There are none.
Well, unless you count hair loss, fatigue, irregular heartbeat, fainting, tooth issues, the list goes on. But in a warped way it built me up to be the woman I am today. I am in no way glorifying eating disorders by saying that. I do, however, want to explain my experience in a bit more detail, partly to help my recovery and partly to enlighten some people.
It’s only been during the last couple of years that I realised I’ve had problems with food for a lot longer than the few years I battled with bulimia. In my early teens I would venture to the shops in search of biscuits, bread, crisps, pizzas, pretty much anything that I could, all with the intention of scoffing them down as soon as I got home. Rushing past my parents in hope of them not seeing my bag of treats, I’d get to my room, shut the door and gorge on all the goodies, not thinking that there was anything wrong with what I was doing.
On occasion my mum would come into my bedroom during a binge, I wouldn’t be able to hide the food quickly enough, a mix of fear and shame would wash over me and I’d dread to hear the words ‘can I have some.’ Sharing was a big no no for me, it saddens me to think back to how angry I became when my mum or dad suggested I should share with them. It probably sounds ridiculous to most of you, but that’s just what eating disorders do, you get so wrapped up in it all, that thinking clearly is just not on your agenda. During a binge my mind would be a haze, I could concentrate on nothing other than the action of putting food in my mouth. Even now at 23 years old I panic when my fiance asks for some of my food, it takes a bit of time for me to process the fact that the food isn’t going to completely run out because I share and that it hasn’t got some magic hold over me and I still get nervous when I’m eating something that’s deemed as ‘bad food’ by the rest of the world and someone walks in and sees, I still feel guilt and shame.
It’s funny thinking back to my years in secondary school, I remember sitting in a PSHE class, listening to the mundane and generic lecture about eating disorders and thinking; that will never be me, I love food way too much. Of course the class wasn’t very educational, barely scraping the surface of eating problems, not even touching on binge eating, maybe if they did, I’d realise that I had a problem.
My weight was never a concern, I was never over weight nor underweight and the thought of dieting or loosing weight never crossed my mind. In fact I loved the fact I could eat so much and not put on as much as a pound (thank goodness for fast metabolism). But all that changed once I reached the age of 17/18, I wasn’t that much heavier than I had been at school, I went to collage and dance was my subject of choice. As you can imagine at that age, image was a big deal and being in front of a mirror all day, every day in revealing clothing could have a detrimental impact on a young woman’s mental health if they were particularly vulnerable. I found myself constantly comparing myself to my peers, inspecting myself at every opportunity and eventually coming to the conclusion that I was ‘fat’, larger than all the others and therefore not a good dancer or good at anything in fact.
Eating was my comfort, it helped ease the worry and self hate that had rooted itself deep inside me, it was something I could control when actual control wasn’t an option. I began to panic, knowing how much I ate but not wanting to compromise the comfort that food gave me. So purging began, as did exercising in secret, sit ups and star jumps every night, anything to get rid of those unwanted calories. So I was fully consumed, I became more and more withdrawn, self hate became overpowering and I was just at a loss as what to do.
Of course I knew there was a problem at this point. You don’t go to the cinema with friends and rush out half way through to get rid of the large popcorn you just scoffed down in 10 minuets flat and you don’t hide horrible things in your wardrobe because someone was using the bathroom and you freaked out because you ate a cheese toastie. You just don’t do all those things and think to yourself ‘hey this is healthy behaviour.’ I knew I was in a bad place, I just didn’t know how to stop, because the thing is you can’t ‘just stop’, you can’t just eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re not. An eating disorder is so much more than food or vanity and if you think otherwise then you’re just naive and part of the problem.
I fought for months, alone with my thoughts, guilt, self loathing, disgust, I mean the list could go on forever. Then one evening I went to my mum (she could probably tell you the exact date and time if you asked). She was pleading with me to tell her what was wrong and I think at that point it was my intention anyway. So I told her, then my dad and just like that, my eating disorder was out there for the world to know about and judge. From that moment my recovery began; doctors, hospital visits, counselling sessions.
It wasn’t easy at the beginning, I fell between the gaps in the system, not quite young enough to be ‘a child’ and not quite old enough to be classed as an adult. There I was in no mans land, being a normal weight and the wrong age I was pretty much left to my own devices. I had a few appointments spread across a number of months and every appointment was a disappointment. My heart sank when the woman was constantly late, continuing without an apology then yawning and sighing throughout, leaving me feeling unwanted and burdensome. For someone who’s willing to recover this was hard to overcome but somehow I managed, now imagine someone who may not be in that mindset just yet, imagine how hard it would be for someone more vulnerable or someone who has less support at home to push past the incompetency of these ‘professionals’. You can see why so many people would give up and succumb to the habits they were trying to recover from.
Luckily I opened up to my parents about all these problems and they found me a private counsellor who worked with me and after a while, made me realise I was capable of recovering.
So here I am, as recovered as I could hope to be, a million times stronger and more aware of mental health and for that I must thank my eating disorder, for without it I wouldn’t have realised how much I could love myself or how much I can cope with. In retrospect; you don’t need to be extremely underweight to suffer with an eating disorder, you don’t need to have experienced a massive trauma or gone through a horrendous encounter. sometimes it’s just the hand we are dealt and I think that’s the hardest part; not knowing why, not being able to pinpoint exactly where the hurt is coming from. But maybe that’s better than having a straightforward answer, maybe it just means we get more time to poke around in the darker corners of our minds to find our full potential.