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I was overweight when I was diagnosed with an eating disorder

At one of my lowest points with my eating disorder, just thinking about food was enough to induce a panic attack.

I was 21 and had spent years feeling ashamed of myself for being overweight. Now I was avoiding eating until it hurt, suffering painful stomach cramps from hunger and feeling like a failure for wanting food. 

When I did eat, I did it so fast that I didn’t taste the food. Overwhelming heart palpitations would then take hold, lasting anywhere up to an hour, as I got incredibly upset with myself for not being dedicated to losing weight. 

Whilst awful and scary, these episodes at least helped me to admit what I had known for seven years: that I was overweight with an eating disorder. 

I was 14 when I decided I wanted to be a presenter on television, but the only ones I saw were thin and glamorous. In contrast, I wore ugly, loose clothing to hide my fat.

I thought that if I wanted the job, I needed the body and believed losing weight would make everything easier.

After learning about calorie counting online, I cut my daily intake over the space of two months until it was eventually halved.

Proudness bubbled in me as everyone marvelled at my sudden thinness. I was thrilled with my progress. For the first time in months, I felt pretty.

There was just one issue  – every time I stood up, I got overwhelmingly dizzy. An instant headache formed and my sight momentarily blacked out. 

These episodes were incredibly scary. When I brought it up, my grandmother told me straight that I wasn’t eating enough so I tried to eat more. 

After a couple of months, however, things went in the opposite direction. 

I found I couldn’t control myself, specifically around chocolate, and ate massive amounts. 

All the pride I had felt was replaced by yet more shame. I stopped counting calories, afraid to know how much I had eaten and from that point until I was in my early 20s, I found myself in a cycle, swinging between under-eating and binge-eating.

I was so upset at how out of control I felt around chocolate that I began searching online for answers. That was how I discovered binge-eating disorder, a mental illness where people regularly lose control and eat large quantities of food.

The term ‘binge-eating’ made me feel disgusted. I thought I just needed to practice self-control and forced myself to cut down again. 

I started studying for a media degree but my anxiety and depression were both ramping up. I felt out of place as the fattest person in my course and in my first semester, I failed a module I had barely attended due to my worsening mental health. 

By 19, therapy seemed like the only option. I spoke about my feelings being fat but avoided discussing my habits around food – and my continued reliance on chocolate. 

Periods of under-eating lasted weeks while my binge-eating could last months. And while binging, I put a lot of pressure on myself, telling myself I was worthless for being fat.

The idea that I had an eating disorder had been floating around my head but I wouldn’t let myself accept it. I thought only thin people had disordered eating and my look didn’t fit the part. 

I was convinced I was too fat to be ill and besides, losing weight was beneficial for my health and career. This wasn’t an illness, I told myself – not eating was self-care. 

Everything came to a head one day when I was at the hairdresser. She asked me to stand, I fainted and when I came round, I was screaming for my mother.

My BMI was bordering on healthy yet I was miserable and tired of being consumed by my weight and food. If dropping dress sizes wasn’t enough, I realised I would never be thin enough until I was dead.

Exhausted, I went to my GP and told him everything.

As I started speaking, it felt as if space was opening in my chest and I could finally breathe again. I left my appointment armed with a new prescription for anti-depressants and a diagnosis :  Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder, known as OSFED.

The condition is a catch-all for anyone with disordered eating who doesn’t fit the criteria of other illnesses, such as anorexia or bulimia. Accounting for 47% of all cases, it is the most common eating disorder diagnosis. Over half a million people in the UK are believed to suffer from OSFED.

Restricting calories to lose weight was a symptom of anorexia, but losing control around food  – chocolate in my case  – was indicative of binge-eating disorder. For me, OSFED came from this mixture.

I educated myself on eating disorders and stopped engaging with destructive online communities that promoted thinness. I no longer counted calories, repeatedly telling myself ‘You are allowed to eat’ like a mantra, and it helped to stop the palpitations.

I also took a year out of my degree to focus on myself. Removing the pressure of my studies helped immensely as it gave me extra time to relax by indulging in my hobbies, such as blogging and poetry.

The anti-depressants kicked in within the first couple of months, too and I gradually came to feel more at ease in my body, even starting to appreciate it.

When you are thin and you lose weight, people worry. But when I started to slim down, I was congratulated for taking care of myself. 

Having an eating disorder is an awful experience and I have no doubt that being overweight made it worse. The shame I felt at trying and failing to reach a healthy weight was constant.

Under-eating was never sustainable and anything I lost usually snuck back on just as quickly.

To lose weight in a healthy way we should turn to doctors, not the internet – what I learned online about calorie counting developed into a seven year illness. Weight loss is as simple as eating well and exercising in moderation –  anything else is punishing yourself.

It has been four years since I was diagnosed with OSFED. While I sometimes still look to chocolate for comfort, I no longer binge. I stop to consider whether my urge to eat it is a reaction to stress or a normal craving. When it’s stress, I look at other ways to relax, like reading or watching a film. 

I have also recently taken up running but my focus is on my fitness  – not my weight. Getting fit is about trying to make life easier on my body, not harder.

No matter what the scales say, I have learned to appreciate my body and everything it does to keep me alive.

Recovery is a journey about choosing to live and every day, I choose recovery.

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  • Posted on August 9, 2020