TWs: ED, depression , mental health
Last week was Eating Disorders Awareness week. Over twitter were tons of ‘inspirational’ tweets, insisting it gets better (I was one of them) and even photos of malnourished, ill girls showing ‘before and after.’ As much as these posts are positive to a degree, they don’t spread the horrible reality of disordered eating, for those who’ve never experienced it first-hand. Of course, encouraging words are inspiring, but they give an impression of a straight road to recovery from illness, and that if you believe you want to get better, it’s that easy. Truth is, it really isn’t.
I’m here to share my story because as much as it’s the hardest thing for me to talk about, I’m seeing it that being honest about our struggles isn’t ‘over-sharing’, but spreading awareness and the truth to educate and empower others.
I never thought I’d be the one to have an eating disorder.
Even typing those words sounds false, because I was never diagnosed with ‘anorexia.’ More so, EDNOS, an eating disorder ‘not otherwise specified.’ Mentally, I was very unwell and in complete denial for a couple of years. Doctors told me unless I ate more, I wouldn’t be going to University. My period stopped for several months, my mental health had hit rock-bottom. But I was in a spiralling cycle, and had I not sought help, I don’t know what position I would be in today.
I remember the first time I skipped breakfast. Then skipped breakfast and lunch. Then lied to my family saying I had eaten both of those meals. Then lied to myself saying I’m fine.
It all started off with good intentions. I wanted to lose weight because I was over weight, and wanted to feel healthier, fit into the clothes I wanted to and feel more confident in myself. But this spiralled out of control before I’d even realised. Before I could prevent it.
First, I stopped taking crisps to school with lunch. Then, I cut out chocolate and all sweet foods. Then, I didn’t eat food unless I knew the calorie information, exactly. If it was over what I’d allowed myself, I’d be terrified of it. This was all with the intention of meeting a goal weight and the compliments flooded in of ‘You look great!’ ‘You look so healthy!’ But it took a turn for the worst, extremely quick. Soon, numbers completely controlled my life. Unless I knew what was in something, I wouldn’t eat it.
Of course, because of diet culture, people applauded me. I only took a salad for lunch to school, and by a salad I mean lettuce and tomatoes. No dressing, no protein. Just leaves. To sustain me all day. And people admired me for this, saying I was ‘so healthy!’ I logged everything I ate, even down to chewing gum or a can of Diet Coke, on my phone. MyFitnessPal had become my new best friend. I felt in control. I’d look at ‘thinspo’, I’d follow food accounts on Instagram and compare what I was eating to these severely unwell girls, I wanted to be. Which looking back, is ridiculous because food is for your body. It’s a personal thing. It’s not a competition. But it felt like one and unless I listened to this voice in my head, I was a failure.
I didn’t enjoy food anymore. It scared me, and no one understood that. ‘You need to eat Lucy, you’re upsetting everybody. They’re worried sick about you.’ How even ‘liquid calories’ absolutely terrified me, because it meant I was ‘out of control’ and giving in. I felt disgusting, grotesque for eating. Which now, looking back, feels insane because we need to eat to survive. But when you’re unwell, you don’t see the logical side to things, even when you know deep down we need food to function.
The reality is, diet culture is damaging. On my iPhone, I couldn’t delete the ‘Health’ app, so I knew how many steps I was doing everyday and how many calories I was burning, which meant I knew how little to eat to lose weight. I didn’t sleep every single night before having done 50 sit ups. It was a coping mechanism, a safety net and something I couldn’t explain to anyone. Because my thoughts weren’t rational, I didn’t feel in control of anything so I controlled my food, or lack of it.
I’m writing this to tell you that eating disorders aren’t easy to combat. They’re not just starving yourself to be thin. They’re an obsessive, controlling mental illness, used as a coping mechanism to feel numb and ‘in control.’ They’re competitive, self-destructive and those suffering know it’s irrational but feel they don’t deserve any better. I had no energy, wanted food but didn’t allow myself to have it. I could tell you how many calories were in anything and everything. And that’s not ‘healthy’, it’s very damaging.
But, doctors and therapy later, I am coming through to the other side. I’m not afraid of food anymore, I know how much I need to eat to avoid feeling dizzy, sick and fatigued. I know that nutrition is important, of course, but so is having a life.
If you can resonate with any of this and feel isolated and alone, please reach out. I promise you the support is there.
Thank you for reading.