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You Don't Have to Be 'Skinny' to Have an Eating Disorder

Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

I was 17 the first time I made myself sick. It was Christmas time, and I was on a diet. I was planning on going prom dress shopping in the January sales, and the idea filled me with dread. I was convinced the only way to ensure I got a dress to fit would be to starve myself in the few months beforehand. It was going well and I had dropped over a stone through a combination of eating more healthily and exercise.

However, I found the temptation of food at Christmas to be difficult. I ate some candy, even when I knew I “shouldn’t.” I had made a list of foods that were “OK” to eat and stuff that I couldn’t have, and chocolate was definitely on the “don’t eat” list. I felt so guilty. I immediately ran to the bathroom and tried to make myself sick. I had to be rid of the evil calories that were in my body. Very naively, I felt like I had found the secret to lose weight fast. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Little did I know making myself sick was to become a huge part of my life and would become an addiction I would struggle with for seven years — seven years I couldn’t get back, and seven years of absolute torture.

Often when many of us hear or think about eating disorders, we may picture the more extreme cases of anorexia, where people weigh literally three or four stone. But the fact is people all around you may be coping with eating disorders; they can appear to be at a healthy weight, and you might never even know they are struggling.

That was the case for me. I was at a “normal” weight for me, but my behaviors around food became far from normal. I was obsessed with everything I ate. I would be so strict with myself during the day, allowing myself to live on very little. Sometimes, if I was feeling generous I would allow myself an apple, and that would do me for breakfast and lunch until I went home from school. I would be filled with absolute dread at the thought of going home to eat dinner and would start obsessing about it each day the minute I woke up. My parents and siblings seemed to have no idea I was struggling with bulimia; they had noticed I had become very picky about what I was eating, but that was about as much as they knew. I only ate vegetables or small amounts of chicken and avoided carbohydrates if I could. If I did eat carbohydrates, I felt so guilty I would rush to the toilet immediately and make myself sick. It was my secret, and no one else knew. But it began to become a secret I just couldn’t keep to myself.

I began to lose a lot of weight, and people began to comment telling me how well I looked. People at school would make comments, and I would shrug them off saying I was exercising more and the weight was coming off healthily. But before long, my friends started to become suspicious. They knew I wasn’t eating lunch and suspected I wasn’t eating dinner either. They also knew I was tired all the time and was becoming more obsessive about calories and what I ate. Teachers at school also began to notice I wasn’t doing as well as I had been, and I started to not hand in my homework and fall asleep in class.

In reality, I had a full-blown eating disorder, and it was taking over my life. But it wasn’t until one of the teachers at school made an appointment for me to visit my general practitioner that I realized what was going on. My GP asked me lots of questions about what I was eating and asked about my attitude towards food and weight. I told him I had been making myself sick and had started to use laxatives to help me lose weight. He mentioned the word “bulimia,” and I was taken aback. I knew I had become a little obsessed with food and how I felt about my body, but I felt an eating disorder was something “skinny” people got, and I wasn’t “skinny.” However, the doctor explained to me that people of all weights and sizes can develop eating disorders and that he felt my behaviors indicated I had bulimia.

My teacher at the time was concerned about me and invited my parents in for a meeting to discuss what was going on. I was absolutely terrified, because my parents had no idea as to the extent of my dieting behavior. As far as they were concerned, I was on a diet, but what teenager wasn’t? My mom was really upset when she found out what had been going on, and life at home became difficult for me as my family monitored everything I ate and when I used the bathroom. I became more secretive about what I ate and when, and my family became more confused as to how to help me.

Fast-forward a year, and I did well in my exams and got into college. When I went to college, my eating disorder got much worse as I had no one monitoring what I was eating or when I used the bathroom. My weight fluctuated. While I was still at school, I was referred to a psychologist, but it wasn’t until almost two years later that my appointment came up. I often wonder if my life would have been different if I had received the appointment two years earlier when I really needed it. Instead my eating disorder became a huge part of my life and stayed with me all throughout college.

Fast-forward to today and I still struggle with my weight. I wouldn’t say I have an eating disorder anymore, but when I’m stressed, I still revert back to old habits, which can be difficult to deal with. Bulimia was a huge part of my life for seven years.

If I could say one thing to anyone who is going through a similar thing I would say — take a chance and reach out for help. You may not get it straight away, but you deserve to be happy, and I don’t believe you can be truly happy when you struggle with an eating disorder. I would really recommend Bodywhys as a support service; they have email, telephone and online support, which can really help when you are struggling.

If I could say one thing to my 17-year-old self who first made herself sick, I would say — you are more than your weight and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Also, I would remind myself, you don’t have to be “skinny” to have an eating disorder, as it can affect anyone.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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