Someone recently asked me what the lowest point of my eating disorder was. What was the final straw that made you change? I immediately knew what it was and was catapulted back to that moment. And now I'm going to share it with you.
I already talked in some detail about this here, but I think that a lot of people who are currently struggling with an eating disorder may find some comfort and hopefully inspiration in this part of the story.
At the time, I was doing an internship as a service staff in a hotel in London. I had just moved there three months ago, and even though I enjoyed discovering this new city, I absolutely hated my job.
Putting a compulsive eater into an environment where you are surrounded by readily available food 24/7 and get to secretly eat the leftover pralines at the end of the night is like putting an alcoholic into a bottle shop.
I dreaded going to work every morning and more often than not, would spontaneously call in sick because I just couldn't deal with the food confrontation. I would wake up every morning, promising myself that today would be different. Today would be the day where willpower would succeed and I wouldn't even dare to look at all the tempting food around me at work. I'd have a tiny little breakfast, like 1/2 a kiwi, and hope that it would sustain me throughout the day (it's so crazy when I think back to that now!) Sometimes I managed to actually not eat anything for the entire shift, but on most days my willpower would eventually fail me and I would eat one praline, then two, then tree and so on. By the end of the shift I would feel so guilty about failing yet again that all I wanted to do was go home and eat some more. I lived on a busy main road in West London, and on my walk home from work I passed an endless amount of fast food restaurants that were open until late at night. I'm sure I don't have to tell you how that story ends...
Because of my all-or-nothing mentality at the time, a couple of sweets at work would immediately trigger a binge. I already ruined my diet for the day, so I might as well go all in, right? Sometimes I intentionally tried to make myself feel as awful as possible, in hopes that it would make me never want to do it again. So, after a binge I would lie in bed and tell myself:
"See, this is how horrible binging makes you feel, I hope you finally learned your lesson and that you will never do it again!"
How messed up is that - trying to force a rock-bottom moment?
At that time I was also exercising excessively. Basically my days would look like this:
Eat a ridiculously small breakfast -> Not eat much until the afternoon -> Binge on pralines -> Buy more food on the way home -> Binge some more at home -> Sleep it off -> Wake up and go to the gym to punish myself for the night before
And even though I was purging and doing lots of exercise, the weight slowly piled up. I was also holding lots of water retention, so I looked really puffed up and just unwell in general. I think that, even though deep down I began to understand that my behavior wasn't normal and that something needed to change, I wasn't ready to give it up because I felt like my physical appearance had to change first. Admitting my ED to myself would be like giving up my dream of being skinny.
The night that I hit rock bottom
The morning of the 10th of March 2012 (yes, I remember the exact date) I had an early shift. I really really didn't want to go to work and was already in a bad mood from the moment I got up. Like the other days, I eventually couldn't control my hunger pangs and started nibbling away on food during work. But this time, it was not towards the end of my shift but only a couple of hours in. Normally I would only purge at home, but now I already felt so full at work that I made myself sick in the staff bathrooms. That was a first. I was horribly scared that someone would hear me, but the anxiety around keeping it all in was too much for me. I somehow managed to get through the rest of the day, but all I wanted to do was go home and crawl into bed. Which I did in the evening, but not before eating and purging some more.
The events of that day made me realise that my struggles were starting to affect all aspects of my life. Having done what I did at work was like a slap in the face, I realised that things were really out of control. On top of it, my 19th birthday was right around the corner and instead of looking forward to it, I was dreading the celebratory dinner with cake and wine. There just seemed to be no joy left, every moment of my life was overshadowed by dark clouds filled with thoughts about my food and my weight.
I knew that I couldn't force myself to stop binging overnight - it just didn't work. I just couldn't force myself to beat this eating disorder with willpower. I tried, and it wasn't working. I now had two options: (a) keep ignoring it and stay within my comfort zone; or (b) finally face my problems and admit to myself that what I was struggling with was an eating disorder.
So, I waited for my boyfriend to come home. The moment he came in, he knew something was up because I had been crying for hours before and probably looked accordingly.
The scariest part of it all was I had never actually spoken the words. I had thought about what to say, but when I saw him I wasn't sure if the words were going to come out of my mouth. I paused for a long time. Say it, just say it. And as the words rolled over my lips, tears from my eyes fell right along with them. I have an eating disorder...and I think I need help.
I don't think I explained much else, I just cried in his arms and let it all out. Eventually I must have fallen asleep from exhaustion, and when I woke up the next day Phil told me that I had been crying and shaking in my sleep. I had a headache and felt sick from all the food, but I knew that today was going to be different. There was no going back anymore. I had spoken the words out aloud, which all of a sudden made it real.
The very first thing I did the next morning was to buy a journal. I was intuitively drawn to writing about my emotions, and looking back journaling has been a vital part of my journey. That's why I still remember the exact day; because I marked my first entry the next day with the 11th of March 2012. The next things I did was to tell my parents and to sign up for an online program with a health coach (this is why I decided to become a health coach to help others with their struggles!).
That's it, folks. If I hadn’t hit rock bottom that day and decided to take responsibility for my own wellbeing, I'd probably still be struggling with food today. But instead I am here today. If you haven't already, you can continue reading about my story in Part 2 and Part 3 of my story.
We all have our own journey. Maybe you struggle with food as well, maybe you are already working on those struggles or maybe this post is making you realize that it is time to get honest with yourself about your own eating habits. Whatever it is, trust that there is a better way than fighting against it day after day. Wherever you are at, keep faith and never give up hope. Trust yourself, and never be afraid to ask for help.