT, as well as ACT, Hypnotherapy, EFT and DBT, as determined as I was that full recovery was possible for everyone, even I began to think that my eating disorder would be something that I personally would always have to live with.
At the time I reached out to Nicole, I was in the best place I had ever been, however, I definitely wasn’t ‘there’. I had managed to reach a clinically healthy weight, however behaviourally I was still very disordered. I was following my prescribed meal plan extremely rigidly, continuously counting calories, incredibly fearful of a very long list of foods, obsessively concerned about my body, exercising intensely, compulsively walking for the majority of my day and I was utterly petrified of binging, despite never experiencing this in the past.
Nevertheless, I took a leap of faith, and I’m glad to say that things are pretty different now. In my latest session with Nicole, she reassessed me against the questionnaire and ALL of my answers corresponded with those of an Intuitive Eater.
Today, 6 months after that leap;
I eat when I am hungry.
I no longer have to wait until a ‘specific time.'
I eat whatever food I’m craving.
I no longer have ‘allotted portions’ for meals.
I eat as much, or as little, as I desire at the time.
I no longer have fearfoods or foods that are off-limits.
I no longer have ‘situational’ foods.
I eat socially.
I no longer fear binging, or feel the need to binge.
I eat when I’m not hungry if I’m craving something specific.
I can think about things other than food.
I can think about things other than my body.
In short, now, I listen to my body, and my mind, provide what they tell me that they want, and trust that they know best. I’m self-compassionate and self-forgiving, I thank my body for putting up with everything I put it through and I learn each day how to look after it better.
One person dies every 23 hours from an eating disorder, with one in five of those deaths being from suicide. This devastating mental illness has the lowest survival rates of all mental health problems, and yet is still grossly misunderstood. This is largely associated with the fact that the development of an eating disorder is often multi-factorial and incredibly individual. However, is also influenced by the fact that in today’s diet culture the destructive eating disorder voice can become increasingly difficult to disagree with, or in some cases, even recognise. Furthermore, unlike recovery from other addictions, such as alcoholism or drug dependency, you cannot abstain from your ‘poison’. You have to face food every single day, multiple times a day, and in different forms and situations. Thus, in order to recover fully, your resolve in recovery must be fully cemented, yet also fully flexible, to cope with these demands. In my opinion, it is these polar requirements that mean traditional treatment methods, relying on a strict route through prescribed steps and a rigid meal plan, often does not lead to full freedom. Of course, initially meal plans safeguard sufferers enabling them to become medically stable, but beyond this, in my opinion, their usefulness disappears. After all, every BODY is individual, every DISORDER is individual and hence, once safety has been established, this one-size-fits-all method has a tendency to have a one-size-fits-none result. Treatment for YOUR body and for YOUR disorder must be individual for YOU. In other words, it must be intuitive.
And this is what I learnt from Nicole. Nicole didn’t make me recover; she was there the whole time while I recovered myself; guiding, aiding and providing encouragement and information so that I could find my own path. Through her help (and that of my other therapist Eva) I learnt to listen to my body. Not just its hunger and fullness, but all the signs it sends me. Gradually this has lead, and continues to lead me, to the development of a self-awareness and self-acceptance that I have never experienced. Each time I listened to my body instead of Anorexia’s ‘guidance,’ I became little stronger, and her a little weaker. The more I listened, the more I was free to learn about the difference between my core values and those that Anorexia had thrust upon me. During my eating disorder, ‘my’ values were so limited; merely thinness and control. However, gradually I learnt that I, Rhi, actually strongly value many different things; family, inclusiveness, ambition, relationships, feminism, my hobbies including horses and riding, friendship and generosity, and I learnt how much Anorexia had sabotaged these values during her reign.
In other words, Intuitive Eating flooded into the other areas of my life. In essence, I became an Intuitive Liver. So yes, I’ve learnt to listen to hunger and fullness and cravings, but I’ve also learnt to listen to emotions, gut feelings, desires for movement, desires for rest, desires for comfort, desires for company, desires for solitude and any other signals that I receive from my body, and to respond to them with healthy, self-caring mechanisms that benefit my whole being. With this new found freedom and self-compassion I have also discovered that I am fervently passionate about anti-diet, health at every size and feminist living and that I’m wholly committed to helping others find true recovery, and to spreading the body positive message.
This has been, and continues to be, an incredibly difficult process, requiring so much hard work and perseverance, but I am proud to say that I’m doing it, and that now I am growing into the person I was meant to be, I’m becoming authentically me.