Sarah’s world was consumed by her eating disorder for more than a decade. It’s wasn’t an overnight transformation, but with time, patience, and understanding, she learned to embrace her natural body as it is
I was terrified, standing on the scales, praying that the number would show a drop in weight. I’d just woken from a nightmare where I’d gained two stone overnight. When I opened my eyes, my hands had been running over my protruding hip bones, even in sleep, just to check that they were still prominent. I kept feeling like there was a shadowy presence, just out of the corner of my eye, watching me. It felt like death. I felt like maybe I was ready for him.
It was early 2012 and I was nearly 21. I’d been living with an eating disorder for almost a decade. The reason for its development can’t be pinpointed to one single event, but rather a combination of many factors coming together to make the perfect storm.
This period was the worst I’d ever been. My brittle, dry hair fell out in clumps in the shower. I was experiencing memory loss. I was dizzy a lot, the world seemed grey, and my senses were dulled as if my brain was smothered in cotton wool. I had insomnia, and when I slept I had nightmares. I was entirely, unequivocally, weary of being sick and miserable.
I was weary of being in a living hell. I was weary with the despair, the darkness, the anger, and the devastation. I was weary of the calories circling around my head all day and night. I was tired of counting down the minutes until I was ‘allowed’ to eat, of the starving and compulsive exercising, and eventually, the purging. I was exhausted by the intense fear I felt at going anywhere near food, and the utter desolation of my mind and body that meant I lived in a starving shell that couldn’t function, and a mind controlled by a single focus: to lose weight. A severe mental illness caused by a combination of genetics and my environment was my way of handling the world and myself, but finally, after eight years, I decided that this could not go on.
At first, I viewed death as the only escape from the torment, but as moments of clarity started to push their way to the forefront of my mind, the possibility of recovery developed from rejected thoughts to cautious actions.
However, I was faced with a world that seemed to not want me to recover. Not fully, anyway. It was as if everything in the world was screaming: “Recover, but not too much. Gain weight, but not too much. Eat more, but not too much.” I felt like the world was asking me to tone down my disordered thoughts and behaviours… but not too much.
I watched others call themselves “recovered” from eating disorders, while closely restricting their intake, and controlling their exercise. For me, that felt like still being sick. It felt like being better, but not well. It felt like still being inside a cage, and not able to live life freely.
I chose my actual health over the idea that you have to be a certain weight, shape, or size to be healthy
But I found out, you can push further.
I came across a blog that suggested another way. It suggested that we all have our own individual natural, healthy weights, that our bodies need to be at their healthiest. It talked about eating freely in order to recover from eating disorders. It talked about listening to your body fully, and responding to all the hunger that recovery brings. It talked about becoming friends with your body rather than treating it as the enemy. It also led me to a website that changed my life, and made me realise that I don’t have to engage with diet culture, or live my life trying to please society by having the ‘perfect’ body. Formerly known as Your Eatopia, now The Eating Disorder Institute, the site taught me about health at every size, weight set point theory, and fat acceptance.
I decided to reject the idea of an ‘ideal’ body. But this wasn’t a decision I made in an instant – it took years of research, getting involved with feminism and the body positivity movement, and learning about the impact of diet culture, and how the diet and weight loss industry intentionally make us hate ourselves for profit. It took deciding to be as healthy and happy as I could possibly be in both body and mind. It took deciding to let go of the importance that I had placed on being a certain weight.
I turned out to be one of those people who naturally have a higher body weight than some. This can mean dealing with increased stigma around weight and size, and knowing that some people will look at me and decide that I am unhealthy/lazy/greedy, while knowing nothing about my lifestyle, or who I am as a person. I am also aware of my own weight privileges, in that there are people at higher weights who suffer a lot more stigma and discrimination.
My body is the size that I can live my life as a healthy and happy person. If I wanted to be smaller, I’d have to focus on calorie restriction, and possibly an excessive amount of exercise, and we all know where that would lead. I accept my body. I know I am doing what is right for me. I choose my health and happiness over the approval of others. I choose me.
I have been ‘in remission’ as I like to call it (as I don’t believe eating disorders can ever be fully cured) for five years now. It was a long, hellish journey to end up here, but it was the most important thing that I have ever done for myself. If I could say one thing to those thinking about fighting that war, I would say that however indescribably hard the battle is, it is all worth it – a billion times over.
To get to where I am now, I chose to reject the ideas and ideals that are so entrenched in our culture and our society. I chose my actual health over the idea that you have to be a certain weight, shape, or size to be healthy. I chose my actual happiness over the absolute lie that you have to be a certain number on the scales to be happy. Those lies are fed to us all day, every day, everywhere we look, but I don’t buy it any more. I have decided to live my life in a way that means working with my body and letting it be whatever weight, shape, or size it needs to be to enable me to be healthy and happy. I will not change that for anyone. I choose me.
To hear more from Sarah, follow her journey on Instagram @bodypositivepear
Graeme Orr | MBACP (Accred) UKRCP
Over the years, suffering from her eating disorder caused Sarah severe symptoms that brought her to a crisis point in her life. She found online resources that helped her to change how she identified with her body. They inspired her and helped her to stay in a healthy relationship with herself and food. It helped her to value her own opinions of her body over that of others. Often this is first step in changing – knowing and finding who you are, not what others say you should be. Now Sarah is much more confident and comfortable with life.