By Mary Hardisty
TRIGGER WARNING: EATING DISORDERS
Illustrations by Beckie Burkill @beckiebeans
When the lockdown was announced in the UK back in March, my life quickly became a haze of early morning runs, IT problems, and video calls. I saw people posting on social media about how bored they were, how they’d taken up knitting, redecorated their living rooms or done an online cooking course and were now being more adventurous with their meals than ever. I found myself looking at pictures of these wonderful home-cooked delicacies and wondering how. How?! How were these people still working their full-time jobs from home and managing to whip up such sumptuous dishes? I barely had the energy to do my third yoga class of the day, let alone make myself a nutritious dinner.
Ah. Therein lay my problem… three online yoga classes a day, or two and a run, followed by a meagre vegetable stir-fry because I was making my food shops last as long as possible. No wonder I felt drained.
It was with some reluctance that I realised I was sliding back into old habits.
Nine years ago, I was sixteen and on study leave before my GCSEs. Both my parents worked full-time, and my brother was at uni, so I was at home on my own for the vast majority of each day. I usually had school lunches, so this was the first time in my life that I’d had such control over what I ate. This was also a time when “women’s magazines”, fat-shaming and images of the “perfect body” were still fairly commonplace in mainstream media. Therefore, devastatingly, eating disorders were talked about in the locker room like the latest trend.
I was at the age when my puppy fat was melting away and my body was becoming taller and slimmer. I liked this. I liked this so much that I wanted to make sure it stayed that way. How? By eating less and exercising more.
In my mind, this was completely logical: I was missing out on my usual amount of exercise because I no longer did P.E. or walked to and from school, so I should run up and down the stairs until I was exhausted; the food at home was probably richer and more nutritious than at school, so I should eat less of it to balance things out.
Over the following weeks, I watched with satisfaction as my hip bones became more pronounced. I ignored the fact that my hair was getting thinner and that downy fluff was growing on my face and torso. I noticed my mum looking at me while we ate dinner in the evening, making sure I ate everything on my plate. I always did, but then I would skip breakfast the next day and have only a piece of toast for lunch to make up for it. I knew my mum suspected something. I remember us going clothes shopping together and her looking at me in the changing room and whispering (half to herself) “God, you’re so thin”. I began to lie to her about what I ate during the day.
Of course, this was foolish. She’s my mum. Mum’s know everything. And I’m a bad liar. She said she wanted to get me professional help. I resisted at first, convinced there was no problem, I was just doing what it took to get the “perfect body”. However, she did not give up, so I gave in. Thankfully.
"Eating was now about fuelling my body, not pleasing my mum. Cooking was now about flavour, not fat content."
I have had a much healthier relationship with food and my body for years now. After receiving counseling, I gradually managed to ween myself off toxic “women’s magazines” and on to feminism. I began eating healthier, more natural foods (none of that artificial weight loss crap) and found that I enjoyed the new vigour I felt as a result. I began to go jogging and use yoga as a way of strengthening and centering myself. Eating was now about fuelling my body, not pleasing my mum. Cooking was now about flavour, not fat content. I truly believed I had conquered my anxieties about food until, a week or two into lockdown, I found myself skipping breakfast and forgoing much needed “downtime” in favour of yet another Pilates video. I saw myself standing at the top of a very familiar, very slippery slope. I knew what I had to do. I had to rekindle my relationship with food.
I took to the internet in search of inspiration, and was reminded of a cooking method I had somehow forgotten about: roasting. That night, I simply had a plate of roast potatoes(with mayo, I’m a mayo girl), veg and halloumi. I watched Killing Eve while I ate and savoured every last mouthful. It was brilliant. The next morning, I had a lie-in, followed by a bowl of muesli and a milky coffee. The improvement was instant!
Amazingly, after that first day of change, I found it relatively easy to get into a new routine. The behaviors were obviously still there, I just had to relearn them. I now delight in taking time to cook myself whatever I want for dinner, sometimes enjoying a glass of wine or beer with it. Once again, food is my friend, but I learned a valuable lesson from that initial wobble: I have not been “cured”. I don’t think I ever will be “cured”. Deep down, food will always be associated with anxiety for me, and I now know that I am more susceptible to relapse during stressful times in my life. I am thankful to lockdown for showing me that and for, eventually, reuniting me with food.