MY STORY: When promoting a healthy body image message comes too late

WARNING: This is a very brave, honest, personal but fairly graphic story by someone with an eating disorder. If you are suffering or have suffered from an eating disorder, it may trigger some intense feelings for you so you may want to skip it. Isabella* writes….


“I am 21 years old. I have deferred a university degree in business and I find myself battling through a nursing course. My head feels slightly off balance – even a gentle touch feels like an electric shock running through my brain, my legs cramp and hurt and I am obsessed with food. I spend my nights on google looking up recipes to food that I cannot eat in my current state. I am past the point of hunger – I don’t feel hungry or full anymore. I am past the point of low blood sugar – I no longer get shakey at 3 o’clock. My head only spins when I stand up too rapidly. My concentration is good, my awareness acute. Everything seems so bright, so loud, smells are so strong; sometimes the only way to hide from the world is under my doona cover.

I am cold. Very, very, very cold. As I write this, I sit under several blankets, many jumpers and an electric blanket on the highest setting – which seems to make no difference anyway. My finger tips have their cyanotic (blue) tinge. I’m certainly trying – and compared to how ill I was last year, the year before, the year before that…for the last 8 – nearly 9 – years, I am considerably well. I know what I need to do to be completely well. I need to eat like a ‘normal person’, sleep like a ‘normal person’ and stop walking as far as I do. Yet the overwhelming sensation of panic and fear which sets in sickens me. The whole spoon-to-mouth-thing? I can’t do it. It sounds like I have a choice – but I’m not sure I do anymore.

Besides that? It’s psychological hell. It’s a screaming little banshee in your head. It makes you swear at your housemate, your best friend, your mother, and then return to the situation five minutes later sobbing “I’m so sorry – I didn’t even mean that to come out of my mouth!” because you don’t mean it. It’s knowing you are entirely worthless, useless, pathetic – no matter what you do or say. It’s berating yourself days, months, even years after you’ve “said something stupid”. It’s never being good enough. Even if you consider yourself an honest person, it will make you into a liar. It’s nights spent, unable to sleep, thinking about your all-consuming obsession and how you’ll get out of any consequences tomorrow – spare no thought for a future, because, guess what, you don’t have one anymore. It’s about hurting yourself to stop the hurt in your head.

The irony of my whole situation? I’m in so deep, I’m not sure how I am going to get myself out. I’m not even thin. I’m at the high end of a healthy weight. Countless dollars spent on diet pills, laxatives, diet shakes, diet books, recipe books, diet coke, diet yoghurts, diet foods, gym memberships, therapist appointments, dietitian appointments, medications, doctor appointments…it’s all wasted because a) it hasn’t made me happy and b) it hasn’t even allowed me to reach that elusive “goal weight” – the joke is on me this time, because that goal is always changing.

The Body Image Code of Conduct is a good start. But it’s too late for me. This is something which needed to have occurred 10, 15 years ago. But let that not take away from the fact that we’ve done something NOW.

There were always magazines around my house growing up. This is in no way unusual.  When I was 13 I started reading publications geared at that age group. I would compare my thighs to those of the models in the magazine. I would read stories about eating disorders with vengeance – only ever of the sensationalistic anorexia variety. Only one story about eating disorders do I remember and that is of a bulimia sufferer. It was entitled “Bulimia made me fat”. I’d compete with the weights so prominently displayed. I’d take the “tips and tricks” so eloquently articulated and modify them for myself.  I immersed my miserable life-hating-13-year-old-self in these magazines. I’d deny I was ill because, I was a straight A student, there was no way that I’d be “as stupid” to get sick. Clearly a manifestation already, of what was to hit.

A treatment team of mine, many years ago, banned the purchase and reading of women’s magazines. The only magazines I keep in my house now are the weekly Housewifely indulgence of those magazines with real-life stories and puzzles. After I’m finished, I give them to the local hospital. They do my head in with their crazy, restrictive diets. I can’t have them in the house.  I do not own a television, nor do I frequent fashion websites.

I don’t blame advertising or the media for the development of my illness. If that was the case – everyone around us would be dropping like flies with anorexia, bulimia and EDNOS – our favourite in-between. However, I do consider it to have had an impact. I do feel that it helped my disease take hold more quickly – it probably “taught” me things that didn’t need to be learned.. I do know that for years before I developed the disease, I was an at-risk individual. I know that sports such as ballet, a dieting culture surrounding me, and the reading of magazines and watching of Fashion TV didn’t help.

Instead of making a big criticism of this new Code of Conduct – let us encourage healthy debate. Yes, it is long overdue, but it is being done now. Let us hope that it stops just one little girl, or boy, from developing the psychological torture that so many of us struggle with every single day.”

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder and you need help please contact The Butterfly Foundation.  The Butterfly Foundation provides support for Australians who suffer from eating disorders and negative body image issues.  They also provide support for their carers.  They can be contacted through their website at or on (02) 9412 4499

nailed it

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