WAKING to find my panicked boyfriend and two best friends at my bedside, I knew I’d hit rock bottom.
Aged 20, I weighed less than 7st and had spent the night having fits and passing in and out of consciousness after taking dozens of laxatives.
I realised a line had been crossed and I had to get better. And I did – until a few months later, when I became gripped by another eating disorder, then another. More than 20 years later, I’m still in that grip.
I was 13 and a healthy size 10-12 when I first started dieting. I’d always felt uglier and less popular than my friends, even though I really wasn’t, and when puberty struck I felt so self-conscious that I began skipping meals and saving my pocket money to buy SlimFast.
Sometimes I’d fall off the wagon and gorge on a packet of biscuits, but otherwise I was strict. At 9st and 5ft 7in, I was convinced I was fat, despite being a healthy weight for my height.
One evening after school when I was 16, I ate a load of Rice Krispies straight from the box, and suddenly felt the urge to make myself sick. In the early ‘90s eating disorders weren’t talked about so openly, and as I stuck my fingers down my throat I had no clue what bulimia was.
It spiralled from there. After months of eating and purging to make myself thin, I began cutting out meals. I’d come home with wrappers from the local fast-food chain so my parents would assume I’d eaten. But no matter how little I ate, I never felt thin enough.
My parents had an unhappy marriage and were busy with work, so they were oblivious to my issues, which left me feeling so lonely. I didn’t feel able to discuss my problems with my mum, who had always been quite critical, or my sister, Susan, now 50. I was crying out for somebody to understand me, but it felt like everybody was preoccupied with their lives.
By 17, I was starving myself for months on end, living on instant soups and fruit juice then having a big purge, shoving bread, crisps, chocolate and cake down my throat just to experience the taste of food before vomiting it up again. Even though I weighed just 7st, my loved ones didn’t intervene. Instead, friends’ mums would tell me to eat some toast, while mates jokingly called me Skeletor.
One friend begged me to see a counsellor, so I did to appease her. But I hated it and vowed never to go back, as the truth was I didn’t want to get better. If I ate I would get fat, and I didn’t want to live like that.
Then when I was 18, my mum walked into my room uninvited and saw me naked for the first time in years.
By then I was emaciated, hiding my scrawny frame under baggy clothes, and she was clearly shocked at how thin I was. I yelled at her to get out, slamming the door in her face. She tried to talk to me, but shortly after my A levels I moved into a rented flat, as I didn’t want her prying. Looking back, she must have been so worried, but I just didn’t care.
I took a year out, then started at Middlesex University studying English. I barely ate, only allowing myself juice, tea and chewing gum. If I did eat in moments of weakness, I’d drink Epsom salt to make me feel sick then follow up with laxatives. Somehow, I still had the energy to walk for miles, which I did to make sure I stayed thin.
I know I must have looked shocking to my fellow students and friends, but there was so little education on eating disorders that no one challenged me. My boyfriend, who’d I’d been with for more than a year by this point, was really worried about me, but we’d just end up joking about my anorexia as some sort of coping mechanism.
Only a few weeks into my first term of uni, I was left alone in a friend’s room in student halls. He’d bought us biscuits and I scoffed a handful while he was in the toilet, feeling like it was my dirty secret. When he came out and caught me, I remember feeling so ashamed I hurried home to throw up, and took more laxatives than I ever had before. That was the night my friends thought I was going to die. I confessed to my boyfriend what I’d done and begged him not to call an ambulance, so he rang a medical hotline, which advised him to give me liquids as I was severely dehydrated.
After that my loved ones finally understood how ill I was, and began to watch me closely. I started eating small things like yoghurt, and realised I had to stop starving myself or I would die. Seeing how worried my friends were about my health made me realise that I had something to live for.
Slowly I began eating in public, but I still couldn’t finish a plate of food. In private, however, my eating patterns were erratic. Some days I would binge and others barely eat, and I’ve stayed that way ever since.
Over the past 20 years I’ve swung from 9st to 13st and back. I’m locked in a never-ending cycle of being “good” most of the time and “bad” some of the time. I’ve been known to eat a whole cake, giant bags of Haribo, super-sized packets of crisps with dip, chunks of cheese, salami and white bread with butter all in one sitting, often in less than an hour.
These binges are always followed by a feeling of crushing shame and the need to make myself sick. Although I’ve beaten anorexia, I can’t say the same about my bulimia and compulsive eating.
I split up with my university boyfriend after seven years together at the age of 25, and that same year I began dating my now husband Paul, 47, a technology specialist, who I’d met through friends. I was honest with him about my eating disorder history and while he knew that the worst – my anorexia – was behind me, I still endured feast or famine moments. But Paul accepted it, as he knew that by then it was as much a part of me as the colour of my hair. He loves me regardless, and never pushed me to get help as he knew I’d do it when I felt ready.
When I got pregnant with our twin girls Frida and Rae at the age of 37, I felt the happiest I ever have with my body and ate what I wanted for nine months. I felt so grateful to be pregnant after a long fertility battle, which was probably down to my extreme eating habits, although this was never confirmed. For the first time in my life I didn’t worry about food. However, that soon changed with the stress of two newborns and sleepless nights, and I began bingeing again.
When the girls were two, I weighed 13st and was a size 14, so I started running. I soon discovered that it helps me feel strong and in control, and it was really good for my mental health. By 40 I was back down to 9st, but I still hadn’t managed to conquer my bingeing. Since then, I’ve fluctuated between a size 8 and 12, and I still eat too much on some days, which leaves me feeling disgusted and ashamed.
Thankfully, so far I’ve managed to hide my destructive relationship with food from the girls, as my heart would break if they developed the same problems. That’s why the scales are hidden and the word “fat” is banned in the house. I let them eat what they want within reason, and no foods are restricted.
Just recently, I gave in one evening to the need for sugar. I started with spoonfuls of Nutella, then raided the kids’ cupboards for sweets before making myself sick. My sugar high quickly turned to shame. Even so, each day I start afresh, telling myself it will be a good day, even if that isn’t the case, because I’m determined to achieve a healthy relationship with food and pass that on to my children.
After running the Brighton Marathon last year, I felt so proud of my body and the fact that, despite the abuse I’ve put it through, it’s stayed strong. Because of this and the fact I want to be a good role model for my girls, I finally feel ready to get professional help to face my demons and have made an appointment with my GP. My body hasn’t given up on me, so I won’t give up on it.
Where to get help
For support and information, visit Beateatingdisorders.org.uk
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