TRIGGER WARNING: Eating Disorder discussion, thought process and feelings.
Last week it was Eating Disorder Awareness Week and despite me suffering from an eating disorder for almost all my adult life, I wrote this blog, but I didn’t post it, I just stayed slient.
I stayed slient for many reasons, it’s embarassing, I am ashamed of my illness – that is mostly linked to the fact it’s made me significantly overweight as I have got older. However, I felt a bit like a fraud for staying slient, when I always try to champion open and frank discussions about mental health and the stigmas attached to it.
Today is International Women’s Day and as Eating Disorders disproportionally affect women (89% of suffers are female, only 11% are male), I decided I would be brave and talk about it.
Ever since I was around 17, I have had Binge-Eating disorder, although I never knew for many years that’s what it was. When you’re fat, the world doesn’t think it’s a mental health issue, it’s you being lazy, or greedy or a gazillion other things. For those who aren’t in the know, Binge-eating disorder (B.E.D) is very similar to Bulmia, except you don’t purge, so effectively if you are binging on a regular basis, a side effect of that binging is weight gain and it’s only fairly recently that B.E.D has stopped being lumped in the EDNOS catergory.
From when I was around 18 – 24, I spent my summers working in Ibiza and my winters working so I could go out clubbing at the weekends, so my weight – although clearly I was heavier than most my friends – wasn’t too out of control from the constant dancing all that came with it. *Ahem*
However, once that stopped, my weight began to increase rapidly. Unless you have suffered with an eating disorder, its difficult to understand, but I would binge, feel terrible for binging, berate myself for being a terrible person, hate what I saw in the mirror and to either punish myself, or to seek comfort, I would binge again. It’s a vicious circle and one that is incredibly hard to break. However at this stage, although I knew I was overweight, I didn’t believe I had an eating disorder. Fat people didn’t have eating disorder, remember? They were just lazy and greedy. Its hard. Social situations were eating was involved were horrid, because I would worry people would judge me for eating, but then I was be so anxiety-ridden, the food is the only thing I could use to placate those emotions, so it was probably a self-fufilling prophecy.
I have several friends that for years I haven’t seen, even though we speak regularly on social media etc. And it’s 100% down to the fact I am embarassed about my weight gain, I know lots of them might feel like I don’t care, or left them behind and that’s extremely hard to level with as I feel like it’s all of my own making. I would always make excuses for why I couldn’t go somewhere and eventually, they just stopped asking. That is one of my biggest regrets, that I let it get to me that much, that I let it stop me living my life.
Anyway, after trying every single diet going, taking various medications to help (including ones that have since been banned due to the side effects and risks) and being truly miserable and depressed about my weight to the point I felt suicidal, I went to see if I could be referred to get a gastric by-pass. The doctor agreed I fit the criteria and I was put into the system and started what would be a year long process. Part of that process, was going for a psychological assesment. It was at that point, they decided I wasn’t a candidate for the operation at that moment in time, because from the assessment it was clear I had emotional eating problems, specifically B.E.D and if they gave me the operation and I continued to binge or eat in the way I was, I could at best, stretch my stomach again or at worst, kill myself by making my stomach burst. They did however, offer me some CBT sessions.
I am basically useless at CBT, but the sessions were good for helping me understand what issues in my teens caused my disorder to develop. At the end of my sessions, the therapist informed me they were trialling some group therapy sessions – the other participants were other women who, like me, were on the pathway to getting a gastic bypass but had been flagged as having emotional eating issues. It was 10 sessions and at the end of the 10 sessions we could decide if we wanted to continue with the process and be re-assessed, or be discharged.
At this point (I can’t remember if it was 2009 or 2010) body-positivity and body confidence began to become a thing on social media – especially on Tumblr, where I used to blog about my journey. I began to re-think about how I thought about my body and treated it, basically I began to be kind to myself. I started wearing skirts and dresses with leggings or tights – something I would never have dreamt off before, because fat chicks can’t do that, can they? It was a really liberating time, coupled with the group therapy, which hands down was the best type of therapy for me. Being able to share things with your peers who really underatand where you’re coming from is huge (which is why I love Instagram so much!) and it really helped. I shared, I laughed, I cried, I made new friends and I generally came away feeling 100% better about my situation. Obviously the by-product of me feeling so good meant the binges lessened, which meant my weight reduced without really having to try too hard, which then improved my mental health so I continued to keep the binges at bay.
After years of being single, internally beating myself up and blaming my weight and appearance for the breakdown of previous relationships, I put myself out there with internet dating and met my soul mate, who absolutely 100% loves me for me. My binging and weight was still pretty stable at this stage, a few pounds of new relationship bliss may have been gained, but I was in a pretty good place about myself. That was all set to change when I got engaged.
I have talked about this on instagram briefly, but the minute my status changed to ‘engaged’ on Facebook, the minute my targetted ads in my side bar changed too. It was a constant trigger. “How to shed the pounds before your big day” “10 Best Diets to Shift Your Pre-Wedding Bulge” etc etc. It’s inescapable, this was in 2012 and I can only imagine how much worse it is now. If I went on YouTube to look at any type of wedding craft project, my targetted videos would be the same. It was easily my worse time with the illness. My binges got worse, sometimes several times a day, I was spending an obscene amount of money on binge food and my weight went up and up and up. What should have been a happy time, was peppered with anxiety, shame and disgust. We were due to get married in May and in the January I decided enough was enough, I went to my doctors who reffered me to the actual eating disorders service (my treatment before was linked to gastric bypass team). There was a waiting list of about 8 weeks, during that time waiting for my referral, I had my first wedding dress fitting as it had been made for me. You watch wedding dress fittings on TV and there are tears of joy. Mine weren’t. I sobbed and sobbed that I hated my dress, I looked terrible, I was ashamed and embarassed, I was going to have to stand in front of everyone I loved and they would see me as I saw myself. Even thinking about it now makes me tear up. It’s a terrible feeling to be convinced the world sees you a certain way – because despite recent efforts towards fat acceptance, we aren’t there and the way these ads are targetted at people really need to be addressed far better than they currently are.
But anyway, I had my first session about 7 weeks before the wedding and it was a complete eye opener. Even though I had been told I had been told I have binge-eating disorder, I still didn’t truly understand the illness until those sessions. (The whole fat-people don’t have eating disorders thing!) It’s only when it’s spelt out to you you realise. That actually, I was trapped in classic cycle of restrict and binge, the restricting was actually making the binging worse. I thought I was doing myself a favour by trying to live off 500 calories for a few days to counter act the binging, turns out I wasn’t. When you have been on a constant diet for over 15 years, it felt so alien to be told not to diet. Not watch what I ate. I was warned my weight my tempoarily increase and not let it derail me. I had 15 years of habits to unpick.
The therapy was useful, but after the wedding I fell pregnant quite quickly (this was also something I didn’t think would happen, as I thought my weight would make it difficult and I had my coil removed early to give us a good year, turns out I was wrong and was pregnant within two cycles! Mythbusting all over the shop!) As the therapy was quite intense and dealing with the pregnancy and all that entailed was also challenging me mentally, we decided to put the therapy on hold but with an open referral back at any stage should I need it. I was ok again for while, but I had a lot of issues with my birth with The Biggest, relating to measures they put in place around my BMI (I am definitely going to do another blog about how to advocate for yourself and your birth choices soon!) so when it came to trying for another, I struggled with the binging again due to the pressure of feeling like I needed to lose weight to not be so restricted when it came to giving birth, but I managed to fight my corner in the end anyway, BMI or not.
At now? If I am honest, I am not in a great head space and trying to decide if that’s just the tail end of my seasonal affective disorder, or actually, if it’s maybe PND I have been passing off as S.A.D (so many illnesses accronyms!). I definitely have started to take steps towards getting back on track with my body image and binge-eating support methods, I am going to ultilise the fantastic online service BEAT offer in terms of group chats. I don’t want to be thin, I am never going to be thin and I am 100% ok with that, but I want to be fitter, because I want to be around for my boys for as long as possible and while health wise I don’t have any significant issues (mostly in part due to the fact I walk everywhere as I don’t drive!) at the moment, I want to keep it that way.
Who knows, maybe 2018 is finally the year I can kick this in to touch.