How I faced up to bulimia

True Stories

lucy allen

"I now feel at peace with myself."

(TW // references to difficulty with food)

Lucy had been hiding her eating disorder for years, but when the pain became unbearable she realised she needed help. She tells us about the ups and downs of her recovery from bulimia, and how she’s much happier now she’s regained control of her life.

I’d been in hospital for almost a week when I finally muttered: ‘Mum, ‘I think I have an eating disorder’. They were the scariest eight words I’d ever said. The burden I’d been carrying for over five years felt lifted. But saying them was only the beginning of my recovery.

Bulimia and laxative abuse

For years, my GP and local hospital were totally baffled by my stomach problems. They diagnosed inflammatory bowel disease, but couldn’t figure out the cause. What I wasn’t telling them was I was secretly abusing laxatives.

One day, at work, my stomach hurt so much I got sent home. My mum took me to hospital to get the usual prescription of steroids, but this time I was sent to a specialist gastro ward.

It sounds silly, but at the time I honestly had no clue why I felt so sick. But then I read my diary… I hadn’t eaten a thing in eight days and I’d been deliberately overdosing on laxatives. I refused the steroids because I thought they’d make me fat, and refused to eat too. It was then I broke down and admitted to my mum I had a problem. She arranged a psychiatric assessment and I was diagnosed with anorexia.

Knowing when it’s time to get help with bulimia

On my 12th day in hospital something didn’t feel right. I reached for the call button, but was too weak to get to it. So I tried to attract the attention of the patient across from me. Then I lost consciousness. When I woke up I was linked to an EGC and oxygen and heard a nurse say the words ‘heart attack’. I remember thinking ‘if I’m going to die I wish it would happen soon’.

It sounds dramatic, but I was incredibly depressed and weak, and knew I was going to have a tough time ahead of me. After that the decision to eat was taken out of my hands and they started to tube-feed me (I only consented so I wouldn’t get sectioned). They removed the tube once I promised I would eat, and I was finally discharged with a daily eating plan.

Having a relapse

This should’ve been the start of my recovery. But it wasn’t. Once I had a taste of food again I couldn’t get enough. I started binging on excessive amounts, then compensating by over-exercising and taking laxatives. I started to worry the laxatives weren’t working, so I made myself sick. I was soon taking over 40 laxatives as well as vomiting over 60 times a day.

My diagnosis was changed to bulimia and I was told I had to attend a specialised centre, five days a week, starting the next day.

Learn more about eating disorder relapses.

The highs and lows of bulimia treatment

My first day was terrifying. I was given food as soon as I arrived at 10am and quickly learned that if you went to the toilet after a meal you would be followed. I lost my dignity completely. But I did start to understand that I needed to recover.

The next 11 weeks were a massive mixture of highs and lows. Undoubtedly the hardest day was my first ever ‘Snack Out’, where you have to eat an afternoon snack in the cafe in front of everyone. I hadn’t eaten publically for so long and cried the whole way through. But that was the first step towards conquering my fear of public eating.

One of the highest points was overcoming a challenge to eat pudding with my new friends. None of us wanted to eat it, but we decided to do the opposite of what our heads were telling us. We ate a toffee sundae and a Krispy Creme and laughed hysterically. We actually enjoyed the food, and for those 20 minutes didn’t have any guilt. It was incredible!

Hope for the future

Thinking of where I’ve come from this past year makes me want to share my story with others. I want people to know that recovery is possible. I’m now healthier than I’ve ever been and I feel at peace with myself.

My advice to anyone with any type of mental health issues is to tell someone you trust. It will be terrifying, but muttering those words to my mother was less scary than the prospect of living with this horrible illness. You could even write it all down and give it to someone if that feels less scary.

Ignore the stereotypes of bulimia

I also wanted to write this article to dispel the stereotype attached with eating disorders – that sufferers are emaciated, and that you have to be severely underweight to get help. But there’s no weight limit to eating disorders, and no matter how long you’ve been struggling, or how ‘sick’ you are, YOU DESERVE HELP.

I read an amazing quote that helped me: ‘It’s time to get angry at the eating disorder’. So try not to get angry with yourself. If you have slip-ups in recovery, pick yourself up and carry on. Mistakes are proof that you’re trying.

How to find support for eating disorders

Coping with an eating disorder can be really difficult, but you’re not alone and there are plenty of organisations you can turn to for help. If you want to speak to someone, The Mix’s support services are completely free and confidential. Reach out to their team of experts and trained volunteers, who are there to help with anything that’s on your mind.

Read this expert chat with eating disorder charity, Beat.

You can also read The Mix’s article on how to beat an eating disorder relapse.

Head to The Mix’s community boards to read our expert chat for Eating Disorder Awareness Week, featuring Molly Gorman and Hope Virgo.

Next Steps

  • Beat help people overcome eating disorders through helplines, online support and self-help groups. Call 0808 801 0677 or, if you're under 18, call their Youthline on 0808 801 0711.
  • Eating Disorders Support has a telephone helpline with 24/7 answer message service and email support for people with eating disorders and anyone concerned about them. Call on 01494 793223.
  • If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
  • Our Crisis Messenger provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK. If you’re aged 25 or under, you can text THEMIX to 85258
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Holly Turner

Updated on 04-Nov-2020