Eating disorder recovery: real life stories

I’ve worked with people who struggle with eating disorders for over 20 years; it’s a heartrending occupation, but one of the things that keeps me going is seeing our clients recover from eating disorders and getting their lives back. We thought some recovery stories might inspire you too, so I reached out to two past clients of Altum Health, Rose and Sam*, to ask them if they’d share their lived experiences. There is nothing more inspiring than reading about how others have navigated recovery, and they both kindly agreed to share their  stories, below.

Our stories contain elements that may be triggering for others suffering from eating disorders. Please think carefully before reading ahead, if this is you.

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Rose, 35

I developed anorexia at university. I’d had a slightly unhealthy approach to food for a while as a teenager in secondary school – watching my weight a bit too much, obsessing over food and exercise – but it wasn’t until my granddad died that it really set in.

“Like a lot of anorexics I was proud and wanted control, which meant from the outside I was determined not to show any signs of a disorder, but things were falling apart. I was freezing all of the time – to the point of being scared of the cold outside – and I’d eat alone in bathrooms so people wouldn’t see how little I ate.

Hunger made it difficult to sleep, my bones got weaker. My studies suffered as I found it hard to concentrate. It put a huge strain on my relationship at the time – eventually he couldn’t take the emotional strain and left.

“More than anything though I think it just occupied my whole head and heart space; the constant mental judgement is very painful to live with. Of course you get that ‘anorexic high’ when you have a ‘good day’ of hardly eating and feeling like you look great and are in control, but ultimately you’re suffering. As your weight drops your world gets smaller. Your life shrinks.

“When my boyfriend left, I think I realised that I was either going to recover or go over the edge. He’d been helping me go to appointments with the NHS and was supportive, but when he left some survival instinct kicked in. I left the park where he broke up with me, phoned a friend, asked for help and we went to share some high calorie sugary iced coffee. It was a choice.  

“Although I’m a huge fan of the NHS, their programme of support for anorexia didn’t work for me. I found it bullying and target-obsessed. Although I was never admitted for inpatient treatment, I remember walking past the signs on the doors that said ‘No toilet admittance until an hour after eating’. That summed it up for me – no warmth, which is what I needed.

“In contrast, my private therapist – which I appreciate I was very lucky to be able to afford to turn to – was personal, warm-hearted and understood me. She took the time to let me work through things myself. She helped me see myself differently; as someone that deserved care and love.

“A major moment for me was sitting on the side of a warm bath and catching my reflection in the dark, rainy window at night. My reflection looked so tiny and thin I just wanted to give this tiny-looking girl a hug and take care of her. This huge flood of empathy and love for myself – rather than the judgement of anorexia, really took hold of me. Trying to look after myself like I’d look after a daughter was a real turning point for me.

I was blessed with support from family and close friends. I was always very private about my illness, but having them on board was so important. Although it was difficult to work through it, I think it brought me closer to my family – particularly my mum. We finally started talking honestly with each other about our feelings. We are very close now.

As I write this, I’m sitting opposite my baby daughter who is now 10 weeks old. When I was sick, my periods stopped and I didn’t know if this would ever be possible. Although I still think about food and exercise more than I’d like sometimes, I watch out for it. If those thoughts return I take it as a sign I need to be kinder to myself. Now I have a husband, a home and a little girl who I treasure more than anything.”

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Sam, 25  

I first had signs of an eating disorder when I was 15. We went on a family holiday and I started feeling very insecure wearing my swimming costume. Once we returned, I decided to stop eating snacks and limited the so called ‘bad foods’. This eventually got out of control and nearly everything was off limits.

I then reached a crucial point in my life. I was half way through my GCSEs which were going to be a very important part of my future plans. My brain simply wasn’t working, I couldn’t focus and I couldn’t understand why I was never wanting to – or even enjoying – work at this point. I knew that if I was going to achieve anything in life I needed help.

My recovery journey mainly consisted of understanding and accepting that food equals energy, which leads to more action. I had to look at food as the long-term reward for all my goals in life. I slowly introduced foods e.g. carbs, and noticed my energy improved. If anything, I gained more muscle as I was going to the gym consistently.  

During my recovery, I found social media a great support. It’s great to have a community of people who went through what I did, it makes you feel less insane.  

The biggest change in my life now is my focus on family, work and relationships. I now work in the field I always aspired to, and can focus on going forward instead of worrying about when my next snack will be. My love life has been a huge part, caring for someone and having a sex drive again was a massive step.

“I would never have been able to achieve anything I’m doing now without the recovery journey I’ve been on.”

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*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

Eating disorder recovery is a tough road to travel, with highs and lows along the way, but change is possible, as Rose and Sam have both shown. We’re so grateful to them for bravely sharing their experience of living with an eating disorder.

If you or someone you know is suffering with an eating disorder, please visit this page to book a free consultation to discuss how we can help.

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