Eating Disorder Awareness Week
This week, is 'Eating Disorders Awareness Week'. If you know you are struggling with an eating disorder at the moment, or you think you might be, don't wait to reach out to someone. You are worth so much more than the pain you are putting yourself through, you are so much more beautiful than you think, and you were made in the image of a God who defines perfection.
Don't know who to talk to?
Speak to a close friend, and ask them to help you reach out to someone at your school or in your family. You don't have to do it alone.
Don't know why this is happening?
Sometimes, thoughts in our head can spiral out of control. Sometimes, it is the pressure that is mounted on females in today's society to look 'attractive'. Sometimes, physical illness can stop us from eating which then goes to our head. Lots of things happen to different people.
Don't know how to see God in it?
The only way He is involved, is trying to pull you out of it. Let Him help you, keep praising Him even when it hurts, He longs for you to find restoration.
I wanted to share my story with you, I hope it encourages you and you know that you are not alone in your struggles. (no numbers, weights, calories or behaviours mentioned)
So I have had a pretty great life: a loving family, a solid church, great friends, decent grades and lots of laughter. I don't really know how it happened so fast, or why it happened at all. My mum first noticed the changes I think, I was kind of in my own little bubble for 3 months until she convinced me to go to the doctors for a "Diabetes" test because of the insane amount of water I was drinking per day. We got to see the doctor and was asked what the problem was, and mum said, "She’s got an eating disorder and doesn't realize!". Now, I was pretty shocked, I had been on a diet to lose weight before Christmas, but I had not noticed the extent that it began to rule my life. The first time I really noticed it was at my friends 18th birthday buffet, I had a glass of diet coke. That was it.
The thoughts began to consume me, I was haunted every meal time by the potential guilt I might feel if I ate something and put on weight. Eventually it controlled my whole life, I just couldn't fight the feelings anymore and submitted completely to every Anorexic thought that popped into my head. I spent my life baking but not eating, doing but not thinking and talking but not feeling. I was numb on the inside and out: my body couldn't maintain its temperature at all, I had burns on my legs from the hot water bottles I had to clutch to stay warm. My fingers and toes were always blue from the poor circulation and I wore Ugg boots in summer. I had no feelings. Imagine blurring out everything so you had no use of your senses- I was doing that with my Anorexia. I had blazing arguments with my whole family about food, I promised my mum that I would get better, I even ate half a digestive in tears proving that I would try my very best to get well, but I just couldn't. I would remain forever loyal to Anorexia and she would reward me with the weight dropping off relentlessly and religiously. Once I walked to the GPs for an appointment and it started raining. I didn’t have an umbrella and was completely terrified that the water that landed on my hair would increase my weigh in result. That was how obsessed I was, I was completely depressed, isolated and despondent.
My 18th Birthday party should have been incredible, everyone turned up in Where’s Wally? fancy dress and there was a bouncy castle and an amazing cake! I felt nothing. I knew I should feel things, so I pretended to, but honestly felt dead inside. Those were my most ill nights, I had to sleep in my Mum's bed because she was afraid my heart would fail. She also played Philippa Hanna on repeat for the last 6 months because she was desperate to make me feel worthy. I had boils on my legs from infections I couldn't fight and fine hair all over my body to try and keep me warm. The day after my last A Level exam, I was admitted as an Inpatient at The Retreat in York. My first 10 hours were spent just sobbing. Partly because I had let it get so bad, partly because I had nearly killed myself, and partly because I knew it was now or never, I and I was terrified I might have to let Anorexia go forever.
It was a long, hard journey and honestly, I can’t remember much of the first 3 months. I had lots of physical observations done every 2 hours or so, and I was not really allowed to walk around. One thing clearly in my memory was a Tuesday evening, I had had a weigh in the day before and was finding it very stressful, I was in my room and I felt an incredible presence of peace cover me. It was so soothing and calmed me. At the time I was just pleased my anxiety and worry had subsided, but a couple of years later I was at my granny’s house and found her prayer list organiser – their group meets on Tuesdays. I am not joking, that Tuesday there was a big prayer session to pray for me. I feel like that night God was showing me that he was there, and he would never abandon me.
The treatment programme was based on group therapy, we all went to the dining room together and would help each other through the meal. I had heard horror stories of other inpatient units, but I was so incredibly lucky that my residential was different. That being said, it was almost impossible to stop hating myself for eating so regularly - but my dietitian kept reassuring me. I was on a very small meal plan to begin with, to make sure my weight gain was slow and sustainable. It was manageable now I reflect on it, but to maintain my weight independently was a big, step-let alone gain it! I remember an intense conversation with a Nurse, trying to convince her that 1) I wasn't actually Anorexic and 2) I was probably allergic to macaroni cheese so should skip that meal.
One of the most reassuring things was that it didn't feel like a hospital. I could decorate my room and the lounge had a big TV and amazing squishy sofa; it had a gentle, accepting atmosphere that I know was crucial to my recovery. In my first week we had some pets visit the unit, and eventually we got some guinea pigs as permanent residence in the OT shed (nothing like a bit of pet therapy).
Slowly I became able to recognize myself again. I remember the first time I laughed and didn't feel guilty and I remember the first time someone told me I was funny. I remembered how to be sarcastic and how to have fun. I rediscovered my likes and dislikes and realized that it was okay to treat myself. I learnt that your weight does not define who you are, and it is not important in the grand scheme of things. I still had work to do after leaving the unit, but the friends I made there were recovery focused and we always look out for one another. I found out that it is great to be loved, but it is even better to love yourself. I married the love of my life last September, one of my bridesmaids I met in hospital, and honestly can’t remember the last time I felt guilty about eating. Recovery is possible. Anorexia stole years of my life, and nearly took the whole thing from me, but one things for certain, it’s not taking any more of it.
Seeking treatment is so important but I know it can be so hard to do on your own. It can feel like a huge, impossible step. Please never be afraid to ask for help. Professionals can see through the illness and help the person beneath be rediscovered. I know that eating disorders are not glamorous, not fun, and are never a choice. It can be difficult coping with the ‘Label’ but recovery is so worth it. Sometimes when we hear stories of miraculous healing from EDs through God, and it often comes with so many thoughts (Why haven’t you healed me? Am I not important enough? Have I destroyed your plan? Maybe I’m not healed because I’m not really sick!). I promise you that no matter what stage you are at in your own journey, God will never leave your side. You are his divine creation and he completely adores you, no matter how much you think you have messed up. He loves you and that is that, he is always by your side.