Thoughts in the head of an eating disordered person always circle around food, exercise, diets and calories. The moment you wake up to the time before you fall asleep. Either you are planning which diet to do next or you worry about what you’ve eaten the whole day. It’s like a prison and it needs more than a Michael Scofield to break you out of it.
Hi, my name is Dominique and I'm recovering from an eating disorder. It all started in college, when I fell victim to anorexia . Whether it was the wish to be more accepted at school or just to get more attention, I don't know. But it was definitely the start into a very long lasting and sometimes painful journey of different stages of eating disorders.
It all started with a diet
I still remember the day, when I decided to lose weight. January 2003. There was no specific trigger, I just started to reduce my food. I skipped breakfast, lunch was a yogurt and some fruits and dinner I usually had at home with my family, where I made sure to eat a small plate. The scale became my best friend and I had times, where I weighted myself several times a day to make sure the weight is still dropping. At the same time, I was part of the local athletics team and I practice 5 times a week for about 2 hours. The first couple of months I got compliments from friends and I felt great. Already after 4 months however, I could feel my energy levels as well as my performance in athletics dropping. My period stopped, my hair looked dull and I was always cold. Nevertheless, I continued to eat less, to step on the scale regularly and lose weight. During the summer holidays, I went to a language school in France. For the first time in my life I got some appreciation from boys. This felt great as I’ve always been more on the girls-who-are-not-attractive side. Well, you can imagine what followed – I continued with my weight loss journey and I reached my lowest weight by the end of 2003.
Luckily, my very best friend, since Kindergarten, realized what is going on and one evening she confronted me with the reality. She told me exactly what I had to hear at that moment. She wasn’t being aggressive, which, to be honest, could have gone in the wrong direction. Openhearted, she showed me what I’m being like – always freezing, refusing to eat anything which was not fruits, always being tired, not even having the energy to stand up and close the window at school, not being fun anymore. Her words let me open up and I could finally show, how I actually felt. I broke down in tears and told her, that I am not happy the way I am and that I want it to stop, but I don’t know how.
Still today, I am very grateful to have had such an honest and loving friend, who was able to help me get out of the losing weight spiral. She was the reason I wasn't hospitalized and sought help. Whenever you see someone of your friends/family struggle with food and their body, please approach them and tell them that you are there to help. People with eating disorder, especially anorexia, have a distorted view of themselves and need someone on the outside to open their eyes.
Due to my athletic coach’s contact I had the opportunity to see a sports nutritionist, who helped me get back on track – at least eating wise. I got some meal plans and knew exactly what I have to eat when. I gained a little bit of weight (maybe 2-5kg) but was still very careful not to gain too much. And that’s where the problem was. From the outside, everyone thought that I’m recovering well. My weight was in a normal range, my performance in athletics was great and I was more or less happy. But not a lot of people realized, that inside my head I was still suffering. My thoughts circulated around food all the time. If I could not eat according to my meal plan, I lost control. I was still afraid of gaining weight. Looking back now, I realize the one thing missing, was someone who treated the voices in my head.
Dieting and excessive exercising
In 2005 I finished college and went to Scotland to learn English. My ex-boyfriend accompanied me to Edinburgh and unfortunately did me no good. He was very selfish but I would have done everything for him so that he likes me. My eating disorder started to flame up again. After a couple of month, I started to feel lonely and somehow food became my friend. I filled my emptiness with food and at the same time started to feel worse and worse. When going back home after 6 months, I had gained weight. I wasn't overweight and for people on the outside I finally looked healthy, but for me the number on the scale was horrifying. From being underweight I shifted to a new form of eating disorder – excessive dieting followed by binging. I was constantly trying to lose weight and was never really happy with my body. The less I tried to eat, the more cravings I got and slowly binging found its way into my life. Not in a very severe form and I never got bulimic but still in a way that put a stain on myself.
Over the years, I’ve tried all sorts of diets – most of them were based on a low carbohydrate approach and a big calorie deficit. Even though I managed to lose weight, I was never happy the way my body looked like. Usually after a while being very strict, I was so exhausted, that all I wanted was to let go of the control and shut down all the voices in my head. I went to see different psychologist, tried hypnosis and psychotherapy. But during all those talks and therapy sessions, I always told the vis-à-vis what they wanted to hear and not necessarily what I felt like. I never really opened up and was relieved when I could go home again. I was just not ready yet to let go.
In 2009, I stopped athletics training and with the fear of gaining even more weight whilst not doing sports anymore, I became obsessed with going to the gym. I started with one group fitness class (like body pump, spinning, body combat) per day and continuously added more. There were Sundays, where I did three classes in a row. In combination with my low calorie and low carbohydrate diet I tortured my body and lived a very unhealthy lifestyle. Of course, there were better times and worse, but overall exercise and food were the prominent factors in my life. There were several invitations, holidays or weekend trips I either cancelled or couldn’t enjoy to the fullest. Don’t get me wrong (especially friends reading this) I did have some good times, well a lot actually, but with every single trip, every single dinner invitation, I still know exactly how absorbed I was with food and my fear to eat. With time, you start to learn to live with it and you don’t know, how else it could be. But it still is a burden.
When talking about eating disorders it’s important to mention your family environment. With friends, it is easier to handle or to hide your feelings, but not with your family or your better half. My mother was concerned when I started to lose too much weight in a short time, but it was difficult for her to approach me. A mother is here to nourish her kids and seeing one of her kids not eating anymore was very difficult. However, I am very thankful that she never forced me to eat anything I didn’t want to. This took away a lot of pressure from me. She might not have been the person I talked about my disorder, but she and also my father, always supported me in every decision I took. Forcing someone into doing something he or she is not ready yet, will just give you more resistance (it's something else if your weight is so low that it endangers your life).
In 2006 I was lucky to meet my current husband. Already three months after dating, I told him part of my story. During our relationship, I struggled with ups and downs, but he never doubted me and encouraged me not to give up and fight. I think he was one of the most important people on my way to recovery. There were psychologist, nutritionists and life coaches but having had his support all the time was what I needed the most. He never judged me but stood behind me in all my efforts to overcome my disease. It's important to not be alone with an eating disorder and to know that your loved ones will be there no matter what. Thank you!
First step to recovery and fall backs
One of the major steps forward towards recovery was my education in nutrition 2014. I learned the purpose of food and why and how we need to feed our body. Understanding what happens when we eat and digest was my first step to a still long recovery process. Slowly I started to increase my calories, reintroduced my carbohydrates and wasn’t scared to eat anymore.
Then I got to know Instagram and all the lean looking ladies with their six packs and their lifestyle on how being strong is the new skinny. With my history in eating disorders and wrong body image, it didn't take long to jump on that new band wagon. High intensity training replaced my regular gym classes and if my hear rate didn't reach 170 every day, I wasn't training hard enough. My nutrition was improving but my fear to not fit into the new body image got worse. I reached my lowest point last year when I started to hit the gym twice daily. My cortisol levels started to rise continuously and I was tired all the time. I gained weight and felt miserable. Finally I admitted to myself that I need to get help. Together with a life coach I started working on my inner voices and I was finally able to open up. It was such a relief to be able to talk to someone without feeling ashamed. It was ok to not be ok!
My journey over the years
Posting these pictures is not easy and I wasn't sure whether I should do so. Recovering form an eating disorder also means that you should get away from the focus on your body. But these pictures might help some other people to see that increasing your carbs and calories does not let you inflate like a balloon. Your body will be thankful that you finally treat him like he deserves.
- You can only start your recovery when you admit to yourself that you suffer from a disorder. If you are not able to open up, the inner voices can’t get out. Once you are ready seek help from an external person you trust and feel good about. When working with a life coach, psychologist, psychiatrist etc. the most important thing is that the chemistry between you two is right. You can’t open up towards someone you don’t feel comfortable with.
- For family and friends: Always be supportive and never judge. Ask your friend if he or she is doing ok – just because someone looks healthy on the outside, does not mean this person is healthy on the inside.
- Understand nutrition and learn what happens in your body when you eat which kind of food. This will help you to understand what nourishing your body means.
- Stay away from social media influencers and stop comparing yourself to others.
- Work on your self-love. This is probably the most difficult part but also one of the most important. Appreciate the way you are and embrace yourself with both hands.
An ongoing journey
Today I’m still far from being cured but I’m accepting it and am constantly working on it. I reduced my workout routine, incorporated yoga to reduce stress and got my head around the fact that I need almost 2000kcal (for someone who was at 1000kcal this is a big step). For me it also helps to get my food organized, I meal prep on Sundays so that I don’t have to worry too much during the week. I know this is far away from intuitive eating but it helps me to keep my voices at bay. There is still room for dinner with friends and finally I’m not scared anymore (most of the times at least) to eat out or attend parties.
Being a nutritionist
With my work as a nutritionist I want to help people to understand the purpose of food and how it affects the human body. Food is part of our life and no-one should be afraid to eat. I’m well aware that bulimia and anorexia are severe diseases which need to be treated with a team of specialist, but my story told me, that an eating disorder can have other facets too, which shouldn’t be underestimated. My goal is to help people win back their joy of food and get out of the vicious dieting spirals by understanding the fundamentals of a balanced nutrition.
I've come a far way and haven't finished yet. But I am proud that I fought and never gave up. And you should do the same. There are people there to help you with your struggles with an eating disorder and it's important to seek that help. I'm not a life coach or psychologist, but I do understand some of the voices going on in your head and the fear of eating. Please leave me a comment or send me an email if I can be of any help to you.