It’s Eating Disorders Awareness Week… and so here’s me outing something that’s been a part of my whole adult life…
I have an eating disorder. As of last year I have a diagnosis of Bulimia Nervosa and I think I’m finally ready to go public….
I don’t think I look like I have an eating disorder; I may not really sound like I have (though many of you will have noticed my various unusual thoughts and behaviours around food over the years), but this does not reflect the scale of my problem. Eating Disorders are not ‘simply’ about starving yourself until you need to be force fed back to health (though these are where they can get most acute). Eating Disorders are often silent and invisible, whilst also being completely invasive and permeating into every area and moment of your life. They cause debilitating psychological anguish and physical pain. They are a form of self-abuse that can be kept secret for years and years. My relationship with food has been the self-harm that I can (almost) protect everyone else from; that allows me to continue to ‘function’ in the world, to continue to do the basics that others need from me, whilst hurting me enough to prevent me from experiencing my life to the full. I couldn’t live with food. I can’t live without it.
I’ve known that I’ve had unusual eating behaviours for almost as long as I can remember. But now I finally have recognition and confirmation of how unhealthy that was. That in itself has helped me start to let go of the hold food has over me. Now I have names for some of the behaviours which are so dysfunctional, but have been my ‘normal’ at various points of my life. From regularly eating beyond the point of sickness and pain as a child, to being Anorexic as a teenager, to periods of Bulimia Nervosa for my whole adult life, to a whole range of disordered eating behaviours… I’ve restricted and counted calories, macro nutrients, micro nutrients; I’ve recorded every item I ate or drank for 3 years; I’ve over exercised; I’ve fasted; I’ve binged on EVERYTHING; I’ve made myself allergic to foods simply through over-consumption (yes you can eat too much Celery)…. I’ve repeatedly tried (and failed) to make myself sick. I’ve regularly overdosed on laxatives and diet pills instead.
At times I’ve felt completely powerless over my relationship with food, even when I seemed in complete control. Disordered Eating affects your physical and mental health, it’s emotionally exhausting and it has a major impact on social interactions (because of self-imposed limitations around food, and because of keeping such a big part of what’s constantly in your head secret). It’s a true chemical and emotional addiction… but one that you can never go cold turkey from. A vicious gripping cycle that you have to be so strong to recover from because you can never ever avoid the source of the problem; every day you have to face it, consume it, and do so ‘normally’ and ‘healthily’ when normal and healthy are so far from how it feels. I don’t actually know what normal eating feels like. I’ve so often wished I could ‘just’ stop eating (like an alcoholic can ‘just’ stop drinking), but this is never going to be an option for my recovery.
At this moment I’m under the care of an Outpatient Eating Disorders unit; I’ve been diagnosed, I’m seeing a dietitian and am waiting on therapy which will hopefully help me to break my own food cycles. With the help of friends, private counselling and being forced into doing exercise again (huge thanks to Alice for the temporary Personal Trainer!), I’ve very recently managed to drag myself out of the worst of what I’ve been through, and I’m definitely on the ‘up’ right now. Thank you so much to everyone who’s supported and listened to me through my recent black spell.
But apparently here isn’t a “cure” for what I have. I know that, every time I’m under pressure or struggling, I risk plunging back into a disordered cycle… and that could once again impact on my health and every area of my life. I’m only starting to understand how far my Eating Disorder affects me and those close to me. It’s only so recently that someone actually looked without judgement at what was going on and said “that’s not OK”, and it’s only now that I’m able to open up and be more honest about my reality with food. These are first steps, and as I move further into recovery I hope I’ll get clearer and more honest about what I need to do around food in order to stay healthy.
So please be understanding of me when I come for dinner but don’t eat (maybe it’s the wrong time or type of food for me that day) or drink (unless I’m in a very strong place alcohol can massively impact my binge-risk) – I’ll still love sharing your company! Or if I make myself random food but don’t offer you any (I’m often still mentally measuring everything that goes into me and feel I need control over that… plus I often feel that no-one else would like to eat my random food cravings!) Or if I have to stop almost mid-sentence to find something specific to eat that I’ve just realised I need NOW (or I’ll risk serious bingeing later).
But most importantly, please don’t let mine (or anyone else’s) Eating Disorder continue to be an unspoken secret that is kept hidden. Do feel able to ask me about my disorder, what it means for me and any practical questions that might affect you. Please don’t tip toe around it or around me; I’m not shy or delicate! Ask whatever you’re wondering and I’ll do my best to keep being honest and let you know!
And finally, please wish me luck – here’s hoping that 2017 will be the year I finally start living fully for myself and not through food!