My Malnourished Brain

Posted 17/10/2018

I remember being around 10 years old and admiring an older (probably by three or four years) girl in my dance class for her thin physique. When I look back at it now, I realise that was one of the first indicators of my eating disorder journey. I am also aware now that my depression was already prevalent when I was twelve. It’s odd how you do not realise these things until after recovery – but in fact, it is not, is it? This is the thing with a malnourished body – it not only a malnourished body but also a malnourished brain.

I would say that by the age of 14 was when my anorexia really kicked in. I remember being in the south of France on holiday with my family, having finished breakfast. I’d eaten a yoghurt that quickly became my favourite thing to eat for breakfast that week: not too sweet, creamy and a real pleasure to my taste buds. It ended when I checked the nutritional values. Around a year ago at the age of 17 was the first time I was able to eat one of them again.

The actions I took were not directly related to the goal of losing weight. Yes, maybe I did fancy the idea of losing a few kilos, but that was not my main motivation. Summer 2014 I started restricting my food intake vigorously. I got pleasure from it because it made me feel in control. I felt happy and content with my life, and that I could get through anything as long as I kept that control. But that control eventually turned into the most hellish addiction I could imagine.

Eventually, I did get help. I was forced into a daycare centre in Finland, where I stayed for three months over the summer until I was transferred to a hospital in Belgium in September where I stayed for an additional four months. And I can tell you – that was the best decision I have ever made. I re-learnt how to eat and why I need to eat. Here is where what I mentioned in the beginning of my story – the malnourished brain – comes in.

In a healthy body, your energy metabolism consists of three phases. The cephalic phase starts by the sight, smell or thought of food. During the absorptive phase, the body and brain absorb the energy that the body needs at that moment and stores the excess. During the fasting phase, energy is withdrawn from your body’s energy stores to meet the needs of your body. The cycle starts again when we have our next meal or snack.

So what happens when we do not eat? Well, this cycle is disrupted. The body starts feeding off itself to keep your heart beating and your brain working at least to some extent. The fat that keeps you warm is turned into directly usable energy. All of the glucose that was stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver, as well as the protein that was stored in your muscles is transformed back into glucose to feed your brain (the brain’s primary source of energy is glucose) and fundamental organs in order to keep you alive. To put it simply, our body stays in the fasting phase – which disrupts the normal functioning of both your brain and body.

By starting to eat again, thus giving my brain the fuel it needed, I was able to start healing my mind and free myself from my destructive, irrational way of thinking.

It has been two years now since I was released from the hospital, and ever since it has been a heck of a battle. There have been days where I’ve felt like giving up, letting it all slip through my fingers. There have been evenings when I’ve struggled to finish my meal. There have been days I have had no motivation to get up from the bed. But the thing is, before that was what my whole life consisted of. Now, however, it is something that happens occasionally. And it is something I know how to fight. I know how to react to and how to ignore the thoughts and I know that I am worthy of a good and happy life. Not only have I re-learnt how to eat, I have re-learnt how to live.

And looking back at the past two years, I can only see happy times. I was blessed by the birth of two goddaughters. My relationship with my family was healed. I went to Croatia where I had an amazing time with my wonderful class, who I could not thank enough for all the support they have given me throughout my battle. Both my best friends moved to other countries, but we have still managed to keep contact and they are still always by my side. I graduated high school and started university. I’ve developed an amazing relationship with my boyfriend, who I am now living with. And I've started working in the field of body image.

Note that this is my story. Everyone has their own and there is no right or wrong way to have an eating disorder. Do not compare yourself to others. Your journey is your journey and that doesn't make you any less worthy of recovery than anyone else.

My recovery tattoo (butterfly for metamorphosis and self-harm recovery, and the National Eating Disorder Association’s recovery sign)


Contributed by Moon