It’s been national eating disorder awareness week this week and although I know I’ve already shared a few posts about the toxicity of diet culture, I wanted to really hone in on what it can be like to be a person who is living with an eating disorder. I could throw facts and statistics at you until the cows come home but I don’t think it would have the same impact as actual life experiences and although I think there ought to be a degree of mindfulness in what I share with you, I’m also overly aware of the fact that this is real damn life for millions of people and it’s about time the world woke up to this reality, especially when you consider that anorexia has a higher mortality rate than any other mental illness.
Firstly, TRIGGER WARNING from here on out, if you are currently living with an eating disorder, are likely to develop one or are in the early stages of recovery then maybe skip this read. I don’t want to hinder anyone’s progress here.
For me, bulimia was built on a foundation of anxiety and low self esteem. I’d spent my whole life being pushed back down by so many people that in the end, it seemed pretty pointless In trying to get back up. People underestimate the power words can have on another person, especially one who already believes that they aren’t worth anything. Food became a coping mechanism for me when I was around 17 as a result of becoming a single mum to an 18 month old. I gained a tonne of weight and after around six years of dieting this was of course unacceptable to me. So then along came restriction. But of course, restriction leads to binging, which just leads to a cycle of complete mess.
When your intention is to restrict food, it is super hard to deal with the feelings of failure that surface when you give in to your bodies need for that food. I mean, you’re already not good enough, that’s why you’re restricting in the first place and now you can’t even do that right?! I remember being around 18 when I first considered purging as an option to control my weight. I woke up alone, apart from the then two year old. I spent another day on my own doing all the mum things, I put the boy to bed and sat alone. I don’t think I tolerated the solo-sitting for very long before turning to food. I remember eating a ham and cheese foot long and 3 pasties and some other ‘junk’ foods and just feeling completely disgusting. I went upstairs to the bathroom and used my fingers to try and make myself sick, but I just couldn’t do it. It was just another thing to add to the list of things I couldn’t do.
Looking back now it’s clear that I was using food to fill the void that was left when I left my boyfriend at the time. I know I said ‘I left’, and you could argue that it was my choice to be on my own and although you’d be right, it was a decision that I felt I had been completely trapped in to making, and I didn’t feel like I had any other choice and I hate not being in control of things. And besides, I had been obsessed with the guy since I was like seven so leaving wasn’t made any easier, regardless of who’s choice it was.
Anyway. I don’t remember a lot about the following months but I was 18 now and I could legally consume my body weight in alcohol. Although, I didn’t use alcohol to cope, I would save my money all week which meant not eating anything and then spend Fridays and Saturdays in town, dancing for hours. Then getting cheesey chips for the taxi home. I lost loads of weight living like this, although it makes me cringe to think about what this must have done to my body.
In 2010 I began a new relationship and everything sort of became okay again. Then in 2011 I lost a very close relative to suicide, this isn’t something I want to get into here but of course it was hard. Later on that year I dropped everything to move in with my boyfriend, everything but the three year old of course. We moved into his already furnished house and so I literally had nothing of my own.
Things changed pretty much overnight. It quickly became a very toxic and hostile place to be, so back I go to eating to cope resulting in my weight flying back up again. Different things kept happening in that relationship that I’m not here to get into, although they are massive contributors to my mental state at the time. We can probably just sum it up to me never being enough for him. Not pretty enough, smart enough, employed enough, housewifey enough, obedient enough. You get the point. (I feel as though I’m just rambling on about myself, but I think it’s important to understand that eating disorders are mental illnesses often built on years of negative experiences and not just something you wake up with one day.)
One night after a day of arguing, we casually had a kfc (as you do) and things turned sour pretty quickly (with us, not the chicken) there were some names thrown around and it was just pretty shitty really. He ended up walking out and I knew I had about half an hour until he returned so I just started eating everything. I don’t even remember what. The thing with binges, is that they are completely mindless. It’s like your not even present in your own body. I went to the bathroom and tried to throw up using my fingers again. I gave up after about about 5 attempts. I was angry, my face was soaking and red but I just knew it had to happen. So I tried using my toothbrush. It took about 4 attempts to get anything out and then around another 4 to get everything out. My throat was absolutely raw, my head was pounding, my eyes were red and puffy, I had burst blood vessels all through my cheeks and the bathroom was a right state but amongst all of that I think the saddest part is how happy I was. Kate Moss said that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels and although I have so much hate toward this statement now – because lets face there is plenty that tastes a hell of a lot better than a dress size- at the time it felt so true. You get this rush, whenever you purge, it’s hard to explain but you literally feel high. The good kind of high you know. And in that moment of being physically empty, I did feel like nothing could taste as good as that feeling.
When he came back and carried on where he left off, it just didn’t matter. I was mentally untouchable. I had regained all this control of how I was going to feel and he couldn’t do anything to change that. This went on for a few months. I was trapped there physically but I could use binging and purging to escape whenever I wanted to. It’s worth noting that my weight didn’t actually change during that time. Although it was clearly not about weight loss then.
I started a retail job. Each shift I would skip breakfast, walk 45 minutes to work, start work at 12 and keep busy until 4ish, trying to ignore the fact I was starving. Then I’d walk to Sainsbury’s and buy two meal deals. I’d eat one walking back and one in the staff room. Then I’d throw them both up and go back to work until 8:15. At this point I still hadn’t mastered using my fingers so I would use a pen. A pen. Like how unsafe is that?! The weight was back off again in around two months but this is where I learned that exercise needed to be added to the vomiting in order to achieve weight loss. And once you get the ‘positive results’ of weight loss, that’s it. You’re trapped. Bulimia is like a drug. An addiction. And like with most addictions you don’t realise you’re and addict until it’s too late.
Skip on a year and you’d find me finally out of that relationship thanks to a guy I met at work who showed me I was worth so much more than being treated like that. I actually had to go back and live with my sons dad until I could find and furnish my own place. I naturally hated myself for making my son live this way (he was 5 now.) I started running at this point and used to finish my food, and wear a hoody to run in so that I could carry my toothbrush with me. I’d run down the track into a field, throw up, then run back; it was agony.
Over the next few years we got married and had some babies, and although my self worth increased a lot, it was too late to just walk away from bulimia. I realised it might have become a problem in aug 2015. After my second c section, I became obsessed about chasing the ideal body. I was in the gym everyday, running, and throwing up 2-3 times a day. I’d weigh every single time I went in to the bathroom and the scale would dictate my mood, food and movement until the next time I weighed. I was always in the mirror self-objectifying. Obsessed with my reflection. It consumed my entire life.
I lost a lot of weight quite quickly this time and realised that this needed to stop now. We went to the GP and he responded to my announcement with a simple ‘well you don’t look malnourished’ so naturally this reinforced to the disordered part of my brain that I was totally okay and nothing bad was happening here. So I just carried on for the next two years.
When we moved, I ended up seeing a new GP and she was so much better than the first. She referred me to different therapists and prescribed me some anti-anxiety tablets as my cycles were often triggered by anxiety. I chose not to go to therapy and I stopped taking the medication. I think the biggest thing with eating disorders is that, although you know somewhere in your brain that you are destroying yourself, the disordered part of your brain is the part that’s in control. Your ED has always had your back, it was there for you when nobody else was. So I know for me, I actually just didn’t want to get better although I knew I had to. Your eating disorder quite easily becomes your identity, and who was I supposed to be if I didn’t have it? The turning point in my recovery was ending the secret. Eating disorders thrive on secrecy. I told my family, which was not a fun day. And instead of feeling empowered and strong like I thought I would, I felt weaker, exposed and vulnerable. I ended up acting out for a few months and self harm became my new coping mechanism. I know I said that ‘coming out’ was the turning point and I’m not making it sound like, but it actually was. I definitely needed to hit rock bottom before rising up. Now that’s where I am, rising.
I’ve immersed myself in body positivity and like minded people and I call diet culture out on its bullshit but I still have disordered thoughts. I still get triggered. But the difference now is that I can identify the disordered ones as disordered and I’ve learned new coping mechanisms. I know now that bulimia is not my identity and I don’t need any external validation, and I want other people to realise that they can rise up too. You are more than what your disorder makes you believe 💛