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"I became an entirely different person"

It's Eating Disorders Awareness Week! We're focusing on binge eating disorder, and throughout the week we'll be sharing people's experiences of this common but highly misunderstood illnesses here on our site. Read Amelie's story below. 

I was 18 when I first experienced symptoms of my eating disorder. Throughout my first few months at university, I often found myself eating more than I used to. I assumed this was normal uni behaviour, but during a routine check-up back home, my doctor mentioned how much weight I had gained and made a joke about how I needed to stop ‘bingeing on the fish and chips’.

I’d moved for university and was struggling with homesickness, loneliness and my self-esteem. My doctor’s comment brought the eating disorder to fruition but the feelings behind it, of being unworthy and not good enough, were always there. I became preoccupied and anxious about my body. I began to cut back on foods I deemed unhealthy, exercised daily and planned each meal. With time, this became more and more extreme.

As my obsessive thoughts around food developed, I became an entirely different person, often spending evenings looking up menus and photos of food that I forbade myself to eat. Then I started making myself sick after eating meals that I felt were ‘bad’, and allowed myself some more foods as I knew I could get rid of it afterwards. In my final year of university, my anorexia and bulimia developed into binge eating disorder.

My binges were often pre-meditated and completely uncontrollable. I wish more people understood this: it’s like a switch is turned on in your mind and the only thing you can do is eat until you physically cannot anymore. It’s terrifying because it’s like the real you is still in your head but has no power over what you are doing and you’ve suddenly become something else. When I was ill, I stole my flatmates’ food and lied about it afterwards, sneaked food out of my boyfriend’s family’s fridge, and would go to the shops, buying loads of treats and high-calorie food to eat by myself later. I was really embarrassed and would pretend to be on the phone at the checkout, talking to a friend about a pretend party so I wouldn’t be judged for what I was buying.

Whereas when I had anorexia I was almost proud, I was now totally ashamed. I isolated myself, losing my friends at university through the illness as I completely cut them out of my life, telling myself they would never understand. Even my mother, who I am extremely close to, didn’t know how bad it got because I was too embarrassed to tell her. My mood was at its lowest since the start of my eating disorder.

I began self-harming – I felt so out of control and ashamed and disgusting and unworthy. There was so much pain. I felt like there was no way out, and the only thing that would help was to take it out on my body physically, which culminated in me attempting to take my own life after a binge when I was 21. I was alone that night, and after bingeing couldn’t imagine ever being free of these demons. I could never imagine a world in which I wouldn’t feel the need to binge and thought it would honestly be easier to no longer be alive.

The first person I told about what I was going through was my mother. I remember not really knowing how to approach it. Because I had previously suffered with anorexia and bulimia, she already had some knowledge of eating disorders, but binge eating disorder wasn’t really spoken about. I think most people just viewed it as overeating, and considered binge eating a conscious choice. I feared no one would be able to help me stop.

But my life was definitely so much easier once I told the people around me what was going on. Their understanding helped me be more forgiving towards myself when I binged and eased the feelings of self-hatred and paranoia. One thing my partner did that helped is gave my eating disorder voice a name, blaming that for arguments, tension, etc. rather than me. It helped me realised I wasn’t my binge eating disorder and helped me turn against it too.

It’s so vital that people feel able to talk about what they’re going through. I think that so many people out there suffer in silence because they don’t fit what the general public’s view of an eating disorder is and feel like they don’t deserve the help. Particularly with binge eating disorder, it’s so easy to get trapped in your own head and convince yourself that you are the problem and are unworthy, and this can be so, so dangerous.

I feel truly lucky to be able to share my story now. When I first started volunteering for Beat, I found it hard to talk about my experience with binge eating disorder as I felt like all the other volunteers had been ‘iller’ than me and suffered with anorexia. Now I talk about it the most as it needs more representation. If opening up about what living through this horrific eating disorder was like helps just one person not feel alone, then it is so worth it.