Charli, who is now in her twenties, suffered from bulimia as a teenager. Here is her story.
I never really realised there was a problem until my family got involved. Eating disorders are incredibly selfish and you tend to be so wrapped up in what you’re doing that you don’t realise what you’re doing to yourself and the people who love you.
Mine began as a result of two different things: firstly, I have a hormone imbalance and when puberty kicked in I put a lot of weight on and was bullied mercilessly for it, and secondly, it was an element of control in my life when I felt overwhelmed.
My bulimia started slowly. At first it was just making myself sick after meals, then it was purging, and by the end I would chew food but spit it out before I swallowed it. That’s how I was caught out. My brother went to the bathroom after I’d used it and I hadn’t flushed the chain properly.
He and my mum knew there was something wrong but because I’m naturally quite a big girl, broad in my proportions, I never got really skinny or ‘looked anorexic.’ That was something in and of itself that fed my disorder. I have body dysmorphia and really struggled to understand my body and how I looked. It’s also very common for people to have eating disorders and never be diagnosed or receive treatment.
I know lots of girls who have eating disorders. But in our society, if you’re not rake skinny you’re not taken seriously and it’s hard to get the help that you need. I was very ill and was starving myself to the point I’d pass out and my periods had stopped, but I mostly got compliments from people about how ‘healthy’ I looked.
I never got to a GP. The reason I got help was because my mum and brother sat me down and talked to me about what was going on and I realised how my behaviour had affected them. My mother also suffered from bulimia (hers was a control-centred disorder when she was in her early twenties) and when she told me she was horrified that she had somehow pushed me to it. My mum’s my hero and when I realised how hurt and scared she was I immediately agreed to get help. She found a youth counselling service and paid for me to have weekly sessions to help deal with my problems.
As a single parent with little money and very little help from my father, I understood completely the sacrifices she made to send me to those sessions and so I took them seriously and wanted to get better for her.
Once you have an eating disorder it never goes away. You live with it for your whole life, even if you never go down that path again physically. I still struggle with it every day, especially because my hormone imbalance makes weight management difficult. In times of extreme stress it hits me incredibly hard. When I sat my final undergraduate exams I slipped up and fell off the wagon, as it were. But my boyfriend helped me through it and luckily he helps me through it every day.
Recovery is all about surrounding yourself with the right people. At school my friends almost loved the fact that I had an eating disorder. For them it was a cool source of teen drama and they almost encouraged my behaviour. I surround myself with only a few people who understand my past and know my triggers. My best friend, Connor and my mum tend to know I’m struggling before I realise it myself. They tell me when I’m becoming obsessive and help me to work my way out of the mindset that drags you back to it.
Anyone who worries that they might be developing an eating disorder should confide in someone that they trust straight away. There’s a lot of good help out there that’s available now that wasn’t when I went through it. Giving the control to someone else helps. My mum and I sat down and worked out a carefully planned food and fitness plan so I could still feel in control but without the need to purge or hurt myself.
Society needs to understand that eating disorders aren’t only the extreme cases of anorexia that lead to hospital stays or inpatient treatment, but they are also the unhealthy attitude towards food that leads to unhealthy eating patterns.
My cousin had anorexia nervosa which was caused when her family moved home from Italy and she started a new school at age 13. Seeing her go through what I did to the extreme made me understand how bad the choices I’d made were. She was admitted to hospital and was there for 6 weeks. I spent a month of my summer holidays with her in the hospital, helping her to get back to the person she was underneath the disorder.
Hers was never about weight and she’s never had dysmorphia, hers was all about control and because of that it was a slow recovery but one that’s not troubled her as much since. She still lives with it of course, and in times of extreme stress she panics, but she’s doing really well.