Amanda's Story: Overcoming an eating disorder as a Mum of 3...
I don’t remember the exact age I started hating my body, but after growing up with a Mother who struggled with her weight, it became internalised early on that our bodies were something to be battled with.
When I was 10 my mother’s weight was the heaviest it had been, and I’m ashamed to admit, that I made a vow to myself then and there to never look like she did at that time.
I went on my first diet in primary school.
I can still recall trying to hide my body under oversized t-shirts at pool parties, and the excuses I’d make up to get out of swimming at school.
Looking back, my body was completely and utterly normal, if only I’d known it back then. I had tiny friends, friends with skinny legs and small bodies, mine was larger in comparison and I was acutely aware of it.
Growing up without a father, I often wondered if the approval I sought from boys was as a result of something I’d missed. As I grew up, more and more of my worth and validation came from the approval of others. If a boy thought I was cute I was happy, but inside there was a terrible relationship going on with the mirror. My mother hated taking me shopping. One minute I’d be fine and then I’d catch a glimpse of my reflection and I’d become a different person- a self-loathing, negative talking teenager who was angry with the world. This teenager became an adult.
At 22 after living out of home for a while, I moved back in. I had gained weight during that time of partying and the munchies, and I made a promise to myself to lose the weight and feel better about myself. I exercised excessively, I restricted my portions and showed the utmost discipline when it came to achieving my goal.
After several months of dedication I was finally skinny.
The attention from men resumed.
Then one night on my way home from a night out, I found myself driving past McDonalds and I couldn’t control my cravings any longer. I don’t remember what I ordered but it was a lot. I remember sitting out the front of my mum’s place that night and I stuffing myself until the buttons on my skinny jeans began digging in to my stomach and a feeling of overwhelm came over me.
What had I just done? I had ruined everything.
A regretful decision was made next.
I went to the bathroom that night and opened a pandora’s box that would remain open until the age of 42.
For 20 years I binged and purged.
For 20 years I practised a deceit and a sneakiness that bordered on professional.
I was equally embarrassed and impressed by my ability to fool those close to me, my shameful battle, my private hell, my saving grace all rolled into one.
During that time, there were periods where I was well, but I can’t recall when they were. I had the ability to block it out so that I’d think I hadn’t done it for a week, but then I’d remember I’d done it that morning.
The worst periods saw me purging often. I would plan binges and lived for the relief of purging.
At 26, just before I married my now husband, I confided in him. He saw it as a choice I was making, and I knew he would not be my place of comfort or support. I attended therapy, but it had no impact, so I went back underground, reassuring my fiancé that I was in fact healed, and we moved forward from there.
Pregnancy with my first child was one of my most difficult times. When I got pregnant, everyone told me to enjoy it, that I was eating for two, to relax my dieting and my control around food, and so I did. Telling someone who has no idea how to have a normal relationship with food to relax, was a recipe for disaster.
By the time I was 4 months pregnant, nothing fit. I was eating for 8. Towards the end of my pregnancy, I’d gained so much weight, and the shock on the faces of those who hadn’t seen me in some time was something that no one could hide.
I hated myself. I was disgusted. I felt so ugly and unattractive.
I purged telling myself that people with hyperemesis throw up and they go on to have healthy babies. I still to this day hold huge shame around this part of my story, but it happened and I have to own it.
I was beyond purging helping me.
I was no longer able to shop in regular stores, but I vowed that as soon as I could, I’d lose all the weight and then some.
At 6 weeks post-partum I joined weight watchers and sacrificed my milk supply to get as skinny as I could, and by the time my son was 6 months old, I’d returned to less than my pre pregnancy weight.
So many years are such a blur.
I often refer to who I was back then, as a high functioning addict. I was addicted to the weight loss, to the compliments, to the attention I would get, from the feeling that when others looked at me, I was worthy.
There was a period of time I worked as a teacher on the ward of a children’s hospital where my role was to liaise with schools and keep the students on the ward connected with their education. I was involved in the Adolescent teams’ multidisciplinary meetings, where the eating disorder patients were discussed.
I could never relate to their stories. These young people heard voices, they had mental health issues, I wasn’t like that. For me, it was a means to an end. I was afraid of getting fat and my current situation resolved that.
What I did pay attention to in those meetings, was the conversation around these young people’s mothers. There was often a consensus among the professionals, that the mother had an undiagnosed issue with food that was the root cause for some of these patients.
Those words always remained with me.
Life went on, but things felt like they were getting worse for me not better.
The frequency of my episodes was increasing, my obsession with food was immense. I feel like I was constantly watching other teachers in the staff room just eat 2 biscuits while I avoided taking even one, and I remember wondering how it was that they were able to do that. How were they able to just have 2, when for me, eating biscuits would set off a chain of events where I would then eat all the foods I’d longed for.
I began talking to the one of the women I worked with. “Don’t you think about food constantly?” I recall asking her one day. “That isn’t normal,” was her reply.
A few months later, when my eldest daughter was 6 and I was on a strict diet, she asked me why she had to eat pasta if I didn’t have to. I had no answer for her. Then I started noticing that she was only eating the top of her pizza because that’s what I was doing.
Alarm bells began ringing.
For some time, the fear of my children catching me mid-purge had haunted me, and the older they got, the more I knew I was running out of time.
I had spent year after year on New Year’s Day promising myself it would be the last time, birthday after birthday I’d say to myself it was over, but I didn’t know how to live any other way. The thought that I was going to impact my children switched something in me. I knew it was now or never.
It was a Wednesday night in May of 2017 when I came home from work and told my husband that I’d had bulimia for 20 years and that I needed his help. Two days later I sat in front of my GP and spoke my truth. The following week I had my first session with a therapist.
One of her first questions to me was did I have anxiety? I remember feeling shocked at her question. Me? Anxiety? No way! Anxious people are rocking in a corner, I didn’t have anxiety, I was a really calm and balanced person, ask anyone… except I did have anxiety around food. I was blown away.
I began taking an anti-depressant.
I knew I had to work hard.
I began devouring books and articles. I began to challenge every prior belief I’d held about my body and my worth. I began learning about diet culture and the lies.
I couldn’t believe that me, a smart, well-educated person had fallen so hard for all the untruths. It was almost like once I’d seen the truth I couldn’t un-see it. I wanted to shout what I’d found out from the rooftops and more importantly, I knew that if this was my story, it was the story of many others and I had to give it a voice.
I attended several therapy sessions, but I needed more. I spent every waking hour unlearning, challenging, becoming more than my body, analysing myself, fighting back.
A month in, we went on a family holiday. Holidays were one of my worst times with buffets and opportunities to indulge everywhere. I started the trip okay but then I began to feel panicky, my clothes felt tighter and the fear crept back in. I wasn’t strong enough to fight it and so I found myself secretly back where I’d started.
On returning, I told my therapist what had happened. She said that if my car was broken I’d take it back to be repaired as many times as it took to fix it. I was that car. I knew I was the only one who could fix this.
After that, I never purged again.
There were so many times during those early months where I would lie in bed at night, food swirling around in my tummy where all I’d wanted to do was get up and let it all out, but I told myself it was no longer an option, that I just had to get through the night, and the next morning I would be so proud of myself. I was worthy of keeping food inside me.
I threw away the scales, I chucked out all of my ‘skinny’ clothes, I started saying wonderful things about my body out loud to the mirror where my kids could hear me.
I gained weight and people still liked me. I liked me and I liked me so much more than I did before. I no longer felt tortured.
I understood that all those times I would obsess over what others thought of me, that they weren’t thinking of me at all. The mantra that I was so much more than my body became my swan song and I came into my power.
My journey out is one of my proudest moments to date.
It wasn’t easy. It was years and years of trying and failing, but I never gave up on myself, I never stopped trying.
I became the change, and now I work passionately with young people and mothers to teach all the things I wish I’d known when I was growing up, like; my body is perfect just the way it is, there is no wrong way to have a body, we aren’t meant to look like each other, healthy doesn’t have a size and that we are so much more than our bodies.
If my story inspires one person, that it was worth telling.
BCM Note: We have posted this story in the hope that it will encourage other Mums who are experiencing eating disorders to reach out for help.
If you or someone you know would benefit from support, we recommend contacting the
National The Butterfly Foundation support line 1800 33 4673 (1800 ED HOPE)
* Images used in this story are stock images and not of Amanda Stokes
** We have checked that this story meets the NEDC Mindframe Guidelines for the reporting and portrayal of eating disorders
Amanda Stokes is the Founder of the Mirror Movement: Raising Strong Daughters. She is an educator and mother of three, passionate about promoting positive body image, self esteem and resilience for the next generation of girls. You can find Amanda’s work at her Website [www.raisingstrongdaughters.com.au]
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/raisingstrongdaughters_