‘I had an eating disorder, but following these steps helped me recover’

Just a couple of years ago I was verging on a serious eating disorder – under eating, overeating, and all the grey areas in between.

It started when I first discovered dieting when I was 17 years old. Prior to this, I never really worried about my weight or appearance and I always grew up in a very body-positive environment. But there were a couple of triggers that came together that pushed me over the edge.

For starters, I had just gone on the prescription medication Accutane for my skin, which brought on a plethora of side effects like hair loss, sore joints and muscles, and constant tiredness. While I was on the medication, I also suddenly gained a bunch of weight.

At the same time, I had just moved from Paris to Dubai with my family and was grappling with my new environment. I found Dubai – and the glitz and glam that comes with it – to be a very toxic place to live in as a young girl trying to find herself, and was really struggling with my new surroundings.

I increasingly felt lost and confused.

I’m also a perfectionist, so the combination of the three did not work well together.

In retrospect, I also learnt that Accutane can actually make you depressed; a side effect that I wasn’t really aware of at the time.

The beginning

What started as an innocent diet soon turned into a vicious cycle of deprivation, over-exercising and self-loathing.

At my worst, I was spending hours on the treadmill, weighing myself numerous times a day, pretending like I had already eaten when going out for dinner with friends and skipping meals entirely – sometimes for a whole day. Eventually, I discovered binge eating, which soon enough turned into full-blown bulimia.

On the outside, no one could tell what was going on, but on the inside the obsession with being skinny was all consuming.

You could say I was a high-performing anorexic/bulimic – I performed well at school and had friends and a great relationship with my family, but on the inside I was broken. After a while, the self-destructive eating and exercising patterns also took a toll on my body.

I lost my period for over seven months, had extreme digestive troubles and was constantly feeling lethargic and exhausted.

Confronting my eating disorder

I continued on like this for my last two years of high school, and then went on to study in Switzerland. It was then that I began to be confronted with the fact that my relationship with food and my body wasn’t normal.

I realised this mental war was controlling every aspect of my life – and I was tired. I was tired of sacrificing so many potentially beautiful moments and memories to my eating disorder.

Moving in with my partner Phil, whom I met in the first week of University, was cause for a lot of this confrontation. Suddenly I couldn’t hide my weird eating habits and post-binge frantic nighttime workouts anymore. Once it hit me that I was literally living a double life, I accepted that things needed to change.

I tried working with a couple of therapists here and there, but nothing and no one really resonated with me. Then, by chance, I found a holistic health coach who herself had a past with eating disorders. It was her personal experience in the field that helped me transform my life as she slowly taught me to love and nurture my body and mind again.

I also started journaling, meditating, taking myself out on self-care dates, and in the process learnt to understand my triggers and how to cope with them better.

I’m a big believer that your relationship to food is a direct reflection of your relationship to life itself. In that sense, food can be a beautiful doorway to a deeper understanding of yourself and learning to reframe my relationship to food was a big part of my journey. My partner was my biggest support system throughout the entire process and I feel incredibly blessed to have had him by my side for this part of my life.

It took a couple of years to get to a manageable point, but I am so happy with where I am today – mentally, physically and spiritually. I have mastered the art of being my own best friend and make self-care a priority in my life.

I don’t weigh myself anymore and I don’t let fear guide my food choices. I eat healthy because I love my body and have a newfound respect for this beautiful vehicle of life. I do train a lot, but my mindset behind exercising has completely shifted to a place of gratitude for my body.

Steps I took to recover

When people ask me how I recovered, these are the things that helped me the most in the beginning stages:

  • Working 1-on-1 with a health coach who had first-hand experience with an eating disorder and was able to create a safe and non-judgmental space for me to express my feelings.
  • Daily journaling: made me discover who I truly was and work through all the crap that was going on in my mind. I journaled almost every single day for four years, and it honestly saved me.
  • I threw out my scale and stopped weighing myself. I used to weigh myself five times a day or more, and one day I just went cold turkey and decided enough was enough. Not having those numbers control my day made a huge difference to my mental state and allowed me to focus on what was really important.
  • My coach made me write a list of what I considered to be good foods and bad foods. This exercise made me realise just how many food items I had in the “bad list” and it dawned on me that I was setting myself up for failure with this mindset. This was moment of realisation that helped me to finally break free of the fad-dieting mentality and stop the restriction cycle.

Realising the importance of self-love

Self-love is not this mystical thing that you reach and then the work stops. There is no end point, no finish line to cross. It’s a continuous process of taking time to explore your inner world, day after day.

If I don’t prioritise my self-care for too long, I often notice old eating disorder patterns creep back into my life. That’s why it’s incredibly important for me to include daily self-care rituals into my life. This includes regular journaling, meditating, being in nature, physical movement, talking to my mentors and talking about where my headspace is at. Journaling and talking is incredibly therapeutic, and I find that if I brain dump my thoughts onto paper or put them into physical words, I catch onto negative emotions before they blow out of proportion.

I know I’m not the only one

It’s normal to still have days where I criticise every part of my body, but I believe that’s just part of the process.

Because of my past with disordered eating, I am now dedicated to supporting women who are going through similar struggles. It’s a beautifully rewarding process and I think it’s incredibly needed in today’s age where so many women are struggling with body image issues.

Stefanie Jung is a holistic health and wellness coach with a focus on helping women heal their relationship with food and their body. Stef is also a 200h certified yoga teacher, an advocate of wholesome eating and an eco-conscious warrior. Follow her on Instagram @wholesomestef.