You hear about eating disorders being linked to social media and the skinny size 0 girls, that society deem as perfect. These definitely may have an effect, especially on young people growing up; but they aren’t the sole reason. So what is an eating disorder? In the definition of a professional, it is ‘Any of a range of psychological disorders characterised by abnormal or disturbed eating habits’. In my words as a survivor it was each day consisting of numbers (calories, weight, fat content), it was being so scared of the orders in my head and wanting to be skinny so bad that i almost killed myself trying, it was never seeing my body for what it was even when I was at deaths door and it was pure hell of loosing myself. I was obsessed with loosing weight because I had a distorted body image and despite being at a unhealthy weight I couldn’t see my body through the eyes of everyone else, I saw it through the eyes of anorexia. I continuously was restricting calories, burning off more calories than I consumed, my whole entire day was based around calories and how much ‘fat’ i was burning and potentially gaining. If my day wasn’t consistent of calories, it was the number on the scale or looking into pro-ana websites. It was being so scared of the voice of anorexia while also feeling so comforted by it as it shouted orders at me of what I needed to do next.
Anyone can develop an eating disorder. It doesn’t have a type for choosing its next victim. Anyone can develop one regardless of gender, age, race, social class or religion. There are many factors that could trigger or lead to one but sometimes there are none. Triggering factors range from traumatic events/experiences ( This was the main factor that doctors believed caused mine), there are biological factors such as irregular hormone functions or nutritional deficiencies, psychological factors e.g. poor self esteem, negative body image or environmental factors such as dysfunctional family dynamic, work or hobbies that promote weight loss and unhealthy eating or bullying and control loss over something. Eating disorders are not limited to anorexia nor is it just people who are severely underweight who are sufferers. There are other eating disorders such as bulimia, binge eating disorder, pica, EDNOS/ OSFED. While having one may affect your physical health, it is a mental illness.
I was diagnosed with atypical anorexia nervosa when I was 14. My eating disorder wasnt solely about losing weight and changing my body it was so much more, believing I didn’t deserve to eat, enjoying the hunger pans because ‘I deserved that pain’, the belief that when I finally did eat it couldn’t stay in so I’d exercise for hours or make myself sick. I wanted to see the bone. It started as losing weight because I believed I’d be happy when I was skinnier as this is what my head convinced me, I also suffered with body dysmorphia too which meant I saw nothing but being too fat. I started believing “me being fat” was why bad things happened. As my eating disorder progressed I began enjoying the pain of the hunger pangs and it was an additional self destructive strategy. My eating was something I could control. At least at first I could control it, but I ended up so deep in my disorder that I lost all control and it was now controlling me.
The problem with an eating disorder is you become so consumed by the thoughts and orders it gives and it takes control of you. Your led to believe it’s you and it vs the world when really it’s you and it vs yourself. I lost touch with reality and I believed the thoughts and the voice of the eating disorder. I refused to accept I was ever unwell, I refused to believe that what I saw in the mirror wasn’t the same body others saw. I refused to listen to the professionals and everyone around me. I just didn’t see my illness unravelling rapidly.
I had been seeing CAMHS (Child and adolescent mental health services) for other problems, but suddenly the focus went to my eating as my physical health started deteriorating. My team and family were concerned and nothing they did or said got through to me. A lot of people didn’t understand, I had many people say “Please JUST eat”. What they didn’t realise is by this point I couldn’t, I felt sick at the thought of food and I just couldn’t deal with the volume of my head intensifying after eating, I couldn’t deal with the guilt and shame that I felt on top of everything else after each meal. The extent of my eating disorder wasn’t apparent until I did start to lose weight quickly and it took its toll on my physical dosed. You don’t one day wake up and think I’m not going to eat anything, it spirals over a period of time. For me it was worsening over a year, starting slowly with restricting calories and skipping meals, to eventually eating nothing at all for weeks. I’d go to school and lie about eating and come home and find excuses to not eat or disguise food and exercise excessively. I tried so hard to find peace and fight off the feelings and thoughts by burning calories and eating less. What I realise now is I was never content, regardless of how much exercise I did, how little I ate, how many meals I skipped; that voice in my head always screamed at me to go further. Nothing will ever please your eating disorder. I mean you’ll get the feeling of success when you skip a meal, when you feel empty but this isn’t you feeling success, it’s your eating disorder happy it’s got you under its spell. The happiness is temporary until the devil side of your eating disorder strikes and your faced with even more negative criticism from it.
My recovery started when I faced an admission after becoming very unwell physically, despite putting up a hard fight. I was sectioned under the mental health act as I refused to accept treatment but was too unwell physically and mentally to be be seen as having capacity to make this choice. Why did I refuse?Because I didn’t believe I was unwell, I didn’t want hospital to force me to live and eat how they said. I believed they were against me. I believed I was okay. But I was so far from okay, I see this looking back. I was severely unwell and not just mentally anymore but physically too! They had the section in place and I was now forced to stay in hospital against my will, I was forced to eat, I was forced to have treatment. I was now more scared of eating and weight gain than of dying. In hospital I was told I would die if I didn’t receive nutrients in the next few days. I was continuously told the dangerously low levels my blood test showed. I was told my organs were slowly weakening and starting to struggle and I had to be on a permanent heart monitor as my heart was starting to become weak; but despite all this medical evidence, I still couldn’t see just how unwell I was. I wouldn’t have even cared. I was too busy believing it was lies and that I had to listen to my head as that’s the only voice I could trust. I couldn’t see the weight that had fallen off me, I couldn’t see myself as the walking corpse I was. I was tired and I was weak, but my head was screaming how I still had to continue to lose weight. A bag of bones, too weak to stand at times but I still continued fighting against anyone that tried saving or feeding me. I tried fighting against the hospital staff. I pushed my family away because they made it harder. I had my family members begging me to eat or just allow them to feed me without a struggle. For months I had no contact with the outside world and I didn’t care. At that moment I didn’t care that I was hurting my loved ones. I didn’t care that my family begged me to eat. I didn’t care that I was missing school and my life. For me I had gone my whole life thinking about everyone else and for the first time I had become selfish. My illness changed me. I believed it was me and anorexia against the world because the only way forward was to do as it said and loose weight. I didn’t care about hurting my body, in fact I was gloating at each hunger pan I felt, each bone I felt, each meal I skipped. Pleasing anorexia was all I thought of. But I never could and never would because it would never pleased. I spent 4 weeks on a children’s ward at my local hospital, I was forced to bed rest, continuous feeds, physical health checks, I was watched on 1:1 to make sure I didn’t go to the bathroom or didn’t hurt myself, I had medication forced down me. It was a very confusing, lonely and challenging time for me. I put my walls up so high to everyone.
I started to see reality clearer and I began to make small steps to normality, for example attending therapy and following meal plans. It then took a few years and many relapses to fully recover from anorexia (As fully as it goes). It remained in the back of my mind for a while and whenever I struggled with my mental health, it was the first warning sign for me because it crept back up. I saw signs reappear but I was able to challenge them and not let them control me how they did before. Now I can honestly say, having my control taken from hospital staff and professionals, was 100% better than anorexia taking it. At the time I’d of argued this till I was blue in the face, but now I have my life and I am healthy because they took that control and held it until I was able to take the control back healthily. Health and wealth is by far better than being unhappy just to see the bones.
My eating disordered triggered my anxiety. I feared putting on weight more than dying. Food petrified me and I became so sly and secretive which was things I’d never been. I hid food, I’d chew food and spit it out because I couldn’t physically swallow it and I’d exercise or purge secretly in my room behind my mums back. I totally lost myself with this illness, in a way I didn’t with any other.
If I could go back and tell that 14-year-old girl to get help and not carry on with such dangerous behaviors, I would. But I can’t so I hope by telling you, whether your deep in it or about to become deep in it that it is not worth it and that it is not the way to go forward, even it right now you cannot see what I can and have witnessed. You may know someone who is suffering from an eating disorder, you may suspect someone is or you may be suffering from one yourself; but it is nothing that you cannot overcome, beat and recover from. That’s not to say it’s easy, a quick fix or pleasant but it is worth it and certainly is possible.. That’s a promise. There is help out there, from friends, family, carers, your GP, services such as mind, CAMHS, counselling services or charities such as beat. I know denial may kick in.
If you’re supporting someone with an eating disorder, don’t underestimate the struggle they are facing. They don’t mean to push you away, they don’t mean to fight against you. I know it’s hard to understand and they make helping them harder than anything but that isn’t them, it’s their illness. It’s hard for you supporting them but it’s hell for them living through it.
If you’re suffering from an eating disorder, it gets better. One day you’ll look back and smile with how far you’ve come. Your eating disorder isn’t your friend. It isn’t a safety blanket for struggles you need to heal from. It’s a life threatening disorder and I know you may refuse to see the damage it can cause but from a survivor it will. It’s not going to be easy or straight forward. You will get tired and feel like giving in, but even on your darkest days keep going. People around you may not understand but they want to help, no matter what your head tells you. It’s not your fault you developed an eating disorder and it was out of your control but you have to fight and you have to use everything and everyone you have to overcome it.
You can do this