Content warning: This article contains frank discussion of eating disorders and eating disordered thoughts
I’m a successful communications professional who runs my own business and has a vibrant social life. I’ve also had severe anorexia for the last 15 years.
I’ve been in and out of treatment, including a very long hospital admission, and my weight has always meant that I’m eligible for support. Yet because of my busy and lively life, doctors have described me as ‘high functioning’, which means I am able to manage with an illness that, medically, should inhibit my life more.
I was 18 when I first developed anorexia. I had moved away from home to Durham University and didn’t feel good enough. I wanted to be more clever, more fun, prettier – just better.
Already dealing with perfectionist tendencies, I was struggling to find my place in the world and not eating became my coping mechanism. I started by eating a bit less, and took up running. This quickly spiralled out of control. I managed to get back on track enough to finish university, but I certainly didn’t have a great time while I was there. I’m now almost 33 and have been trying to recover ever since.
I have been an inpatient, outpatient, and day patient, but nothing has worked. I’ve had good and bad spells, but have never made it to full health. I would describe myself as perpetually in recovery, rather than ever recovered.
After a while, however, you might notice how I avoid certain foods, or am always tired. I can hide my eating disorder for brief periods, but it’s always there.
I don’t let people see the meltdowns in the supermarkets, as I agonise over calorie counts and try to choose the right food. I want to go for the best option for my health but I feel limited by what my anorexia ‘voice’ will allow.
They don’t see me sobbing after nights out because I’ve drunk too much and I am panicking over calories, or because having booze makes me a ‘bad’ anorexic.
And they never knew about the naps I used to take in the office toilets, my body desperate for my rest while my mind tells me to carry on. They don’t see the constant and relentless fear I have of eating more and moving less, or the self flagellation for being who I am.
People have perceptions of what an eating disorder is but these views are often warped by stereotypes of what we think an eating disorder looks like.
Many people suffering maintain a normal weight and there are now moves to get the body mass index (BMI) criteria removed from the diagnostic process, so that anyone experiencing the symptoms of an eating disorder can access treatment.
Eating disorders don’t discriminate. Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, estimates that approximately 1.25 million people in the UK are suffering.
In a society that lauds slimness, praises restriction and discipline, which speaks about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods, living with anorexia is hard. A comment about what I’m eating or an article about diets can send me into a spin. A ‘strong’ day of food can easily be followed by a bad one.
But I live in hope that I will be able to move out of my eating disorder’s shadow and, right now, I am in a much better place than I ever have been before. Work is going well, friends are supportive and I have a brilliant family.
The chances of me making a full recovery now I have had anorexia for so long is unlikely, but I’m committed to trying.
I know that if I want to continue to have fun, to enjoy my social life and be good at my job, I need to fuel myself well, and that is what keeps me going.
It can be difficult to stay focused and do what’s right for me – eating more, moving less and being kinder to myself. I want to be a brave and bold woman who can do whatever she wants.
Anorexia has caused me to live a half life for so long – I deserve a full and colorful one and that is exactly what I am striving to achieve, bit by bit, bite by bite.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article, you can get in touch with the national eating disorders charity Beat by calling 0808 0801 0677 or through their website at beateatingdisorders.org.uk
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