It’s Eating Disorders Awareness Week, so I thought I’d do a few posts about my struggles with eating disorders. I’m 3 years into recovery, and have been a healthy weight for 2 of those years.
What I felt about my weight then – With an Eating Disorder.
My life, when I was anorexic, used to be ruled by numbers. My weight, BMI etc. I had diaries full of documenting my weight changes and calories, instead of diaries detailing life events.
My eating disorder didn’t start out this way though. I didn’t get ill because I wanted to be thin. I was around 7 years old when I first started having problems with food. I had a few traumatic life events happen to me that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend, and even now as a 31 year old adult, I still struggle with what happened. The weight fixation was a symptom that cropped up after I had fully sunk into my eating disorder. When I was 7 and struggling mentally, I accidentally found out one day that hunger, and feeling hungry actually made me feel better. I liked being completely empty and it gave me a weird energy which equated to increased motivation. I started skipping lunches at school, and throwing my packed lunch into the bin, even at such a young age. If something makes you feel good though, you tend to want to do that thing over and over.
I was a teenager when my weight fixation hit it’s peak and it carried on until my late 20’s when I attempted recovery. I thought I was bigger than my friends and I hated my muscly body. While other girls my age got curves, I got muscles. I have an athletic body type, I have quite defined abs right now despite never lifting weights or doing sit ups. I thought I was a lot bigger than I was, the mirror was always lying to me. I had a “voice” in my head, well, it isn’t really a voice it just feels that way, actually what I experience are eating disordered thoughts, but they didn’t feel like my own thoughts, they felt very separate to me. I know, and I always knew how important it is to feed your body, I even studied science, but my brain was telling me that eating was bad, and I was a horrible person if I gained even half a pound of weight.
Failure. FAILED. You’re horrible, useless, worthless! Now you shouldn’t eat anything at all for the rest of the day.
It’s like you get completely brainwashed by your own thoughts, because you start to believe it’s true and eventually, you can’t even access the logic in your brain anymore to fight it with. Fighting with it is actually useless anyway.
I only ever felt good about myself if I weighed myself and found that I had lost weight, despite knowing deep in the back of my mind somewhere, that I had just made myself sicker. Feeling good about myself never lasted very long though, as soon as I reached a weight loss goal, my brain made me a new one, each one more scary than the goal previous. Getting to the endless goals was what my life consisted of, and I did anything to make those goals a reality, purging – making myself sick and taking laxatives or water tablets, over exercising, serious restriction, lying to people about what I had eaten that day etc. I had a whole host of excuses lined up to give to people, bad stomach, feel sick, already eaten, stomach bug, food poisoning etc.
Having an eating disorder is awful. I felt constantly cold, constantly weak, I had palpitations, I had fuzz all over my skin because I wasn’t eating enough to heat my body, my nails would be blue, I’d feel faint and weak, I hated myself everyday, I thought I was trapped in an ED forever, I couldn’t look at myself in a mirror, and I was constantly hearing horrible things about myself in my own head. How horrible I was, what a bad mother I am, etc. When I reached my lowest weight, I took my phone to bed with me convinced I might have to call an ambulance some day soon. Despite all of these symptoms being completely awful, saying goodbye to my eating disorder felt like an impossibility. I had tried to recover a few times without medical intervention and I always ended up going through a week of bingeing and purging before going back to the way I was. It was hard to want to recover because at the time, I only ever only saw the good in what I was doing, I felt a bit better mentally about things because my ED helped me to cope. There was a large amount of denial involved with how bad things really were. After all, ED was always there for me, through everything. I thought it was who I was, and felt it was my identity. I thought that I wouldn’t be able to cope without it.
3 years ago, I went to the doctors, and was honest with them about my eating disorder, and I then told them that I wanted to recover, I was at my lowest weight ever, and didn’t think I could go on much more without something serious happening to me. I realised that I didn’t want to die, basically. What followed was a year of appointments, followed by years of ongoing outpatient treatment, and getting myself better. I’ll explain the recovery process in a bit more detail at a later date, but for now, just know that I worked extremely hard to get better despite thinking that I had been in this eating disorder for 20+ years so, “It probably won’t work for me but I’ll try anyway”. I didn’t even want to get better for me, I felt I didn’t deserve to get better, but I knew I had to for my daughter. She deserved to have a Mummy who didn’t have an eating disorder. Of course it wasn’t that easy, and recovery was traumatic and painful, and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my entire life, but it was so worth it.
How I feel about my weight now- Without an Eating Disorder.
Today, I am a healthy weight and have been ever since, apart from a few ups and downs that are to be expected in recovery. I don’t know exactly what my weight is, last time I was weighed was a year ago, I was just over BMI 20 and I think I’ve gained weight since then. Weighing myself is too triggering, so I don’t ever weigh myself anymore unless I’m supervised. I think differently about my weight now, most of the time it doesn’t even cross my mind. When I’m feeling good, I don’t care what my weight is, I just want to stay well. Eating more gives certain benefits, more energy (although I would have argued with you until I was blue in the face that not eating gives me more energy), anything I do now, like art and gaming etc, I can do SO MUCH BETTER when I’ve eaten enough food. I don’t think about food or weight or calories all the time, I don’t constantly watch triggering TV shows like Supersize vs Superskinny. I’m hardly ever cold unless it is really cold outside. I never feel weak or dizzy, and I don’t have palpitations anymore.
I do still have times when eating is really hard. It almost feels like it’s completely automatic, if something bad happens, I don’t want to eat, and I want to lose weight to deal with it and I get attacked by intrusive eating disordered thoughts. Also, I sometimes go through periods of struggling with the fact I feel fat and how much weight I’ve gained since recovery. However, I’ve learnt to accept that part of my eating disorder will always be there. Recovery is, still sometimes having these thoughts (Although they won’t be as intrusive, and you certainly won’t have them 24/7 anymore!), but with the ability to not listen to them anymore. Recovery will give you the tools to be able to do that. My brain wants me to not eat at difficult times, but actually my body really needs me to eat to get through it, and if I eat and am a healthy weight, I can play video games and do art to the best of my ability, and I really cannot do that when I don’t eat. I cannot be me when I don’t eat, I cannot be me at a lower weight. My eating disorder was never my identity, it was my illness which I’ve worked hard to get better from, and now I am me, and my likes and interests keep me going. When things are tough, I remind myself how horrible it was to have an ED, I remind myself of the symptoms I’ve mentioned in this post, and eventually, the bad patch goes away, and I’ll stop thinking I’m fat, and I’ll carry on not caring about what I look like and I’ll again want to eat pizza, because pizza is so awesome. My diaries are now full of actual things instead of numbers. Numbers don’t reflect who I am as a person anymore, although actually, they never really did.