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Body Image and Eating Disorders

Body Image is our idea of how our body looks and how it is perceived by others. Having a negative or poor body image is strongly associated to Anxiety and Depression as well as eating disorders such as Anorexia and Bulimia. Obsessive and exhausting over-exercising behaviour, yo-yo dieting, reluctance to socialise, difficulties with relationships and financial problems are all associated with body image.

BEAT, the UK’S leading eating disorder charity, estimates that 1.6 million people in the UK have an eating disorder. 1.4 million of these people are female. People most at risk of developing an eating disorder are young women aged between 14-25. 1 in 10 secondary school students are affected by eating disorders.

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness and many young people who develop anorexia or bulimia (as well as other eating disorders) will suffer serious long-term health consequences.

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Body Image and Young Children

A lot of research on body image focuses on adolescents. However, there is now evidence that suggests children develop negative body image much younger than we think. Children as young as 9 and 10 show disturbing levels of anxiety about their weight and physical appearance. By the ages of 10 and 11, 1 in 8 girls want to be thinner.

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10 Steps to Positive Body Image

  1. Appreciate all that your body can do.  Every day your body carries you closer to your dreams.  Celebrate all of the amazing things your body does for you—running, dancing, breathing, laughing, dreaming, etc.
  2. Keep a top-ten list of things you like about yourself—things that aren’t related to how much you weigh or what you look like.  Read your list often.  Add to it as you become aware of more things to like about yourself.
  3. Remind yourself that “true beauty” is not simply skin deep.  When you feel good about yourself and who you are, you carry yourself with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness that makes you beautiful regardless of whether you physically look like a supermodel.  Beauty is a state of mind, not a state of your body.
  4. Look at yourself as a whole person.  When you see yourself in a mirror or in your mind, choose not to focus on specific body parts.  See yourself as you want others to see you–as a whole person.
  5. Surround yourself with positive people.  It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognize the importance of liking yourself just as you naturally are.
  6. Shut down those voices in your head that tell you your body is not “right” or that you are a “bad” person.  You can overpower those negative thoughts with positive ones.  The next time you start to tear yourself down, build yourself back up with a few quick affirmations that work for you.
  7. Wear clothes that are comfortable and that make you feel good about your body.  Work with your body, not against it.
  8. Become a critical viewer of social and media messages.  Pay attention to images, slogans, or attitudes that make you feel bad about yourself or your body.  Protest these messages:  write a letter to the advertiser or talk back to the image or message
  9. Do something nice for yourself–something that lets your body know you appreciate it.  Take a bubble bath, make time for a nap, find a peaceful place outside to relax.
  10. Use the time and energy that you might have spent worrying about food, calories, and your weight to do something to help others.  Sometimes reaching out to other people can help you feel better about yourself and can make a positive change in our world.

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journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

Spotting the First Signs of an Eating Disorder

This week the UK’s eating disorder charity BEAT has released a poster that educates the first signs of an eating disorder. There are a range of eating disorders and these do display different symptoms, however there are some general signs that could signal a problem.

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The TOP 3 Early Signs of an Eating Disorder:

  • Food obsessions

    – Has their attitude towards food changed? Have they started measuring foods, counting calories, or cutting out foods they used to enjoy? Do they love cooking for others but don’t eat the meals themselves? They may also begin showing secretive behaviour when it comes to food or meal times. Be aware that it may look like they’re eating but they could be being secretive (such as throwing food away when you’re not looking or taking it to their room and then not eating it).

  • Distorted body image 

    – Has the person lost weight but still say they’re too fat and that they look terrible? In the first stages of an ED the person will make these commons frequently. Later, when suspicions are raised, they will start to become more quiet and withdrawn. Realise that ED thoughts occur for some time before the person loses a significant amount of weight – step in before this physical symptom.

  • The emotional roller coaster 
  • -Are they experiencing changes in their mood? Are they becoming more irritable, over sensitive, a perfectionist, compulsive, depressed, more anxious or wanting to be alone?

Other warning signs and symptoms include:

  • Constant adherence to increasingly strict diets, regardless of weight
  • Habitual trips to the bathroom immediately after eating
  • Secretly bingeing on large amounts of food
  • Hoarding large amounts of food
  • Increase in consumption of laxatives, diuretics or diet pills
  • Exercising compulsively, often several hours per day
  • Using prescription stimulant medications and/or illicit stimulant drugs to suppress appetite
  • Withdrawal from friends and family, particularly following questions about her disease or visible physical/medical side effects
  • Avoidance of meals or situations where food may be present
  • Preoccupation with weight, body size and shape, or specific aspects of one’s appearance
  • Obsessing over calorie intake and calories burned via exercise, even as one may be losing significant amounts of weight

Physical symptoms of anorexia may include:

  • Underweight, even emaciated appearance with protruding bones or a sunken appearance to the face
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Brittle nails
  • Hair that thins, breaks or falls out
  • Menstrual irregularities or loss of menstruation (amenorrhea)
  • Baby fine hair covering face and other areas of the body (lanugo)

Emotional and behavioural signs of anorexia nervosa may include:

  • Refusal to eat
  • Denial of hunger
  • Excessive exercise
  • Eating only a few certain “safe” foods, usually those low in fat and calories
  • Adopting rigid meal or eating rituals, such as cutting food into tiny pieces or spitting food out after chewing

Symptoms of bulimia may include:

  • Abnormal bowel functioning
  • Damaged teeth and gums
  • Sores in the throat and mouth
  • Scarring on the back of the hand/fingers used to induce purging
  • Swollen salivary glands (creating “chipmunk cheeks”)
  • Menstrual irregularities or loss of menstruation (amenorrhea)
  • Irritation and inflammation of the esophagus (heartburn)

Behavioural symptoms of bulimia may include:

  • Constant dieting
  • Hiding food or food wrappers
  • Eating in secret
  • Eating to the point of discomfort or pain
  • Self-induced vomiting
  • Laxative use
  • Excessive exercise
  • Frequent bathroom trips after eating
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What Life Is Really Like With Anorexia [EDAW 2017]

Eating disorders are so commonly glorified these days. Eating very little, exercising in the blazing hot sun; your hair falling in your face. A perfect body for summer – cropped tops, denim shorts and flowers in your hair. No wonder I didn’t notice I was suffering with an eating disorder. Eating disorders are not glamorous. Pale skin, exhaustion, fainting spells, feeling so guilty for eating you can’t even look at yourself, hair loss, constantly feeling cold. How glorious is that?

When I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa at the age of sixteen, I thought it was a joke. I wasn’t the ‘image’ of a girl with an eating disorder. I wasn’t happy, I was tired and sick. I could barely stand; refusing food and water. I didn’t feel pretty, or thin, or worthy. I didn’t want to sit on the beach in a crop top and denim shorts. There were no flowers in my hair. The reality of having Anorexia came fast. Spending hours in GP surgeries and hospitals, being taken out of college, having endless amounts of tests, having to face every single meal time, not being able to exercise, the lack of freedom, the tension in my family. That wasn’t glamorous.

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Looking back in hindsight, Anorexia at its worse was draining me. It was slowly taking my life. The days flew in a blur, each looked the same. Take a Tuesday: It was 7:15am, I’d barely slept. I was running on 3 hours sleep. I was absolutely exhausted. As soon as I got out of bed, I headed to the bathroom. I weighed myself once, then stepped off and weighed myself again. The numbers on the scale not only determined my mood for the day but also determined whether or not I’d be allowed to eat. That Tuesday, just like every other day, the number on the scale wasn’t good enough. Despite a rumbling in my tummy, I proceeded to get changed. My nails were turning blue, my skin white and I felt so cold. Throughout the day, I was sluggish. I exercised for as long as I could. I walked laps around the room until I could no longer stand. When it was time for college, I couldn’t concentrate. The lecture wasn’t my first priority. My tummy rumbled underneath the desk and I hoped no one would hear it. I couldn’t even hear the tutor’s words as I was too busy trying to work out calories for the day and exercises I could do in order to burn them off. My mind raced on how alone I was, on how utterly worthless I was, how all my friends must have hated me being so down and weak. I was tired; emotional. Even sitting brought bouts of dizziness. After lecture, I could no longer stand it. I needed a nap. I hadn’t eaten since the day before, maybe even the day before that. I came home shaky, cold and exhausted; crawling into bed in an attempt to calm my breathing and heart. My skin was pale and a headache raged between my eyes. My hands were as cold as the ice outside my window. The rumbling in my tummy was enough to make me feel nauseous. After a quick power nap, exercise began again. When I fainted and no longer had energy, I allowed myself to sleep, but insomnia came creeping through the door. I was depressed, tired, tearful and irritable. Hot tears rolled down my face. Eventually, I fell asleep, but that wouldn’t last for long.

 

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How glamorous was that Tuesday? How glamorous was it really? A tummy rumbling for food, a fainting episode, a flood of tears, extreme exhaustion. None of these are glamorous, but I’ll tell you what they are. They are symptoms of a deadly eating disorder. They are signals that something is very, very wrong. Anorexia Nervosa has the highest death rate among all psychiatric disorders.

 

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Please tell me, how glamorous is it now?

 

Life with an eating disorder is not glamorous. It is not easy. It brings so many difficult emotions – guilt, shame, worthlessness, sadness. It steals your personality, your friends, your passion for life. It makes you bruise so easy that even sitting down hurts. Life with Anorexia is life-threatening.

 

I hope if you’re reading this you find the ability to take a stand for eating disorders. I hope you come to understand the raw reality of suffering with an eating disorder. I hope that if you’re suffering yourself, you find the courage to reach out for help – to end the glamour that may be taking over your mind. I simply hope.

 

Eating Disorders are no type of glamour. They are a serious psychiatric disorder.

 

Raise awareness during this week and all weeks.

journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · Uncategorized

Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2017

Today marks the first day of eating disorder awareness week 2017. This is such an important week for me as most people know and I will be sharing lots of information about eating disorders to try and raise as much awareness as possible.

Awareness is key to diagnosis and recovery. Because of a lack of awareness, my eating disorder went undetected for 14+ months until my life was at risk. People deserve to get the care and treatment they need in terms of their eating disorders from the moment they develop one.

Eating disorders are characterised by an abnormal attitude towards food that causes someone to change their eating habits and behaviour. A person with an eating disorder may focus excessively on their weight and shape, leading them to make unhealthy choices about food with damaging results to their health.

Eating disorders include a range of conditions that can affect someone physically, psychologically and socially. The most common eating disorders are:

  • anorexia nervosa – when a person tries to keep their weight as low as possible; for example, by starving themselves or exercising excessively
  • bulimia – when a person goes through periods of binge eating and is then deliberately sick or uses laxatives (medication to help empty the bowels) to try to control their weight
  • binge eating disorder (BED) – when a person feels compelled to overeat large amounts of food in a short space of time

Some people, particularly those who are young, may be diagnosed with an eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS). This means you have some, but not all, of the typical signs of eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia.

I was diagnosed with Anorexia in 2014. Anorexia Nervosa is currently the most lethal psychiatric disorder, carrying a sixfold increased risk of death. Although Anorexia is by far the deadliest eating disorder, death rates are also higher than normal in people with bulimia and “eating disorder not otherwise specified” (EDNOS, a common diagnosis for people with a mixture of atypical anorexia and atypical bulimia). Suicide is also a particular risk as 1 in 5 Anorexia death are due to suicide. People diagnosed with Anorexia between the ages of 20 to 29 had a higher death rate (18-fold) with the age group 15-19 following close behind with a ten fold.

Spotting the signs of an eating disorder can be difficult. Remember – a person with an eating disorder does NOT have to appear thin or underweight.

Warning signs to look out for include:

  • missing meals
  • complaining of being fat, even though they have a normal weight or are underweight
  • repeatedly weighing themselves and looking at themselves in the mirror
  • Losing interest in social events, not attending classes or school, becoming withdrawn
  • making repeated claims that they’ve already eaten, or they’ll shortly be going out to eat somewhere else and avoiding eating at home
  • cooking big or complicated meals for other people, but eating little or none of the food themselves
  • only eating certain low-calorie foods in your presence, such as lettuce or celery
  • feeling uncomfortable or refusing to eat in public places, such as at a restaurant
  • the use of “pro-anorexia” websites
  • Use of dietary aids such as weight loss products, diuretics and laxatives
  • eating in secret or having days of ‘normal’ eating
  • Using the bathroom frequently after eating

Eating disorders cause a wide variety of complications, some of them life-threatening. The more severe or long lasting the eating disorder, the more likely you are to experience serious complications, such as:

  • Significant medical problems
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior
  • Problems with growth and development
  • Social and relationship problems
  • Substance use disorders
  • Work and school issues
  • Death

So, whose affected by eating disorders?

A 2015 report commissioned by Beat estimates more than 725,000 people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder. Eating disorders tend to be more common in certain age groups, but they can affect people of any age.

Around 1 in 250 women and 1 in 2,000 men will experience anorexia nervosa at some point. The condition usually develops around the age of 16 or 17.

Bulimia is around two to three times more common than anorexia nervosa, and 90% of people with the condition are female. It usually develops around the age of 18 or 19.

Binge eating affects males and females equally and usually appears later in life, between the ages of 30 and 40. As it’s difficult to precisely define binge eating, it’s not clear how widespread it is, but it’s estimated to affect around 5% of the adult population.

Be disorder aware this week and reach out to those you feel may be suffering with an Eating Disorder

[credit: NHS UK]

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autism · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

St David Awards Finalist Reception

Today I woke up at 6am to travel all the way to Wales for the St David Awards. I was so anxious that I actually felt physically sick but it was such a good event and everyone was so friendly.

We arrived and had some breakfast before I had some professional photos taken and spoke to some journalists. We chilled for a little while before the First Minister came and announced all the finalists to the stage. I am in the young person category for my mental health campaigning and special needs volunteering.

It was really lovely to see everyone there today and hear about all their achievements. It’s really overwhelming to think that people feel you deserve a national welsh award for ‘exceptional people in Wales’. I feel so incredibly blessed and feel so motivated to continue reaching out to others in similar situations to my own.

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The whole reason I started this personal journey to recovery was because of the amazing people who kept pushing and pushing for my life. Without my family and my close friends, Anorexia would’ve claimed my life 2 years ago. With them, I began to fight for a new life and with it found the amazing joy of helping others. So many people reached out to me during my darkest days and I realised I was never alone no matter how isolated I felt.

I still get emails, facebook messages, and letters from those who wish to thank me for my work. For 2 years, I’ve exposed my inner and most darkest secrets, all my thoughts, and all my struggles in the hopes that it can help others in the same situation get the help they need. Exposing yourself to the world is one of the hardest things you can do – because it feels like everyone can criticise your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. However, I don’t regret ever starting this blog and sharing my story because if one person is helped then thats enough to change the world!

Mental Health problems are such a taboo subject and people struggling are more often than not stigmatised.

Every single day I will fight to change this view.

Mental Health problems are not a liability. They are not shameful. They are not cowardly. They are not only experienced by the weak.

Mental illness has no victim. It affects people of all ages, all backgrounds, all cultures and all social class.

Different but NEVER less

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journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

I was REALLY sick…

I was on instagram last night when I went onto my instagram profile. I decided to just stroll through my pictures and found some from 2014/2015. For those who know me, you’ll understand that during this time I was in the depths of my eating disorder. At the time, I didn’t really know this. I thought I was okay. I thought I was better than I’d ever been. How wrong I was though. June 2014 consisted of doctors appointments, hospital appointments, blood tests, scans, meetings with college, intervention from community mental health teams and social services. My weight was drastically dropping by each day. The calories kept getting lower and lower.

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Whilst going through those pictures last night; I had the realisation that I was actually really sick back then. How I had managed to feel so healthy I have no idea. How did I survive on no calories for a week? How did I manage to exercise every waking hour of the day?

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I knew that I was sick, I just don’t think I realised how sick I was. I thought I was getting healthy and stronger, not unhealthy and weaker. I remember getting every single illness going; my immune system was very weak. I was always cold yet I still took freezing showers. My muscles always ached and bruised but I would walk for hours on end.

All I wanted to do was sleep and food plagued every single thought.

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Anorexia is such a wretched disease.

It stops its victims even noticing theres something wrong. It refuses to let them see their true self or feel any sort of happiness.

Anorexia is strong, but Savannah is stronger.

autism · journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

Remembering the Recovered: Eating Disorders at Christmas

When you’ve had an eating disorder in the past and people are aware of that, you are no longer protected in that safety blanket of the unknown. People now have suspicions. They are more aware. They know you once suffered and are now tracking every move you make; every bite you consume. There’s no hiding it now. They know, and you can’t take that back. That’s the most scariest thing about recovery. The raw revealing of yourself. Your entire thoughts and battles on show for everyone to stare at. That’s what makes Christmas as a recovered so hard…

You can no longer pass off not eating the cake because you’re a little full or you’ve already ate. You can’t make up a believable excuse as to why you’re exercising none stop. It’s not to be healthy or to practice for a sports tryout. Refusing a meal is no longer simply overlooked; its scrutinised and studied.

But the thing is, when you’re ‘recovered’ people expect you to reintegrate into the normal family unit. It isn’t about food anymore. Now you’re recovered, you love food. People expect you to eat everything on the plate and ask for seconds. That fear of food you had – that’s gone now. They want to forget about the past and have a ‘normal Christmas’. You’re recovered now, so why wouldn’t you eat that extra slice of cake or have any fears of food at all. Your health and weight is no longer a concern and people expect you to fit into their shared experiences, including the overindulgence on Christmas Day without feeling guilty and the ability to eat food without deeming yourself bad.

But I want to tell you something…a person who has ‘recovered’ from an eating disorder may appear fine and healthy on the outside. They may eat without guilt or have a dessert after dinner. They may not exercise anymore and seem confident about their body, but the thing is – they’re likely not fully recovered. Eating disorders have a heavy hold on the sufferer. Recovered may mean better but it doesn’t mean the eating disorder has just completely disappeared off the face of the earth.

Eating disorders build up their own identity. There is no room for happiness in an eating disorder. It robs you of your joy and you become some automaton with no feelings. You can no longer tell the difference between who you are and who the eating disorder is. You’re not you anymore. You become a walking, talking eating disorder. The eating disorder invades your mind and every single part of your body. You think you can stop it at your will, but you can’t. You’re no longer in control; the eating disorder is.

Recovered does not mean that I now have a healthy and positive relationship with food.

So on Christmas day, please remember the recovered. Remember that an eating disorder used to be the only thing that they lived for. Remember that they struggled to look at food and eat it. Remember that exercise was their life. Remember that they struggled to eat during family gatherings and did not like social events that included food. Remember that their eating disorder was valid and so is their recovery…

Please remember that recovery is a long and treacherous journey and that relapses are a 100% acceptable.

Be forgiving. Be loving. Be kind. Be compassionate. Be open minded. Be patient.

Thank you,

the recovered.

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