My History with Disordered Eating & Moving Forward
Disordered eating. Notice I haven’t used ‘anorexia’ due to feeling that A) I haven’t been diagnosed officially and B) I don’t believe I FULLY fit into the criteria.
So this is going to be an incredibly difficult post to write and will take a lot out of me. Breathe. Go forward.
Disordered eating is something I have been struggling with for about two-three years, and only now do I feel myself escaping from its clutches. Now it also goes without saying, that this post could be triggering for those who have suffered/are currently suffering from any kind of eating disorder/body dysmorphia/negative self-esteem/negative body image.
Taking a Health Nose-Dive After University
As I spoke about in one of my previous posts My Mental Health Story, I suffered from a mental breakdown whilst at university. It was a very difficult time in my life, suicide, unfortunately, was considered more than once over the course of that year and I coped with my mentality tornado by drinking quite excessively and eating quite a poor (VERY poor, actually) diet. Now I know that eating awfully and drinking lots can be viewed sometimes as the ‘typical student experience’, but looking back, I am very aware that my actions were not ‘typical’.
I am thankful – INCREDIBLY thankful – for the friends that stood by me during these times and sad to have fallen off the edge of the earth in regards to communication since then. I feel so lucky to have reconnected with a certain friend in particular who has recently given me the honour of being one of my bridesmaids. She knows who she is, and I love you.
Because of my vices during university and my declining mental health, my self-esteem and overall image of myself took quite a big hit. I was viewing myself as much larger than I was. I think I was about 10.5 stone, which isn’t big by any means, but my brain seemed to twist the presentation of myself in mirrors and windows into something I was incredibly unhappy with.
The Dreaded Calorie Counting Apps
After leaving university and returning from travelling, I downloaded a certain prominent calorie tracking app (I won’t name it but I’m sure if you google ‘calorie counting apps’ it will be one of the first to appear). Now I know that lots of people are aware of this app and some of the detrimental effects it has had on users’ health and wellbeing. I would just like to stress that I did not have any awareness regarding this or the experience of others and so I merely saw it as a means to an end and that by using it, I would lose the weight I wanted.
This app became the dominant frenemy in my life – EVERY SINGLE item of food had to be weighed and calculated. Every gram of popcorn, every ounce of cereal, and even EVERY TINY TIC-TAC. I even measured my drinks intake – now I’m not talking alcohol (something I cut out significantly), but milk, fruit juice, squash, etc.
My disordered eating was prominent at family dinners where I used to weigh out vegetables and potatoes before putting them on my plate. Everything I ate had to fit into my ‘diet’ and the number of calories I was ‘allowed’ that day. Even typing the word ‘allowed’ angers me so much because I used to use it all the time to describe my food. Why the hell was I kowtowing to this pocket robot?
A typical woman should be on 1,800-2,000 calories a day to maintain her weight, and about 1,600-1,800 to steadily lose weight without any adverse effects. However, using this app, I was on between 800-1,200 a day, which is absolutely ridiculous when I look back on it. Not only was my calorific intake completely insufficient even for losing weight, but I also coupled my diet or lack-of with frequent trips to the gym.
Health vs Obsession
After joining the gym, I began blurring the lines between health and obsession. I would often spend up to three hours a day at the gym after work, attempting to ‘work off’ everything I had eaten that day. I would spend the majority of my time on the treadmill or the rowing machine and always got a little thrill when I could see the ‘calories burned’ increase digit-by-digit.
I would often follow up my intense cardio with a little bit of weight lifting and then would do laps of the pool for another hour. Again, this fitness ‘regime’ might not seem too much of a big deal to some, but that coupled with my 800-1,200 daily calorific intake made me feel weak and lightheaded. But I didn’t care. As long as the number dropped each time I stepped onto the scales, I wanted to keep going.
As my weight dropped, I was getting comments saying how thin I looked and I relished in it. I was buying new clothes left and right and even went down half a shoe size (trust me I don’t know how! I was a five and now I’m a four-and-a-half). I went down from weighing 10.5 stone at the beginning of my ‘diet’ down to 9 stone and then down to just under 8 stone at my lowest.
Realising I Had a Problem
In October 2018, after spending a whole week eating nothing but a portion of Weetabix each day to ‘make room’ for my dinners out with family and friends for my birthday, I finally hit rock bottom. I remember having a panic attack over being presented with a meal that I hadn’t ‘planned’ for. I was crying, I was shaking, I was sweating and I felt that I couldn’t breathe. I had considered making myself throw up to be rid of the anxiety over what I just ate. Then, after a Christmas spent worrying about our meals together as a family and mentally keeping a tally and calculating each Malteaser, I was done.
I said I was done, but my mind was still controlling and obsessive, and it took a lot of family and friends to help me realise my self-destructive patterns. Over the time, I had learned how to hide a lot of my negative habits in regard to my disordered eating from family and friends, and I would become incredibly defensive if they were pointed out to me. I would often respond with ‘you don’t understand’ or ‘it will only be for this time’. I feel that creating my calculated little world allowed me to feel more in control with myself and my life, after feeling so lost and out-of-control whilst at university and the years leading up to it.
My Current Situation
It didn’t happen overnight. It has been long and is still continuing to be an ever-looming presence in my life. Just when I think I’m through it all, something happens, I slip up and weigh out an item of food. I’m weighing much less, worrying much less and enjoying more unexpected meals out with my friends and family. I have also been allowing myself to drink a little alcoholic drink at a time. My drink of choice whilst at university was whiskey and LOTS of it. Five years later, I have only just started to have a single with ice every so often, and that is enough for me. I don’t rely on it anymore to take me out of my mentality.
Going travelling with Ben really helped with my obsessive calculating around disordered eating as I wasn’t able to weigh my foods nor was I able to default to the ‘safe foods’ I relied on (the foods where I immediately knew the calorie content) to help fuel my bad habits. Instead, I was dropped in the deep end and had to listen more to my instincts and what my body was telling me I needed to help me thrive.
There have been a few little breakdowns and tears when I became too consumed in the foods I was eating without knowing their content or ‘safety’ – I remember crying in Lisbon due to eating a pizza or panicking in Austria over splitting a Baumstriezel with Ben at the Vienna Christmas market. Since then, I have had about ten more Baumstriezel-y occasions and thoroughly enjoyed every single one of them.
I think the turning point for me was imagining myself looking back on my life in old age and worrying that all I would be able to do was remember the calorie counting, evenings spent on the treadmill, and panic attacks in an exciting new country due to eating a churro or pizza. I choose to embrace the food available in my life knowing that there are those less fortunate who don’t even know when their next meal is coming.
I have developed an absolute adoration for cooking and learning new world recipes over the past year and I truly think that this has also helped me in my recovery from disordered eating.
I’m not out of the woods yet and still have my moments, but I know that I keep improving my relationship with myself, my body, and my relationship with food. Its a long road but I am actually feeling more like myself than ever.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story and history with disordered eating. I have included some helpful links below incase you can relate to anything in this post and would like to get some help.