Saturday, 1 March 2014


I felt compelled to write an extra post this week in honour of National Eating Disorder Awareness week, which is this very week. Eating disorders are an issue rather close to my heart as I suffered with anorexia and depression during my late teens and although my relationship with food is a little better 10yrs on my body and I are still uneasy bedfellows.

To put no finer point on it I starved myself from a healthy 11.5st and size 14 (I'm 5ft 7 inches) down to a skeletal 6st. At my smallest I was a size 4-6. I was a little plump to begin with, but by no means overweight, yet I was convinced I was a huge, disgusting whale which no one would ever find attractive. I honestly believed the key to being happier was to lose weight, to be skinny. I was wrong.

Over the course of a year I cut all fat from my diet and then started reducing my calorie intake ultimately down to less than 100 a day. I existed (you can't call it living when you barely have the energy to walk up a flight of stairs) on water and thinks like sugar free jelly pots. And it worked - I lost a lot of weight and quickly - but I also destroyed my body. My breasts stopped growing and have never started again (I am a 32A on a good day), my hair became thin and dry, my skin was sallow, my eyes sunken and the widest part of my legs was my knees. My periods stopped, I was constantly shattered and freezing cold even in the middle of summer. Yet I ignored all of these negative things because I thought I looked good.

I don't think my parents knew what to do. They never really tackled me on my secretive eating habits (I used to pretend I'd already eaten or take food up to my room and hide it so they would think I'd eaten it). It wasn't their fault - they just didn't know what to do and we were never the sort of family that talked openly about feelings or emotional stuff. Fortunately I had some amazing friends and teachers who did see what was happening and who did try to help. I can vividly remember my A Level chemistry teacher sitting me down and telling me, in the gentlest way, that if I did not start to improve the school would consider having me sectioned. They never did but that was a turning point. 

A couple of months later I started to eat again, very slowly as my body couldn't handle more than a mouthful without me throwing up at first. Slowly I gained the tiniest bit of weight and it terrified me. I felt out of control and that's the crux of it. Anorexia isn't really about food, even if it may start out with a desire to lose weight - it's about exerting control over something. Now I can recognise that I am a total control freak and put that to constructive use but as a teenager, when so much is happening to you that you can't control,  that side of my nature was destructive.

10yrs on I suppose you could say I'm cured. I am a healthy weight and I eat regularly. I even eat junk food. That need to control, though, is still with me. If I find myself in a stressful situation I still start to unconsciously restrict my eating, almost like a reflex, but at least now I can recognise it and take steps to prevent it becoming an issue. I still compare myself to others all the time and find myself wanting. I wore a size 10 pencil skirt and size 6 jumper today but still had moments where I felt big, clumsy and fat even though my rational mind knows I'm not. I refuse to have scales in the house and don't know what I weigh because if I did there would be the potential to obsess over it.

I don't think you're ever totally "cured" of something like that, but what I do believe 100% is that you can learn to live with it! You can learn to control the impulse to control. I don't completely blame the media and images of tiny women, often with airbrushed or otherwise enhanced bodies, but they certainly did have a negative impact on my teenage mind. They absolutely do not help and I get really angry when I read magazines which promote healthy body image while using super skinny models on their fashion pages. Hypocrites! The thing is according to the vast majority of men I've spoken to, including my husband, they don't find those skinny women sexy. Go figure.

I know this has been possibly the longest post ever but I did say this was an issue close to my heart. If sharing my experience can help someone recognise a problem with themselves or their friend or family member then it was worth if. If you are worried about someone or yourself then talk to someone, maybe a GP or a teacher or a friend. Don't assume that dieting and being funny with food is just a normal teenage or female thing (anorexia affects men too). And please please don't fall into the trap of thinking that what you see in magazines is a true image of beauty which you must emulate. It isn't.


  1. Thank you for putting this out there. It scares me that my daughters will have to go through the next delicate 20 years the media barrage of"idealised" images of women.. I only hope I can help them through it. Just today my 4-year old was asking about an image of a woman advertising a soft drink and she was full of questions: why is she wearing makeup, why high heels, why is she lying on her belly with her legs bent and ankles crossed! At 4, it's all going in!

  2. You're welcome. Even though I'm not a parent it scares me too that children today seem to be in such a huge rush to grow up. For that reason I refuse to buy my 6yr old niece any birthday or Christmas present that has make up or age inappropriate stuff in it. She should be playing and messing about, not worrying about how she looks! There's so much media around us now, and children can access it far more easily than I could even just growing up in the 90's, that it's no wonder they're starting to become image conscious and ask questions at a younger and younger age.