Rewind to a few years ago. On the surface, I was a happy 26-year-old who seemed to have her life all worked out. I was a successful secondary school teacher. I had been living in my lovely new home for six months with my wonderful boyfriend. I had a loving, caring mum who I adored. I had a strong network of friends that I could rely on for anything. I trained regularly in the gym and seemed, to others, to eat well. Yet underneath, I was coming up to my tenth year battling bulimia. I wasn’t meant to suffer from a mental illness… people who seemingly have their lives together don’t suffer with their mental health, right? Wrong.
I spent ten years living with bulimia, mostly alone, too scared and ashamed to talk to anyone. I hated myself for having the illness. I hated myself for not being strong enough to overcome it. I hated the fact that the love I had for my friends and family wasn’t enough to pull me out of the hole that I was in. I tried countless times to stop but every time, it would creep back in and I would feel like I was back to square one. The task of overcoming bulimia seemed too mammoth and I had resigned myself to the fact that this could well be a part of my life forever.
Then in November 2016, something inside me changed. I told myself that it was finally time for me to overcome this illness. To this day, I cannot quite put my finger on what changed but whatever it was, it saved me. In the early stages of my recovery, I doubted myself every day, but I just tried to make it to one week without purging. After one “clean” week, I tried to make it to two weeks. Then I hit my month milestone. Then it was full steam ahead to six months. Then it was the big “one year anniversary”. And now here I sit, over two years later, confident that I have left that part of my life behind.
A friend asked me not long ago “How did you beat it?” and at the time, I couldn’t quite find the words to articulate an answer. I think there were a multitude of things that helped me in my journey to recovery. I started being more open with my closest friends and my boyfriend. I would ring one of my best friends or talk to my boyfriend at times when I felt like I was close to losing control. They were a superb support and talked me through some difficult moments when I felt mentally drained. I fell in love with resistance training. Even though I had trained regularly for years, had run two half-marathons and met the love of my life in the gym, I was training because I felt like I had to, not because I wanted to. Finding resistance training was one of the best things to ever happen to me because it changed my outlook on exercise. I now exercised to be strong, not to counteract the guilt that I felt from food. I also started to learn more about nutrition. I started tracking my food and found that having this level of control over my diet replaced the control that I thought I had by bingeing and purging.
The past two years have been far from easy. There have been days when I have questioned myself and felt like I had gone backwards mentally. There were days when my friends questioned whether I had become too obsessed with counting calories. There were days when I looked in the mirror and hated what I was seeing. But I can honestly say that I sit here today, more confident than ever in my recovery. This Christmas, I moved into the next stage of my recovery by making the decision to stop counting my calories and move towards a more intuitive outlook on my diet. Up until that point, I didn’t feel confident that I could cope without that high level of control. But in December I took the leap and I am so grateful that I did as it has given me the freedom to just trust myself without having to overthink about everything I eat.
I wish I hadn’t spent the majority of my 20s hating myself but I sit here now as a happy, confident young woman who sees that there is more to life than the number on the bathroom scales. Yes, I still get bad days. Yes, I sometimes look in the mirror and don’t feel my best. Yes, I sometimes eat a smidge too much chocolate (Why do they make Terry’s chocolate orange so more-ish?!). But I am on the right path now. I eat without guilt (most of the time). I exercise because I want to, not because I have to. When I think of my progress over the past two years or so, I don’t think about how my waist has shrunk or how my abs are more defined or how I fit into my clothes better. I think about how much I have grown mentally. Each week, I learn to love myself a little bit more and I am excited about what the future holds.
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.