The Truth About Eating Disorders: My Ongoing Story (TW)

By Char Shields - February 01, 2019

I have an eating disorder.

It's taken me a long time to admit that to myself, let alone to the world. But here I am now laying it all out for everyone to see and pick apart at as they so please.

This post might be very difficult and triggering to read if you are suffering from an eating disorder. I do not claim to know everything about them, I'm merely sharing information that I've learnt from myself and mental health professionals.

Recently I have just started a 10 week contemplation group intervention programme, held by a specialist organisation which was set up by the NHS. I'm still in the process of recovery, so if you're looking for a happy ending or how to overcome your own eating disorder then this definitely isn't the place for you. However, I would encourage everyone to get help if you feel like you are suffering.

Common Misconceptions 

Eating disorders aren't as black and white as people think. For years I've denied having an eating disorder because "I'm not skinny enough" or "I don't exactly meet the criteria". That's just the thing: there is no criteria. And so, on the 12th July 2018, I was diagnosed with Bulimia Nervosa.

When portrayed on various media platforms, you always see the whole cliche of "people calling me fat and the media made me become anorexic" when in reality, most of time the reasons are far from that. (Not to say that that isn't important to address or can't be contributing factors but that can be very damaging when trying to bring awareness to eating disorders).

Eating disorders don't usually start from the "need to be skinny". It's not a diet, it's not some weight-loss programme: it's an illness. An unwanted and sometimes deadly illness.

Speaking with a specialist, she told me that I was currently in what they call the "contemplation stage": I'm aware of my illness and the fact that it is making my life so much more difficult. Deep down I want to change, but I'm not sure if I'm quite ready yet. My eating disorder comes from a need of control I otherwise don't have with my life, body and mental health.

Comfort Eating

My problems with eating probably started when I was around 11 years old, towards the end of primary school and beginning of secondary school. Secondary school can be quite big and scary for children, it's quite a big change. I've always felt a bit unsettled because up until that point we had moved around a lot, my family life wasn't exactly great (a bit of an understatement there) and I had issues with my self confidence (again- a bit of an understatement). Subconsciously, I guess I felt like  I had no control over anything and I turned to food for comfort.

It started with me eating at least double the amount a normal person would eat at school lunch and break times. I then started binge eating at home: I could eat a whole tray of doughnuts to myself. My mum used to buy these packs of large crackers which came in individual packs of 4. There were 10 packs altogether and I would eat them all in one sitting. And then go back for more food. 

It got to a point where I couldn't stop eating, I didn't know how to stop. Over the years I gained a lot of weight and I hated myself for it. Sure, people called me fat on numerous occasions, including certain members of my own family, but that didn't stop me from shovelling junk down my throat.

School photos are something any kid dreads. I remember how disgusted I felt with myself when I saw the one that was taken of me in year 9. Memories of breaking down in tears and hiding the photo under my bed so my mum didn't find it and display it somewhere in the house. It's bad enough that she still has my year 7 photo in the living room but at least there all I have is a double chin and an awkward attempt at a smile. This was much worse than that. It was a realisation of what a goddamn awful human I was. The photo stayed hidden under my bed for months. Eventually, I think I threw it out and to this day, I haven't told my mum about it.

At about the age of 14, my depression and anxiety was really settling in due to multiple traumatic events. It was around this point that my eating habits drastically changed and I started to starve myself, with the intent of finally being skinny. I didn't eat all day at school, only drinking water and plenty of it, and I would only have a small dinner in the evening. An obsession with calories and with my weight was completely ruling my life. I started exercising more and attempting to make myself vomit. Hours were spent scrolling through those dangerous and triggering eating disorder posts on Tumblr. Eventually, people started to notice that I was losing a lot of weight. Although, soon enough, I started binge eating again and gaining all of the weight back.

Feeling Like a Yo-Yo

The cycle of binging, purging, starving and yo-yo weighting continued on for years. Eventually, in my first year of university, I was sick of hating myself. So I decided that I wanted to lose weight and get fit... the healthy way. However, that of course wasn't possible because I had an eating disorder that I was refusing to acknowledge. My obsession with calorie counting was stronger than ever. I was on the scale multiple times a day and I was obsessed with exercise. At this point, I was exercising daily and going on extremely long walks at least twice a day. My social life had completely disappeared because I was so focused on weight loss.

When I started my second year of university, I was the skinniest I had ever been since I was 14, as well as being fairly fit. But my binging had started again and I was going out loads drinking and eating takeaways, so naturally I started to gain weight. I hadn't actually gained that much but it was enough to make me panic and force myself back into a routine of starvation again.

Sometimes, I wouldn't eat for days at a time. In a messed up way, I was almost proud of myself for this. It was at these moments where I felt the most powerful and in control. Not to say that it wasn't a struggle. I lost a lot of weight and was blacking out constantly. One of my worst moments was going into McDonald's after I hadn't eaten for over two days and had finally caved in and decided to get food. While I was waiting to collect my order, my vision started to go black. I felt the world move away at my feet.

No longer feeling able to stand, I sat on one of the steps with my head between my knees. Praying that my brain would just behave itself for a little while longer. My heart sank when I heard my order number called out, fearing that if I stood up again, I would just fall straight back down. I rushed to grab my food and sat at one of the tables. And when I say 'sat' I mean I lay. It was quite the sight to see: a young woman who looked like she hadn't slept in a week, laying on the seats of McDonald's because even sitting up was making her start to black out. I couldn't even eat that much because it was making me feel sick. One by one, I was slowly picking fries out to eat whilst people stared at me with confusion. I didn't realise how bad I was... I don't think I even cared.

Now the cycle has come full circle again as I have entered another period of binge eating... and it's worse than ever before. I say "period" because I am determined that binge eating won't rule my life forever. However, realising that it has now been over a year since I've started again has frightened me to the core.

When I first started gaining weight again at the end of 2017/beginning of 2018, I was so ashamed and isolated myself because of it. The few times I had decided to go out led to many breakdowns because I hated the reflection in the mirror and the fact that my clothes no longer fitted. This is what then led to one of the darkest periods of my life...

For around five weeks straight I had locked myself in my room. The only times I left was to get more snacks to binge on: sweets, chocolate, biscuits, takeaway, etc. Leaving the flat empty handed and coming back with piles of food. Shaking as I sat putting copious amounts of calories into my once thin body... I had completely lost control.

This was then followed by me exercising for hours, pushing myself to burn off every calorie that I had forced down my throat, trying to get it out of my system whichever way possible. Daylight was but a distant memory as I slept all day, 12-16 hours at a time, and stayed up all night watching Netflix and YouTube videos. I also missed around 5-6 weeks of university. How I passed I will never know...

This is when I started to panic and decided to ask for help. For years people around me have been telling me that I need to get help, but it always felt so patronising. It always felt like they were just brushing me off. However, I am now surrounded by amazing friends who constantly support and encourage me.

A Decade in Denial

One cold night, me and one of my closest friends were sitting by the waterfront after a night of drinking and dancing. He told me that he was worried about me and my problems with food and weight. Because he was so caring... I took it in. And a few months later, I was finally telling a doctor about the problems I was facing. This doctor then referred me to eating disorder specialists.

It took me 10 years to finally ask for help for my eating disorder.

10 years.

My fears and dismissal ("oh I can't have an eating disorder, I'm too fat") meant that it took me a decade to open up. It shouldn't have taken that long.

So many people go undiagnosed and are not getting the help they need because of similar reasons. As I said, I'm not a professional and I'm no where near recovered yet. However, I'm going to use my time during and after recovery to push towards more awareness around eating disorders and mental illness as a whole. And I can promise you that if you're obsessing over food, calories and your weight every second of every day then you need to talk to someone. It doesn't matter what weight you are, weight is merely a side effect that can often come with eating disorders. You can both gain and lose weight because of these illnesses but the weight is not the illness itself.

There's a desperate need for more education on mental health. We say we're going to talk about it more then how about we actually do that? Openly. No holding back. No stigma attached. Meanwhile we can push our government to fund mental health services. For too long the Conservatives made cuts to these vital services here in the UK. When does it stop? Only people who can afford to get help are those who have the money to go private and its completely unfair.

"Illness is not an indulgence which you should pay for, nor is it a crime for which you should be punished", Enter Shikari, Anaesthetist, 2015.



Until the next time,

Char.

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3 comments

  1. this was so brave of you, thank you so much for sharing! I am also suffering from bulimia but I'm too scared to speak out/admit like you and I admire you so much for it! Keep up the good work and I wish you a safe and happy recovery :)

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  2. Please read my post. rehanaexperience.blogspot.com

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