Eating Disorders Awareness Week: “I feel so passionately that recovery is possible”.

Health / Wed 28th Feb 2024 at 07:49am

THIS Eating Disorders Awareness Week, we spoke to Louise, who has been in recovery for two years thanks to the support she received from EPUT’s (Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust’s) eating disorder services. She wants others to know that recovery is entirely possible and discusses her journey.

Louise, a 31-year-old mum of two girls, had been living with an eating disorder for more than 10 years when physical symptoms she experienced meant that the disorder could no longer go unnoticed.

Louise explains: “In August 2021, I visited my GP to discuss that I had been missing periods and to ask for some advice on how to conceive. It was mentioned that I had lost 50kg since my visit earlier on in the year, but I excused this as dieting. I didn’t know it, but at this time I was totally in the depths of my eating disorder.

“I have an extensive history of rapid weight gain and weight loss, and I would easily lose four to five stone in a six-month period, then regain it all the following six months. However, this time I felt determined to never yo-yo diet again and it swamped me; it was all encompassing and the only thing that mattered to me. At no point did I feel I had a problem… but it was an obsession.

“It was at this point that the physical symptoms became noticeable. My legs were swelling; I was frequently falling over and I was bruising easily. I was freezing cold, white hair had grown all over my body and I was dealing with extreme bowel incompetence, but even that was not scaring me.

“At work, my manager noticed my deterioration and told me I needed to see my GP. I did, and they told me to elevate my legs and slow down on the exercise.

“I collapsed on a dog walk one week later and I then knew I needed help. However, I was still in denial that I needed help for an eating disorder – I thought maybe I was just ill.

“I returned to the GP, he weighed me, and in just three weeks I had lost almost two stone. He took my blood pressure and said “I need you to go to A&E and I’m going to call them so they know you are coming.” I could sense the urgency. I wasn’t allowed to drive myself there. But still, nothing anyone could say would make me realise I had an eating disorder.

“I went to A&E, I had my bloods taken, my legs were examined for Oedema and I was discharged. I then went home and lied to my husband, Adam, and everyone else, that I was fine, that I knew I needed to gain a little weight but that I will be okay. 

“That evening someone from a mental health team called and left a voicemail to say I needed to return to A&E as they had looked at my notes and had some concerns. I ignored this and kept it a secret from Adam. I was adamant that I was fine. 

“The next day I felt enormous guilt for ignoring the call, and had the realisation that if I died, I would be leaving my two children without a mother, so I told Adam. He carried me to the car and took me straight there. 

“Within an hour of being there a nurse had mentioned the word anorexia. I had never even considered that I had anorexia and I was shocked. I was admitted to a medical ward where I remained for three weeks.

“I had no energy. I struggled to breathe and I struggled to focus. I didn’t hold any kind of conversation and this allowed me to avoid speaking openly about how much I was entrenched within an eating disorder.

“During my time in hospital I tried to continue to control what I ate and when. I never drank the supplements, I persuaded my husband to bring in ‘safe’ foods which had low calories – he just wanted to ensure I ate anything. The guilt I felt was crippling but laying in a bed for long periods was becoming an enormous driver to not comply with the dietician or the eating disorder service’s plan. I would jump up and down in my room desperate to achieve some form of exercise. When I was moved from a room to a bay, I had a panic attack because I knew my rituals and avoidance of food would be exposed.

“I felt like a burden as I was medically stable, and I felt desperate to get home. I agreed to attend the eating disorder day service upon discharge.

“For three weeks, I would spend every day at the service from 8.30am to 5pm and we would eat breakfast, snacks and lunch. Seeing professionals who have dealt with eating disorders and having them challenge me daily felt impossible. I felt dehumanised and the control I had previously was stripped, and I rebelled. I had meltdowns every day. I was terrified of gaining all the weight again and this held me back from ever fully engaging in treatment.

“When it was then suggested I needed inpatient care, I saw this as an opportunity to get ‘fixed’ quick. I went into inpatient care in November 2021 and remained there for seven months, but actually, this stay only embedded the fears I had. Being surrounded by others who struggled, I was exposed to rules and rituals that were normal to many and I felt I had to adopt them too. This type of inpatient care does work for some people, but it didn’t work for me. 

“Upon discharge, I went back into community care and found the adjustment almost impossible. I relapsed, and this time under immense shame and guilt as I couldn’t fathom why the eating disorder, after so much treatment, was still controlling my entire life.

“The eating disorder team persisted and never gave up on me, despite my reluctance to engage in treatment. There was a breaking point for me when my husband said he couldn’t continue with the lies, the self-destruct and the influence I could have on our children and that he would have to leave me.

“The eating disorder team helped me realise at this point that I needed to go all in with my recovery. I couldn’t dabble in it as I had been attempting. It was all or nothing.

“It was at that point that I revealed everything to my husband and to the eating disorder team. I disclosed all my rituals, excessive behaviours and fears. They listened to me without judgement, and they understood that I wasn’t choosing to live like this, and that it was an illness. This was a changing point for everyone, and the start of my true recovery.

“It took me over a year to trust and fully open up to the eating disorder team, but when I did, I felt free. They helped me change my entire prospective. They helped me to realise that I might live with these thoughts forever but that I have a choice as to whether I act on them or not. This was like a lightbulb moment for me. I kept wondering why I was still having these thoughts and it was impeding my recovery, as I couldn’t imagine how I could ever live without this eating disorder – now I know that I can let the thoughts in and I don’t have to act on them.

“I have been in recovery for two years and I am enjoying being a mum, socialising, working at a school and going on holidays. I am forever grateful to the eating disorder team for this.

“I would really encourage those who think they may have an eating disorder to try and open up to someone they trust. It takes such courage to admit that there’s a problem but I felt an immense sense of freedom and relief when I finally revealed everything. I was petrified, but it was the best thing I ever did. I feel so passionately that recovery is possible and that others can find peace in allowing someone to hear you and to help you.”

If you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised in this story, or are concerned for yourself or a loved one, you can find support and guidance on the help pages of the Beat Eating Disorders website.

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