Even though I sometimes feel that I woke up one day with an eating disorder out of nowhere, that definitely wasn’t the case.
It grew over many weeks, months, even years. But the change in my behaviour was so gradual that I didn’t even notice the eventual massive change in my personality.
It all started when I’d just moved universities after not enjoying my first year.
‘It’s just an issue with food.’
I changed universities hoping for a fresh, happier start. However, almost immediately, I felt lonely and lost. This time I wasn’t going to disappoint everyone again and quit once more; instead I decided I’d focus all my time on getting into the best shape of my life.
I’d get up every day and spend at least a couple of hours doing the most tedious cardio you can imagine. I hated it, but the buzz I got afterwards was what kept me going.
I guess there were moments when I did something and thought, ‘Wait a minute, that just isn’t quite right.’ But even then, I had no desire or motivation to stop – as far as I was concerned it was just something that I did. Even if the thought crossed my mind that I might have an issue with food, that’s all it ever was to me. Just ‘an issue with food’. Everyone struggles with something, right?
It didn’t seem like something I needed to mention to my boyfriend or my family, and to be honest, whilst it was a little bit weird, I didn’t expect anyone to understand. I’m not sure I wanted them to understand, either. It was my thing, and to be honest I didn’t want anyone to stop me from doing it.
On the few occasions that I did tell my parents how much I had eaten in a binge, they would just play it down, telling me it wasn’t that bad. This just frustrated me and subsequently (after compensating through a ton of exercise), I would binge again.
‘It’s not a big deal.’
Looking back in retrospect, these were all the classic early signs of an eating disorder. Even if it’s true that I didn’t feel like I had an eating disorder back then, what I used to call my ‘issue with food’ certainly was more than just that.
Instead of telling myself that I could handle it, that it wasn’t a big deal or that I still hadn’t lost enough weight, maybe I could have sought help?
Maybe it wouldn’t have snowballed like it eventually did?
It was a very long time before I did seek help. I moved universities again, spent another two years finishing my degree, graduated, went on a few holidays, and did an internship in London for an entire summer. It was only then that I accepted my Dad’s offer of going to see someone. Needless to say, things had only gotten worse.
It was now a few years since my ‘issue with food’ began and the effects it had on my mental health and my physical health were so obvious and clear to everyone. Everyone, except me.
If I had sought help sooner, I now know how much easier it would have been. I was cruising down the eating disorder road alone for far too long. The binges were getting worse, the excessive exercise was increasing, and I was disappearing (in more ways than one).
Once I eventually started getting help, at least I wasn’t cruising at such a speed down the eating disorder road. I certainly didn’t start recovering instantly, and I’ll admit some of my worst days were during the times I was getting help. But I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of caring and informed professionals. They taught me why recovery is so important.
Why wait to get help? Just like with any physical ailments, we usually go straight to the doctor to get things checked out ‘just to be safe’. So why shouldn’t we do the same with our mental health?
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.