…and I’m a recovering anorexic.
I may not look it, being 5’8″ and weighing 180 pounds. I gained almost 50 pounds while I was pregnant in 2012 and haven’t managed to shift more than 20 of them. But I’m still recovering from anorexia.
Every day is a battle with self-esteem, food and my personal life goals. I’ve gotten better, but I’m certainly not recovered and I never will be. I think an eating disorder is like an addiction. You can address it, accept it and manage it, but you can never be rid of it.
I would say I was a ‘practising anorexic’ for 5 years from 1997 to 2001. I showed the signs in ’97, but there was no noticeable change in my appearance until late ’98. I went from 145 pounds to 108 in just under a year. That was my lowest point, in more ways than one. I had the figure of a little boy – no breasts, no hips and my fingers looked like spider legs. My hair was lackluster, except on my body where it started to grow thicker to help insulate me. I couldn’t sit for long periods because my bum would start to hurt from lack of padding. I ran 6 miles every morning and ate fewer than 100 calories over the course of the day. I wore a US size 0 – and it was baggy. See the girl in the header picture with the white cap? That was me 20 pounds away from my lightest.
I knew I was hurting myself, but I liked the way I looked so much that I didn’t want to stop. I had to control something, so I controlled my food. I wanted to ask for help, but was afraid of losing that control.
When I finally asked for help, my therapist and nutritionist told me I was one week away from being admitted to a hospital. They told me I had to choose what I wanted to do. They let me keep the reins and I decided that I wanted to get better. I took control of my disorder.
Most people remember the day they graduated high school or university, the day their first child was born. Of course I remember these dates; they were life-changing. I also remember other events that are life-changing to me: the first day I ate a sandwich with full-fat mayonnaise in it. It was spring of 2006 and I ordered a tuna mix baguette from a cafe in Clapham. 6 and a half years after I accepted I had an eating disorder.
I first put butter in my mashed potatoes in 2005. I stopped using spray cooking oil and switched to proper tablespoons of oil in 2006. 2009 was a big year – I ate full-fat peanut butter and used cream and whole milk to bake and make soups. I’m progressing. I make (and enjoy) fried chicken, will eat cake with real icing and cook with butter and oils on a regular basis. But I still struggle.
I hate getting dressed, especially in my new body, because I never look as good as I think I should. I hate shopping for clothing because I usually have to try on 10 things to find one that I think fits well. And those other 9 pieces are telling me my body is not the ‘right’ shape (at least, that’s what I think they’re telling me). But I’m aware that I think this way, so I try to manage my expectations.
For me, exercise is a small release of tension, but a bigger trigger for anxiety. Running used to be my time to myself. To think. To enjoy the view. But as soon as I finish a jog, I think about how much weight I’ll have lost by the next day or whether my stomach will look any flatter in the morning. Maybe my quads will show through a bit more. Instantaneously. None of that is safe or realistic. But I’m aware that I do this, so I try to manage my expectations.
I manage my anorexia every day of my life. And I thank the galaxy that my husband is understanding and supportive and loves me, no matter how high or low I feel and no matter what shape or size I am. I am recovering from anorexia one day at a time and I’m managing it because I talk about it. So please, if you know someone, or are someone, who may have a difficult relationship with food or their body image, please please please talk about it. If it’s a friend, then talk to them. If you’re struggling, talk to a counselor. The hardest thing I’ve ever done was ask for help. Because I thought that meant I wasn’t strong enough to do it on my own. It took some time, but I finally realised that I was being strong because I didn’t want to let the addiction take over; I wanted to fight.
My biggest worry about being a mum is not that my daughter will hate me when she’s 15 (that’s inevitable, I know!) or that I’ll be too strict or maybe I won’t spend enough time with her. It’s that she won’t appreciate how wonderful she is – exactly as she is. But I plan to tell her every day just how beautiful, strong and smart she is and hope that will be enough.
This is very much my own experience and everyone who has battled with an eating disorder will have a different outlook and a different attitude. Anorexia is part of my history and I think I’m a better person because of it. I’m open about my experiences as I think that talking not only helps me get better, it helps get other people talking too.