Eating Disorder Awareness Week – Claire’s Story

I am now turning 33 and suffering with a binge eating disorder.

Strangely I started having body image problems when I was 19.  I think it was triggered by poor self-esteem from a bit of trauma in my life.  This is where my self-worth really started to dip.  I had body dysmorphia for a long time before it developed into a Binge Eating Disorder.  My Binge Eating Disorder happened when I started training in Martial Arts.  I found myself putting a lot of pressure on myself to be a certain weight to fight and I always thought I should be a certain weight to compete.  This started with extreme low carb dieting where I ended up underweight and very unhealthy although at the time I thought I was great and healthy.  This was just the beginning.  I kept trying to keep a certain weight and focused heavily on foods but this was to take a turn for the worse when I broke my arm in a Jujitsu Competition and because I couldn’t train anymore for a long time as it was a serious break, I started to go into a binge eating cycle.  You see, Martial arts helped me out of depression for a while and then after I broke my arm I lost all of that.  I was bingeing for a long time and noticed that I was putting on weight which was upsetting me and then I went to eating more for comfort.  It was like my crutch for dealing with things.

This happened for years and I ended up double my actual size.  I went from a size 10 to a size 22.  This was very hard to deal with.  My self-esteem was destroyed.  At the time I was also on an anti-psychotic medication which didn’t help the weight gain.  It has a huge part of it too, which I am glad I’m now off.  I knew I had a problem when I found myself feeling really guilty eating a piece of bread or a sandwich.  I had this strange thing against bread!  It wasn’t just a normal feeling bad for eating something, I got the point where I had self-harmed on my stomach a lot as I was very distressed after eating junk or binge eating on foods.  The disgust I felt was nothing like I have ever felt before.

I didn’t really seek  help from family as I didn’t feel they would understand and at times I didn’t think I had an eating disorder.  I confided in my sister and I think she knew I had a disorder before I did.  She has been so helpful and really let me learn that no matter what way I am, I may be big but I am beautiful!  That’s always stuck with me.  Regardless of your shape or size that doesn’t change who you are.  But that isn’t always easy to try and get into your head especially when you have a disorder.  My husband has been my rock and I wouldn’t be here without him.  He always encourages me to love myself and know that I am ok the way I am.  If I want to get healthy then get healthy!  Just remember that you need a healthy mind as well as a healthy body.  I think that even people who know me and know I have a disorder still don’t understand but I guess that’s not their fault and we need to have more understanding about.  The many times I’ve heard people say to me “why don’t you try slimming world”….  The thing is you can’t hide from food, that’s what people don’t understand.  We need it to fuel our bodies!  Food is everywhere and it’s hard not to think about it 24/7.

I went to my G.P about this several times but there wasn’t much we could do except send me to a dietitian but at this point it was an unhealthy relationship with food and not a diagnosed eating disorder.  I was part of psychiatric care and I told them about my issues with food, but because I didn’t vomit or take laxatives there was no help at all for me.  I find this disgraceful but I guess there are only so many services they can offer.  This is when I went to Action Mental Health and they helped me and recommended Life Therapies in Belfast.  I saw them privately for a year.  I was expensive but it was worth it.  I learnt a lot and I really developed as a person.  My advice, is if you can afford it, go to see a specialist in eating disorders as you will learn a lot.  If you can’t then look at charity’s and get some support.  You cannot do this alone!

I am still battling an eating disorder which is tough.  I had been doing really well in the mind-set for a good 8 months but now I have had physical illness happen and it’s kind of triggered my disorder again.  In this space of time I lost 5 stone but I have gained it all again and this is the nature of someone with disordered eating.

I think the best advice I could give anyone is to learn to love yourself and don’t judge yourself on how you think you may look, or by what others may say.  People are too quick to judge someone on how they look.  Learn to connect your thoughts and feelings and learn why you do certain things, learn to eat when you are hungry and really think about what you’re eating and how nourishing it is for your body.  Food is Medicine! Do not Diet!  Do not restrict yourself!  Once you learn to do this you can then learn a healthier way to eat but also by enjoying food.

One thing I would love people to do is think before they speak or think how it may affect that person.  You just don’t know what people are going through in their heads or what they are battling.  Why should anyone comment on how someone looks?  This applies to thin people too.  I know a lot of people who hate being told they are too skinny, so it’s all one side of the same coin, so to speak.  Another thing is to stop body shaming!

Speak to someone you trust, and if you find that too hard then speak to a charity organisation like Action Mental Health as they will totally understand you and sometimes speaking to someone you don’t know is easier.  We can all develop eating disorders regardless of age and gender.

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