TW: disorderly eating and bulimia.
I, like so many of us put on weight this year. It felt like one day I woke up, looked in the mirror and noticed what looked to me like huge, red, blotchy stretch marks, surrounding my hips and thighs. Most of my clothes no longer fit and I was disgusted at myself for what society would deem as ‘letting myself go’. Rather than being logical and putting it down to my body trying to cope with the trauma of a global pandemic and also not being as physically active because we were being forced to stay at home, I felt like I had lost control.
2020 turned everybody’s world upside down; our routines were shattered and we had to repeatedly find the strength to pick ourselves up and carry on. Having had anxiety for years, being in control (or rather feeling like I am in control) has been a small coping mechanism. The pandemic blew away all the sense of control I had on my life and so I turned to food to try and get it back.
I started to restrict. It became a kind of game, seeing how long I could go without eating anything – the longer I went the more rewarding it would feel. I’d get a rush of endorphins from feeling light headed. I used to eat a Kit Kat Chunky and feel absolutely no guilt but now it feels like the ultimate sin. Trying to restrict food groups – like sugar and fat that are always portrayed as the devils of foods – just leads to bingeing those food groups you were trying to cut out. Restricting is designed to fail; leaving you feeling depressed, anxious and overwhelmed, which then leads to eating to try to pacify those negative emotions, and then you start restricting again, convincing yourself that this time it will work!
In September I was diagnosed with Bulimia, which I struggled to get my head around as I don’t purge (force myself to throw up). Then on further research, I realised that by bingeing, then fasting (restricting) and doing excessive exercise I am in fact purging.
Yet, I still struggled with the diagnoses. Eating disorder victims are still predominantly portrayed as stick thin, white teenage girls, models or ballerina’s who are starving themselves to fit societies warped ideals of the ‘perfect’ body. It is starting to get better – Freddie Flintoff’s BBC documentary about living with Bulimia for the last 20 years highlighted that it’s not just a female illness but increasingly prominent in Men. However, there is still so much stigma around older, marginalised, ethnic and larger bodies having eating disorders.
I still have days where I don’t believe my eating disorder is real, often feeling like I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill. Many of my friends have been battling much worse eating disorders for years. But trying to pretend it’s not there and ignoring it haven’t made it go away. Fantasising about how you are going to restrict or obsessing over how much food you should/shouldn’t eat is dieting – it is disorderly. We should treat every eating disorder, no matter how big or small it appears to be to others with the same urgency and delicacy.
Christmas was a difficult time for me, feeling like I had lost control when I ate past the point of fullness, beating myself up for over indulging. The fridge suddenly becoming full to the brim with leftovers felt overwhelming. So I’ve gone back to Just Eat It by Laura Thomas PhD; just reading a page is a reminder that so many of my internalised thoughts are from years of absorbing the toxic diet culture which surrounds us.
This is not a story of overcoming an eating disorder. Like anxiety, it will always be there. I am at the middle of the story; navigating coping mechanisms and still, months later coming to terms with and accepting the diagnosis. I am proud that I was quick to seek help and am slowing finding the courage to openly talk about it, which shows just how far I have come.
If you are struggling at all with food and eating here are a few resources (UK based) that provide professional help and support: