This one is a little different, this week February 25th – March 3rd is National Eating Disorders Awareness week organised by the National Eating Disorder Association. They’re the largest nonprofit organisation supporting individuals and communities affected by eating disorders. NEDA’s 2019 campaign and theme is Come as You Are, promoting all stages of body acceptance, recovery, self love and also allows individuals to seek help, speak out, share stories and connect with others. It’s a matter quite close to my heart, in a world conditioned by social media, peer pressure and an ever expanding beauty industry, disorders probably affect around 1.6 million people in the UK alone but the stigma around it makes us afraid to discuss it. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental health concerns and now is the time to start talking.
Here’s my sharing, not for sympathy or attention but as an honest look into my experiences in hope it encourages others to share and ‘Come as You Are’. I work in the performing arts industry. I’ve danced and sung my whole life, I trained at performing arts college London Studio Centre where a gained my BA honours degree, I’ve since been lucky enough to perform for a living. My dream has its ups and downs and I’m still fairly new at it but it’s definitely got to be one of the most rewarding jobs in the world. One of the downs however is the constant judgment, everyone says we shouldn’t care what others think but when you get paid to be watched how can you not? Performers put their souls on platters for their audiences and whilst training as a dancer I found my body under constant scrutiny too. Three years of training in-front of a mirror in nothing but a leotard and tights with 100 other young women, I saw it all.
My first flirtations with controlled eating and body dysmorphia began when I started my degree in 2012 at 18 years old, I moved to London where I rented a house with three of my current soulmates who played a huge part in my well being. I suppose within any line of work or education, when you’ve come from a small pond and you move to deeper waters you’re never quite prepared for the intensity or diversity of the unknown. I went from being a big fish to more of a mackerel. I felt out of control, I didn’t know where I would rank, if I would excel at new subjects or if I would be deemed good enough by my tutors. One thing I could control was my body weight and size, after words thrown at me during six form like ‘hench’, ‘tank’ and my thighs being described as tree trunks it was a natural thought process. I couldn’t comprehend the competition within the college so I went into competition with myself. I couldn’t ultimately control if I fell out of a tricky turn that day in my morning Jazz class but I could control my diet and exercise work balance to create a certain body type. I imagined some other girls on my course were going through a similar thing for a variety of reasons but the subject was so taboo I wouldn’t dare broach it. A common condition for some of us might have been Orthorexia, a term used to describe a condition where obsessive behaviours begin in pursuit of a ‘healthy’ lifestyle. Fuelled by the combination of restricted clean eating and high intensity training that puts bodies into a constant deficit. The internet was my accomplice, after outrageous google research into calories, BMIs, macros, cardio and weight loss I started to become obsessed with it. And because the competition was with myself and deep down I knew my behaviour wasn’t healthy I wanted to keep it a secret. I would start to come home after a 10 hour day of dance classes, lectures and singing lessons to a boiled egg and a cuppa soup. I’d tell my housemates/soulmates that I’d already eaten something that resembled a proper meal on my walk home. I’d downloaded an app that would calculate how much I could eat each day in order to reach a certain weight by the end of the week. I weighed myself twice a day. I also kept a tape measure in my bedside drawer.
Then life started to get in the way.
Social life. This was a tricky one, a burger date with friends would mean I’d want to remove the bun, fries and condiments and student nights out meant vodka with diet tonic water instead of 2-4-1 cocktail pitchers at Whetherspoons. Reclusive calorie counting menus before I would get to restaurants and trying to explain or lie about my clean eating was exhausting.
Energy. I was involved in a high intensity work programme at college, we did long hours of varying genres of dance usually starting with 9am Ballet. My breakfast of black coffee wasn’t allowing me to get to grande allegro without feeling faint. My degree was an expensive course and I couldn’t make the most of it when I wasn’t fuelled. The intense restriction (famin) would lead to overpowering cravings where my body would go into fight or flight mode. It’s basic primal instinct, and all I wanted was a friggin’ croissant.
Menstruation. I lost my period. Changes and irregularity in our periods can be due to a variety of factor’s including changes of exercise regime, weight loss, stress and hormonal changes to name a few. When mine was absent for more than three cycles I went to the doctors. Being a mother isn’t something I wanted at 18 but the thought that my hormones and reproductive system was being jeopardised really shook me.
Soulmates. My three housemates noticed my behaviour and size change, a tutor at my college was involved, the girls talked to me about it and although I wasn’t completely honest it was the first time I had ever opened up and admitted how I felt even to myself. It was the best thing that could have happened. I knew that for me to live my fullest, happiest life I needed to put my energy into other things more worthwhile, and believe me it didn’t just happen over night.
Recovery, self love and just being present is a slow process, it’s a long distance run with a few pot holes rather than a finish line.
Things I have learnt.
– Just like us eating disorders come in different shapes and sizes.
– Looking different to other people is what makes us unique and special.
– Being a woman doesn’t just happen, you wouldn’t drive a car on an empty tank.
– No one feels 100% all of the time, being comfortable in our own skin can be found anytime.
– My goals, friends and family are the most important thing in the world. I’m sorry I wasted time that could have been spent with them measuring my thighs.
– Slow and steady wins the race, small healthy lifestyle choices like getting outdoors and eating colourfully are the ones that stick.
– Life is short, eat the croissant.
I hope this encourages others to share and spread awareness and support, being there for our loved ones is sometimes all we can do and all it takes to help. When eating disorders are affecting over 70 million people worldwide being ashamed and embarrassed of them needs to stop. Follow the link to nationaleatingdisorders.org to educate, self screen and find a variety of confidential help. If anyone relates, would like to share or talk to me please get in touch here or via Instagram, my support for this is unlimited and whole hearted.