6 December 2016
I knew that starting university was going to push me. I knew that studying nutrition and public health was not going to be easy. But what I did not know is how proud of myself I would feel after tackling some seemingly small challenges.
Every lecture, seminar or practical presents itself with potentially triggering information and each time I find a useful way to cope with the knowledge I have gained. Whether that is a rational discussion with myself, a phone call to my parents, or a distraction such as going out for lunch or a drink with my course mates. Of course, some information is easier to handle than others, but every time I register just how important this knowledge is in supporting my own recovery as well as leading me on to a career that I dream of.
However, the mention of one particular assessment during the first few weeks of the semester did cause slightly more discomfort than others- a three-day diet diary analysis. Having quite gradually made the step down from continual recording of the foods I am eating, the recurrent meal planning and constant self-analysis of what I am consuming, the thought of this task did not appeal.
During a previous conversation with the course leader, my medical history was raised and it was addressed that this task could potentially cause some distress. I was given the option to record and analyse somebody else’s three-day diet diary, or simply make one up, but that was not what I wanted. I felt strong, stable and confident in my ability to record and analyse my diet for those three days, and I knew that it was another challenge that I needed to tackle. I started this course wanting to get the most out of it and I am not going to let my eating disorder snatch that away from me.
I prepared myself for the fact that there was a strong chance my diet diary was going to be dramatically larger and varied than others within my group. I am still on a weight gain diet, and that means three meals- two with puddings, and three snacks every day. I know that for a lot of people it may not be normal, but for me, it has become a habitual routine that I think I will find difficult to decrease when I reach that ‘all important’ goal weight. I say ‘all important’, but I do not think that should be a significant focus for those recovering, there is far more importance on mental stability, but this works hand in hand with weight gain. I would not be where I am today mentally if had not have nourished my body and provided it with the fuel I need! So as I began to write out my three day diet diary, I reminded myself of all of the important steps I have taken to get to this point, and that my diet is not their to be judged or critiqued by others.
Fortunately, the recording of the diet diary was to be done using an estimated measurement- no scales, no emphasis on precision, just a general estimation on the quantity I was eating. It was refreshing to think of how far I have come in terms of the fact that weighing food and ingredients was normal to me 18 months ago, and the thought of weighing it now seems strange! Of course, some things I still have to roughly measure using cups and tablespoons but that is to make sure I am eating enough and using the tools I have learnt throughout my time in treatment. As the spaces filled up on my diet diary, I am not going to deny that it was difficult, in my head I still eat a large amount of food, but I can rationalise the need to do that. The next part of the task was the part I dreaded the most, but it was something I could not dismiss…
Nutritics. If anybody is not familiar with Nutritics, it is a database in which you can analyse the individual nutrients in your diet- basically a more precise version of MyFitnessPal. For those who have followed my journey right from the start, you will know just how significant MyFitnessPal was as a contributing factor to the triggering of my illness. Inputting each element of my diet diary into Nutritics, I was reminded of just how time consuming engaging in this behaviour used to be! I cannot believe how much time I must have spent doing this in the past, but more importantly, how valuable and beneficial I used to think it was! It was feeding into nothing but obsession, negative thoughts and outrageous behaviours that I somehow believed was totally normal. However, I did worry that having access to this database may develop a compulsion to engage with the software on a regular basis, but I have surprised myself with how resistant I have been. As I have acknowledged previously, inputting this data is time consuming, tedious and unnecessary for individuals like myself, unless of course, for the purpose of this assessment! There is no way that I would ever resort to this behaviour again- I have too much to do with my life.
Unsurprisingly, the information generated was initially quite alarming for myself to take in. In comparison to the dietary reference values for my age and gender, I am consuming more than what I need to be of various nutrients, but I am on a weight gain diet, and I cannot do that if I adhere to the dietary reference values! After lots of rationalisation with my psychologist, the course leader, and myself, I have managed to absorb this information in a healthy manner and crucially, not let it impact on my dietary choices.
I am still in recovery, I am still striving towards a healthy weight and, I will be honest, I am enjoying life too much to let this assignment set me back!