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'I’m now a year into recovery, and can confidently say I still have a long way to go!'

For as long as I can remember I’ve always had a warped relationship with food and body image. A snapshot of my early years would show that I was a junk food loving child, who never knew when to stop, and when I turned 14 I unfortunately discovered the art of bulimia, meaning I could over-indulge by eating whatever I wanted, feeling satisfied and never guilty. It also came with the thrill of no one knowing and it being my dirty little secret. Fast forward to 17 and I have met my now husband. Immediately, I knew I had to change my ways or else I’d lose him. I also knew my body needed the respect and care it deserved. By 18 I was purge free but by no means recovered. Food was still the centre of my universe. I was constantly questioning, am I fat? Can I eat that? Will that make me want to purge again? What’s the fat content? The list goes on.. 25th December 2017: I found out I was pregnant! I was over the moon, but the anxiety of putting weight on, not being in control of my eating and knowing I was going to have to care for myself properly in order to grow my child started to creep in. I actually coped really well throughout my pregnancy, but that was probably due to mentally knowing I was growing a human inside me. I get to the 4th trimester and the loneliness has kicked in, everyone was coming to see the baby but rarely asking me how I was or checking in with me. Was I even in the room with all these visitors? It felt like I may as well have been invisible, which made me crave people's attention even more. I then began to want my old routine, to be 'back to normal', going to work and doing things on my own terms. I started to feel like I just wasn't in control. If you’re a parent or have looked after a baby, then you know that they dictate you! I started to lose all interest in cooking and eating, and that’s when the weight plummeted, it felt like over night I’d woken up, and all of a sudden I was 4st 6lbs and had released this eating disorder demon back out of his cage after all these years. That’s when the fear kicked in as I knew weight gain was going to have to happen, and I was going to lose control of the one thing in my life I’d finally felt I had ownership of. 24th February 2018: After being rushed to hospital, I self admitted myself to the NHS Eating Disorder team. I was quickly diagnosed with anorexia, postnatal depression and severe anxiety. The year to follow was the best and worst days of my life. The first 6 months took a lot of determination mentally. I was having panic attacks on a daily basis, felt very overwhelmed, every meal time was supervised and I just wanted to give up on life. My husband had taken on another child. I’d throw tantrums, and found it extremely difficult to get out the dark tunnel. I couldn’t see the light. As the months passed, it was clear I wasn’t fit to return to my day job, so I put my heart and soul into my business, which wasn't easy. After 6 months, I’d hit my weight goal target of 6 stone and started to feel a lot more sound mentally. I still had bad days, but between self help books and my therapist we were working on coping mechanisms. 24th February 2019:I’m now a year into recovery, and can confidently say I still have a long way to go. I’d say 80% of the time I feel in control, and can cope. There is a split view on whether you can fully recovery. I honestly think you can’t, but maybe that’s because I’m still in recovery, and still trying to reach that light at the the end of the tunnel (I can see it!), but ultimately I think you can learn to deal with the disorder, but that’s my opinion on my own experiences. My best advice for anyone who’s struggling with anorexia is to have constant reminders about what is good and positive in our lives and what the consequences of being underweight are. What works for me? As hard as it is, when I am in a really bad head space I try to remove myself from my negative mindset. For example, I get on the scales and see I’ve gained 1lb. I’m proud, one step closer to recovery. Then the disorder kicks in, “you’re getting fat!”, “what did you eat this week to make you fat?”, “have you lost control?”, “what should I eat today?”. I start to get irritated, and anything and anyone in my path starts to annoy me. This is when I have to start talking to myself (not in a crazy way), “I’ve got upset over a number!”, “Is that going to make my baby love me any less? Nope!”, Usually, I find taking a walk helps clear my mind. If I can’t leave the house, I find a distraction, whether it’s controlled deep breathing or just reading news articles online. My second piece of advice is to talk to someone. I suffered for years in silence with my bulimia and issues with eating, and the relief I got when I finally ‘came out’ was incredible. I felt like there was some sort of acceptance to not being ok. We also forget, 50% of eating disorders are mental, it isn’t all about the food, which people forget. I may be sitting at the table smiling and eating a meal, but inside I could be having a massive argument with the disorder. When this happens to me, I just let whoever is with me know that I’m not feeling great and at that moment I usually find that’s enough to help me through that blip. One thing I would say is that different things work for different people, and one person will not cope or deal with a situation the same as another. However, once you find what works for you, keep at it and you will become the best version of yourself.

Author credit: Stephanie Harper

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