Colleen McGowan - There’s always light.

Dear Warrior Talk,

I thought I'd write this blog to share my experience with eating disorders and to show what it's truly like; to give people an insight and knowledge of what people with an ed go through and help end stigma around it.

My previous eating disorder is nothing I'm ashamed about and I feel rather open to talking about it; it's just part of the journey that brought me to where I am today. I was never diagnosed with an eating disorder because I never "fit the criteria" in weight however I knew the habits I had developed were definitely those of an eating disorder.

When I was 12, I felt happy in myself although I carried a lot of puppy fat. I was always petite and slender in my childhood however when puberty hit then weight began to pile on. This was when I hit high school which was hard enough. So being rather chubby for my age and height obviously people had things to say about it. I remember being in P.E and girls saying "if I was as fat as Colleen then I'd kill myself". Yeah. Ouch. Young girls are mean. 

I remember boys mentioning about my "thunder thighs", or that I "looked pregnant". Then on social media I'd get anonymous messages saying I was "fat and ugly" and "should diet". Whenever you hear something enough you begin to believe it. So my happy confident self went down the drain. I remember after one boy posting on Facebook saying I was fat I thought this is enough I'm going to prove everybody wrong. I began googling "ana tips" and this is where my eating disorder started to develop.

Tip number one that I found online: never eat more than ‘X’ amount of calories a day NEVER. So that number stuck in my head until 2 years ago. I began obsessing with calories learning and remembering how much calories are in everything; ‘X’ amount of calories per grape, ‘X’ amount of calories in a packet of salt and vinegar squares, ‘X’  calories in a slice of nimble whole meal bread and ‘X’ calories in a tin of Heinz lentil soup. (These things stick in your head) My life became revolved around numbers and not in a pleasant way.

I was eating less and less and my weight was dropping off. People were commenting on how great I looked and how much weight I lost. Which to some people would think I would stop and they were being nice but nope, those comments were what spurred me on to eat less. I was only eating about ‘X’ calories max a day sometimes even less.

I had an "ana diary" which I used to write my goal weights and how many calories I was allowed a day and the "commandments" I had to follow.

I had become obsessed. And had a complete fear of food. By now I was living off two packets of chewing gum and a bottle of diet cola a day. I was a lot slimmer but certainly not any happier.

I then became cutting. A form of self- harm. I cut not because it "released endorphins" but because I felt I should be punished for every time I ate. I cut the words fat into my thighs as a reminder. Cutting every time I binged, making sure I spewed it all back up. I was avoiding meals and staying up in my room so I wouldn't go near kitchen. 

The lies were constant. Faking dirty dishes by leaving the tiniest bit of milk in the bottom of bowl with one or two bits of cereal left to go soggy so my family would think I've ate. Going to town after school to say "I already ate in town" to avoid dinner. Or simply taking food up to my room and popping it into food bags and binning them later so nobody would know. I was right bang in the middle of this eating disorder and I could not have felt any worse.

I finally got to my goal weight (a very low weight) a few months later. People began to notice how much weight I lost and how I never ate. Some boys found it funny and tried to push food into my face for me to end up crying thinking I'd consume calories just by the smell. (I know it sounds crazy but completely true). I started binging and purging at weekends because I was so hungry and just wanted food.

My mum and family begged me to go to doctors but I knew nothing would happen and I’d simply be told if I eat more I'd be happier. Yeah, I know, great advice.

Then one night I broke. I was in the car with my dad and I just said I couldn't do it anymore. I told him everything. I was so lost and insecure sad and to be frankly honest- hungry. I was terrified. I didn't know what to do. I made a decision that was it and I had to stop. I stopped weighing myself before and after I ate. I decided to eat. I ripped up my ana journal and threw it out. I wasn't going back.

Recovery is a long, very long process. I always thought "will I ever fully recover from this?". That little voice always pops up, and sometimes even 5 years later from that day I still catch myself looking at calories, or body checking in the mirror. However I've learned to ignore it. It took up until very recently to have a good relationship with food. I got obsessed with healthy eating and exercising even though I was swearing I was over it but now I realise I wasn't quite because I still feared those heavy calorie foods and would not go near them allowing myself a cheat meal once a week.

Currently though I'm the happiest I've ever been and can say I'm fully recovered. I've not weighed myself in years. Closing my eyes whenever I need weighed at the doctors. And reminding myself food is only energy; nothing more nothing less! Oh but that foods also to be enjoyed! It's took me a while to get here and although sometimes it's hard with "diets" and people calling themselves "fat" on social media, and seeing skinny girls all over Instagram. I can finally say I'm not scared of food anymore.

If you know somebody suffering from an eating disorder do not push and force them. Try and guide them as best you can, when they're ready for recovery they'll know. It's hard to see somebody you love suffer an eating disorder, all you can do is encourage them to get help. Support them. Leave them reminders to let them know they're beautiful and they're not defined by their weight. And certainly do not encourage them by saying they look amazing when you know they're dangerously thin. Reach out to them and the stigma against eating disorders will eventually end! And if you're currently going through recovery know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

All the best,