Eating Disorders: Meet 2 Survivors.

When someone says mental illness, we automatically think of depression, anxiety, psychosis, but what a lot of people are not aware of is that there are so many other aspects of Mental Health.

This week is ‘Eating Disorder Awareness Week’. An eating disorder is a severe mental health illness which impacts the way a person sees their body. They become unhealthily obsessed with altering their physical appearance into anything other than what it is. No matter what size they get to, they are not happy and will continue to do everything in their power to keep changing.

There are a few different types of eating disorders, but the 3 most commonly known of are ‘Anorexia Nervosa’,  ‘Bulimia Nervosa’ and ‘Binge Eating’.

Anorexia: An emotional disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat.

Bulimia: An emotional disorder characterized by a distorted body image and an obsessive desire to lose weight, in which bouts of extreme overeating are followed by fasting or self-induced vomiting or purging.

Binge Eating: An emotional disorder characterized by consumption of large quantities of food in a short period of time.

In honour of eating disorder awareness week, I spoke to two survivors about their personal experiences. Both of these incredible people have fought such difficult battles and have come out healthier and happier than ever. They are proof that recovery is possible.

Meet the survivors..

Merat (left), aged 29. E.D at age 14 & relapsed later in life.
Lizzie (right), aged 25. Struggled with her eating during childhood but escalated between age 18-21 years.


Merat: I had various symptoms, the main ones were irritability, anxiety and I had undiagnosed depression which was exacerbated by having an eating disorder. Quite often I’d be cold even during summer months when it was warm and my libido (especially for a teen boy) was nonexistent. Quite often I’d get brain fog and just normal day-to-day activities like walking to school or playing basketball during lunchtime became too difficult, which in addition to being affected by the cold led me to stay indoors when usually I was quite athletic and active.

Lizzie: I had symptoms related to Body Dysmorphia, I would abuse my fitness regime in order to burn off all the calories I was consuming but simultaneously I would have massive regret for any food item I ate that is typically ‘not healthy’ even if I didn’t consume it in high amounts. I became really controlling with my portion sizes.


Merat: When I had a check-up at the GP. I already knew deep down something was wrong by then but the control I had over my body by restricting myself was too addictive. But it was when the GP took my mother outside to the hallway, and I could hear her say “Your son will die if he keeps going at this rate”.  The door was open and I could see was my mum crying as if I was given a terminal illness diagnosis. She looked so helpless and distraught. I couldn’t let her blame herself if something did happen to me because of my own actions. So I decided to take ownership and do something about it. 

Lizzie: When my friend took a picture of me on a night out. She sat me down and asked if I was okay as I looked like I had lost a lot of weight and she was feeling concerned. When I looked at the pictures she took my first thought was that she had edited them as I didn’t see myself as being as physically thin as I was. Clearly I was seeing something totally different looking back at me in the mirror, I couldn’t see what everyone else could.


Merat: Bullying and racial abuse (verbal and physical). Post 9/11 I faced a lot of racism and bullying, just because I was of a different ethnicity. I’m originally Iranian and my parents are Muslim. At that time it wasn’t such a diverse environment compared to now. There was a big rise in groups like the BNP, so right-wing nationalism was becoming more popular at the time. I would always get into fights, defending myself from kids who were from families that held these unfortunate views. Looking back, I don’t blame them, they were just a product of their own family environment. But as a result, I developed self-hatred and low self-esteem. I felt ashamed of being Persian and Middle Eastern because of it. Because of that I became a lone wolf, I focused a lot on music and sports but individual sports mainly. I wanted to get fitter for Taekwondo, Basketball, and Long-Distance running and I weighed myself one day. I realised the more I trained, the less I ate, the leaner I got and the lighter I was. I felt in control of something for a change and it became an addiction. The lighter I was and the leaner I became, the more satisfaction I gained. But I still hated myself, and it didn’t really change that. So I kept pushing to lose more in the hope I’d like myself more. Next thing you know I ended up being 43kg (6.7 stone) at 5’6. If you’ve ever seen the film “The Machinist” starring Christian Bale, that was quite an accurate visual description of how I looked! 

Lizzie: I was in a toxic relationship and I couldn’t control what was happening around me, but the one thing I knew I could control was what I was putting into my body and how quickly I could burn it off so that I wouldn’t put on any weight. Unrealistic beauty standards was also another trigger. I kept seeing models with a specific type of figure and I wanted to look just like them. I admired those women who had tiny waists that went inwards but I naturally never had that type of waist, mine was very straight (which there is nothing wrong with, I just didn’t see that at the time), so I used a waist trainer to try and achieve this look. I was training to be a professional dancer and it is drilled inside of you to be skinny so you can get jobs. I was so scared that they would turn me away for not being the right weight or not being ‘pretty enough’ that I worked myself so hard to achieve the figure that I so desired at the time, the figure that would get me accepted into this world.


Merat: I would fake eating breakfast every morning. I was an early riser, the first thing I would do was have a very strong black coffee, no sugar or sweetener. I’d put some flakes of cereal in a bowl with a bit of milk to make it look like I ate something. On the way to school, the lunch my mother gave me, went directly in the bin. I’d power walk or run to school, everywhere really. I used to tell myself it was extra cardio for my sporting pursuits to get fitter. In reality, it was just a way to burn more calories. I’d somehow get through school and actually do pretty well in classes (apart from Maths, I always sucked at Maths, and having brain fog did not help the matter!) however, I would drink a litre of sugar-free energy drinks and black coffee that I’d bring in a flask with me. I survived on one apple a day. I knew I had to eat dinner as it was with family all the time, so If I could burn enough calories and minimise my consumption that day, it would offset dinner. 

Lizzie: My day was very structured, again this was the only aspect of my life I could control. When I think back to what I put my mind and my body through it brings tears to my eyes. My lifestyle was so unhealthy! I would have one Weetabix and a pint of water for breakfast and then go to the gym, burn off the Weetabix alongside 2500 calories on various machines. My lunch and dinner were both very controlled, very healthy, but small portioned. My outlook was, anything I put into my body must be burned off. Of course I now understand that food is fuel for the body but my brain could not comprehend that at the time. After the gym I would train at dance school for 7-8 hours and then go for a run/sprint, go to work at the restaurant job I had to fund my dance school (very long hours) and if there was any time left in the day I would go back to the gym afterwards. I also owned two waist-trainers and would wear them for at least 18 hours per day. I would even wear it while exercising. What this did to my organs I don’t even want to think about!


Merat: I didn’t really have any friends, apart from my twin brother, I was basically what you’d class as a loner. Romantic relationships were not on the radar at all till I was 19/20 because of the self-hatred I had for myself which was increased from my illness. I thought no one would or could love me. I didn’t feel like I deserved to be loved. People respected me for the skills and talents I had, but no one would really interact with me beyond that. Being very food-focused made me stay away from any social situations where I’d be out of my own routine. So developing relationships, friendships were something I had to learn very late in life. It wasn’t until Uni when I really got around fixing that. I have Power-lifting to thank for that.

Lizzie: 100%. At the time I was going through a very toxic relationship and the way I was being treated combined with my eating disorder turned me into not a very nice person. I changed, the hunger impacted the way I was towards people. I wasn’t confident in myself and I projected all my insecurities out the people around me.


Merat: The initial support from the medical professionals wasn’t great, they would give me pretty bad advice. They told me to eat junk foods or anything dense in calories and to just make sure I was eating frequently during the day. Although technically they were not half wrong as being in a surplus would help gain weight, what they failed to inform me was the proper advice regarding nutrition and how to eat in a healthy and sustainable manner as I was suffering mentally from fear of gaining weight which was a massive barrier to overcome in the first place. But the support I did get was from a good friend of mine, Phil Learney, a Personal Trainer and Nutritionist, was incredible. He helped me create an easy and effective meal plan, training routine and from then on it became something I enjoyed. Going to the gym with the aim of gaining muscle mass and getting stronger gave me a reason to eat, which allowed me to overcome the mental barriers I had faced. 

Lizzie: I never reached out for professional help, I focused on the support of my friends and a lot of self-help. I did a lot of spiritual work. Self-help books like ‘The Secret’, meditation and self-awareness work really helped. I got out of that toxic relationship and spent a lot of time on my own. Gaining that confidence to be on my own and not depend or rely on others did wonders for my self-esteem. I learned that if I loved myself for who I truly was it shouldn’t matter what others thought of me if they didn’t like me then that’s okay as not everyone will like you in life. I always cared a lot about what other people thought but when I took myself out of that and stopped caring, stopped comparing myself to others, and started to be the best version of myself, my life truly started to change for the better. I believed in myself and believed in me and found myself through the process. 


Merat: It’s funny when I get asked this. Honestly, nothing. I feel like I had to go through that to be who I am now. To develop into the person I am today. The suffering I endured, made me who I am and I do believe you truly grow from the suffering you endure in life. Not to say it was a pleasant experience and I wouldn’t wish that experience on my worst enemy but it lead to a path I couldn’t have foreseen and relationships I’d eventually build as well because of it. It’s like that quote “to live is to suffer, but to survive is to find meaning in the suffering”. I suffered but I found meaning eventually. So I eventually found happiness down the line.

Lizzie: I would tell my younger self that YOU ARE worthy. Stop comparing yourself to others and know that you are beautiful. Beauty comes from within and that will shine through. Food IS NOT the enemy. It is fuel that will help you survive. You don’t have to hurt yourself because what others are doing to you. You are so much more than that, You are strong and beautiful just the way you are.


Merat: Take ownership, open up about it and seek professional help. It’s something many people will feel embarrassed about. Especially males, there’s a massive stigma with eating disorders and males still today. I remember thinking Anorexia was for girls, which was an absolutely daft thing to think but society made me believe that. Mental Health issues in any form do not see race, class, sexuality, creed, or gender. No matter who you are and where you are in life, it will still take from you. The biggest obstacle I found as a result of that, was taking ownership. Take ownership of what you’re dealing with. The minute you do that and admit something is not right, it’s a direct stepping stone to you getting help and forging a path of recovery. The recovery rate with eating disorders isn’t high, but that’s because you have to want to fight this battle, to begin with. I still sometimes have to deal with it, especially when I’m in a mass building phase and I need to be consuming a lot of calories, its a mental struggle but I’ve psychologically built up to it to tell myself it’s okay and it required to achieve what I want to do. So take ownership and then seek help from a qualified mental health practitioner and nutritionist.

Lizzie: The first step is to realise your symptoms and ask for the help you need. DON’T ever be afraid to ask for help. There are so many people out there that will help you! Professionals, friends or family, there will always be someone that will help you through a dark time. I have in the past few months reached out for professional help for my Mental Health and that’s nothing to ever be ashamed of, especially during the Covid-19 lockdown as I think this has taken a toll on everyone. To know you ARE enough, stop listening to everyone else and start listening to yourself. You are fabulous, worthy, and incredible just the way you are, don’t let anyone ever tell you different. Everyone is different and that’s BEAUTIFUL. If we were all the same the world would be boring. You don’t need to look a certain way to fit in or to meet beauty standards, start to look at yourself and love what you see now. This doesn’t happen over night, it takes time but trust me it will be the best feeling in the end. Embrace your uniqueness and your confidence will shine through don’t ever be afraid to just be yourself, you’re amazing & that will ALWAYS shine through!

What an inspirational pair! From speaking to Merat and Lizzie and from doing my own personal research, what I’ve realised is the structure around having an eating disorder isn’t that different from any other mental health illness. The stages are all roughly the same which means recovery is also very similar.

Early intervention is the best way to ensure a successful recovery and I hope that reading Merat and Lizzie’s stories has not only opened your mind and increased your awareness, but for those suffering, I anticipate that it’s also given you hope. Hope that you will also recover just like they did, and belief that one day you will be happier and healthier than you ever thought possible.

Just remember, people develop eating disorders as a result of not fitting a certain expectation that was set by their environment. So to all those reading my words, I urge you to think before you speak, think before you criticise, think before you comment on someone’s appearance, just think about the outcome of the words you’re about to use before you use them. You have no idea how strong your words could be to someone.

To those who might be struggling with an eating disorder, just know that you are beautiful and worthy and you’re more than enough just the way you are. Your worth is not measured by the shape and weight of your body, it is measured by what’s in your heart. If you’re struggling, please reach out for support. There is always someone willing to help.

Thank you for reading. You can connect with us on Instagram via the handles below:

Haleema: haleemaspeaks

Merat: merat.up

Lizzie: lizziefitzpatrick133 & feelfabulousmovement

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