Friday, February 6, 2015

You Are NOT Your Eating Disorder

Today's guest post is from Thomas Grainger, adapted from his book, "You Are Not Your Eating Disorder: A Practical Guide To Overcoming An Eating Disorder."  An award-winning producer and filmmaker, Thomas writes from the perspective of his own experience of struggling with anorexia. He seeks to help others - including men - who struggle with anorexia and other forms of disordered eating. He recently contributed to the website Men Get Eating Disorders, Too.

(Please note:  aspects of this post may be triggering)

Here is his story:

"I was inspired. After watching the season premiere of The Biggest Loser, I wanted to be one of them. Not what the contestants looked like on day one of the program, but I wanted to be a success story, to shed the weight just as they do week in and week out. 

So I did. 

As if a light flicked somewhere inside that confused head of mine, I swapped two minute noodles doused in peanut butter, with low calorie ‘miracle’ snack bars, fruit and very little else. So began my journey to body mutilation.

Yes, I was heavily overweight at the time, but it wasn’t too long before I had orchestrated a complete 180. As The Biggest Loser contestants would weigh themselves in each week, so would I…and I lost just as much weight as they did. 

Everyone began to praise me. You look fantastic Thomas’… ‘Keep up the great work’. ‘How did you manage to do it?. For a time I reveled in the appraisals…until they began to dwindle away. 

That fat-kid-turned-skinny had transitioned into the fat kid who was too skinny, to the skinny kid who had become a walking skeleton. 

An addiction to thinness

I had become addicted to calorie counting and excessive exercise. I paid no attention to the nutrition in my food. All I cared about were the numbers going into my body, and the numbers going out. Come rain, hail or shine, you could have seen me walking, hopping, skipping, jumping or running the streets at all hours of the day, trying to keep ‘fit’.

I was miserable, but I had convinced myself that the only way to happiness was being thin. I had become yet another teenager who was caught in the unhealthy belief pattern that your body shape and size was a measurement of your likeability, your popularity, your own sense of self and joy. Yet the blunt reality is this: the more you lose, the sadder you become.

It was never as if I thought I was fat, I just was terrified of putting on any weight, and my prevention mechanism was best executed by simply losing more. I had spiraled out of control. Most individuals think anorexic people believe that they’re fat. I don’t think this is exactly the case. 

Most people with an eating disorder that are underweight, are not happy with their body shape and size. They don’t think that they’re fat, they just aren’t satisfied with where they currently are, and the more weight one loses, the more dissatisfied you become. It’s a perpetual pursuit for perfection, with perfection never being attainable because there’s always a ‘more perfect’ to reach.

A crisis of the heart

Fast track two years after I first embarked on the ‘weight loss journey’, and I was lying in the cardiac ward of Westmead Hospital in Sydney on a heart monitor. I had been admitted through the emergency department, but I couldn’t go into the regular adolescent ward because my heart rate was too unstable. Months earlier my mother had tried to have me hospitalized, but I fought and fought until agreeing on a date to enter the hospital setting once my year nine exams were completed. The day straight after my final exam I was taken to hospital. A few more weeks and who knows what would have happened to me

A nasal-gastric tube made sure I was being nourished 24/7. This was my lowest point in my eating disorder experience. This basic plastic tube was shoved down my nasal cavity and into my stomach by a group of nurses. As one nurse inserted the tube town your nose as you sat upright in bed, the other nurses would be telling you to swallow consistently. It was the most unpleasant experience I’ve had in my life so far, followed by having the same thing removed weeks later. My nose bled for several hours afterwards. I vowed that I’d never allow myself to be in this position again, and for the next month I stuffed my face whenever possible. I can remember secretly eating a bag of lollies right after breakfast, in the hope of putting on the weight even faster and getting out of the hospital. It worked. For the time being…

Dealing with weighty issues

Fast-forward two years and I was back in the hospital again. This time it wasn’t for my weight, but for the shell of a person I had become in the midst of chronic depression. No longer relying on the eating disorder to control my feelings as much as I had previously, I was left to deal with the overwhelming self-criticism that was screaming from inside that head of mine. Being surrounded by depressed people who don’t attend the therapy sessions and who sit around the same table each day chain smoking, isn’t the most uplifting or inspiring way to recover. What it did do, apart from making me feel like I was living out the film ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest’ on a perpetual cycle, every time we heard ‘medication time’was make me realize just how many people, from all walks of life, are affected by debilitating thought patterns, addiction and self-hatred.

With more life experiences to store in that memory box of mine, I managed to pick myself up, tick all the boxes, say all the right things, which included not saying anything I wasn’t sure would be received well, and re-enter ‘normality’. I was flung into my final year of schooling to complete my High School Certificate. Everything seemed to be going well for me. I smashed my exams, landed a scholarship at The University of Technology, Sydney and was off to pursue by dreams as a Film Producer with my double degree in Communications and International Studies.

Two years later, I was back at square one. Only worse. What this demonstrated straight away, was that my eating disorder behaviours, were a product of how I saw myself, and my inner conflict with coming to terms with knowing who the hell I was. Perfectionism had led me to some really great opportunities and achievements in the past, but it had also landed me into a nasty concoction of anxiety, depression, self-abuse and a diminishing body. Now with chronic digestive issues, lymphocytic colitis, chronic anxiety, depression and osteopenia (the precursor to osteoporosis) at the age of 20, I was a complete mess.

How did I get to this place…and worse still, for the second time? I hadn’t just become a little underweight. My weight managed to plummet to an embarrassing 45kg. My Body Mass Index was 15 and I didn’t care. I was miserable.  

Choosing Life

Since restoring my body to a healthy weight and for the first time coming to love my makeup for what it is, to embrace myself for the unique and beautiful person that I am (it’s still hard to say that, but I encourage everyone to see themselves as nothing less than a beautiful human being), I have become fascinated in understanding the way we fall into these unhealthy and terribly unbalanced lifestyles. I am dedicated to helping others see their behaviours as being just as irrational, stupid and downright dangerous as mine were.

Most importantly, I hope this book will act as a vehicle to help you to love yourself and unlock the inner potential that is inside of you. Never forget how beautiful and truly special you are. There is only one you, and you only have one body. Treat it with respect. Love it and it will love you in return. 

You can buy the book 

Thomas Grainger is a creative producer and wellness coach from Sydney, Australia. After suffering from anorexia and orthorexia nervosa for several years, he was inspired to combine his expertise in digital media production with his passion for helping others overcome their debilitating personal issues, to embark on a journey of spreading an international message about self-acceptance, empowerment and body awareness.

Twitter: @Tommy_Grainger

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Bulimia Help said...

Nice blog. Your'e right our eating disorders don't really define of what we are. We also should now allow an eating disorder to control our lives. It's time to overcome our eating disorders.

Jeffery said...

You are an inspiration and I am so thankful you have a little guy to give you joy. Have you ever heard of Joyce Meyer? She has some great words of encouragement? Also, Beth Moore's "Breaking Free," is excellent. I try everyday to remember I don't have to be perfect but it is hard. God Bless.

Jeffery @ New Dawn Treatment Centers