By Rebecca Drew
MEET the young British woman who is recovering from an under-the-radar eating disorder spreading the message that you don’t have to be underweight to be suffering from a serious condition after years of believing she ‘wasn’t thin enough’ to be affected.
Growing up overweight, Amy Whittle (22) from Manchester, UK, first developed an eating disorder almost a decade ago when she was just 13 as she would eat the bare minimum to lose weight which resulted in her hair falling out. After a year, Amy began to put the weight back on but as soon as she started university she began to obsess over counting calories and would go for days only consuming liquids, eating soup and cereal in a bid to fulfil her perceived need to be ‘thin’. She lost four and a half stone in just six months and continued her obsessive behaviour for four years, at her lowest point Amy weighed 8st 7lbs.
It wasn’t until her partner caught her forcing herself to be sick that Amy finally admitted she had a problem, despite not fully believing it herself. The next day she was diagnosed with Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS). EDNOS covers eating disorders that don’t fit the full criteria of conditions such as Bulimia Nervosa and Anorexia Nervosa, where Amy found herself in a never-ending cycle of restricting, binging and purging. Experts believe this form of eating disorder is under-reported and therefore less-treated and potentially the most deadly.
Now in recovery, Amy weighs 9st 12lbs and is a UK size eight and has started a blog, EDNOS and I, and is currently writing a book to help others.
“EDNOS started at full force at university when I was eighteen. I decided I needed to be ‘thin’ so I was going to eat the bare minimum. I became obsessed with restricting food and counting calories and would often go for days only on fluids,” she said.
“I weighed myself daily and checked my stomach for hip bones as a sign of whether I had lost ‘enough’. When I did eat I would sometimes binge and feel so overwhelming guilty afterwards that I would make myself sick or use laxatives at times, where I would then continue to restrict to make up for whatever I had eaten.
“It didn’t matter how little I ate or how thin I became, it was never enough. I lost four and half stone in six months. I battled with EDNOS, completely unaware that I had a problem, for the following four years until just before my twenty-second birthday.
“At times I felt comforted by the fact that I thought I had ‘control’ over my weight but in reality I had dissolved my metabolism into nothing so I didn’t have control at all. EDNOS consumed my mind so much so that I spent most of the day, every day, deciding what I was and wasn’t allowed to eat and beating myself up when I had eaten what I believed was ‘too much’.
“Towards the end it had become a complete nightmare and I was sick of all the lies I was having to tell to keep my thoughts and behaviours hidden.
“I think it had become even harder to hide after I moved in with my partner because I couldn’t reduce my intake as much because I didn’t want him to notice I wasn’t eating often. We enjoyed going out for meals together, so my guilt went through the roof as I tried harder and harder to compensate but I couldn’t starve myself for days because he would have noticed.
“One night I got really drunk and came home and was making myself sick (again) and my partner caught me in the act. I could have lied and said I was just drunk but I think my subconscious battled its way out and I told him everything that I had kept from him for years.
“Even though it was 3am I said we had to go round to my parents because I knew if I didn’t tell them there and then then I would wake up in the morning and deny it all. In the morning I woke up and still didn’t want to believe I had an eating disorder because I didn’t know about EDNOS and didn’t believe I was ‘bad’ enough to have a problem.
“I saw a dietician the next day and they told me it was EDNOS I had been suffering with for so long – then my journey of recovery began.”
Now, Amy is having cognitive behavioural therapy to overcome her negative thoughts about food and she follows a meal plan that has been set out by her dietician.
Eating three meals a day has been the most difficult thing about her recovery so far but for Amy, recovery is worth it and her family and friends are so proud of her.
“The fact that I knew I was going to have to eat three meals a day most likely forever without feeling guilty or compensating for it afterwards. I found it hard to eat so regularly when I didn’t feel hungry all and I had to not freak out when I saw my weight increasing as I recovered,” she added.
“I also find it hard not to feel my stomach each morning and night and check for hipbones, as that was a big part of my EDNOS routine, so it was difficult to break a pattern that had become embedded over the years.
“Until this article, I haven’t felt ready to share my story yet with lots of people, but those who I have told have been incredibly supportive.
“My family is proud of how far I have come and my partner has been my rock throughout everything. He encourages me every single day to achieve my goals and stick to my recovery and if I ever feel down or like giving up he picks me back up before EDNOS has the chance to creep back in.
“I am determined that I will beat EDNOS once and for all because I know that once I do, and I have let go off all the negative thoughts I have about myself, then I can really start to live and feel happiness like never before.”
Amy shared her advice to others.
“You don’t have to be underweight to have an eating disorder. You don’t have to make yourself sick all the time, or even at all, to have an eating disorder. You don’t have to starve yourself to have an eating disorder,” said Amy.
“So please, if you feel as though you have a problem, reach out and seek advice. Society’s stereotypical image of what an eating disorder is needs to change.
“If I had known about EDNOS years ago I might have realised that I had a problem sooner. Instead, I believed I wasn’t ‘thin’ enough to have a problem and wasn’t ‘ill’ enough to be hospitalised so I didn’t think I could have an eating disorder.
“If you feel that you are obsessed with your weight, over-exercising, or controlling calories, then please speak to someone you trust and get help. Eating disorders are about far more than just weight.”