MY STORY OF ANOREXIA
Onset 13-19 yrs old
Lost 10-20% of original weight
More than 2 years suffering
Yes, seek medical help
1. Innocent Beginning
My story of anorexia begins about a year before it started developing. In the spring of 2013, I had a medical exam and found out I was about 75kg (165lbs). I was informed this made me slightly overweight for someone of my age and height, and was becoming quite self-conscious of this, particularly as I had to move up from a 32-inch waist for a 34-inch waist for my trousers around the same time. I was also quite concerned because my parents had and still have problems with their weight, and my mother is self-conscious about her own weight and tries to diet fairly often.
2. Anorexia Trigger
When I started sixth form later that year, I resolved to try and get fitter. Since moving to sixth form from secondary school allowed me more independence, one way I used this was by trying to lose weight by eating less, picking healthier meals and watching my intake of fat and saturated fat, as well as exercising more by walking to my dad’s work instead of asking him to pick me up from the school campus. This started fairly harmlessly, and by the end of 2013 I had lost about 4 to 5kg and was back into a healthy weight range.
Unfortunately, my behaviour towards food and exercise grew more obsessive during 2014. I continued to lose weight without any real concern on the part of my friends and family for most of the first half of the year, and started doing exercises like press-ups daily as well as running on my way to and from sixth form when I could; I also tried to keep my fat and saturated fat intake as low as possible instead of just below the recommended 70g and 20g a day. Due to this, I lost another 8kg by Easter and by June, if I recall correctly, had lost around 5kg more; in the space of about a year, I had fallen from around 75kg to 57kg, and was also finding that I could fit in 30-inch and 32-inch waist trousers with no problem.
June of 2014 sticks out to me because, with hindsight, this was the point at which my behaviour started to seriously interfere with my mental state. I went on a trip with my class abroad, and found myself determinedly seeking opportunities to exercise more and to avoid eating. When I ate ice cream and chips with my friends, I felt intensely guilty about it even though I really enjoy those foods, and would try to do dozens of press-ups when I was alone to work off the calories. By the time I got back, I was weighing myself obsessively, even getting upset about the slight weight gain from my water levels changing when I took showers.
The first time my family really noticed, however, was when we took a holiday a month later. I was behaving obsessively about what meals I had, picking ready meals with extremely few calories and little fat when we went to the supermarket and calorie-counting to a ridiculous degree. On one day, I even refused to eat one of those ready meals and just had toast for dinner instead because it had fewer calories.
My parents’ response to this was not particularly helpful, as they frequently became angry with me, only seeing how thin I was becoming without really understanding why my mental state was so unhealthy. When they told me they thought I was anorexic, I didn’t really believe them at first- I always thought of anorexia as something girls got, not boys. They consistently tried to get me to eat more, but it would often turn into shouting matches, and I specifically remember telling them ‘I don’t see it!’ about how thin I was getting.
While I’m not sure how true it is, something I suspect is that I became so obsessive about losing weight partly because as I had lost weight, I had made more friends at sixth form, and I assumed that me being so thin was making me more attractive and likeable, so if I gained weight again people would stop liking me. This was not true at all, of course; my friends rarely ever commented on my weight, and none of them stopped being friends with me once I was recovering.
But with my mind in the state it was, I convinced myself that I had to keep being thinner to make myself attractive and likeable to my friends. It probably did not help that, because of societal stigma towards weight gain, I saw being ‘underweight’ as a goal rather than something hazardous to my health, as if I could consider myself ‘better’ than people who were heavier than me.
During the late summer and autumn of 2014, I tried to make my eating habits healthier, no longer calorie counting and instead focusing on not eating fatty foods, but more or less eating whatever I wanted otherwise. But in November of that year, I relapsed into aggressively calorie counting; I would wake myself up earlier than my parents so they did not see how little I was eating for breakfast, eat chicken pieces or other small snacks for lunch & nothing else, and try to make small meals for myself for dinner like beans on toast and have them at least 12 hours before waking up the next day.
Long Tail of Recovery
Self-discovery of Genetic Vulnerability
My parents soon noticed again, and we began angrily fighting over my eating habits again. Something that did not help was that I still felt very little confidence that if I put on weight, I would continue to have a healthy friendship group, or that I could regain weight healthily. I was scared that if I started gaining weight again, that made me a failure and showed I did not have willpower or restraint.
My medical issues with weight did not really start to go away until Christmas 2014. I remember weighing myself on the last day of school and finding that I weighed about 52kg, and decided that I should try and let myself off the hook at least a little to celebrate Christmas. I managed to follow through on that, with a little guilt, though my eating habits sort of reversed for quite a while. For a few months, I started to have a problem with binge eating, and within a few months I was back up to about 64kg; once I found that this had happened, I managed to make my eating habits more restrained again, and my weight plateaued.
While this was the end of my problems with being at an unhealthily low weight, and I have not put on more than a few kilograms in the 5 years since, I retained an unhealthy mindset, and to a degree, some of the insecurities I had have not quite gone away. When I started university, I made it a habit to eat an extremely low amount of calories on one day and then splurge the next, something I did not get over until my second year (though unfortunately I did so by starting to eat more to cope with having developed depression in late 2016, and my mental state and eating habits did not start to improve until the following year). Even now, I have some degree of body dysmorphia, worrying that I look fat or have a double chin in pictures.
But I feel I’m in a better place now because I understand that not being thinner or lighter than everyone around me is OK, that there’s nothing dangerous about eating things you enjoy, and that exercise is something it’s important not to overdo (I have tried to keep up a habit of leisurely walking about 1½ to 2 miles each day, either to and from my hometown or, during lockdown this year, on my family’s treadmill to keep my concerns about becoming sedentary from getting out of hand).
Being anorexic was one of the most unpleasant phases of my life, and I regret how it warped my sense of body image and made me feel inadequate and stupid when I tried to fight it. However, having been through that experience, I really hope I can help others to see the signs and ensure they understand what is happening and can fight it before it becomes dangerously debilitating to their life and happiness like it did to me, and that my story shows that recovery from anorexia is possible.