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Bulimia isn't bothered that I am no longer in my teens

I am 46 years old, obese, and have bulimia.

I am not the stereotypical eating disorder sufferer. I am overweight and middle aged, so therefore am I sure that I have bulimia? I have been asked this question many times and each time it hurts that little bit more. Bulimia isn't bothered that I am no longer in my teens or early twenties, neither does it mind that I am overweight – it still wants to try and control my life.

My negative relationship with food began when I was around the age of 12/13. I watched my mother starve on a strict diet, then after her slimming class, binge on 'goodies'. This was the seed that was planted into my subconscious mind and it grew into this enormous tree of bulimia that I have today – along with its many branches.

I was diagnosed with bulimia nervosa in October 2017, 34 years after it began. I hid my symptoms from my family for all of those years, so when I finally admitted it, no one would believe me. That was the hardest step to take, going to my GP and saying, 'I HAVE BULIMIA'. I knew what it was; I also knew the triggers and the pattern of behaviour but admitting to it meant that I had to let go. I wasn't sure that I was ready for that.

Having bulimia was comforting. It helped me cope with stress. It made me feel happy when eating the foods I normally didn't eat and gave me that comfort and 'hug' that I so desperately needed. The fact that my teeth were rotting and I had constant stomach and leg pain, lost my hair twice, had bad breath, no periods, had a miscarriage and unruly bowels, wasn't a problem.

I have mixed reactions when I tell people that I have bulimia. It's hard to admit to it, especially after keeping it quiet for so long. I have been told to be strong and that I am a fighter. There are others who say that they feel sorry for me, some look puzzled, and I have had the most negative reactions of all: 'you're doing it for attention', or 'how can you be bulimic – you're fat?' I am surprised at the lack of understanding in regards to eating disorders. Many people have asked me why I do it and why don't I just stop it? It's not a choice; I don't wake up in the morning and think, today is a great day to binge and purge.

I know my triggers and I try to either avoid them or work through them with support of my family. I have another health issue which causes me to gain weight, so I am constantly battling with that. My self-esteem is low and I do hate what I see in the mirror. I don't shop for clothes; I get upset if I have to dress up and go somewhere different. I feel like people are looking at me and are appalled at my weight and size. If I am out, I will try and not eat, as I don't want people thinking 'that's why she is so fat'.

In my work, I am confident and have to stand up in front of groups of people. I have to do this and enjoy it, but inside I am fighting with my emotions. I feel sick, not with nerves of what I am about to do, but with fear of what people are thinking about me. I hide away from cameras and if I do have to have my photo taken, I criticise every part of it. If my husband sees a work colleague whilst with me, I apologise to him for having such an ugly wife.

If I tell someone that I have bulimia, I wait for a reaction. I do not want sympathy; I want people to understand, not to push me into having the biggest cake on the plate or have a dessert if I don't want one. I want them to know that bulimia sufferers come in all shapes and sizes. I don't want to be labelled, but if it helps to spread awareness to others then I will accept it. Most of all, I am still me. Just because I have bulimia doesn't mean that I am a monster. I am not 'contagious' or unapproachable. I am waiting for others to ask me what it's like, how do I feel and also to be proud of me when I have jumped over a hurdle and survived it.

Contributed by Maria