Feeding Myself

Note: I  wrote most of this post on Sunday but became swamped by trauma symptoms and wasn’t able to finish it until today, Wednesday 5th. 

My belly is full of wholemeal toast, eggs scrambled with spring onions and cheddar, seasoned with a dash of sea salt and lashings of black pepper.
I’m not a food writer nor do I aspire to be one, but I am inspired by at least two of them. My favourites, Jack Monroe and Ella Risbridger started out as bloggers, before books and the world of traditional publishing beckoned.

Until I reached ‘middle-age’ I had no real cooking confidence. I blogged about that and how that changed, here.

I have a difficult relationship with food. I have an eating disorder. There, I’ve said it, that wasn’t all that difficult was it? Actually, you know what, it really was; it’s difficult for me to be open about it.
I’ve probably had a tendency to struggle with food for most of my life, but there have been two periods where that struggle became a full blown eating disorder.The reason it’s so difficult for me to discuss isn’t because I feel ashamed about it in myself. I recognise it as an illness and accept that the trauma and abuse that I’ve experienced lie at the root of it. However, I am aware of the stigma that it carries.

Many people, including some medical professionals, scoff (I know, I couldn’t resist the ironic pun) at the very idea that binge-eating disorder is described as an eating ‘disorder’ at all. I’m just fat and greedy, right? If you don’t agree with that last statement, you might be surprised by how many people would.

Beat, the UK’s leading charity providing support for, and campaigning about, eating disorders, has this to say: “Binge eating disorder (BED) is a serious mental illness where people experience a loss of control and overeat on a regular basis.”  You can read more on the Beat web site, here.

In recent years ‘fat-shaming’ has become ‘a thing’ and some have fought back against those who seek to mock, deride or in any way bully someone who is overweight. An element of ‘fat pride’ has emerged, with a rise in plus-size bloggers and models.

I’d like to be fat and proud. That’s not because I’m happy being so overweight, I’m not in the least, and that’s entirely because of the impact that it has on my health and fitness. I’d like to have that ‘fat-pride’ while I remain this size because I do not want to feel shamed or otherwise negatively regarded because of my size.

I’m never going to be without curves, that’s the way I’m built. I’m a pear-shaped woman with an ample bosom. I’ll gladly celebrate those curves, in the way that I’d encourage anyone to be body confident; body positive.

I want to beat my eating disorder and lose weight. I want to regain, and revel in, my fitness because of the positive impact that is has on my life. I did beat the disorder the first time around. I did it without help, not because I was trying to go it alone but because I wasn’t offered any. After regaining some control over my eating patterns, it was some years before I was able to lose the weight I’d gained as result of the disorder. I did it between 2011 and 2012, losing five stone.

I was inspired by the ‘Hairy Dieters’ television programmes, they focus on that old chestnut, a low calorie diet and increased exercise. The hairy ones aim to make low calorie options that taste good and satisfy. It takes effort to lose weight and every bit of incentive you can muster really helps.

After leaving my husband, I took up running in early 2014. In reality I took to walking on my treadmill and slowly built up to being able to run a mile a day, but ‘I took up ‘treadmilling” doesn’t have the same ring to it. (Click on ‘treadmill’ in the tag cloud on my blog homepage, if you’re interested in reading about my route to running.) I’ve NEVER been ‘sporty’ but I really grew to love running, or more likely the endorphins that the activity released, that and the vast improvement in my fitness and my body confidence.

I’m probably not quite back at my heaviest ever weight, I can’t be sure because my scales have broken and I can’t afford to replace them, but as a result of this relapse into an eating disorder, and so months spent in the grip of compulsive eating, I’ve gained at least six stones in weight over a period of around 18 months.

Last year I asked for help via my GP surgery and the Intensive Home Treatment Team (mental healrh out patient crisis service) many times, and with increasing desperation. I knew that this time I needed help to beat it. Despite my massive weight gain in a short space of time and a new diagnosis of very high cholesterol levels, I’ve been offered no help ar all.

My trauma therapist said we could do some work around my eating issues, but given we already have so many other high priorities stacked up, that’s not practical. The Intensive Home Treatment Team psychiatrist promised to speak to the local eating disorders service about the possibility of support for me there. She told me that she’d get back to me. I chased it up when she didn’t and was rudely told that I’d already been told “NO”. I wasn’t in a position to argue and didn’t receive any fuller explanation.

At least my GP’s urgent referral for trauma therapy had got me onto a two year waiting list … I love the NHS but have long found its mental health services to be chronically underfunded and often poorly staffed, and it’s trauma services (that’s the psychological version not A&E) rarer than hens’ teeth. Again and again I’ve turned to the voluntary (charity) sector, itself often cash-strapped with services oversubscribed. As a result, services often receive scant advertising.Many hours of research can be required to uncover what might be available, and then often complicated application processes follow. Recently I bagged a place on a waiting list for a ‘trauma support worker’ – essentially, someone to meet once or twice a month who can provide moral support, guidance and practical help as you work to rebuild your life. I’m due to reach the top of that list in early 2019.

But back to the impact of the eating disorder, I think that I’m now the most unfit that I’ve ever been, and that does not feel good AT ALL. In fact, it’s really rather frightening, the detrimental impact on my health is evident.

I am beginning to cultivate a more positive connection to food, and the beginnings of this new relationship were nurtured by those food bloggers, Jack and Ella.

Jack’s engaging blog began when poverty forced Jack to feed themself and their toddler son (Jack identifies as non-binary and so prefers the gender neutral pronoun ‘their’) for £10 a week. Jack’s no-nonsense style and inventive recipes are budget-conscious and also an excellent resource for.anyone seeking the confidence to cook from scratch.

Ella’s writing is more lyrical, hers is the poetry of food writing. Sometimes high-falutin’ ingredients could be off-putting if you’re a beginner or more especially if you’re low on funds. I’ve yet to try an Ella recipe, but still I savour her blog. I’m along for the ride, vicariously living her altogether nourishing relationship with food and cooking, and learning from it.

What both Jack and Ella have in common is that they have both introduced me to the idea that preparing nutritious food for myself can be a healing endeavour. The process of preparing and cooking food, chopping, stirring, whisking, can, and should be, a mindful, meditative experience, allowing for calm concentration and a break from a traumatised, troubled, or simply busy mind. You savour the process as much as the end result. There’s also achievement and satisfaction in both admiring and eating your creation, however small or simple! Cooking for oneself can be a nourishing experience, not just for the body, but also for the mind.

I particularly enjoy making Jack’s easy peasy Coconut Milk Soda Bread. Jack’s description of rocking a warm, snuggly bundle is my idea of a great twist on ‘comfort food’!

This weekend I’ve discovered the joy of baked eggs all kinds of ways.

Baked Eggs: Mushroom and vegetarian-style ‘Pepperoni’ and Spring Onion and Cheddar, perhaps not the prettiest dishes but certainly very tasty!

I also tried a Sainsbury’s recipe for a healthy snack – roasted chickpeas – simply a can of chickpeas drained, patted dry and mixed with a teaspoon of smoked paprika, a teaspoon of chilli powder and a quarter teaspoon of  both cumin and ground coriander, then roasted in the oven  I really fancied these savoury nuggets but was disappointed with the results. I’d been expecting the promised crunchy snack but in reality felt I could’ve been eating cardboard!

Chickpeas: drained, dried and spiced
then roasted to look great … and taste like cardboard

Put chickpeas to better use and make your own houmous, it’s a gazillion times more healthy than shop-bought versions and tastes great. The easy recipe in the Healthy Living Yearbook is another favourite of mine.

Homemade houmous

I may have Complex Trauma but I’m not a complex cook; I’m a ‘spoonie’! Unfortunately, cooking often falls off the bottom off my to do list when ‘spoons’-  a.k.a energy and the capacity to function – run out.Quick and easy recipes are my way to go.

I’ll discuss my efforts to again overcome an eating disorder together with my hopes for and also my reservations about seeking support via Overeaters Anonymous, in a later post.

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GENDER GRATUITOUSLY GRANTED!

Gender matters, but it’s not the be all and end all. Much like unbridled alliterative headlining … obsession with gender difference and superfluous gender labelling are rife.

We’re discovering that gender, like sexuality, can be more fluid than first assumed. Whilst natural conception requires the combined attributes of a biologically, or traditionally, gendered man and woman (functioning penis, vagina and reproductive systems); this does not preclude innovative gender identification.

My home is a mix of old and new – traditional and contemporary with added personal ‘creative innovation’. It’s personally appropriate; it’s ME.

We evolve, we grow, we move on. Out with the old, in with the new, is sometimes the best policy, but traditional, progressive, even unique, can co-exist.

Gender difference and gender identity have, arguably, never been such ‘hot potatoes.’ Personally, I find the idea of someone being transgender an easy concept to accept. I’m not a scientist, I have an entirely arts-biased brain, but it strikes me as both logical and natural. We as humans have common foundations but myriad variation, also exists. Like grey eye colour, left-handedness, homosexuality, or a third nipple. It’s neither right or wrong, it just is. Be yourself by all means, but to dismiss or prohibit others difference is to discriminate. Being gay, of non-binary gender, or a six foot, left-handed woman with ‘ginger’ hair and size 10 feet, does no harm. The same cannot be said for discrimination, intolerance … or narrow minds.

There are religion-based arguments against such thinking. While I respect the right of others to diverse beliefs, in my view as an atheist those arguments have no basis in fact. Fact matters, particularly the fact of whether harm occurs. Your beliefs are your choice. Believe that the world is governed by green invertebrates from the planet ‘Zog’ if you so choose. If ‘Zogans’ should decry all but white male supremacy; seek to ban abortion in all circumstances; see same sex relationships as abhorrent, and insist women should always wear pink dresses and high heels; it’s your right to do so too. Unless you can prove beyond reasonable doubt that anything else causes harm, you have no right to impose your views on others. To do so would be harmful and contravene their right to think and act differently.

I don’t have the right to  tell a biologically born woman that she may not self identify as a man, or feel and be neither exclusively male, nor exclusively female. I don’t feel remotely threatened by the notion or the difference. Curious, yes. I am that about very many things. I’m fascinated by life and people in all their complexity, diversity and mundane minutiae. I love learning and encountering ideas beyond my experience.

I feel like a woman (cue: music!) How much of that is biological, how much is cultural, may be difficult to determine. Some women love pink, but a fondness for it isn’t a requirement of femininity. A woman could be a mother, shave her armpits, wear frilly dresses and favour the floral. She could also play golf, wear boxer shorts and ties, ride a powerful motorbike, detest the frilly, and go out to work while her partner looks after their children. A woman could be all of this, some of this, and none of this … as could a man or someone of non-binary gender. Assuming of course that society respects an individual’s right to self-determination.

Presently, my choice of bathing product is largely determined by price, by virtue of a tight budget. Shopping online last week I favoured a blackberry and ginger scented bath soak. Its labelling promising that I’d ‘feel recharged’ was neither here nor there. When it was delivered I saw that the product is assertively labelled ‘ MEN’. Unlike my previous choice of the ‘stress relief’ variant from the same brand – which is not gender labelled. Similarly, ‘feel blissful’, ‘feel relaxed’, ‘sleep easy’ and the particularly optimistic ‘feel heavenly’ are not gendered, but they are pastel coloured. All the other Radox bath soak products in the range are primary coloured and bear the ‘MEN’ tag. Presumably, men don’t seek to sleep easy, feel relaxed, relieve stress or reach celestial heights? As a confirmed woman, I’d quite like to ‘feel recharged’ or enjoy ‘muscle therapy’. It does feel a tad odd, as a women living alone, having a product in my bathroom that’s prominently labelled for men.

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Engendering consternation

I don’t have any male cheese in my fridge or female bread in my food cupboard. I’m not typing on a keyboard for women, nor do I plan my life with the help of a non-binary diary.

Come on Unilever UK and Ireland, I challenge you to GET WITH THE TIMES! Men can like pink and pampering. Women can favour primary colours, be assertive and dominant. They and every other gender variant can be all things in between.

PUKKA, procurer of expressive but none the less arbitrarily named teas, has also got my non-binary gendered goat. Tea is neither male not flipping female, to say otherwise is definitely not pukka! I like a cup, or a pot, of tea. Builders, fruit and herbal are all fair game; decaffeinated is my preference. PUKKA sell a blend, described as ‘a delicate dance of organic cranberry, rose and sweet vanilla’. It’s a particular favourite of a female friend of mine and we often chat over a pot or two. It was originally called Harmonise, an arbitrary but inoffensive moniker in my view, then it was re-branded …

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Pretty … sickly

I do and have done many things as a woman, dance delicately is not one of those things. Considering the prospect of a ‘delicate dance’ of cranberry, rose and vanilla flavouring a cup of tea denoting womankind, just boggles my brain. I’m inclined to stop buying it in protest, but respect my pal’s right to continue to enjoy it, and anyway she bought my last box and it would be rude not to use them. Although, she too is not enamoured of the name. It’s a wonder we can stomach a beverage described in such nauseating terms.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this, perhaps over a cuppa? I’m off to ‘feel recharged’.

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Time for tea?

Please note: This is not and can not be intended to be an in depth exploration of gender. Nor do I seek to trivialise gender identity issues. It is merely my opinion, delivered, I hope, with due respect and trademark humour. As ever, I welcome … nay, covet … comments, discussion … and tea.