So you feel normal and in control? Beware of the mask of an eating disorder

By Amanda Englishby

My normality.

Yes I had a challenging background, though who hasn’t? I would pride myself on the fact that I had not let my adversities change me into a bitter person or stop me from living my dreams.

At the age of 22 I had managed to gain decent grades in education, win numerous dance competitions, had fabulous friends, a longstanding relationship…. and now here I am at university. Life should be just peachy!

Hmm, so why was I up each morning at 5:30 am, layering on the jumpers, jackets and gloves to run down a dreary main road in the freezing cold just so I could eat my breakfast?

Rules and rigid routine

I thought this was totally normal behavior. As were all the other regimented rules I created; only eating certain foods on my “healthy food list,” eating at six structured set times throughout the day, if I missed any set meal/snack times by a minute I would skip that meal or put back the remaining eating times for the rest of the day to compensate. If none of my “healthy foods” were on the menu I would not eat out and just have a coffee. Therefore, to stick to my rigid routine and ease my anxiety I made my own meals.

I loved coming home from university and regularly came back to visit family. In the first few terms I was praised on how well I looked and people passed positive comments on my weight loss. Looking back now, I loved these comments as they validated to me that what I was doing was right, it was working and I looked good. I also relished in the sense of achievement.

Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, right?

Wrong. I was losing my hair, my nails became weak and my anxiety/stress levels were sky high. I couldn’t focus in my lectures as I was too tired and the heightened level of cortisone (due to the stress) meant that I could not retain the information provided. Like a boar constrictor, the eating disorder had slowly wrapped itself around my thoughts and body and taken total control.

The comments and compliments seemed to stop on my visits home. Why weren’t they telling me how much weight I had lost? How well I had done to lose it and how good I looked? In my distorted view I began to believe they were all secretly jealous of my weight loss or were just being nasty by not passing on a compliment. I had lost more weight, so where was my praise? I later found out they were worried about the unhealthy amount of weight I had lost. They didn’t comment as they were uncomfortable and didn’t want to upset me.

My mind began to doubt those I loved

My mind, dominated by the eating disorder, had started to question and doubt those whom I loved; and this continued…

By not feeding my body the right nutrients I began to develop paranoia. I thought people, friends and family were out to trick me (to make me fat). Even the bar man! I would check, double check and triple check that he was pouring the diet drink and not the full fat option. Literally peering over the bar to watch. I would chat to friends and family whilst they kindly cooked my food, checking the jars of sauces and portion sizes to see if they were trying to add extra calories. I began to trust no one apart from myself with my food.

Social isolation

The eating disorder was spiraling out of control. I began turning down social opportunities as they always seemed to revolve around food. Food had become my enemy. I made constant excuses as to why I couldn’t make lunches/dinners out with friends and family, as my anxiety levels would hit the roof when the invites came. I meticulously researched the menus online, thinking about what I could/could not eat. Then there was the problem of what time others would want to eat and whether this would fit with my schedule. Would they observe what I ate, make remarks and try to make me eat other foods which I thought would make me fat. It was all too much. It was simpler to eat what I had prepared and maybe meet them afterwards. Aaaah the release!

They had the problem; not me

I stopped going to parties and celebrations in case there was an open buffet and people would watch or comment on what was or wasn’t on my plate. I felt like telling them all to “back off” as I was fine and totally normal. In my eyes, they all had the problem. Why were they all so concerned about my food? Reflecting now, this was totally contradictory, as I was constantly observing what other people ate and comparing their plate to mine; the portion sizes and the variety, and their body size in relation to mine. Often I felt jealous. I would have loved to have swapped plates and enjoyed every mouthful with the genuine smiles that they had, free of negative thoughts or emotions.

The movies became a “no go” area too, as I couldn’t eat the popcorn or enjoy any of the other yummy treats on offer. You know the usual: sweets, chocolate, hot dogs, nachos and drinks.

Constantly punishing self and body

The eating disorder became too overpowering and nice foods were off my list. I wasn’t allowed them and maybe somewhere deep down I felt I didn’t deserve them. Or I would have them and then squish in another hour or more of exercise that day or the next. I was constantly punishing my self and my beautiful body, and had lost all sense of normality.

I had developed an unhealthy relationship between my mind, body and food. I wasn’t purging (vomiting or using laxatives), I was eating, and therefore I believed I did not have an eating disorder.

A boring, sad, exhausting and controlled existence

How wrong was I? This was a boring, sad, exhausting and controlled existence. I emphasize “existence” because this was not a life; this was not living. I lost a lot of weight, hair and most of all my personality. Where was the fun, strong and vibrant Latino curvy girl who went off to university? I was moody, weak, scrawny and anxious with no sense of humour.

I ignored that my bones jutted out so much now it was too painful to complete sit ups in the gym or have a bath. I also ignored the lack of energy I had and how I couldn’t wear certain clothes because my bones were visible. I began to cover up as I was ashamed of my new frame. Though ironically I secretly enjoyed this element of control I had.

Sadly this existence continued for 13 years. Thirteen years of my time and energy wasted.  Not only had I damaged my mental health, but the lack of nutritious foods and over exercising had taken a toll on my heart and bones.  My body still suffers the consequences. I am at risk of osteoporosis (brittle bone disease), my hair will never regain full thickness and other health problems may arise in the future.

A dietician ‘saw’ that food was ‘the tip of the iceberg’

It was only when my doctor noticed my BMI was too low that I was referred to a dietitian. I now think of this lady as an “earth angel” as it was via her careful questioning, intelligence and personable manner that she was able to recognize that my problem wasn’t just about “THE FOOD.” She advised she was referring me on to the Eating Disorder services.

You see, the dietician saw what the doctors hadn’t. The food was the “tip of the iceberg,” the “cherry on top of the cake” so to speak. The eating disorder was masking years of my life’s challenges and adversities from the age of three (abuse, early menopause, bereavements, relationship breakdown, and more). It had become my coping mechanism. It now makes total sense; the eating disorder gave me one thing I had never had in all these situations – a sense of “CONTROL.”

The eating disorder controlled me

I didn’t realize that this “control” tool, which I thought had been helpful, had turned into my enemy and it actually had the opposite effect. Now the eating disorder controlled me.

How treatment assisted recovery

Reluctantly and, yes I admit, still in denial, I attended the Eating Disorder services. Wow! What a revelation. I cannot begin to explain how much these people helped me. This is where the light came on and through regular group/one to one therapy and appointments with the dietitian I began to learn and accept I had an eating disorder named EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Other Specified). (Today EDNOS is known as Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED), a feeding or eating disorder that causes significant distress or impairment, but does not meet the criteria for another feeding or eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating).

Learning to love my self

The health professionals helped me to change my distorted thoughts in relation to food and my body. Though the most important gift they gave me, which was paramount in my recovery, was to learn to love myself again. They integrated lots of self-compassion focused therapy and taught me how to give my body and mind the love it deserves. I continue to use and practice these techniques today.

About Amanda

A happy, strong, resilient and positive young woman is how most people describe me today, and I can say: “Yes! They are correct.” However, for most of my life this exterior has been an exhausting veneer. My desire to help others masked many years of trauma, challenges and periods of extreme adversity, and resulted in the development of my 13-year-long eating disorder.

My life began in a pretty county named Lancashire in the North West of England, where I have enjoyed a rewarding career as a teacher for most of my working years. However, being a natural healer and having a high level of emotional intelligence, my interest in helping others naturally never stops when the school bell rings. It was this awareness (alongside my own personal “spiritual awakening” as Brene Brown would term it), which led me to my own rugged path of self-discovery and spurred me to set up my own business as a coach and Reiki healer. This has involved years of training, working with different analysts, exploring varied forms of alternative therapy and taking myself away on a year’s sabbatical in Australia, New Zealand and Bali.

Since my return to the UK, I have helped many people to change their lives via one-to-one coaching, teaching, group workshops, Reiki healing and writing pieces for websites based upon my adversities. I help people to shed limiting beliefs, and move forward to the life they desire and more importantly deserve. I believe that my journey has been for a reason: to now help and heal others in as many areas as possible.

Outside of my career, my lifelong passion has been “The Arts,” dance in particular. Since the age of three this has been my creative outlet, a space where I can feel, be free and am able to fully express myself. Ballet, tap, Latin American, ballroom, disco (as it was known then), contemporary, Salsa…You name it, I have explored it. Competing in the Latin American World Championships, studying contemporary dance at university and then teaching dance. I also love to sing, paint and sketch and would love to be highly skilled in these areas too. Though sadly not so, I just simply enjoy them.

I am spiritually minded and have a simple life, enjoying mindful walks in nature, good coffee, eating out and I meditate on a regular basis. Spending time with family and friends is highly important to me and now that I am recovered from my eating disorder I realize even more so how precious and nourishing this time is. Connection is vital to wellbeing as its lots of continuous self-care.

Recovery is possible and you deserve it!

Next week read about Amanda’s healing journey

Next week, in Dear Diary, read about the role of the narrative in Amanda’s healing process, and the work she has had to do to remain in recovery for three years. Amanda says:

You and your body deserve to be loved and this life is here for living! Not existing.

You are not alone and there is hope!

To contact Amanda directly, email her on: amandaenglishby123@gmail.com