"I've not only gained weight; I've gained happiness"

Posted 24/06/2020

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.

I started by just making ‘healthy changes’, but what I didn’t know was that my attempt at eating more ‘healthily’ would slowly morph into anorexia and bulimia. I had bulimia at 14, and I did this on and off in hopes that it would help me with controlling food. My weight fluctuated hugely as I went through periods of restriction and bulimia, but nothing ever really worked. It wasn’t until the age of 19 that I began to restrict further, and my eating disorder shifted into anorexia. I lost a lot of weight in a short space of time and initially felt happy about this. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I felt excitement at seeing the numbers fall further and I narcissistically enjoyed the way that people would express their concern over my ever-shrinking body.

I went off to uni and I continued to follow the same rituals with food and exercise. It was no longer about food and weight loss, but more about feeling this sense of control. I began to realise I had a problem when I noticed how irritable and upset I became when I couldn’t carry out my strict plans involving food. I couldn’t cope when I had to skip a gym session or eat more than planned at a birthday party, or simply spending time with family and friends. My life became so small as I turned down invites and pretended I was busy just so I could stay on track and be more in control. At my absolute worst my resting heart rate was 38, I lost my periods, I felt cold and weak all the time, I wore thermals under everything even in the summer, I grew fine hairs all over my body, I was constantly thinking about food, I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I hated life. I didn’t have the energy to enjoy it.

When I finally came to my senses and realised the danger of what I was doing to myself I panicked. I didn’t know what to do and I knew I had a problem. I was missing moments of my life I’d never get back, and I was stuck in this mindset where every day revolved around my eating disorder. It’s been a very difficult recovery – I’ve had numerous lapses, I got refeeding syndrome and at times I’ve felt sad to leave behind all this control, because changing an eight-year habit is hard and uncomfortable but I’m doing it.

Recovery has been so worth it. I’ve not only gained weight, but I’ve gained happiness, my humour, my excitement and passion for things.

The symptoms I experienced are incredibly similar to the ones shown in the Minnesota Starvation Experiment. If you are not familiar with this, then I really recommend you look it up! It shows us what happens to our bodies when we inflict restriction/diets upon ourselves.

I believe everyone has a ‘set point’ regarding their weight and there’s nothing you can really do to change that. You simply can’t fight biology. Try to find it in yourself to accept your body and all it does for you, and to realise that the way you look is the least interesting thing about you. Your family and friends love you for your personal qualities, not your weight.

Contributed by Poppy