It was October 2013, I lay in my single room of the maisonette I shared with one other girl in my final year at university surrounded by food wrappers. I pondered what my life had become. It is only upon reflection that I understand what a tiny world it is that I used to live. My thought process consisted of a bombardment of food, exercise and negative anxiety provoking thoughts. It would go something like: “I can’t eat that it’ll make me fat… oh gosh what have I eaten… ah I feel so guilty… well I couldn’t possibly feel any worse than I do so I may as well just keep going… ohhhh why did I keep eating, I feel so sick… I’ve tried throwing up but I just can’t, when will this pain end, why I am I so useless that I can’t even eat right… why do other people find it so easy… why is everyone else so perfect and I can’t seem to do anything right… I must go to the gym tomorrow, I need to burn at least 3000 calories, I think I should be able to fit in a run and couple of work outs in between lectures and revision tomorrow… I must type all the food I plan to eat tomorrow into myfitnesspal to make sure I don’t eat more than 1200 calories as I need to make sure I am in deficit, myfitnesspal says I need to eat that in order to lose 2lbs a week, I think if I lose 2lbs a week I’ll get to my goal weight by my birthday… oh I do hope this birthday is better than last year… I want to be able to fit into that dress I’ve been too fat for…! Well you get the picture.
Even just writing down that dialogue, I am transported back to that unspeakable time which I find particularly hard to relive. My life was a constant cycle of these thoughts. I was fixated on the fact that my life was fine, all apart from not being able to eat right.
It had been eight months of managing this inner dialogue whilst completing my final year studies before I started trawling the internet for someone to help me. I didn’t think that my behaviour with food was disordered, I just thought I was incapable of following diet plans so I sought out a bootcamp that would help me shift the weight so I would feel better. I found one that seemed perfect and it even had a resident nutritionist, someone I could speak to about my inability to follow diet plans.
So that was me off to the Kent countryside. Six hours of exercise everyday was right up my street, I even surprised myself at how little I craved food in between exercising. It was great and the personal trainers gave me more exercise to do as I was lapping all the other women. This is where I thought I belonged. Someone to plan my meals, my exercise, somewhere where I didn’t have to think and where I could just be. At this point I didn’t think I really needed the nutritionist but went along anyway. I spoke of my behaviour and asked her what to do about it. Then words came out of her mouth that I never thought I’d hear in relation to me. “I think you may have an eating disorder”, binge eating disorder in fact. Amongst the upset I think I was actually relieved. I finally knew what was wrong with me.
One problem of mine is that I lived by Nike’s motto ‘just do it’. I‘d forever go from one thing to another and just keep as busy as possible. This is fine if you can carry on like this your entire life but it got to the point where I hated my own company. I managed to suppress ‘some’ of the negative thoughts whilst I was with other people but they came back in full force when I was on my own. I had to learn how to just ‘be’ which I didn’t realise until about one and a half years on and 5 bootcamps later. I even went to Thailand for over a month just to lose weight – it had complete hold over my life.
My self-medicating with bootcamps wasn’t working so I went to my GP to see if he could help me. However, as I wasn’t visibly overweight, he thought there was nothing wrong with me and said that I would grow out of the behaviours but, he would recommend me to a specialist anyway. I ended up doing an NHS trial of guided self help which suppressed the food behaviours but the minute that was over I was back to my binge cycle again. I realise now that the trial was insufficient, not me – it treated the symptoms of the eating disorder but it didn’t get down to the route cause. At the time though, my eating disorder just used it as another thing I had failed at.
It wasn’t until my mum found this clinic in London before I started to turn a corner. I had already tried counselling before this point with two separate therapists but, neither had felt right. However, I am glad I trusted my intuition with those therapists as it probably wouldn’t have lead me to Recover clinic. The Recover Clinic has given me a life. A life of constant negative thought patterns is exhausting and isn’t living. They have enabled me to open my eyes to this amazing world in which we live now I am finally learning how to live it, my way.
Emmy Gilmour, the founding director of the Recover Clinic took my consultation. She is the perfect combination of caring with no bullshit and for the first time I felt like she saw in me what I couldn’t see myself and, was the first person that told me complete recovery from an eating disorder was a possibility. I started at the clinic for 3 days a week with a mixture of 121 sessions and group sessions consisting of: spiritual group, life coaching, women’s group, creativity, sex & relationships, ED process, nutrition and counselling. This holistic approach to recovery is something that you can’t get anywhere else and finally focussed on the root issues that lead to my eating disorder.
I struggled a lot at first, I felt like as I wasn’t visibly overweight or anorexic that my eating disorder wasn’t as bad as other people in group and I tried to leave within the first week. However, I just saw the eating disorder as having a problem with food but, now I see that I had a disordered relationship with myself. Everybody’s recovery journey is different and by comparing myself to others within the group I took focus away from my own journey.
I started at clinic the day after my 24th birthday so it feels very surreal that I am writing this a couple of months away from my 25th. I feel very accomplished but also real empathy for my old self and others at the start of their journeys which is why I wanted to share this. Recovery is possible.
The biggest revelations that I made through my 8 months were learning to self-love, trusting my intuition, the law of attraction, setting boundaries, building relationships with the right people and gratitude – and funnily enough, none of these are food related.
With self-love I learned to celebrate who I was but also giving loving thoughts to everybody else. I tended to project thoughts about my self onto other people as I walked down the street; “ughh why are they wearing that, they look disgusting” or “better not crash into her, might make a dent in my car” – awful, awful things but, what I started to do was counteract these thoughts with something positive like “she looks amazing and it’s incredible that she wears what she wants as her confidence shines through”. Empowered women empower other women. I realised then the power of my thoughts and how positive thoughts negate negativity.
This leads me into gratitude. I now keep a small notepad with me and try to regularly find things, no matter how small that I am grateful for. “I am grateful for that stranger that held the door open for me earlier”, “I am grateful for noticing how blue the sky is today”, “I am grateful for living another day eating disorder free”. All of these instantly put you in a positive frame of mind which stops the negative thoughts from creeping in.
These new thought patterns brought with it a shift in my personal law of attraction. If you don’t know what the law attraction is, it is a theory that ‘like and attracts like’. I used to think so poorly of myself that I attracted things and people into my life that reflected this. When I started to shift my thought pattern, I felt like a miracle happened. I remember the first week in July last year, I had a glimpse of what life was like without an eating disorder and I genuinely thought that I was walking around in a bubble surrounded by rainbows and unicorns – it felt too good to be real. Now I am living a life that I could have only dreamed about before, and I finally believe people when they say that nothing is beyond your reach and you can achieve anything you want in this life.
Another huge revelation for me was my relationships, relationships with family, friends and partners. I had no say in any of my relationships before. Friends were constantly cancelling on me and all I would do was say “okay that’s no problem, shall we rearrange?” This pattern was happening over and over again until it was pointed out to me that I was letting happen. By not standing up for myself and saying “look I rearranged my day to see you, and if you keep cancelling then you obviously aren’t investing the same in this friendship as I am” I was allowing this pattern to continue. After I started looking out for myself within those friendships, they either got better or fell by the way side but, for the first time I felt like I was focussing on how these friendships made me feel rather than just holding onto them out of fear of loss. This boundary setting was scary and difficult to do but, the friendships I have in my life now are so rich and supportive and I am so much more connected than ever before. This connection has come from being more connected with myself and allowing myself to be vulnerable and not constantly trying to keep up appearances. The same thing applies to dating. I also found that when dating, I always used to be worried about making the other person like me but, now I think, do I like them? Most of the progress I made with relationships was made through the therapeutic groups, either challenging other clients, or challenging myself. Some very difficult conversations happen within these groups but it is overwhelming and heart warming when you hear someone check in to the group saying I feel like I’ve started to love myself or I really feel like I’ve turned a corner.
This last year has been an extremely rich and rewarding year and I will be forever grateful to every therapist, member of staff and client I had the pleasure of spending time with during my time at the Recover Clinic. Emmy has a clinic in London and Brighton now and their Instagram, @recoverclinic, is full inspiring posts. If you are struggling yourself, I urge you to get in touch with them as I have completely turned my life around. So I’ll leave you with a little quote “The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering”.