Disclaimer: This story contains details and images of anorexia that may be triggering for some.
“‘Anorexia is when young, insecure girls throw up their food and hate their bodies because they think they’re fat.’
‘Depression is for people who have always had mental health problems. Some people don’t even have anything to be depressed about.’
That was what I used to think. I was wrong and ignorant.
I was 27 years old, and I had never suffered from any kind of illness or mental health problem. I loved school, joined the public service at 19, bought an apartment at 25, and met my amazing partner at 26. We met on the dating app Bumble, and realized we both worked for the public service!
I have always enjoyed my fitness and running. And I always ate what I wanted, never thinking twice about it. I had never been on a diet and I’ve never even owned any weighing scales. I used to eat McDonalds at 4 a.m. on a night shift when I could barely keep my eyes open and wasn’t even hungry.
‘I exercise so I can eat whatever I want.’ That was my general rule and I was happy.
So, what changed?
Summer 2017 – One day I just woke up and thought, ‘I want to tone up my thighs and be healthier, to have a perfect body and maybe improve my skin/acne.’ So that’s what I did.
I entered a half marathon and started training. I looked at the previous year’s times for the women and wanted to beat them. So, I started researching what foods to eat and found blogs about ‘eating clean.’ I started being conscience about what I was fueling my body with.
I started just eating less bread and cakes and joined a Bikini Body Guide program. Over a few months, I became stricter, cutting out nearly all carbohydrates after reading about the keto diet. Before I knew it, each run had to be faster than the one before. I ran 13 miles in 1 hour 34 minutes, and it still wasn’t fast enough. I pushed myself more and more.
In October of 2017, I lost my period. Around November of 2017, people started getting concerned about my appearance. ‘Too skinny’ comments were made and my family was getting worried. I reassured them and said I was fine, my body genuinely felt great, and I had plenty of energy for my fitness. I actually thought people were jealous of my commitment to fitness and health.
In December, I started to feel down, had low mood, and took little pleasure in doing things. My life revolved around fitness and eating healthy. I went to the gym four times a week and ran three times a week. I checked menus of restaurants before I went out for dinner, to make sure there was something healthy for me to eat. It was all I could think about. I wasn’t even excited about Christmas… CHRISTMAS!
In January of 2018, my mom managed to convince me to see a doctor. I was only going to prove to her I was fine. The doctor looked at me with concern and my mom cried – she’s like a robot, she NEVER cries.
The doctor referred me for blood tests and put me on Sertraline for depression, but she didn’t know what was wrong with me. My BMI showed I was only slightly underweight, so I carried on. Looking back now, my BMI wasn’t low enough. I didn’t fit the typical stereotype of an eating disorder. I wasn’t a bony teenager scared of gaining weight, and I NEVER threw up my food.
The doctor referred me for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) through the National Health Service (NHS). I googled some of my symptoms and saw the term ‘Orthorexia,’ an addiction to health and fitness. I realized I had taken it a bit far, so I decided to change my training. I did less cardio and more weight training (basically I just changed my obsession), but my weight continued to drop.
I never even looked at the term anorexic because I didn’t think it was applicable to me. I wasn’t a 13-year-old girl who threw up her food. I ate three meals a day, and I didn’t think I was fat, so how could I have an eating disorder?!
The CBT therapist was strange. He told me to eat more and didn’t really know how to help me. He had creepy long fingernails, so I didn’t trust his advice anyway. He sat in front of me, googling how many calories women should be eating every day.
I looked forward to my partner working late shifts because it was a relief to be on my own and be able to control what I ate without anyone judging me – I felt safe, but I wasn’t safe! I argued with my partner all the time because he wanted me to stop running. I felt no love for him or anyone else. I didn’t care about anything apart from going to the gym and eating healthy; there was no space in my brain for anything else.
I remember lying in bed on vacation in Cornwall, feeling hopeless and thinking, ‘What if this is as good as it gets?’ I wondered if I really was as crazy as Jack Nicholson in that movie. I was becoming more intolerant with everyone, but I refused to believe something was wrong with me. I didn’t listen to anyone. Not my family, not my friends, and not my boyfriend.
Then suddenly one day, I had a realization something WAS wrong when I stopped loving my dog. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I stopped loving my dog. How mental is that? I stopped loving my pets and I realized, something’s really not right. That dog was my angel who could do no wrong, and yet I could have happily punched him in the face. I felt NOTHING – no emotion, no joy, no happiness. I felt numb.
I genuinely thought it was never going to get better, that I would die alone with my dog (if I didn’t kill him first). I would sit at my desk at work and think, ‘What’s the point?’
Eventually (after three appointments!) my doctor referred me to the eating disorder service. They sat across from me, assessing me with their clipboard and questions. Twenty f*cking weeks. That was the average wait time for any treatment or support.
I tried to find support groups online and tried to find anyone who might be able to help and understand what was happening to me. All I wanted was to talk to someone without them looking at me like I was mental, without someone saying, ‘Just eat more!’
My mom couldn’t take it anymore. She took me to have a private assessment at the Priory Hospital with an eating disorder specialist.
So why was everyone around me aware of my illness but I wasn’t? Why did it take me so long to realize I was slowly killing my body? When did it actually hit me?
I like to think of life realizations as ‘f*ck moments,’ when you just stop and think ‘f*ck’ because there is nothing else to say.
It didn’t hit me when my heart rate was at 40 bpm and the doctor called cardiology at the hospital in a panic.
It didn’t hit me when I was freezing cold in the summer heat.
It didn’t hit me when I woke up at 3 a.m. every morning, dripping in sweat.
It didn’t hit me when I was out running at midnight because I ate a brownie.
It didn’t even hit me when I stopped having periods and my cheek bones could cut glass.
Then one afternoon, at a $400 private appointment with my mom, I sat across from a SLIGHTLY less creepy doctor. He looked at me and said, ‘Well Megan, you have anorexia. And you’re going to have to fight through hell and fire to get rid of it.’ That was it. That was the ‘f*ck’ moment. That was the first time I actually believed I had anorexia. It finally hit me.
After I had the ‘f*ck’ moment, I found it really hard. I knew I was ill, but people were still coming up to me in the gym and asking what my secret was. ‘Wow you must be a runner, you’re so lean!’ or ‘I wish I had your figure.’ I would nod and smile, but think, ‘Yes, I’m so lucky. I only had to sacrifice my hormones, my social life, my peachy bum, and mental wellbeing. But hey, at least I’m lean!’
I was trying to be my idea of perfect, when actually I don’t even know what my idea of perfect is. I just kept going and couldn’t stop. The feeling is like an addiction, like a drug that makes me feel like I am in control. When in reality, I know I have lost all control. I liked feeling less full rather than bloated and satisfied. It gave me a sense of relief and power. The relief I would feel after a ‘healthy day’ and a long run or gym session was addictive.
I look back to a few years ago when I wasn’t constantly thinking about food and fitness and wonder, ‘What the hell was I thinking about all the time!?’ I would do anything to go back to that. That carefree, happy, simple life without worrying about my next meal. The specialist doctor describes it like a virus that takes over your brain. The eating disorder is a horrible voice that tells you, ‘You can’t eat that, that’s not good enough.’ And it feels impossible to turn off that voice.
Working with my CBT doctor, we worked out my life rules/guidelines:
‘I must always be fit and active.’
‘I must always be perfect.’
‘I must always be healthy.’
If I don’t follow the rules? ‘Then I am lazy. I am a failure.’
Turns out that voice isn’t really me; it is the virus and I need to change my rules.
People need to be aware anorexia isn’t always about food or body image. It is not from feeling insecure or fat. It often stems from trying to gain control or suppressing emotions. I think that is what happened to me. I was brought up not talking about feelings or emotions – in my family we ‘just get on with it.’
You can’t run from everything and just keep moving on without dealing with things. Eventually it caught up with me and I tried to distract myself by controlling other things like restricting my food and exercising all the time. I’m not a particularly clever person, I never achieved much at school, and the only way I felt I could ‘achieve’ was through my running and competitions.
I am so lucky my mom was able to pay for an assessment and treatment. I would still be wasting away, waiting on the NHS waiting list for 20 weeks. I remember having an appointment with the NHS dietitian, and she didn’t know how to help me. She told me how many calories I should be having before warning me, ‘Make sure you don’t go the other way.’ I looked at my partner in shock. The last thing to say to an anorexic person is, ‘Make sure you don’t get fat!’
So far, I have learned the following facts:
Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
A child is 242 times more likely to have an eating disorder than they are to have type 2 diabetes.
I started the private CBT therapy and continued it for two years trying to recover. I managed to put on some weight and my BMI became within the ‘healthy range.’ I felt better and my bones and hormone levels had improved. But I hadn’t had a period for over three years.
I still exercised most days but ate more foods. However, I was still underweight for MY body. When you are under fueled, your body goes into ‘low power mode’ and shuts down everything that is non-essential. This includes hormones and the reproductive system!
I was referred to the endocrinologist for hormone treatment, where they told me I had Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, absence of period through over-exercising/under-eating. They also told me I wouldn’t be able to have children while I didn’t have a period. This sent me into a panic and I researched this condition. I found ‘No Period, Now What?,’ a book by Dr. Nicola Rinaldi. I read it many times and couldn’t believe how much I related to it.
After a year of being ‘half recovered,’ I finally went ‘all in.’ I followed the process described in the book, where you give up all intense exercise and eat at least 2,500 calories a day. I was miserable, and emotionless and I knew I had to try something.
My partner and I were getting married the next year, and I didn’t want to be numb. I wanted to be present and happy. So I did it. I rested and ate as much as I could. It was a long and horrible process. I cried a lot, experienced extreme hunger, and felt puffy and bloated. After nearly four months, my period finally returned. I remember being in the bathroom during lockdown, and screaming my partner’s name. We hugged and sobbed together with shock and happiness.
After many cancellations, we finally got married in June of 2021. We eloped to Mexico, just us two, and I finally had a vacation where I was present. I was happy, healthy, and finally felt like I had re-joined the world.
We were already on the waiting list for fertility treatment, after a long time of low hormones. After several covid delays, we were given an appointment in November of 2021. Somehow, we managed to get pregnant in September, a month before!
We are now 22 weeks pregnant. Although I am recovered from anorexia, I will always have to manage recovery. I will always have to be aware I can’t go on ANY diets. I have to manage my stress levels and not use restriction and exercise as a coping mechanism. Being pregnant is harder than I thought it would be, but I am so glad I chose recovery.
Only 40% of people fully recover from anorexia. My experience has given me a completely different, more empathetic view of mental health. I understand depression, I understand why people constantly relapse into eating disorders. It feels safe and it is unbelievably difficult to get out of that dark hole.
For nearly three years, I felt like my life was surrounded by clouds. I couldn’t ever see myself being happy or recovering. I could completely understand why people wanted to end their lives when going through such trauma. I was lucky I had support to pull myself out of the hole… others aren’t that lucky.
This is why I started my Instagram account for my recovery journey. I want to help others who are struggling. I want to discuss things I know would have been helpful to me. I want to stop others from suffering and help them find a way to the light.
Advice for others with ED – Listen to your family. Don’t waste money on recovery fitness plans or special reverse dieting programs. The only way out is through. Feel the fear and do it anyway.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Meg. 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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