My Battle with Eating Disorders.
My struggles with food began in my early teens. Why exactly I chose food to turn to as my route of release I’m not sure. But it was a control thing. I lacked self esteem and self confidence and this became my small distraction from that.
On the outside I appeared to be a confident and strong young lady with a lot going for me. I had and still am lucky enough to have a very loving and supportive family.
I danced from a young age and enjoyed very much every minute of every lesson and more than anything the time I had on stage. I always came to life up there under those lights. I was a lovely little dancer and especially enjoyed ballet.
At school I was part of virtually all the sports teams and captain of some. I was relatively clever sitting in the mid to upper classes for all of my subjects. I had friends within the ‘cool’ kids and in the ‘not so cool’ kids.
I was however bullied at primary and secondary school by a small group of people. For no particular reason, I was just their chosen one. The bullying at secondary school became quite intense for a while. Teachers were involved and threats of police, I didn’t want to take it that far. But the threat of the police being informed was enough for the bullies to back off.
I kept this bullying and my suffering with food quiet from my family and friends. I realise now this was the worst thing to do. At the time I simply didn’t want to concern anyone. I actually didn’t admit to myself I had a problem with food until I hit my mid to late teens.
I used to binge and purge quite a lot at the start of my eating disorder. It began with every now and then, once a week, once a fortnight. Then it would creep up to a daily occurrence. I went through waves of bingeing and starving myself. Through the starvation stage I would survive on sugary sweets for energy for days on end. Looking back I’m not sure how I so successfully competed in my sports, kept my dancing up and managed my grades at school.
I hid my eating disorder so well from my loved ones. I would be appearing to take my lunch to school that my mum had prepared, it would normally get disposed of (sorry mum). Same with dinners, I would take it to my room and bag it up, clean plate taken downstairs, dinner binned the following day somewhere. I feel awful for those actions now, for the sadness it brought to my mum and dad, it seems so selfish of me. But at that time I had convinced myself it was normal behaviour.
Some days I would eat very normally though. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, no worries! Then bang back into the bingeing, purging, hiding food, starving. Very yo yo behaviour.
My fluctuations in weight were put down to my age and how active I was in and out of school. So this was never a concern. Also thankfully I appeared quite healthy. Like my mum I’m a very naturally smiley and bubbly person so my inner turmoil was well disguised.
It was in fact a boyfriend at the time who noticed I had food issues and made me talk to my mum and dad about this. I’ll always be grateful to him for having the courage to speak up about it. Only then did I realise I had a problem and one that could seriously have already harmed my health.
My mum, dad and brother were obviously beside themselves but as always were my rock. My mum took me to the doctors as a first step for getting help. The doctor sent me for a number of tests to see how my health was. When the results were in I was warned that if I continued on abusing my body in this way I was at risk from many health complications such as a heart attack and even death. This obviously frightened me and at this moment I thought what am I doing to myself!
I was put on antidepressants and sent for counselling. I’m not convinced either of these options helped me much. Or maybe I didn’t give either enough of a chance to have an impact. I took myself off the antidepressants and stopped counselling. Instead I turned to myself and realised I was the one who needed to sort myself out, no one could do it for me. Obviously the support of my family was paramount in these times. My dad came up with an amazing idea, one that I believe to this day was the thing that tipped me over into recovering and still brings a tear to my eye when I think back on it.
One day he gave me a piece of wood painted pink with a tube sticking out of it. I couldn’t work out what it was for. He said “At the end of every day if you haven’t made yourself ill and have eaten well then I will put a £1 coin in the tube. If however you haven’t had a good day with your food then we will remove £5. He said I didn’t need to explain myself and just leave the £5 by the side of his bed if I didn’t want to chat about it. When the tube reaches £30 then we can take the money out and do something nice with it. My dad knew I would be 100% honest with him. This became an incentive for me. Not just because of the money, but to watch the tube fill up and see my Dad smiling was reward enough for me. I had quite a few slips up and sure enough I would put the £5 coins by his bed. One month was particularly bad and I remember being on a minus and owing the tube about £20! Sure enough though when we reached that £30 mark we would do something lovely together with the money. Going shopping and buying something nice to wear or going out somewhere for the day. This went on until I felt I longer needed this incentive and this is when I knew I was gaining my control back! We still have special daddy and daughter days now!
With eating disorders I don’t believe they can ever really leave you. But you can, like I have get to the point where the disorder doesn’t own you or define you anymore. I had missed out on life events and opportunities because of this disorder and I no longer wanted to live like that. It was time to get a little self belief and confidence back and go live my life.
Even to this day in my mid thirties I am aware of my eating disorder. There are times of stress and worry where this little demon creeps up on me. To say I haven’t had spells where I skip meals and even binge and purge would be a lie. But it won’t last. Maybe a few days before I have a serious word with myself to sort it out. I upsettingly suffered a miscarriage when I was 23 years old. Being very family orientated this was a big hit for me. Within the same year I was diagnosed with severe endometriosis after nearly 11 years of investigations. I was initially advised to have a hysterectomy due to the severity of the illness, thankfully I didn’t opt for this. These 2 events so close to each other sent me on self destruct.
What some people struggle to comprehend and understandably so is that it’s not food that’s the issue, it’s just a tool for my release. I actually love food! There’s nothing I find more therapeutic (maybe apart from training!) than getting in the kitchen and baking and creating new goodies to try and share with others.
Like any addiction/illness/mental disorder they are very hard to understand and empathise with unless you have been there yourself. Still then it differs so much from person to person so it’s not something that can be labelled and put in a box.
I am grateful to have found an amazing counsellor who sees me on a one to one basis. She is making me deal with the reasons for my eating disorder. I am now properly dealing with events that have happened to me personally from years back. Things I should have dealt with a long time ago. I know I carry these events and sad emotions with me everyday. It is very hard and actually quite scary to discuss these past events but also very liberating and joyful at the same time. Holding sadness and negative feelings deep inside will only lead to further negativity in our lives.
I used to think asking for help was a sign of weakness. “I’m strong I don’t need help. I can handle it on my own” “I’m fine!” familiar words for me. I never wanted to burden people with my problems either or seem ungrateful for my life. The very strongest of people need help. I actually believe it takes more strength to reach out for help and support than to hide away from our problems.
My passion for training and nutrition are my driving force keeping me on the straight and narrow (most of the time!) I understand and have felt and lived through the benefits of healthy eating and treating your body well. I know I can not allow myself to abuse my body anymore. My body deserves better than that and so do I.
Much love and health,