My eating disorder started when I went to University: the massive change, moving from a small country village to a large city, leaving my family behind. Suddenly everything was different and I desperately wanted to fit in. In the past I’d been bullied at school, I was terrified it might happen again.
They say that an eating disorder develops more often in someone with a perfectionist nature and I believe this was the case for me. In the past, I’d always had a healthy relationship with food and in general I ate what I wanted to. However, I started constantly thinking about the types of food I was eating and how much I ate. It seemed like everybody around me was on a diet and a lot of my friends felt guilty for eating cakes. When I looked in the mirror, I saw fat that I’d never seen before.
Whilst feeling that everything around me was out of control, I felt that being in control of my eating helped to keep me safe. I started restricting my calories, then cutting different foods out of my diet, and then entire food groups completely. I felt terrified of eating chocolate and pizza but would crave them constantly.
I’d dream about eating these “fear foods” and wake up in sheer panic at what I thought I’d done. I would trawl eating disorder websites for hours, gaining tips and tricks for not eating and fuelling the self-hatred I felt for myself and my body. I never managed to be in complete control of my eating or how I looked and it made me feel like a constant failure. I always felt cold and eventually my periods stopped.
I told myself I could always stop, but suddenly I realised I couldn’t.
I knew the calories of practically everything off by heart and I’d think constantly about food; when my next meal was going to be, exactly what it would be, how much I was going to have and how long I would have to go to the gym to burn those calories off.
I think one of my oddest eating disorder behaviours was stockpiling food, proving to myself that I had the control not to eat it, almost taunting myself to resist whilst I was actually starving myself.
I remember very clearly the first time I binged. It was Easter and I’d been given masses of chocolate which I stored in a huge pile next to my bed, it remained untouched for months.
One day I told myself that I could have a little bit of a chocolate egg. I was so hungry that it tasted like the best thing I’d ever eaten. Then I couldn’t stop. I kept eating and eating, working my way through the chocolate pile, not even tasting it. It was as if I wasn’t even conscious about what I was doing.
Afterwards I felt so ashamed, fat and guilty.
After that I ended up in a binge-purge cycle. The former feeling of control that I had over food completely disappeared and in its wake left utter chaos. I piled on weight and cried at the sight of my reflection and felt totally out of control. I turned to fast foods, cheesecakes and tubs of ice cream, I hated myself and my body more than I ever had before. I felt so alone, like I was the only one with this problem.
It got really bad and I knew I needed specialist help. I think one of the cornerstones in my recovery was about a year ago, when I started to eat more healthily. I became vegan, which is a cause that’s very important to me. I avoid sugar and refined foods. Eating a diet full of whole foods has encouraged me to think about food in a completely different way. Rather than calorific values I now try to think about nutritional values, as food being a source to nourish and energise me. I’ve also found my art a very powerful tool in my recovery.
Talking about my eating disorder publicly has really opened my eyes to how many people struggle with similar experiences. I think this is why my work with Therapy Partners is so important to me, to show people that they are not alone, and that recovery is possible.
It’s certainly not easy to completely get over an eating disorder, especially if you don’t get help as it plays with your head. I still struggle with my expectations about food and my body image but my therapy has been really helpful and I would urge people to get help and support.
If you’ve suffered from eating disorders or are a parent or carer, we would like to hear from you.
By sharing your story we can build hope for others affected by eating disorders, and help them rewrite their story.