“You have to go through the storm to see the rainbow.”
My story begins when I was 16 and with a simple motivation to shift a few pounds to look ‘slimmer’ in prom photos, which gradually developed into a monster of an eating disorder. Before I further explain, I am so grateful to say that I eventually did win this internal battle and I am now healthy and happy. This journey was so difficult and at times I do have days where I still struggle a little, but I am so thankful that I have my life back! I am actually not sure I will ever be completely free of my eating disorder, but this is not a bad thing – it has been part of my life, albeit a dark one, but it helps me to appreciate my life after recovery and reminds me how important it is to look after my body, always and forever.
Whilst growing up, I had an overall healthy diet and active lifestyle thanks to my wonderful parents, who always cooked wholesome, balanced food from scratch, and encouraged my horse riding passion. However, my balanced diet unfortunately changed a little when I moved to high school. It's no excuse really; looking back I see that I could and should have made my own healthy packed lunches, as I enjoy doing so now at university. I don't like to shame or label food, as I believe almost everything should be enjoyed in moderation, and I strongly believe that a balanced attitude towards food is the healthiest. However, I personally feel my school had quite unhealthy choices overall. I began to put on some weight, and I don’t think I fully noticed it until one of my friends harmlessly mentioned that my legs had gotten a bit bigger. She meant this in a positive way and I wasn’t upset, but rather saw the comment as an eye opener and the penny had dropped that I had put on weight.
Later on, in preparation for prom, I therefore decided I wanted to lose this weight that I had unintentionally gained. I began to make my own lunches: homemade wholemeal bread sandwiches with turkey, veggies and salad usually, along with packing healthy snacks such as apples and bananas for in between meals. I achieved my goal and I did lose this weight in time for my prom, which was such a wonderful night! Mainly I think because I knew I would be leaving this environment and these friends for a new school for sixth form, so I wanted to make the most of my last memories being a student at this school.
After prom, during the summer before starting my new school, was when I think my eating disorder really blossomed. I lost more weight and I basically did not realise that a lack of food was having such a negative impact on my body. My hip bones began to stick out dramatically, my eyes were droopy and I felt almost always lethargic. My eating disorder was dominating my thoughts and attention and I remember my focus in this part of my life was to lose weight. Not to mention that it was making me awfully upset and not great company for those around me.
During my two years at sixth form, I was lucky enough to regularly visit a psychiatrist, after my mum encouraged me to realise that I had been in denial about my recent unhealthy relationship towards food. Although my weight fluctuated a little, there was unfortunately no major weight gain to return me back to ‘normal’. I am so thankful that my energy levels were high enough for me to complete my A level exams and get into the University of Edinburgh to study Biomedical Sciences, which is where I am still completing my degree.
I'm in my second year and I am healthy now, but my first year at university was where I hit rock bottom. I don't even really like to talk about it now but I feel as though taking about it keeps me strong, it reminds me that I NEVER want to reach that stage again and that I never want to let my eating disorder damage my body again. In a nutshell, I was enjoying my time at uni when I first moved in, although it was daunting! New city, new friends, away from family, friends and my usual surroundings, but I had made some good friends and I was loving the city and the university gym. Looking back, I guess I was just overwhelmed with all the new changes and getting used to the catered food in halls, but I gradually decreased my food intake and it took to the point where my knees shook for me to realise how much weight I had lost. I got up after a tutorial and simply could not walk as my left knee was locked and was extremely painful. The next week was awful – I could barely move, I cried so much and I hated my life. Being so deeply upset and unable to exercise, I simply did not feel able to eat. After just a week my saviour friend from home who was visiting me for a few days persuaded me that the best thing for me would be to go home, and that's what I did.
I will never forget my dad crying when he first saw me after picking me up from the station. This was my biggest warning call to realise just how much weight I had lost. When I did realise, it all started to make more sense: this was the reason for my hair and skin falling off, for my constant shivering and many of my clothes being extremely baggy.
From then on was a turning point. Thankfully my knee pain is anterior knee pain, mainly caused by muscular imbalances. I am lucky and so grateful that this is not permanent damage, but that's not to say I still don't suffer the consequences of losing a large and unnecessary amount of weight and so quickly. Even now my knees have unfortunately not recovered 100%. However, I am a healthy weight and happy, I love exercising again as I have the energy to do so, and I love having the balanced, nutritious diet that I now have. My recovery has not been easy, it was long and there were bad and better days, but I did recover and I am living proof that recovery is possible. Life is so much better when the eating disorder is not taking centre stage in your life.
Whatever position or stage you are in, please do not worry. There is so much help available and recovery is possible. Please stay happy and positive, know that you are not alone and when you have recovered you will look back on this as just a chapter of your life, gone but not forgotten.
I’d like to send a big thank you for those who put up with me when I was at my worst and leave you with one of my favourite quotes whilst I was recovering: “Your worst days in recovery will always be better than your best days in illness.”