“Although my ‘eating disorder’ began in 2018, my disordered habits and mindset started long before. From the age of just 11, I hated the way I looked, but focused on my face. In fact, I never had an issue with my body at all. I would take pictures of my face and draw alterations. I would feel conscious any time somebody looked at me. I thought for years I was abnormal looking. I had very little confidence in my appearance and myself in general.
At 18, I moved to college, and felt I was finding myself. This is when I began going to the gym and got quite into the online world of ‘fitness.’ It gave me a new focus – being stronger, pushing myself, seeing results. In my first year of college, I would still eat all foods, lots of food, and would just occasionally go to the gym when I felt like it, while getting more into learning about strength training and fitness influencers. I was noticing myself gaining weight over this first year, but I didn’t mind so much. I was living my life and enjoyed exploring strength and fitness! It was all quite a healthy balance.
In the summer of 2017, I began calorie counting, becoming more aware of what I was consuming, using tracking apps, etc. This is when it all got a bit sticky, but to the world we live in, these behaviors are considered somewhat ‘healthy,’ even when they’re the opposite. I was going through a time of little confidence and was not feeling too great. This manifested in becoming more restrictive and rigid; the guilt around food really began here.
It was in April of 2018 that I first purged. This was the day I remember vividly, as it spiraled into what would soon become anorexia. (Yes, some people who have anorexia also purge, a common misconception.) I felt guilty for going over my ‘allowed’ calories for the day and needed a way to get rid of it, so I found one. In that moment, I thought I had unlocked a secret that was going to improve my life. The second year came to an end and I had lost weight. I was being complimented on it and I felt ‘happy’ (I thought). Nobody knew my secret and it was great. I could join in with some delicious foods I thought I wasn’t allowed, because I knew there was a way out, a way to undo it all.
I was becoming more restrictive as this was going on – eating less, cutting out food groups, exercising more and more. It was a slippery slope.
Fast forward a few months, and I had stopped eating. Now, the only time I ate was in these episodes where I would eat something with the intention to purge. These episodes would only come along when I couldn’t take the hunger any longer. I would lose control. I would eat out of bins, wipe out the cupboards, and spend the next hour or so with my head in a toilet. So no, eating disorders are not glamorous. I felt like an animal. I was not me. A malnourished brain will do anything for food, and it did.
It’s important to note, at this point (October 2018-ish), I was severely depressed. This is the first time I sought to get some help after my parents spoke with me and I finally disclosed everything going on. I spoke with a doctor who put me on medication and referred me to counseling. However, I was never taken on as my issues were too food focused, which wasn’t their specialty. I joined a weekly support group with my mother, but ultimately, to put it bluntly, I was stuck in a place where my weight wasn’t low enough to be referred to eating disorder services. (This is so wrong, but so often the case. It makes me really sad now). To me, at the time, in my unwell brain, this confirmed I had nothing wrong with me and could continue living this way. Oh, I was wrong. From here, things continued to get progressively worse.
By Christmas of 2018, my life was miserable. I was suicidal and all I was living for was my eating disorder. All I could think about was food. I would argue endlessly with my loved ones, miss occasions and events, and I couldn’t be in the same room as people eating. I couldn’t function. I would spend my spare time walking around supermarkets staring at food, picking food up, buying food for other people to fill some sort of void. I would watch food challenges on YouTube, anything to feel like I was eating without eating. I was terrified of food; the feeling of it inside me was unbearable. I was at the point I thought smelling or touching food would make it go into me. This would be the same day in and day out. And therefore, I think it’s so important to highlight eating disorders are MENTAL illnesses.
I couldn’t think rationally. I was taken over by anorexia. My parents would tell me I was going to die and all I could say back was ‘good.’ I would fall asleep praying not to wake up in the morning. I would walk the streets with no care in the world for oncoming traffic. I was full of intrusive thoughts every time I stood near a train. I am so emotional writing this, as I know how lucky I am to still be here now. At this point, I had contact with a crisis team, but I was past the point of wanting help.
It got to February of 2019, when I was taken to the doctors by my desperate parents. Now my weight was significantly lower, and this time, I was sent for an ECG and referred to the eating disorder team. This same day, I was called to A&E, as my heart rate was so low and the rhythm was abnormal. I was quite literally fighting for my life. The day after is when I was seen by the eating disorder team and admitted for treatment. This was the day it hit me what I was doing to myself. The day I wasn’t allowed to go home. The day my mom said, ‘We told you, you are going to die at any moment.’ And what I thought was six weeks in the hospital was to be the next nine months.
This is when recovery began. Emphasis on the word BEGAN. Recovery is a long process, and I would still consider myself ‘in recovery.’ But this is when life changed for me.
I began inpatient treatment, which is an experience, I think, impossible to understand unless you have experienced it. It is a whole different world. This began slowly introducing food back into my life, where for the first few months, I was still totally in my eating disorder brain. I didn’t want to recover. I was still refusing food, engaging in other eating disorder behaviors, and still secretly finding any way I could to compensate for food. I remember the first couple of months feeling like hell. I wasn’t allowed out, not even for a walk, until I became healthier. I would stare blankly at my parents when they visited. I felt like everyone was against me, when really the only thing against me was this illness, and everybody wanted me better.
I can’t pinpoint exactly why I had a breakthrough, but one day I realized I simply couldn’t live like this anymore. While I think a big motivation in the change was the fact I wanted to get out of the hospital, and the only way was to be allowed, the decision to complete my meals no matter how painful it felt mentally, changed my life. I began to complete my meals and engage in therapy openly, use ward staff to speak and seek support. I slowly, as my body and mind became nourished and I was being treated for the core issues (my depression), saw I did want to be alive, living without an eating disorder, and I had a tiny glimmer of hope it would be possible. I had individual therapy, family therapy, groups such as body image group and art therapy – SO much support. I knew I needed to give it a chance. I would always tell myself, if recovery is really that bad, you can just go back. But of course, that never happened. Nobody recovers from an eating disorder and wishes for it back, even though, at the time, you can’t imagine that being the case.
I gained weight, but most importantly, I became mentally better. I was introducing fear foods, rebuilding my relationship with movement, and slowly being integrated into the ‘normal’ world again, until October of 2019 when I was discharged. This is when true recovery began.
It isn’t always easy, but I always remind myself the eating disorder gets louder when it is losing, I remind myself of my true values and who I want to be as a human, the things I want to do in this world, and then I remind myself of the person my eating disorder made me and the life it would give me. I think the most important thing is to remove the rose-tinted glasses. While relapse is tempting, because my eating disorder was my comfort blanket – it made things feel ‘better,’ it gave me a focus, it was like a ‘friend’ – when times are tough, I have to remember it for what it TRULY was. I remind myself of the hell my day-to-day life looked like, the fact it was never enough, the fact it ruined my life. Creating healthier coping mechanisms has been so important, and I guess that’s come from practicing liking myself. Using non-destructive behaviors and soothing behaviors in hard times has come from realizing I like myself and I want to live, which took a long time to feel. I’ve been working on deep rooted traumas and issues to realize, I deserve this life.
I found that a lot of the content on social media, when it came to recovery, didn’t represent my journey or the real truths of eating disorders. I initially used my account as an outlet for myself. My captions would be things I was telling myself in my journal anyway, and I thought it may be helpful for others to hear too. Now that I am in a much better place and feel I’m doing well, all I want to do is use my experiences to help others. I felt so alone in my eating disorder, especially in the small things that are never spoken about online (like eating out of bins, watching endless food videos, etc). I just needed people to realize they’re not alone and have hope recovery is possible. I had little hope recovery was possible as I had heard endless stories of relapse, so I wanted to put this message out. I haven’t ever relapsed. I’ve had moments of lapsing and difficult times, but I consider myself almost recovered and I know full recovery is possible. I feel so passionate about helping others that are in the place I was once stuck in. At the end of the day, I think being open this way and helping those who may not be receiving the help they deserve, due to the way the system works, can save lives.
Another reason I wanted to use social media is to break down some stigmas and misconceptions around eating disorders, anorexia particularly.
- Anorexia does not have a look – this is a dangerous misconception. Even when my body was physically better and I was weight restored, it’s the mental work that mattered most. I still had a long way to go in recovery, even though I didn’t look unwell. Some people may never ‘look unwell’ or classify as underweight on a BMI chart, but that doesn’t mean they are not unwell with anorexia. As I explained earlier, I was just as mentally unwell at a larger weight as I was when I was admitted to the hospital. The difference was my physical state. It shouldn’t be this way; it is a mental illness. Also important to note, just because somebody ‘looks better,’ doesn’t mean they are. They may well still be battling a raging eating disorder inside. Mental recovery takes a lot longer than physical recovery.
- Anorexia is not about wanting to be thin or look a certain way – while sometimes (not always) being underweight and thin can be a symptom in anorexia, it is about so much more. I never became so ill because I wanted to look a certain way. I became so ill because I was stuck in a spiral of depression and needed help. For me, I now know my anorexia was a response to trauma, a coping mechanism, and so much more. It was never about the way I looked. The relationship I have with my body image is complicated. I struggle to see myself the way others see me, but anorexia is a mental illness that is often about more than appearance.
- People with anorexia do not dislike food. I’m a huge foodie at heart and I LOVE food, same goes for a lot of others I know with anorexia. I love food, I always did, I was just absolutely terrified of it. If anything, living in a malnourished state made me OBSESSED with food.
- Eating disorders are not a choice – nobody chooses to have an eating disorder, trust me. They are a living hell day in, day out. We cannot ‘just eat’ or ‘snap out of it.’ It is a terrifying thing and takes a long time to recover from.
- Food and appearance are a very small part of it – there is usually something much deeper going on. As I explained a little earlier, it’s a complicated mental illness rooted in deeper issues, depression, trauma, ways to cope, escaping… While food and body image work were vital in treatment, my recovery came down to working on the deep-rooted issues, the depression, the trauma, and the reasons I felt the way I did about myself. THAT is what enabled me to recover, as well as food and body image work.
I collated a few responses to the question, ‘What do you wish people could just understand about eating disorders?,’ and here are some common responses I received from my followers:
- My weight doesn’t determine my struggles or the severity of my disorder.
- I would give anything to get rid of it permanently.
- It has destroyed my life.
- I don’t hate food, I love food.
- It isn’t about weight, it’s all about mentality.
- It isn’t a diet.
- It’s not about appearance or vanity.
- It’s mentally exhausting.
- It’s about so much more than fear of food.
- I can’t just switch the thoughts off. I can’t ‘just eat’ or ‘not listen’ to it.
- It takes a long time to rewire and overcome.
- Maintaining recovery comes before anything in order to live a happy and healthy life.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Surina Bining from Tuscany, Italy. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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