When I first started treatment, I was surprised as of why she was trying to dig in deep into stuff that didn’t revolve around food and weight. She started opening discussions mostly about my childhood miserable memories, how I dealt with my emotions, parents, friends, relationships, etc. Back then, when I didn’t see a therapist, I thought that my eating disorder was only about how I see myself, and how I want to look like a model, and not that it is actually a way for me to cope with everything that has been happening in my life. My therapist told me that the way I handle my emotions, the way I act, and all that I have gone through in the past is a huge part as to why I developed my eating disorder, and how all that encouraged eating disorder thoughts into action. I never really expressed the way I feel out loud, so I controlled what I have to eat when I have to eat, and where I have to eat. I felt strong, perfect and secure until I started losing control, and the obsession with the need for control controlled me in every aspect of my life. Anorexia is a mental disorder that is deeper than just wanting to be extremely thin.
Trigger Warning: The content in this article can be triggering and emotionally challenging for some people.
Please find below a very touching account of one sufferers struggle with her illness in North Africa. She’s battled ED all her life and is now determined to recover. We really thank her for sharing this with us. We’ll be publishing the Arabic Version Soon.
Struggle that includes both Strength and Determination- How My
Youth and Adulthood was controlled by my Eating Disorder
At first, all I wanted was to lose weight no wonder it would turn out to be an addiction that almost took most of my life away. Twenty-five years ago, I wanted to lose around 3kg because at some point I felt it was better, but later then, unfortunately, I also lost myself along with the 3kg. I do believe Alhamdulillah, even after all that happened I still had and have to hope that Recovery is possible, that recovery will happen, I keep all my trust in Allah (SWT). Regarding my weight, I weighed almost 60 kg that’s when everything started to change. I was extremely busy at university, I go back home really late, which as well helped me refrain from eating, keeping that in mind, I decided to benefit from that and started skipping one meal after the other, and having only snacks (biscuits or anything) from time to time which resulted in extreme weight loss, I lost 15 kg, keeping my weight at 45 kg, I wasn’t actually focusing on whether what was happening was right or wrong, I basically just couldn’t care less, I was stupid back then for sure.
I was happily enjoying the comments I received from others “wow you have lost a lot of weight”, I was actually extremely proud of myself. Actually, I didn’t really know how I lost that huge amount of weight, which is why I never really knew how to maintain them, and that scares the hell out of me. That’s when I started to research more about food and most importantly, I focused so much on calories and kept a track of everything I had to eat.
Back then, everyone told me that the only way to maintain weight, was to “eat normal” and “join the gym”; however, no one really knew that the way I lost all the weight was all wrong at the first place, and that messed up with my metabolism. At first, I thought what they said was right, and that being healthy and following a healthy lifestyle will help me feel better and maintain weight. However, along the process, I never really knew what “eating normally” means. Basically, eating what I ate along with going to the gym made everything really just worse. I didn’t really know that anorexia was starting to kick in. Never knew that such a thing even existed.
What did I eat?
Regarding my food intake, as I mentioned above that I used to merely focus on each and every bite I had, and I used to calculate and track down each and every calorie I consume.
One of the rules I set to myself was for:
- Breakfast & Dinner: never to eat more than **** calories
- Lunch: eat ***** calories
Keeping that in mind, I never really cared or took into consideration the fat, protein or carbs intake. I solely focused on numbers and numbers.
How that affected my behavior with anyone when food was involved?
As my eating habits kept getting worse, people around me started to force or ask me to eat more; that sort of forced me to pretend to eat when actually I used to throw the plate away in the trash. Along with that, I tried to engage more in doing housework such as helping in the kitchen in order to burn what I ate (which in fact was almost nothing)
How was my health?
Well, honestly speaking, I was mostly dizzy all the time, so later on, with time, my mom forced me to do a blood test especially when Ramadan was around the corner. My blood test showed an iron level of 20, a negative 4 level of Ferritin, and blood pressure of 8 is to 4. For that reason, my doctor asked me not to fast; however, I didn’t accept that I insisted to fast as my plan earlier was to lose more weight during Ramadan. I asked the doctor if there was any way that I can fast in Ramadan, he accepted but only with my acceptance of not going to the gym. And personally, it wouldn’t matter much for me due to the less calorie intake while fasting. Later then, it started being difficult to talk. During Iftar, I maintained a specific number of calories, and refused to eat Suhoor, due to that, I stopped getting my period, weirdly that made me happy, especially due to the fact that I managed to fast the entire month in Ramadan. Also, my weight dropped down to 39kg; all those positive comments about my weight then turned into sad and pitiful ones.
How was my social life?
I stopped going out with my friends, and in case I was forced one day to eat more than I should have, I would directly feel guilty and automatically skip the meal after. Personally, back then, I felt like I have achieved something, and honestly only now I know what I did was stupid.
How that caused a sudden change to my personality towards myself and others?
As time progressed, I started to realize that my personality was changing, I was more isolated and careless towards myself and others. I stopped hanging out and stayed home all day long, I spent my time in home reading mostly about nutrition and calories. With time, whenever I felt the need to eat and was positively motivated to turn healthy, I used to go to the grocery store, and buy a lot of healthy food but as soon as I arrived back home, I gave the food to all the people around but I never ate it myself.
When did I realize that something is wrong?
I started to lose so much weight and kept losing more and more, even though I knew that I should stop losing, I just couldn’t eat normally, I just couldn’t. this is when I was really aware that things are running out of my control, and I was hit back with reality. Then I decided to seek help, I started to constantly send messages and emails to dietitians in order to help me, after informing them about my complete story definitely without specifying the wrong behaviors I used to lose weight, I merely only mentioned about wanting to gain weight after losing a lot. Most of the dietitians advised me to increase my calorie intake, and some others told me to eat normally. But they have literally no idea that I don’t really know how to eat normally anymore. Whenever I was motivated to recover, I increase my calorie intake for one day, and couldn’t continue more. I was completely lost, confused and worried. And that too, I couldn’t speak about this with anyone as I didn’t understand what was happening myself. I was stuck somewhere in the dark and saw myself going in the very wrong direction yet I couldn’t stop, it felt out of my control. At that time, I labeled myself as a “Chronic Dieter”
What did my parents think?
At the beginning, my parents thought that I am just another girl who wants to lose some more weight but when they started seeing how everything was becoming worse, and how my body started to look extremely thin. Mostly, how I was always tired, that’s when they went out of my control how I was very tired and started forcing and saying things in a way that they thought might help me, as they had no idea that what was happening what mostly hidden behind a mental issue. My father started getting me more food and forcing me to eat it while standing/ sitting beside me to make sure that I finish it all. I used to shout and cry. And later with time, in order to stop what was happening, I asked them to get me food that is low in calories, when they actually had no idea what calories actually are, all they wanted from me is to eat, they thought that by eating, I can gain weight. But I was smarter than them, and I made them believe that I was eating enough in my own ways. I never really throw up food, all I do is restrict. Basically, I almost never eat anything during the eat and I save up the number of calories for when they forced me to eat, later back at home.
How did people look at me?
People actually look at me with pettiness, and they started mocking me by saying “don’t you have any food to eat”? But I honestly didn’t care, I wanted to be “perfect”, which I translated to be meaning being underweight with a BMI below 18.
What happened when you first met a dietitian?
When I first met my dietitian, she gave me a meal plan. And it contained so much food, and a huge number of calories and so honestly, I didn’t pay any close attention and said to myself whispering “not even in your dreams…” and I left.
What have you gained from seeing a psychologist?
One of the things that I gained from seeing a psychologist is that there is this “Voice”, that is not my voice which is controlling me. When I was at my worst dealing with Anorexia, there was sort of non-ending dialogue in my mind that was constantly forcing me to do what I do, and constantly screaming negative thoughts. That voice kept on telling me that I should count each and every bite I have, and I should always keep a track of the number of calories I consume. Also, it told me that there is a difference between having 10 calories and having 11 calories and that I always have to stick to what’s lower, the lower the better. Also, it told me to exercise excessively in order to burn the calories I eat. It was sort of controlling the view I saw of myself and told me that I wasn’t thin enough and that I should restrict more, and punish myself whenever I eat more than what I plan or what I allow myself to have. The psychologist made me understand that those voices are present in everyone, some people are good at keeping it in control, and some people, like me, it got control of my mind, and that those voices were there even before my behaviors started changing. She also stated that I need to start distancing myself from those voices and acting against them, which is an essential part of my recovery. She helped me differentiate between my voice and the eating disorder voice.
What surprised me the most from visiting the psychologist?
When I first started treatment, I was surprised as of why she was trying to dig in deep into stuff that didn’t revolve around food and weight. She started opening discussions mostly about my childhood miserable memories, how I dealt with my emotions, parents, friends, relationships, etc. Back then, when I didn’t see a therapist, I thought that my eating disorder was only about how I see myself, and how I want to look like a model, and not that it is actually a way for me to cope with everything that has been happening in my life. My therapist told me that the way I handle my emotions, the way I act, and all that I have gone through in the past is a huge part as to why I developed my eating disorder, and how all that encouraged eating disorder thoughts into action. I never really expressed the way I feel out loud, so I controlled what I have to eat when I have to eat, and where I have to eat. I felt strong, perfect and secure until I started losing control, and the obsession with the need for control controlled me in every aspect of my life. Anorexia is a mental disorder that is deeper than just wanting to be extremely thin. My lowest weight was 27kg, yeah, I almost killed myself. I was treated badly by each and every member of my family, I was forced to go to a psychiatric hospital. I was isolated and mistreated, and then also, I was inpatient for many times of my life.
How my life was during Anorexia?
Many people now ask me how my life was during Anorexia, well, mostly I have isolated myself from everyone even myself. I pretended that everything was good when I was actually slowly dying both physically and mentally. Most of my time was spent counting and obsessive over calories and numbers, I stopped enjoying anything in my life. And whenever I had the chance to exercise when no one was home, I used to jump straight away and burn off every single calorie I ate. I even lied to the closest people to me, they indirectly used to tell me how I was slowly fading away, but I couldn’t see anything wrong with knowing more about nutrition and calories, and to base my entire life upon them.
Was I happy?
Of course not, this post itself shows that everything happened was not worth it. We live in a world that started that having more calories is bad, however, that is not the case. Calories is an essential human need to grow and make your heart stable.
Having an eating disorder is not a choice but recovery is. Indeed, it is hard as hell, there are ups and downs, and I felt like giving up, but honestly, there is never a reason to quit! I am still sometimes relapsing but that doesn’t mean I will give up. You have to keep on fighting for the change, every time and every day!