Chronic illness

My ED Story

27 Feb-5 March was Eating Disorder Awareness Week (NEDA). A time where we open up about disordered eating, diet culture, body image and recovery. A chance to connect and support one another.  For me this is an important time to reach out to people and offer my experience because it’s all I have to give.  I’m no expert but I’ve been there. I know how impossible recovery sounds, how much you “need” that coping mechanism etc. I want to tell someone what I wish I had heard – or get through to them when someone else hasn’t been able to yet.

As someone who had an eating disorder, I’ve often questioned “what caused this?” Is it nature or nurture? Was it biological that I would get an ED at some time, or just due to psychological stress, or could it be both? I think it can be both. If you witness someone else using x skill to cope with a stressful  time as a young person, you’re likely to connect that as an option. Studies show if a person has a close family member aka parent or sibling with an eating disorder they’re TWELVE times more likely to get an ED!!! Now is that down to learnt behaviours or a real genetic disposition? It’s hard to tell. For me, my mum has had an eating disorder for most of her life though she’s a lot better now, between anorexia and general yoyo dieting I’ve been around this a lot. I didn’t realise as a child of course but kids are sponges and take in their surroundings more than the average person – even if they don’t fully comprehend what’s happening.

I don’t recall how I knew that this was an option for my stress but somewhere along the way I too developed an eating disorder. It began when I was around 10 after my parents messy divorce. I would skip meals, vomit what I ate and eventually binge eat. Part of this was body image – I always thought I was fat even though I was on shakes as a kid for being underweight (unrelated to ED) but I thought I had a weird shape  my stomach wasn’t fully flat and my hips felt fatty. I wasn’t chubby but to me not seeing bone = fat. Somewhere I learnt fat = bad.

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But as well as body image my disorder began during a major time of stress and trauma. I think that focusing on food was about control and distraction for me. Thinking about food 24/7 fills your brain so you don’t think about your real issues as much the ones that are out of your control.  It very much becomes an addiction as it literally changes your chemistry and it’s so hard to break the cycle. You’re human so you obviously crave food when in starvation. However, instead of feeling a relief from eating ED patients feel such a low they have to get of it.  I used to feel like I could feel my whole digestive system churning when I ate.  It reminded me even more I had eaten. Whatever I ate I felt shame. 

I had struggled with self injury at the time and I really think that starving and purging was just another means to hurt myself. I didn’t know how to deal with what I was going through. I realise it makes no sense to someone who hasn’t been there and it honestly doesn’t fully make sense to me either. Eating disorders bring more problems than it’s worth. But it made me feel in control when my life was out of my control. But the reality is my mental health was also out of control. People with eating disorders are so not in control of it. 

For a period of about 4 years I had an active eating disorder which was about age 10-14. When my health got real bad again due to my autoimmune treatment (unrelated to ED) I was forced to recover. Eating disorders take a surprising amount of energy which I just didn’t have. Between the lack of energy from malnourishment and keeping up with the behaviours it gets pretty tiring. And I started steroids so I became ravenous for food, so for a while there it kinda shifted to binge eating and it was even more miserable than anorexia because I knew fully well I wasn’t in control. Steroids made my body balloon and my once petite frame become all chubby and covered with stretch marks which was a huge conflict for me. I felt so bad about my body and it just really really sucked. But somehow all of that made me recover. Once you hit rock bottom the only way is up! Between my teacher making me to eat with her everyday and my worsening health I kind of had to give in. It was very shameful for me, but I realise now its a good thing. When I couldn’t physically engage in the behaviours it meant it helped break the cycle. It really is similar to the addiction cycle. Along the way I learnt about body positivity, self care, fat liberation etc and it seriously helped me so much. 

Tracks on a snow covered road

Some of the things I learnt are 

  • BEING FAT IS OKAY. 
  • Not all overweight people are unhealthy. Your BMI does not dictate how good or bad your vitals are. (Read about Health At Every Size)
  • Fat is just a descriptor. The word fat is only bad because people have attached a stigma to it. By calling ourselves fat when we are, we take back the power. Like how LGBT people have reclaimed the word queer
  • The more you diet the harder weight loss is. Studies show 95-98% of diets fail and people gain back the weight within a few years. The more you diet the less  likely you are to loose permanent weight because it fucks with your metabolism. But we continue to diet because we’ve invested so much into it financially and personally.
  • You don’t have to hate yourself!!! It’s drilled into us in ways from childhood But you can unlearn those behaviours. 
  • You don’t have to love yourself either. Being neutral is good enough!!! Most of us have far bigger issues in life. Even just being okay with who you are is an improvement.
  • Recovery is fluid. Sometimes will be harder than others.
  • Recovery is possible. If you have to use food as control. You can flip it. Control your recovery instead of your destruction. Like you would push away the temptation to eat push away the temptation to not eat. Focus your energy into your ultimate wellbeing.
  • People talk about health with dieting, but what about mental health? Changes in diet can definitely help, like someone with celiac going gluten free. But dieting because you hate yourself is often more detrimental to your health by causing depressions and anxiety.

 I do hope it’s explained more of my journey. I have made quite a few posts on body acceptance on my instagram and received comments on how does someone recover? Well…. you just do hopefully.  You have to for your survival survival is more important than control. I wasn’t ready but I had to be ready. And with a lot of time and self reflection I was able to cut the bull. It was incredibly  painful for a while but being able to enjoy food and all that comes with it without panicking is so nice. When I eat I can have whole meals where it doesn’t cross my thoughts, and when it does I’m able to shut it down. Like dude anorexia is miserable. Food is so gooood. Being stable is so gooood. Having coping skills is too!!!  

I really hope this is able to spark some hope for people…. It is a long road but finding a good support system and doing the internal work, not just restoring your weight is major. It is possible 💙

Some links!

Info on what an eating disorder is like and the causes: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/eating-disorder-awareness-week-2017/

A community blog with amazing content on recovery: www.recoverywarriors.com

ED coping skills: https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/recovery/self-help-tools-skills-tips/self-soothing-advice

Summer has a great scary and book which explains everything body acceptance & diet culture she also has a free worksheet on her site for body image improvement: Summerinnanen.com

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