Zero does not equal love. Only in tennis.

Posted 17/04/2019

Three different weights. One eating disorder. One struggle.

The first time my mum dragged me against my will to the GP to see why I was losing so much weight, to “knock some sense into me”, I was told that I “probably had an eating disorder”, but unfortunately I was “not thin enough to receive help”…

“You’re a very smart girl; it is probably your type A personality that has given you such willpower,” the doctor said.

Oh! FUN! THANKS! Hair loss and amenorrhea and still too “fat” to receive treatment, but hey, at least I’m a clever clogs!

I now realise how obscene it is that someone should be deemed not sick enough purely by their numerical make up or their appearance. At the time however, I ruminated on these words. The very nature of an eating disorder is that you feel worthless. You aren’t good enough, you are a failure. Now my doctor was telling me that I wasn’t even good at being anorexic?! I had failed at that too?! Her words served as an incentive for me to lose even more weight, to run more, to eat less, not because it would allow me medical help, but because the thought of being perceived fat was unbearable to me. This only postponed the treatment I so badly needed, and further exacerbated the problem. Once I was finally admitted, I was so entangled in my eating disorder that I was oblivious to even having one. I couldn’t classify which parts were Sarah and which parts were illness. For my family, the idea of me escaping its clutches seemed impossible.

No matter which eating disorder you suffer from, one of the real universal brutalities is that they deprive us one of the few certainties that we have in a deeply befuddled world: that our bodies know what we need and our appetites will guide us. Eating disorders discombobulate our innate hunger cues, until we barely know what we want, when we want it, or what order we want it in. This confusion doesn’t magically go away once you recover. The eating disorder doesn’t just leave and you are suddenly able to self-regulate again. Eating disorders are annoying and persistent. Like politicians. Or that Tinder guy who won’t leave you alone. This is how I know that it isn’t really about the food, or how much a person weighs. A collision of factors is involved. For years my weight has been up and down. I gained weight…I relapsed…I re-gained weight…another relapse. When I felt most in control, to others I was out of control, but when it appeared to the world that I was in control and getting better, this is when I felt most out of control. The frustration of being passed from pillar to post trying to get help, but once again I was back to not being sick enough.

Life is never a linear line, and some years later I am a “healthy weight”. Today I can use a Garmin and focus on cadence and pace, not calories burned. Today I can use food to fuel my body, not for punishment. I wouldn’t undo my experiences. Living with an eating disorder has taught me about compassion, friendship, tenacity. Which is why I spam everyone and talk about it all the time! I am qualified to say that recovery from an eating disorder is achievable. Life is possible. If I can use my lived experience to help others, then I absolutely will. There is no such thing as not being thin enough or not being sick enough. Anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, binge eating disorder. No two eating disorders are the same. No two paths to recovery are identical. But the pain endured and the strength needed to battle the illness is. There are already enough standards and stereotypes in our society – let’s not enforce these in eating disorders too. Although it seems hopeless sometimes, there is help there to be had and you deserve it.

Be kind to each other. Be kind to yourself. 

Contributed by Sarah