Leaving My Eating Disorder in the 2010s (TW)

When I was younger, I read a book by Jacqueline Wilson called Girls Under Pressure.

The book circled around Ellie, who was teased at school for being overweight and started to make herself sick. It narrated the hold bulimia has over people and how Ellie let it rule her life until she decided enough was enough.

However, I read this book as the teased, overweight girl in my class, and read between the lines. The book told me how everyone was complimenting Ellie for her weight loss. How all she needed to do was Google to find groups of others who would encourage her eating habits.

From my own recollection, I can't remember a time in my life where I wasn't embarrassed about how I look, and to my young self this felt like the answer.

I wasn't always overweight, but I was always bigger than the other girls in my class. I couldn’t see it at the time, but looking back I realise a lot of it was due to puberty hitting me quicker than any other girl in my class. I was 5'8 with size 7 feet by the time I was 13, and frankly, my boobs feel as if they've never stopped growing since. A U.K. size 8-10 is massive if all of your friends are in children size 13-14s.

At home, there was a focus on diet culture which I never realised or understood until I reached my twenties. But growing up in the 90s and 2000s, diet culture was everywhere, and to blame my ED just on my home life would be ridiculous. It was fuelled by my environment at school, at home, by the media. The only body positivity movement was Trinny and Suzanna telling you anyone over 12 stone shouldn’t wear horizontal stripes.

By the time I was 15, I was making myself sick around 4 times a day.

When I was 16, I confided in a friend that I thought I might have a problem. She told her friends, who told their friends, and whilst walking to class, I was accosted by a group of girls who told me I was too fat to have bulimia.

So, I made myself sick for five years.

One of the worst parts of having an ED, is that if you are plus-size or overweight to start off with, you are praised for your weight loss. And that fuels it. If a size 14 drops to a size 10, people are asking for your secret. If a size 10 drops to a size 4, people are giving them side looks, and the school counselor 'just wants to talk'.

Anyone who has an eating disorder will tell you it's easy to hide. A couple of extra toilet flushes here, bringing toothpaste to school with you there.

It peaked when I was going through exams and when I was extremely lonely or felt as if I had no purpose. When I was doing my A-Levels, I started living off shakes, deciding that not actually eating would hopefully stop me from making myself sick again. But I couldn't help it, I was consuming 800 calories a day but would throw them up. I lost 2 stone in 6 weeks, and when I started to put that back on again, I just made myself sick more.

But losing weight isn’t the only side effect of bulimia. I was asked by my dentist, in front of one of my parents, whether I’d been ill recently, because of the impact of the acid on my teeth. My hairdresser pointed out a bald spot under my hair and asked me about alopecia. I had no energy, no motivation and no drive to do anything. I completely lost my passion for life.

Eventually, the guy I was seeing and one of my best friend hosted an intervention. I had so far hidden my ED from my parents, but they told me if I didn't go and get help, they would go to my parents.

I knew I needed help, but at the time, I just didn't want it. I felt pressured into it. I enjoyed being smaller than I had been before, and I was convinced my boyfriend was only with me because I was a slimmer version of myself.

I was also terrified of being laughed out of the GP. I was convinced they'd tell me, like those girls had a couple of years before, that I was too fat to have an eating disorder.

But, I went. And in mid-2013, I was diagnosed formally with bulimia nervosa.

When I went travelling in August 2013, I lost weight simply through exercise and eating less, and thanks to having received help for my ED,  I realised bulimia wasn't the only way to lose weight. But when I returned to England in the September, I was back to using bulimia as a way to keep my weight down.

It was then that I began Alice's Antics. It was the period just before I moved to Italy, at a time when I thought everything would be better once I moved there, but it wasn't.

In Italy, I was living alone. My eating disorder peaked. I couldn't be bothered to get out of bed, I didn't want to leave my apartment for anything. I passed out on the bus and reached a point where I was just 'meh'. Everything seemed pointless.

For me, the turning point came when I went to university. I gained structure to my life, I felt like I had a purpose. I had friends who cared about me, and I didn't carry the stigma of 'being me' that I felt had followed me through school.

Tragically, yet luckily in many ways, I unintentionally became immediate friends with another girl who had an eating disorder. She was struggling even more than I was and meeting each other was a blessing in disguise because we both wanted to get over it and move on with our lives. To this day we're both still extremely close friends, and our first year of uni was a turning point for both of us in overcoming bulimia and anorexia.

Unlike in 2013, my recovery in 2015 was through my own will and determination. Sometimes, you need people in your corner, and many people with EDs start their recovery without their own consent when they become a danger to themselves. But for every single person with an ED, you will never recover until you want to.

It may seem odd to many people reading this as to why I would bother to write about it now. But the truth is, bulimia ruled my life for half of the 2010s. Admitting I had an eating disorder isn't embarrassing. It isn't a loss on my part, it isn't something to be ashamed of. It was my life.

I overcame my eating disorder by working from the inside out. It sounds cliche, but it's true. I don't think I would have had the courage to confront it the way I did, if there hadn't been a slow shift in the narrative of body positivity the way there has been in the last few years.

Recovering from an eating disorder isn't a matter of having your last purge and leaving it all in the past. It's a work in progress. It's being faced with uphill battles, and not turning to controlled eating as a way of dealing with it. It's feeling full, and your first thought not being 'I could just do it one more time'.

It's looking in the mirror and understanding you're not going to be perfect, but neither is anybody else. It's realising there is so much more to your life than what you weigh. It's not valuing yourself on having a boyfriend or a partner, but valuing yourself on who you are and what you stand for.

It's finding the courage to talk about it, and get help. It's realising that it is not your fault, and your life is not wasted because of it.

Growing up, when I was embarrassed to put on a swimsuit at the beach, I was always told; "There will be someone who looks worse than you, don't worry."

And that is exactly the kind of narrative I now understand I need to protect myself from. Instead of comparing yourself to others, look in the mirror and think about how great you do look. Pick out your working limbs, your hair, your smile. Pick out your strength, your love of the beach, your loyalty and your kindness.

Five years of my life were a daily battle of counting calories and throwing them up. At the start of this year, after months and months of not being able to swallow properly, I was told I had damaged my esophagus from the years I spent throwing up.

And honestly, I felt like I couldn't leave behind this huge part of my life until I shared my story. Because there are so many people out there who live with eating disorders. Some without even realising it's a problem, and many others not allowing themselves to get help.

I'm moving into the 2020s with three years of recovery behind me, and now a very healthy relationship with food. There are days where I struggle, there are times where all I want is to be the size I was at 18. One of the most ironic things is that there were times whilst I was bulimic that I was heavier than I am now, but developing my relationship with food is what made that happen. The lack of binging and relying on vomiting is what made that happen. So despite being neither the slimmest or the heaviest I’ve ever been, these last three years have been the happiest.

I understand now, there is nothing worth putting your body through that hell for. Eat better food, go to the gym, create goals for your fitness and your strength. You only have one body, telling it it isn't good enough will never get you to the physical or mental place you want to be.

So, it's a new year, a new decade and we all only have one life. If you're struggling, please take the steps necessary to overcome your ED. If you needed a sign, if you needed proof that it can happen to literally anyone, take this as it. Talk to your friends, talk to a doctor, talk to whoever you need to talk to in order to start your recovery.

Love, Alice x

Numbers you can call for ED support (also can be used if you think you know someone with an ED):

Adult Helpline: 0808 801 0677
Youth Helpline: 0808 801 0711

Mind: 03000 11 12 13

NEDA: (800) 931-2237

Butterfly National Helpline: 1800 33 4673