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My Recovery Story

I was anorexic. Am I still anorexic? No. Am I healed? No. 

It all started when I was 16. My mom and I moved cities, taking me away from my friends, my family, my school, my familiar surroundings.

Starting a new life a teenager in a new city where you know no one, where friendships have developed and you are just the new girl – it is f*** hard! I struggled making friends at school…not that they weren’t nice to me, but I just went home straight after and spent the afternoons alone. I sat in front of the TV or the computer, chatting with my old friends from back home. 

I was bored. 

I started eating.

Not necessarily crappy food, but it was a constant snacking of yoghurts, cheese and crackers, muesli bars, cereals and I can’t even name it anymore. Well what happens if you are bored, unhappy and you eat? You put weight on. I have never been super skinny, I always had a bit of meat on me, let’s say it like this…so putting some kilos on top of that…not looking great. I felt horrible in my own skin but didn’t really know what to do about it. I never really checked what I was eating…I mean, I was 16. 

The trigger.

Every four weeks or so I took the train back home to visit my dad and I will never forget this one day, where I got off the train, walked towards him and he welcomed me with: ‘wow, you got fat!’ It hurt, it really did. But it also triggered something in me. 

After the weekend I told my mom I needed help and I need to lose weight. We checked in with a nutritionist who did a body scan with me and gave me a meal plan. I followed the plan and it started working…slowly, the kilos came off. It was a great feeling, I had regular meals, I didn’t feel as peckish anymore all the time and it was great to see the results. 

The beginning of my eating disorder.

I felt less hungry, I got compliments for losing weight, I wanted to keep going. I started to decrease my portions, then skipped whole meals. I ate breakfast in the morning, an apple for lunch, my lunch for dinner.

I lost more and more weight…25 kilos in 8 months

My mom got worried. I know she felt helpless. Going to a restaurant an absolute struggle. I couldn’t decide what I wanted, often didn’t end up ordering anything or I started crying over the plate of food I had in front of me. I wanted it all but I didn’t allow myself…it would make it fat. And I did never want to be fat again. 

Every morning I took the train to school I watched all those people with their sandwiches and pastries from the bakery, that smell that was lying in the air of freshly baked goods. I envied those people for being able to eat these things. Because I wasn’t. Would I ever be able again?

No one tells you the truth.

It all went too far. People stopped telling me how great I was looking. Of course, they did. People only tell you nice things but once it gets too far, they don’t have the courage to be honest with you. I isolated myself even more, I was alone, I was lonely. I didn’t look at myself in the mirror. I was hiding behind big jumpers and baggy dresses…to cover up my bones or to hide the fat? 

Until the day my mom couldn’t handle it anymore and she decided to send me away. I got admitted to a special clinic for eating disorders. It was Boxing Day. I still start shivering thinking about this day. They took my phone, I wasn’t allowed to contact anyone for two weeks. On the ward for teenagers, there were 20 of us…anorexic, bulimic, obese. I felt so lost. 

I spent six weeks in the clinic and to explain it in a few points:

  • they made us eat 6 times a day (sometimes more)
  • they portioned our food
  • we had 30 minutes time to eat
  • we had to weigh in weekly
  • they put me on ‘contract’ saying I had to gain 1 kilo of bodyweight per week
  • they gave me mass gainers to gain more quicker
  • we could only leave the clinic for 2 hours on a Saturday

Did the time in the clinic help me with my eating habits? Absolutely not.

I discharged myself. I was done.

Forcing someone to gain a specific amount of weight in a short time? I neglected my body for the last months and instead of putting on fat or weight, my body uses any nutrients and food to protect my organs, my bones, my skin. What I learned during my time there was, how I could have lost even more in an even shorter time frame. But I won’t go into the details here. 

I am not saying that clinics for eating disorders or therapy isn’t helpful. It is. I learned a lot. Seeing others, talking to others, observing others helped me to understand. I didn’t want to be like them. I also didn’t want to be in a place where my whole day evolves around eating anymore, I had enough! 

I was lost.

So, I went home. And I realised that no one taught me how to adapt in the real world. I didn’t know what to eat when to eat, now that I was back at school my whole schedule wasn’t working anymore. I lost even more weight…dangerously more weight. 

Looking back now, I honestly don’t know how I survived those few months after the rehab clinic. And I can’t really tell you what day it was or what exactly happened, but all of the sudden it made…click. I decided I didn’t want this life anymore (well, could you even call this a life?), I wanted to live, I wanted to have a future. Of course, it sounds a lot easier than it is, to just flip the switch…but your body and your brain are capable of insane things. 

And I was on the road back up! I started eating again, I tried to live a somehow normal life without being too weird about food. I tried to enjoy things again, like my favourite lollies I missed so much. 

This is how living feels.

I was able to finish school and graduate. I was able to have friendships and spend time with those people. I was able to go partying without freaking out about the calories in my Malibu and mango juice…yeah, that was thing! I could catch up on my teenage life I was missing out for a couple of years. 

Improving my relationship with food got easier and easier, and surprisingly, I didn’t put much weight on for a long time. My body still trying to take in whatever it can to nourish my organs, my skin, my bones. 

How I am today?

It’s been almost 13 years now since I made that step back into life. I had ups and downs along the way. 

I had a time where my body started ‘reacting’ again, and the time of eating whatever I wanted was over. I had to learn to be aware of what and how I was eating again to not jump into the opposite direction again. It helped me to find a balance, somehow. 

Sports, fitness, exercising has always played a big part in my life. So, giving your body the right nutrients and also being able to allow yourself something, is a lot easier for someone with an eating disorder, knowing that you are working out. But, this can really quickly move into a ‘guilt training’.

Now, am I still anorexic?

No.

Am I healed?

I would say, no. Having been through an eating disorder, a mental illness, is different to a broken bone or hip surgery. All may impact you long term, one more psychologically than the other. I have a fairly healthy relationship with food and I am not feeling overly guilty when I eat a lot or junk food on a day. 

But, food will always be something that plays on my mind, subconsciously. There will always be those moments, where you think this tiramisu at dinner will make you fat. There will always be a moment where you look at yourself in the mirror and you regret those pancakes you had for breakfast. And there will always be a day here or there where you starve yourself all day because you know you have a big dinner out coming up. 

Anorexia will always be a part of my life, it will always be in my head, somewhere in the back there. And I have accepted it. 

All that matter is…

I want to live.