Our founder, Linsey Lunny, talks about living with an eating disorder and why it inspired her to create Hidden Strength…
“It started with bullying…”
I moved up to secondary school when I was 13 and managed to make friends with the ‘popular’ group. Sadly, it wasn’t long before the bullying started. They nicknamed me ‘airhead’ because of my blonde hair and made relentless taunts and comments about my looks, weight, height, everything. They’d say nasty things like, “Oh, don’t ask her, she’s stupid!”, “OMG, look at the state of her today!” and “God, her boobs are MASSIVE!”.
“There was a lot of focus on weight at home…”
Things at home were also difficult. My dad was quite old-fashioned and had very different views to my mum: I wasn’t allowed to go out with friends at weekends and he didn’t approve of me wandering around town looking at shops. My absence from these social events added to the relentless bullying I was already experiencing at school.
There was a lot of focus on weight at home. When my parents first met, my mum had lost a lot of weight because she was stressed and worried about her mum who was poorly. She was a size 8 then but this wasn’t her ‘normal’ size and she returned to her usual size 14/16. During all my childhood and teenage years, I remember my dad always being on at her about her weight. She’d even eat half her dinner in the kitchen before he could see what was on her plate, and he constantly called her fat. This was all going on at the same time as the bullying at school.
“This was the moment that flipped the switch…”
School became more difficult when I was doing my GSCEs. My home life wasn’t much better because I was having a really hard time with my dad. Then, at the age of 17, I met a boy and decided to move away with him and his family to another city. Sadly, the relationship turned really nasty and this was the moment that ‘flipped the switch’.
I began to feel constantly paranoid about the way I looked and I started to restrict what I was eating. My weight dropped quickly. I’d left home in September and when I went home for Christmas in December my mum noticed that something was wrong. She said, “You look quite poorly, and I think we need to take you to the doctor.” She took me to the doctor and it was then that I was diagnosed with an eating disorder.
Things were different back then. Eating disorders were still very taboo – people didn’t discuss them or understand them and found them difficult to talk about. It was almost like people were embarrassed to talk about it. My dad tried to understand, but I think he found it very difficult. I think, if he had known what we know today about treating eating disorders, he would have been able to do more to try and help me.
“Bad advice sent me into a panicked frenzy…”
Everything after that feels like a bit of a blur, to be honest. I had to wait a long time to get professional help – my parents couldn’t afford private health care so I was put on the NHS waiting list. It was my mum who took me to see the therapist and nutritionist at the local hospital when at long last I was given an appointment…
It was horrific. The nutritionist advised I should go home and eat two Digestive biscuits. I was gobsmacked. This is possibly the worst thing to say to someone with an eating disorder! That bad advice sent me into a panicked frenzy and I stopped going because I couldn’t face it anymore. And it’s because I received such poor help that I haven’t had the confidence to ever seek ‘professional’ help again.
“I felt like I had it under control.”
I dropped out of school. I just couldn’t cope with being ill on top of the bullying and breaking up with the boyfriend I’d moved away with. I moved home and tried to do my A levels at school in the evenings. I felt completely lost and didn’t know who to turn to for help.
Then I made some new friends and I thought I’d found a place in the world. I was 18 and felt like I was back on track. I wouldn’t say I’d recovered from my eating disorder, but I felt like I had a handle on it. I felt like I had it under control. (Although the weirdest thing about an eating disorder is it’s when you’re at your absolute worst that you feel like you have the most control.)
When I was 19, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. I couldn’t cope. My coping mechanism was to focus on the way I looked and what I ate, restricting my diet as much as I possibly could. I was obsessed with losing weight and panicking about everything I ate. Because if I was focusing on food and the way I looked, I wasn’t thinking about the fact my dad had cancer.
“I didn’t want him to think I was a freak…”
I met my now-husband, Justin, when I was 22. I was definitely still struggling with my eating disorder at this time. I remember him taking me out for dinner and I was in a panic beforehand because I didn’t want him to think I was a freak who didn’t eat food. I had to plan ahead to make sure I knew what was on the menu so I could choose something that wouldn’t make me feel guilty for the next five days. I got a bit better when I met Justin because he had lots of friends and there were lots of dinners and parties and socialising. It was nice; it was normal. He became a great support and even though he found it frustrating at times in the early days, he now understands my struggles.
The problem with having an eating disorder is that it’s very hard to see your own symptoms because in your eyes, you haven’t lost the weight – the person you see in the mirror is still the same person. It’s other people who see your symptoms, see you losing weight.
“My mum has been my main support.”
My dad sadly passed away the year after I met Justin and again, I went through a really bad time. Through my darkest days, my mum has been my main support. She’s always there for me to talk to and she listens to me. My mum never once put pressure on me and she hasn’t to this day. She gets it.
I have to fess up here – I haven’t really sought ‘proper’ help. The early diagnosis and poor support I received made me feel so isolated, like no-one understood me. I think, honestly, I’ve never gotten over my eating disorder and my worst times were during my pregnancies. I found them so hard. Your coping mechanism in stressful situations is to restrict your diet but when you’re pregnant you can’t do that. You have a baby inside you to nurture – you’re creating a life. I struggled; I really did. It was just really, really hard.
“I can do this…”
It’s never too late to seek help. Some days are going to be better than others and whilst some find recovery difficult, people can and do make a full recovery with the right help and support. Right now, I’d probably say I’m not in a great headspace. I’m constantly thinking about what I’m going to eat and how I’m going to restrict myself and not gain weight. It’s not healthy, I know – it’s just my coping mechanism. What gets me out of that headspace is usually my family and friends. I will get to a point where I will tell them, “I’m not in a good place” and that helps to put me back on track. I think to myself, ‘No, I can do this. I can do this.’
When COVID first hit in March, it triggered my eating disorder really badly. All of a sudden, I was at home with the kids, surrounded by food. Before I knew it, I was back in a really dark place. I was exercising two or three times a day to deal with the anxiety and stress around the pandemic and home-schooling. I’d had to put my business on hold and I didn’t know what my purpose was. I felt completely out of control and things didn’t improve until lockdown lifted.
“I know my triggers and that’s made me a stronger person.”
For the last 24 years, it’s been a rollercoaster. Some days are better than others, some months are better than others. Stressful triggers include holidays, birthdays, events… Justin has an award ceremony next week and I can already feel myself getting anxious. But at least I can identify my triggers and work out ways to deal with them. I’ll talk to friends or do something nice for myself. I know my triggers and that’s made me a stronger person. Especially when it comes to my children – I’m determined they won’t go down a similar path to me.
“This is a battle you can overcome…”
I wouldn’t wish an eating disorder on my worst enemy. I still pray there’ll be a day when I don’t have to worry about food but I try to stay positive. I feel like I can help people because I can empathise with others who are dealing with similar issues or any other mental health struggles. And while I had difficulty accessing proper help and support, which made it hard for me to reach out, this should never be the case for anyone who is struggling with an eating disorder. Everyone should be able to reach out during difficult times and find the help they need. It’s one of the reasons I created Hidden Strength – so everyone can have access to a positive therapeutic experience. No-one should struggle on without professional help, like I did.
Having an eating disorder is such a lonely thing because everyone around you struggles to understand it. People think you don’t want to eat and that you only want to get thin but it’s SO much more than that. It’s about control and how you feel about yourself. That’s why it helps to talk to someone who has been through it. If you’ve been diagnosed with an eating disorder my advice would be to reach out, to speak to someone who has gone through a similar situation. They can talk to you from a better place, show you how you can get to where they are. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and understand that this is a battle you can overcome. ❤️
If you’d like more support or advice about eating disorders, please click here.