Recovery from an eating disorder can vary significantly for every person affected. Episode 3 of MHPN’s podcast series Eating Disorders: Beyond the Unknown, ‘Binge Eating and Bulimia: Out of the Dark’, features special guest Desi, who generously shares her story of a decades long journey to recover from bulimia.
In addition to enlightening MHPN podcast listeners with her story, Desi has taken the time to answer some key questions that speak to her journey, provide advice for practitioners, as well as advice for her younger self.
Tell us a bit about yourself as an advocate in the area of eating disorders.
My role as an ambassador for Eating Disorders Victoria is to share my story of recovery from a long-standing eating disorder. I talk openly about the struggles I faced in my life with the eating disorder and what helped me most in my recovery journey.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
The first thing I would tell my younger self is to avoid diets and any restrictive behaviour. Your body will only crave the foods you are restricting.
Also, I would say:
- Don’t compare yourself with others.
- Don’t be embarrassed.
- You are not alone, seek help any which way you can.
- Your body needs food to survive.
Looking back before you began your recovery journey, what were some of the warning signs that you might be experiencing an eating disorder?
Some of the warning signs were lack of confidence and body comparing as a child, losing my period, restrictive eating, severe tiredness, binging, purging, depression and anti-social behaviour as a young adult.
What implications did receiving a diagnosis have for you?
I always knew I had a problem. In the beginning it was denial and then as the eating disorder grew - it got out of my depth and I just couldn’t fix it. I felt like a fake to the world and also felt like I was weak because I couldn’t manage my food like others.
What role did friends and family play - at any stage of the journey?
My family discovered that I had an eating disorder and it made me feel very inadequate as a mother and wife. I almost felt like I was the child in the family, which I didn’t want to be. I had to find a way out of this terrible disease. I felt like I had been living a life of deception as a mother. Preaching one thing, like moderation and self-love, and living the opposite life secretly.
Experiences engaging with health services
What prompted your initial engagement with health services? Did anything make it difficult for you to do so?
When I initially developed my eating disorder at age 19, my mother showed immense concern over my weight loss. She made me go to several doctors, who told her that I did not have an eating disorder. This made me happy because it enabled me to continue on my weight loss journey and it meant that I wasn’t labelled as unwell. Clearly that was the incorrect diagnosis.
As the eating disorder developed into binging and purging (rather than just restriction), I knew that I had a big problem. I had always tried to seek help through various psychologists but none of them seemed to be specialised in the area of eating disorders.
Thirty years later and like many times before, I was searching the internet for someone to help me and I managed to find a particular allied health group that specialised in eating disorders.
What was your experience in beginning a treatment plan?
When I embarked on the treatment plan, at first I thought it would be impossible. I finished the treatment plan and wasn’t better, but I used all the tools I had been given a few months later to stop binging and purging - cold turkey. Ten years later and I have never relapsed.
Advice for practitioners
What advice would you give to service providers who currently work in or are thinking of working in this field?
I would encourage them to talk about how recovery is absolutely possible, and that it doesn’t have to be as difficult as one would imagine.
Something I would stress is the importance of service providers showing empathy.
What was the most helpful advice you received from service providers on your recovery journey?
The most helpful advice was being told: ‘You can recover if you avoid binging and purging for 28 days’. Also, encouraging me to eat well rounded meals made all the difference. Not skipping on meals!
To hear more from Desi, and her advice for mental health professionals, tune in to ‘Eating Disorders: Beyond the Unknown - Episode 3 – Binge Eating and Bulimia: Out of the Dark’ where co-hosts; psychologist and National Director of the National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC), Dr Beth Shelton; and carer and CEO of Eating Disorders Victoria (EDV), Belinda Caldwell, delve into factors which underpin these types of eating disorders, and the supports that are available to help someone to recovery.
Listen now: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | MHPN Website
Access additional resources relating to Eating Disorders and specifically Binge Eating and Bulimia for mental health professionals here.