I remember a time when I didn’t understand what the words ‘anorexia’ or ‘eating disorder’ meant.
Let’s say when I was 12, if I heard that a celebrity had ‘anorexia’ I thought it was something bad, something they chose, something they wanted.
Then I developed anorexia nervosa, became very ill, and had a long battle to recover from it. It was then that I realised that as a naïve 12 year old, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
My journey with anorexia nervosa started shortly before my 14th birthday.
I always think that my becoming ill didn’t just happen suddenly... it happened in stages - just like my recovery journey happened in stages.
I didn’t just wake up one day and think, ‘I have anorexia nervosa’ in the same way that I didn’t wake up one day and think, ‘I’ve recovered’. I became ill over a number of months, and I think that’s partly the reason why I didn’t actually realise I was becoming ill.
That’s the thing about eating disorders, they gradually creep in, hoping we don’t really notice, until we’re too entangled in their grips to make a quick escape. They’re sneaky, but they know exactly what they want.
At the start, it was just ‘thoughts’. Thoughts about the calorific content of different foods, thoughts that made me wonder how much I weighed, thoughts of how I could exercise a bit more.
But they were just thoughts. Nothing too out of the ordinary for a 13 year old girl. As a child, I was a healthy girl. I loved playing sports such as hockey and netball, I ate a balanced diet, I had a healthy relationship with food, I was generally content with my appearance, and overall I was a happy, lively child. But when these thoughts started, I began to think that I could become ‘even healthier’.
I started to limit foods I viewed as ‘unhealthy’ and eat more foods I considered ‘healthier choices’.
The ironic thing is, in a short space of time, I was becoming unhealthy, both physically and mentally.
Retrospectively, I can see how a big part of my illness was about control.
A number of things were happening in my life at that time, which I had little or no control over, so without realising it, I was using food as a means to gain some control. I couldn’t control life situations, but I could control what I ate, or didn’t eat as the case may be.
Anorexia Nervosa was gradually wriggling into my head, laughing because ‘it’ knew what was coming next. I thought I was in control, but in little more than three months, ‘it’ would be controlling my thoughts, my feelings, my life.
It didn’t start for me as a ‘crash diet’, and I didn’t set out to lose weight.
At the time, I genuinely thought I was being healthier. However, once I started cutting down my food intake, I found it almost impossible to stop.
I thought, ‘If I managed eating x amount yesterday, why can’t I manage eating even less today?’ It was almost like a game; I was trying to ‘outcompete’ myself.
Simultaneously, I became so focussed on different things that I hadn’t really cared about previously: I weighed myself repeatedly, and when I realised the number was decreasing, my desire for it to decrease further intensified; I became so interested in the number of calories in different foods, even if I had no intention of eating them.
I remember going into the kitchen and looking through the food cupboards, for the sole purpose of finding out how many calories various foods contained; I started to exercise secretly in my room.
My energy levels were decreasing and I was tired and weak, but I felt I had to do a certain amount of exercise in order to be ‘happy’ with myself; I constantly thought about food, cooked food, played computer games relating to food, dreamed about food, but wouldn’t eat food unless it was part of what I ‘allowed’ myself at the time. I remember at times getting such a ‘buzz’ from not eating. I genuinely felt that it was something I was ‘good at’, and my eating disorder said that feeling hungry yet not eating was good for me - even the times I went to bed crying because I was so hungry.
The thing is, my thoughts became increasingly muddled. Logically, I knew that I was losing more and more weight, but I genuinely believed that the girl in the mirror looked fine - if anything, I thought she could still lose a bit more.
I couldn’t see that I was ill, and I couldn’t stop following ‘it’s’ instructions. I was trapped. I always think of Anorexia Nervosa as an enemy who pretends to be a friend. At the start, she encourages your ‘progress’ but she always just wants more and more.
Her targets relating to cutting down calories or reducing the number on the scale only become harder and harder to reach, until they’re virtually impossible.
That’s the thing about this illness, it says it wants to help you, but it really wants to kill you. It messes with your head and plays lots of sneaky, devious little games. It took me a long time to realise this and accept that I needed to fight against it.
I needed to take back the control, so that I controlled ‘it’, and ‘it’ no longer controlled me.
I now know that anorexia nervosa is not a choice.
It is a horrible mental illness which nobody chooses to have, but there is hope.
I was trapped in anorexia nervosa’s icy cold prison cell for a number of years, but now I am a happy, healthy 18 year old who has a passion to help others, and spread hope for freedom! Recovery is possible. It’s a long, bumpy road, but with determination, support and hard work, there can be freedom.
- Naomi completed her A levels in June this year, and decided to take a gap year.
She is about to start working with VOYPIC (Voice of Young People In Care) as a youth advisor, using her experience to help others using mental health services and helping CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) in general.
She also does voluntary work with Eating Disorder Association, Northern Ireland (EDANI) where she has recently become their ‘blogger’ @freedomhopeblog
To read more from Naomi Lloyd, visit her blog and Facebook page ‘Freedom and Hope’ which is linked with the ED charity, Eating Disorder Association, Northern Ireland.
www.freedomhopeblog.wordpress.com / www.facebook.com/freedomhopeblog