This is What Living With an Eating Disorder is Really Like

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By Rebekah Cheung

A young woman struggling with her body. What a revelation. I went to an all girls school, I was part of a family that consistently made fat jokes, I went through puberty - there were many reasons why I hated my body. But that was the norm, I didn’t have any friends that liked how they looked. 75% of those with eating disorders are women, and tend to start 17-19 years old

This could so easily be a piece where I drone on and on about my own sob-story regarding eating disorders, but, that’s not what I want. 

I want this piece to be for those experiencing, or think they’re experiencing, an eating disorder. Maybe you realise that what you’re experiencing and your habits aren’t right, or you recognise that someone you know/love having trouble, I hope this piece is helpful. 

Our parents are shocked when they find out we have an eating disorder. Surely it’s not their daughter, in which they’ve invested so much time, energy and money to not have issues, would have trouble with her weight. My family has a plethora of experience with mental health issues, but when initially learned that I was making myself throw up, they didn’t make the connection with eating disorders and mental health, Theoretically, they understood, but my mother’s question, “Do you want to get better?”highlighted a missing bridge between her understanding and reality. 

Please, if someone you know comes to you, and trusts you to tell you that they’re experiencing problems with eating, don’t ask questions that imply that they have control over it. The reality is, making yourself sick, or restricting what you eat, is a method of keeping an element of control in their life when feeling that they lack it in other areas. 

I want to highlight that my mum has become so much better at helping me with my issues with eating. She took the time to read the literature surrounding it, and this is the best example of what you can do for someone suffering. 

The Reality of an Eating Disorder 

You don’t imagine what life is like with an eating disorder, it’s a weird thing to fantasise about, but I feel like it would have been more harrowing and devastating, but it’s just so normal. And maybe that’s the devastating reality, that it just fits so easily into our lives that we’re no longer emotionally affected by it.

And in answer to my mum’s question, of course I wanted to get better, but it’s not as simple as that. Some days being thin is more important than being mentally well, but that’s all part of the problem with eating disorders. For the past couple of months, I’ve been making myself sick. I don’t use the term bulimia, because I haven’t had a doctor to confirm, but I check all the boxes. 

The only thing I knew about the illness beforehand was that quote from ‘Wild Child’;

“Is it anorexia or bulimia? If it's bulimia, I would appreciate it if you wouldn't eat someone's birthday cake on their birthday. It's such a waste.” 

There was something about this quote that stuck with me when I first started to make myself sick. People saw it as a joke, a phase, a way to get attention, so why should I reach out about it? Surely people will just think I’m begging for attention. 

And it is this cultural perception that stops people from talking about it. Why would people speak out if they think they’ll be thought of as an attention seeker?  

The Evolution of an Eating Disorder 

When I first started making myself sick, I didn’t really think much of it. I had a couple of drinks, but my strong medication meant the alcohol made me feel so queasy that I couldn’t sleep. So I stuck a toothbrush down my throat, and made myself sick, and I was in awe of just how easy it was. 

My parents would tell me that I was too thin, a comment I would thrive from. My mum says that my ribs are really sticking out, I celebrate with a vomiting session. I love feeling hungry, the emptiness in my stomach means I’m fulfilled. I’d say about 90% of my self-worth is tied up in my weight. So when I felt like I gained weight, or I had treated myself to too many treats, throwing up was an easy fix. 

Your weight and body starts to become a punching bag for any self-confidence issues. Maybe I wouldn’t have been raped if I was thinner? A weird neurotic pathway, but if I had been thinner, would he have respected me more? Or would he have seen me as pretty enough to ask me on a date? I think it keeps going around my head, because when we had gone on a date a year earlier, I was thinner, and prettier, and he didn’t rape me then. And obviously, that’s not the case, but your weight and body becomes an easy scapegoat for your issues. 

But it then starts to evolve into a necessity. 

I used to cut my skin with a razor when I panicked; self-harm was an easy way to ground myself when things were stressful. But when you mark your body with a sharp object, people start to notice, and they ask questions. I always felt guilty when my parents saw my scars, because I don’t think they understood why I did it, and thus worried them. 

When you make yourself sick, it manifests itself more discreetly on your body, and over a vast amount of time. As long as you make sure that no one hears you, you’re good. So I used to put the shower on, or a loud video to disguise any retching. 

Furthermore, making yourself sick or starving yourself gives you a weird high. I’ve never done drugs, but I’ve had a cigarette whilst drunk, and it’s a similar giddy feeling to that. 

The moment when you feel like you’re just about to vomit, is so weird, but also something you start to crave. It explains why people find it so addicting. People like to drink, smoke, take drugs, gamble, and it’s all similar to that. 

It’s a mental health issue, and when people finally learn this, those suffering will be able to talk about it openly.

It’s not a sustainable habit, because your body is like a car, you need the fuel to keep going. What people don’t understand is that even though people with eating disorders know this, it’s really difficult to stop. But if you are, you need to get the help. I understand that I have the privilege of being in therapy, and seeing a professional once a week, but you need to make sure you have that support, or you won’t break the habit. 

Here are some support links that can give you the first helping hand to recovery: 

ABC (Anorexia and Bulimia Care) : http://www.anorexiabulimiacare.org.uk/

BEAT: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/

National Centre for Eating Disorders: https://eating-disorders.org.uk/