The Road to Recovery After Hitting Rock Bottom with an Eating Disorder
1. How would someone close to you best describe you?
Luke (My partner) – Luke describes me as kind-hearted, sweet, sensitive, loving, caring and just a good person with a big heart and always trying to do better.
I only just realized that when people describe me they don’t notice my physical attributes as that is not what makes me who I am.
2. What was your motivation in making an appointment with Amy?
My initial motivation for booking an appointment with Amy was to get some answers I just wanted someone to give me the answers to find food freedom and bring balance back into my life. To be able let go of past restrictions and to eat ‘normally’ again without guilt, counting calories/making sure I could burn what I had eaten, without fear and without compensatory behaviors.
I found myself so far from my initial goal. It all started when I was back in high school innocently wanting to lose 5 kilos, reach 50 kg and tone up so I could fit in and feel like I was “enough”. I am a type A personality a “perfectionist” a people pleaser and I was most definitely my own harshest critic. I initially went about my goals by incorporating exercise and reducing processed foods as google and my doctor had told me. I, very soon after, became obsessed with the number on the scale decreasing to feel enough. The more the number dropped on the scale the less satisfied I became with the result, it was never enough. I exercised for hours on end to the point of exhaustion and the more I burnt the less I ate. It was all consuming. I lost my job, a job I was passionate about and I worked hard to get. I lost my relationship, I isolated myself from friends, I avoided social settings for fear of having to consume ‘fear foods’, I was anxious all the time, I would lash out at my family and people that questioned where I was going with my weight loss and I lost my period. At first I saw the loss of my menstrual cycle as an indicator that I was fit and lean not as the reality of being severely underweight and having diminished hormones. I used to describe my situation as a feeling of being stuck but I think I was just so lost and off course. I lost my sense of self-worth, my purpose for living and I was just a body and I couldn’t even really see what I looked like. I was the body that I had hoped and dreamed for but I was the most unhappy and empty I had ever felt in my life. I had seen Amy’s Journey to regaining her menstrual cycle playout on her Instagram page and her subtle posts about what she was implanting in her life to regain balance in her life and I thought if she can do it maybe she can help me get on the right path again.
3. On reflection what was your ‘rock bottom’ and what did you do to pull yourself out?
Rock bottom for me was when I realized I cannot live a life continuing to do what I was doing. I was killing myself to be thin for what, to be the most unhappy I had ever felt? I had a few ‘moments of impact’ I like to call them. The build up to the rock bottom – I had been answering the phones at my work and had listened to everything that had been said on the other end of the phone but nothing registered in my brain no pen to paper nothing went through. I asked again “I’m sorry I didn’t get your name and what your call is regarding?” Again nothing made it to my brain and then to paper I literally felt like my brain was misfiring. Embarrassed as I was I was incapable of completing the simplest of tasks at my job. But most of all I was scared. But not scared enough yet to make a change.
Rock bottom for me was when I then lost this job and my boyfriend at the time all in the same week. For someone who is so controlled and routine, change was overwhelming. Changing the time of my morning workout by even 5 minutes at this point was incomprehensible.
Anorexia is all or nothing and when the brain is under fueled the mind is incapable of rational thinking and decision making. I had made a decision that would not only impact my life but the lives of my family and friends in a major way.
I had decided to try and take my own life. I did not want to put in the hard work to achieve health, balance and happiness. I had thrown in the towel. Luckily my family got me to the hospital where I received the appropriate care I most definitely needed but for so long denied.
Christmas eve my dad who I had newly reconnected with was taking me to visit the Melbourne Clinic a psychiatric inpatient treatment Centre that helps patients who are suffering with eating disorders. The drive home from the visit was the turning point for me. My dad was very black and white he reinforced that this place could be my reality, all freedoms taken away or I could commit to outsourcing my own specialists to help me in my road to recovery and in that moment I made the decision to do exactly that. Starting with booking my initial appointment with Amy.
4. Who and what have been the greatest supports during your transformation?
I believe my greatest supporters are the people that I have reconnected with through my journey to finding balance and happiness again. My dad has been a major supporter who was non-judgmental and came from a place of understanding. Mental illness is misunderstood and hard for a lot of other people to understand unless they have experienced it. Dad firstly sat me down and spoke about the things that I had always said I wanted to achieve since I was a child. Dad had me write these down in a Reece plumbing diary, the only diary he had and one I still carry with me daily.
The list was long but he said ‘right these things are what you hold onto and look forward to’. For someone who had lost their purpose, creating some sort of purpose even just pen to paper was a game changer for my mindset and outlook on life.
My introduction to Amy and implementing meditation into my routine was the wood that started the slow burn to reignite my fire and has been vital to my growth and bringing me into the present moment. Meditation has taught me to appreciate my thoughts for as exactly what they are, just thoughts, they come and they go and they only take hold when you give power to those thoughts regardless of whether they are negative or positive. Meditation has taught me to not buy into the negative story I get caught up in about my body image that still arises from time to time. Being aware of my hunger cues and limiting the frequency of times I let myself get to a 2 or 3 on the hunger scale, however progress not perfection. Following a regular eating pattern also sets me up for a good day as I am not left feeling deprived or restricted which is a major contributor to the binge-restrict cycle. All of which Amy has subtly made suggestions to implement into my day-to-day life. Sometimes I still slip-up and overeat or under eat but the difference is now I can understand what had led me to that situation. I always say after a follow up call with Amy she has a way of putting everything back into perspective for me and I feel empowered to live my best life and implement the new strategies she suggests to achieve all my goals.
5. If someone was going through the same challenges you were, were lacking hope, what advice would you give them?
It is so hard to tell someone how to help themselves. I think the best thing to do is make them feel like they have someone who supports them and is non-judgmental to their situation. I firmly believe that you cannot help someone who does not want to help themselves. The first step to overcoming any struggles you may be facing is to admit to yourself that you want better for yourself and this destructive avenue is no longer serving you or your happiness. You are also never stuck where you feel you are right in this moment. Life can change in an instant and you do have the power to change your thoughts from positive to negative and you deserve to be happy. Learn to be more in tune with your body, honor your hunger. One thing that has stuck with me the most was when Amy has said to me that honoring your hunger is not planning the next three days’ worth of meals but honoring your hunger in the moment if you are hungry eat and feel satisfied. Like we would eat as children before diet culture was embedded in our brains. ‘You wouldn’t tell yourself I don’t actually need to go to the toilet right now, because it’s not time, because that’s just ridiculous.’ Yet why do we do that in terms of our hunger? And lastly I think the best option is to reach out and ask for help. It is more common than you know, more women are suffering with restrictive diets and ways of thinking and lacking menstrual cycles and the more you talk to people the less power the negative patterns or thoughts have over you. A problem shared is a problem halved.
6. What have been some of the breakthroughs you have achieved by working with Amy?
Letting go of the diet mentality has been a major breakthrough. However it is not something you just one day overcome, I realize now that rejecting what society has told us about diet, weight and food is something that needs to be constantly reinforced. The first step is being aware of diet-culture, words like I shouldn’t eat that or that is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ food. Through working with Amy I am more aware of when I am getting sucked back into the world of diets and restriction I know diet-culture does not serve me and is a major contributor to the binge-restrict cycle.. I now have strategies in place to ease my anxiety when I am in situations where diet culture is present. Reminding myself that dieting and being miserable whilst trying to lose weight is a strategy I use often to pull myself out of the start of a negative self-pity party about my self-image. Also becoming more in tune with my body again, honoring my hunger levels and not allowing myself to feel deprived again another major contributor to the binge-restrict cycle. Amy has also played a major role in helping me to regain my menstrual cycle. Learning to eat for hormonal health and understanding the different phases of a menstrual cycle has helped keep me in check in terms of my training.
7. What have been some of the key learnings in letting go of the diet mentality and learning to reconnect and trust your body to eat more intuitively? And what benefit/gifts/opportunities has this offered?
Letting go of diet-mentality is hard. It is everywhere in today’s society. Rejecting diet-mentality goes hand-in-hand with honoring your body. The more that you reject diet-mentality the less consumed you are by thoughts about food that used to be all consuming for me. When you are adequately fueling your brain your body responds well, everything improves and you feel better. You feel a lot more freedom in your life. At first I thought I would never stop eating large amounts of lollies and peanut butter something that I had deprived myself of for so long. I found the more I told myself I am allowed to eat those foods if I want to, the less I felt controlled by thoughts of those foods. The brain works in pretty miraculous ways. I firmly believe learning to trust that my body was working with me and not against me was a major game-changer for me. I remember saying to Amy that I was scared I was never going to stop putting on weight and that was a road-block for me to begin eating intuitively. In saying those words I was still weight-focused and buying into diet-culture. A way for me to overcome this road block was, understanding that the binge-restrict cycle was the major contributor to weight gain not eating intuitively. So I decided with the help of Amy to try something I had not tried before which was to actually listen to my body and eat the foods I enjoyed. The benefits are endless. I feel like I have so much extra space in my mind, my sleeping has improved, my relationships with people have improved tremendously and for the first time in years I am able to be present in every conversation. Since eating intuitively, I have been able to reconnect with friends over many breakfasts, lunches and dinners, I have been able to go on holidays and not have to worry about what food I would need to pack or how I would be able to burn off the food I had eaten. My partner and I had ticked off one of my goals by climbing the Sydney harbor bridge a major win for me as I actually had the energy to do so and enjoy it. Regaining my menstrual cycle was another major win and motivator to keep me in tune with listening to my body.
8. Can you explain why you believe you lost your period (hypothalamic amenorrhea) and what you did to help you restore your health and fertility?
I believe I lost my period because my body was in an acute, prolonged state of stress. My body shut-down any processes that were not vital for survival. The reproductive system perceives the body to be not fit to grow another human life and therefore shut off the hormones that produce a menstrual cycle. In evolutionary terms the body is highly adaptable when under stress and will do anything to ensure you survive. I believe my excessive over-training and extreme under-eating was the number 1 contributor to the loss of my menstrual cycles. I initially spoke to my doctor who had said just “wait 6 months and put on some weight, you are too lean and don’t worry you will restore you menstrual cycles”. That was not the case. In that six month period I had not seen Amy and had not drastically changed my eating and exercise habits. I then decided to book an appointment with Amy and expressed my concerns about not having a period for 2 ½ years. Amy recommended I read a book ‘No period, now what?’ I brought and read the book in 3 days. All of my questions were answered. I booked into see an acupuncturists I saw her once a week for four months, she gave me these strange herbs and I did exactly as she said, rest take the herbs eat foods to build the blood and so on. I felt little niggle in the areas of my ovaries. However, I must stress and as Amy told me also that acupuncture is not the sole reason for regaining my menstrual cycles. Acupuncture in conjunction with eating adequately to support a menstrual cycle, reducing stressors to the body, restoring digestion, and yes gaining weight are all what have led me to gain my menstrual cycle.
9. If you had one message to deliver to your younger self, what would that be?
You are enough as you are. You have always been enough.
10. Do you have any goals you are currently working towards?
Yes I have a lot of goals to still tick off my long list I created at the beginning of the year. I have been working on not letting others diet-mentality cause un-warranted stress to myself. This is still a work in progress. I aim to meditate three times per week. I am working on becoming more creative in the kitchen and to cook for my partner and I more often. My last goal is to return to study next year. I have enrolled to study a Bachelor of nursing/midwifery as I enjoy helping others and I believe that is my purpose in life. Amy’s role in my recovery has been vital. Amy is not just a registered dietitian; she is a life-coach. She has helped me let-go of my physical identity and helped me reconnect with my vision and goals for the future.