When I was about 13, I stopped eating for a bit, just to see how it felt, what it would do. Prior to this, I don't think I had been even vaguely concerned about my weight and, to be honest, I don't know what it was that triggered it. No one teased me, I wasn't fat by any means, I was never rake thin like some young girls, but certainly nothing about which a doctor would ever be concerned.
On and off for the next couple of years, I messed about with food and exercise, whether that was joining my mum on diets or not eating lunch. I don't think my parents saw it as an issue.
When I was about 16 I got really sick. I lost weight very quickly due to being unable to eat and when I looked at myself, I was the happiest with how I had looked in years. After this, I started to make excuses; I would start rows just before dinner and refuse to eat. I made up stories to my friends about how the illness had left me unable to deal with stodgy food and so I couldn't eat it.
This went on a while – probably around six or seven months.
I remember my uncle once prodding my stomach and saying "look at that belly", my mum looking panicked and shaking her head. I realised maybe my parents did know something was up.
That summer we went on a big family holiday and there was no more hiding: I had to eat. And at that point I thought I had "got over it."
How wrong I was.
During sixth form, I went back and forward to laxatives. Again, my mum knew there was something wrong as, when I asked to borrow some money for tampons, she insisted on coming to the shops with me; I don't think she knew how to deal with it.
See, the thing was, no one else really noticed. Yes, I had lost weight, but at sixth form there was someone who had "real" anorexia. She was so ill by the time her parents stepped in. She was excruciatingly thin and extremely ill. That was not me; I was just about on the "right" side of healthy thin and so it wasn't noticed, making it all the easier to hide.
I had just got a boyfriend and so I told his parents I had eaten at home and mine I had eaten there. I exercised after sixth form every day in the gym close to school, sometimes twice. It was easy to do and easy to hide. I got used to the hunger pains and began to almost enjoy them.
Over the next decade, my eating and exercising habits have fluctuated. I have on occasion gone back to laxatives, I have dieted, I have over exercised and my weight has gone up and down, again, never so thin that anyone would notice.
Finally a few years ago, I told my boyfriend (of over a decade) what I had been doing. I had to tell someone, to try to stop it and deal with it. Since then, I have told more and more people about "my crazy". I know what triggers me to behave badly with food (weighing myself for starters), and I think I have a bit more of a handle on how to control it. I have friends who recognised it over time and have mentioned it to me; they don't go on about it but they support in their own little ways when they see me starting to fall into bad habits. I also know I can be obsessive; a friend asked me to go to Cross Fit and I explained to him that that would be a terrible idea and would lead to obsession. He has known me over a decade and had no idea. My colleagues know too. Again, they don't make a big deal of it, nor do they respect me less as a leader for having a "weakness", but they know about it, which helps me to keep on top of it.
Eating disorders are a funny thing, and the fact I have never been "properly" anorexic in the eyes of others has meant that I could hide it and be ignored. Ignored even by medical professionals. When I was feeling pretty good due to starting a good and sensible eating and exercise regime, a doctor told me to "beware" of my BMI which was creeping up; this was almost certainly because I get very muscular quickly.
It is crazy to think this has been going on almost 20 years. One badly angled photo will trigger it, a pair of jeans that fit last week seem tighter, a glance in a window on a bad day…
I am not sure it will ever go away, and I will always have to think about not letting it take me over, but I am getting there, through honesty with others and with myself.