I’ve never been a normal weight. I’ve always been big. When I was 5 I weighed 5 stone, and every year I put on another stone until I was 14 stone at 14. After that I started to try and do something about it for myself, I was motivated for myself rather than other people telling me what to do. I became the queen of yo yo dieting. At my lightest I was 11 stone, my heaviest 18.
Funny thing is I don’t particularly remember being an unhealthy child, I don’t have recollections of eating too much or eating junk food, I remember looking at my thinner friends at meal times and thinking “you eat three times as much as me, why am I the fat one.” I may not remember how I got that way, but I do remember what happened as a result of it.
When I was 5 my school sent me to a dietician, I was told I wasn’t allowed seconds at meal times and wasn’t allowed puddings at school. I was never bothered about losing the food, what I was bothered about was the isolation. I was 5 and I was already different to everyone else but I didn’t lose any weight.
When I was 10 my mum took me to weight watchers. She’d send me off to school with i box of lettuce (literally) and I’d weigh in with the adults every week. I never lost any weight.
When I was 12 I went on slim fast. I took milkshakes for packed lunches and ate salads for dinner every day, I still never lost any weight.
The reason I didn’t lose weight was that I ate in secret, I was and still am an emotional eater and even worse sometimes a bored eater. At those young ages, I was already unhappy, and the thing that distracted me from that was food.
But then something changed. At 13 my mood was even lower, I suddenly wasn’t just a bit sad, I was depressed. I wasn’t struggling with puberty, I was struggling with my existence. That’s a tension that takes more than food to release, that’s also when I found self harm. Suddenly I didn’t need food to calm the emotion anymore, I had a new way. So I started dieting, really dieting, i did every quick fix in the book and learnt all the tricks. I was determined and I was going to be thin. Little did I know then that that was just another coping method, another thing for me to obsessively control. But, I did it. I lost the weight.
Then disaster struck, my self harm was discovered. My mum ran through the house and collected anything I could possibly hurt myself with. She checked by bags after I’d been shopping, there was no where to hide anything. Suddenly my coping mechanism was gone.
So I ate. I ate a lot.
Then I felt guilty I’d messed up my diet. I felt ashamed I was so weak. I felt horrified at the disgusting person I thought I was.
For the first time I made myself sick… and I loved it, every single second, especially getting on the scales.
I felt safe in my habits, I would lose weight, I’d get pretty, I’d finally fit in with my friendship group, and best of all I’d never be caught. Because no one expects the fat girl to have an eating disorder.
It became a daily occurrence, multiple times a day for as long as it took for my mum to forget about the self harm and weaken her guard so I could pick it up again. When I could start self harming again the food stuff became less intense.
It was always there.
But the vomiting emerged and disappeared again like the moles in the old arcade games of whac-a-mole.
The dieting came and went.
My weight yo yod. I could go from obese to normal weight and back again in a couple of months. I was good at losing weight. I was good at putting it on.
I learnt the calories in everything, I learnt every pro-mia and pro-ana trick in the book. I could sit for hours and tell you the easiest and most effective methods. The film ‘to the bone’ (which is probably one of the most accurate ED films I’ve ever seen) describes this as ‘calorie Aspergers.’ Although I don’t appreciate the analogy fully, I get where this is coming from. It’s an obsession, an addiction, it’s time consuming and all consuming.
I spent years like this, and they came and went pretty quickly when I look back on it. Sometimes eating disorders are made to look glamorous but the very real side effects meant that –
I started to lose my hair.
My teeth started to rot to the point they would just break in half and fall out.
My nails were yellow.
I was always shivering.
I missed social events that involved food or drinks because of fear of calories.
I failed a subject at school because I was to scared to get up and get some more paper because I thought I would draw attention to how ugly I was.
I refused to leave the house, I firmly believed I was so ugly if someone saw me in the street it might make them sick.
I found a new thing, chewing food and spitting it out, all the taste, non of the calories.
Then I went to university. The freedom only made my habits worse until by the end of first year I was spending so much on binge food I was getting myself in debt, I was throwing up over 5 times a day. Some days I felt like that wasn’t enough so I would take 40 laxatives as well. I even started smoking because I read it was an appetite suppressant.
One night, like many others, I passed out on my bathroom floor. When I came round again I had the realisation that I was literally flushing money down the toilet.
The next day I registered for a doctor and made an appointment, I was referred to the ED department of the local mental health services (after being told, really helpfully, that I shouldn’t get my hopes up for treatment because they only treat ‘proper eating disorders’).
A few months later I sat infront of a doctor. He told me he’d read my notes and asked me what I thought the problem was.
I told him I didn’t know.
He told me that was a lie, that I was a smart girl and I knew myself that I was bulimic.
He told me we would break for lunch, he said I could stay in the room if I didn’t want to eat and he would bring me some water.
He recommended me for treatment and put me on meds to stop my oesophagus rupturing and sent me on my way.
He got it. He didn’t tell me I was to fat to be Ill. He didn’t tell me I was making it up. He told me it was real, I wasn’t on my own and I was going to get treatment. After the session I went to the shop, I bought food for dinner and I ate it, and I didn’t get rid of it.
I had a mixed experience in treatment, in the end I gave up going because it was setting me back but it didn’t make the treatment itself wrong, in fact the skills and thing I learned set me well on the way to recovery.
For a while food wasn’t an issue anymore.
But like any addiction that’s not dealt with properly it was always in the back of my mind. My mood cycles change regularly and you can guarantee that each one changes my relationship with food. My disordered food behaviours are always the first coping mechanism to reappear and the last ones to leave.
I catch myself with different thought patterns depending on my mood.
When everything so stable I get healthier, I eat better and I exercise more and I find myself losing weight in a healthy way. Weight loss is always in my mind. But when I’m stable in my mood I think about it logically, I am overweight, that is physically unhealthy and needs to change. To do that I need to eat better and exercise. I can talk about weight loss, tell you that I am comfortable in my appearance but need to lose weight for my physical health and be confident that I believe this.
When my mood is low I catch my own bad though patterns and behaviour but I’m never willing to change it. I have an underlying belief that my weight is what makes me unhappy, so when my mood sucks I believe that I’d be completely happy all the time if I was thin. So I start the quest.
Firstly, I stop eating and drinking. A few days in to that I’ll start to feel ill from dehydration so I’ll drink. Then I’ll feel like I’ve messed everything up so why stop there? I’ll eat again. Immediately after I eat I’ll feel like a failure, get rid of the food by any means possible and finally feel empty again. Feeling empty gives me a buzz, getting on the scales everyday to see the weight coming off gives me even more of a buzz. Then the cycle will begin again and will last until my mood changes, and then a bit longer while I work on breaking the cycle I create.
When my mood goes up, I’m awake for days, I shop for clothes even more than normal and I work on smashing calorie and weight loss targets. I get weighed everyday and depending on what the scales say set my calories for the day, anything between fasting and 1,800 calories. I burn off what I’ve eaten because of the boost in energy that comes with hyper mania. When I’m in that state I’m always successful and nothing can stop me. I get the buzz from going down clothes sizes.
I have come to accept that although generally if my mood is stable food isn’t a big issue for me anymore, it will always be an area I relapse into. I will never have a normal relationship with food, and to be honest I don’t even know what that would look like for me. Now it’s about controlling the patterns, maybe my next relapse will only last for a couple of weeks rather than a couple of months. Maybe I can pick up warning signs quicker than normal.
A stable mood means more stable thinking, I can identify the things that trigger my behaviours and I can avoid them. I can stop conversations that will set me back. I can stay motivated by health rather than a desperation to have a thigh gap.
But nobody is permanently stable, whether it’s mental health related or not there are always Highs and lows, and for me there will always be food based behaviours that go along side that.
While I was in treatment I was given a list of what normal food behaviours were, it was explained to me that I just take them to extremes.
It is normal to eat junk food or overeat on a bad day. It is not normal for that to mean repeatedly binging and feeling guilty about it.
It is normal to not eat as much if you’re stressed or agitated or even just busy. It is not normal to stop eating for a week because your preoccupied.
It is normal to cut out certain foods to try and get healthy. It is not normal to cut out all food.
Being diagnosed with bulimia and BPD has made me realise how most of my issues come from living in the extremes and struggling to find a middle ground. I rarely focus myself on eating disorder recovery, what I need to focus on is living in the middle and not the extremes. In BPD talk we use the terms black and white and grey. It is natural for me to live in the black and white, I need to live in the grey. We also call it ‘splitting’ or ‘split thinking’ which are terms I identify with all to well. I strongly think that when I get to grey, if I ever can get to the grey, most of my issues will fall in place. I think my issues with food aren’t issues with food, they are issues from the mentality I carry in most areas of my life, they are issues that don’t belong in the grey.