*Trigger warning for disordered eating*
It was at 17 that I finally realised I had been abusing my body. I was in my Geography class in sixth form, when suddenly I became very dizzy, grew very pale and felt incredibly nauseous. But there was nothing in my stomach for me to actually throw up.
Like any normal teenage girl, I was unhappy with my appearance and had been most of high school. I liked very little about myself. Despite being reasonably skinny, I never had washboard abs – a fact that I hated. At 5”10 I was freakishly tall, towering over most of my classmates, including the boys. I had massive feet, and despised my toes so I could never wear sandals. My skin would break out in spots that I couldn’t cover up with makeup. My boobs were about the size of ping-pong balls. My teeth were constantly in one brace or another. In fact, the only part of myself that I liked was my ginger hair, despite this being the thing I was most tormented about by my peers. I felt weirdly protective of my ginger hair; it was something I was never ashamed of.
However, it wasn’t until sixth form that I really started to criticise myself. One day I stepped onto my scales and the figure hit 9st 3lbs. I was mortified. I had spent most of my high school life floating about the 8st 7lbs mark, and yet somehow I had eaten enough food to put me over 9st. I tried to convince myself that was ok, that for my height 9st 3lbs was actually pretty good. I continued with my day-to-day life. But I started weighing myself more and more. Every week I would recalculate my BMI, to make sure I didn’t fall any nearer to the ‘normal weight’ section of the scale. I fooled myself into thinking I was naturally really skinny, so having a BMI of 18 (technically underweight) was healthy.
For me, it wasn’t a conscious decision to stop eating. I never stopped eating altogether; I had at least one meal a day. But I would often miss out breakfast, convincing myself I didn’t have enough time to eat on a morning, nor to prepare myself lunch. I’d manage, I’d be late for class otherwise. I would grab an apple and that would be my lunch. My evening meal would be enough at the end of the day.
I realise now that I was essentially starving myself, but at the time I didn’t see it as that. I never once thought “I’m fat” or “I need to lose weight”, at least not directly anyway. Yet at the back of my mind I had somehow convinced myself that I should be eating less food; it was definitely a type of anorexia.
My wake-up call moment was the low-point I hit in the middle of class. I had to leave the room, get some fresh air and I forced down a sandwich. Nothing had ever tasted so good as that simple ham sandwich did for me that day. From then on I swore that I’d never go down that road again, and from then on I had grown to love my body more and more.
Now, in my third year at university, I can finally proclaim: I am entirely happy with my body. Sure, I still have down days. But I now eat properly, exercise every now and again (more to keep myself fit than for appearance) and sometimes I even leave the house without makeup on, without having done my hair, but with all my confidence intact. I’m a happy 10st 3lb (with a healthy BMI of 20.5!) and I’ve never felt better.
I was lucky. I never suffered severely and caught my eating disorder before it turned into anything serious. I got myself through it. My appearance hasn’t really changed too much since I was 17, but my attitude towards myself certainly has. I’m much more comfortable in my own skin now, finally, and that has made me into a much more confident individual today.