I battled anorexia for 10 years – at my smallest I was five and a half stone
It stole from me but now I have my sparkle back
Mrs Williams walked into the classroom and said: “Who’s been hiding their chocolate spread rolls behind the toilets?”
I kept my head down, terrified that the shame would immediately point her to me. At seven years old, I knew there was something wrong with my relationship with food.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to eat. I did, but I was utterly convinced that there was a lump in my throat and I would choke.
I would only eat soft, smooth foods like ice cream, jelly, soup, yoghurt etc. I grew out of this fear, but it returned when I was nine for a brief period.
But my relationship with food only got worse from there and I was hospitalised for three months when I was 12. I was anorexic.
I stopped eating overnight. I gave up crisps and chocolate for Lent, and eventually got down to eating half an apple a day and a glass of water. I wanted to be popular at school and the popular girls were beautiful and I was not.
I relapsed at 14 and 17, but my relapse in second year has undoubtedly been the worst.
I came to university in 2013 excited to start my English Literature degree. But I knew that I wanted to be thin – to get a boyfriend and be liked.
I didn’t like the way I looked, and would starve myself for as long as possible before giving in and binging, which would make me miserable. I kept this a secret from everyone.
I don’t remember ever really eating a normal meal at university in my first year, and I couldn’t cope with the responsibility of cooking my own meals and structuring my eating habits.
I was also being treated for anxiety and in December 2014 stopped taking the drug Sertraline. I should have reduced my dose very gradually, but I didn’t – I stopped overnight.
In truth, one of the reasons I stopped it was so my OCD tendencies would come back and I could control my relationship with food more.
I started following a strict regime: porridge with no water for breakfast, three ryvitas with ham and a satsuma for lunch, a banana in the afternoon, half a tin of kidney beans, one sausage or half a chicken breast, and vegetables for dinner, with a low fat yoghurt for pudding.
I was illusory eating, giving the impression I was putting a reasonable quantity of food into my body, but without much calorific content at all.
I had to have my meals at certain times – 8.30am for breakfast, 2.30pm for lunch, 5.30pm for my banana, and 7.30pm for my dinner. It was only at those times though that I could start making my food, and I’d delay the process for as long as possible.
I also used to run three kilometers for two consecutive days, and then have one day off where I would do squats, arm pumps with weights, and sit-ups. My life revolved around this routine.
I would spend about ten minutes cutting the fat out of my ham. I stopped drinking alcohol, and I stopped going out clubbing. I tried doing it a few times sober, but it was making me miserable.
My energy levels were waning, but people began to say how good I looked. Any compliment was ammunition for me to continue. I felt good because people remembered I was there – I was Alice, and I was getting thin!
I put my big smile on and acted as happy as ever but I felt like an outsider in every social situation. I said I didn’t feel hungry, and eventually this became true. I was so proud of myself that I could go for so over eight hours without food if I needed to.
People noticed me, but I lost myself. Anorexia stole me from me. I didn’t notice it and thought everyone was against me. I became isolated and incredibly depressed.
Over the summer of 2014 this got worse. I ruined my little sister’s A-Level results meal. We all went to La Tasca and I sat there with my ryvitas and satsuma, my safe foods. I felt like I wasn’t allowed the buttery chorizo, the juicy prawns, and I was so sad – it was as if it wasn’t me who was denying myself food.
I also ruined my older sister’s graduation by refusing to eat anything that was provided at the event. I was nasty to everyone, and made us leave early because I had to have my dinner at 7.30, and if I didn’t then I wouldn’t know what to do.
I would scream at them, swear at them, hurl abuse, tell them I wished they were dead, and I would tell my mum that if I died it would be all her fault because she was making me so miserable.
I was a monster dressed in skin and bones.
I did a summer internship in London, and made myself get up at 5.30am to ensure I got my runs in. Eventually I stopped running because I was far too weak to do it, but to compliment this I ate less and less.
I refused to admit I had a problem. When my family went to Bath for a few days, I said I felt unwelcomed and didn’t want to come. It was my choice not to go, but I spent most of the days crying hysterically on the kitchen floor.
If this was my life, then count me out. I didn’t want to kill myself, but I wanted to die because I was so miserable.
But I still liked seeing my weight go down – it gave me a purpose, a promise that I was worth something and could do something. In a really twisted way, I loved the attention because if people were worried about me then it meant I existed.
I came back to university to begin second year in September and fell apart. I couldn’t do life anymore. I reduced what I was eating, but I was so malnourished and the slightest thing would make me horrifically sad.
Once I couldn’t find my stapler in my room and I wept hysterically for about ten minutes. I would shut myself in my room. I read the next semester’s reading list within the first month of September. Work was all I had.
My flatmates really tried with me, but I didn’t want to go out. I didn’t want to do anything.
Eventually I recognised I needed help. I went to the doctor in September and burst into tears, saying I was anorexic. It was the first time I admitted it to myself, let alone say it to anyone else.
She was phenomenal. She made an urgent referral to the Norfolk Community Eating Disorders Service, or NCEDS. I had to check in with her and have regular blood tests, and still do, and I also had a bone density scan at the hospital.
While I was waiting for my appointment to come through at NCEDS, I continued to starve myself.
My bone scan revealed I have osteopenia, an early state of osteoporosis. Some days though, I felt like there was no problem at all. This meant that I could continue starving myself because I had energy. Other days though, the world drowned me.
I was so confused. Everything was skewed. I liked the way I looked, I liked being thin, but I couldn’t look at my face because I didn’t look like Alice.
People began to stare at my in the street and so I didn’t want to go outside because people would look. I didn’t deserve to wear make up. I didn’t deserve to feel pretty.
At my smallest I weighed five stone nine pounds. I was tiny, and I am not meant to be tiny – naturally I have curves. Now I don’t know if I will ever be able to have children because of the damage I did to myself.
But I started to make changes. I restarted my Sertraline again, as prescribed by my doctor, and quickly went up to the highest dosage of it.
One day I shocked myself because I caught myself singing – something I hadn’t heard in a long time. It was slow, but I was underneath my skin, and a little sprout of me had peeped through.
But I still battled a crippling relationship with food. On my 20th birthday at Pizza Express with friends I wanted to cry when the birthday cake came out because I knew I wouldn’t have any.
It’s the hardest thing to explain: my anorexia was everything. My sisters and parents used to text me and ring me begging me to eat, and I wanted to, but I physically couldn’t put anything in my mouth.
When I received my first assessment at NCEDS, the psychiatrist asked what I was there for. I burst into tears (again) and said: “I’m here to get Alice back.”
I was placed on their priority waiting list, but it still took eight weeks for me to get seen, which wasn’t until early January.
I used to be so gregarious and loved being melodramatic. I won ‘The Biggest Drama Queen’ award in Year 13 at school, as well as the ‘Little Miss Bossy’ award, but now I was a shell whose clothes hung off her. I wasn’t even allowed to use hot water bottles anymore because my skin was so weak that it was scarring it.
At Christmas I knew I had to start eating or I would die. When I had gone to the doctor in September, I knew I wanted help, but I wasn’t ready to engage in making myself better.
After nearly a year of this relapse, I knew that this wasn’t it for me. My Sertraline had me thinking much more reasonably, and I began to see that I deserved life more.
My favourite sweets from the Christmas Quality Streets are the toffee pennies. I saw that mum had saved some on the side for me so that if I did want to eat them, I could. I went in the kitchen and unwrapped one and put it in my mouth. It was sweet, it was deliciously chewy, and most of all, I enjoyed it.
I went upstairs and I cried because I was so happy. My two sisters came upstairs and we had a massive cuddle and we all cried. I cried because I’d lost me, because I’d been a vile human being, and because I had made the first step in getting me back.
This is a slow, hard, draining, tiring process, but I am getting there. I feel as I’m writing this that I’m not quite capturing how traumatic this was and still is. I did not get better overnight: I struggle with the guilt of eating every day because I am being a bad anorexic.
Living with anorexia is scary because how are you meant to differentiate your own rational voice from the evil voice which is yours as well?
But I feel more like me. The last year of my life has blurred into one smear of grey – I really can’t remember too much of it.
Anorexia ruined my teenage years and I can never get that back. It has ruined my parents’ and my sisters’ past eight years and I feel so guilty.
I never wanted to hurt anyone, I just wanted to be liked. I wanted to like myself but I ended up hating myself more than anything.
Now I have my sparkle back. Of course, just because I am putting on weight doesn’t mean that my head is sorted out – far from it. But by being honest, I have found it so much easier to get better. I can tell people if I am having bad thoughts, because then at least they are aware.
And a few weekends ago I went home to treat my family to a meal at Wagamama’s. Making new memories with them is the one way I can repay them for the good memories I had stolen.
Please share this article. This is Eating Disorders Awareness Week and we need to raise awareness of these dangerous disorders, and the devastating effects they can have on those affected and their loved ones.
For anyone out there struggling, I urge you, please see a doctor. Please be honest with yourself and with others.
I deserve to be happy, and you do too.