This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week. My yoga teacher kindly agreed to helping me raise money for Beat – the UK’s leading eating disorders charity – by encouraging her students to wear silly socks and donate some money for Beat’s ‘Sock It to Eating Disorders’ campaign. We’ve raised £80 so far and we’re going to be in the local paper next week. If you’d like to donate please head to www.justgiving.com/Holly-Lambeth
Beat helped me when I first realised I was ill. Their website had loads of information. They helped me to accept that I had an eating disorder and sent me an information pack about recovery. Their tips on recovery really helped. I had no help from my GP apart from a ‘book on prescription’, basically they sent me away with a book about anorexia. No referral to a psychologist or counsellor, no follow up. Because I wasn’t thin enough. Because I’d come to them. Because I was no longer in denial. The only reason I was there was because I made my mum cry. My mum is always really strong and practical, but she broke down in front of me as I lay in bed, crunched up with stomach pain, refusing to eat. Later I was told by a healthcare professional that I had the smallest, tightest stomach they’d ever seen and it was no wonder it hurt so much to eat.
I took my ‘book on prescription’ to a counsellor which I had to pay for. It was a lot of hard work but gradually I was able to start eating more normally with her help and the support of Beat. It had taken me 5 months to lose 2 stone (see below) but it took a lot longer to gain it back and I’m still not back at the weight I was before. I lost my periods for 2 years and it made my M.E. so much worse.
But an eating disorder is about so much more than weight. When I think back my eating disorder probably started when I was about 15, around the same time I started to get ill with M.E. and being bullied. I was binge eating because it made me feel better and the M.E. was making me so hungry because my body knew something was wrong with my energy supplies. The binge wouldn’t make me feel good for long and I started to self-harm afterwards and felt very sick. The M.E. also made me feel very nauseous and I developed emetophobia which is fear of vomiting. This meant that certain foods were scary to me because of the risk of them making me sick, such as meat, dairy and egg products. With the M.E. limiting my ability to exercise dramatically and me laying around eating cheese on toast and chocolate I gained a bit of weight but it didn’t really both me at the time. The fact that my boobs had grown so big definitely did and I really didn’t like the attention they attracted.
When I was 18 things started going even more wrong for me. My M.E. was getting worse, my heart was broken and betrayed and then the bullying started up again. I was so upset and became so anxious about being at school that my stomach felt tense and I lost my appetite. It hurt to eat so I started to develop a negative association with food. My grades started flagging and the girl who should have got all A grades and gone to a Russell Group university was scraping a C in art. I started losing weight and at first people were complimenting me on something, girls who I had been jealous of were jealous of me! This spurred me on, the not eating was so easy to me and everyone else seemed to find it hard! I was good at something! This was, of course, Ana starting to take hold. She begins by seeming like a supportive friend but soon she was whispering horrible things in my ears and manipulating me. I began self harming and taking laxatives every time Ana thought I had eaten too much. I walked around head down, hunched over, my arms crossed over my stomach. I’d been fitted with braces which definitely affected my negative association with food as I was embarrassed, my teeth hurt and I couldn’t eat certain foods. There were also diet guidelines in the house as my mum was on a diet, so I quickly absorbed all the information about fat and calories, stealing the books and secretly copying them. Ana made me a really good liar and a spy.
Ana started on me in February 2010 and by July I was wasting away in bed, depressed and nibbling on 1 weetabix, 1 rice cake, maybe an apple a day and whatever dinner my mum could get in me. Mostly we just reached a negotiation of another weetabix. I was telling everyone that I had awful stomach pains, there must be something wrong with my stomach! But deep down I knew the real reason, I was a terrible burden and I needed to disappear. That was Ana’s lie to me of course.
Fortunately, as I mentioned above, I did get help at this point but Ana hasn’t completely gone away. I’m still very controlling around food, I like to cook my own meals and exclude a lot of things from my diet. I find it difficult if people talk about food in a negative way, comment on my weight or how much I’m eating, talk about their diet etc. Sometimes when I’ve eaten a lot or if I’m upset Ana says nasty things to me and makes me eat less for a while.
It’s only in the last few months that I’ve really accepted that Ana is still there and started to open up about my experiences. As a result I now have an army of supporters to help me fight her off. As my friend said to me the other day “I’m a lover, not a fighter, but I will smash Ana right out”. They’ve given me the courage to go and have another course of counselling before I start my internship so that I’m strong enough to keep Ana at bay when I’ll be cooking and eating without the support of my family again.
If you take anything away from this Eating Disorders Awareness Week let it be this: weight does not define an eating disorder, it is a serious and life-threatening mental illness. More people die from an eating disorder each year than any other mental illness.
For more information please go to Beat: https://www.b-eat.co.uk/
They have a petition to make GPs better at referring people for treatment, don’t let more people get left with a book like I was: https://campaigning.b-eat.co.uk/page/6557/petition/1