Improving mood by HEALTHY exercise

I wrote a post not so long ago about returning to exercise (sensibly).

Today, was a sweltering hot day. I got up in a particularly nasty mood which was lingering since yesterday. Nasty thoughts raced through my mind:

I take more from this world than I give back

The world is against me; no one wants to be friends with me

What if…what if I have failed me exams? Them why have I bothered to recover?

The stress of my exams, coupled with the fact that they are now almost over and I have no friends to go out with (causing me to get depressed as the brick wall hits me in the face that leads to the inspection of myself in order to find what defect I have that prevents me forming more social contacts).

Normally I would look at challenging those thoughts as I have learnt to do in therapy. But sometimes I am caught off guard and just cannot think of any challenges. The answer, I have found, is to think in advanced (when I’m in a better mood) of negative thoughts that may occur, and write challenges to those thoughts. Then, to simply look at that piece of paper when those thoughts occur.

I shall post challenges to some of these thoughts in another post.

Anyhow, on with today’s story. So, I am in a  really negative state, and decide to look up the swimming pool timetable. I get my swim gear ready, decide to go with my granddad (who I see infrequently), pick up the courage to challenge myself (will people look at me and my body and analyse it as much as I do?) and simply go. It’s a sweltering hot day and I can’t wait to get into the water of the indoor pool.

I ensured that I did not overexercise by the following:

  1. I made sure the exercise was not intense. There were no self-imposed goals or targets to meet.
  2. I made sure to take care of my body, which is still recovering from my shoulder operation, and my general lack of fitness by taking regular breaks. I listened to my body: if it told me to stop, I stopped.
  3. I talked to my granddad, so added a bit of socialisation; the focus was shifted from calories to having fun.

I came out after 2.5 hours, and was amazed that my mood had lifted. It’s honestly like a miracle, a magic, quick-fix “pill”. Perfect. Research shows that exercise releases endorphins in the brain, and I certainly noticed the positive effect. The negative thoughts have died down.

I plan to incorporate gently exercise into my routine. A pleasant swim once a week might make all the difference.

One thing is still missing: eating a tiny bit more to compensate. I just don’t feel hungry. I am arguing with myself now: should I or shouldn’t I? Part of me feels I did not burn that much (I swam far less than I hope to or used to pre-anorexia). That I can just ignore it and move on. It’s just a one off, right? But the logical part of me knows that if I slip back, it will be all the easier for unhealthy exercise to creep back in when I am least expecting it. On second thought, I might grab a something, even if it’s just an apple to make up for it (well, I ought to be eating it anyway considering that I’ve been eating less over the past few days, although I ought to eat something more substantial). It’s not worth slipping back. I need to hold myself accountable. If I want to exercise, I need to ensure to do it healthily.



The body’s natural relaxation response is a powerful antidote to stress. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, and yoga can help you activate this relaxation response. When practiced regularly, these activities lead to a reduction in your everyday stress levels and a boost in your feelings of joy and serenity. What’s more, they also serve a protective quality by teaching you how to stay calm and collected in the face of life’s curveballs.

Take a look at this article located at:

In addition to this, I another useful resource if the free section of the iTunes store, useful for those of you with iPods. Simply search “relaxation” and there are a number of free files to download which may help you. I particularly liked one titles Relaxation (Garden) but I know this is a personal choice so you may want to try and download a number of free ones.

In addition, there are some audio relaxation exercises available for free download from the Eating Disorder Association of Ireland

Distorted body image is wired in to our brains?

I came across an interesting news article in The Guardian where an experiment was being carried out in order to deduce how the mind perceives the shape of one’s hand, with interesting and consistent results: the hand in the mind’s eye is distorted and is seen to be much wider with fingers that are much shorter than in reality.

A study suggests our brains have highly distorted representations of the size and shape of our own hands. The distortion may extend to other body parts, skewing body image


“It’s interesting to note that what we find for the hand is that the representation seems to be ‘too fat’. If there’s an implicit default representation of the brain to perceive the body as overly wide, then that could potentially account for the pattern you get with eating disorders.”

I wonder if this research can be taken further — do we, as a population, also view others parts of the body with equal distortion? Why do we seem to see the hand as “fatter” and is this due to society’s opinions on thinness or the general dissatisfaction of our bodies that affects probably a majority of the population? (i.e. is this a result of culture or society?). Also, how do people diagnosed with eating disorders differ in their distortion compared to matched healthy individuals?

It’s an interesting article, which perhaps highlight some of the biological influences due to the wiring of our brain that may make others more susceptible to developing an eating disorder.

“Enjoying Food is a Deady Sin” says Anorexia

I realised that there is something holding me back in recovery…and that is eating things and enjoying eating them because they taste good as opposed to their calorific value.

To enjoy food feels like the most deadly sin. Last week I almost purged (but could not as my friend walked in the bathroom) most likely because I actually enjoyed the food. I was at an Indian restaurant for my friend’s 19th. I’m not accustomed to going out to Indian restaurants, and it was a challenging experience in that there were not set portions: it was an Indian all-you-can-eat buffet. In retrospect, my psychologist challenged me to whether or not I actually overate. I had nothing but Tandoori chicken: not a highly calorific calorie-laden option, and I skipped my portion of carbohydrate (there was no boiled rice) and I did not have dessert (despite it looking so tasty) and I had only hate half of my lunch as well. But at the time, in the moment, it really did feel like a great big binge. It struck me as I realised that other times I might have purged in the past less so because of calories, but more because I enjoyed it.

It’s really holding me back, and I’m not sure how to address it, or whether I should in any case. I’m a bit ambivalent, actually, of challenging myself to enjoy food. In a way I am worried to let the last of me ED thinking and behaviours go: I’m not sure what life will be without counting the calories, without the daily mirror checks, without the constant need for reassurance that I am thin-ish, without the restricted diet and the fear food list. It’s a bit of a leap of faith.

Getting back to exercise

I’m at a weight were I can exercise again after my exercise was previously restricted. Fantastic!

But with the decision to start exercising comes responsibility for my actions as I used to over-exercise, waking up before 6am to fuel my compulsion to burn calories, and also a variety of choices to make.

Physical implications of Anorexia have prevented me doing my favourite sport: swimming

I had a physiotherapy appointment not too long ago and have got the all clear to start to exercise again.

To give you a bit of background information I have suffered from an unstable shoulder and recurrent dislocations, the first being caused 2 years ago during a skiing accident. Since then, I began to diet, developed anorexia and become malnourished which compounded the problem, and I started to dislocate it all the more frequently. This has led to a restriction to the type of exercises I could do, and impacted my life greatly. It was a great source of almost unbearable pain which got progressively worse, and which had a huge impact on my life.

To count to date I have dislocated numerous times;

  1. skiing accident mentioned earlier
  2. when moving a box (needed to go to A&E)
  3. when engaging in compulsive exercise by going swimming (A&E trip again)
  4. when tripping down the stairs at a train station (relocated itself)
  5. when falling into water from an inflatable ring pulled behind a speedboat (A&E — an air ambulance even got called out which made me feel special [for the wrong reasons])
  6. when I fell onto my shoulder when my bed collapsed (A&E)

Most of those dislocations are a blur of memories that I barely recall — the sound of paramedics, the tingly feeling in my libs whilst being on laughing gas, the confusion and delirium when waking up from a bolus of IV ketamine, the pain and the comfort of friends and family, the sterile smell of a hospital setting, the morphine-induced hallucinations — and finally, the last incident when I had to be anaesthetised, was the final time I dislocated my shoulder.

Since then, I have had a shoulder operation (anterior shoulder stabilisation) to fix the tear in my ligaments (as I now have three pins in my shoulder). And so, as the rehabilitation carries on, slowly but surely, my body is recovering from the physical impact of my eating disorder.

Would things be different if I hadn’t starved my muscles away? Could I have prevented it? I don’t know. Perhaps the physio would have worked better in the earlier stages if my muscles were stronger. Perhaps I just had a physical weakness in my shoulder and my illness simply exacerbated it.

But now, I have the choice, as my physio says, to get back to swimming. This brings on challenges in the following ways:

  1. How do I ensure I exercise gently and not over-exercise once again?
  2. Where is the line drawn between “excessive” and “normal”

Exercising for the right reasons

I need to ask myself the following questions with regards to exercising again:

  1. Why do I want to exercise again? Do I secretly hope to lose weight? Or it is because I enjoy the activity?
  2. Am I capable of increasing my food intake and responding to hunger signals in order to compensate for the calories burned?
  3. If I do lose weight for not compensating enough, am I willing to gain it back?
  4. Am I prepared for the dial on the scale to increase if I turn more of my body mass into muscle?

I have yet to answer these; some of the questions can only be answered after I try it.

Exercising is a challenge for me: it brings back memories of  weight loss, of the obsession of doing x lengths in the pool, of my eating disorder.

I need to be responsible for my actions, and deal with any consequences involved. I need to exercise for the right reasons only, and not exercise because it fuels my anorexia.

Exercising alone vs exercising with others

I was recommended to join a team sport by my treatment at CAMHS. I was advised solitary activities would be dangerous territory. But alas, my shoulder prevents me from doing sports like netball, and so do financial constraints. I cannot find many who are willing to exercise with me either.

Therefore, in a way, by doing something like swimming I feel I need to be all the more cautious as it was, technically, against the advise of my old treatment team. They may have made a fair point: it is hard to judge what “excessive” is when you have suffered from an ED, and other “normal” individuals can add a sense of perspective.

I shall let you know how my journey to incorporate exercise into my routine works out. I might not be ready yet, but we shall see how I will turn out to deal with this.

What helps?

I was reading a blog post from someone I follow, and the author, Melissa, asked a very difficult but intriguing question in on of her most recent posts.

[…] I emphasised the individuality and variation inherent in eating disorders; and the impossibility, therefore, of a one-size-fits-all approach.


What are the things – in terms of types of treatment, and approaches, and qualities – that really helped?

I thought I would therefore share my response too:


Online Support

Featured support forum: Remember it Hurts [link]
This is a support forum which has provided me with real-time help from posters which are all pro-recovery with subsections for ALL Eating Disorders. The forums is moderated loosely, and does not allow numbers, pictures, weights or methods to be exchanged and so is a very non-triggering environment.

The companion site, Something Fishy also provides various general (and useful) information on all Eating Disorders. They also have a family board for families and friends who are worried about a close one who is ill.

The forum has enabled me to share my experience with people who truly understand, to post struggles when I am no longer in intensive out patient treatment, and to be able to get advise from others. It’s high level of visitors ensures that I get replied promptly, and the rules make it  a safe, non-triggering environment.

The Joy Project, leaflets and Youtube Videos

Featured site: The Joy Project [link]
The Joy Project website has a variety of self-help guides which may provide useful strategies in helping one recover from an Eating Disorder. Includes things like grounding techniques, fun recovery activities, relapse prevention and some good old myth busting too.

Featured site: Center for Clinical Intervention GP leaflets [link]
Although aimed as GP handouts, they provide a lot of PDF fact sheets on Eating Disorders from laxatives, to calorie counting to tackling fear foods. Clear and reliable information.

Featured YouTube videos “Life After ED” [link]
A sufferer talks about her struggles with so much truth and strength and portrays the reality of Anorexia and recovery very clearly, offering a lot of hope and also showing a lot of courage for sharing her experiences.

Anti-Anorexia Art

As an artist myself, I find drawing and especially scribbling rather therapeutic (well, most of the time!). There are plenty of literature documenting sufferer’s struggles as they embark on the road to recovery, and plenty of websites with detailed information on eating disorders and tips to stay on the path to health, but very few sites seem to be dedicated to the artistic expression of the road to recovery or indeed the illness itself.

Thus, I have set up a group on DeviantART, an artist community website, which may be worth taking a look at.

Here is an extract from our introductory page:

Art can be a fantastic way of expressing our thoughts and exploring our Eating Disordered lives. This group is for anyone in recovery from an Eating Disorder (Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Compulsive Overeating and Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified).

We encourage members to post non-triggering creative art and literature that are aimed at addressing the underlying causes of the disease, feelings and emotions.

Who can join?
This group is for anyone who is currently suffering from any Eating Disorder or is a family or friend who knows someone who is suffering

Why not take a look?

Challenging Assumptions

One important thing which I have learned is to challenge assumptions. A lot of assumptions consume my life, which make m mind spiral out of control as it decsends into the abyss of depressive mood and darkness. Yes, thinking postively can indeed change your mood.

Unfortunately, I sometimes do nt do this autmaically — it is a skill that I have learned in CBT therapy and one which I need to pull upon if I am to ever buld m self-esteem and get past me Eaing Disorder.

This requries two things:

  1. To recognise a thought is an assumption
  2. To challenge the assumption accordingly

Let’s take a look at an example which happened to me a few days ago. It was my friend’s birthday, Jessica’s, last Saturday. I dropped her a text asking when it wold be best to give her the lovely gift I had brought.

I’m working on Saturday, but my mum is in if you want to drop it off there

I turned up at her workplace to find that she was not there.

Immediate thought:

She lied to me. Maybe she doesn’t want to be friend’s with me. What on earth is wrong with me? On Facebook she is going out with someone else and not me…

It turns out my negative automatic thought was wrong. She was working at her aunty instead (her othe workplace). She was overjoyed to see me, and said she wanted to go out with just me becuase she wanted to do something special.

So, next time I need to challenge myself just that litle bit more.

Things are not as they always seem.

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