If you’d asked the rest of my school year who would be the most likely to develop an eating disorder, the last person that anyone would have thought of was me. That might sound harsh, but it’s true. Growing up I’d always been bigger than the other girls, yes I was taller but ‘fatter’ also. This is something that the pictures (taken aged 6) included within this post do not even begin to portray. I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t called ‘fat’ or ‘chubby’ – both were words that were thrown at me in the playground. Words that have always remained at the center of my life.
Despite the comments about my weight throughout my childhood, I’d managed to remain relatively happy and I had a healthy relationship with food. I was loud and bubbly – there was rarely a time when I wasn’t laughing. On occasion, I’d get upset about my weight but my Mum would always be quick to reassure me that it was just ‘puppy fat’ and as I grew up, I’d become slimmer. It was when I started high school that I became more aware of my weight and not so much through my own thoughts but, the comments of others.
PE was torture. For as long as I’ve been able too, I’ve walked everywhere (mainly due to now owning a car) but sport on the other hand is not my strong point. And this is something which was not only highlighted to myself, but to the rest of my school year. Throughout high school, PE was the one lesson that I dreaded the most and I could think of nothing worse than the times when we had to join up with the boys. In my second year we did cross-country and as expected, I was one of the last to finish. I then received a lecture from a PE teacher who proceeded to tell me that I was ‘fat’ and unhealthy – already confirming the feelings I had about myself. I was told that I would develop diabetes and live a short life and she even asked if I have a thyroid problem. Surely if someone thought I was this big because of medical condition, I needed to do something about my weight?
Comments from teachers were one thing but what really affected me were the comments from my peers. Especially those from one particular boy who at any given opportunity would taunt me – calling me ‘fat’ in the corridor or laughing at me as I ran in PE. And then one day, he created a joke about me that I will never forget. A joke that resulted in me bursting into tears in a later lesson which then meant that the teachers found out and he was made to write me an apology letter. Sometimes sorry is never enough. His words could easily be forgiven (although I’m not sure that they ever have been) but they’d never be forgotten. Thankfully, he went on to move schools at the start of year 10 but that didn’t mean that my problems were solved and in fact, they were just beginning.
I was part of a group of ten girls – the majority of whom I’d known since reception so it’s safe to say that we’d been through pretty much everything together. The arrival of a new girl had caused the group dynamic to change and myself and two others were slowly pushed further and further out of the group. As much as I don’t like to admit it, it was bullying. I still feel as if I should defend them and sugar coat what they did – as if I was the one in the wrong. But I was socially isolated and as a result the past two years of high school were torture for me. I still had my best friend by my side and another close friend from a different friendship group so I thought that things would be OK. If I made it through my GCSE’s then I’d be able to go to college and find myself a proper friendship group – girls who actually invited me places.
Along with my friendship difficulties, weight was something always at the forefront of my mind. I’d tried to lose weight various times, eating a little healthier here and there but it was nothing that lasted long. I had attempted to lose weight in January 2014 but I didn’t have the motivation and I adopted the mindset that at my age, I simply shouldn’t have to care about what I’m eating. I’m a teenager, shouldn’t I just eat whatever I want? – A mindset which I very much wish I’d been able to keep.
And then in January 2015 something clicked in my brain. I can’t put my finger exactly on what it was but I was going to do it. I was going to lose weight. And this time, I was determined.
I began by cutting out the crap basically – eating a healthier diet and exercising more. In the beginning I was doing it the healthy way. I continued with walking and also started doing an exercise DVD daily. Growing up my diet had been poor, with little money and my mum hating cooking (trust me she tried but I think it’s safe to say that I’m the reigning chef in this household) my diet consisted mainly of freezer foods – chicken, chips, pizza and garlic bread. I wouldn’t think twice about having an overflowing bowl of coco pops in the morning, those five chocolate biscuits after my tea or the two cheesy crumpets that I would go on to devour before bed. On some Saturday mornings, breakfast would even be Friday nights left over cheesecake! And I’m not saying that these foods are bad for you because in fact, everything in moderation is good. But, both my physical appearance and the number on the scales portrayed that I was unhealthy and so I took it upon myself to take action.
One of my main motivations for losing weight was that both prom and my first holiday abroad in years were that summer so naturally, I wanted to slim down and look my best. Between November 2014 and April 2015, I managed to lose 10kg. Even back then, I felt as if nothing would replace the gratification of losing weight. It was as if somehow it has become my life’s purpose. I loved nothing more than being told how much slimmer I now looked. Even the boy who’d once taunted me, was commending me for my weight loss. I was finally achieving everything that I’d ever wanted. I was finally losing weight.
The year flew by, with the majority of my time being taken up by revision. Before anyone knew it, it was prom. I’d bought my dress in March and when I tried it on a week before prom, it was too big. This again was something that I was elated about. But at that point was it really me who was happy, or (little did I know) was it anorexia? Luckily, I managed to get my dress altered in time but it still wasn’t right and looking back at pictures you can definitely tell. Even though I’d lost weight, I cried before I went to prom because I still felt fat. I knew that people would always consider me the bigger one. Even now, people probably associate the name ‘Yasmin’ with the word ‘fat.’ I wish I could say that I was happy at prom but deep down I know that I wasn’t and in all honesty, I wish I could go back and do it again.
A few days later, I was on holiday in Greece. I decided to allow myself a break from eating healthily and have whatever the hell I wanted which lead to a pretty hefty baklava addiction (that stuff is SO good though, you can’t exactly blame me). Despite this, in the back of my head I always fully knew what my intentions were for when I came back home and that was to lose more weight. My plan at this point? To tone up and lose the excess that I hadn’t lost in time for my holiday – something which I put into practice during the summer.
Everything spiraled out of control for me in the September, when I started my first year at college. Despite my best intentions, I didn’t make any new friends – it was as if everyone was too wrapped up in themselves to care about anyone else. My best friend suddenly didn’t want to know me anymore – all effort I made to keep in contact with her was wasted as my texts were read and ignored. I was then left with the only friend that I still have to this day. And believe it or not, she isn’t one of the ones who I’ve known since reception. As a matter of a fact, we’d only become close about 2-3 years earlier but that goes to prove the point that just because you’ve known someone for a long time, it doesn’t make their friendship anymore valuable – or real for that matter.
I remained optimistic that things would improve for me at college, especially after I quit my part-time job in November as I thought that it had been the root of my unhappiness but looking back, I was wrong. It was college that was dragging me down. Three months in and people in my Law class still didn’t even know my name. I was spending my lunchtime and breaks alone in the toilet. Nevertheless, I persevered and attended all of my lectures and never missed a day – even managing to achieve A grades. And then, my next hospital check up rolled around.
I hadn’t had a menstrual cycle since June and this was a concern that my Mum highlighted to the pediatrician. It was then revealed that in a year I’d lost 20kg (I never weighed myself at home so this was even a shock to me) – now making me both underweight and unhealthy. I’d gone from a size 12 to a 6. Appointments with a dietitian were made, along with a follow-up hospital appointment in a few weeks time. At this point I was in denial about the fact that I had an eating disorder. But my family had already raised their concerns – my mum telling me how ’emaciated’ I looked, my Auntie telling me to ‘eat some bread and chips’ and my Grandma ringing up my Mum, questioning if I ate anything other than salad and pointing out the fact that when she hugged me, all she felt was bone. Looking back, I know that their comments were out of love – they were frustrated that I didn’t see the damage that I was doing to myself. But at the time I felt so defeated. It was as if I could win; people had made negative comments when I was fat and the same was happening when I was ‘skinny’. At the next appointment, I’d lost even more weight and from there, I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa. I was then promptly referred to CAMHS (quite possibly the most unhelpful experience of my life) along with my local areas eating disorder service and shortly after, my mum withdrew me from college.
I wish I was able to go into more detail about that time period but if I’m honest, it’s such a blur to me. Not attending college definitely helped to lift my mood a little. The months that I spent at college were the unhappiest of my life and the place was literally killing me. With no friends, I’d turned to food because that was the only thing that I felt able to control in my life. I didn’t (and still don’t) understand what I ever did to those girls to be treated that way. I don’t understand why no one will accept me for the person I am. I felt as if I needed to punish myself so I’d restricted further and further – eating no carbohydrates at all (when I say none, I mean none – if you’d asked me to eat a grape I would have said no) and consuming a maximum of 200 calories a day. I didn’t want to speak to anyone, I didn’t smile and I didn’t laugh. I couldn’t even bring myself to listen to music or pick up a book. I’d become a shell of my former self. Mentally, I was dead and physically I was well on my way. I was constantly cold – so much so that at work my lips would turn blue and the only thing that would even remotely warm me up was laying in a hot bath for hours. My skin was dry – my knuckles cracked and bled with the slightest movement of my fingers. My hair was falling out in clumps. I had chest pains and heart palpitations. I felt constantly tired and weak, to the point where I was too scared to leave the house alone for the fear that my legs would collapse beneath me. My physical state continued to deteriorate and despite weekly appointments with my pediatrician, I was hospitalized at the end of January.
I feel like it was inevitable that I would be admitted at some point, as I’d been gaining small amounts on and off when I felt it was necessary to avoid admission. Being admitted to hospital was unbelievably eye-opening for me. I saw for the first time how ill I looked and the damage that I’d done to my body. I could also see how selfish I’d been. As soon as I was there, I knew that the only way that I’d be able to get myself out was to eat and as hard as it was, I accepted food. I had to eat 3 meals and 3 snacks a day – starting on 1/4 portions before finally working my way up to full ones. I wasn’t allowed to walk anywhere and so my Mum would push me around in a wheelchair – I felt so guilty for everything that I was putting her through. It was one of the most difficult things that I’ve ever done and without the support of my Mum, who stayed with me every night, I don’t know how I would have coped.
I can’t even put into words the feeling of relief when, 10 days later, I was told that my physical observations had improved enough for me to go home. My eating habits then changed drastically from before my admission; I was now eating 3 meals but it wasn’t long before I stopped including snacks. From this point through to the end of March, my weight continued to fluctuate by small amounts and no real progress was being made – both mentally and physically – until march 22nd when I had my first appointment with the eating disorder service. The day that I fully committed myself to recovery.
That first meeting with my eating disorder therapist was quite possibly the hardest experience of my life. I was overcome with fear and so I was right to be – all control over my meals was passed to my Mum and I would now have to eat 3 meals and 3 snacks a day. I was also told that I most likely wouldn’t be allowed to continue eating the plant-based diet that I’d recently transitioned to as it would be ‘impossible’ for me to gain weight that way. But what they didn’t (and probably still don’t) realise is that my transition to veganism has been so beneficial to my recovery. I knew if I was going to have to gain weight that I wanted to do it in a way that would be incredibly nourishing towards my body at the same time. So I began researching further into veganism and it’s then that I fell in love with plant based cooking and my excitement towards food was reignited. Now, I love nothing more than entering the kitchen armed with my favourite cookbooks and even creating my own plant based recipes. And I’m so proud to say that I actually love to eat them! I don’t eat this way to diet, deprive or restrict further but because it truly makes me feel amazing – both physically and mentally.
There was a lot of resistance from myself towards the treatment plan in the beginning but I soon went on to prove everyone wrong – my therapist being amazed that I’d actually managed to gain weight eating the way that I do. It wasn’t easy, none of this is. In fact I’d probably go as far to say that there’s never been an easy day in recovery. Anorexia has screamed at me – I’ve screamed. I’ve self harmed. I’ve thrown things (one time it was a Nakd banana bread bar..we’ll get to that later). But I’ve fought through it all. And as a result of my progress, control of my meals was handed back to me in June – something which definitely pleased me and probably my Mum too! I admire her so much for what she did for me during those months and beyond – the avid lover of freezer food found herself making quinoa pizzas, chia puddings and massaging kale! All be it not very well, but I’m grateful all the same.
The past 6 months have been such a whirlwind for me and in all honestly, much of it has been a blur. It’s been the hardest 6 months of my life but with the support of my Mum and an amazing instagram community, I’ve somehow made it through. The eating disorder service has been beneficial in helping me to fully commit to recovery and gain weight. Although I’m not at a healthy weight yet, I’m fighting to get there.I was led to believe that there would be more focus on the mental aspects of recovery and this has not been the case. The relationship between myself and my therapist has become more and more tense and mentally, I feel as if I’ve received little to no help with offensive and triggering comments being made towards me. In fact, the biggest improvement in my mental health has been since I started yoga in June. Therefore last week I made the decision to leave the eating disorder service and currently, I’m undecided about what support I’ll receive next. All I do know is that I’m no less committed to recovery. Anorexia has stolen far too much from me already. I’d always thought that being ‘skinny’ would make me happy but if anything, it turned out to be the unhappiest time of my life. What you have to realise about Anorexia is that nothing is ever good enough; you’ll never be pretty enough, skinny enough, have a flat enough stomach or a big enough thigh gap. I don’t want a life consumed my numbers or to be crippled by fear and unhappiness, but one where I’m free. Free to eat what I want and do what I want (because this is about so much more than food) and that’s why everyday, I pick up that fork, knife or spoon and I continue to fight.
I haven’t written this for sympathy, but simply as introduction to me and to my blog. Things have been bad, but I’m a firm believer in the fact that everything happens for a reason. We have to fight through some bad days in order to earn the best days of our lives. Everyone experiences difficulties at some point, even if it’s just one bad day. But it’s how you deal with that experience and what you draw from it that’s important. In general, I choose to look at the positives surrounding recovery. I’m so proud of how far I’ve come – I now sit down and eat 3 meals and 3 snacks a day and for the girl who once threw her Nakd banana bread bar across the room in protest, that is a big achievement! Things have improved for me – I’m fighting, I’m nourishing myself and most importantly, I’m healing. I hope that this blog will help me to express my thoughts and feelings, as well as share my own recipes along with health, fitness and lifestyle posts. I hope that through my own recovery journey, I can inspire others to be the healthiest and happiest versions of themselves too. I may not be on the same path as other 17 year olds but, that doesn’t mean that I’m not on the right path.
This isn’t the end of the my story, in fact – it’s just the beginning.