My brush with an eating disorder
Updated: Feb 9, 2021
I've mentioned before on the gram that I used to have issues with eating, and thankfully I pretty much have things under control now. But I really think this is down to catching things early, before they took hold and my disordered eating turned into a full blown eating-disorder.
A lot of the below I find pretty embarrassing to admit, but, god loves an over-sharer when it comes to mental health. Let's get rid of the stigma and shame. If this helps point a few others in the direction of dealing with unhealthy eating habits, that's not a bad feat.
Let's get to it.
I've always fluctuated with my weight, and, as a tall girl at 5'9", any weight I gain can usually be distributed pretty discreetly.
My 'comfortable' weight - where my eating is relaxed and I'm not putting in much time for exercise - stands at about 10 stone 6. It has been known to go up to around 11 stone though (around Christmas-time for sure!), but this weight and the lifestyle that comes with it tends to make me feel low and unhealthy. 10 stone is usually the optimum weight for me, where I'm eating pretty healthily and exercising regularly - I feel toned, and strong, and confident in myself.
So I fluctuate by about a stone on average.
In 2016 though, after a rocky relationship ended, I dipped far below my usual fluctuations, down to a low of 8 stone 9. About a stone and a half lower than my 'optimum weight'.
Check out my crazy fluctuations below, yo... Tracked on my FitBit over the course of 4 years.
So yeah, as I was saying, early 2016 I dropped about 25 pounds, fast. I just couldn't eat after I left my cheating boyfriend (the first boy I'd ever loved) and I'd go for days at a time without eating. I felt so physically sick by what had happened that I was surviving pretty much solely on tea and coffee.
When I did eat, I couldn't stomach much more than fruit or vegetables. Soon that became the norm, and any other foods that weren't soup or fresh fruit I would label in my head as a 'bad food'.
And it wasn't solely a mental thing, by not eating all of these other food groups, my body soon began to find it difficult to process them the rare time I would eat them. I'd get crazily bloated eating foods that before I would digest pretty normally.
This went on for a few months and to worsen the situation, my 'diet' was combined with brutal cardio - at least 6 miles a day on the treadmill, every day.
March/April time, I dropped to 125 pounds - which, whilst is a normal weight for many girls - factoring in my height I became underweight, dropping to a BMI of 17.9.
I looked awful.
Friends, family and even colleagues were asking me if I was OK, telling me that I needed to eat more. I assured them I was fine and felt great! But my face became gaunt, I lost my bum, my boobs, my energy levels dropped, I was absolutely miserable inside. I've never known a sadness like it. And the strangest thing, on the other hand, I loved what I was seeing on the scales, seeing the numbers go down day after day was so addictive.
But, I soon realised that as I started to return to some levels of normal eating I would put on the weight I had lost. That was my idea of hell at the time. I'd finally gotten skinny! I couldn't go back now. This was my revenge body that my ex couldn't take away from me. He was shacking up with the girl he cheated on me with, but least I was skinnier than her.
That's how my mind worked. Warped.
I'd abuse diet pills, get drunk just to be sick the next day, try to make myself sick if I did happen to eat 'bad' foods.
And that's where the next phase of disordered eating began - binging and purging 'bad' foods.
I was surviving on under 500 calories a day, and burning at least that with exercise each evening after work. I'd be slogging away in the gym every day, enjoying the physical pain because it distracted me from the pain I was feeling inside.
A weird goal for me was 6 miles in an hour, no matter what happened during the day, if I could get in those 6 miles I'd achieved something and I'd worked off my food.
But I was starving, and I soon began experiencing overwhelming compulsions to eat energy-dense foods, anything high in fat / carbs / sugar.
Since this all began, I'd always been hungry, but I'd kind of learned to live with, even enjoy, the hunger. I loved the feeling of an empty, flat stomach.
But these hunger compulsions were like nothing I've ever experienced. I just couldn't stop them! They'd usually be brought on by things like a stressful day at work, or not getting a text back from a boy I liked, or maybe a strange comment from someone.
This pressure inside me would just build and manifest into a crazed compulsion to eat everything. I'd dream of my favourite foods and think about what I would pick up from the shops after work. I couldn't think about anything else.
I'd then proceed to buy a ridiculous amount of food in this dream-like state, maybe a pack of cherry bakewells, a tub of pringles, a tub of flapjack squares, a pizza, a bag of haribo, etc.
I'd then proceed to drive home, ravenous, lock myself away in the room I rented and gorge all of the food as fast as I was able. The first few minutes of eating I'd experience this crazy, blissful relief. I'd satisfied the compulsion.
But I'd soon feel sick and disgusted at myself, as I'm sure you can imagine taking on that breadth of food in such a short space of time.
I'd then attempt to make myself sick so that I wouldn't digest all of those calories. Any food leftover I would then tidy up and throw in the bin immediately. I'd put it behind me. If it was out of sight, it was like it never happened. Tomorrow I would do better and stick to my 500 calories.
Sure, it might last a few days, weeks even sometimes. But the compulsions would always come back.
I began putting on weight, because the starving was offset by the binges.
The below photos of me don't look that skinny, right? I mean, I look slim, but I'm sure a lot of people would think that is a 'healthy weight'.
Above: whilst looking a slightly 'healthier' weight, I was suffering from symptoms of bulimia at this time. Bulimics can be difficult to spot - they can appear a normal weight, or even slightly overweight. Their restrictive diets are offset by regular calorie-dense purges, which means they'll gain weight.
But during this time, mid-to-late 2016, I was binging and purging weekly. I only look slightly 'healthier' because I couldn't purge all of the calories from my binges - which were becoming more regular. I'd returned to a more healthy weight, but in no way, shape, or form, was my lifestyle healthy at all.
Food became the only thing I could think about.
I was obsessed. Everything revolved around my diet. I wouldn't see friends at dinner - I'd just meet them afterwards for drinks. In fact I'd rarely socialise with them at all, I'd rather be at the gym or alone.
Living in the South East, away from family, I became isolated and this lack of support just left me turn to the only thing that made me feel better - food.
But the relief during a binge was so short-lived. And the guilt and disgust afterwards was so awful. I lived in a vicious circle for months and I just couldn't get out of it.
The way I was living wasn't sustainable. Because of my behaviour, I'd lost friends, I was struggling at work. I didn't want to talk to my family even, I just wanted to be alone. Things got to a very low point before I was left with no option but to seek help. I called my doctor's surgery asking for an urgent on-the-day appointment.
I got the usual 'what's your problem, please?' and told the receptionist how low I was, and I got to see my doctor that day.
I sat down in his office and broke down in tears and I remember the first thing I said to him, "I think I'm going crazy".
I told him about what had been happening, how I'd had to go hospital as a result of complications from my diet, that I couldn't cope with work or my life anymore. I just wanted to be normal, I told him.
He went through a 'mood-self assessment' with me. It's pretty much a survey that can indicate whether a person may be experiencing mental health issues. I'd really recommend following that link and taking the survey if you think you might be struggling with depression or anxiety actually.
My doctor said it was obvious I had depression, but he also believed I was having issues with my eating. If you know anything about mental health disorders, you will know there is a lot of overlap between conditions.
In addition to some antidepressants and time off work, I got referred to the BEAT (now known as Beating Eating Disorders) charity, and within a few weeks I managed to see a psychiatrist with weekly appointments.
I undertook CBT sessions that helped me manage my problems by helping me change the way I was thinking and behaving. [I would like to go into this in more depth at some point as it was instrumental in helping me overcome my issues, but for brevity I will leave it here].
Once I could understand the compulsions, binging, purging, restricting/starving - why I was doing it and what powered them - I was able to take steps in solving them. I actually discharged myself pretty quickly from the sessions as I felt I had the tools I needed to take it on myself.
It took a few years, and I still experience strong urges with my eating to this day, but my diet is actually more 'normal' now than ever. With this, I've also begun to stop such wild fluctuations in my weight - I'll fluctuate between 6 pounds or so these days.
In addition, I'm happier than I can ever remember being. I've really begun to understand myself and what I need to be happy. Exercise is still a key part of my life, but now it's for health (mental and physical) rather than pure aesthetic. I love to feel strong, fast. I also absolutely love gaining muscle mass, which would have freaked me out in 2016.
Completing my PT course was also another big step in empowering myself with knowledge to ensure I could set myself up for a healthy lifestyle.
Above: me in 2021, healthy and happy
I think that's all I wanted to say in this post for now. Like I mentioned, there are areas I would like to go into more detail, but I'll save that for another post.
Writing this blog was cathartic, actually, but the main purpose was to highlight symptoms or signs of disordered eating, and to acknowledge that tackling it early is key. My eating was in a very bad place for about a year, but after seeking help, it slowly became better. I didn't let it take hold or get established, I managed to nip it in the bud.
Thanks to my amazing family for being there for me, and the right, quick support from my doctor and other health care professionals.
Don't hesitate to speak to your doctor if you are struggling, they can help you and refer you to the right place. There is plenty of support available to you, you just need to be brave enough to ask for it.
Here are some helpful links:
Beating Eating Disorders: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/
NHS - Eating Disorders: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/eating-disorders/
Seed - Eating Disorder Support Service: https://seedeatingdisorders.org.uk/
An end note, from Charlie Mackesy -