Bulimic Beats Aka I Thought I Was Over This Shit

I was going to give this an ambiguous title, but thought it best to be upfront in case you wanted to click away. I’ll wait.

My brain is a bit of a mess at the moment. The only time I feel peace is with the baby- no expectation, no social contracts to worry about, no bullshit, just pure life, giggling at cats. I think sometimes in my writing I give the impression I threw a jacket over my shoulder and whistled off into the sunset. But there are no sunsets, this day never fucking ends, not really.

I mentioned in a previous post that I’d been told I had pre-diabetes, which is a warning sign for diabetes. I have been doing as required, weight loss and (very little, see above about exhaustion) exercise. Low carb diets are apparently the way to go, so I have gone. I have no choice. I have to lose weight, and I know I should view this as a good thing- after all, who wants to get diabetes?

Diets, and low carb diets in particular, set off something awful in my head. I had bulimia for years. For lots of years, I was fat and bulimic so even though I was tearing my esophagus and fainting, nobody took me seriously. I actually got congratulated by one doctor for losing some weight when I went for help, having smashed my head the previous night when I lost consciousness over the toilet bowl. Another doctor told me I had a nice figure. Because that’s always been the deal- as long as I wasn’t fat, I was fine.

It was a low carb diet that started it all. I gained a huge amount of weight on olanzapine as a teenager (as a teenager?! on olanzapine?!) and went on the Atkins diet. I lost weight- a fair amount, and enough to put into, “still a bit fat, but socially acceptable” range, and I also had a very physical job (which I lost due to being mental) which kept me quite fit. But the way it framed food- as carbs bad (PS CARBS ARE NOT BAD, IT IS BULLSHIT), other stuff good- gave me a chronic fear of carbohydrates and I found myself panicking and vomiting if I ate them, even accidentally. And eventually came off the diet for my sanity, but the eating disorder remained. It waxed and waned, I maintained my fat to doctors but thinner than I was on olanzapine physique, and then years later I was put on Seroquel and gained 4 stone in a few months and returned to my eating disorder with a vengeance. I was never a huge binger, I mostly threw up my meals and with particular panic if it had carbohydrates, so decided to forego food entirely. I even went on a liquid diet, all the while also being bulimic, and was eventually slim enough that the commentary from the paramedics as they hauled me into the back of an ambulance in 2008 was that I was beautiful so why would I try to kill myself? I doubt they’d say that now.

I recovered from it without any help other than sheer bloody mindedness- or shitty mindedness, since I was also abusing laxatives and spent most of my sisters 2009 visit in the toilet. The chemist stopped serving me, I was hopping pharmacies, I went on holiday and in the post-holiday photo flickage saw my dewy eyes in a restaurant in Barcelona and remembered I’d thrown up that expensive squid ink, that my moist panda face was due to just having vomited and not from the candlelit joy, and now I couldn’t shit without 10 laxatives. I’d fucking had enough and I stopped taking them and started eating and keeping it down. This, combined with still taking antipsychotics (and other medication like Lamictal), also meant I started gaining weight again, and a dose increased banged on a few stone in 2 months, and there I was, the fattest I’d ever been, but no longer bulimic, and I was proud.  Proud and fat, two things you’re never allowed to be at the same time.

I’ve had some hairy moments. Pregnancy was one long hairy moment, but particularly the 12 week scan when I was tactlessly inducted into a study on women with BMI over 30 at risk of gestational diabetes, and told they’d watch what I ate. Bear in mind I’d just gotten a train I had carpeted with my vomit from intense pregnancy sickness that meant I could barely eat anything. I was given a very stern warning- sterny stern, you’re fat, stern, you can’t gain any weight (I’m fucking pregnant? Are babies made of fluff?), you’re going to get diabetes, pre-eclampsia (I got neither) while I sat in shaken silence, waiting for my trisomy screening results to come back, wishing, somewhere, noted, in big red letters, was that I’d had an eating disorder, and it might be best to have these conversations with me a) privately and b) tactfully.  Being weighed every time I went there was hard, as I’d thrown my scale out some time before.

I actually didn’t gain any weight due to the sickness, but there were times I wondered if there wasn’t a psychological element to it. Somewhere, in the back of head, was and still is, “You didn’t gain weight because you threw up. Vomiting works”. That conversation and the ones that followed changed my perception of what my body was doing- I had felt I was nuzzling, nurturing, protecting, being a cozy home for my wee Bean, and the constant emphasis on my weight (which I could not help, because I also wasn’t allowed to come off medication) and the horrible things that would happen to the baby because of it made me feel like my body was a cesspit that he’d be lucky to emerge alive from. The final kick in the balls was on my fiftieth diabetes test where the doctor said I needed an extra one because I was on Seroquel, and women on Seroquel had a 95% chance of getting gestational diabetes. I was absolutely furious because I knew he had pulled that statistic out of his hole, that it wasn’t true, and that it was said just to frighten me enough to have another GTT when I’d had three, including one the week before, and found them horrible because I felt so ill and would wake up lightheaded from fasting yet again, and then spend two hours trying not to vomit up the sugar liquid. I didn’t get gestational diabetes, but then I got this warning, so I no longer feel smug, or even angry. Maybe I deserved to be treated like a fucking idiot, because I’m fat.

So here I am again, on a low carb diet. And, although it never really went away, I did reclaim some of the brain space that food had filled for so many years. I filled it with other things, flowers, joy, eating that sourdough with olive oil, nights of meals where I wasn’t distracted by where the toilet was, where I didn’t disappear for an hour afterwards, and later nights where I didn’t have to get up to sit on the toilet for another one.  I find where I work to be a very difficult place when it comes to food.  I work at a mental health charity, which, with me being an anxious person generally (that’s why it’s called generalised anxiety disorder, Seaneen) it can be tough to be surrounded by wellbeing messages, and by a focus on exercise which I don’t do, with a body I don’t have, with feelings I don’t feel.   I try not to eat my lunch in work, which means I spend a fortune, but I hate any sort of commentary, any sort of scrutiny, even if it’s kind or polite.  But the way I coped was to nothing food and exercise, to not ascribe any sort of moral value to it, even a good one like, “it feels good, it’ll make you feel better”. Because it’s just another stick to beat myself with. (Should go without saying, these are my feelings- no reflection on anyone I work with. I work with a few really close friends, and the rest of the people I work with are brilliant. This is all me).

I know these are quite irrational feelings and things I do, but they’re ways I have of pickaxing that territory back. And now all that space I fought to reclaim has been avalanched again with food, with a fixation on numbers, good/bad, and an even greater sense of panic because I HAVE to lose weight now.  And it means I’ve had my head down a toilet again a lot more than I care to admit, and new scars on my knuckles and a feeling of despair and self loathing. I don’t want this, and I wanted to be a model of good eating and good self esteem for my son. I love eating dinner together, in the years of clawing back my mind, eating became a pleasurable, social thing. But there are things they have to eat (like pasta, carbohydrates) that I can’t. I eat lots of veg, I use flax seed, I have the odd slice of Burgen bread, and I’m not doing Atkins style low carb, but my diet is largely separate from the family table now, and it is depressing, and it feels like I have fallen so far backwards. I’ve also started eating meat again which is something else to feel awful for, because I had no fucking clue how to feed myself. As a vegesaurus I was living on beans, lentils, veg. And now, I was getting to the end of some days feeling like I was going to faint.  It was one more thing to worry about, because I was struggling to get enough protein, and would eat more carbohydrates from hunger, and panic. I have no moral highground because I’ve been on and off meat, but had gotten to the point off meat where I felt like I was really, well, off.

I’m meant to go to some sort of Eye of the Tiger soundtrack diabettus group and I can’t face it, because I know it’s going to be fixated with weight loss and weighing and food. I can’t do it, it isn’t going to help. The thought of being sat around a circle on those uncomfortable blue chairs fills me with dread. And it makes me want to lose even more weight so I can say, “Well, see? I don’t need this group”.

I am hoping things will settle down as they become second nature.  This is pretty much my lifestyle now. I have lost weight, but I don’t even feel good about it. I feel like now if I gain it back, even a pound, I’ve failed in some way. A lady in Tesco I talk to commented on my weight loss and said I must be doing, “something right” and my brain went into an utter tailspin. I know this is my problem, and that it’s silly in a lot of ways, but I worked so fucking hard, and it’s a dogwhistle to self hatred. I feel like I kidded myself.  I was never comfortable with how I looked (and massive LOLs to the fact that when I eventually got therapy for body dysmorphic disorder I looked a way I would kill to now) but on most days in the past few years, I could think, “Banging boobs. Nice eyes”. But now I find myself looking in the mirror with contempt. I see big fat sagging tits, and eyes that are squashed by the weight of my face. Although there is a lot of truth in that my medication has made me gain a lot of weight (because antipsychotics do), I feel like, well, why I didn’t I tell them years ago that I wasn’t going to take them (and I did but psychiatrists vacillate between, “you don’t need them” to, “YOU’LL DIE WITHOUT THEM”).  I can’t blame it entirely, and it’s a cop out to do so. Why didn’t I even carry on being bulimic if I meant I wouldn’t get so big and end up almost diabetic. Why did I have that Gu, or eat that pasta, or enjoy that meal.

But I don’t want to be bulimic again, and I’m on a very slippery slope. I’m trying to be honest about this- I’m in touch with someone who’s on a similar diet for similar reasons and who struggles with similar feelings so we can give each other a bit of support (even if we don’t, it’s still sort of nice to know someone else is feeling the same) and I have told very close people so they know I’m not being weird and they’re also being supportive. So I just wanted to say it somewhere.

PS: I feel like an absolute loser for writing this. Breaking stigma, yah yah yah. I’d still be mortified if someone googled me and found this. None of this paints me in a good light. Hiya.





22 Responses

  1. Thank you so much for this post. I am 65 F**king years old and still struggle. Wish I had a ray of sunshine to shed on bulimia. carbs feel like a drug to me, A low carb diet would be Very hard.
    Boy I’m a downer.. sorry!
    I’ll be checking in, hugs to you from New Mexico.

  2. […] was just reading Seaneen’s latest post about her struggles with her weight, her eating disorder and the attitudes of medical […]

  3. This piece is a keeper, Seaneen. You’ve described my experience throughout my life to a “T.” The following is a link to an obesity doctor on Twitter, and I think he has a Facebook page as well. He has written a dynamite book which I will be ordering soon. He doesn’t believe most diets work and is kind when he speaks about obesity issues.



  4. Thank you.

  5. You need to ask your GP for metformin. If you are insulin resistant it is virtually impossible to lose weight without medication, especially if you’re on other meds that make weight stick to you

    I was restricting to 300 calories a day, which is one third of starvation level intake, when I was twenty. I have PCOS with insulin resistance (pre-diabetes) and nothing shifted fthe weight.

    I was a full time undergraduate, worked 30hrs a week, and went to the gym every day. It was my trainer who said “Something is badly wrong, you’re practically gaining weight in front of me, and you’re clearly not eating because you’re in ketosis”

    To cut a long story short, I (finally, after two years of trying, buying the drug on the internet and having success, but then developing an unrelated, potentially fatal condition that required weight loss so I could have brain surgery) got a legal prescription for metformin. I had to eat three meals a day (never had in my life!) and took metformin 3x a day. The weight just fell off, because the drug helps your body use the insulin properly. I lost six stones in a very short period of time, and went from a UK 26 to a 16/18.

    When I met my (now) wife, who also had PCOS, she was getting the same shit from her GP about “eating too much” (one meal of beans on toast per day), and “getting more exercise” (uni student, full time factory worker, carer for her elderly dad- she never stopped! Fit, but fat). I was still taking metformin, she mentioned it to her GP who had no knowledge of it (argh!) but I’d come armed with references to journal articles. She went and researched it, then produced a prescription the following week. She went from a 20 to a 14.

    She’d been off it for a few years, gained some weight and, thanks to her heart condition, she had a mini stroke. She needed to drop weight fast, and lower her blood sugar level. Back on the metformin and a 1500kcal diet, and she has lost almost four stones.

    Metformin is, per NICE, supposed to be a first-line treatment in women who are insulin resistant/pre-diabetic and can’t lose weight because of it. It enrages me that twenty years after I fought, almost to the brink of death, to get that prescription for metformin, and ten years since I had to educate my wife’s GP about it, yet it still isn’t being used.

    It’s a cheap drug, well tolerated (maybe a little bit of the runs, or feeling queasy for the first couple of weeks), yet doctors are trying to force women to lose weight to reverse their insulin resistance, but who can’t easily lose weight because they’re insulin resistant!!

    You are being treated appallingly, and it saddens me. Your mental health is suffering, you’re doubting yourself and considering harmful behaviours when three pills a day, pills that are designed to treat insulin resistance in diabetes and pre-diabetes. Kick and scream till you get a prescription, do it for your gorgeous wee man and his future with a happy, healthy Mammy. Demand the respect you deserve.

    • Whoops, messed up my last bit!

      You are being treated appallingly, and it saddens me. Your mental health is suffering, you’re doubting yourself and considering harmful behaviours when three pills a day, pills that are designed to treat insulin resistance in diabetes and pre-diabetes, could literally change your life
      . Kick and scream till you get a prescription, do it for your gorgeous wee man and his future with a happy, healthy Mammy. Demand the respect you deserve.

      I wish you all the best, as someone who has been there through the EDs, the self-loathing, the misguided need to punish yourself. You are stronger than you kniw.

    • Thank you. I have managed to lose weight, slowly, and I’m off antipsychotiçs now so that helps. I want to see how far I can get with just diet and more exercise. Obviously it may not reverse what’s happening but I’d like to try. I’m really glad metformin worked for you!

    • This is excellent advice!! I would have offered the same!!

    • Glad to know there are others for whom life is a random-shit-generator. When it seems like you have everything the most under control, but it’s like catching a fish in water by hand–the harder you try to tighten your grip to control it the quicker and more unpredictably is slips away. That said, I’ve never actually tried handfishing. Who knows, could be therapeutic, or “wholistic” god forbid

      Also, I second Goldsharq on recommending metformin but I’m sure you’ve considered it before

  6. wish you all the best. kisses xx

  7. Amazing. Everybody has a different story, but yours relates to more than you’d think. Thank you for writing this and bringing attention to ED and overcoming them. Also because some people don’t think ED exist, and they don’t think they’re that difficult to overcome, but boy are those people wrong. Keep fighting; sending you love!

  8. You are a strong, amazing woman. Writing this took guts. I don’t have a similar experience to share, though i am fat (thanks anti psychs and anti depressants) and hate being told it. Fat and proud – i strive for that. My thoughts are with you, sorry i can’t help xxx

  9. You are amazing. I have a life-suffocating addiction to technology, and whenever I try to talk about it with people, or express my frustrations publically, I deliver my story as if things are better, or as if I’ve come up with some amazing solution. I appreciate your raw expressions of what you go through without sugar coating it; it makes me feel a little better about my condition. I wish you all the best 🙂

  10. Yeay!!!! your post infuence me alot !

  11. Cardio will help cure your depression, give you energy, reduce your body fat and weight, and increase your self-esteem. Study the techniques of bodybuilders whose JOB it is to lose the fat. Bulimia doesn’t work, obviously, and you’re setting yourself up for esophageal cancer and diabetes due to dramatic blood sugar swings. Do more research! Take new actions! You can do it!

  12. I’ve been Type 2 Diabetic for 11 years and it never get’s easier. I still cannot get my head around what I can and cannot eat. I can starve myself and my blood sugar is still sky high as I have proven over the last few weeks. Now finally those important people called doctors have put me on one dose of 10 units of insulin a day to bring down my blood sugar, but have warned me of weight gain that may come along with that! Fantastic… I cannot wait!

  13. Best of luck……. love……..

  14. Eating disorders stake a long time to recover from. To some extent, it’s just a matter of managing them as best possible. For some context- I’m a recovering bulimic/compulsive eater, and although I am now slim and not obese (as I was), and I haven’t purged in a long time, I still struggle internally A LOT.

    I know you are being ordered to lose weight for health reasons- but if possible, go gently on yourself. All you can do is try to exercise more- can you join a leisure centre? And eat as well as possible. I am not sure about the low carb thing- you should avoid refined sugars like white flour and the like, because they’re addictive- but would it not make more sense to just eat a whole foods diet generally ? I can’t help wondering if it makes you feel deprived calling your diet ”low” anything.

    You have a small child, you’ve survived years and years of severe illness- give yourself a break. Best not to purge as it makes the body cry out for food and sets you up to binge- not to mention all the myriad other reasons for not doing it.

    Even a couple of hours or an hour aerobic exercise a week boosts your metabolism a great deal, and is good for your mood, as I am sure that you know.

    Just do your best ! Stop being so hard on yourself

  15. Your writing is powerful, raw and courageous. Thank you.

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  17. Thank you for this. And for your whole blog.
    I found you some days ago and I’m honestly amazed. You are such a strong person for going through all this stuff but also finding the energy and motivation to keep going.
    You inspired me even though I don’t have similar issues (God knows I do have enough of these).

    I wish you the best for your recovery even if it’s hard for you right now.

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