My story

[Trigger warning for mentions of behaviours and calories]

 


I grew up as a child who loved chocolate. Like, really, really loved chocolate. Ever since I can remember, I had an evening routine where I would eat a Dairy Milk bar washed down with a glass of milk. This lasted right until I left for university at age 18. I was a natural born intuitive eater; I would eat when hungry, and stop when full. My mum never labelled any foods (edit: whilst reading this out to myself, I said ‘never labelled any boobs’. Just thought you might like to know) as forbidden or bad, and I am so thankful to her for that. I don’t remember ever feeling guilt about eating something (except for maybe when I had overstuffed myself a little too much and regretted it because of feeling sick – not because of the morality of the food I had eaten).

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11 year old me tried ALL of the gelato in Florence

I do remember when I was very, very young, telling my mum that I needed to go on a diet. I didn’t understand the concept of what that meant; it was just something females did, right? I have always been very slim, and never had to deal with the unfortunate pressures that society and diet culture place upon large women face on, but it seemed to have been ingrained into me at a young age.

During my A Levels, I became a little bit more aware of what I was consuming, and also started doing a little exercise (Pilates). I already danced, and loved to walk, but these didn’t really count as exercise for me. I did make some good changes – I was consuming a LOT of Diet Coke and Mountain Dew (and I mean, A LOT), and it was messing with my sleep, amongst other things. I cut them out (and genuinely cannot stand the taste now), but it was never a disordered decision.

Entering university, I still did not really have a problem with food. I’d happily eat Coco Pops for breakfast in my university halls, and even eat cheesecake for dinner if the main courses were unappetising (sometimes, they seriously were). I was walking a lot more, as my halls were about 20 minutes away from everything university related, and how could anyone resist a walk on the beach? I noticed that my thighs trimmed down as a result of this, and I was happy. I had also decided that I wasn’t going to be the one to get the ‘Freshers 15’, so I started doing Pilates more regularly.

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The love of ice cream continued into my first year of university

It was when I moved into my own house in second year that food and exercise started to become a problem, but it’s also where my story gets a little blurry for me. I did not realise that I had an issue, and so I can’t really remember a lot of what I was doing. I do remember an increasing sense that my weight was intrinsic to my worth. The first thing that people would compliment me on was my waist, or how slim I was. I started to become afraid of losing this. Soon, I started to skip meals. It was absolutely miserable. I can’t remember how long that this lasted, but I remember that I then started to go back to eating regular meals, but was much more aware of what I was eating.

Then, I decided to make a ‘healthy lifestyle change’ by cutting down on the amount of refined sugar I was eating. But cutting down meant cutting out. It was absolutely awful, and led to binges. The exercise increased. I went to Italy to work as an au pair, and was eating a lot amazing food, and sometimes even chocolate bars at breakfast. My host mum was an incredible cook, and her family also owned a bakery, so I got to sample lots of things. I didn’t weigh myself, but I walked into a changing room and noticed that I seemed to have gained weight on my stomach (looking back, I think I was just bloated from the amazing pasta and macarons that I had eaten at lunch). I cried, and went back to my host family, determined not to eat so many treats. But it’s hard to resist a sweet 11 year old offering you some bread and Nutella because you’re sad, so I ate it, and the spiral of guilt started.

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Lucy and gelato: the love that never died

This got worse throughout my third year. I was lucky enough to travel and try incredible food around Europe. My friends and family would joke about the amount of photos I would take of the food that I was eating, but I was completely fixated. I felt the need to compensate before and after my trips by eating ‘cleaner’ and exercising more. I was saying no to hanging out with friends because they wanted to go and eat ‘bad’ food.

It’s only towards the end of my third year that I realised things had gotten pretty bad. But I didn’t stop myself. I would allow myself to eat one treat a week. I remember saving up macarons all week, and it was utterly miserable. I would get chocolate cravings and frantically google how to ignore them. This continued throughout the worst of my disorder.

I then took a month to work in Vienna, and I started to care a little less. I was staying with a host family, and the only breakfast option was bread with Nutella or jam. I would drink beer and eat melted chocolate with my intern friends, eat my favourite cake (Sacher torte) for lunch after a dissertation research trip, or take myself out for schnitzel when I was missing my boyfriend at the time. I did feel the need to eat pitifully small lunches, however (often consisting of some leaves and kidney beans). I was walking a lot but this was out of enjoyment of the city, and not my disorder.

Once I returned, however, it only got worse. I was walking for at least an hour and a half a day, doing cardio, Pilates and callisthenics daily, and eating pitifully little. I started saying no to hanging out with friends if it meant that I couldn’t fit my work outs in that day. I was still only allowed one treat a week. My boyfriend and I had distance in our relationship, so that one treat would lead to a full on chocolate binge that I did not enjoy when I went to stay with him. The foods that I was ‘allowed’ to eat grew smaller and smaller. Soon, I was just eating oats with water, bananas, chicken and broccoli. Grocery shopping would take up to two hours due to obsessive label reading. I was googling celebrity diet and work out plans in order to dictate what I could and could not eat. I was also googling how to ignore cravings for things such as chocolate, which of course, made the cravings much worse. Orthorexia was playing a huge role in my disorder, but mostly, it was a fear of weight gain. I lost my ability to read for more than 5 seconds (unless it was about food) – pretty inconvenient if it’s your favourite past time, and you’re completing a degree. A friend told my boyfriend that he was worried about me; that I was hardly eating, and was freaking out about sugary foods. My boyfriend, of course, hadn’t noticed it, because I was eating so much chocolate whenever I saw him.

I was judging everything other people ate to the point that I would be in a terrible mood. One time, a woman on the train with me ate a chocolate bar, and I was genuinely furious. “Don’t you know what you’re doing to yourself?” I thought. I think really the issue was that I was extremely deprived of chocolate myself, especially as I would sit on Instagram for hours searching for pictures of desserts, or would have vivid dreams of eating foods that I really wanted. I was also baking for others but not myself, and my hair was falling out.

It got to the point that I was literally starving myself and doing exercise before I could go out to eat with friends (if I actually said yes. In fact, the only way to get me to hang out with you was to invite me on a long walk). The strongest memory for me (probably because it was about a week before I decided to get better) was going to the Austrian society of my university’s dinner. I’m smiling on this photo, but I think my eyes actually look pretty dead. I was absolutely starving, and I didn’t enjoy the meal at all because I was so miserable.

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When I decided to try and get a little better, just the slight increase in food led me to extreme hunger. It first hit me in a three hour class. I’d just eaten some lunch an hour before, and suddenly I was so ravenous I felt as though I was going to pass out. I had no idea what was happening, and my friend told me I looked really unwell. He had already pointed out a few times to me that I was looking a lot skinnier and grey in the face. Luckily, the class finished early, and I ran across the street and demolished a burger and fries.

Soon after, I weighed myself (strangely, I never weighed myself throughout those months), and discovered that I had lost an incredible amount of weight. Looking in the mirror, I finally noticed it, especially in my legs. I did not feel happy, I just felt shocked. I thought that what I was doing was healthy. I never wanted to lose weight, I just wanted to maintain it, and had an intense fear of gaining weight. My grandparents came to visit, and I immediately had to tackle fears of eating out in restaurants, because I could not let them know what was happening. I had already vetted the menus and picked the lowest calorie options weeks in advance. On the nights, I picked what I truly wanted. I think that this was fuelled by my experience of extreme hunger. Unfortunately, this also led to extreme pain, because my body could not tolerate the amount or types of food that I was eating anymore. It was truly awful.

After the extreme hunger died down, I was still really struggling, but slowly started to reintroduce some fear foods. Despite this, I was still feeling incredible amounts of guilt, and would sob, exercise, and then be in a foul mood for the rest of the day after eating a fear food. I ate a fish finger sandwich and was left with crippling guilt. I messaged my friend asking if they could eat dinner with me – I cooked safe foods, but was terrified that I was going to eat nothing after my experience. I was obsessively exercising even more – on top of my workouts, I was constantly doing something. I’d be doing calf raises whilst waiting for my porridge to cook!

One day, I ate two double chocolate chip cookies. I put them into the microwave, and they were melty and delicious. However, the intense guilt hit me. I decided to finally call up my mum and tell her. I’d been planning on waiting until I got home to tell her face to face, but I was in hysterics, and there was no one I wanted to talk to more than my mum. Although there could have been a nicer way to tell her, I don’t regret it. She has been the most encouraging person in my recovery.

Going home, I experienced extreme hunger again. This time it was different – much worse, and I had specific cravings. It started off one night with a feeling that I wanted to keep eating and eating cereal (a huge fear food), and I couldn’t satisfy it. The next day, the extreme hunger hit me hard, and I was craving ice cream and prawn cocktail crisps. I’d stuff myself with other foods to avoid these cravings, but they never satisfied me, and I eventually gave in. I began to accept it after reading recovery resources, but it was still extremely difficult, especially as it was the week before Christmas. I was already terrified of all of the ‘bad’ foods on that day, never mind with a week of eating what I thought was pretty terrible food (little did I know that they would be incredible for my physical recovery – the little that I had at that point). I was unfortunately also exercising at this time, which made it a lot worse. Additionally, I was throwing small tantrums when I saw a portion size offered by my parents, or when I found out that what we would be eating was a fear food. I was convinced that they wanted to make me fat. Logically, I knew that was not the case, but my eating disorder told me that anyway.

My family had an early joint birthday celebration for my cousin and I. I managed to not exercise that day, although I did not eat enough leading up to it. However, I ordered what I wanted, and my cousin and I shared desserts, and I even ended up eating my grandma’s leftovers! I was so proud of myself that I cried that night.

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My favourite dessert at my joint birthday dinner

On my actual birthday, my then boyfriend took me out to a tapas place that I had wanted to go to for a long time. The food was incredible, we were stuffed, and I felt no guilt! A huge step.

Upon my return to university, I finally decided to see a doctor. The entire experience was very negative; I was completely dismissed despite the fact I was clearly very sick, underweight, and had lost my period. They did refer me to a mental health dietician (whom I am still waiting to see), but I was shocked that they did not offer a blood test at least. They did not seem to care at all. On my own initiative, I paid to see a private nutritionist. While she was helpful in some ways, she proposed an entirely clean diet. Had I not done a lot of hard work in the month that I had been at home in challenging fear foods (although I had and still have a massive way to go), she could have made my recovery go completely backwards.

During the next few months, I tried to eat intuitively, believing that my hunger cues would be accurate (…lol) after such a long period of restriction. My portions and variety had increased, but it still was not enough for recovery, never mind recovery plus obsessive exercise. My mental relationship with food was certainly improving, but my body was just getting sicker in so many ways, including extremely sore joints. In fact, I had constant brain fog – the sign of a starved brain.

In March, I auditioned for my dream drama school in Vienna, and extreme hunger hit as I had been at home for a few days beforehand. It was awful, having to dance and sing all day whilst craving foods that stressed me out like McDonald’s and cake. I felt disgusted with myself for the amount of ‘junk’ foods I was craving, although looking back, I can understand why my body wanted them so badly (high energy, easily digestible and so on). It also did help me overcome a lot of my rules about the frequency I could eat certain foods. Possibly my least favourite part of the entire experience was lying down on the stage during a dance warm up and being in so much pain because my bones were digging into it (a regular occurrence for me).

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Enjoying my favourite cake after a long week of auditions

A little while after getting home, I decided to give Minnie Maud a shot. I was giving up hope, I was not getting any better. What harm could it be to at least try? I finally got a blood test after ringing up the emergency nurse (who turned out to be my landlady) due to my brain fog and chest pains. I was encouraged to eat a lot more and to remain as sedentary as possible. She was also confused as to why I had not been given a blood test the first time I saw a doctor.This goes with the MM guidelines of 3,000 calories for someone in my position (which I am building up to). The idea of no foods being restricted was extremely appealing to me. I know that before I can fully recover and then be able to eat intuitively, I need to break away all of my regulations. The guidelines (and for anyone thinking of MM, remember, they are exactly that –  GUIDELINES). It is probably best to speak to a medical professional also. I am using these only as a basis, and also bringing structure into my meal times. If you are obsessive with calorie counting, this might not be the method for you) say:

  • Here are the guidelines for when 2500 calories applies as a minimum daily intake for recovery:

    1. You are a 25+ year old female between 5’0” and 5’8” (152.4 to 173 cm) and,
    2. The regular menstrual cycle has stopped and/or,
    3. You have other symptoms of starvation: feeling the cold, fatigued, foggy headed, hair loss, brittle nails, dull skin and/or,
    4. Even if you were only underweight/dieted for a very short space of time (a few months) these guidelines apply. And remember “underweight” is relative to your body’s optimal weight and is not a clinical measurement.

    Here are the guidelines for when 3000 calories applies as a minimum daily intake for recovery:

    1. You are an under 25 year old female between 5’0” and 5’8” (152.4 to 173 cm) or an over 25 year old male between 5’4” and 6’0” (162.5 and 183 cm) and,
    2. The regular menstrual cycle has stopped and/or,
    3. You have other symptoms of starvation: feeling the cold, fatigued, foggy headed, hair loss, brittle nails, dull skin and/or,
    4. Even if you were only underweight/dieted for a very short space of time (a few months) these guidelines apply. And remember “underweight” is relative to your body’s optimal weight and is not a clinical measurement.

    Here are the guidelines for when 3500 calories applies as a minimum daily intake for recovery:

    1. You are an under 25 year old male between 5’4” and 6’0” (162.5 and 183 cm) or female with young children or an equivalent and unavoidable level of activity.
    2. The regular menstrual cycle has stopped and/or,
    3. You have other symptoms of starvation: feeling the cold, fatigued, foggy headed, hair loss, brittle nails, dull skin and/or,
    4. Even if you were only underweight/dieted for a very short space of time (a few months) these guidelines apply. And remember “underweight” is relative to your body’s optimal weight and is not a clinical measurement.

For more information, please see YourEatopia. Minnie Maud is somewhat controversial, and I would agree with everything that Julia has to say in her blog in regards to whether it should be continued for life, and remaining sedentary (I sure as heck do not intend to remain sedentary for life. Eating disorder aside, I actually love being active, so this is hard for me right now).

The first day I tried it, I felt awful. I already felt ill due to my brain fog, and trying to get up to 2,000 calories was a challenge for me. I felt so bloated and nauseous, and I hated it. The next day was a lot easier, on my stomach, however, and I found that I was actually pretty hungry! For the first few weeks, I experienced extreme fatigue (sleeping for about 12 hours, waking up, eating, and then feeling like I’d been hit by a brick), night sweats, bloating, water retention, acne, and painful digestion. This eventually passed (thankfully!).

As of May 2017, I finished my degree and also became weight restored at the same time! I have a long way until full recovery, however, and have decided not to exercise until I am in a much better place mentally.

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