It is incredibly admirable to openly talk about a tough time in your life and do so selflessly in order to help others. I was lucky enough to meet one of these inspiring women who shared with me her eating disorder battle and the ongoing affects it has had on her life. Nadine, a 32 year old wonder woman from the UK wishes to educate others on the repercussions of mistreating your body after her 18 year struggle which may result in the removal of her bowel.
Did you know that disordered eating is the third most common chronic illness and the second leading cause of mental health disorders for young females?
It’s a topic that is not often spoken about and one that impacts every girl at some stage in her life.
Body obsession is incredibly dangerous; it drives very disordered eating and obsessive exercise behaviours contributing to increases in body dysmorphia, clinical eating disorders and surgical interventions. What’s alarming is that this disorder is a silent killer and can go unrecognised or unspoken about for many years.
Do you think if we spoke more openly about disordered eating and were more educated on the repercussions it would help?
Depriving our body to extreme degrees can result in irreversible damage causing life long problems such as infertility, osteoporosis and increased risk of mortality.
Nadine, how old were you when you first started thinking about body image?
I was confident and body proud when I was 12, even though looking back I was a pudgy teenager. In high school I began being bullied about my body image, I like to stand out from the crowd but being different negatively impacted me. I felt the only way to avoid bullying was to conform, not be my authentic self and to lose weight. This ongoing niggling thought stayed with me till the late years of school.
Was there a trigger that changed the way you felt about your body?
At 15 my body began changing, curves started forming, I had my first boyfriend and my Mum and step Dad broke up meaning we had to move, this teamed with studying for my GCSE exams and deciding what I wanted to study thereafter was very unsettling and I felt like I couldn’t control what was going on.
One day I realized I did have a way of controlling a situation, my weight. It was the low-fat diet era and plenty of women I knew were always on diet programs.
I don’t do things by halves, that’s my personality, so I immersed myself in it. I read every book, learnt all I could and went on a diet. I thrived on the feeling of being in control.
I thought I was a lot bigger than I was and my eating habits were inconsistent. I would eat very little, some days I would allow half an apple or half a bag of pretzels and sometimes I would go days without eating at all.
At 16 I went through a laxative abuse phase, where a chocolate laxative would be my only source of food. It felt like a chocolate treat and I would have two blocks of laxatives some days. At the worst point I was taking 8 laxatives per day.
Did you understand what you were doing to your body throughout this period?
Not really until the physical signs of malnutrition began.
At 17 I knew I was super skinny, I went to a local fashion show where they picked models from the crowd, I was sure I would be picked but to my despair I wasn’t. I went home devastated. Mum asked if I would now like something to eat – I finally agreed. I hadn’t eaten in years, I decided I wanted pizza hut and I started with the salad bar. This set off a trigger in my head and I could not stop eating.
My disorder then changed from anorexia to bulimia. I would binge and then purge. At this time I had finished the first year of hair and beauty but could not continue due to being too ill, I literally couldn’t go to class without intense reflux or passing out.
Did you have any support?
My parents and friends tried their best, but I was always in my own mind, feeling overwhelmed and like there was no one I could relate or talk to. There were no internet forums to turn to, so I felt very alone.
What was the turning point?
I was at my all time worst at 18. I remember tests coming back from our family doctor detailing potassium, B12, and electrolyte deficiencies. I saw a few other specialists and was then taken to an eating disorder rehabilitation centre, which was confronting for me as it also dealt with alcohol and drug addicts – something I had never really been exposed to.
What was your time like in rehab?
I stayed for 4 months and I remember on entering I was searched for laxatives and diet coke!. One of the best things to come out of my stay there was seeing how drug and alcohol abuse impacts lives – there is no way I would ever take drugs or abuse alcohol after the experience.
You are monitored 24/7 for the first two weeks and are not allowed to go to the toilet or your room by yourself for 2 hours after meals.
Lack of food and nutrients affects your brain so you are not thinking straight and I recall acting pretty irrationally on a few occasions – looking back it seems so unreal that my mind worked this way. I was actually featured in a medical journal whilst there for having such severely low B12..
Little things became big dramas – a few times we had stand in nurses, usually we were allowed to cut the crusts off our bread but the stand in nurses wouldn’t let us – it caused up roar. Another time a stand in nurse tried to make me eat the steak fat, it was just too far and I couldn’t do it, I ended up throwing it at him and running away. Its funny looking back now (I love steak fat and crusty bread these days!), but then it was so real.
Toward the end of my stay I was truly enjoying food again , a sure sign of getting better.
How did you feel leaving the hospital and being on your own again?
I was 19 when I left and I had definitely grown as a person. You are given tasks to do in the real world like going to a restaurant by yourself to eat and doing your own exercise but timing it so you didn’t overdo it.
Part of the reason I became a PT was because my recovery revolved around exercise – whenever I felt stressed or anxious I went for a jog and it relieved my mind. The thing with exercise is you cannot do it if you are not nourishing your body, you don’t have the energy. I love exercise so much – yoga, jogging and bike riding, so for me to ensure I could do that I needed to nourish my body – this was far more important. Exercise saved me.
For a long time I kept the exact eating pattern I had in hospital, as I was so scared I would revert back. It consisted of breakfast, a mid morning snack, lunch with dessert, an afternoon snack, dinner and dessert, snack before bed and a milk drink. I’ve now learnt that the foods I was eating weren’t at all nutritious and were incredibly high in sugar, but I knew nothing about food then. I was a sugar addict – dessert was my favorite thing. Luckily I became far more educated and my diet evolved to a super nutrient dense diet – thank goodness!
What were the after affects of extreme dieting and laxative abuse?
For a long time I was oblivious to the damage I had caused to my body. It is only as I have gotten older that the side effects have really started rearing their ugly head. And recently these effects have accumulated to where I find myself today:
I still suffer from ongoing digestive problems and cannot go to the toilet without medication. This has become more severe over the last few years and I find it increasingly difficult to digest certain foods.
I have been told I have no peristalsis and the nerves have given up in my colon meaning my body cannot push through the food effectively. It is frustrating and uncomfortable to say the least.
What was the advice given to you by Doctors and health practioners?
I saw a naturopath for nearly a year. I was taking 11 tablets a day and herbs with no success.
X-rays showed my bowel completely blocked and full of wind so I tried colonics. I had 5 in the space of two weeks but it left me a lot worse. I was misadvised by the staff and shouldn’t have had 5 in such a short space; I am still rebuilding my gut flora.
Following this I was so severely bloated and uncomfortable I had to go to the hospital.
I was referred to a gastroenterologist who did a colonoscopy and endoscopy.
The final advice I have been given to deal with the extreme bloating is to take laxatives for the rest of my life and if they do not work, I will have to remove my bowel and join my small intestine to my rectum.
I am not prepared to do this extreme surgery, there has got to be another way.
I am currently undertaking more tests, which involves drinking radioactive dye for 5 days and watching the transit time through my digestive system.
I will have to wait and see what the gastroenterologist says, and then I will get a second opinion and go from there.
Surgery is the absolute last option
You are such a brave, strong willed woman, a true inspiration and I thank you so much for openly sharing your story in order to bring awareness to the ongoing problems associated with disordered eating. Is there any final message that you would like to share with others that may be going through something similar?
Look after your body, it is your temple, it has to work forever and the minute it stops the minute you will think – shit!
Back then I just wanted so badly to be accepted, I cared so strongly about the way others looked at me as if it was actually important!? Trust me, it isn’t.
At the end of the day it’s your beautiful, incredible body and when it’s gone its gone – don’t mess with it – it knows what it wants and needs.
Listen to it.
Where to get help?
The Butterfly foundation is a wonderfully supportive organization in Australia that have qualified practioners providing free, confidential support for anyone with a question about eating disorders or negative body image, including sufferers, carers, family and friends, teachers, employers and more.
The service can provide
* Personalised support and coping strategies
* Information on understanding disordered eating
* Guidance on treatment options
* Connections with other services and specialists.
Phone their helpline on: 1800 ED HOPE / 1800 33 4673
If you would like to ask Nadine any questions, share your story or wish to know anything more write a comment below and I will get back to you as soon as possible.
‘ The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of us but those who win battles we know nothing about’.