Mental Health Awareness: ‘How I beat my eating disorder’

Closer writer Fiona Day discusses how her anxiety lead to an eating disorder- and how she managed to turn things around


by Fiona Day |
Published on

As someone who loves their food and appears to eat mindlessly at my desk all day, it’s hard to believe that my relationship with food is far from normal.

Most teenagers go through a tough time, it’s almost a rite of passage. But during my late teens I suffered from anxiety which manifested itself into an eating disorder.

For some reason, my brain’s way of coping with a troubled family life was by obsessing with cleanliness, in particular food hygiene. It makes no sense (how often are these things ever logical?) but I was adamant that nearly all food was contaminated. You know that cute kid in Signs who thinks all the water is poison? That was me. Except with nearly everything put on my plate. The thought of eating most food made me feel physically sick. As a result I ate next to nothing for nearly three months.

My anxiety over food understandably affected other areas of my life. I was absent from school for weeks and forced to study from home. Unsurprisingly, weight dramatically dropped off my already slim size 8-10 frame and pretty soon size 6 jeans were gaping at the waist. Doctors prescribed me beta blockers which helped me get back to school and back to seeing my friends and boyfriend, but I was still living off a can of fizzy juice, a bar of chocolate and a packet of crisps a day.

Why those particular things? In my head they were the only things I could eat as they were uncontaminated. The thought of eating anything else would make me panic, and panic attacks soon became regular. I lived in fear of my own brain.

My family were obviously concerned about my issues with food. My dad would take us out for meals and I would hardly touch my order. They became angry with me, but purely out of frustration. It was almost impossible to explain to them what was going on in my head. They simply saw that I wasn’t eating when I should be.

I didn’t want to be skinny, I didn’t have a bad body image, my issue with food was purely out of anxiety, and though it’s been said before, control. I was simply trying to appease my anxiety with controlling my eating.

Living off canned juice and a bag of crisps a day not only made me underweight, but my usually trouble-free skin started breaking out and my thick hair started thinning.

I remember being in my room brushing my hair and finding my brush FULL of hair. It was at this point that I realised I couldn’t keep going as I was, it was no way to live. I called my mum into my room and said to her in a matter-of-fact manner: ‘I need to start eating real food again’.

Over the course of a year, my eating habits thankfully went back to normal. I put weight back on and looked a hundred times more healthy.

But during my second year of uni my relationship with food took another dip in the road. In an effort to lose a couple of pounds that I had gained during freshers I started hitting the gym and watching my calories. Pretty soon I was counting calories obsessively and hitting the gym every day, sometimes twice a day, for lengthy workouts.

Beta blockers are prescribed to sufferers of anxiety
Beta blockers are prescribed to sufferers of anxiety

Though I was in great shape on the outside, I was miserable on the inside. I told myself I was only allowed certain foods, and eating anything else made me feel sick with guilt. I recognised that I was on a slippery slope and moved back home with my mum early in the term. I managed to get on top of my issues and fortunately returned to a normal anxiety-free diet.

Though I spoke to my close friends about some aspects of my eating disorder, I kept many elements to myself out of embarrassment. I was usually a pretty ‘together’ person and out of my peers was someone people tended to turn to when THEY had problems. How could you be someone’s rock when your own cracks were showing?

That’s the scary thing about mental illness; it’s hidden. I became an expert at laughing off my weird eating habits. Friends and family would joke about how I would eat bizarre food combos and come up with insane ways to excuse myself from eating, but I also became an expert at deflecting the real issue, which was somewhere deep in the inner crevices of my mind.

I want to emphasise that my issues had nothing to do with needing to look like the emaciated models you see on catwalks. It was purely my mind’s way of dealing with other pressures and traumas in my life.

Nowadays I recognise the signs when my mind might be slipping into old habits. I was referred to counselling by my GP when the disorder returned in my second year, but regrettably I didn’t take up the offer. The service was two towns away and I saw no way of getting there discreetly, without telling my friends and family. I didn’t want them worrying about me, and my parents' tendencies to blame themselves over issues like this discouraged me from accepting help that I probably needed.

Instead, I tried my best to focus on the anxiety and panic attacks, telling myself that the feelings wouldn’t last forever. Taking each day as it comes sounds like a massive cliche, but it does work. Even now when I’m having a bad day and feel less than positive I focus on the fact that- God willing- I have plenty of days to come in which I can turn things around.

When I went Vegan in December, some of my family members were concerned due to my previous history with food, but I can honestly say that this change has been an ultimate healer. I feel that food genuinely feeds me now. I no longer fear it and have a new, positive relationship with food.

My advice to anyone going through something similar is to speak about it. Don’t let family members tip toe around you, and if you struggle to find someone who understands what you’re going through there are great organisations who know exactly where you’re coming from.

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