Recovering from anorexia
My name is Kate and I am 34 years old. I first developed anorexia when I was 20/21. Since then it has been living with me like a twin. I am fully aware of the anorexia. I do not try to conceal it, and although my mind has not healed completely, I can cope with it much better than before. I am slightly underweight at the moment. I am blaming Covid-19, which I contracted last year. I did eat, but lost taste, smell and was generally unwell, but who knows? maybe I had already started without knowing it…
How it all began
I dropped out from University in my home country, where I studied English and Physical Education to become a teacher. I still wanted to study, but only English, and a friend of mine suggested that I work as an au pair in the UK to improve my English. I used to be immensely attached to my home and my family. My mum was worried about how I was going to cope with being abroad and looking after children. And she worried for a reason; when I had to move to the halls of residence to study at University in the SAME country, I would cry for the whole week until the weekend which I spent at home. Nevertheless, I made up my mind and before I knew it, the date of my flight to England arrived. It was the BIGGEST SHOCK I experienced in my life. I cried so much and was exhausted upon my arrival that I slept for several hours and thought I was never going to get up from that bed. Well, I did and from September to Christmas I was ‘normal’ for the last time in my life.
I used to be a picky eater. I hated meat, and rarely ate fruit and vegetables. I used to live on a selection of food I enjoyed. In England, something happened. My appetite changed. I began to eat EVERYTHING. I loved EVERYTHING. I wanted to taste different cuisines and explore different types of food.
In December, I flew home for Christmas. The happiest day of my life! The saddest day quickly followed when I had to return and stay until the summer in the UK as planned. I was sad, desperate and cold in my host family’s house. One day I looked into the mirror and decided to make my belly flatter or smaller. I drastically cut down on the amount of food, started to exercise whenever I could, and developed specific behaviours around food and eating that I believed would help me. Before long, I would struggle to get up from a chair in the evenings due to fatigue and by the time I went to bed each night I would be starving. Yet, it made me feel good. I was successful at what I was doing. I was proud at myself and I loved the feeling of starvation. I loved Saturdays because I would eat bigger lunches and had a biscuit that I longed for the entire week. My knee ached, but I still exercised in the gym with a bandage on. I began to binge occasionally. For example, when I was given a box of chocolates, I suddenly lost control and ate it all at once, feeling the most guilty and angry with myself. I never vomited but as a ‘punishment’ I would eat less, making myself empty and proud again. I lost my periods. I was irritated and lost.
My host family in England told me to go home slightly earlier than planned. Upon my return, my own family was horrified. I stood in front of the mirror and all I saw was a skeleton. I felt like a shrunken prune. I could feel shrinkage coursing through my body. My eyes were bulging out. My body features were gone, but not my anorexia though. I did not seek medical help. I put on weight by myself with the support of my family. I cried after each weight gain milestone. I was furious and angry. I had arguments with my family, who did not understand. I binged now and again, and fell asleep, depressed and frustrated. I could not understand why I struggled to stop eating. After a few years I tried to seek medical help, but nobody ever really helped me. Yet, I managed to put on weight somehow and my period returned.
After finishing my studies I moved to England for the second time as I wanted to perfect my English. I was much more mature and ready. Unfortunately, the beginning was bitter, as I ended up being homeless, but that is another story. It was so harsh that I slipped into anorexia for the second time. I started living with my boyfriend, who I had met as an au pair, and found work. Things started looking better, apart from anorexia.
My turning point
Once, when visiting my GP for a different reason, I complained about being tired. She said I was slim, and I admitted that I might have had anorexia (but I did not truly believe it. I thought the scales did not work properly). My GP referred me to a dietitian, who helped me more than anybody else. I was irritated and defensive, but carried on seeing her. She explained to me what anorexia did to my body. My heartbeat was slowing down, and my bones and hair were thinning. Luckily, I had a scan and do not have osteoporosis. My libido and my period abandoned me. When I reached a certain weight (and refused to gain any more), the dietitian discharged me, but I had my periods and was doing well. She decided that if I was going to keep it that way, it should be just about right.
And I did well until Covid-19 struck. At the moment I am managing my weight and will not allow it to drop. I am studying, again. Dental Therapy and Hygiene. The course is harder than I would have ever thought. However, I am fighting because I am strong, but there are ups and downs, like with everything else.
My advice for anyone struggling
- Find a dietitian who specialises in eating disorders. Search for someone you feel comfortable with. If you do not feel comfortable, seek somebody else. This is a very important step.
- Try to understand what anorexia does to your body. Anorexia is a complex mental health condition and therefore it is NOT a normal way to live. The body needs nutrients. Your brain, organs, heart muscle, every tissue and every cell need nutrients to keep you alive. If you deprive the body of nutrients, it will have a physical impact on your body. This may be your bones becoming weak and thin, your periods stopping, or problems with your heart. Fat or adipose tissue will be lost with all its functions. This is needed in order to keep your body in shape, to insulate you and your organs, to keep you warm and cushion you. The body consists of fat for all these reasons. It protects you. Other effects will be on your behaviour, your healing abilities and your immune system, and the ability to exercise safely without causing harm to your body. To read more about the impact starvation has on the body and mind I recommend reading this study. Remember: If you are underweight, your body is continuously starving – even if you are not hungry. The body does not have any storage or supplies to rely on. The body does not work at its full capacity and it tells you every day it wants to eat. It guides you. If you binge, the reason is because the body is scared of being starved again. It tries to make supplies in case it is hungry again. It will help to develop an eating routine because both extremes (starving/binging) are only a vicious circle.
- Try to find out what drives your anorexia. Whatever problems you have will need to be eliminated. You are the main person who can make changes – nobody else can do this for you after all. I hate being told to eat more, and I avoid discussing anorexia with my family. I have to make my own decisions. Nobody can force me, and therefore I am not forcing you. I am trying to share with you what I have done and am doing. I am taking my time. I am in charge and you can be as well. You might be scared of putting on weight. I am too, but I am trying not to be. At the moment, I am experimenting with food. I am never hungry. I am putting on weight slowly. When the body reaches the weight at which it needs to be, everything will go back to normal. There will be balance in your life. You will restore peace in your mind. I have experienced that.
- Eat regularly. Find whatever works best for you as long as there is a structure to it, but eat. Listen to your body. It will make you incredibly happy and alive once you give the body what it wants. You will not think about food anymore. You will be able to meet your friends and engage in activities without constantly thinking and planning around food. The only way to find out is to try.
I wish I could answer your questions if you have any. I wish eating disorders did not exist. I wish you all the best.