By Rebecca Drew
THIS BRAVE British anorexia survivor now shares her recovery online in a bid to inspire others to beat the disorder.
Student, Alice Elizabeth (20) from London, UK, started to struggle with disordered eating during late childhood as a result of bullies picking on her for her ‘scrawny’ frame, leading to low self-esteem and difficulties with social interaction. So, when she started boarding school at 11 she started to control her diet in an attempt to be healthier and feel better about herself. It wasn’t until her GCSE year that this spiralled out of control as she started to self-harm and misuse food to cope with depression and anxiety.
In the grips of anorexia, Alice lost all her energy and concentration which made it a struggle for her to attend classes. It was this that spurred her on to recovery as she dreamed of attending university and needed to gain weight in order to achieve that.
For Alice, who is proud of her current BMI of over 20, reflecting on her lowest weight is not beneficial to her recovery and she does not want other sufferers to compare themselves to her. At the moment, Alice is following a meal plan that she creates each week which helps her to include foods into her diet that she would previously avoid.
“Looking back, symptoms of disordered eating began in mid to late childhood. I was never a chubby child, but I think being bullied in primary school about my scrawny appearance didn’t help. So, when I started at boarding school aged eleven, controlling my diet to be ‘healthier’ felt like a good route to go down,” said Alice.
“Nothing dramatic happened until the year of my GCSE exams when I started self-harming, got diagnosed with depression and had my first crisis. I learnt a lot that summer receiving hospital support to manage my overwhelming emotions, but I also learnt how to misuse food to cope: how to hide food, count calories, do rigorous exercise and let my unhealthy habits slip beneath my carers’ notice. Every time I lied or left false evidence of food being eaten I was getting one up on the world, I was winning.
“But I was losing so much: my energy, concentration and my view of the bigger picture. I’d integrated late into a new school nearer home but spent most of my first year of sixth form to-ing and fro-ing between hospital and the odd lesson.
“Even during weight gain when my body was finally getting the nutrients it needed I was drained; the constant thoughts about food, weight and shape continued and my heart would race and my stomach clench every time I looked down at the next meal.
“I try my hardest not to think back to my lowest weight, because it’s not an achievement and life means so much more than numbers. And I’d hate anyone to compare their own weight and feel they weren’t “ill enough” to seek help. To the contrary I’m most proud of my fellow fighters who try to turn things around before they get to rock bottom and do real damage to their bodies.
“I sort of tripped into recovery. I’d relapsed and needed to up my weight a bit to get to uni, so I worked with services to prepare. Once I’d started I realised how much work there was to do – managing cooking for myself, supermarket shopping and fitting in therapy for other mental health difficulties.
“I also started to feel the benefits of gaining a little weight in terms of physical and mental strength. So, I took a year out and eventually agreed to work towards BMI 20+.
“For me recovery was never about getting the old Alice back, instead it was growing into a newer, stronger, braver version. One who is more relaxed around friends, who can manage well and even sometimes enjoy meals out. One who knows how to look after herself and that self-love and self-care is not selfish.”
Watching her weight increase was one of the most difficult things Alice has faced throughout her recovery journey but seeing how proud her family and friends are of her is amazing.
“Watching the weight go up was gruelling. I used to dread coming out of the double doors of the clinic because I knew the next time I’d enter through them I’d weigh more, or be ‘fatter’ as I thought of it then,” she added.
“But actually, it’s maintaining that weight that’s the real challenge because that’s when you want to lose weight the most, when the eating disorder feels most powerful. And it’s confusing being stuck with an anorexic mindset but a healthy body.
“When things are getting difficult emotionally, it’s hard to forget the relief my eating disorder gave me. By focusing on restricting my intake, counting calories and obsessive exercising I felt in control, I felt strong.
“I still think about relapse as a way out when I’m really distressed. But the difference now is I’ve had a taste for life and I want more, and life and anorexia simply aren’t compatible, it’s one or the other. I’ve already made my choice.
“It’s nice now that when friends choose to comment on what I’m eating it’s to say they’re proud of me, or that I’m looking good, rather than begging me to put more on my plate. I used to find this praise upsetting, believing what they were really saying was “you’re greedy and fat”.
“But now I just want to give my mum a hug every time she thanks me for living at home rather than having another inpatient admission. And knowing my sister is proud of me for my positive recovery Instagram account feels amazing.”
Throughout her recovery journey, Alice found solace in colouring to take her mind off things and she has even designed her own hand drawn colouring book, Relax and Recover, to help others.
“The idea of my colouring book Relax and Recover was to help people do just that – take some time out to self soothe with colouring while hopefully being inspired and encouraged by the quotes I’ve included that I found most helpful in my recovery,” explained Alice.
“I wanted to combine my creative self with my Instagram @recovery_daughter self. Creating each colouring page by hand and turning them into a book became quite a project, one I’m really pleased I undertook.
“Colouring has been a massive help for me to calm down and take my mind off things and I’ve seen the activity help so many others too, whether recovering from an illness, an injury or just a hard day at work.”
Alice shared her words of advice to other sufferers.
“The message I’m trying to get across through my Instagram recovery account is that contrary to our fears, a happy life without an eating disorder is possible. It’s just hard work to get there. And also, that it’s ok if you don’t believe you can do it. I didn’t, but by giving it a go and putting in the effort every day I’ve somehow got to where I am today,” she said.
“Don’t be afraid to admit there is a problem, be it with food, exercise, self-harm, obsessive thoughts, compulsions – anything that is causing you distress. Find someone to talk to about it because there are people who care. You don’t have to deal with this on your own.”
For more information see www.instagram.com/recovery_daughter