Healthy self image
Throughout my childhood I kept a diary. Each year I would have a new one to document my day to day life - what I did at school, which friends I played with afterwards, what was number 1 on Top of the Pops that week. Normal stuff. However I also kept a second diary, a secret diary - one with blank pages so my entries weren't confined to a small box. It had a padlock and I would find different places to hide the key. It only came out once in a while when I needed to get something off my chest. Every entry I wrote, I titled it 'Personal Feelings'.
I remember one sentence rather clearly '...I don't know if it's just puppy fat or if it's because I'm a fat, disgusting pig'.
At the age of eleven or twelve years old I was convinced I was fat - or to be more specific I thought my stomach was fat. As part of my school uniform in Primary School I wore this ugly, baggy blue jumper and I used to press it against my stomach if I stood in front of my teacher. I didn’t want her to think I was fat. Sometimes in the shower I would pull at the flesh on my stomach, slap it, crying, wishing it would disappear. And yet he most disturbing thing about this memory is that I look at photographs of myself and I am a beanpole - where on earth did I see this 'fat' come from?
I am now 28 and my stomach has always been an issue. My weight has gone up and down over the years but I have never been truly happy with how I look - there was forever something that needed fixed, that wasn't perfect. Even when I was a size 8 I was self-conscious wearing a bikini. I had never learnt how to be happy and confident in my own body.
At age nineteen I developed anorexia. I started severely restricting what I ate, skipping meals whenever I could and if it was a choice between food or alcohol - booze was usually my priority. I count myself lucky that this threatening behaviour didn’t last as long as it could have - just under a year - and although I became more sensible and healthier in my eating habits, my relationship with food was still a little cautious and my feelings towards my body were still too critical. I still saw fat on my stomach when there was none.
Three years after I managed to stop anorexia I binge ate for the first time and I continued to do so for another 3 and a half years. I can honestly say being stuck in Binge Eating Disorder (BED) created the worst feelings I've ever felt. I was disgusting, I was worthless, some days I just didn’t want to wake up, I wanted to sleep long enough until I wouldn’t hate myself anymore. It was a torturous cycle of binging then knowing I had to counteract the damage and punish myself by not eating.
Once again I count myself lucky that my binge eating stopped just as abruptly as my anorexia. I finally found the courage (thanks to a group support meeting) to open up to someone about my behaviour. I'll forever treasure that feeling of an indescribable weight being lifted from my shoulders. If exorcisms are real then that it was it felt like. Being honest about my problem with another kind, understanding person saved my life and I believe it is the key to saving more.
Recovering from eating disorders doesn't end when the physical behaviour stops. It is a mental illness first and foremost and ultimately our habits and ways of thinking needs to be challenged and changed. I stopped binging but it's taken me a lot of learning, reflection and analysis of myself to fully understand why eating disorders were my reaction to the things that were missing or I was unhappy about in my life.
So where am I now? I can genuinely say I am happy and I am healthy. There's a saying out there of turning your weakness into your superpower and that is definitely my goal now. Last year I started my own blog titled Healthy Self-Image where I talk about my thoughts and experiences on eating disorders in the hope of helping others with the same conditions as well as those who may not have the disorder themselves but want a deeper insight for those they care about who do. I am in the early stages of writing a book on my experiences as well - I believe that talking, being open and sharing is the first best steps to take when you have any kind of stress, problem or worry. I wouldn't be where I am now if I hadn’t witnessed someone else take the courage to be honest about their life, I guess I want to give that back in a way. If I can share my story then I hope it gives you the strength to confide in someone too or at the very least let you know that you are not alone.
Danielle is a talkhealth blogger - to read more about her experiences click here
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