It was over 25 years ago that I last stood bent over the loo, retching to (hopefully) get up all the food I had recently consumed.
You’d think I’d remember such a truly momentous occasion because for sure, it was one of the most amazing days of my life. However, it passed without celebration or even acknowledgement; I’d promised myself so many times, I would never do ‘it’ again – that this was ‘The Last Time’, I never recognised it was actually “The Last Time”. And so it passed unnoticed, no doubt, in a barrage of self-recrimination and disgust.
For years I struggled to stop bingeing and purging and yet, for over 15 years, I lived with bulimia in varying degrees of intimacy. Years that should have been some of the most memorable times of my life are not much more than a blur because I was too busy caught up and trapped in my own private war to notice.
My Private Hell...
As a successful model, with agents in London, Paris, Hamburg and Tokyo, I was living the sort of life many people dream of. However, in reality, my life was somewhat less glamorous.
Behind the painted smiles and faked happiness I hid a shameful secret, an unrelenting struggle with this ‘thing’ – that I later discovered was called ‘bulimia’ – and wherever I went in the world, ‘it’ came too.
I was convinced there was something seriously wrong with me, but what? Back then with no Internet, there was no Google to go and secretly consult. And perhaps surprisingly, given the world, I moved in, other than hearing that the singer, Karen Carpenter had “starved herself to death” (and I was hardly doing that!), I don’t recall any talk about eating disorders.
My 'Loyal' Friend...
Apart from the utter shame and embarrassment, I was too scared of telling anyone BECAUSE – as much as I hated ‘it’ – I was petrified of letting ‘it’ go. [I believed] I needed ‘it’: How else was I going to deal with those overwhelming urges to binge, if I couldn’t throw up? How else was I going to manage my weight and stay thin enough? Who else was going to be there for me in those moments of distress, emptiness and loneliness?
I did not want anyone making me eat what I didn’t want to eat. I did not want anyone watching over me. I did not want to get fat. “So what if I did ‘it’”, it was a small price to pay to be thin.
Besides it couldn’t be ‘that bad’: I was busy working and no one was saying anything. Well, that’s not exactly true. I chose to ignore any comments or advice I didn’t like or, would think people just didn’t understand or were, embarrassing to say now, jealous.
My Erroneous Perception...
For sure I wasn’t always feeling so great but with no other explanation, I put all the negative feelings and experiences onto me and what had to be some terrible flaw in my make-up rather than the truth: What I was experiencing had nothing to do with some personal flaw but everything to do with the symptoms and side effects of an eating disorder. To hide my shame and self-disgust I built invisible walls, lied and pushed people away so no one would know what I’d become.
As a result, what should have been some of the most exciting years of my life, were dominated by an obsession with my weight and food, a never-ending cycle of binging and purging, feelings of self-loathing, loneliness and fear and the stress of constantly having to conceal my eating disorder.
With the passing years I became increasingly disappointed and disgusted with myself. More than once, looking in the mirror after purging, I wondered what the heck I’d become and thought of ending it all.
But one day, as quietly as bulimia had snuck into my life, it was gone.
It was extraordinary to realise that not only had I not binged and purged in ages I hadn’t even thought about it! Nonetheless, at the time, I gave no thought as to what could have happened; I was just so happy to be free of “it”.
Without the ‘noise’ in my head and the time-consuming behaviours, I got on with my life. The world seemed a far friendlier place. Life wasn’t such a roller coaster and I felt more in control of my life. I enjoyed my work again. I enjoyed going out with friends for dinner. I felt “safe” with food in my flat, even once “forbidden” foods.
Admittedly it took a bit of time to stop being fussy about what I ate, but when I truly stopped dieting and instead ate what I liked in satisfying amounts at breakfast, lunch and dinner, some weird things happened: Not only did my weight stabilise, I also found myself in a body I really liked and felt ‘thinner’ than I’d ever done, even at my lowest weight.
I can happily eat any food without angst as I’ve done many times over the years: When trekking in remote parts of Peru and Kenya, horseback riding across the Ecuadorian Andes, at a friend’s house, in a restaurant or the ones I cook myself that sometimes don’t meet expectations. These days I’ll take the excitement of adventure and enjoying the love, laughter and company of loved ones and friends any day, over worrying about what I eat.
My Wilderness Years
But my transformation didn’t happen overnight. Although I’d stopped the bulimic behaviours of binging and purging, my self-esteem and confidence had taken a severe knock and when I stopped modelling in my thirties I felt cast adrift, lost. I didn’t seem to know who I was!
Everyone around me seemed to have their lives handled. My friends had moved on, getting married, having kids or in careers that were taking off. I felt totally inadequate and ill-equipped and had no idea what to do.
With no formal training I spent a number of years in dead-end jobs finding solace and excitement in a social whirl; looking for love in all the wrong places and using alcohol and recreational drugs to make myself feel better. Luckily, since my ‘cure’ for feeling better wasn’t working – in fact quite the reverse – I started working as a PA to an-up-and-coming property developer. This gave me a sense of direction and allowed me to realise some previously untapped talent and skills. After a few years I opened an Interior Design company and later began investing in property.
However, my heart was never really in any of it. So, when a friend suggested I join her in participating in The Landmark Forum I jumped at the chance. After that weekend it was if everything had totally changed: I saw life through a totally different lens and I liked what I saw and so began my journey of personal development and training.
Several years on I was chatting with a psychotherapist, we were both on the same training course to be life coaches, and I mentioned I’d once had bulimia. To my surprise – she told me you never really recover. When I said I absolutely had, she asked how I’d done it.
The thing was I couldn’t answer her – I hadn’t got a clue!
That night, for the first time ever I put “Bulimia” into Google to see if I could find some answers – and I was shocked. I couldn’t believe how big the problem was and how many people were struggling. Just as the therapist had said, I was reading things like, “you never really recover”, “it’s a life-long battle” and that “you’ll always have to be careful around food”.
To me this seemed so wrong. Some 15 years had passed since I last binged and purged. Not once in that time, despite some very difficult and painful periods in my life, had I experienced the urge or even the desire to binge or purge. The over-riding anxieties and worries about food, my weight and my body, that used to want to make my head explode, had disappeared, gone.
And the more I read the more confused I got. What was this thing called bulimia really all about? There were so many causes cited and so many were at odds with each other. What had I actually recovered from? And perhaps more importantly, with recovery rates appearing so appalling low, how had I recovered?
With the knowledge and insights I’d gained from training and qualifying in various coaching and healing modalities, I picked apart my bulimia years and plotted my journey backwards – from where I was to back where it had all started – to work out, how against the odds, I had recovered.
As I joined up the dots, I saw fundamental mistakes I’d innocently made that had kept me trapped in a living hell, struggling unnecessarily for years. I saw connections between things, that had I not struggled with bulimia and recovered myself – would probably on the surface appear unrelated or insignificant, but these seemingly unrelated and insignificant things were in fact key to my eventual freedom from bulimia.
It was so obvious – that if I’d had this understanding, this knowledge at the time I’d have recovered far quicker and with far less struggle.
It appeared to me that recovery didn’t have to be so hard and painful. It didn’t have to be so long or so miserable. It didn’t have to be the end of your dreams of having the body you desire AND probably more importantly, it was possible to discover some pretty amazing things about yourself along the way. Things that would have a positive and powerful impact in all areas of your life, moving forwards.
However, what I’d been reading online painted an entirely different picture. It seemed to me rather than helping anyone much of the information on bulimia and bulimia recovery could actually be keeping people stuck! I wondered whether people were simply getting the wrong information about bulimia and how to recover, and therefore coming to the wrong conclusions about what they needed to do?
So, I created a recovery program that reflected my own journey and began, somewhat tentatively, coaching people through it because to be honest, I did have some self-doubt. I mean who was I to be doing this? I wasn’t a therapist or counsellor and had no medical background, so I wondered if my own experience and what I’d learnt was going to be enough. But I’m so glad I didn’t listen to that “little voice in my head” because what I shared with others, worked for them too.
“I truly am so incredibly grateful that we started working together It’s been, as you promised, an incredibly fun, eye-opening and rewarding journey and it’s only getting better and better.” —ACK
10 YEARS ON…
And it’s been so incredibly inspiring and exciting to see past clients maintaining their freedom from bulimia: Loving food, loving themselves and loving their lives.
Now don’t get me wrong here, these women don’t live some Pollyanna other worldly existence, no they live in the real world. They still have personal challenges and problems. In fact, many of them have more as they’ve taken on bigger challenges and goals, in the pursuit of their passions and purpose but it’s no longer food that they turn to.
As I discovered and they’ve discovered too, when you have the right relationship with yourself, the right mindset, information and skills, anything is possible.
And what we found, my clients and I, is that you don’t have to wait until you are free, to feel better – YOU really don’t. Even in recovery you can start feeling a whole lot better about yourself and your life.
FOR THE CURIOUS…
If you’re curious about starting your own recovery journey to freedom CLICK HERE.