While interviewing Louise*, it was hard to imagine the beautiful young woman in front of me ever struggled with low body image and anorexia.
Louise was 15 years old when her thoughts moved beyond the average concerns of a teenager, to the restricting of smelling foods, drinking water or biting her nails for concerns of consuming calories. Ninety-nine percent of her thoughts had to do with weight, shape, food and the desire to fit in in society.
She can see now she had a problem, but admits to me at the time she didn’t understand why she physically wasn’t able to keep up with her friends, why they would watch her eat her half a mandarin at lunch time or why her parents were taking her to see a dietician. At 34kg with a height of 167cm, what she saw in the mirror was obviously different to what others saw.
Many of her memories from the time prove to her how selfish the disease really is. “Looking back, I can see just how much pain I caused my parents. I recall my dad (a psychologist), approached me and started to shake me, clearly distressed, asking repeatedly why I won’t eat.”
She was admitted to hospital after she struggled to walk up a flight of stairs at school, and what she thought would be a quick stop to get her heart checked turned into a period of 7 hospital admissions over 3 years, with an average 3 month stay per admission. Being force-fed through a nasal gastric tube, being bed-bound, restricted to a wheel chair and expected to use a pan instead of the toilet was no way to live. She says that “Looking around at the ten other eating disorder patients at the dining table made me feel fat and pathetic, I felt I definitely didn’t belong.”
The doctors set her target of 54kg at one kg every week, which meant 20kg to gain. She says she learnt the tricks of the trade through the other patients, and how to con the doctors into believing she was actually gaining weight.
Her thoughts became more distorted as she became severely depressed, admitting “Hospital became a refuge from the realities at home. I would refuse to eat so I could stay in the confounds of hospital and avoid the pressures and responsibilities of life.”
Today, her attitude towards body image has changed completely. She still receives treatment for depression but remains a strong advocate for positive body image.
At a healthy weight, she says “can’t guarantee that the distorted thoughts will ever fully leave, but I can guarantee I won’t let them defeat me again. I want so much from life.”
If you or any one you know is suffering with anorexia, contact the Butterfly Foundation for support.
*Name has been changed