I’d been struggling with anorexia for over 10 years when I had the opportunity to work with Caraline. For 5 of those years it had been a daily struggle with so much of my time and energy taken up with the anorexia, feeling guilty for eating normal portions, constantly calorie counting, exercising, body checking and comparing myself to others. I’d become obsessed with anyone smaller than me and if I went out for dinner I had to eat less than everyone else.
Feeling full was so uncomfortable and I’d spend hours battling with myself. I hated the fact I spent so much time thinking about all these things, it felt so shallow but for some reason being thin was just so important, I didn’t really know why. I remember thinking that I wanted to be thinner than everyone else even when I was only 8 years old and I didn’t know what anorexia was.
I had managed periods of time where I’d maintained a borderline healthy weight and it had not significantly affected my day to day life, however I’d never really got to the bottom of things and I always knew that in times of stress or anxiety that the first thing to suffer would be my eating.
When I was offered a place on the eating disorder behaviour (EBG) group I was nervous and sceptical. By this point I had managed to gain some weight and I felt too fat to go to the group, I was worried I wouldn't be the thinnest one there and I didn't think that I’d be able to open up in front of a group of strangers. In the group there were people with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. I remember thinking how can someone with binge eating disorder understand what I feel? I soon came to realise that the thinking behind all the different eating disorders is actually very similar and we were all able to really relate to each other. I was surprised how quickly I felt relaxed in the group and was able to be honest and open up. During those 6 weeks I realised how similar all of our thought patterns were and that I was not alone. We spent time thinking about the dangerous physical side effects of our eating disorder and the lifelong impact it could have. We learnt to challenge our thoughts and I found ways to help manage my anxiety. We learnt to value ourselves and not just judge ourselves based on shape and weight.
During the EBG group I found out I was pregnant. I was terrified but also I think the pregnancy helped my recovery. I now had something more important to focus on and I didn't want to do anything to harm my little boy. I started a one to one CBT-e program with Claire. One of the most helpful things I did with Caraline was the body image therapy in my one to one sessions. I remember Claire using a tape measure to show me the size of my waist, when she held it out in front of me it looked tiny and I was convinced she’d made it smaller to make me feel better! Over time I learnt to accept that I couldn't see what I really looked like due to my eating disorder and I learnt to trust Claire. She weighed me every week in a controlled setting and helped me deal with the weight gain. Gaining weight during pregnancy was hard and at some times I felt out of control. Claire helped me rationalise my thinking and accept the weight gain. Claire helped me to structure my eating, at first writing down everything I ate terrified me but having this structure really helped me control things in a positive way. It highlighted the importance of planning ahead, I resented this at first but soon came to realise that this helped me eat healthy and avoided me feeling that I'd lost control and had to starve myself as a result. I’d show Claire my eating record and tell her that I’d eaten a lot that week, often she reassured me that it was just a normal amount. I learnt not to base my self worth just on my shape and weight.
I reduced the amount I was body checking. I still compared myself to others and found it hard being around people who were smaller than me but I learnt to compare myself to people with normal healthy weights too. At the end of the pregnancy I did find my size very challenging but I managed to continue eating and gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Caraline always provided a safe environment and reassurance that they would always be there if I needed anything. It helped that Claire had struggled with Anorexia too, it was nice to talk to someone who really understood how hard recovery was and gave me the confidence that recovery was possible. After George was born, Claire came to see me regularly to make sure that I was eating properly and that I hadn’t let the eating disorder take hold. There are still days when I find things difficult but I now have the tools to challenge my thinking. With Caraline’s help and support I have made a huge amount of progress and without them I wouldn't have been able to give birth to a healthy little boy.