Struggle with Anorexia
So… recently, I’ve started to share my struggle with anorexia in a very public way – by sharing some pretty alarming before and after pictures. Evidence to myself and to those who have seen me battle for years, the feedback, support and love from my community – mainly on Instagram – has literally blown me away.
It’s not surprising though – my journey hasn’t exactly been private. Unlike other anorexic girls who hide away their body, in my head, super thin was super good and I flaunted it. And, though others could see that I was shockingly thin, I felt I looked good. At least, most of the time. There were a few time where even I shocked myself – my 31st birthday, on my travels in Mexico, and the worst one, which I have not shared yet, in Bali; where I positively look like a bag of bones, ready to collapse at any moment.
So – I fully appreciate, when someone you know is obviously struggling, when you can see they have overcome it, you want to celebrate with them – of course. This has been my experience and I must say, It’s changing the way I look at myself. No longer am I aiming to be thinner, but actually, I am concerned about being too thin – I see myself as a role model for overcoming anorexia, so I definitely do not want to look anorexic. For me, this is very, very powerful; as I am quite public about my shape and figure. In the past, this worked against me, when my goal was to look emaciated, but now, it’s working for me, as I want to be a beacon of hope and inspiration for the girls who were where I was before – extremely, extremely unwell.
I’m not going to lie to you though – I still have a way to go. I feel after years of restricting, denying hunger, avoiding eating until I was about to pass out, I feel my body is almost scared to ask for food. I say this because, I swear to god, do not develop an appetite for eating until 3pm. Which I know is not so ‘normal’. Fortunately though, now, I am choosing denser, heavier options when I do eat – whereas in the past I would 99% of the time choose salad (ugh, so boring).
But… though I know I have a way to go, I know I’ve come a long way.
I remember when I was in my worst phases, I would be running, starving, and literally feel like my heart was struggling to beat – but I did not stop running, and I didn’t eat. Instead, I would just recognise the feeling and simply think – “hmm, interesting” and continue like it was nothing.
Seeing photos of me around this time – especially end of 2019 – I do wonder: how close to death was I? The photos show protruding bones and veins, and my head looked about 10 times too big for my body. My body fat percentage would have been no higher than 5%, which means that my organs were deprived of fat they needed to operate right.
Crazy to think that this, somewhat, was a choice. This was not a concentration camp or a hunger strike. This was my brain, telling me that I needed to do this, and this was my body following directions.
Despite being my bag of bones, I remember being obsessed about getting smaller – even then.
And, the habits that got me to lose so much weight remained – so even times where I did think I was going too far, and that I should really stop, I didn’t know how. In my head, I was indebted to running 10k each morning, training at the gym for 1-1.5 hours, eating primarily vegetables through the day, and having one half decent meal in the evening. I was also committed to not being full, not leaving a meal satisfied, and always leaving ‘space’ for extra food – like one day, suddenly, my mind would change and I would be allowed to have that food.
Thinking back to that time…. It was truly awful. I remember waking up in dread each morning, knowing that I had to follow that schedule above – my anorexia told me this is what kept me safe and happy. It told me if I didn’t follow those rules, I would feel even worse than I already did. It told me the only thing I looked forward to, the thing that gave me peace, was my daily patterns – mornings loaded with movement, restricting all day, then enjoying a meal at the end of the day. Side note – although I did have a principle around not fuelling myself sufficiently, I was fortunate that my anorexia didn’t restrict me from going for dinner or sharing food. Rather, my anorexia saw this as an opportunity to eat less than I would normally, as I would be distracted by socialising soI probably would eat less.
Writing this now… I mean… it’s fucked. Seriously. And to think this was my life, day in, day out, for a good 30 months – no wonder I was about top myself in January 2021. As in, considering suicide. I had been suffering so long. I had tried to meditate my way out, work my way out, socialise my way out. Nothing was working. Every day was hard, every moment was like torture. And I had no solution, no light of when things would get better, no confidence that I could break out of the torture chamber that had become my life.
If it sounds like I’m overdramatising things, I’m sorry – not intended. This is exactly how I felt though. It was so, so, so hard. That said, I did have some respite, occasionally. Alcohol helped me forget how much pain I was in. And, because of this, at one point I was drinking most days – purely because it allowed me to escape the nightmare inside my head. Friends helped too – spending time with my best friends Lara and Vik, I escaped into a world of us and forgot about the misery that was the world of me. Time with my family too – super nourishing for the soul.
So – I should reframe: time on my OWN was torture. I knew I was playing a game I could never win. I had to exercise as much as possible, eat as little as possible, work as much as possible – all at the same time. If I was training at the gym, I was compromising my work. If I was working, I should be training. If I was eating, I should be fasting, and if I was fasting, I should be eating enough so I don’t feast later. It was insane – everything conflicted, and it felt like every choice I made was the wrong one.
So… how did I go from there, to where I am now? How did I overcome it? One word: support.
See, I knew if something didn’t change – my patterns, my thoughts in my head, my self destruction – I was going to end my life. I wasn’t in the planning stage just yet, but I was contemplating – seriously contemplating. This was Jan 2021. Then, around Australia Day, 2021, I recall being so tormented by the voices in my head that for 3 days I was so highly anxious I felt like I was going to have a panic attack at any moment. I couldn’t sit still, I couldn’t breathe properly, I couldn’t hold a conversation. For three days.
After these painful 72 hours, I was thinking more thoroughly about suicide, but then also recognised – I didn’t actually want to die. I just wanted the pain to stop, the voices to stop, the torment to stop.
And, recalling my progression from my darkest dark – which included an actual suicide attempt – at the age of 14, I knew one thing helped: therapy.
Like a beam of light coming down from another universe, I knew the answer: I had to get therapy. I already knew who I would go to as well – Jeff, who previously worked with my best girlfriend Lara, and ‘changed her life’. As Lara has done an absolute tonne of personal development, I knew she knew what she was talking about – and as she mentioned his coaching was, without a doubt, more impactful than any other she’d ever experienced, I knew I had to speak to him.
We had a chat, and he seemed to know what he was talking about – so I scheduled our first session. Three hours later (yes, sessions go for three hours) and I had more clarity and understanding about my trauma than I had in years. I felt empowered, invigorated, enlightened, supported and understood.
It was like a rocket came down and transported me to another realm – I learnt that I was doing this because I felt I needed to punish myself – for my dad leaving when I was 4 years old (he only moved for work, and still came home on the weekends, but as he was my best friend and hero, this tore me to pieces); for my mum being unhappy (lack of social support in a small town), for my brother beating me up at home (nothing serious, just kids being kids), for the bullies at school targeting me and singling me out – because all of this was happening at the same time, I thought – well, there must be something wrong with me. It’s my fault. I’m the problem. I must be a bad person. And, to compensate, I learnt that in order to ‘win back’ my worthiness, I compensated by achieving things – at school, in sport, anything. I was convinced if I did better – pushed harder, achieved more – that I would then eradicate my unworthiness and that all these problems would be solved.
Though it sounds crazy, this is the exact belief system that pushed me to self destruct. This was so deeply ingrained in my psyche that it lead me to push myself in all aspects of my life – to be the thinnest, to be the fittest, to go the longest without food. It sounds insane but these were actually my goals. And, even crazier is that I knew these were my goals, but I didn’t know how to rewire my brain so they were not. I knew I had to change – but I didn’t know how. I knew these beliefs were slowly killing me, but I felt I had no power to disentangle them from my mind so I could live freely again.
But then – Jeff happened. Our first few therapy sessions were similar to the above – exploring the psychology behind my eating disorder. Why did I do what I did? Why was I so obsessed with thinnest, pushing myself to the absolute extreme, achieving? Why didn’t I ask for help? Why did I find it hard to stop? While these seem reasonable questions to ask, I actually was very frustrated throughout the experience – I KNEW these were the problems, and often had an insight into how they became so deeply rooted in me.
So, when Jeff and I were having our 3 hour chats, often throughout the conversation I would try and rush him to find the solution. Come on Jeff… I’m paying you $800 USD an hour, from my own pocket – I do not care to hear about the mechanisms BEHIND the belief. Just tell me how I STOP believing it.
Interestingly though…. This WAS the way to stop believing it. Awareness, awareness, awareness. And, though I believed I had all the awareness I needed, this was far from the truth. Because, over time, it seemed that though we didn’t actually specify the solution, just the awareness of these mental constructs was sufficient to disentangle me – so this actually, very surprisingly, became the solution itself.
While I wouldn’t have believed this was the solution at the time, sitting here, in August 2022, and recognising the pain I was in before, and my mental state now – I realise I have come leaps and bounds. Like, I am in another galaxy.
My days are not a torture chamber anymore. It’s not an endless series of tasks anymore. I am allowed to rest, relax and not run 10+ km every morning. I don’t choose the salad all the time, and I don’t aim to resist eating until I am about to faint. I’m not leaving every meal still hungry, and I’m not held captive by conflicting rules in a no win game.
I’ll admit though – after years of these rules, voices and belief systems running my life, though they don’t dominate anymore, they still echo in the background. I probably still leave it a little longer than I should to eat, and probably am still a little too attached to my fitness. Body wise, I know that I’m accepting – and loving – my body in a fuller figure, but I’m probably not where I need to be weight wise either.
But… I don’t expect this all to change overnight. I know it takes time to heal, process and learn new patterns. I’m ok with that. For me, I have chosen to grow comfortable with the changes as they happen, rather than force changes and then become comfortable later. While the latter is more the typical route for eating disorder recovery, I didn’t – and still wouldn’t – go for this option. Freedom is my number one value, which means having capacity to choose – and if I was forced into a difficult situation, day after day, I would simply abort mission and return to square one.
So – my approach is to move forward gently, with kindness and compassion, leaning into love, support and nourishment – for mind, body and soul. I see my wellness as holistic, and recovery as the optimisation of all my different bodily systems – psychological, physiological and more. I trust the happier I become in my heart, the less I care about my previous rules, and looking a certain way. I know the more connected to my soul, spirit and source I become, the more distant I am from these structures which kept me trapped for over half my life. So – that is the quest, the journey, the destination. Seek greater connection with my true inner self – the love, the light, the natural abundant being inside of me – and this will naturally allow me to disconnect from the other being that, for some time, took over and held the reins.
My approach isn’t for everyone, nor is it right – but that said, the alternate ‘forced’ approach, I wouldn’t say that’s right either. What’s important is that this feels right for me, and I am choosing – for myself – better decisions each day. Ones that allow me to live fully, freely and without fear.
That is my path, and It’s a pleasure to share the journey with you.