At fourteen-years-old, I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa and Body Dysmorphic Disorder. The former, I’m sure you’re all too familiar with – navigating the aesthetically-minded cultural climate in which we currently reside – and the latter is a disorder that essentially means that you don’t physically see yourself the same way that others do , which becomes evermore scary a concept the more you consider it.
My eating disorder developed for a number of reasons. Primarily, I would vouch for a need for control as the most poignant factor, coupled against a bizarre obsession with my face shape (hello BDD) that had and, to this day has, me convinced that my face is nothing short of a huge, fat sun worthy of its own solar system.
This eating disorder engulfed my life for around four draining years, which saw me destroying myself with a stubborn fervour, whilst my parents and loved ones looked on in powerless trepidation. At the age of seventeen, I decided to self-discharge from the care of the NHS mental health system ; a decision that I would live to regret on a nigh weekly basis, to the present day.
Fast-forward to said present day. I’m twenty-two years old and have since been diagnosed with moderate Depression and Generalised Anxiety. My eating habits have remained questionable, even as some one who is technically ‘recovered’ and I have fluctuated between 7st 7lbs and 9st 3lbs in the past half decade that I’ve been unmonitored.
At the end of 2013 I went through a bad breakup and the pain of which manifested itself into a relapse, with me losing around a stone to hit the aforementioned 7st 7lbs point. Over time, I gained it back, but consistently found myself torn between restricting and binging on a day-to-day basis.
In the summer of 2014, I graduated from university and found myself working as a fashion writer almost immediately — my dream job. However, having grown accustomed to waking up at noon and managing to survive on energy drinks and soup in university, I was now having to sustain myself for an eight hour working day and started upping my food intake to accommodate this.
For the majority, this was done in a healthy manner and I probably gained around half a stone or so within just under a year. Acclimatising to my new weight was difficult but something I was able to manage, until a pivotal point in the summer of 2015 where I anticipated seeing an ex who I hadn’t seen since I was considerably thinner. This led me to embark on a 21-day liquid diet which consisted solely of a watery-thin soup that I made in batches, and homemade smoothies.
It was a nightmare. Constantly agitated and spaced out, the effort to maintain my perfectionist streak in the workplace left me exhausted and incredibly emotionally fragile. If I got even the tiniest thing wrong with an article, I would mentally damn myself as the world’s worst writer; an imposter.
The end of the three weeks came and, in a gutting blow of disappointment, I discovered I wasn’t going to be seeing aforementioned person and something snapped. For the first time in my eight years of having food issues, I developed a huge binging habit. The day after the liquid diet ceased, after lamenting in bed all day, I ventured out of the house to consume a large McChicken Sandwich meal with cheese bites, then went to Krispy Kreme and Tesco, returning home with three doughnuts and a tub of Ben & Jerry’s. I finished the lot.
In just over six months, I’ve gained just under a stone and a half, finding myself at least a stone larger than I’d ever been. Every single day, I would wake up and look to food to cheer me up throughout the day, until clothes stopped fitting and I realised what I was doing to myself. Naturally, the little voice of my past eating disorder that I’d tried so hard to quash wasn’t having any of this.
From thereon in, the self-loathing came in droves. Getting dressed became a lengthy chore and it would take me an entire hour to fight with myself to apply my makeup, as I’d be crying it off quicker than I could put it on. The sight of myself in a mirror would elicit absolute disgust to the extent that I found myself on numerous occasions in tremors, fighting off panic attacks, as I convinced myself I’d ruined my body and was completely out of control. So uncomfortable in my own skin, I developed a full-body itch whenever I ate ‘too much’ that would leave me scratching my skin raw at times.
Something had to give. I tried liquid dieting again — it worked temporarily, but then I would just binge again and be thrown back into that self-deprecating pit. I tried eating a balanced diet and exercising more — but the disordered mindset would creep back in, telling me I wasn’t restricting enough — until I cut back so much that I just binged once more. Then, I tried reverting back to the vegan diet that I’d adopted in the past.
For the past two years, each January and June I’ve eaten a vegan diet, primarily inspired by the Veganuary movement, wherein you sample a vegan lifestyle for the month of January. Now, when most people consider a former Anorexic AND a vegan lifestyle, a wave of cynicism follows suit. How can a diet that is so controlled and cuts out so many food groups be beneficial to someone all too easily seduced by the lure of restriction?
It can be. Granted, you find some hardcore vegans who live a raw, high-carb-low-fat lifestyle who often masquerade their issues with the label. The disorder Orthorexia came about in recent years to describe just that — a person who fixates on healthy food to an extent that it becomes detrimental. However, recalling those past months of 2014/15 when I’d cut out dairy and meat, it seemed to work for me.
So this year, I embarked upon Veganuary once more. Not solely for the ethical reasons, but for health reasons that encompassed the added benefit of saving animals and the environment at the same time. Within less than a week, I’d already noticed the ‘quiet’ in my head: the constant plotting and planning of how I could shave off calories here and there, and how quickly I could reach my goal weight — hushed.
Eating a diet that I know to be completely healthy and ensures that I genuinely think about what I’m consuming, instead of the guilt of falling into a takeaway at 4am and devouring anything grease-laden in my path, really does help. Whilst I may be consuming a relatively normal amount of calories, said guilt is gone — and the distended stomach of my binge-abuse already seems to be subsiding.
This year — and, those who are reading this and know me in reality may think ‘here we go again’ — I plan to stick with it for as long as I can. To put the time-consuming obsessive thoughts on a back-burner and concentrate on my passions and my work is of paramount importance to me.
So yeah — I might not necessarily be the world’s greatest animal rights advocate right now, but I’m trying to recover — and if that helps out our furry, feathered and woolly friends, even bloody better…