Recovery is never a linear journey but, as Laura shares with her experience of anorexia, you can break free from destructive cycles, and find the courage and strength you never knew you had
There’s a huge difference between loss of appetite and control of appetite. Anorexia, for me, was an inability to cope with emotions and the unpredictability of life. It’s a disease that targets high achievers and perfectionists.
When I initially went for help, I was told I wasn’t thin enough. Doctors wouldn’t tell an alcoholic to only seek help when their liver is destroyed, so why tell someone who doesn’t eat enough to only seek help when their BMI is too low and causing damage? Anorexia isn’t a lifestyle choice, it isn’t about vanity, or seeking attention. It is the complete opposite.
Externally, it probably seemed as if I always had high self-esteem, but internally I scrutinised my faults. I would focus on what I didn’t finish or what I didn’t achieve, rather than what I had done. This is where my need for control began.
I grew up with a healthy love and appreciation of food. I was always tall, broad, vibrant, energetic, and was never a fussy child. I always went to bed late, got up early, and had boundless energy and motivation to achieve new things on a daily basis. As sickening as it sounds, I have always had a hunger for food, and a hunger for life.
Like so many people, some of my greatest memories are associated with my love of food. Holidays to Florida filled with every flavour of sweets, buffets, and pancakes. Late-night snacks and ice creams as big as my head when I’d go out for birthday parties with my friends.
Food became my friend, and that friendship only became toxic when it became my only friend. But following a big change in my family dynamic, paired with the changing cyber culture, I began using food as a crutch. When I was 11, my parents split up. My mum found a new female partner, and my dad began working abroad.
I was bullied extensively in school, and then my mum and her new partner moved abroad, where I didn’t know a soul, and everything felt unpredictable. I had some strange circumstances in my life that anyone would struggle to deal with, and paired with being lonely and an only child meant I hid within the fantasy realms of my own mind.
When I left school, I went straight into running a successful business. The pressure of this coupled with my fear of failure, and a need to please my mum, who was obsessed with weight loss, and dad, who was obsessed with exercise, led to me believe that I wouldn’t be good enough until I was thin and fit enough.
I spiralled into a new world, a new false reality that anorexia paved for me. I created toxic situations, and believed starvation made me a better person. I was possessed by a demon, and tried to reach the unattainable goal of perfection to the exclusion of health, happiness, and light.
The sheer amount of time and energy spent thinking about foods, calories, weight, and exercise would exhaust anyone. So, what happens when your exhausted and worn-down brain gets an influx of free time? Well, it can’t fight off the temptations of the disease. More and more brain space gets taken by disordered thoughts. Only when it can no longer cope or function does it say: enough.
I was constantly preoccupied with food. Nothing meant more to me than my next bite, and nothing gave me more shame than my last one. I was in a toxic, self-loathing cycle. When I think of all the things I lost during my eating disorder, weight seems vastly insignificant. I questioned whether I’d ever trust myself again. Would others ever trust me?
Identifying my eating disorder voice was the most pivotal aspect of my recovery. I had to recognise that this part of my mind was not healthy, and was not going away. So if I wanted to get better, I’d have to call out my eating disorder voice every single time it popped up. I’d have to confront my urges to obsess or indulge in disordered eating behaviours, work to avoid or correct them, and act based on my recently adopted healthy mindset instead.
Recovery was brutal. It felt like breaking up with a bad boyfriend who I loved even though I knew I shouldn’t. He treated me poorly, he ruined my life, he consistently devastated me, and yet, without him, who was I? I had to break down thousands of rules, habits, and rituals I had created for myself.
Since so much of my identity had been built around the framework of disordered eating, I had to relearn how to think in order to rebuild my identity, which was as painstaking and uncomfortable as it sounds. I thought recovery was about walking along white sandy beaches with a soft smile, not sobbing for half-days at a time or falling into a dark hole of depression because suddenly the thing that was my best friend, and that had determined the largest part of who I was for years was gone.
I had several relapses, but the important thing was getting back on track so that, as they say in recovery, “the slip doesn’t become a slide”. What I learned was that motivation is what gets you started, but habit keeps you going.
I once heard someone say that ageing is an extraordinary process where we become the person we always should have been. I can relate to that in so many ways. As I have developed, every stage of my life has required a different version of me, and now I’m finally comfortable in my own skin, becoming more confident and realising nobody’s judgments matter but my own. I’m not the finished article, no one ever is, and every day we learn new ways to cope.
I’ve spoken to a lot of people who identify as recovered, and they all say the same thing. You choose to find the strength. You might not know why, but you do. You commit, then you do the hard work. Yes, you falter, and mess up, and go back to the beginning again, but this journey is what I do now. I bump along on a perpetual path of self-realisation, and I learn every day along the way.
Some days I don’t think about eating, and other days food, calories, and weight are all I can think of. I have days where I lovingly embrace my recovery body, and sometimes I want to hide and cry because I feel so confused about what a healthy recovery body should look and feel like. What keeps me going is thinking of how cold, miserable, and alone I felt when my whole life revolved around food and scales. I think of the long-term future I want to have with the people I love, and I want that to be guilt-free and without having to control everything.
When you go to bed tonight, remind yourself you have done amazingly, be patient, and remember that big things have to be taken one step at a time, but soon enough you will go to sleep not filled with guilt and shame, but brimming with pride for the strength you have to overcome these struggles.
Rav Sekhon | BA MA MBACP (Accred) says:
Laura’s inspirational story shines a light on how challenging it can be to live with an eating disorder, and the severe impact it can have on our physical and mental health. Laura’s relationship with food was clearly complex, likely triggered by the difficult life experiences she was exposed to, but by building courage and inner strength she was able to break the cycle.
She has positively grown from her experience, and is now able to flourish.
To speak with a counsellor about an eating disorder, visit www.counselling-directory.org.uk/