It’s that time of year again. Hundreds of sabbs from around the country are starting out on what will be a hectic, busy and challenging year ahead. The summer training period is in full flow with hand overs, in house training and NUS training filling up the diaries and taking over lives.
The rumours of ‘Sabb flab’ are doing the rounds, the idea of putting on weight in your sabb year is a common one within the student movement and the seemingly endless all you can eat carb fests that are the offered meal three times a day to anyone on a training course seems to confirm the fact that sabbs gain weight. Now this isn’t always the case, some people do, some people don’t.
Relationships with food are complex; they can often be intrinsically linked to an individual’s mental health. Food can be used to regulate mood and can be the cure or cause of feeling down. Comfort food can be used to improve your mood; sometimes in moderation, sometimes in excess.
At other times eating may invoke feelings of guilt or sadness. These feelings can relate to the type of food that you’re eating, it might not be all foods that are so closely linked to your mood and at times these same foods may have no impact on your frame of mind at all.
These feelings can also relate to how much you are eating, and what can start off as eating to make you happy can then turn to guilt if you feel you have eaten too much.
This link between food and feeling is completely normal with many people tucking into a tub of ice cream after a really rubbish day. However it’s important to realise that this relationship may not always be healthy, and it can get to a point where food or the thought of food can dominate your life.
For those experiencing high stress levels exerting some control over the amount of food, or the type of food you are eating can provide a sense of calm.
When your life is running away with you, taking control of an aspect of it can provide you with something to hold on to and keep you from slipping under. However, there is a fine balance and a lot of confusion about what is and isn’t healthy.
We are consistently bombarded with conflicting information about appropriate daily intakes, the amount of salt, fat, sugar, fruit and veg to eat! The pressure for women to hate their bodies, and guys to do the same with the promotion of new fad and celebrity diets in every magazine.
The pressure to look a certain way, not to skinny not to fat, is immense. Sometimes it’s hard to escape conversations about weight, diets and body faults.
EVERYWHERE you look there are pictures, films, adverts, and TV shows of people we are meant to look like; the perfect stomach, thighs, bum, legs, boobs. When in reality this image of ‘beauty’ isn’t real. It doesn’t exist. It’s mainly photoshop, editing or the ability to spend every given hour in the gym.
Talk about body image rarely takes into consideration the amount of exercise you do, underlying health problems, the amount of muscle you have or most importantly of all, whether you are actually happy. Navigating food is a mind field of insecurities, low self esteem, self hate and utter confusion.
I’m not going to tell you what is and isn’t healthy, because I don’t know. Like a lot of people, I don’t have the healthiest of diets or even relationships with food.
Sometimes I over eat, or eat to improve my mood, I definitely love junk food and ice cream. At times of stress I can also skip meals or restrict the amount I eat.
Sometimes I use the control of food to try and make me feel in control of my life or improve my mood and I know that isn’t so good. When I find myself slipping into patterns of skipping meals I’m careful to make sure that I do ensure I’m eating.
Recognising when you aren’t happy or don’t feel that your eating is healthy is important. Paying attention to yourself and not being swept up in the chaos that is student/sabb life is important. When you feel yourself struggling it’s important to try and make changes that enable you to be happy and healthy.
Here are some coping strategies that have come from those who experience issues with eating for both those having problems with food and for those who are supporting them:
Organise lunch dates.
Go out for breakfast, lunch, dinner with someone. Make sure you schedule meals into your diary.
Find other (less harmful) ways to feel in control.
When I feel close to relapsing I often go on a cleaning spree, organise my diary (and schedule in some pampering time).
A problem shared is a problem halved, and it really makes a difference to talk to people who are good at listening; whether they are friends, counsellors, etc. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone – get a diary and write it down or submit a postcard to postsecret (www.postsecret.org.uk).
Its OK to give into cravings for “forbidden foods”.
If I feel a strong urge to eat a milk chocolate bar, I do. Its better that I eat one milk chocolate bar every now and again than wait until I binge and eat 12 mars bars in one sitting.
Resist self critical thoughts.
Any time that you hear *the voice* in your head, talk back to it internally using “your own” voice. By doing that, you don’t just quell the problem of short term “guilt”, you start to separate your ill self from your real self and push the ill part of you further into the past.
If you need help with finding out information on the net, get a friend to search for/with you so you can avoid all the horrendous “thinspiration” sites.
Employ harm reduction techniques.
If you are binging and fasting, make sure you are taking vitamin supplements and keeping hydrated (purging can really dehydrate you). If you are purging, chew antacids to neutralise the extra acid in your mouth afterwards to avoid messing up your teeth. Avoid taking laxatives or diet pills, they can really mess you up! All these do is replace one problem with another.
All your feelings are valid.
And if you need to, you should find someone to talk to about them. A lot of people feel like their eating/body image isnt “serious enough” to ask for help. But if its a problem to you, its a problem!
Remember you have friends or family that want to support you!
They aren’t perfect but they are usually acting out of concern. Check out B-eat, a great support network! http://www.b-eat.co.uk/
How to be a good ally
Read up on other people’s experiences of eating disorders.
It’s your duty to learn about this sort of thing, don’t expect your friend to be in a position where they can teach you about it. Also, don’t assume that one persons experiences of having an eating disorder will be the same as anyone else’s.
Foster body-positivism within yourself and your attitude to others.
This means avoiding re-enforcing fat-prejudice by saying things like “but you’re not fat”, etc. Organise politically for body-positivism, and actively change the environment around you.
Don’t comment on how your friend’s body looks.
Saying “you’re too thin” is still a negative comment about someone else’s body.
Critising your own body can also have negative impacts on the individual (and ultimately yourself)
Be there when your friend wants to chat. Employ active listening.
Don’t try to “fix” your friend.
Let them know that you are there for them if they need you, and actively make yourself available for them.
Your friend might get angry or upset with you, this might be the first time they’ve ever spoken about it and it can be really difficult for them. Make sure you always employ non-violent communication: i.e. saying “I feel x when y happens” is less accusatory than saying “you make me feel x”
Power struggles over food and eating are damaging.
Consent is important. Never try and force someone to eat if they don’t want to.
Avoid criticising your friend’s eating habits.
Instead focus on their feelings. Your friend is probably making themselves feel guilty and ashamed for the both of you – don’t try and guilt them into eating.
Another thing to do is to think about how family/household approaches to food may support (or otherwise) the person with an eating disorder.
Do you always hang out in the kitchen? Would having dinner in front of the tv help take the pressure off? Some people find being involved in cooking helpful, others not so much. How about skipping or growing your own food?
Being stressed and upset can only lead to more harm, so make sure you time to pamper yourself and make sure you are OK too!
This list of coping strategies was first published on nakedvegancooking.com.