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"I've only got bulimia"

I remember being in Year 4 of primary school when I first felt inferior to other girls. This is where my obsession with body image, and my low self-esteem stemmed from. I compared my short dumpy seven-year-old body to my four best friends. They were tall, slim and a lot more academic than me. 

I can remember vividly being in a shopping centre changing room crying while my mum and her best friend tried desperately to find adult sized clothes for a family wedding to fit my then 10-year-old body. I was short and overweight and sad inside my prepubescent body. I remember the feeling when the family photos from the wedding were given to my parents for a Christmas present. My heart sank. We didn't have a long mirror in my parents’ house, so seeing a full-length picture of myself made me sick to the stomach. I waited for my family to go upstairs and hid all the photo frames that held the photo from that wedding.

This is when the problems began. My head was constantly filled with self-loathing thoughts. I couldn't concentrate on anything other than hating the skin I was in. Every single thought in my mind was consumed by weight and hatred for myself. 

When I was starting secondary school, I started to skip breakfast as my dad left for work before I woke up. I'd throw the contents of my packed lunch in the bin at lunch time. By 3:30pm every day I would be starving. I would come home and consume double the calories I would have eaten in those two meals at home by myself before Dad got home in a bid to try and make myself happy. For moments while I stuffed my face with snacks and juice I felt better. Until the guilt kicked in. 

I would stand in front of my mum's tilting dressing table mirror stood on a chair so I could examine my bloated full stomach full length. I felt disgusted but this didn't stop my binges. In school boys in my class would tell me to drink Slim Fast and call me a fat pig. This was about as intelligent as their insults got – but that didn't make them hurt any less.

I would spend hours lying in my room, staring down at my body and crying. My parents would tell me I was so kind, that I had a warm heart and a beautiful smile. This wasn't enough. I didn't want to spend my life being the girl who was pretty on the inside. This was when I started to really do something about it. 

Age 13 things took a turn for the worse. Like any other teenager I spent hours every night in my room online. I found Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia sites. I would spend hours and hours looking at photos of painfully thin and extremely ill women, longing to look like that one day. The Pro-Ana sites boasted that eating disorders were a lifestyle choice and not a mental illness. They expressed their admiration for anorexia and made bulimia sufferers look like the wannabes who didn't have the willpower or strength to achieve the title anorexia. My secret online life aspiring to become anorexic was in full flow. I continued to spend the next five years yo-yoing in weight, at the time not actually realising how slim I was until I gained weight and would look back at photos longing for my old lower weight body back.

By age 18 I was abusing laxatives and making myself sick all the time. I never achieved my optimum goal of becoming anorexic. I am thankful for this now, but at the time it just made me feel more and more like a failure. I didn't realise while I was striving for one illness, I was already being defeated by another. Bulimia. I didn't ever want to accept that I had bulimia. People don't recognise bulimia as a serious illness. When we talk of eating disorders we think of skeletal girls with anorexia. I didn't want to have bulimia because to me and other eating sufferers bulimia is the eating disorder with none of the 'benefits'. You don't get to be skinny, and you don't get taken seriously by family, friends and even professionals. 

Fast forward to the present day and I am 25 years old. I am a step mother who is due to be married in a year. I still have bulimia. I still long to be slim and beautiful. That hasn't changed, but I am seeking treatment, I am honest with my family and fiancé and I am honest with myself. I have come to understand that bulimia is serious, it is real and it's not anorexia's weaker sidekick. It is an illness in its own right and it needs to be understood better. Young people need to be educated about bulimia. If I hadn't met my fiancé who showed me I am worthy, strong and brave enough to overcome the illness I would still be abusing my body in the hope one day I'd find happiness in some size 6 jeans. 

Contributed by Claudia