Societal expectations and pressures to be ‘perfect’ sent Helena Grace Donald on a destructive cycle of dieting and bingeing. But with the support of her mum, who taught her tapping, she overcame her bulimia and negative thinking by properly processing her emotions, and now wants to empower others to do the same
Every morning when I look in the mirror, I greet myself with a smile and give thanks for my wonderful life. I feel so blessed to be able to do that now because, just a few years ago, my morning ritual could not have been more different.
Like most teenagers, I wanted to look good and be cool, popular and successful. I thought that, to be acceptable, I had to have a “perfect” body. In fact, I thought I had to be perfect at everything and look like I was excelling in all areas of my life. I was pretty slim up until I was 16 – I even did some modelling. Then, over a short period of time, my hips and thighs got bigger and I panicked. I couldn’t accept that my natural body shape was not going to be what I was programmed to believe was the “perfect” female shape at that time. Determined to pursue “perfection”, I started dieting.
I could cope with the dieting for the first few days, but then I would feel so hungry that my mind would be consumed with thoughts of food, so I would eventually try to numb the whirlwind of emotions inside me by bingeing. This resulted in weight gain that would cause me to panic again and go on another diet. Before long, I was in a vicious cycle of dieting and bingeing, which eventually became more and more extreme.
By the time I was 17, I was starving myself at school during the day, having a small meal with my family in the evening and then, because hunger would keep me awake, I would sneak downstairs after everyone had gone to bed and binge on ice cream, leftovers and anything else I could find. This abuse of my body played havoc with my metabolism and left me a miserable wreck on the bathroom floor every morning when I stepped on the scales.
Tapping became a life-saver for me. It gave me the power to gain some control over my emotions and make healthier choices about my body and my life
I was putting on weight more than I was losing it and I didn’t know what to do. The voice in my head – Little Miss Critical – berated me every day for not being good enough, pretty enough, or slim enough, and I felt hopeless, out of control and worthless. This was my final year of A-levels and, as well as the stress of study, I had a position of responsibility at school, and the pressure to excel was huge. I felt I had to keep it together, somehow, so I started using bulimia as a coping mechanism.
There had been such a build-up of negative thinking, insecurity and despair, that by the time I began throwing up my meals, my thinking had become so distorted that it didn’t even feel wrong – it felt necessary. I would politely excuse myself from the family dinner table, go to the bathroom, turn on the tap so that nobody could hear me, throw up multiple times until I felt that everything was out of my system, and then go back downstairs and act as if nothing had happened. Some mornings I could barely speak because the back of my throat was so swollen from forcing myself to throw up. And, on top of all that, my hair began to thin and fall out so that it looked wispy at the front, which did nothing to help my self-esteem.
At 19, I hit rock bottom and knew I couldn’t go on living that way. I will never forget the night I went to my mother in tears, feeling like my skin was crawling because my urge to throw up was so strong. At that point I understood that what I was doing was wrong, and I begged her not to leave my side because I knew if she did, I’d head straight to the bathroom.
That night, my mum, who is a psychologist, used an incredible technique called “tapping” with me, and it very quickly calmed me down and took away my need and urge to throw up. Tapping became a life-saver for me. It gave me the power to gain some control over my emotions and make healthier choices about my body and my life.
From then on, I embarked on a life-saving journey of learning to love the girl in the mirror. Over time, I learnt how to disarm my inner Little Miss Critical and take back the power I had allowed her to have in my life. I realised that I had to change the way I spoke about myself and put a stop to the negative habit of always criticising myself and focusing on my “imperfections”. My motto became: If you wouldn’t say it to your best friend, then don’t say it to yourself. I stopped dieting, got rid of the scales that used to be how I measured my self-worth, and learned how to nourish my body with healthy food.
I still use the tapping technique regularly to process my emotions, so that I no longer feel the need to use bulimia or any other harmful activity to numb my feelings, or as a form of control. I have learnt to love and accept myself exactly as I am, and that has proved to be incredibly empowering in all areas of my life.
I am grateful for everything that has happened in my life so far, including the dark times, because, without them, I would not be the person I am today. They have given me the opportunity to find my inner strength and my passion for empowering others.
I wish I could go back as the woman I am today and tell my struggling, 17-year-old self that she is perfect in her imperfection. I wish I could tell her that the way to get the body she wants is to start loving and accepting the body she has. I wish I could tell her that her strength and talents are far more than skin deep. And I wish I could tell her that when she learns to love herself, everything will work out better than she could ever imagine.
I am now on a mission to inspire other girls and women to step out of the shackles of society’s expectations on body image and to learn to treat themselves with the same love and respect they would give to their best friend. When we do this, everything in our life changes for the better. It’s time for us to stand up and step into our inner feminine power, and that begins by first accepting and loving ourselves, exactly the way we are.
Helena Grace Donald is an empowerment coach, teen mentor, and author of ‘Learning to Love the Girl in the Mirror: A Teenage Girl’s Guide to Living a Happy and Healthy Life’ available on Amazon (£11.85). Visit girlunfiltered.com for more.
Helena’s story is a potent reminder of the importance of self-love and self-care. Once Helena realised she was using bulimia as a coping strategy, she was able, with support, to find a more healthy way of managing her emotional health. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT or tapping) can be useful, like any technique that integrates the mind and body, to create healing. We each need to find the specific tools that help us, because we’re all different. I’m moved by Helena’s habit of treating herself the way she would treat a best friend – what a helpful way of making sure you respect yourself.