Eating disorders and disordered eating are some of the many co-morbid diseases with BPD. According to this website about BPD approximately 25% of individuals with anorexia nervosa are also suffering from the symptoms of BPD.
I have used the term disordered eating to refer to unhealthy eating patterns, beliefs and emotions around food that have not resulted in a diagnosis.
I have been unhappy about my body and my overall appearance for as long as I can remember. From the age of 5 I thought I was fat and ugly. I used to sit in the bath as a 8 or 9 year old girl, pinch the fat and skin from around my stomach and my thighs, and imagine slicing it off with a sharp knife. Although I was wildly uncomfortable with my appearance and by body, I didn’t make the connection between food, hunger, and weight fluctuation until a little later. In secondary school I knew that I needed to ‘simply’ exercise more and eat less, but I was too embarrassed to try in P.E. or jog outside. The thought of people seeing me exercise filled me with fear. I imagined that people would look at me and think ‘haha look at the fatty run’. To get around this, I used to exercise in my room in the evening. Jumping jacks and sit-ups, never too intensively and not usually for more than a hour.
I wasn’t ever more than a little chubby, but I felt absolutely huge, and thought that this was the worst thing in the world to be. I believed that if I lost weight everything in my life would fall into place; that I would find making friends easier, that my teachers would take me more seriously, that my family wouldn’t think of me as a joke. I didn’t realise at the time that my thinking was massively distorted. My weight started fluctuating, I never lost that much and it never stayed off for long. I started skipping lunch and going to the gym, obsessing about food 24/7. I tried cutting out dairy and wheat, dairy lasting the longest (which is surprising because I love cheese).
In the Summer after GCSEs I travelled to Tanzania to get some work experience in a hospital there. I felt a surge in my confidence, I was around people that had never met me before and I was doing great. I started smoking, and convinced myself that the food was disgusting. I would fill my plate with, at most half of what everyone else was eating, and then pick at it until they were finished. It was hot and we were often hungover in the morning. I felt light headed and almost fainted more than a few times during the day. Im not sure whether I actually lost weight while I was there, but I had learned how to restrict my diet, and got the ‘taste’ for hunger pangs.
My new food philosophy didn’t last, I was eating normally again soon after arriving home. The difference was that now, when I would hate myself after eating something bad, or when looking in the mirror, I was able to think back to when I wasn’t being ‘a pig’ and when I felt great about myself. My diets and behaviour didn’t really escalate into disordered eating until after the summer holidays. I was starting sixth form at a new school, it wasn’t long before I started trying to restrict my food intake again. I got myself stuck into a cycle where I would try not to eat for as long as I could, mess up, binge or eat the food that I had been withholding from myself, purge, then feel so crap about myself it would all start again. I started keeping a food journal and documenting everything that I had eaten that day. It started out with fairly healthy goals, such as 1500 cals or less. I wasn’t able to weigh myself but I used clothes to measure my progress. I began reducing the calories that I was allowed, and spent every evening doing the maths of how long it would take for me to lose so many pounds if I ate so much each day. I would throw up my dinner so that I was able to keep my calories under the more and more restrictive allowance. I believe that by doing this I lost a little weight, but nothing excessive.
Half-way through year 12 I went on a ski trip, which was fairly out of character because I didn’t know how to ski and only one of my close friends was also going. It was another one of those situations where you could get away without eating very much and exercising all day. My eating patterns aroused the suspicion of the 3 girls I was sharing a room with. I can see how my odd behaviour would annoy them to no end. I look back on this trip fondly, as its where I learnt to ski and I had fun with my friends.
For the next half of the year I had moments where I was losing weight to my satisfaction. I was managing to reach my weight and clothes goals, and getting away with eating under 400 calories each day, sometimes nothing. I was binging less frequently and going to the gym fairly regularly. The only time I really purged was when I had to eat with people, or something that I didn’t feel comfortable eating. I knew that it was wrong to do, that it was rude and antisocial, especially as people started noticing. I would start to get incredibly anxious about even the thought of food, and would write mantras and phrases in my diary reprimanding myself for giving in to food. I would use my friends and my social life to get away without eating, by not eating much while out I could lie to my parents at home.
I remember at one point during the summer between year 12 and year 13 when my aunt and my mum confronted me about my bulimic behaviour. My mum said something along the lines of ‘you’re not bulimic are you, you know better than that’ and frequently (unsubtly) checked my knuckles for scars. My aunt said something like ‘you’re not spreading pesto on toast and then throwing up are you?’, I said no. I got more secretive and better at hiding my behaviour, they never brought it up again. I was stuck in a cycle of feeling happy about my progress and hating my body. Comments from family members about my body or my weight were never welcome, even if positive. I began to hate other people who talked about diet or food or weight or bodies, especially while eating. My heart would pound and my face would blush if someone said a food I was supposed to eat was ‘naughty’ or ‘bad’. I managed to lose a little for year 13 leavers ball, but not enough.
When I moved to university I had the freedom to eat whatever I wanted. I began to lose weight by eating tiny portions or not at all, but quickly began purging again. I was getting more and more unwell, staying up late at night to binge and purge. It got to the point that everything I ate had to be purged. I was too scared to do a food shop so I ended up eating the weirdest things, such as raw oats.
Since then I have been through stages that last anything from a week to months. My weight doesn’t often move above or below two numbers, no matter what my behaviour is. The common denominator for all my eating habits is poor body image. I don’t believe I’ll ever be able to not want to lose weight. In a way I am lucky that I cannot stick to the same routine for more than 2 weeks, this way I never get really unwell due to diet. My battle with body image and self esteem, and to be honest, weight goes on.
If you think you, or another person is showing signs of disordered eating, please speak up in a calm and understanding manner. It is incredibly important not to be judgemental, and not to ambush the person. You could send them retreating further into their developing illness, and make it harder for them to end the damaging cycle before it takes over their lives. People with disordered eating need support and help, and in particular they need to be taken seriously. It is often a sign of other underlying problems, and problems that they could face in the future. Just because someone struggling with food is not underweight, or even if they are overweight, doesn’t make their problems any less serious.
Thank you for reading