By Anne-Marie Lees

On the outside I look like a normal 24 year old girl, but on the inside I am struggling with a serious mental illness.  I have anorexia. It is not at its most extreme stage but I still have days. For those of you who don’t know, anorexia is when a person chooses to limit the amount of food they intake whether that means only having one meal a day or not eating at all. It’s a dangerous illness that starts off small and then your mind changes and tricks you into thinking that you are still fat, even though you are not and are losing weight at an extreme rate.

At my worst I weighed 6 stone 11 pounds. Everyone says I looked like a skeleton and that you could see all of my bones. I, on the other hand, did not see this. I still don’t see this even though I only weight 8 stone. All I see in my head is FAT. This is what the illness does to you.

My story started when I was a size 12 and I found out I was heading to DMU. I had waited four long years to attend my dream university and it was finally happening. In my head, however, I thought that I wouldn’t be accepted by those around me so I decided to watch what I would eat. This started off as harmless but then people around me started remarking on how I looked ‘better’ and ‘skinny’. My mind switched. I liked getting these ‘compliments’ because I had low self-esteem. These ‘compliments’ gave me the boost of confidence I desperately needed. As a result, I continued to lose weight and the compliments kept coming. It was then I got diagnosed with a borderline over active thyroid. This basically meant that I could eat whatever I wanted and not gain weight. This is great news for others, but not for me. I was so afraid of gaining weight I kept restricting meals, no matter how much my heart was hurting (one of the symptoms of thyroid difference) and my stomach kept rumbling.

It was then I went to my first year as a fresher and no one was there to make me eat. ‘Brilliant’, my head thought. I tried my best at making meals. When I went to the hospital to be weighed for my thyroid and I discovered I had gained weight since my last weigh in, my head screamed at me and told me that I was fat and no one would want me or be friends with me.

That is when I changed. I restricted all of my meals. No breakfast, no lunch, and only a small meal for tea. I was so convinced that I was fat I changed my meal to a small bowl of cereal and that would be all I would eat 7 days a week! My weight dropped but I didn’t care. I was still fat.

Christmas came around and this was the worst time. I knew I had to go home and I knew I would be forced to eat. I managed to put off the questions until Christmas dinner. Around the turkey the questions came. I understand where my parents were coming from but I also felt more pressured to feel under control of what I was eating. I managed to persuade them that I would seek help but in my head I didn’t truly believe I would.

On Boxing Day, as a family we went round my brother and sister in law’s where I got to play with my nephew. He wasn’t very old at the time so he wouldn’t have understood what was going on. It wasn’t long before the conversation changed to my eating behaviour which made me upset but I hid it until I got home. (Again I now understand they only said it because they love me).

When I got home later all I wanted to do was run. Run back to Leicester, run back to what I thought was safety, run back into the arms of my ED [eating disorder]. My mum stopped me and we both had a little cry about it and I promised her I would get help. I hated seeing my mum upset so I asked my brother whether he could locate somewhere at DMU where I could get help. He managed to find an e-mail address and I sent an e-mail. I could hear my eating disorder screaming at me telling me it was never going to work and I was wasting my time. I tried to push it aside but then all I could see was my mum crying and all I could hear was my dad’s words ‘I’m really worried about you and I’m scared I’m going to lose you’. Those words will haunt me forever.

I was miserable but determined to win. I received the best counselling and managed to get my eating habits back on track. This all happened nearly 2 years ago.

Some say you control your eating disorder. Truth is, the eating disorder controls you. I now go to the gym 5 times a week for 2 hour sessions and I still look at the calories on a packet and control what goes into my body. I have days where I don’t want to do anything but spend all day in the gym and burn off all the fat I think I have but I talk myself up and put a smile on my face and brave the world.

Eating disorders are one of the mental health problems that get easily ignored by the public and sometimes by the doctors. I will never be the same again and I am slowly accepting that and other survivors will also note that the struggle is daily and will be forever.

I wrote this article so that people with current eating disorders and past eating disorders can realise that they are not alone. I have days where I think I am and then I pick up my phone and see all of my friends on Facebook and I look at all my pictures on my wall and say to myself, “I AM NOT ALONE AND EATING DISORDER YOU WILL NOT WIN!”

If you are suffering from any form of eating disorder or think that someone you know is visit and if you are at university visit your welfare office. They are there to help and will help you. Trust me, without them I don’t know where I would be.

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