2020: THE YEAR I WENT 'ALL IN'
I’ve always loved to read, loved it above almost anything else. As a kid I would hide under my bedsheet and read with a light on or by the hallway light stolen under my door. As a teenager I always had a book on the go. It felt like my superpower: I was a good reader. And writing felt the same. Gareth makes fun of me now for the number of notebooks I have, it has always been this way I explain. If my parent’s moving out of our family home has shown me anything it is that; a notebook for every occasion - diaries, journals, stories, lists.
And then I grew up and everything became digital. We swapped our Twilight books for Netflix Series, Elle Magazines for Pinterest Boards, cookbooks for Instagram #inspo….
But it still remains. I love to read and I love to write. And maybe you do too.
So here’s a little promise to myself: Read more. As if it were completely necessary. Write more. Because I enjoy it.
And we start here with a blog that maybe no one will read, but that I will enjoy creating. We start with a recap; a little about last year; let’s start with All In.
I began 2020 burnt out; doing that coping thing that so many of us do. 14 years of battling an eating disorder had left me exhausted. I was tired of being tired and cold and battling hunger and yet couldn’t understand the way out. How did anyone make it through the hard part? Where you gain weight and feel out of control? When self hate rises more strongly than you think you can bare? I had dipped my toe into recovery before, and had always left feeling like it wasn’t possible.
But I also knew I didn’t want to live like this anymore. Something had to change.
At this point in 2020, the YouTuber Stephanie Buttermore had popularised the idea of ‘All In’ (see the link below for more information). ‘All In’ was about dropping food restrictions and rules in place of fully committing to healing yourself, whatever that meant for the shape your body. I had tried something similar before. In the eating disorder community it is known as the Minnie Muad Method. Here you eat upwards of 2500kcals a day, with no exercise, no weighing yourself, no restrictions, irrespective of your starting weight, and in turn you heal the damage you have done. It is about prioritising long term health over the goals/comfort immediately in front of you. But whenever I had tried before I had only done a few days before freaking out and going back to my old ways.
I knew I wasn’t ready for this approach just yet but Stephanie did provide me with hope. I had the idea that maybe ‘committing fully’ could look a little different. I turned to the world of body building for some guidance, a sport that requires you to get down to extremely low body fat levels, what could I learn there? In body building there is a term called reverse dieting. The idea behind reverse diets is that slowly increase your food and rest; and along the way restore your health. This felt like peeling off the band aid vs ripping it off. It felt more doable.
A note from my phone:
The hardest part of recovery, for me, was the last part. Right where you can see the finish line. When you’re far enough away from the pain that you’ve forgotten how bad it was to be SO hungry and tired and completely falling apart, but you remember the comforting parts, the good parts - kind of like a bad relationship you struggle to let go of.
You engage in small behaviours. A little bit restriction here, an over-exercise rule there. You hold on, constantly reinforcing the importance of staying small. And you are okay (-ish); managing. But you are also never truly free. And you feel that. Because it still takes up a little too much space.
The hardest part remains choosing to let go of a life (and an identity) where the future feels obvious but small, in place for one that is seemingly uncontrollable. The world in your head vs the world out there. AND YET, it is a life that you know you are missing out on.
And so a few months later I knew it was time to go ‘All In’.
On a practical level that looked like a number things: I asked for help from a professional, I stopped counting calories, threw out my scales, I challenged food rules, and, because I wasn’t teaching due to lockdown, for the first time in a long time I was forced to rest.
And I gained weight. And then gained some more. May to July sucked. It was not a happy journey. I think we often have this idea that we bloom in recovery, but my god it felt the opposite. It was messy. I cried a lot. Not only where we in the middle of a global pandemic but I was facing my worst fears without the one tool I had used to cope with hard things. I had gained weight and I did not want the new body I was in.
You might be wondering what kept me going in the moments when I so wanted to give up; when an ED felt like an easier choice…
A few things.
Recovery is not an enlightened state. It is the outcome of choices you make each day adding up. It doesn't matter if they feel forced - keep taking those steps consistently. In that way recovery becomes a way of being vs ‘somewhere’ you are trying to get to - which can be a less daunting.
2. Self care.
Not in bubble baths or face masks. But in removing the clothes that do not fit, taking the time to do your hair and makeup … The opposite of what the voice in your head says you should be doing when you fell the full force of self loathing.
3. Put your blinkers on
You can feel triggers, be pulled by them. But then go back to your choices. You do not have to act. You put your blinkers on and you carry on down the PATH that is YOUR OWN.
4. Hints of change
When you go an hour without thinking about your next meal. When you feel more present.
5. A mantra: the only way out is through.
Come August and there was a drop in the puffiness I had been experiencing. It is common to experience water retention and ‘fat overshooting’ in recovery as your body heals. But I also think there is a lot to be said for ‘getting used to’ being in a different body: when you are used to seeing a sick you that becomes ‘normal’. I would still have low days, confronting days, but slowly I was getting used to this different me. My weight and food had started to hold less importance than I realised was possible. I went to visit some friends and didn’t think about food once whist I was there - my life had changed. And although there were moments when things still felt hard I began to realise that food and my body wan’t where joy was after all. You realise you cannot go back.
At the end of October I bought myself some new jeans and it felt oddly like proof that I had made it. How did I know I had? Well. I think you know you know when you know - much like falling in love I guess.
I wanted to end with something I wrote about jeans that maybe speaks a little further to that:
I don’t remember when it happened exactly, maybe sometime around 13 years old, the singer Jojo had brought out a new music video. In it she wore dark denim skinny jeans, and immediately I wanted some. I went to the shop and got second some hand Diesels, I was in love. They were dark blue with gold stitching all around the pockets. But someone told me they made my legs look big, and year later they didn’t fit: they fell off my hips even with a belt on.
At 20 I threw some jeans on a fire - it was supposed to be a symbol of change and moving on. I was never meant for size 00. I had caused a lot of damage, not just to myself, to get in them, I was saying, ‘not anymore’.
Over the years that followed I ebbed and flowed with the success of my recovery, as many of us do, and after a while I stopped wearing jeans all together; swapping them for yoga leggings so I didn’t have to grow in and out anymore. Maybe it sounds silly, but it hurt too much.
This past year I felt that pain full force: my ‘big’ jeans, the jeans that were always too large, wouldn’t do up. I would never have bought another pair if it weren’t for that I was going away with my family. I bought an ugly pair, a pair that were so big they almost fell down - but at least they would fit. It felt like a safer choice.
But here is what I have learnt, as I have continued to grow in more ways than one; we love the things we care for. And self care does not look like hiding yourself. Maybe at first, as you build some strength, but eventually it is saying ‘this is me’.
So I bought some jeans, a pair that fit. Some of you said you on insta said you didn’t like them, but I did, so I kept them. Finally brave, content, strong enough to stand in some self confidence and assurance. And I wish I could say to that 13 year old girl:
You are great
No one cares, as long as you are happy, and if they do, it’s them, not you
You don’t need to shrink yourself
Wear the jeans.
Stephanie Buttermore All In: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DotlyWhBhak
Minnie Maud: https://edinstitute.org