I started suffering from eating disorders when I was just 11 years old. It was a way to deal with the stress that I was facing concerning my parents’ abusive behaviours and divorce, as well as the bullying I was experiencing at school. What I didn’t realise at the time was that by internalising these pains and taking them out upon myself, my body and brain would undergo far more harm than by facing my problems. What I never realised while suffering from bulimia and anorexia nervosa was the destructive impact that it could have upon your body.
People often warned me of these issues, but I always thought that it wouldn’t happen to me. I guess I assumed that the disease was working with me and helping me. It takes a while to realise that it is not in fact you controlling your body through the disease, but the disease controlling you, your thoughts and your actions. By that point, it is often very hard to overcome it and maybe not even possible to realise until after you recover.
No matter how daunting the disease feels at the time, it is always important to remember that your eating disorder is not who you are. Although it can take up a huge proportion of your life, it should not control how you live and what happens in your future. It is you who ultimately can decide what to do in your life and the disease doesn’t need to help you decide. It is possible to understand that even though eating disorders can be very compelling and controlling, they are not the only way to live. No matter how hard life has been before and during the disease, there is always a way out, and once you take those few steps, and manage to stick to or almost meet your goals for recovery, you’re almost there. Those first few steps may be the hardest, but they will be the most rewarding and help you to overcome the eating disorder that you have come to struggle with.
I first decided that it would be a good idea to try and overcome my eating disorder, and that it was not and should not be a core element of who I am, when I realised the impact it was having upon my younger brother. We have always been very close, and I assumed that although people were worried about my eating and complained about it, that no one truly cared or were really hurt by it. After all, they weren’t the ones living with it day to day, and didn’t understand it. But by my brother explaining to me how much it upset him, and seeing him cry and be truly worried about me and what would become of me, I realised the impact. I realised that my perception of the world and myself was partly skewed by reacting differently to weights and pictures associated with eating disorders. That’s when I decided to try and change and to overcome the disease.
It wasn’t easy. I made this decision when I was almost 16, and it wasn’t until I was 19 that I finally managed to overcome bulimia and anorexia nervosa. So it can take a long time, but I’m sure that simply depends on how long you’ve lived with the disease for. Besides, anything that is worth committing to and achieving in life often takes a long time and a lot of dedication to achieve. But staying alive for yourself, your family, your friends and giving yourself back a normal life is probably the best thing that anyone can aim to achieve when they’re suffering. If you’ve had an eating disorder, then you may have already experienced commitment to controlling your eating and dedication to an aim. Aiming to get better is simply using those abilities and switching your goal. It’s not necessarily easy but worth doing.
I never realised until after I recovered from anorexia nervosa and bulimia, after suffering from them for eight years, just how dangerous it was at the time. I didn’t have periods for eight years because of them; it was a very real risk that I may have damaged my fertility. I didn’t grow after my 12th birthday and have remained very short compared to my very tall relations. I also experienced a huge reduction in my ability to remember, focus, and to be able to think about anything. This massively affected my exams and reduced my grades at both GCSE and for the International Baccalaureate. I never realised that these changes were happening until it was too late. Although I have managed to recover and to improve my body to the best of my ability, now having periods, usual fertility, an active and working brain, and managing to succeed in my latest exams and to graduate from Oxford University, not all of my problems can be fixed that were caused by these eating disorders. I can never change or improve the grades that were lower than expected, I will not be able to grow taller, and most importantly, I cannot remove the pain and distress that I caused many of my close friends and family as well as myself.
Really once you recover you realise that you didn’t need that eating disorder in your life. It is not and has never been who you really are, and it hinders you much more than it can help you. You really are stronger than it is, and so the best thing to do, although it usually doesn’t feel like it at the time, is to try and face and overcome your eating disorders. You can do it, and just need to believe in yourself. I would definitely recommend it, and overcoming an eating disorder is something that you can be proud of forever.
You have to learn how to live again and, like with any lessons, you often have to fail to learn the best way or the right way...
In the past I’ve wanted to hide the eating disorders that are part of my history, but I want to shout from the rooftops: I'm proud of how far I had come!
I want to shed some light on diet culture and what it drove me to do to myself for eight years. I will never get those eight years back, but what I do know is that I will never put myself through all the self-inflicted pain it took in order to look a certain way.