Eating Disorders Don't Have A 'Look': Whatever Your Size, You Deserve To Heal
For 7 years of my life (maybe more but my memory is hazy) I have struggled with an eating disorder. I finally realised this several months ago.
My struggle started when I was 13 or 14. I thought I had to be skinny to be worthy. Lots was happening in my personal life that I had no control over but one thing I could control was eating less and working out more. I lost a lot of weight with no real understanding of why I was doing this at the time.
I watched what Victoria Secret models were eating and followed suit. I drank my hot lemon and water and ate foods with little regard for how I was feeling. I went vegan for a short while just so I could avoid chocolate and cheese.
Less. Less. Less. That was my goal.
It was an achievement if I sprinkled less cheese on my jacket potato. It was an achievement if I didn’t choose fries with my meal or a bread bun with my burger. It was an achievement if I went out for a meal and chose a salad over a pizza. It was an achievement if I felt skinny.
Why? Because that’s what I thought was best. Because when I was born into this world as a little girl, I was bombarded with messages online, on huge billboards and in the media, that skinny was the aim. And this was confirmed time and time again by friends, family and other women in my life.
On the outside I looked 'normal'. But inside, food and I were in a very dysfunctional toxic relationship.
So, I equated skinny with worthy and I was determined (with no real number in mind) to get skinny. I didn’t even realise that my body physically couldn’t resemble a thin catwalk model or actress because it was genetically impossible for my legs to grow several inches and for me to function healthily at their weight, but I figured if I starved myself enough it would just happen one day - right?
And with that, food became my enemy and my body became my battleground. My struggles at home continued throughout my teens and so did using food as a coping mechanism. Slowly, it began to evolve into something else. I found myself stuck in the binge and restrict cycle, except I was doing more binging than severe restricting. By 16, I had gained a lot of weight, making me the heaviest I have ever been to date.
This cycle lived on for years.
All throughout my first year of university my relationship with food escalated, plunging me into a dark depression every time I would overeat. I tried to enjoy food in my life, but I always overate on cake, chocolate, biscuits and pizza with no control because my mentality was ’all or nothing’. I thought since I shouldn’t be having this food as I am not allowed it (hello there, diet culture), I should just binge on it all and be done with it. And when my relationship with food felt out of control, so did my life. There was no in between. It seems diet culture was so deep-rooted into my subconscious it was suffocating me from the inside out.
But here’s the thing that was stopping me from getting help. On the outside I looked ‘normal’. I wasn’t severely underweight or overweight, and by 18/19 I had lost the weight I’d gained at 16 by balancing the binge and restrict cycle more evenly. I didn’t get too hung up about tracking every calorie. I didn’t weigh myself or over-exercise. But inside, food and I were in a very dysfunctional and toxic relationship.
I thought because I didn’t look a certain way that I wasn’t sick, so I denied the idea that I had an eating disorder in my head even though food was bringing me profound unhappiness and was absorbing all my energy, leaving me feeling guilty, fearful, disgusted, lost and self-critical.
When I overate it was purposeful self-harm. I wanted to make myself feel the worst I could possibly feel. I wanted to feel immobile. And there were many times where I would overeat on crappy, processed foods and I would sit in my car surrounded by empty packets and feel that sugar-induced low mood slowly emerging. I would be incapable of moving far due to the excess of sugar floating in my swollen stomach and would know in that moment that tomorrow’s meeting with friends was cancelled and that I wouldn’t be able to make my yoga class or leave the house - because how could I meet my friends all bloated and in pain? How could I go to yoga and work out in the morning when I’d just eaten a whole cake, 6 doughnuts, a hot chocolate, a loaf of bread, a tub of ice cream and a box of cereal? Then I would envision my future self in this hopeless, low mood state. I was sick, unhealthy and alone - all because of my eating disorder.
Despite all this pain I was feeling due to food, I denied myself the path to healing because I thought I wasn’t sick enough because I didn’t look sick. I thought because I didn’t throw up after I overate, I wasn’t ill enough for help and that I could fight this alone because it hadn’t gone ‘too far’ yet.
The truth is I had an eating disorder for many years. The truth is I was causing myself severe pain using food as a deadly weapon. The truth is I was denying myself a beautiful, fulfilled life because my energy was spent beating myself up over what I ate.
Since realising its severity, I have come to accept that eating disorders have no specific ‘look’ and this gave me the freedom I needed to get help.
We all deserve to live fulfilled lives full of love, joy and purpose. I urge you to seek the help you need even if you think you're 'not sick enough'
Hannah is 20 and lives in Manchester. You can find her @theselfloverev where she shares her personal self-love journey and inspires others to live a life that feels good and more fulfilled. She loves art, dogs and yoga.
We all deserve to live fulfilled lives full of love, joy and purpose. I urge you to seek the help you need regardless of the thoughts telling you ‘you are not sick enough’ because ‘you don’t look sick enough’. You don’t deserve this. You deserve the entire world and if you feel food is blocking your path to happiness and fulfilment, I believe your journey to healing starts now and I am with you every step of the way.
Lots and lots of love and light,