It’s been a while since we’ve taken a look at the other side, and this is a rather apt post, given our chat about food and mood. When we get extreme with stuff, it can really muck with us. Eating disorders strip our gut of our happy juices, strip our minds of stability and sense, they are insidious. And when they happen to someone you love? I cannot begin to describe the helplessness that is felt. It’s like you’re trapped outside the glasshouse. You’re screaming, beating at the glass. You can see what needs to happen for the person inside, but they can’t see you, nor hear you. Instead you just watch on as they destroy themselves, without realising they’re doing it.
My experience with eating disorders doesn’t just come from a professional aspect, it’s been a personal issue I’ve seen too. One of my dearest and closest friends battled courageously for years and years, and has recently begun to come out the other side. But it’s never over. Never ever over. She graciously agreed to share her story.
The grips of an eating disorder
I had an eating disorder for approx six years or more. I guess in diagnosis sense however I believe that disordered thinking started around age 19-20 and still continues.
In terms of when it came along, well for me there was no clear cut experience or moment you develop it. I guess with all mental illness, a bunch of experiences, influences and people helped to fuel it. A few moments come to mind. One of the first triggers for me was one night at age 18 I went to party, met a nice boy. Ended up staying at his house the night. Nothing happened and he was lovely but the next day all his friends were at his house. Making snide remarks, asking me if I want breakfast. I thought what do they mean by that? Bacon they kept saying. Pig… bacon… porky… well, you make the connection. I felt like I’d never had a ‘perfect’ body nor was I sporty. I was very much a size 10-12 and hated my big boobs. Hated them so much. A second trigger that springs to mind was my ex- was a cricketer for Tassie. Sounds fab, but the whole ‘trophy girlfriend’, pressure to be skinny, was consuming. I had little self-esteem back then and it felt powerful to be skinny. Somehow being skinny meant I couldn’t be hurt emotionally. I started by just dieting, eating healthy, reinforced socially by all these people telling me I looked amazing. So skinny. I had to have more. I cut whole food groups and delayed eating until night time.
The Eating Disorder Takes Hold
It felt exhausting yet powerful. I devoted my life to it. That’s all I had room in my life for. Everything else went. Friends, family, school work, casual jobs. Nothing meant anything unless I was skinny. I felt in control yet moody, irritable, alone, down, angry. So angry and tired. The eating disorder told me (and continues to tell) me I’m fat, I’m a disgusting fat whore and I really ought to be doing so much more to improve my appearance. I’m never good enough. If I ran 12 kms it ought to have been 15!! Water before food always, less is better. Rules stick to all those rules.
The cracks were starting to show
While at the time I thought I was invincible, it quickly began impacting on friendships. I lost friends due to the fact I wouldn’t eat out. Though other times it strengthened friendships and true friends were a great support. It killed my relationship with my ex. He didn’t know how to, nor want to handle it. I had no sex drive and no desire to change my eating disordered ways for him. To me, he had contributed to it, so thus it was his responsibility in my mind to handle the aftermath. I fought with my mum a lot. She walked on egg shells, everyone did. One wrong move, a simple are you hungry question I’d go off!! My poor family.
I hated myself in terms of my personality and outlook on life. I had no love, passion, kindness or joy. The happy bubbly me was gone. I loved my body though. I loved being able to wear anything. I decided that was a good compromise. Sadly I was a bitch but skinny so that’s what I accepted. A new me! I would do things to punish myself and protect the eating disorder all.the.time. I would run with infected feet, exercise with a broken ankle, endure constant sickness, go to extreme lengths to hide food, steal food, clog up bathroom pipes with vomit, eat out of a bin! Anything to make myself feel low. Scum of the earth. Hatred!
Turning myself around
The turning point for me was to really hit rock bottom and realise that a life with eating disorder was no life at all. I was forcing myself to do honours in psychology and highly stressed at the time. My bulimia had become so bad that I felt no relief from it, every night was the same. Every morning I would wake up exhausted, sore and hating myself. I would panic about what I had eaten and whether people had heard me vomit. I would have to go and replace food I had eaten that wasn’t mine and make excuses for where the food had gone. Emotionally I was a wreck! I remember laying on the floor in the shower after a binge crying and deciding that I wanted to die. I hadn’t wanted to commit suicide before and I didn’t really want to at this point, but I would had rather be dead than live through bulimia until I was 50+. Another year of this shit made me cringe, let along several years.
I picked myself up ,loathing turned into anger, and anger turned into determination. The next day I quit uni, spoke to mum about seeing someone in Melbourne and the possibility of getting into an eating disorder clinic. I had started my pathway to recovery. Mum and I had booked a plane trip to Melbourne to see an expert in eating disorders we spent a few hours and for the first time she had made the clear link between eating behaviour and anxiety. She promised once I had learned to recognise and handle anxiety, my eating disorder would be fixed (if that’s possible).
I started seeing a psychologist, who suggested yoga and meditation to work on calming the mind and I sought out other people who had battled eating disorders and won to gain their advice on what tools worked for them. I met one lady, who had advertised in the paper that she was an eating disorder survivor and was now giving advice and counselling to other sufferers. She wasn’t a qualified psychologist; however she was my turning point. She had this genuine understanding of how I felt and for the first time it was so nice to share with someone my feelings and thoughts and them know exactly what it was like. She shared her stories and her honesty was raw. She bluntly said to me STOP PLAYING THE FUCKING VICTIM HERE GIRLY!! You are choosing to live this life and you chose bulimia.
The scariest part was admitting yes that’s true, the alternative was…deal with anxiety!! What happens if I ate something I felt bad about and couldn’t throw up? What would that mean? Dealing with anxiety! What happens is that when vomiting is no longer the option, and you have to make good choices about food. When you love and nurture your body with kindness you want to eat nourishing food that protects you from disease.
What worked best for me
The support that worked best for me was to have family and friends around to help with breaking down those barriers. Professional psychologist to help with challenging anxiety, yoga and meditation to learn to love myself and handle stress and anxieties (still working on it) Supportive people that had overcome the illness and were in a good place of recovery. Avoiding people that had maintained the eating disorder lifestyle or dieting.
It was a slow process. Some people managed to beat the eating disorder and recover very quickly, yet for me process was gradual and slow. I knew for me to challenge anxiety, I had to take little steps and feel mildly uncomfortable for a short time and repeat this step continuously until it became comfortable. So if it was trying a new food, I would only do so for a bite or two and be happy that it was just a mouthful, repeat that process for a week or so then work to half a piece etc. I’d play around with challenging the anxieties in other areas not just diet or exercise trying new things, going on dates, wearing a new colour or hair style. So that way anxiety wasn’t just food exercise focused.
I sadly say that no I don’t think I will ever fully recover from my eating disorder. I will always have warped ideas and thoughts about food and exercise. However, I know the process of life is no end point. I can only be proud of where I was and how far I have come and keep working on being the best I can be. I still have those self-punishing tendencies, especially with exercise and the gym. I rarely take a day off unless sick or on my death bed , yet I catch myself being more open to change with trying weights for first time in my life and loving it. I find myself being little less strict with food and whilst I may feel a little guil,t still I try to balance good thoughts with negative. I say to myself I’m going to do this regardless and so those thoughts can fight each other if they like but I’m staying focused on health. I’m still little!! I literally am tiny and omg do I eat!! Chicken, veggies, fruit, carbs! Girl’s gotta eat and I’m glad to say that society is shifting in their idea of beauty and health too. So no longer are anorexic skinny models considered attractive, replaced now with the notion of the fit, muscular, healthy, lean but strong and focused chick. Yoga has been my mantra, my saviour and is teaching me to work both on physical body but also on the mind and teaching myself to really honour and love parts of me, which is so hard but I’m trying.
I can’t put into words how proud I am of my darling friend. She is so strong, so courageous, so determined. Eating disorders are cruel, evil things that can take so much away, and she’s fighting to get her life back. If you or anyone you know is struggling with food and body image, always go and chat to someone. A GP is a good start, or seeing a dietician, a psych- just talk about it. Don’t hide it. The Butterfly Foundation does amazing things for supporting eating disorders. There’s also some great links to services here.