A Personal Journey Beyond an Eating Disorder
Our latest 'personal reflection' piece, comes courtesy of Alice*, who is now finally enjoying being a 40-something woman who accepts herself, adores her family, and is embracing the exciting opportunities that are coming her way in 2023.
"It’s hard to say when my disordered eating began. I grew up in the 80s and 90s, in a home steeped in diet culture.
My Dad was a football and cricket player and my mum took a lot of pride in her appearance.
I remember being shamed for my appetite by my Dad, while my brothers were praised for theirs.
Looking back, I can see that my Dad had his own issues with food, whilst being very health conscious and fat phobic, he hoarded food and hid food from the rest of the family.
Things got worse when I left home for university.
I moved country and had to fend for myself for the first time. I had very little money so began to purposely restrict food to save cash.
This restriction seemed to awaken a monster and I began to obsessively diet and over exercise.
Often exercising in my room late at night when my housemates were asleep and surviving on very limited food.
I hid it well at first but my mental and physical health soon suffered, I had no energy and became extremely anxious. I also developed obsessive compulsions and counting rituals.
Eventually I dropped out of university and came home. I didn’t seek help; it was the early 2000s and mental health was much more stigmatised than it is now. Also, I never thought I had an eating disorder.
Fortunately, I moved in with some good friends who knew me when I was well, they rallied round to make sure I was eating and taking care of myself.
I felt nurtured and supported for the first time in years and began to recover. Although I recovered well enough to work and have a social life, I see now that I was stuck in quasi-recovery. I was anxious around food and very body conscious. I carried on like this until my first pregnancy.
This pregnancy was the first time in my life that I ate without restriction, I ate whatever I craved when I felt like it, with no food obsession. It was a revelation.
I don’t know what caused this great leap in recovery but unfortunately it didn’t last.
When my son was born I was dealing with a lot of stress in my extended family. My son also had severe colic and barely slept. Desperate for relief I researched how to help his colic.
As a breastfeeding mother I was advised to try and eliminate dairy and gluten to see if this helped. I didn’t stop there, I carried on restricting until I had very few safe foods.
Three years on and my period hadn’t returned, my anxiety was through the roof and I was diagnosed with osteoporosis, an underactive thyroid and pancreatic insufficiency. All related to being underweight, but I still did not receive help.
My GP did not feel it necessary to refer me to eating disorder services but I did access some CBT for general mental health.
I was lucky to be assigned a very knowledgeable therapist who helped me to take better care of myself. Once again though my recovery was only superficial and I lapsed back into restriction after my second pregnancy.
I was fortunate enough to be able to access some private therapy but then the Covid pandemic struck and my finances took a hit.
I stumbled across Wednesday’s Child on Instagram in December 2020 and was able to participate in their recovery support course in January 2021.
Hearing from Debbie and Sarah and learning from their lived experience was so valuable and it was such a relief to be in a supportive group with other people like me.
I had always felt that I wasn’t sick enough to be worthy of treatment but I learnt that this was not the case.
Through Wednesday’s Child I was also able to access some therapy which helped me to find ways to deal with my anxiety that did not involve restriction.
The hardest part of recovery for me was letting go of my Orthorexia rules but I was able to do this gradually each week. The course also helped me to identify the sneaky ways restriction was affecting my life and monopolising my time.
I am pleased to say that I am now 99% recovered, food no longer rules my life but I still feel that I need to maintain a routine of 3 meals and snacks to maintain my recovery.
At 40 years old I have returned to university to retrain as a counsellor. I am passionate about early intervention for eating disorders and for better maternal mental health awareness.
I feel very grateful that I am able to invest time in my career and relationships that I previously squandered on restriction and food and exercise obsession.
I am hoping to be a befriender for Wednesday’s Child to support others and to give back to the organisation that helped me."
- Jan 2023