When I was in the midst of an eating disorder I felt totally detached from my body. It became something to punish. The habits and rituals formed to ensure the mind felt safe at the expense of my body and my life.
Growing up I barely gave a moment’s thought to what I ate or the size of my jeans. Once I reached 17 I began to re-think my regular chocolate bar breakfast. Amongst my peers suddenly a chocolate laden meal didn’t seem the best idea. Still, my weight and body image hardly factored into my conscious.
When I found myself at University, 5 hours away from home and my friends I began to panic. I felt uncomfortable and like I didn’t belong. Going out and getting drunk on alcopops was the thing to do. I had to cook for myself properly. It became so much easier to eat junk food, after all, I was in control of the food shop. Quickly I began to see a whole packet of biscuits as something I needed to finish. After that I would probably eat more chocolate. Sure enough these eating habits coupled with no exercise and drinking made me put on weight. Suddenly I wasn’t in control of my body or my hunger. I ignored the feeling of being full and continued to eat more. By the first term of Uni I had put on over a stone and felt out of control and uncomfortable. I obviously didn’t understand that the way I was eating had become a way to cope, to feel safe.
Going on a diet felt like the perfect solution. Restricting my eating and being more selective of what I ate began to work. Yet this path was slippery and once I was on it I slipped all the way to Anorexia Nervosa. There was this feeling of victory over my mind and body. I could control my eating habits and therefore please my mind. Once I had this nailed I could just focus on not eating. I trained myself to eat so little that I switched off hunger pangs. My routine and rituals were my safe places. I felt so clever and powerful to have found a new way to eat. As my weight fell I felt temporarily happier. There’s this place where you’ve lost weight so people compliment you. It’s the norm to congratulate weight loss right? Like being a smaller version of ourselves is the best thing. Like our happiness should be measured on whether we can wear a smaller size skirt?
But then there’s this point where the compliments stop. Where people start asking you why you don’t cook anymore? Why you don’t come out anymore? Why your heater is constantly on? You retreat further inside yourself, don’t take away my routine. If anyone gets in the way of the rituals you get so upset. You feel so loathsome. You just want to return to ‘normal’, to your safe place. At this point I stopped looking in the mirror. Weight loss was a daily occurrence, clothes fell off me. Punishing my body felt so good. Pushing the wheels on my bike, running another mile all felt like I was running away from myself and my mind.
It was only once I admitted that maybe I had a problem that I realised quite how much my habits had become ingrained. I didn’t like how I looked, yet anything was better than going back to feeling out of control. I didn’t know it then but I would have to go on huge journey to re-educate myself, to learn to love myself and to stop listening to a voice that wanted to hurt me. Along with re-introducing foods into my diet I had cognitive behavioural therapy. I started to understand that my new way of living wasn’t helping me at all. That in-fact my way of coping was to hurt myself more than I had ever known. I had to learn to accept my flaws and to be more kind to myself. I had to stop seeing food as the enemy and re-educate my brain that it was a necessity and something to be enjoyed.
Putting weight back on was a gradual but essential part to recovery. As I began to eat more nutrients I re-found my energy and my motivation. I would still be referred to as the ‘skinny’ one. Yet I had to look beyond my body and know that with a healthy mind comes a healthy body. As I felt better I reignited my friendships, the desire to talk to men, to go out and to have fun, just like any other 20 year old.
When I was ill I was so unhappy, I truly hated myself. As I worked through my issues I began to be release these negative thoughts. I saw my body as something to take care of and to love. When my periods returned I was so relieved to feel that my body was healing. As I began to feel physically stronger my mental strength and resilience started to build.
We live in a world where people are obsessed with weight, body image, diets, clean-eating, the list goes on. Yet we forget that each of us has their natural size and shape that’s what makes us varied and beautiful. It can be so easy to be preoccupied with attaining a ‘better’ version of yourself. But perfection doesn’t exist. You get to your goal and then what? What comes next? Because unless you learn to love yourself and your being then you will never be satisfied.
A huge part in my recovery was regaining my sense of self-worth. A friend once said “Alice you need to love yourself before others can love you”. She was right because I needed to discover that I was worthy of a healthy life, a healthy body and mind and ultimately was loveable. I would never be purposefully mean to others so why would I do it to myself? As I’ve become stronger both physically and mentally my body image doesn’t factor into my day to day. Of course I have days when I feel happier than others but that’s normal. What’s important is that I know my self-worth and that I am kind to myself and those around me.