Like a lot of teenagers, when I was 13 years old, I had difficulty processing my emotions. Some experiences had left me very emotionally raw, and I didn’t have the life experience to know how to process them and cope.
Overall, I experienced a lot of disgust and shame. At a time when so many changes are occurring physically, I projected those awful feelings onto my body. I felt fat and ugly. I would watch women on MTV and wish that my body could look like theirs.
I tried to diet to get rid of these horrible feelings. I thought that if my weight would go away these awful emotions would as well. After months of grabbing my tummy and wishing it would disappear, my self-loathing grew so huge that I decided I had to find a way to make myself smaller.
Losing more than weight
I created a pattern. At school, where I wasn’t monitored, I wouldn’t eat, and after dinner with my family (which I couldn’t get out of), I would throw up. This went on for months and I lost a lot of weight. When my parents found out how I was losing the weight, I wasn’t allowed to go to the bathroom after I ate, so I began restricting food altogether. Getting through an entire day on very few calories was a massive win for me.
This went on for months until I ended up severely underweight, with my hair falling out and my body hanging onto life by a thread.
I was lucky
My parents got me into therapy even though people told them it was just a phase, or that I was doing it for attention and they needed to be stricter with me. At the time, I didn’t see what good therapy would do, but my parents did what they felt was right for me.
I also had a really good therapist – she was just starting out in this line of work and I can’t imagine that she would have had a more challenging client than me! But she stayed; she was grounded and she supported and challenged me. The combination of her expertise and my parents’ love, helped me to trust.
The healing process
It took long for me to really move past this time in my life. It was a confusing time. People asked me, “Why won’t you just eat?” and I honestly did not have an answer for them. I had no idea why I wouldn’t eat. All I knew, was that I couldn’t eat. Eating became such a massive source of anxiety, fear and shame, that it was easier to whither away, than to risk it.
I had been in therapy for two years before I felt ready to begin to leave anorexia behind.
My therapist helped me to see how my interpretation of certain life experiences led me to believe that I was unworthy of love and happiness. She helped me to deconstruct those beliefs and to give new meaning to my past. It was after all this work, that I got to a point where I believed I deserved to be happy. Once I had this sense of self-worth, I was able to choose to get better, and my actions followed.
Life doesn’t always have to be this way
I remember, someone once told my mother that when you have an eating disorder, you never fully recover. But I think that’s bullshit. I’m not going to say, I never experience guilt, anxiety or shame – we all feel these emotions – but these experiences don’t result in disordered eating anymore. The difference now is that I love and respect myself, and I don’t need to sabotage myself anymore.
How to support someone with disordered eating:
- Less Advice, More Support. The person struggling doesn’t need to hear what you would do if you were in their situation. You are not in their situation. What they need is your support.
- Give yourself time to listen deeply. Listen without judgement. The person’s behaviour may seem bizarre to you, but they are not doing it to hurt or irritate you. Empathise with them, be kind and ask how they would like you to be there for them.
- Remember that the more you push they will push back. As much as you want them to eat, avoid getting into situations where you are trying to force them. This will only cause them to strengthen their decision not to eat.
- Encourage them to seek professional help. People often assume that eating disorders are caused only by the social pressure we all feel to be thin, but this is a misguided notion. Underneath the diagnosis of an eating disorder is a complex history and a highly sensitive individual. Being in a safe space with a trained therapist, provides the opportunity for the individual to understand their struggle and to learn how to cope with it. For professional help, check out Dar Kenn ghal Sahhtek.
I’ve had a healthy relationship with food for 14 years now, and it is because I had the support I needed that I was able to get here. I’m sharing this with you in case you or someone you know, is familiar with this struggle. I want you to know that life doesn’t have to continue this way. Allow yourself to receive support; you can create something beautiful from this mess.