Legs pressed against my tiny heater all I could think was how much I didn’t want to go for a run but that I MUST do it. I was freezing from the inside out, it was April.
Eight months previous to this moment I had begun university. I couldn’t wait to leave my home town to be by the sea in what felt like a new world. When I waved my mother goodbye I think I ate a cookie for dinner, chatted to my neighbours and went out to party on VKs. The next morning with a hangover I dragged myself out of bed to bond with my fellow ‘car park’ living students. Yes we lived in a converted car park, it was as horrendous as it sounds, no wonder I ended up depressed (kidding).
Being thrust into uni life I felt a little uneasy a lot of the time. I thought people didn’t like me that much and missed my best friends from home. Hence food became a replacement for companionship in my life. I knew how to cook but I just always felt hungry. I would binge eat at times till I felt sick and as I put on weight I hated how out of control I felt. In fact I weighed then roughly what I weigh now. But I had always been naturally very slim and had never gained weight so quickly which came as a shock.
When Christmas came around I was miserable and bloated. A fleeting comment from someone stuck in my mind and I resolved that come New Year I would be on a diet. I cannot stress enough how damaging it is for some people when you comment on their appearance or what they eat. Whilst a comment isn’t wholly to blame from those who I know have suffered from an ED they always remember a negative comment that set off a trigger in them.
So the start of 2006 came around and I was thrilled to be on a new eating regime. For the first time in my life I went to an exercise class. My legs were jelly afterwards and I felt great. I quickly came to the conclusion that by cutting out certain foods I could lose weight quicker. Funnily enough it worked, I lost weight. Within a couple of weeks half a stone had come off and without me even realising I was falling straight into Anorexia Nervosa.
Just as I felt more in control my father was diagnosed with cancer. This is the worst news I’ve ever had in my life. I still vividly remember him telling me it was a tumour and that was it, I no longer needed or wanted food. I felt so utterly useless being stuck in Bournemouth as my Mother rushed around looking after Dad, and then he got MRSA. I went home for Easter to help out and my obsessions with food and exercise spiraled.
By this point people were commenting and complimenting me on my weight loss. I felt powerful and strong , like I had a won a battle with myself. I didn’t realise it but I was always internally fighting. I reduced my eating habits to an amount I will never publically disclose for fear it will trigger others.
I trained for a 5K Race for Life race with rigid precision. There was no missing a run, it just couldn’t happen, I was literally running on empty. I obsessed over exercise never missing a class or a bike ride to and from Uni. I started to withdraw, I stopped drinking because of the calories. If I did allow myself a drink I would restrict my food even more. I threw myself into uni work and exercise. I would stay in bed too weak to get up at times and then push on through. My body was constantly freezing, I had my little heater on all the time which often drew comments from others on how could I live in such a warm room? Not once did anyone ask if I had a problem, its OK though, I know how hard it is to speak to someone you think is suffering.
I used to weigh myself daily which also became addictive, as the numbers dropped I felt so proud of myself for discovering this new way to eat. I felt like I had trumped all the diets. Not once did I think I had am eating disorder. I became cranky and irritable if anyone tried to make me eat something I didn’t want to.
When Race for Life came round I achieved a PB, I thought I was invincible. Dinner that night was torture and ecstasy. A real meal and yet I was terrified. The jam roly poly was tasteless and I was upset to have wasted the calories. My parents were horrified at my weight loss and attitude and begged that I would do something about it. I felt horrendous, I was obsessed and miserable.
I returned to Uni dejected and wanting to change, I just didn’t know how. The little paper slips on the toilet wall offered a place for those with an ED to come and talk. I didn’t have an ED but maybe some little problem, or so I had convinced myself. So there I sat and for the first time I was honest about what I had been doing. It felt so strange to be telling all my secrets to a stranger. Yet she was so reassuring and kind that I felt safe.
What ensued was a visit to the doctor and a referral to the hospital. It was taken seriously, suddenly this had become the small steps to recovery. Kimmeridge court hospital in Poole was where I cycled to my assessment, again I wasn’t letting up on any habits. It was here they discovered I had Osteopenia in my hips, the start of osteoporosis. That’s when you start to compute you’re doing damage. I hadn’t had a period my whole first year of university. I wanted to punish my body for letting me down so much, I never twigged that my body weight could be the cause. I lay on the floor with wires attached to me which measured every bit of body fat, water, density etc. There was a long list of questions to be answered and some tears, then the diagnosis. Even when I was told I was anorexic I didn’t believe it. I thought I wasn’t thin enough, don’t you have to look seriously emaciated?
This is how I looked.
There are few pictures of me in first year, I didn’t look in the mirror much anymore let alone pose for photos, if I ever did go out. I hated myself and my body. That thought terrifies me now, how could I loathe myself so much? How did I get to that point?
It was during the Summer of 06 that I really felt very low. I knew I was sick but I didn’t know how to get better. The worst was on a walk with my Mum who said “you’re killing yourself” and at that moment I didn’t care if I died. I was so unhappy and felt so trapped in my mind. I couldn’t imagine being free of the disease. I didn’t think I could ever eat a normal meal again. This picture is bleak but it’s how it was. I spent the whole of my first year pretty depressed and not even realising it.
In my second year I received Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which I believe saved me. Without Jess Griffiths and Micki I don’t know if I would have recovered, or it sure would have taken longer. I had to find joy again in life. I entered second year scared and anxious. Routines still plagued me but at least I was eating again. Alongside the therapy I was weighed weekly, weight gain was imperative, if I hadn’t gained one week I had to work harder the next to put on the pounds. The weight came on slowly and gradually, no piling on pounds as the media liked to make out. In this year Jade was my rock and solace from my house. I found partying difficult and Jade would drive me to hers so we could hang out and cook together. In those acts of kindness I knew she was my friend for life.
As I gained weight I felt better. I felt more able to cope with what was happening to me. My bones no longer dug in at night and I started to have some fun. The ED was no longer controlling me. after a year of therapy I was signed off at a healthy weight. Over the next few years I became stronger and stronger. I still found conversations about food hard, especially in office environments whilst on placement in third year, but it became easier with time.
I’ve been recovered nearly 8 years ago now. I was such a different person then. I lost Alice for two years, lost to a disease who wanted every part of me. I am so grateful I broke free of it. I used to wish it had never happened to me. Now I see all the benefits it has brought me in later life. Ironically I think I have a better attitude to food and body image than a lot of others. I’ve been a size 6 and I looked terrible because I was damaging myself and it’s not where my body wants to be.
I don’t skip meals and I don’t count calories. I eat what I like and do a lot of exercise, without being controlled by it. Of course I have days when I feel down on myself, that’s just life. It frustrates me when food is labeled good or bad, what kind of message does this send to people? Eating shouldn’t have guilt attachments to it. When I was in the trappings of anorexia I didn’t want to ever have to eat outside the realms of what I had carved for myself. But we must eat to survive, I almost had to re educate myself to this.
I used to think Anorexia was my fault, that I had done it on purpose. But eating disorders are not a choice they are a serious mental illness. I can look back now and see that multiple factors played a part in it. One major one being unable to cope with being at university and feeling depressed.
I am recovered and I hope it will never affect me again in my life. It breaks my heart to see or hear of people suffering. What can be done to help them? It’s really difficult, you can’t tell an anorexic to just eat, it’s not that simple. But by breaking down taboos on EDs hopefully this can help to educate and perhaps awaken those to the fact they have problem. To fight it you need willing to get better.
Without my ED I might not be the person I am today. A perfectionist personality is useful you know! But really, I probably wouldn’t have entered Star in a Bra or worked with Body Gossip and Be Real Talks, or tried to support body image campaigns. It shocks me how so many people have a negative body image. But it’s not surprising when a lot of messaging is peppered with “you’re not good enough as you are” and “you need to look different”. It seems some can’t remember they are great just as they are.
So this week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I wrote this article to try to break down the taboo of Anorexia. To look at me now you would never know but it’s where I came from. It’s where my first part of adult life took a side step. It’s where I lost the joy in living.
If you think someone is suffering then talk to them. Yes its really difficult and you have to be careful but it could save a life. Often EDs are covered with what appears to be a little bit of weight loss, its only when it becomes extreme that people can visibly notice. If you’re reading this and it all sounds familiar then please do comment below, I am more than happy to help where I can.
I’ll end it on this. Now, free from Anorexia I have my life back. Every part of it was worth the pain of recovery and a full recovery is truly possible. If you are worried about yourself or someone you know then please get in contact with BEAT who will be able to help.