I am currently working my way through a fabulous book Telling Ed No! by Cheryl Kerrigan. In the book, Cheryl invites readers to reflect on their lives and their unique journey with ED. One reflection point really made me realise how much the experiences of my early life paved the way for the eating disorder to establish itself.
I wanted to share my reflection with you in the hopes that it might help you spot the patterns in your own life, or even notice unhealthy behaviour in your children or younger loved ones.
Looking back, what are some of your earliest memories of disordered thoughts and/or behaviours related to food and your body? How did ED grab your attention? How old were you? Was it a gradual progression?
I can always remember being preoccupied with food and the way I look. Even from a really young age (I would say 4 or 5) I was always comparing myself to how other kids my age looked. I was quite tall for my age and I hated it, and always had the thought that it would be better to be littler. I think this was possibly the start of eating disordered behaviour in my life (though it would remain mostly dormant for many years). I felt that being tall, big or basically standing out in any way appearance-wise was not acceptable. I have carried this thought through the rest of my life.
My thoughts around food and being aware of how much I was eating have also gone through phases and periods where the thoughts were stronger. Looking back now, I can see that these were all ED thoughts too—I can pinpoint individual moments in my childhood where it was in control and times when I was. I can remember during primary school one teacher in particular would check our lunch before we went to play to make sure we were eating enough, I use to pack two pieces of bread and say that I was having a honey sandwich but I would never eat it, I would just throw it away. I hadn’t really thought of this until now, but now it’s so clear to see even way back then the ED was there. It wasn’t in control all the time, but it was definitely present.
As I got older the ED thoughts became stronger. I grew up playing a lot of sport and I found out at a young age that I was naturally gifted in this area. I got a lot of attention from family and friends because of my talents at sport but I was never happy with my performance. Looking back again I can see that this desire to be perfect was the ED telling me that the better I got, the more achievements I made the more I would be praised and accepted. I can remember when I was selected for a talent pool to represent our local region in netball I felt like I always needed to do more than everyone else. This meant exercising obsessively first thing after school, every day. I always thought this was normal but now I can see that no primary school aged kid should be missing out on time with friends or family in order to ensure they got in their extra workout for the week.
My approach to eating also became more influenced by the ED the older I got. Throughout high school I (or more correctly, the ED) implemented the rule of eating “healthy” during the week and eating what I actually liked on the weekend. This meant a lot of the time eating the bare minimum during the day and often coming home feeling nauseous. When I look back I can see that the ED was there surrounding thoughts of food, but at this stage I was also okay with breaking my rules quite a lot (often daily) and I could deal with any guilty thoughts quite well (though their existence in the first place should have been cause for concern!).
As I finished school and went on to study and full time work, a lot of my sporting involvement stopped and I started to exercise on my own. Initially it started out as a healthy amount each week, but over time the ED voice got louder and I couldn’t not exercise at least six days a week (with a walk on the seventh day).
My eating suffered too. The ED started to implement lots of rules around carbs, healthy days and bad days, and before I knew it…well you know how the story goes. It’s so strange to think that the ED has been with me that long—practically my whole life—but until I gained an understanding of what eating disordered behaviour looks like I always thought it was “normal”. It’s no wonder it is so hard to get rid of after being entrenched in my attitude and actions for so long.
I want this post to raise awareness of this problem with your loved ones and in particular your kids, be open with them, chat to them about how they perceive themselves, compliment them on things other than appearance and let them know that it’s okay to not be perfect. These little things could very well save your loved one from years of heartache and pain.