I hope you’re all having a lovely Sunday 🙂
Be warned, this post may be pretty long, but bear with me, it’s a post that I’ve wanted to write for quite a while, but until now I haven’t felt quite ready.
As November is drawing closer, I keep thinking about the changes that have taken place between last year and this year, and I realise that actually, they’ve been big ones!
For one, I’m graduating from university in less than a week, and that is mental! I can remember starting my English Literature course, and panicking that there was no way on this green Earth that I would pass it, let alone get a 2:1!!!
I’m also moving to London the day after graduation to start my next ‘life chapter’, which is super exciting (watch this space!).
But on top of all of that, I’ve undergone some very personal changes.
Many of you will not know that last year I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa. The diagnosis had been made just before breaking up for the Christmas holidays, but the illness had set in quite a while before that.
This is me (and a Jack-o’-lantern) exactly a year ago:
When It Began:
I’ve always been self-conscious about my weight. It’s been pointed out (in jest) during my time at school. These were, I choose to believe, never malicious comments, just the odd joke here and there. But it needs to be understood that, unfortunately, it’s enough to make someone slowly resent themselves, and their body.
Towards the end of Sixth Form, when I knew that I was due to start university the following October, I decided to get a little bit healthier, and joined a gym.
[Left: Sixth Form 2013, Right: December 2015]
Although I was getting more active, and slightly ‘better’ with my eating (more vegetables, less pizza), I was still pretty lenient with my diet throughout first year, and allowed myself to eat junk food when I was craving it.
Wine and Pizza were basically my biggest loves:
Then I became aware of something called the Paleo diet, which cuts out a lot of man-made processed foods: anything that wasn’t ‘natural’ was not to go in your body (bread, pasta, chocolate, etc…).
Since during my first year I was catered for by the University, it was pretty difficult to keep on top of these rules (but I gave it a good go!). Mainly because quite a lot of the Uni bulk-cooking relied on carbs. I ended up living off of chicken, vegetables, omelettes, and bean-sprouts.
Second Year of University:
When I moved into my house in second year, I became a lot more relaxed again. I would eat pizza, ice cream, cake (my BIGGEST love), chocolate… without batting an eyelid. In fact, it became a little once or twice a week thing with two of my other housemates to watch The Vampire Diaries, and pass around a tub of ice-cream as we gawped at the pretty men…
During that year I got back into the routine of exercising that I had since abandoned, and started a once a week Ballet Fitness class with my housemates. It was never something we took seriously, we just did it for the fun of it! On top of this, I would do a workout in my bedroom as and when the mood struck. Again, it wasn’t a routine thing!
But there came a time when I really wanted to see more serious results, and had to take a long hard look at what I needed to do to achieve my goals (like not going to the freezer to grab a pint of ice-cream after working out!). So, I started to look back at the Paleo Diet.
By now I should mention that I would get horrendous tummy pains and bloating after eating certain foods, like my pizza and ice-cream (which I would ignore, because y’know, worth it…), and had gotten to the point where I just couldn’t ignore it anymore. SO I went to the doctor, and after countless blood tests, food diaries, questions, and prodding of my tummy, I was told that I had IBS.
Getting Stricter With My Diet:
Now anyone with IBS, or similar conditions, will be familiar with this baby here:
This is the trusty FODMap, which informs individuals of the types of foods to consume, or avoid, with this particular condition.
I can do a post on living on a FODMap diet another time, but it’s quite lengthy, so in short: It’s a process of elimination of certain foods, which is very specific to the individual.
Surprise, surprise, for me it was primarily gluten and a level of dairy (I say ‘primarily’ because other things trigger it too).
This I would say is what set me off on restricting.
From then on, I would eat only ‘clean’ foods: quinoa, avocado, chicken, fish, eggs, leafy greens, vegetables, porridge. I would post religiously on Instagram all of the meals I was cooking. I was LOVING the ‘clean’ way of living: my tummy wasn’t as bloated anymore, I had more energy, and I naturally began to lose that stubborn weight.
Over the summer before going into my third year, I got into running, more exercises, cooking…
But then I started to get scared of certain foods.
The idea of chocolate, and pizza, started to make me feel a little bit sick. Watching other people eat food that I wasn’t comfortable with actually made me feel edgy, because all I could think about was the calorie content in their meals/snacks.
Calories became a major obsession, I tracked them on an app on my phone, and made certain that it wouldn’t go past a certain number. It had gotten to the point where I could list the calorie content of foods without needing to refer to the back of packets, or the app.
Gradually that number began to drop lower and lower, until I reached 6 and a half stone by eating roughly 600-700 Kcals a day. A person of my height, age, and activity, should aim for roughly 1,900+ calories to maintain their weight.
I became more isolated (it’s surprising how much socialising centres around food and drinks), my moods were constantly swinging, I couldn’t sleep, my hair began to fall out, I was cold and tired all the time, and the worst of it was: my periods stopped.
My relationships with friends, family, and boyfriend at the time, changed: whenever anyone voiced their concerns, I would practically shut them out, or snap at them. I was protecting the disorder I didn’t know I had. Their comments went from, ‘you look great!’ to, ‘oh…you’ve lost more weight…?’
But none of that mattered, because in my mind, I still wasn’t skinny enough. Even when I was diagnosed with Anorexia, my reply to the consultant was: ‘but you need to be skinny to be anorexic…’ Guys, I need to emphasise here that anorexia is not about weight. Weight loss is a symptom: The disorder itself is entirely psychological. You can be a size 8-10, or 20-22, and still have anorexia. The more that people understand this, the more there will be a chance of people coming forward to get the help that they don’t believe they qualify for.
I got into dangerous habits of compensating: If I felt like I ate too much one day, I would restrict for the next couple of days. OR if I knew that I was going to an event that would require me to eat a meal, or that would involve alcohol, I wouldn’t eat that day leading up to said event. This almost always led me to feel very sick, and lightheaded. People would laugh because I would get ‘drunk’ after one or two glasses of wine, but they didn’t know it was because I practically starved myself to not go over my calorie count.
Every conversation that I would have with Jack or my family would start by asking them if I had put on weight (I was particularly obsessed with my face and tummy), and at night, I would watch things like Supersize Vs Super Skinny on YouTube, because I would be genuinely fixated on watching people eat the things that I couldn’t/wouldn’t eat.
Admitting That I Had a Problem:
I refused to accept that there was anything wrong with my habits when anyone pointed it out to me. I would tell them that my regimented rules (I had a lot of them), and portion sizes, were everything that my body needed to keep healthy, and they just didn’t understand. I thought that I knew better.
It wasn’t until one day when I got an insane craving for a Milky Way bar, that I realised that something needed to change.
It came out of nowhere: I hadn’t planned for it to be in my meal plan, but I bought and ate it anyway. As soon as that happened, I panicked.
No, really, I broke down. On the floor. Sobbing.
I was shaking, and cursing myself for eating that tiny little bar of chocolate. To me, I had lost my control.
It was then, at that moment, that I knew my behaviour wasn’t ‘normal’. A tiny bar of chocolate had the power to break me.
After months of my parents getting upset and concerned for my weight loss and overall health, it turned out to be something that I couldn’t be told, it was something I needed to realise by myself.
[Christmas 2015, before recovery]
[My 21st Birthday 2015: Just before recovery. This was the beautiful cake my parents had bought for me, and the thought of eating it terrified me]
So, in January I started CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy), and the journey of recovery. It’s something I’m still currently working on, because it’s by no means an easy process or a quick fix. I’m still fighting with unwanted thoughts and learning to decipher between the wants of my body, and the wants of my disorder, but I’m doing just that: fighting.
Because it took me a long time to realise it, but I deserve recovery and help, just like everyone else fighting a mental illness.
Sometimes there are bumps in the road: relapses happen. Things that I never thought I would do started to become a daily occurrence for a while, like binging. No one told me that would happen in recovery, and it was scary. I was convinced that my councillor was lying to me as she told me that it was completely normal; I remember sitting in the room with her, making her promise that I wasn’t actually developing Binge Eating Disorder.
I still go through bouts of binging now, but it’s no way near as bad, or as frequent, as it was in the beginning.
Weight gain is the most difficult thing to cope with, especially when you don’t decide where all of the weight goes as your body and metabolism repair the damage (don’t underestimate how strong and amazingly forgiving your body is).
You’ll have positive days/weeks/months, and then you’ll spiral again, wanting to get the control back that you once had. The control makes me feel safe, but miserable at the same time. I often need to keep reminding myself that the feeling of ‘safety’ is artificial, it’s just my ED (Eating Disorder) telling me lies to stop myself from getting better.
For me, I need to re-learn how to eat proper sized meals, and to give my body the nourishment it needs. I need to stop worrying about calorie counts, and obsessively compensating for over-indulging for just one day.
In January, I made this blog: giantlittlesteps.com
On my About Me page, I’m not entirely honest with the origins of the name, so here it is:
Hello, My name’s Larissa.
I’m in recovery for Anorexia Nervosa.
Whenever I would struggle with eating, or looking at my new body in the mirror, my mum would tell me to take each day in ‘little steps’.
To me, those steps were GIANT.
So, I made this blog, in the hope that one day I could share my experience, and maybe help anyone else in the same, or a similar, circumstance.
You guys haven’t known it until now, but you’ve been on this journey with me from day one.
[Left: Second Summer at University, Middle: December 2015, Right: March 2016]
[Me Today: Recovery Still in Progress]
I know how lonely this disorder is, so if anyone is going through something similar, and would like to talk about it, then email me on: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ll give any advice I can 🙂