Hello! I’m Laura, the ‘awesome dude’ that Ella told you about in her previous post.
It’s so exciting to have finally met someone who shares the same outlook on life and passion for fitness that I do. I hope that together, Ella and I can share some of our experiences in order to help you in whatever stage of your recovery/post-recovery/fitness journey you are at.
So here’s my story! It’s slightly different to Ella’s as my illness began when I was 15 and lasted until about the age of 22. I remember losing quite a bit of weight around the end of year 10 but to be honest, it was mainly ‘puppy fat’ so no one really thought anything of it. I then sadly lost someone really special to me, which in hindsight is where my illness started. I remember receiving lots of comments from people when I returned to school after that summer about my weight loss. At first, people were saying this as a compliment but as time went on, things started getting a bit more serious and people started expressing their concerns. I went to boarding school so without my parents there looking over me, I started to use that to my advantage. I started skipping breakfast, or not have lunch, saying I couldn’t be bothered waiting in the queue and that I’d have something to eat later. Any excuse to avoid the dreaded food! A days worth of food started to become less and less. I’d monitor everything I ate and limit myself to under 500 calories a day, and even gradually reduced that. What’s more is that I would make myself sick several times a day. The thought of having food inside made me hate myself and made me feel greedy for giving into the temptation of food, as if I had disobeyed my illness and the anorexic thinking that had taken over my mind.
As time went on, the illness made me become more secretive. I would come up with lies to convince people that I was eating, or to convince myself I was allergic or didn’t like a particular food. My weight had become so low that I was referred to a doctor who diagnosed me with anorexia. I was dropped from all my sports teams as I was too weak to play, yet even this didn’t make me realise how bad I had got. I convinced myself that everyone was being far too extreme and that I wasn’t as skinny or ill as everyone was making me out to be.
As the illness progressed, so did my depression. I remember days where I just couldn’t face getting out of bed or the thought of speaking to people made me very anxious. I would snap at people and was not be very nice to be around. The anorexic thinking combined with the suicidal thoughts took over my mind.
I started seeing my first councillor at the end of year 11 and saw him weekly until the end of 6th form. We would discuss the negative thoughts going through my mind. He would set me weekly tasks, whether it be food related or confidence related. We would write down the positives and negatives of anorexia, we would discuss things like how I am more than my illness and all the things that anorexia had taken away from me
My mum moved over to the town where my school was based and I became a day pupil as my parents and doctors couldn’t trust me to go to meals at school. I would go home for every meal so my mum could watch over me and encourage me to eat. But even after she had to completely up her life and move, it still didn’t make me realise how bad my illness had become. That’s anorexia for you. It’s a very convincing and selfish illness, taking over all of your rational thinking.
With the help of my family, friends and councillor, I managed to reach my goal weight of 52kg. This was the minimum weight that my body would start functioning again at. Once I reached and maintained this weight, I was allowed to go on my Gap Year, which was 3 months in Canada, training to become a snowboard instructor! I needed a bit of meat on my bones to be able to survive the -40 celcius and to have enough energy to snowboard for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week. Tiring for any fit and healthy person, let alone someone whose body didn’t even have enough energy to function properly!
Although I had reached my ‘healthy weight’, in hindsight I definitely was not well enough to go. I definitely learnt that even when you reach your goal weight, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve recovered. Going on this Gap Year was such a relief for me, not only because I was going away to do something I love everyday of the week for 3 months, but also to get away from the watchful eyes of doctors, councillors and my family. Nobody knew me out there so no one could tell me what I needed to eat. Very quickly, I returned to my old habits of restricting my food intake and making myself sick. That combined with vigorous daily exercise and the freezing cold, I dropped almost 2 stone in the 3 months. Thinking back now, I have no idea how I had the energy to do what I was doing, especially in those temperatures. I’m complaining now about how cold it is walking to Uni and its only about 2 celsius, boiling in comparison! Looking back at pictures, I don’t know how my legs didn’t just snap in half when I went over jumps. When we would stop for lunch, my friends would be eating their delicious hot lunches from the mountain restaurants and I would be sat there with a piece of fruit and a diet coke. When we went to apres ski, my friends would all be drinking beer without a care and I would be worrying about how many calories my vodka diet coke had in it. God forbid, we’d go for food after apres ski. I’d then be worrying where the closest toilet was for me to go stick my head down afterwards. NOT the way to be experiencing your gap year!! I’m pretty sure I was the only person on my gap year programme to have LOST weight. I will always remember the look on my parents face as I came through the arrivals door at the airport. Even though it was hurting them, I was again so consumed by my illness that it didn’t really matter to me.
I was now worse than I had been prior to going away. I would cry daily, I would think of ways that I could just end everything. I was referred to the Priory which is when reality kicked in. They suggested for me to be admitted as an in patient. By that time I was just so defeated by the illness that I was prepared to just give in and be admitted. However, that night changed it for me. We had a family talk. Me, my brother, mum and dad. It was the first time that I saw my dad and brother cry. I guess up until then, I hadn’t realised how much it had affected them. That’s when I made the conscious effort to change. I told myself that I wanted to get better.
From then on, with a councillor to help with the mental side and my depressive thoughts and the help of my wonderfully supportive parents, I started to put on some weight. From about 2011 and 2013, my weight fluctuated. Although I had come a LONG way, I was still pretty uncomfortable with food. The thought of proper meals still scared me. A lot of foods still scared me. I still had very weird eating habits. I still made myself sick. I would run on the treadmill for over an hour if I felt I had eaten too much. I still had a very depressive mindset. I was at a safe weight but I definitely do not class that as recovered. I was just ‘getting on’ with life. I wasn’t living my life in any way at all.
It wasn’t until I met my boyfriend at the end of 2013 that things really started to change for me. He really enjoys his fitness and food. He introduced me to weight lifting (which at first really scared me! Weights will make me bulky right??!) and really helped me understand food, making me realise that it really isn’t the enemy. He made me realise that eating the right foods, nourishing your body and fuelling your body would actually make me look healthier and leaner and definitely NOT make me fat. We worked together to increase my metabolism by slowly increasing my calories, made up of lots of protein, fats and carbs, and lifted weights together, gradually increasing the weight as I got stronger. I can honestly say that being re-educated about food and my body was the biggest help throughout my very long recovery. I can also honestly say that it wasn’t until about 4 months ago that I considered myself to be completely recovered.
So to everyone out there who has been struggling for several years and feels defeated, who believes that they’re going to be ill for the rest of their life, I can assure you that it doesn’t have to be like that. A full recovery really IS possible!
I really hope that Ella and I can give you lots of tips and advice on coping through recovery, life post-recovery, health, nutrition, fitness, happiness and prove that a life without an ED is not only possible but also bloody fantastic!