Surviving Anorexia And Bulimia.

A confession

So I’ve decided to go public and use my writing skills – I’m no longer keeping this a secret from my past. For those of you who don’t know, I used to be anorexic and bulimic. Last night I was watching ‘Intervention’, featuring a pair of twins who both suffered from Anorexia. It made me reflect on my own struggles with food and I realised how far I had come in my recovery. I’m disclosing all of this information hoping that it will spread awareness of this horrible illness.

It’s been two and a half years since I began recovery from Anorexia and Bulimia and before any of you begin to worry, I have made a miraculous recovery. A lot of people do not make the same recovery. Millions of people (both men and women) struggle with these issues every day and don’t speak up because they are ashamed, or worry that if someone finds out that they will be forced to stop their compulsions. Anorexia has the highest premature mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.

“But you’re not even that skinny!”

I want to tell my story and also de-glamourise the illness that so many people (especially young females) suffer from. There are many sub categories of anorexia and bulimia and I feel as though the emaciated sufferers are the ones who gain all the media attention, as if it’s ‘cool’. You do not have to be thin to have an eating disorder. There are men and women who ‘look normal’ but are suffering from an agonizing disease. There are a lot of myths about anorexia; the main one being that most anorexics starve themselves for days and don’t eat. Well let me inform you that most Anorexics DO actually eat, just in small amounts. Many people with eating disorders maintain normal weights. My GP didn’t sense the severity of my situation because my BMI was in the healthy range (around 18). Just because a sufferer isn’t in a hospital bed with a feeding tube doesn’t mean that they’re not putting their bodies at risk. People who are anorexic or bulimic can be of average weights - this is why the illness is so deceiving and you may not be able to tell just by looking at someone.

Surreptitiousness

Many people who know me have no idea that I have experienced such problems; some of my closest friends do not even know. People around me have dealt with it in different ways; denial (making light of the issue/sarcasm/reverse psychology) or empathy (encouraging me to seek help). Unfortunately, due to the secrecy of the illness, many victims do not try to find support from loved ones because it would mean having to acknowledge that they have a problem. Everything is done in secret which just so happens to be part of the addictiveness of the illness; it’s something that you only know about.

“It can’t be that hard, all you have to do it put food in your mouth!”.

Recovery is a long process. Once you have experienced an ED, it will never leave you. Not completely. Everyday you are reminded of it, whether it’s ordering a meal in a restaurant, getting dressed, taking a bath, drinking a glass of orange juice or spreading butter on a piece of toast. The difference between then and now is that you are able to deal with it and manage its severity. You don’t just wake up and those thoughts are gone. No no no. Recovery involves going back and forth and experiencing relapses. It took me 12 months of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) to even change the smallest behaviour or negative thought pattern. It took medication and positive reinforcement to banish old habits; I finally was able to go one whole day without using scales.

One recovery story

So without going into too much detail that could be perceived as giving ‘tips’ to fuel an eating disorder (I am aware of women seeking out information on the internet to aid their ED), I will briefly disclose some details of my struggle:

As a child, I have always been athletic and maintained a healthy weight, even if I was somewhat bigger than the girls in my class. I was never fat. I have played sport all throughout my life and my parents have always fed me really well. I have them to thank for my knowledge of nutrition and active lifestyle. Everyone in my immediate family has been a high achieving athlete and my desire for success was very apparent from a young age: “A comparison of the psychological profiles of athletes and those with anorexia found these factors in common: perfectionism, high self-expectations, competitiveness, hyperactivity, repetitive exercise routines, compulsiveness, drive, tendency toward depression, body image distortion, pre-occupation with dieting and weight.” At a young age I was conscious of my weight. I have always been a perfectionist and very competitive; wanting to be the best and quitting things if they got too hard. Having an older brother toughened me up and I was very strong-willed. I would never admit that there was something wrong, let alone let anybody see me cry. I was stubborn. It was this exact characteristic that helped me put on a good show during my ED and fool people.

I’ve always been a bit of a loner and have struggled to keep friends. I was hyper critical of people. I would point out people’s flaws and alienate myself further. High school was especially difficult; being bullied and having only one real friend affected my ability to regulate my emotions and I lacked the tools to cope with my feelings. I remember always feeling more sensitive than most people, particularly with my family members. As my body was changing, I became confused; I wanted to remain boyish and didn’t embrace my femininity. I didn’t want hips and curves (I’m predisposed as the women in my family have womanly figures!). Adolescence is probably the hardest time in a girl’s life and it is becoming more and more common for eating disorders to emerge during this time. Having worked in high schools I can say that eating disorders are everywhere and there needs to be some major education into these sorts of problems: “95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.8”. I have spoken to too many young girls that I’ve taught who have showed signs of an ED. It makes me want to cry.

Between the ages of 16 and 19 I had bouts of counselling to help with my low self-esteem. I moved out from my parents’ house at 18 and in with my boyfriend. Like most women between the ages of 15-25, I was struggling with my identity and did not know how to express myself. I’ve always been very creative and outgoing, but I felt that it was getting harder and harder to maintain my free spirited nature…especially when everything reminded me of my feelings of inadequacy. When I was 19 I was enduring body image issues worse than ever before and became obsessed with images in the media of thin women. Sound familiar? I would compare myself to my female friends and thought maybe I’d be happier/more attractive if I was slimmer. This was the point where I began using exercise as a weight loss tool.

I had a target weight which I got to, but by that time, the eating disorder voice had consumed me. This voice was becoming stronger and stronger. I saw the effect it had on people around me who would comment – I started to like this attention, since all my life I felt like I never had much of it and I had never been thin. This caused me to control my food intake to the point where it became almost a game. It would completely take over every waking minute of my life, but the paradox was that I liked that there was something in my life that I could control (or so I thought).

“I can fit into a UK size zero! Will I have more friends now?”.

At first it was euphoric – my clothes would become looser, I could fit into smaller sized clothes, I began looking like the skinny women in magazines and in films. But there was a point where the euphoria went away and I needed more and more ways to lose weight. It became harder to abuse exercise because I simply did not have the energy to complete runs. The very thing that was so strong in my life (sport) eventually became my downfall.

(I don’t think it’s a good idea to go into specifics of what I did in order to lose weight since I don’t want to upset people who are close to me.)

I used the fact that I was a runner to disguise my ED. I was (still am) a great runner and completed a personal best 20 minute 5K, however, I totally abused exercise. I would make up excuses as to why I couldn’t meet a friend or join in a social activity, purely so that I could have time to exercise. If I didn’t get a run in, my behaviour would go completely erratic. I would run even if I was sick and had the flu. It affected every aspect of my life – my relationships, my work, my social life, my sleep, my health. House parties with buffets was terrifying for me, as was eating out in restaurants. I lost a lot of weight. Toward the end I would cycle between anorexia and bulimia, which gradually made my weight stabilise and come back to a healthy range. I was losing control after dropping a significant amount of weight and it was becoming impossible to maintain a low weight. During the entirety of my weight loss, I didn’t actually lose as much weight as some people thought – but because I had an athletic build, the weight I did lose was very noticeable. 4

“How come the skinny models don't tell you the horror stories?”

And the irony in all of this? At the time, I still felt overweight. I look back at pictures now and can recognise how unhealthy I looked. The physical effects that the ED had was that I was freezing cold all of the time (to the point where it was painful), I was dizzy and would see stars when standing up, my veins protruded out of my arms and I would have no energy. One time I actually fainted on a run and was sent to the hospital. And the worst part? I was completely miserable.


The road to recovery

I was referred to an eating disorder clinic when I was 20-21; however, I received a letter saying I would be seen in 22 months. What a joke. That’s the NHS for you. Of course I could have paid thousands of pounds to go to a swanky private clinic, but I couldn’t afford that of course. The UK has few resources for sufferers with EDs. I have witnessed hands on that in the US that there is more access to get help and more of awareness for EDs. I was put on a waiting list for so long because my weight was considered ‘normal’. I understand that there are people who are in more physical danger than the ‘normal weight’ people, but there still needs to be something in place for people like me whose illness was just as mentally destructive. The resources I used were mostly on www.b-eat.co.uk – the national eating disorders charity in the UK. There are some great resources on there including a facility to chat to trained volunteers. Unfortunately, GPs are not trained in how to deal with EDs. I found my GP to be a little helpful, though there was no way of putting me higher in the waiting list because my BMI was in the healthy range. The only other service that was offered to me was CBT which I began around the age of 21. As mentioned, recovery is a long process and requires a determination to change. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it helped me to challenge those OCD like thoughts that I had with food. Recovery from an eating disorder can take up to 10 years and I still have some way to go, but I have come a long way from where I was once.

“Why waste time losing weight when I can travel the world?!"

During recovery, I began focusing my efforts on other things, like pursuing friendships and nights out. I got back my sense of humour and started to enjoy life again. As much as it was really hard to gain weight (and still is to this day), it became less and less scary. Today I’m at a healthy weight and even though I have my daily struggles, I have to remind myself of what I’d have to sacrifice to go back to the way I was. Nobody with an ED is happy. If it wasn’t for undergoing CBT with an amazing therapist, I would have never travelled the world and experienced the things that I have: seeing the Great Wall of China, seeing shooting stars in Mongolia, backpacking across Russia and riding the longest railway in the world, teaching English in China, writing and starring in a TV show… Just some of the things I have done in the short time since recovering from my ED. How could I possibly go back to how I once was?

Conclusion

A study has shown that 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat. I have decided to make my story public in hope that it will help other sufferers seek help, or even make you reach out to somebody you think may have an eating disorder. It destroyed my life – don’t let it destroy someone else’s.
RainbowEmily RainbowEmily
22-25
2 Responses Sep 18, 2012

"...reach out to somebody you think may have an eating disorder." I just did this last night and wrote about it. Your story is amazing. I too am almost recovered, but I had anorexia at a lower level and got help sooner. I trust my mom too much... but I guess that's a good thing. Thank you for your story!

I'm currently in my first year of recovery and I related to this a lot. Beautifully told <3 Best of luck to you in your continued success