My anorexia nearly stole my life from me, but I’m still here fighting five years later
As we come towards the end of the National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, here is my story
TW: Discussion of eating disorder behaviour
This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (NEDA Week), which aims to spread awareness about the dark reality of eating disorders and provide support to individuals and their families affected. Eating disorders affect around one in 50 people in the UK and a clear focus of this years’ awareness week is not only on educating people, but also on campaigning for UK medics to have comprehensive training on how to deal with people suffering from disordered eating.
GPs need more training
The average GP receives less than two hours of training on eating disorders in their entire medical degree, with a fifth of medical schools not providing any training at all. This is not good enough. The UK saw a huge surge in eating disorder-related referrals during the national lockdowns due to the social isolation and lack of control that plagued everybody’s lives for a substantial period, and we are now facing a medical crisis which needs to be addressed.
We live in a society that is obsessed with weight loss
From the whole “New Year, New Me” resolutions at the beginning of the year to the pressure to lose weight in order to have a hot girl summer – that is enough to cause anyone to spiral into disordered eating. We live in a society that is obsessed with weight loss so it’s no surprise that eating disorders are so prevalent at the moment.
I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at the age of 14. My extremely disordered behaviours began when my mental health was at an all-time low and my dad became ill and was eventually diagnosed with oesophageal cancer; I began spiralling further than I ever believed was possible all to try and gain back some control in my life.
Anorexia was like my embarrassing secret I didn’t want to tell anyone – all I wanted was the control over my life I once had, and I believed I could gain that back by controlling my eating. What started off as missing meals every now and again quickly turned into me either throwing food away secretly or point-blank refusing to eat at all and suddenly, anorexia became my entire existence. I had completely lost the person I used to be along the way and became a shadow of my former self.
Never ending exhaustion
Every day was like a waking nightmare. Not only was I dealing with constant exhaustion and the never-ending thoughts of restriction, but I was also suffering with heart palpitations, fainting episodes and low blood sugar and blood pressure.
I completely isolated myself from everyone around me – including my family. I was always irritable and angry, and I just wanted to be on my own all the time as I didn’t have the energy to hold a conversation. Family meals and gatherings were the worst, I was constantly thinking about how to avoid any calories – just hoping and praying there would be some safe food available if I had to eat anything.
Missing school and being admitted to hospital
I became so poorly that I had to miss the entirety of Year 10 at high school as I was deemed medically unfit. This ended up causing me to spiral even further as I am a huge perfectionist when it comes to my academics, and I just knew that taking time out was bound to affect my grades. I felt hopeless and useless which led me to restrict even further.
I ended up being admitted to hospital a countless number of times during this period due to me refusing to eat. I had to be hydrated with a drip and threatened with tube feeding as I had just given up and didn’t want to carry on anymore. The thoughts were so torturous that I didn’t see a way out from this, and I just wanted it all to end.
The turning point
The turning point for me was when my dad sat down with me in hospital and just broke down in tears.
He told me that he needed me to get stronger for him as he knew the road ahead with his treatment would be gruelling. We made a promise that day to always keep going for each other, if nothing else. It was at this point that I realised that I was never going to get better if I sat in a pit and allowed myself to give into these thoughts of restriction. I didn’t want to be sad, obsessed with dress sizes and calories. I wanted to be happy again and get my spark back.
I sought help from my local eating disorder team who put me a meal plan together that slowly but surely increased my food intake as the weeks went by. I can wholeheartedly admit it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I relapsed quite a lot during this recovery period, still hiding food and over exercising in secret but as time went on, it got easier and more manageable, and I eventually reached a healthy weight.
This was a bittersweet moment for me as I was proud of how far I had come but it hurt me that I was finally a healthy weight again and I had lost control of my eating. However, I knew it had to be done and kept pushing and fighting every day for freedom of this illness.
I went to a pupil referral unit for teenagers who can’t cope with mainstream school for all sorts of reasons in Year 11, and I worked my hardest to try not to fall back into the grasps of my anorexia and work towards getting my GCSEs. I ended up with better results than I could have ever imagined, and I was finally starting to see why recovery was worth it.
The pressure of the pandemic
The pandemic was extremely hard for me in regard to my eating disorder – with everyone panic buying food and going into lockdown being completed isolated from everyone and everything, I did end up relapsing a couple of times. I believed in my head that as food was so scarce, I didn’t deserve it and I was taking it away from others who needed it. There was a huge focus on glowing up and losing weight over lockdown which was highly triggering for me and many others who were suffering with eating disorders.
My dad ended up passing away in April of 2021 and this was an extremely dark period for myself and my family. I am still affected by my grief and there are still times to this day when I feel like crawling back into the arms of my anorexia and I know that will never go away, but each time I refuse to give in is a step further and further away from the illness that plagued me and my family for so long.
It may not seem it right now, but things will get easier
If there is anyone out there reading this article struggling with any form of eating disorder, please listen to what I’m about to say. It may not seem it right now, but things will get easier. Recovery is worth it, no matter what your head tells you, and you will get your spark back. I have gone from wanting my anorexia to simply kill me, to now being in my first year of university with amazing friends, a loving boyfriend and a positive outlook on my future.
Please remember, you are not alone, and you are so important to so many people.
For information on accessing support for eating disorders, click here.