! TRIGGER WARNING: EATING DISORDERS !
I have had disordered eating for as long as I can remember. For me, that manifested itself in long cycles of over- or binge eating followed by years of restriction. Just like millions of other women the world over, I was ignored by medical professionals because I never reached the dizzy lows of the obviously anorexic woman. How could a fat woman possibly have an eating disorder?
My story differs to many other women though because I am a disabled person. Part of my condition meant years of hospital admissions, periods of being nil by mouth and needing a feeding tube due to a physiological inability to eat. The additional pressures of medically enforced restriction only fuelled my eating disorder and eventually, I did become painfully underweight.
The last phase of restriction had lasted about five years, meaning I slowly lost over half my body weight. Congratulated by everyone who met me, encouraged by my doctors and family, it’s no wonder I couldn’t stop. Like many other women, I’m just as impacted by the politics surrounding bodies and the standards set by the media; even more so because my body is considered so ‘other’.
I can remember the urges to binge creeping up on me. To begin with, it didn’t matter; my restriction was so tight that I probably could have eaten my wife and not gained a pound. Just one day off, I would tell myself, then back to it. Over time though, the binges became harder to manage, it was much more of a struggle to ‘get back on track’, and I started to feel more and more mentally unable to cope.
At the end of 2016, I was flying home from a weekend away staying at a friends. I’d had the weekend ‘off’ and knew I’d be ‘back to it’ the next day. So, at the airport I brought everything I could get my hands on. I filled a carrier bag with biscuits (a family sized box), chocolate, drinks; you name it and I ate it until I physically couldn’t fit another bite in. When I reached my home town of Bristol, I sobbed as I threw the bag in the bin. The regret, the disgust, the confusion and the frustration were overwhelming. I felt like I’d never know what way was up ever again. Just as I had been doing daily for the last few years, I posted a photo of that moment of Instagram. Most of the comment were the usual ‘you’re doing really well, don’t beat yourself up’! But one comment came from a woman who’d struggled with her body acceptance suggesting I followed another Bristolian woman who was offering hope through quitting dieting.
I would love to tell you that once the switch flipped I was all in with both feet, but of course it’s been a bumpy ride. However, one huge milestone arrived as a gift last month. After years without menstruation, my period!
When my periods returned, I jumped on the scales for the first time in six or seven months just so I had a rough idea of what I 'needed' to weigh for my body to perform this function. The weight itself didn't really get to me, as it happens, but the thoughts afterwards were harder to manage. The desire to jump back on the next day or next week 'just to see' how much I was gaining or losing or if I was maintaining was overwhelming. That prompted me to talk firmly to myself about what I have gained in recovery over and above weight.
And with that, I wanted to share with you just a few of the things that make recovery worthwhile.
1. Food freedom.
I have learnt about intuitive eating, set point theory, antidiet politics and Health At Every Size, all leaving me with a powerful belief that in fact, I can eat whatever I want in whatever quantities I choose. Now I realise this is a radical idea and that some of you may think me flippant, but that's exactly what I do now.
2. A political awakening.
I've always been passionate about the disability rights movement, and oddly I'd never considered that this was in fact so closely linked with body politics. I now see so clearly how the two work hand-in-hand to help free me of the 'bad body' bullshit as well as educate me on body positivity and fat activism. I used to separate politics into neat little boxes to make it easier to manage in my head, but now I’ve managed to step back and see the bigger picture, it’s all inexplicably linked.
I mean seriously, my ass is amazing now.
4. Mental clarity and balance.
I mean I'm still human, and obviously nothing is a cure for being a person with emotions, but not being in starvation, feeding my body regularly and nourishing it properly has been liberating. I was always angry, on the verge of tears and exhausted. Whilst I was able to be happy and have fun, my ED was never more than three seconds away. Now I can see myself and my life with so much more balance, kindness and compassion.
5. A stronger sense of self.
I struggled to see past my body, to be more than just the woman on a weight loss mission. I constantly judged myself and others. But in finding peace in my body, I've found much more peace in who I am as a person and the people in my life beside me.
6. A no-fucks-given attitude.
This may well be one of the greatest gifts recovery has given me. After decades of shame and fear surrounding my body and how other people viewed it, I have finally realised it doesn’t matter. Those people's opinions only held power because I entitled them to it. This one has taken some time, but by removing the power you once placed in others hands and reclaiming it for yourself, you realise you held this power all along. Think I’m ugly? Couldn’t give a shit mate. I’m magical and that's that.
7. I realised that ‘health’ is just another standard.
Just another way to marginalise bodies, to exclude people and to make them feel bad about not getting their body ‘right’. Think about the paper, the news, your magazines, they’re all obsessed with health. When I started counting calories in my last round of anorexia I was doing it ‘for the sake of my health’. We have been sucked into another marketing ploy, this time we’re told that we don’t have to be skinny as long as we’re healthy and it’s rubbish. Health isn’t something tangible, you can’t measure it easily (certainly not by looking at someone) and it just leads to more fatphobia, more body shaming and more for people to feel like they’re failing at.
I have gained weight, and I imagine I’ll continue to do so. But whatever happens, the positives of recovery will always weigh more than I do!