Nearly four per cent of adolescent females have an eating disorder, and up until two years ago, I was part of that statistic. My problems with food began in my teens, spiralled during the COVID-19 pandemic, and finished in my early twenties. Experiencing an eating disorder fills you with shame, secrecy, and intense isolation. It’s a psychological disease which can make you feel as though you’re going mad and are completely alone, despite the fact that you share your suffering with millions of others. Ironic, I know.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness and, I’m sure others will agree, that the pandemic only inflamed an already alarming crisis. In the US, hospitalisation of teenage girls doubled. Global eating disorder statistics have increased from 3.4 per cent to 7.8 per cent in the last 20 years. These are stark statistics but as a society, we preach more about ‘health’ and ‘wellness’ than ever. ‘Fitfluencers’ rule the social media game with polished ‘What I eat in a day’ videos and carefully curated ‘girl dinners’. We are food-obsessed, but it’s slowly killing us.
I don’t know all the science behind eating disorders, but I do know first-hand that they ruin your life. A life dominated by your knife and fork is completely debilitating. Your thoughts become so loud that they drown out everything else. Not only is it life-threatening, but it affects your relationships, your ability to socialise, and your entire personality. Anything exciting—a holiday, a birthday or a meal out with friends—becomes a breeding ground for food negotiation and self-punishment. How can I plan for this event by eating less before? What will I allow myself to eat when I’m there? How can I counteract this damage afterwards?
I grew up with an incredible relationship with food. I ate just about anything and didn’t stop to think about the effects. On reflection though, the constant praise I received for my naturally thin frame and super speedy metabolism perhaps planted a seed which would only grow into future fixations.
My eating issues began when my body inevitably changed from child-like to womanly. I’d suddenly gained hips and boobs. Watching my body expand made me feel so uncomfortable, and I became interested in ways to manipulate this change using food.
I used a calorie-tracking app to take back the ‘control’ I felt I’d lost. My mission was only fuelled by the media I consumed. I watched ‘Freelee the Banana Girl’ call 51 bananas a day the ideal skinny-girl diet and vegan twins Nina and Randa preach total expulsion of dietary fat. My world became smaller. Calorie counting operated from the background of my life for years but it wasn’t until the pandemic, and the reckless words of one modelling agent, that my eating issues escalated into anorexia nervosa.
After being dropped from my modelling agency in 2020—they told me my eyes were too wonky, classic—I hunted for a replacement. The pandemic meant that, like many others, I had left university and moved back home for the foreseeable future. When interviewing for a London agency, I was told that they liked my look, but that I had let myself go. I had six weeks to lose four inches off of my hips. Unfortunately, I took their advice and embarked on an intense diet and exercise regime. The pandemic, which took away friends, studying, and any social life, meant I could funnel all my focus into this one goal.
The time elapsed, and I returned to the agency the smallest I had ever been. I was praised for “clearly working hard” but did not get accepted. My hips were still too wide and my face too commercial. I felt okay. Even in the state I was in, I recognised that this agency was a cruel environment. Unfortunately, my experience isn’t abnormal. Approximately 40 per cent of models engage in disordered eating, and one study found that 21 per cent of models were told they’d be let go unless they lost weight.
My pursuit of thinness had deteriorated my health and life. Dealing with anorexia sees you getting up in the middle of the night to eat food you wouldn’t allow yourself during the day. I was hiding food, having meltdowns after eating anything unexpected, and bingeing on ‘fear’ foods to the point of extreme discomfort. It felt weird, embarrassing and extremely painful. I had splitting hunger headaches, an obsession with exercise, and my digestive system was in pieces.
It took around six months of living in a cycle of bingeing and restriction before I realised that I had a problem. Going back to university helped because it highlighted that things weren’t normal. I couldn’t go for spontaneous dinners with my friends without extreme anxiety, I had to meticulously plan everything I ate while on campus, and my obsession with food was interrupting my studies.
My period had stopped, and after researching amenorrhea, I discovered that my body was grinding to a halt—stopping bodily functions to conserve energy on the limited calories I was giving it. Between 66-84 per cent of women with anorexia nervosa experience amenorrhea and the health consequences can be extreme, from fertility problems to decreased bone density. This terrified me—I have always prioritised my health—and so I started my journey to recovery.
The NHS, while brilliant, isn’t exactly known for its treatment of eating disorder patients. Leaked documents this year showed long-term sufferers were being offered end-of-life care instead of treatment and they’ve still not reached targets to decrease the waiting time for urgent treatment to less than 12 weeks.
I recovered without paying a penny by receiving therapy from a local eating disorder charity. I completely let go and allowed myself to eat whatever, whenever again. I outgrew my clothes, spent evenings with my legs against the wall to soothe my giant bloated stomach, and pushed through immense discomfort. Recovery is beautiful, but at times it feels ugly.
Recovering is not just about weight restoration. I spent years reconstructing this identity of ‘the thin girl’ that had been planted all those years ago. I regained my period, my energy levels, and most importantly, I regained my mind.
Full recovery from an eating disorder is possible but it can be extremely difficult. Professional help and early prevention are essential. If you feel that your relationship with food is slipping, then seeking advice as soon as possible might just save your life. My world is much bigger now.