This post has been anonymised to protect the identity of the writer.
TW // eating disorders, weight, body image
Sometimes I like to think of my body as a separate person. We went through a rough patch, but we’re slowly picking the pieces back up and will hopefully be back together soon. Here we are, hiding behind a mask of anonymity, and in a weird and unexpected way, sort of excited at being able to share this.
I’ve never had a good relationship with my body. I always considered myself to be slightly on the bigger end of the scale and even in primary school I hated the way I looked. At that age, I don’t think I fully understood why. My guess is that it all boiled down to being different. I had a different body type and I hated it.
Throughout my pre-teens my dislike for my body continued to grow. It confused me. I was relatively sporty - I swam 4 or 5 times a week at one point, played tennis 3 times a week after I quit swimming and was on the school A team for Netball - but I was still larger than the ‘norm’. On a watersports trip in year 8, I was one of the only people who wouldn’t wear a bikini. I passed it off as having strict parents who wouldn’t let me, but the truth was, I could not think of anything more mortifying than showing off so much of the body I hated.
My Eating Disorder Experience
I honest to god cannot remember the exact moment I realised I had an eating disorder. I’ll try to keep this bit not too graphic, so let’s just rip it off like a plaster. I used to make myself throw up on a daily basis. I still struggle talking about it and in my head I refer to it as The Thing, so that’s what I’m going to do here.
I don’t remember what triggered me to do it. I don't remember how I felt before, whilst or after I did it. All I know is that it was roughly around April/May of last year and the first time I did it I had just come back home from a meal out at a restaurant. This is how it started off. I’d go out to eat or get a takeaway at home and thought the best thing to do was just ‘get rid of it’. This slowly progressed to doing it if we had larger meals at home and this quickly escalated to doing it every day after dinner. At this stage I knew something was wrong, but I just didn’t care. It had become routine for me and it got to the stage where I physically felt sick after eating what I considered to be too much. I did end up stopping around July, but not because I wanted to. The only reason was because I had some residential trips and it was just too difficult to do it whilst being surrounded by people 24/7. I didn’t start again that summer and to be honest I didn’t think about it too much.
I thought this whole thing was over and that small stage of my life was over.
News flash! I was wrong.
I started up again around October. My memory about when and why I started again is hazy. All I know is this time was worse. Last time it started off ‘not so bad’ and slowly progressed. This time was like being hit by a train. Before this, I had only done The Thing at home in my own bathroom. Now I was doing it after pretty much every meal I ate, except for breakfast. I’d snack a little bit between meals, but after lunch I’d go to one of the school bathrooms that not many people use and get rid of whatever I’d just ate (I promise I cleaned it up). I would avoid going to restaurants whenever I could, and if I found myself eating at one, chances are I also found myself in their loos straight after I ate. I started showering after dinner so that no one at home would hear me do The Thing and just like that, it was part of my daily routine once again.
I managed to convince myself that it was fine.
Yes, I had an issue, but was it really that bad? I’d been told before that I should lose some weight and despite trying so so hard to do it ‘the right way’ nothing ever worked. I finally found a way that guaranteed ‘success’ so what’s the problem? It wasn’t like it LOOKED like I had an eating disorder? I convinced myself that I was eating a ‘normal’ amount by snacking here and there and that I was only throwing up a bit of each meal and not the whole thing, so it was fine right? And I thought it was. I hadn’t noticed any huge changes and it wasn’t until about late January/early February that I finally noticed (what I thought to be) positive results.
It went on like this, unnoticed by most, and as my weight on the scale slowly dropped and people began to comment on my lost weight, I convinced myself I was doing the right thing. I like to think that I’m lucky in the sense that my ED never got serious enough to the point where I needed hospitalisation or anything, but one thing I really struggled with (and sometimes still do) was admitting to the fact that any form of disordered eating is not healthy, no matter how big or small the outward consequences are. I didn’t need to be struggling as much as the person next to me to still be struggling.
Talking it through...
The first time I told anyone about The Thing, it was November and I was drunk and throwing up in the toilet of one of my best friends’ houses. I don’t remember how the conversation went and I had to be reminded of who I told and what I said. We didn’t speak much about it the next day, but I woke up knowing that I had told someone about it.
I was a bit relieved because someone else finally knew, but I was also scared.
I felt bad for unloading this on them with no warning and I was worried about where this would lead. We ended up having a conversation about it at school. I don’t regret this but I wish I had been brave enough to talk about it on my own terms. I still feel bad for burdening them with this knowledge (even though I know I shouldn’t) but I’m glad it happened. Nothing changed and it wasn’t a magical fix, but they told me they wouldn’t push me but that they’d be there for me if I ever wanted to talk, and the moment I wanted proper help, whatever that may be, they’d be there to help me and I couldn’t thank them enough.
The only person I voluntarily told about my ED whilst sober was another of my closest friends. She had mentioned feeling unhappy about her body and I immediately got worried.
I had no idea that other people around me felt the way I did
All I knew was I never wanted her to get to the stage that I was at, so I told her. I told her pretty much everything and almost begged her to call or message me if she ever felt bad enough to do something like I did, whether it be skip a meal or something else. This was a big moment for me. It made me realise that I wasn’t the only one of my friends who was unhappy with their body but it also made me realise that I KNEW how bad The Thing was and how scared I was at the thought of someone else doing it. At this stage I knew I had to stop but it had gotten to the point where I just didn’t want to. Little did I know that a few weeks later it would all change.
I don’t remember the day, or even the month, but at some point during quarantine my parents found out. It turns out I wasn’t being as careful as I thought I was and they confronted me about it. I don’t want to go into too much detail about what happened but the bottom line is, I stopped. I didn’t get any professional help, but we had a long chat about it and we collectively decided that I’ll stop.
The Recovery Process
Even though I physically stopped The Thing the moment my parents found out about it, I don’t think I properly started to consciously try to get better until a week or so later. The thing about EDs is that they’re just as mentally exhausting as they are physically. Even though I had stopped, mentally I was pretty much in the same place. Just because I wasn’t doing it, it didn’t mean I didn’t want to.
The turning point for me was terrifying. I had just been out and had driven home with someone else in the car. 5 minutes after parking the car outside my house, I passed out. I was standing on the porch and next thing I know I’m on the floor, being helped up and led to a chair inside and asked if I’m ok. I was confused and had no clue what happened. This was when I realised how serious the situation was. I wasn’t severely underweight, if anything I still think I’m a little on the heavier side, but these consequences that you don’t expect are just as bad and, at least for me, in a way worse, purely because you don’t expect them. I hate to think what would have happened if I had still been driving that car. Would I still have fainted if I had been behind the wheel? How many people would I have been putting in danger besides myself? The truth is, I have no idea, and to be honest I don’t want to think about it.
Again, this wasn’t some magical moment when everything got better, but it was definitely the moment I decided, for the first time, that I WANTED to get better. I still struggle most days. I haven’t done The Thing in a long while, but disordered eating isn’t just the glaringly obvious things like skipping meals and throwing up. It can be purposefully waking up later so that you have an excuse to miss breakfast. Not eating until a specific time so that you can eat later, and therefore not get hungry until later, and therefore end up eating less overall in the day. Writing it out now, it doesn’t make sense even to me, but the thing is I still do it. This is an ongoing process of unlearning and rebuilding my relationship with food.
What’s crazy to me are the symptoms that you don’t expect and that you don’t even realise you have until they start to get better. I’m on other medication which has always meant my period is a little bit irregular, but over the past year it had gotten so out of whack and I always thought it was to do with my meds. My last few have been like clockwork and I can’t say for sure but I really think it’s come back properly because I’m getting the nutrients and stuff that I need. I’ve been way less lethargic and my family have said I look visibly happier and healthier (even though I don’t always feel it). Another one which may seem quite insignificant in the grand scheme of things is that my hair has been so much healthier. It might not seem that important, but my hair grew to be the thing I loved most about my appearance. Over the past year I noticed it getting a bit drier and more dead and actual clumps of it would come out in the shower when I washed it and I stopped seeing my hair as one of my favourite things about myself. Recently I’ve noticed it getting healthier and I’m falling in love with it all over again. It might seem stupid to some, but the thought of healthy hair is one of the things that keeps me going when I feel like I could so easily go back to how I was at my lowest.
The past year and a bit has possibly been one of the most challenging ones I’ve had, but I’m now trying to actively work towards rebuilding my relationship with food, exercise and my body. I’ve still got some way to go and I know I’ll still have ups and downs, but hopefully I can start to focus on the highs rather than the lows….
Beat eating disorders helplines: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/support-services/helplines
The NHS page on eating disorders: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Eating-disorders/