Overcoming anorexic behaviour

I wonder whether anyone can relate but I used to think that somebody would have to be within or heading towards a dangerously low weight for mental health professionals to talk about anorexic behaviour. However, back in 2011-2012, I spent 6 months in this horribly restrictive headspace that almost ended up with me sectioned against my will using the UK’s Mental Health Act.

How did it begin?

I didn’t realise it at the time but I was later diagnosed with Complex PTSD (I’ve since recovered). One day, probably trying to cope with trauma, I found myself thinking that 800 calories was to be my maximum daily intake. Not a calorie more. In many ways, I was probably trying to find something in my life that I could control. I was 287lbs so it was seen initially as me just ‘eating healthily and being very careful’. But I obsessed about calories. Everything was weighed and calculated to the nearest half calorie. As you can imagine, the weight just fell off but my grip on the calorie limit got tighter. After 800 calories, my limit went down to 500 calories, then 300 calories and ended up 250 calories a day.

How can you survive on 250 calories a day?

Well, it turns you can’t for long! Initially, I become extremely creative with what I ate so mushrooms were my friend. Lunch would be a low-cal cereal bar of 68 calories. I was never hungry but I became very devious at avoiding meals. The children were younger and when my husband got back from work, I’d say that I’d already eaten, etc. In 6 months, I lost 112lbs. And whilst I was just into the overweight range even at my lowest, I carried the weight in a way that actually made me look skinny. People would tell me that I’d lost too much. I looked gaunt. I had large black circles under my eyes.

So, if you weren’t underweight, how was it dangerous?

My heart was affected. When it became noticed by a mental health nurse that I was in this very dangerous headspace, I had to start having ECGs every two weeks to check my heart and blood tests. And I developed Long QT Syndrome that affects how the heart beats. It can be fatal. My bloods were also a mess. There were frequent discussions between the mental health team, the severe eating disorder service, my GP, etc. On one occasion, my ECG results were so bad that I had a call from a nurse later that afternoon saying that I was to go straight to A&E where they were expecting me.

What helped you recover?

I was formally assessed under the Mental Health Act which was to decide if I had to be taken to hospital where they’d do whatever was needed to break out of this trap and save me. I don’t know what it was but something just shock me out of this headspace and I got my calorie intake up to 1,000 and then back up to how I was before.

You’re on a weight loss journey now. Do you see yourself slipping back into this anorexic behaviour?

Being very honest with myself, yes, I think there’s potential. A few weeks ago, I found myself working out how to avoid meals but I had to give myself a good talking to! “Eat Erika, just eat!” That did the trick! I’m not counting exact calories as I think I could become obsessed with counting again so I’m aware that my intake is in a certain ballpark. But it’s liberating that I’m losing weight AND eating without being scared! Yes, I wish in some ways that I’d been helped all those years ago to slowly increase my calories so that I’d get a better relationship with good and not end up so big. But I’m on a weight loss journey now with a far better relationship with food. It’s no longer my enemy. I need to eat to stay healthy and do all the things I want to do like horse riding on the beech and doing zip wires!

I hope this gives some context about my journey but feel free to ask questions.

Hope you have a great weekend and I’ll be back on Monday with my week 8 weigh-in!

Love Erika xx

Overcoming bulimia

Hey folks

So, although I’ll be back on here Monday after my weekly weigh-in, I thought I’d share some really personal experiences with you. You see, I struggled with bulimia from the age of around 10-24 although it was the latter years when it became far more serious. Why am I sharing this with you? Well, I hope it helps one person out there and gives hope that recovery is possible.

In brief, bulimia really robbed me of many years of happiness. Especially from age 18-24, nearly everyday was spent planning how I could binge, doing the bingeing and then purging the thousands of calories I’d consumed. It was almost like there was very little room for anything else so it’s quite miraculous that I got married during this time (and am still extremely happily married) but having an eating disorder is almost like a full-time job. I found that there were certain things I would binge on, namely food that didn’t take much chewing and food that was cheap. So, most things were very sweet like mini chocolate rolls that I could eat within seconds. Anything that would fill this hole inside of me. And, of course, bingeing is hugely private so if I was out and about, I’d go into places where no-one could see me, even if it was dark and I could have been in danger. I remember on a family holiday to Hong Kong, I left the hotel room very late at night just to binge. I remember when I was still in education and had a Saturday job, I binged once in the stockroom on chocolate without being caught out. I would have to plan the shops where I’d get the food so that I wouldn’t be recognised by staff as there ‘yet again’. Bingeing happened nearly every single day.

I couldn’t make myself sick but I abused laxatives. So many laxatives. I’m not going to go into detail but I became very used to stomach cramps and dealing with the inevitable. How my heart survived, I don’t know. One pharmacy actually refused to sell me laxatives as it’d spotted that I’d been in there recently. People would comment how ill I looked all the time. Dark black circles under my eyes. Cold hands. Very pale skin. My social life was almost non-existent.

And then I got a high powered job in London that just exasperated my bulimia. I turned to a private London hospital for outpatient treatment and I attended the day hospital for about 2 weeks. My parents thought I was going to work every day as I didn’t want to tell them. But then the staff could see how I needed more intense care and I found myself being admitted to its eating disorder unit where suddenly everything was controlled. My meals. My ability to purge. My time. But actually this is where I started to work on what lead me to binge and to finally open up to things I’d wanted to mask. Things I’d wanted to push down inside of me through binging. It’s too easy to block emotions but actually recovery happened when I faced what had happened to me when I was very young. Without processing this in a healthy way through therapy, I could still be struggling with it. After this 6 week inpatient stay, I then attended the day hospital again for 4 weeks before being discharged. So, it’s thanks to Nightingale Hospital, Marylebone in London whose programme of therapy got me through it.

Since then, I haven’t binged once. Yay! There have been times when I’ve been tempted to take laxatives but I know that laxatives and other forms of purging can be fatal. Actually, when you look up laxatives, they’re not that effective anyway. in terms of weight loss. An eating disorder is only the symptom of something being wrong and whilst facing the most horrendous experiences can feel like an insurmountable mountain, I feel it’s the only way for sustained recovery.

So, if you’re struggling, I’d encourage you to reach out. Help is there, whether it’s from your doctor, school counsellor, eating disorder charity, family, friends or anyone else who will really hear you and help you take the next step.

Next week, I’ll share with you my experience of anorexic behaviour that almost took my life 9 years ago and, in all honestly, this restrictive thinking is probably what I’m finding hardest not to slip back into whilst on this weight loss journey – but I’ll leave that for next time!

I’ll be back on Monday so have a great Sunday everyone

Love Erika xx