‘Now I’ll be taken seriously.’ I had bruises everywhere and my hair was falling out. I took laxatives every day. I’d gone too far.’: Woman shares eating disorder recovery, ‘Hope is stronger’

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Trigger Warning: This story contains mention of eating disorders that may be triggering to some

“As a kid, I was highly sensitive. I had a damaged relationship with my dad and felt I wasn’t getting enough attention from my mom. I was bullied all throughout primary school and the first years of high school.

When I was 8, I was put on medication for my ‘ADHD.’ In retrospect, I don’t even think I had ADHD but was merely overflowing with the desire to be showered with love and attention, or the ability to be at ease in my own mind and body. Nowadays, those kinds of symptoms or struggles get rewarded with the ADD/ADHD stamp without much consideration. I was prescribed ‘Methylphenidate,’ which is known (next to helping with concentration) to decrease hunger and stimulate metabolism. I took this well before puberty and got off it a couple of years after the majority of the bodily developments had happened to most girls around me. I was a very lanky kid who ate like a beast and maintained a petite figure. I had adopted that body as my own and labeled myself as naturally (subjectively) thin. When I stopped taking my prescribed pills out of pure aversion to what they stood for, puberty rapidly caught up with me.

Courtesy of Charlotte Estourgie

I distinctly remember a time where people started pointing out my butt was quite large. This was all around the time Miley Cyrus brought twerking back into mainstream pop culture, and Nicki Minaj had just released ‘Anaconda.’ I remembered feeling confused because I had always thought I was ‘really skinny’ and was pretty ‘flat.’ This all had to do with the fact my mind hadn’t noticed the severe change my body had gone through. Probably because, like so many others, I attached so much of my self-worth to my weight. This is when I introduced training back into my life.

When I was younger, I didn’t have much interest in sports. I did many forms of dance, field hockey, (very briefly) tennis, and most memorably, horse riding. I wasn’t very resilient to losing, and I struggled to function in a team. I was labeled ‘bad at sports,’ especially when I was compared to my brother and sister, who really excelled in a team environment. Because of this, I had excluded sports from my personality pack and had accepted my fate as someone who would never be able to do a sport successfully. Participating in a sport for fun would never have come up in me. The only reason I would consider it was to lose weight. My best friend at the time had stopped taking the same medication around the same time as me. I can’t say if her motivation was similar to mine, but she felt the need to exercise to be in better shape as well.

Courtesy of Charlotte Estourgie

We both started doing Pilates through YouTube videos and sent each other videos through Snapchat to compare results. We would feel bad if we skipped a day, and would prefer to do a minimum of 10 videos per training, which rounds up to about 2.5 hours of Pilates. For me, it quickly shifted into a competition, and haunted me to do better and beat her at being ‘skinny.’ We would call each other out on being ‘too fat’ and eating like pigs to make ourselves feel better, or maybe even to put ourselves ahead in our unofficial competition.

A couple of years into this cycle, she fell off and realized weight didn’t define her worth. She healthily started loving what she had. I, however, took it to the extreme and started hitting an actual gym. Lifting weights and implementing complicated exercises I had no idea could be dangerous without help. Both in weight and training frequency, but also for my mental health. When I moved out of my parents’ home and into the Dutch capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam, I was very depressed. Due to the overpopulation and scarce availability of houses, I moved nearly every month for a year. I had no home, no friends, a terrible internship on a big movie set, and was dealt a set of complicated cards to carry around all day.

Courtesy of Charlotte Estourgie

This is the first time I clearly recall sabotaging my diet and energy balance. On free days, I would train for about 4 hours, and wouldn’t properly feed myself afterward. I started paying attention to the calories on the back of packages. I picked up personal kickbox training, just because of the fat loss benefits. I also became paleo, because I believed any diet would make me skinnier, not knowing paleo is essentially a pretty high-fat diet, high-calorie diet.

I worked on a big production movie set that summer as part of my junior year, college internship. Dutch people have this saying that goes, ‘If you act normal, you’re odd enough,’ essentially feeding into the idea you should try to blend in as much as you can in order to be successful. Not many people appreciate individuality here. So I, being a strong-minded ‘odd’ individual, had a hard time fitting in. People couldn’t appreciate my ambition and thought it was rather arrogant. They could not understand why I wouldn’t just wear black ‘work’ clothes but chose to express myself through trendy impractical clothes instead. I was always in my head, convinced they were all plotting against me, making sure I had a terrible time or trying to teach me a lesson. I couldn’t work, or do my very easy set task properly, having to carry around a heavily diseased mind, giving everyone all the more reason to dislike me. When that movie wrapped, I fell into a hole of training even more and doing less and less beside it. All I did was watch TV and wait for the day to be over.

This mindset of training never really went away. I was always training to try and fight against my given body because I still believed it wasn’t mine, and I was supposed to be skinny. I carried this unhealthy mindset and training regime around for a while, not thinking much of it. After a while, I stopped counting calories and ate mostly intuitively, still mainly paleo. However, when I met my then-boyfriend, who stuck around for most of my eating disorder, I picked it back up pretty quickly, and way more seriously. He is a personal trainer and powerlifter, and so always provided me with pretty straightforward and strict advice when it came to losing weight and gaining muscle. I started counting every single calorie I touched, including drinks and oils.

Before counting I was extremely oblivious to my calorie intake. I never ate lunch and did intermittent fasting, so I just assumed my caloric intake was no more than 1000 calories, plus an occasional snack. But when I really started estimating my intake, I think I sat comfortably at around 2300 to 2500. When I first went into a deficit, I wanted to roam around 1900. 200 less than an average day. At the time, I had taken up a role in a play from the international theater of Amsterdam. Most of my days were filled with physical practice and long rehearsals.

Simon Schoo Photography

Here is what my day looked like: I would try to sleep until noon, skip breakfast or have something small, and be at rehearsals at 2 p.m. If we didn’t have rehearsals, I would go to the gym. I would keep myself busy in order to not have to eat. At dinner time, I’d basically have my first real meal. Then we’d do the show, and afterward, I’d be tired enough to sleep and would fail to refuel. Our running time got cut short due to Corona, but for most of it, I ate less and less every day. Running off the sense of pride I would feel if the calorie counter peaked at 1800, then 1700, then 1600.

My role in this play was very physical and very intense. I would have dizzy spells and mild vertigo attacks on stage from the severe deficit I was in. Remember, I went from about 2.3K to 1.6k in a matter of days. Still keeping up the training frequency of 7 days a week. When Corona hit and the gyms closed, I thought I would have to say goodbye to my body and accept the mental instability that came with it.

Hannah Wondergem

Like most of us, I trained inside for a while, really getting into HITT and Circuits. I found, steadily eating 1500 calories a day, I stopped losing weight. See, I was in such an energy deficit my body had halved the speed of my metabolism to be able to keep my body working the same way it always has. I wanted to see what would happen if I stopped working out. My theory was that my spare energy could go to my metabolism and promote weight loss. On top of that, I would lose muscle, which didn’t seem ideal for fat loss.

I was right. I started losing about 4 kilos per month solely off the calorie deficit. In total, I hadn’t trained for a little over a month, which I hadn’t done in over 5 years. I filled my days with worrying over food and trying to skimp on every possible calorie. I had become so afraid of gaining glycogen weight and muscle I didn’t want to pick up training again. I had stretched out my calories as much as I then thought I could, though I cut even more after seeing a post on Instagram of a girl promoting her 1400 calorie diet.

Courtesy of Charlotte Estourgie

I felt like I was underperforming, so I cut to 1200. ‘Now I’m really to be taken seriously as an anorexic,’ I thought. 1200 quickly became 900, which turned to 600 overnight, which turned in to the self-invented term ALAP, which stands for ‘as little as possible.’ At this point, I had lost about 10 kilos, couldn’t sleep, had bruises all over, hair falling out, gained extra hair on my back and arms because I was so cold all the time, lost my period, and was about to kick my boyfriend out of my life to isolate myself and make more room for anorexia. All I did was sit and wait until the day went over to see if I had lost more weight the next day. I eventually, when the gyms opened up, got back into training, and proceeded to drain my body even more. I used laxatives almost every day and had picked up the ungodly habit of chewing food and then spitting it out into my hand, a napkin, or my pocket. I did this to mess with my leptin and ghrelin hormones, the powerhouses that determine hunger and fullness.

Chewing and spitting had become the very thing I lived for. I hadn’t eaten or tasted any of these scary, addicting flavors in so long I couldn’t stop. I had ‘devoured’ everything the store had to offer. Every morning, I would start with four croissants. I would buy one box of Oreos, two packs of custard cakes, cinnamon buns, chocolate chip cookies, and some random other things I wanted to try. All of this would be gone by the afternoon. Then I would go back to the store and do the same thing. This continued on for months.

Courtesy of Charlotte Estourgie

On top of that, the purge devil joined me on my quest. I was in Italy, driving around on my own. Italian food is my all-time favorite, but at this point in time, I wasn’t eating anything anymore. All I consumed was about 25 cans of Coke Zero a day. I wanted to go to a typical Italian pasta house so bad, I had to fight myself tooth and nail to allow it. I spent 3 days crying, feeling stuck in time, my head, and literally in Italy. After ‘evaluation,’ me and my anorectic brain had come to the consensus I could eat one plate of pasta if I would try my best to throw every last thing up. Even if it took me 4 hours. And I had to fast for a week.

Previously, I had always failed to throw up. It wasn’t for me, and I never wanted to let myself fall down that hole. But I did. I successfully threw that whole meal up and felt glorious, on top of the world. A new realm of possibility opened up for me. My ‘crazy’ quickly got out of hand. I would do this twice a week for about 2 weeks. I was losing control very fast.

Courtesy of Charlotte Estourgie

In Amsterdam, there is this Italian restaurant called ‘Spaghetteria.’ It’s possibly the hippest, most well-known restaurant among students. And it’s delicious. I wanted to go so bad, but they have rotating menus so I couldn’t risk showing up and them not having my favorite pasta. I felt myself becoming so obsessed with knowing what’s on the menu it became all-consuming. I would go on all of their Instagram locations and scan the posted stories, go to the accounts of the people who posted, see if the friends who they had gone with had posted. If I would see photos of the food with the menu in the corner, I would screenshot it, and try to clarify the quality of photoshop on my computer. Every night I would stay up until 3 a.m. scanning social media and vividly dreamed about eating there. When none of that sufficed, I decided to just go to the restaurants. I did this four times. When I would reach home at about 1 a.m., my back and knees would be hurting so much I could barely make it up the stairs. All to be able to know what’s on the menu of this da*n restaurant.

There had come times where I couldn’t purge my eaten foods. I had gone to my favorite brunch place and had the pancakes. I had read online it could be hard and dangerous to throw those up, but I wanted to take the risk. Just like all those before me, I failed. This day I truly met my insanity. I was going to do everything to get this food out of me again. I drank a whole flask of laxatives and took four laxative pills. I tied a shoe really tight to my stomach to push the contents up. I built something in my room so I could hang upside down and help gravity a hand. My whole room smelled like stomach acids. I felt defeated. This is where I realized I had gone too far.

Courtesy of Charlotte Estourgie

I always kept saying I would stop if I felt my body was giving out. If weird places started aching. If I wasn’t pretty anymore. If I would faint all the time. Along the way, I realized my body adapted so well, those signs wouldn’t come till I was a day away from my death bed. Any other signs I would get, I would celebrate and take as an accomplishment. But when a tiny bit of my sanity crept through to give me some perspective I realized, this is my sign. This is it. I had gone too far. I am an anorexic. I would have gone until I died. That’s what the illness is, it completely discards your body. It had to come from somewhere else. My brain had to witness me truly lose myself.

Slowly but surely, I was prepping myself to recover. I had bought crystals online I discovered, and felt a healing connection with. I made a doctor’s appointment. Made reservations at my favorite restaurants. Called my ex-boyfriend to tell him the news. And lastly, I called my mom with the news she could finally come and guide me to a better life.

It’s been incredibly hard not to give in to my demons. And you’re made to feel worthless and weak when you make steps towards recovery. I find there’s one thing stronger than all of this, and that is hope. Hope for a better life, future, and hope for happiness.”

Courtesy of Charlotte Estourgie

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Charlotte Estourgie. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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