So this week it’s National Eating Disorder Awareness week #nationaleatingdisorderawarenessweek and it’s all about breaking the silence, stigmas and myths around eating disorders. I’ve never been shy about the fact I struggled with an ED for most of my life in fact but I’ve not properly shared my story with you and thought that this week is a perfect opportunity to join in with this discussion and reveal the most vulnerable part of myself with you.
There is such a massive stigma attached to an eating disorder and there’s almost a stereotyped image that comes with it – this assumption that to have an eating disorder you must not be eating anything, be super skinny, almost hospitalised and be a teenager. Well, there is so much more to it than that. An ED can happen to anyone, of any gender, at any age and it can come in so many different forms and variations. That’s why I’m so happy this week has come about, to educate and share how many people are affected and all their varying different stories. I want to share mine with you today in the hope that it may help even just one person whether they are affected by an ED or know someone who is. It can be the loneliest journey in the world and I never want anyone to feel that way. There is so much support out there and I’ll put some links at the end of this post.
To be totally honest I don’t really know when my eating disorder began. I was bullied as a child for being ‘fat’ and told by many so called friends that they didn’t want to be friends with me anymore because I was fat. In truth, I never was overweight – I was just a little girl. I didn’t eat that much but I became over obsessed with how I looked right from a young age; very quickly I began to associate my self-worth with my weight/size and how I looked.
There was never a point in my life where I consciously made the decision to have one and at such a young age I didn’t even know what it meant to have an ED. Nobody chooses this path and it doesn’t happen overnight. It creeps up on you without any warning and you only realise how deep you are when you’re in the thick of it.
When I was 13 I went on my first solo trip with my sister to Singapore to stay with family. It was my first time being away from my parents and after a couple of friendship breakdowns in school I was looking for a bit of reassurance and security. I was fed up of being the ‘shy’, ‘ugly’, ‘fat’, ‘unpopular’ kid – I wanted to be beautiful. I remember one morning I didn’t want to have toast, I didn’t want to eat and that sparked a whole conversation around the table from my cousins. It felt good to have that sort of attention so I kept doing it – at every meal. All of a sudden I didn’t feel insignificant, I felt in control.
I lost a lot of weight that summer. Not eating all my meal or any meal at all almost became a habit, it transformed into my lifestyle and I loved having that control. I didn’t realise how much I was craving that control. I could see my parents were struggling but I couldn’t understand what was so wrong. My dad seemed angry all the time and to this day I’m not entirely sure he understands fully the mental torment that went through my head, but at the time it felt like he was trying to take that control away from me. The more he wanted me to eat the more I refused – I was trying so hard to hold onto this new found power I had over myself that I wasn’t willing to let anyone take it away. I had anorexia nervosa.
I think this is the one that everyone associates with eating disorders – it’s that image we all have in our heads.
This was back in the ‘early’ days of Dubai, before any there was any proper support out there so I know my mum must have struggled so much with it. I was about to go back to school – I was so excited that I had lost so much weight, I really thought that because I was now thinner I would make friends, that I would be popular, be accepted and that my life would change. My self-worth was wrapped up in a number on the scale and I believed with all my heart that my value was determined by how thin I could be. Just before school started back, my mum pulled me to one side and had a very honest conversation with me about periods and how I need to put on weight so I can have them and hopefully have a baby when I grow up. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to put on weight. I loved being thin. I loved seeing my ribs, my collar bone and having super small wrists. The most important thing though was I wanted to have friends and be popular so I couldn’t put on weight just before school.
It took a good year or so to really recover from that and when I say recover, I mean eating proper meals and getting back to a healthy weight. But my mind set never went away. I became super obsessed with the scales, weighing myself more than 3 times a day and always wishing to be thinner. My mood was affected by the scales – if I put on even 0.2 lbs I would be angry with anyone and anything I came into contact with that day. It never went away and I was plagued by these thoughts of hate and resentment towards my body and food for the 7 years to follow.
When I was 21 I was heading into my final year of university. When it came to my work I never faltered but I felt pressure. So much pressure. Pressure to succeed, to get good grades, to get a good job, to achieve, to make something of myself. I also felt torn between my ‘strict’ upbringing and discovering who I was as a person. All through my second year of uni I was losing control. Then something hit me – hard. It crippled me and crushed me from every angle. Heartbreak.
I had fallen in love with my best friend. I didn’t even know it had happened until one day he told me he was going to ask out another girl. Actually, to say I was heartbroken is an understatement and the worst part about it was he was still my best friend – we lived together, did everything together, were on the same course together and all I could think about was how I wasn’t enough. I spent every single day wondering why I wasn’t enough for him, why he didn’t want me, wishing for once I could be perfect and loveable. I felt like I had no self-worth.
The summer before my final year I lost 2 stone. I restricted my eating to a couple of smarties tubes a day, living purely off sugar and adrenaline and exercising up to 6 hours a day! If I didn’t exercise at least 3 hours a day, I was miserable and felt like a complete failure. I couldn’t eat at the dinner table, my relationship with my family suffered and my concentration went out the window. I was barely functioning and in all honesty I’m shocked that I came out of uni with even a 2:1. This was the worst my anorexia has ever been. Cardio became my life – I was so fearful of putting on weight or size that I never went near a weight in the gym and my whole life seemed to revolve around food. I wasn’t eating much of it at all yet I watched cooking shows on TV, I looked at recipes, I even created meals in the kitchen knowing full well I wasn’t going to take one bite. For my 21st birthday I made a HUGE cake that I couldn’t even eat. But aside from thoughts around food and my body, all I could think about was how I wasn't loved back, how meaningless I was and how I wasn’t worth anything in this world.
My turning point was when I found out my dad had cancer. I couldn’t cope, it had all become too much and I just wanted everything to stop – I didn’t want my mind to control me anymore. I was fed up of having that power and all I wanted in that moment was a cuddle from my parents. I’m so lucky to have amazingly supportive parents who wanted to help me in any way possible and it took 4 years to recover from, to get to a place where for the first time I was in love with my body and it didn’t correlate to how I valued myself. My journey to recovery was full of ups and downs and was probably the hardest thing I ever had to do – mostly because it was such a lonely place to be in and aside from my parents and Ben, I don’t think anyone else knew what was going on. It was hard to let go of something that I felt had defined who I was for more than 10 years.
Looking back at pictures of me in 2012, I don’t look too skinny or severely underweight so I guess unless you knew what was going on it wouldn’t be 100% apparent. Why? Because I didn’t fit this stereotype image of someone suffering with anorexia.
That’s why I love this week so much. To make others aware that eating disorders can come in so many different forms. It’s not a one size fits all and you don’t have to look a certain way to have one. You don’t have to think or act a certain way to have one. I was never hospitalised, but that’s not to say I didn’t have anorexia nervosa. As part of my recovery journey I put on more weight than I ever wanted to – but even at 4 stone heavier, it still didn’t mean I didn’t have anorexia nervosa. My thoughts were still the same, I’d still go through periods of starvation and neglecting my body – I just didn’t look ‘skinny’ anymore.
My passion for health, fitness and nutrition developed from my desire to transform my life and live the life I dreamed of. I never wanted to restrict anything ever again, or obsess over fitness and so I went back to school and studied hard to learn everything I needed to. I had hit every rock bottom possible in every area of life over that 10 year period that I knew I needed to get to a place of strength and resilience to help others on their journey to health and wellness. I was fed up of hating my body and knew I needed to get to a place where I cherished it in order to live the life I truly dreamed of.
Having any form of an eating disorder or disordered eating can be scary, lonely and crippling. Looking back, it’s scary to think how few of the people in my life even knew what was going on. I looked happy on the outside. I always smiled, made sure people saw me with a tonne of energy and laughter and constantly put myself out there. On the inside I was terribly lonely, I cried every single night (not an exaggeration) before going to sleep and my weekends were spent locked in my room out of fear I would eat something I shouldn’t. I’m so glad that mental health is a topic more commonly talked about and discussed now – because it is needed! We need to be open, to be vulnerable so that no one has to feel on their own, to help people on similar journeys and to keep the conversation going!
It’s not something to judge another person by. It doesn’t define who you are. What it does need is understanding, time, space, love and kindness. We need to be there to support each other, to get rid of stereotypes surrounding ED’s and be open to those who need help. It’s not something anyone with an ED chooses – it’s not a choice that was made to stop eating, to binge or to restrict and therefore no one should be judged for it. It’s not an easy place to be in and we are so lucky that we are living in a time now where help is available in so many different forms for both those who are suffering and those who know someone who is.
This is the most vulnerable I have ever been with you and it took a lot out of me to write a condensed version of something so private that has been a struggle for over a decade. It’s not easy to put words onto paper about this – probably because for so many years of my life there were no words to describe it. It was held so close to my heart that I couldn’t even hear the words if I tried. My purpose for doing this is to share. To share the most vulnerable parts about myself and to show it doesn’t have to be a secret struggle. You don’t have to be on your own. My only hope is that by sharing this with I have helped at least one person in some way.