My Journey with Eating Disorders
by Justyna | September 1st, 2014 — Wellbeing
For me the expression ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ has a chilling ring of truth. My battle with eating disorders was potentially deadly, but instead I came through with a renewed passion for life.
I was a 13 year old girl living in Poland, life wasn’t really out of the ordinary until my father’s tragic death in 1995. Following his death, I became depressed and introverted. Innocently enough at the start, I begun restricting my food intake, thinking I wanted to be skinny for once in my life. I was always the “healthy” looking kid, as my family lovingly liked to put it, god bless them. Seeing my increasingly slimmer body gave me a weird kind of pleasure, like it was the only element in my life after my father’s passing I was able to control and hold onto, while all else seemed to fall apart. I’m not sure how quickly it progressed but suddenly I was living off two apples a day, which were carefully measured, the smaller the better, and washed down with a laxative tea. I would have several of these teas per day, usually made with 2 or 3 teabags at a time, making it into a foul tasting dark syrupy gunk which crippled me with violent cramps. I was weighing myself several times a day, tortured by feelings of despair and overwhelming fear of putting on weight. The paranoid thoughts about food gradually infected all parts of my life, until I was barely able to function. I slowly withdrew from all social interactions and my family life became increasingly complicated. Friends from school became mean strangers, laughing and whispering while I walked past. I remember one day, a boy I liked a lot, yelled out some remark about my bony frame in the middle of the school, all the kids laughed while I fell deeper and deeper into despair.
Anorexia was killing me slowly yet it felt like my only escape.
The truth is I knew something was very wrong, that something got a hold of me, something I didn’t intend, but I couldn’t stop it. Everyone became very concerned, my teachers, my family, my mother cried and tried to help, but felt helpless. Back then in Poland there weren’t many options or information available on the subject, but I knew I had anorexia. I read a story once, in some teen magazine describing a girl… fighting the same demons I thought. My lowest point was 43 kilograms at 170 cm in height. Not a pretty picture. The hair on my head was falling out in handfuls while I was growing fine hair all over the rest of my body, I had dizzy spells and struggled to focus or remember things at school. I felt freezing cold all the time. I was irritable and had frequent outbursts of uncontrollable anger. I stopped menstruating which frightened me.
All aspects of my being seemed rotten and out of control, I couldn’t imagine a way out. I was suicidal. I felt no hope, but the thought of leaving my mum on her own was even harder to bare so I kept going, praying for a miracle to awaken me from this nightmare.
One summer afternoon I wanted to go to the beach so I pulled out old bikinis…the ones I was initially trying to “get in shape” for! Ironic. As I put them on, a terrifying image stared at me from the mirror…my skin was kind of hanging over my clearly protruding bones, the bikini just hanged off my body in a ridiculous fashion - I looked like a person close to dying - that’s not what I wanted, I thought to myself and sobbed. I looked like a skeleton. For the first time I got a glimpse of how I actually looked, it’s like I had anorexia goggles on for the whole time. The view of my wasting body in a bikini shocked me to my very core and somehow I saw ME clearly again. I hated what I saw. I cried for what I put my body through, what I had done onto myself. In that very moment I made the decision to start eating again…
That night I went to a grocery store and bought two big bags of food. I brought it home, placed it all on the table and just ATE! I remember feeling lightheaded and sort of in a trance. My stomach bulged out, my body was in shock. I was in starvation mode for so long that after shoving that much food down my throat, I was in a lot of pain. I realized that night that I had forgotten how to eat…yeah that is possible!
I no longer knew what was normal, what was enough. I had stopped listening to my body’s hunger signals many, many months back…in fact I made a sport out of winning over hunger cramps! So I realised that getting myself out of anorexia wasn’t going to be as simple as just re-feeding. Following that evening I spiralled further out of control. I no longer had the mental strength to starve myself, so instead a new cycle begun… I would “diet” for about 7-10 days or as long as I could withstand, experimenting with the most unpleasant and ridiculous diets I would find in magazines. My favourite one was a lemon diet - absolutely disgusting but very effective.
After that I would usually have a bulimic episode lasting a day at first, then it became a few days to a week, where I would just eat and eat and eat at any chance I would get, anything and everything. In fact, I would sometimes skip classes at school, and wonder around Sopot with only one thought on my mind….FOOD. It’s like I was an addict, who tried to control her cravings then finally giving in to a binge. I felt trapped in this destructive cycle. Falling deeper into depression, avoiding people, as everyone started to notice and comment on my weight gain. I was stuck in my personal little hell, and I had no idea what to do next, no one to turn to - well plenty of beautiful people around me - I just felt too disconnected and ashamed to share and admit to what was really happening.
My grades at school got worse, my friendships fell apart. And then something unexpected happened… I saw a boy walking past and I fell in love! In the midst of it! Like a ray of sunshine in my dark cloudy world – LOVE - funny how it heals you. For a moment there it felt like my lemon diet was suddenly lemonade! I was 16 and in love, instead of thinking of food all day, I now focused on the boy! Miraculous really… for a moment. My eating was still disordered, but I wasn’t dangerously underweight anymore, and my teenage crush provided enough distraction and relief from the haunting thoughts about food. So I felt better. That was until I was told we were moving to Australia. After I arrived in Melbourne, 3 months of lemonade turned into bitter lemons once again…n ow also broken hearted! I started binging again soon after, and my weight shifted to the other side of the scales.
I was gaining weight uncontrollably. I read everything I could find on food and nutrition, how what and when to eat, obsessively searching for answers. Falling into despair, loathing my body on a downward spiral to thoughts of suicide again.
It was all getting too much. I was in a new environment, nothing felt familiar. I remember trying to make myself feel better by saying if I get very big, at least nobody knows me here and I will never go back to Poland! But I was still in love with the boy and wanted to see him again…tricky, very tricky. My clothes didn’t fit me anymore. I was now 80 kilograms, having nearly doubled my weight in a fairly short time… a transformation my then very fragile body image just couldn’t handle. Emotionally in shreds. I should have been a happy teenager enjoying life, instead the eating disorders had me barely existing, holding on to last hope.
That is when I found Hapkido… and I think I owe it my life!
The Master of the school told me to focus on training and that’s what I did. I thought, this has to help me, I saw no other options. I focused on training and stopped obsessively looking for a solution to help with my bulimic attacks. I just trained.
The beautiful thing about Martial Arts is that it is about psychological training as much as physical training. The discipline, devotion, persistence, the movement, the level of fitness required, the meditation, and kind people who quickly became close friends…it all aided my healing. I remember celebrating 6 months of Hapkido training and being shocked because I suddenly realized that I couldn’t remember my last bulimic attack. I became increasingly healthier and balanced, depression far behind me…I was alive again.
My eating normalized, however the keen interest in nutrition remained. I was aware of the damage the eating disorders did to my body and felt I owed my body to nourish it the best I could. So I made the decision to start studying Nutritional Medicine.
I am now a qualified nutritionist and, after many years of training, I now hold a Black Belt in Hapkido, one of my proudest achievements. My struggles with eating disorders awoke within me a desire to gather the tools I needed to win my health back. I will never get those teenage years back, the fun I could have had, the laughs with my friends I missed out on, but I can now share my knowledge and my experience with others in need. What gets me excited in my work as a nutritionist, is the empowerment people feel when given the tools to build the health and vitality they desire, when their eyes glow with hope when shown a path to a better, healthier, stronger tomorrow. A day does not pass that I don’t feel grateful for the journey it took to get here. The lessons I learnt and the appreciation for my health that I now treasure.