Molly: Part 1

mollu

Before posting this, my 17-year-old sister told me not to be scared. She said that it’s such a big part of how I’ve become the person I am, it’s not shameful, it’s just something that happened to me. And she’s right – it happened to me, with the past tense being crucial there, and I’d rather it happened to me than her any day of the year. I want to prevent it from happening to anyone else, because I know this kind of thing is affecting millions of people on a global-scale.

 

So this an attempt of mine to both condense and describe in as much detail as I can possibly convey, what I went through from around the end of year 9 to year 12. This was the point where at most I felt like I had reached a milestone in recovering from EDNOS: an eating disorder not otherwise specified. I’m hoping that this piece of exceptionally personal writing, like all of the pieces shared already on this platform, will reach out to someone.

 

I can’t pretend that I don’t feel somewhat embarrassed whilst writing this, as I can imagine some of my school peers won’t have the faintest of clues that I had issues surrounding food and my mental attitude towards it. I almost feel worried that people will think that I’m weird and that I will be judged for posting this. But I do know that those who haven’t experienced mental health issues either themselves or through those close to them will always have some kind of distance in understanding them, and that’s okay. The main reason that my peers might not have realised that I had eating problems was because I was not anorexic. I have never been and I never will be. I was not bulimic, and I did not have a binge-eating disorder. Thus, I did not fit into any of the categories that are medically diagnosed by the NHS as an eating disorder. It makes it all the more difficult to explain that I believe what I went through was on the same scale.

 

I’ve always been ‘top-heavy’. I’ve always had big boobs, which I’ve always hated. However I can’t change that and I don’t even think I’d want to anymore. I’ve also never had that skinny, ideal figure that epitomised and was the face of the fashion and diet culture of the 1990s. Again, I do not aspire to have such a figure anymore. However in the summer following year 9, in September 2010, I looked at pictures of myself and thought I looked humongous. Both admittedly and factually, I had put on weight – although I was nowhere near large. From here onwards it almost seems like a blur. All I remember is a firm decision that I was going to lose weight, and as quickly as possible.

 

Before I knew it, I had almost eliminated most of my calorie intake. I was absolutely shattered all the time, I was incredibly irritable and all of my thoughts were consumed by food. I was so tired that I couldn’t exercise other than completing my rigorous routine before bed. I couldn’t stand people talking about food, I couldn’t stand being around food and I tried to avoid any outings with my friends that surrounded food. I remember one time as I tucked into my lunch of two slices of ham and half a pepper, being shouted at by a girl telling me to ‘get some carbs down me.’ I wish I could of. I became anti-social, unhappy and self-absorbed – all in a desperate attempt to lose weight.

 

And I did lose weight, just in the worst way possible. If you would like to lose weight – I would suggest taking the advice of a qualified nutritionist or a doctor, and not taking a restrictive approach – we NEED food to survive. Our bodies stop functioning without it. I’m not sure entirely if my friends picked up on my weight loss, but I was aware it was noticeable when my P.E teacher pulled me aside asking if I was okay, because I had lost a lot of weight so quickly. I felt so ecstatic when she made this comment as it meant that I was finally getting somewhere and that evening, the number on the scales corresponded. Yet, the next day I got sent home from school because I was so tired from a lack of energy that I felt sick. I didn’t gain any confidence, but I lost it because I was so anxious all the time. Dreading meals. Dreading starving myself but also dreading the thought of putting on weight. It was a never-ending and unresolvable cycle.

 

So despite how pleased I was with my physical progression, I was going through mental torment. I cannot put it more simply that food was constantly on my mind – a possessive pervading thought that would never leave, not even when I slept. When would I eat next? How many calories will I eat? How many calories have I eaten so far today? What would Mum make for dinner? Shall I weigh myself when I get home? I would ask people what they had eaten to make myself feel better and any discussion of food would make me feel uncomfortable to the point where I would have to leave a room, especially any mention of the word ‘diet’ or ‘gym’. It was mentally and physically draining.

 

The next phase was binging. As a reactant to my bodies lack of nutritional intake, I was becoming ridiculously hungry to an uncontrollable point, where I thought that if I was going to eat, let’s make a day of it. Binging happened frequently and I even at times looked forward to the cycle of binging then starving, because at least I got to eat nice food for one day. Although, the taste was not what I was focusing on – it was eradicating the sheer feeling of hunger. In one binge, I consumed thousands and thousands of calories and I couldn’t stop. One time I distinctly remember a plate of freshly-baked brownies being on the table and I ate them all uncontrollably. This was followed by hysterical crying, hyperventilating and ringing up both my mum and my best friend asking for help. I felt helpless, ashamed and like I could feel the fat filling up my body. I even remember being at my friend’s house party and there was chocolates on the side and I had a few of them. I started RUNNING around, in front of all of my friends, pretending I was drunk when really I was trying to burn off the calories. Honestly this seems immensely irrational and alien to me right now and I’m so embarrassed to even write that out – but that was the head space I was in. When you’re in that head space, you feel isolated, trapped and like no one understands.

 

The next two events were the pinnacle catalysts in my call for help. My mum had baked a lemon cake one Sunday and I felt so compelled not to eat any whilst at the same time really wanting to try some. I had two voices battling it out in my head until I started to cry and told my mum ‘I feel like my brain’s going to explode.’ My mum said that my dad cried himself to sleep that night. I was completely out of control, out of my mind and in a completely lose-lose situation. If I ate, then I’d punish myself and if I didn’t eat, I was punishing myself. Then, following my January exams, my sister had made me a cake to say congratulations for getting good exam grades. I got home, saw the cake and felt terrified. I didn’t even regard it as a sweet, kind gesture but instead felt full of fear, worried about what excuse I would have to come up with next. I didn’t expect my mum to get angry, but she did, pointing out how rude I was to ignore my sister’s kind efforts.

 

It was at this point, finally, that I said I needed to go to the doctors. I felt ridiculous. I’d had enough, I was drowning myself in horrendous thoughts and I could not live through that anymore. It was heart-breaking for me and my family. Now looking back, I feel so sorry for myself. My irrational behaviour is overwhelming to me now, but at the time it was my life – I didn’t recognise that it was unhealthy. I needed professional support before this destructive behaviour really began to ruin my life. Thank god I did, and I encourage any person with harmful thoughts to do so if they also feel like they’re at any point that I have depicted.

 

So this was part 1 of my story, and part 2 will be posted in due course. It was full of misery, starvation, binging and tears. Of course it wasn’t all horrendous – I got into Sixth Form with good GCSE’s, I had a wonderful family by my side who I am eternally grateful for and friends that I will value forever. However I would describe it as the toughest time of my life so far and how strange to say that it was dominated by food. How could I be fearful of something that humans need to survive? I spend a lot of time wishing that it was a phase of my life that never happened and to this day I wish I was more carefree as opposed to being consciously aware of food and exercise. However, it has been such a valuable experience for me that I want to use for the better – to help young women like myself. I want to use it to help friends, family and strangers with this platform being my starting point. I have now learnt to have a well-rounded, healthy and happy approach to food, love, my body and my mind.

 

I’m sorry if any of this piece was triggering – I wanted to be as honest as possible. I promise the rest of it is upward and a lot more positive from here, but you have to get through the downs first and I managed to get through mine!

 

 

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Saskia

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‘How I define health has definitely changed and evolved over the past few years. Up until about the age of 16 I rarely thought about ‘health’ and took my own, as well those around me, for granted. In terms of food, I think then when I discovered eating ‘healthy’ could result in weight loss my definition of health became quite narrow and would constantly be counting up calories of things I was eating. I never reached a point of total restriction though – I think I was just hyper aware and actually enjoying eating healthily and exercising which is definitely not a bad thing entirely! In my first year of university I spent all my time hungover and battling constant cravings to eat and eat and eat and eat. Being in catered halls where the portions were huge, it was very easy to over eat, especially because I have a waste not want not mind set.

My health deteriorated quite a lot, both physically and in hindsight, mentally too. Comfort eating is definitely real and I struggled to have any motivation to exercise which I’d never experienced before. I think this is where I started to realise health really isn’t just about food, but our bodies and minds as a whole. What we eat is entwined with our minds. If your eating that entire pack of biscuits because you want it or whether your eating it sort of out as a self punishment, in a moment of self loathing, are two quite very different things. And I think this is where things like choice come in. People can be so extreme in judging you if you say no to the cake but I think a sane person knows when suits their body to eat the cake and when it doesn’t. It is so easy to compare yourself with someone that says no to the cake when really for all you know they could have eaten a whole one earlier that day so are caked out. Recently I was told I have polycystic ovaries, which would explain some of my weight gain in my first year of uni due to my hormones being all over the place. But this is so easily managed through exercising and not eating a portion of dinner the size of a house plus everybody else’s leftovers.

Realising my body is not a dustbin has been life changing. Being my own version of healthy is not comparing myself to someone who can do this and stay stick thin! Everyone has their own versions of health, but I think it’s important to remember that health is such a broad concept. However, in a nutshell, first and foremost it should be about your happiness. If you have a habit that’s making you unhappy CHANGE IT!!!!!!! It can be easy to over complicate our health when really, in the much boring reality of things, its about moderation. As a history student I’ve realised people have struggled with this concept in every time period, place and culture, so definitely don’t feel alone if you’re struggling. Everything in moderation – even moderation.’

Abbie Jessop, The Wellbeing Series

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Abbie Jessop is Chair of the Wellbeing Network at Bristol SU

‘With a broken foot, people empathise with how frustrating it is to not be able to walk, how the pain varies at different times and understand how the broken foot prevents one from doing some activities. With mental health, it’s not visible, yet a struggle with mental health can be just as debilitating, often more so. There is still so much that is not understood about the scale of mental health. Being able to find time in this busy world to take a step back and find time for ourselves is hugely important and yet something put at the bottom of the list of priorities. To be able to speak about the impact mental health has on our lives is one step towards educating communities on ways to build resilience, find balance and reconnect with each other, something we can lose in a world so goal driven and achievement focussed. 

I think charities like Mind and Time to Change are making huge advances in encouraging a speak out movement. However, there are still huge misconceptions around what mental health can mean to different people, and a relatively low awareness of the scale of mental health. I think now we need to work towards a culture of acceptance. Appreciating that behaviour that seems to go ‘against the expected’ has reasons you may not be able to see would create a culture working to de-stigmatise mental health. At the moment, behaviour that seems to go ‘against the expected’ still challenges people, and creates stigmatisation.

Being healthy for me means being able to do all the things I want to do without putting myself in the way of my own dreams. It means having a healthy mindset where I believe in myself and my abilities, understand my weaknesses and can appreciate the journey I’m on. It means having a healthy body filled with energy, feeling empowered by a body that is my own and shaped for me. Recently my life has been filled with so much uncertainty. Staying ‘healthy’ is something I’ve been able to do for myself, and I have invested more time in consciously doing activities that help me regain balance and control I can feel like I lack. I’ve developed a newfound understanding of the importance of knowing where you can find your own reserve of happiness when the going gets really tough. For me, I know I am very much an ‘outdoorsy’ person, and even a walk round the block and smile with a stranger who’s letting me cross the road can help me feel connected to the world and know I bring something unique to it, as every one of us does. I believe that knowing yourself, and what works for your wellbeing, mind body and soul, is the key to ‘health’.’

Trinni

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‘I qualified as a personal trainer 5 years ago when I was just 17 and my motivation (which I am still ashamed about) was pretty much centred around the fact that I wanted to make myself skinnier and desperately believed that if I spent thousands of pounds on a fitness qualification, I would know all the secrets of the trade (FYI there are none, it’s all common sense). I qualified but was so lacking in confidence that I refused to look into working because I was convinced that no-one would want to take any advice from me – I didn’t have a six pack or a bum worthy of mirror selfies and gymshark leggings.

5 years later I am now finally doing some fitness and class instructing and personal training. One of my biggest motivations is to help the girls I see on a daily basis who come into the gym and spend hours doing cardio, who are obviously following some kind of online guide, or who seem to come in with no energy to train and punish themselves with exercise. Trust me, exercise that’s done with the right mentality can be fun and incredibly fulfilling. Please, please avoid taking generic advice from generic guides that someone who may or may not be qualified is making a shit ton of money from selling to you. I could rant about fitness instagrammers until the cows come home because I think they are so unbelievably damaging to millions of young girls and women. How we have reached a point where we attribute more value to a person that is thin, who has lean muscles, or who has thousands of followers is beyond me. Take back control and unfollow any account that doesn’t send a positive message (and posting daily pictures of lean abs/bum whilst writing about body positivity does not count).

I am now so passionate about the personal benefits of sport and exercise but I do truly believe these benefits are personal. Listen to your body, move in a way that makes you feel good, eat good and nourishing food, not so you can put it on social media, but because it FEELS good. How, in ANY way, is spending hours watching privileged teenagers film workouts and dispense unqualified advice going to help you to be the best you? It’s not. So unfollow those accounts (even if it’s just for a couple of days) and reap the benefits of not being bombarded with an unattainable and airbrushed ‘perfection’ every time you look at your phone.’

Helen

‘The definition of health varies from person to person but for me, this has changed dramatically over the last few years. I’ve always had very low confidence but throughout secondary school this became worse and I began comparing myself to others and having very negative thoughts about the way I look, my body image as well as doubting my intelligence.

When I was 15/16 I decided losing weight would make me feel better about myself.

What started off healthily rapidly spiralled out of control due to other factors going on in my life triggering an unhealthy relationship between food and exercise and I ended up severely underweight with less confidence than I had to start with. This period of time had a detrimental impact on my health however it taught me a lot about myself and what’s important in life.

Health to me now is embracing, accepting and loving who I am as an individual. Surrounding myself with people who bring out the best in me. Knowing I don’t need acceptance from anybody to be worthy of loving myself. Knowing that it’s not selfish to take time to do things by yourself, for yourself, to become a better version of yourself.’ ❣️

Laura

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‘Health to me has changed a lot over the years, and I feel that it’s not something that comes easily to most. When I was about 15 I got really ill and lost a lot of weight because of it. Unfortunately it was around this time when I discovered Tumblr and a lot of social media sites that encouraged young girls to lose weight, so I used to tell myself that I was full after eating a tiny amount of food.  I wanted to keep off the weight that I had lost so that I would eventually look skinny enough. Thankfully as I got better I did more and more exercise and spent less time going through social media, which meant that I stopped analysing what I was eating.

For me now, health is doing things which help you to love yourself, whether that be exercising regularly, eating healthily, reading daily, meditating or eating chocolate! It’s important not to punish yourself for doing things not considered ‘healthy’ by the social media community.  I’m still learning how to improve my relationship with food and exercise, but health is not a destination, it’s a journey.’

Laura

‘Health to me has changed a lot over the years, and I feel that it’s not something that comes easily to most. When I was about 15 I got really ill and lost a lot of weight because of it. Unfortunately it was around this time when I discovered Tumblr and a lot of social media sites that encouraged young girls to lose weight, so I used to tell myself that I was full after eating a tiny amount of food. I wanted to keep off the weight that I had lost so that I would eventually look skinny enough. Thankfully as I got better I did more and more exercise and spent less time going through social media, which meant that I stopped analysing what I was eating.

For me now, health is doing things which help you to love yourself, whether that be exercising regularly, eating healthily, reading daily, meditating or eating chocolate! It’s important not to punish yourself for doing things not considered ‘healthy’ by the social media community. I’m still learning how to improve my relationship with food and exercise, but health is not a destination, it’s a journey.’

Jess

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‘Recently, I’ve been worrying a lot about ever having a daughter. I see the world that we live in and, sometimes, the idea of having a daughter terrifies me. How could I protect her from threats that women face daily, just walking alone on the street at night for example? How could I protect her from ever doubting her own worth? And, again, and so frequently, how could I protect her from ever ever looking in the mirror and seeing ugly? When really that’s what society will tell her to do? Thinking about this, I guess, is what really made me think about my relationship with my body, and more broadly, with health and beauty.

My perception of my body got really bad when I I came to university. I felt like every girl around me was so much more beautiful than me with such a better figure. I also put on a load of weight and that made me feel shit. It made me look in the mirror and feel genuine disgust for my body. I lost interest in clothes. I didn’t want to be seen to be entering this kind of silent competition because why bother when I don’t have that typically lusted after body? I would repeat to myself (and, inevitably, on off days I still do) this really shit mantra that I’m flat chested, my body is totally average and I’m not as pretty as the other girls. That’s what I told myself and more than that, that’s what I kept on thinking about when I looked at all my friends, wishing I looked a little bit more like them. Then, after eating better and going to the gym, I lost the weight and suddenly, the comments came flying in. I was told ‘I looked so much better’ or ‘I look so skinny now!’. Honestly, I was overjoyed. The thing is though, I’ve started thinking recently, why is it that the biggest compliment I received was someone telling me that I looked skinny? Because actually, I am so much more than that. So much more than a culturally prescribed version of what ‘beauty’ is.

The perception of the ‘best body’ is always evolving, culture and trend is ever distorting it. Why was I therefore pinning so much on those shallow compliments? The view of beauty is malleable. It is unimportant. ‘You’ve lost weight’ or ‘you look so skinny’ should not be the words I want to hear, what I want to hear is that I am kind, I am funny, I am a good friend. But how could I change this when I was still saying the same kind of stuff to my friends, attempting to hike up their self worth with compliments based on their body and appearance. So I made the effort to change this. I actively tried to stop judging myself against other women by forcing myself not to make comments about looks and instead, as best as I could, to focus on people’s interests and their personality. Stupid things like if my friend told me they had met a guy, I would make my first question be to ask whether he was nice. Because really, why should it matter what he looks like? I stopped using words like ‘skinny’, choosing to compliment my friends when they were confident or kind or any other innumerably more important thing. And slowly I began to realise that I was helping myself as well.

In forcing myself to view others differently, I viewed myself differently as well. I stopped thinking about weight and appearance, it just wasn’t on my radar as much. With that I found more confidence – confidence that I found from great chats with people I care about or having a good day doing stuff I love, not because I had been told my stomach looked flat today. I almost can’t help disliking when people compliment others for looking skinny now when they are so much more than that. Just because I am a woman that doesn’t mean that I want to be judged or valued on my appearance. I don’t want to be introduced to woman by their looks, hearing stuff like ‘Oh you know ‘Gemma’? She’s the really attractive one?’ I want to hear about ‘Gemma’s’ interests and her personality. I want to strive to be healthy and confident, empowered by my body. And more than that, I want to continue asking people to try having a go at this themselves, and not just for themselves, but so that, one day hopefully, all the god damn hypothetical daughters and sons in the world will never look in a mirror and call themselves ugly.’