Two million Australians are currently battling eating disorders. Here, personal trainer Lucy Birss opens up about her secret battle with anorexia and bulimia for the first time.
It started when I was 14 and a bit overweight ;— a size 12 or 14. At my heaviest, when I was 13, I was 82.5kg. I'm now 39, about 1.7m tall and 62kg.
I remember overhearing my mum say that I took after my aunt, who was a large lady. My mum is tiny; she's about 1.57m and she's always been between a size 6 and 10.
When my friends met my mum, they would say, "Oh, your mum's so tiny." And I'd think, "What am I, an elephant?"
It was always weird to me that Mum was so small. I felt enormous by comparison.
Mum was very body-conscious. She followed all the diet books ;— high-fibre, low-fat. But we still had a lot of biscuits, crisps, chocolate and ice-cream in the house.
When I was about 10, my brother, Jeremy, went off to a school as a day boarder, so he didn't get home until around 9pm. That was when I started gaining weight — I was lonely. I'd come home from school and get the biscuit tin out.
It was anorexia first. I can pinpoint exactly when. I had glandular fever when I was 15 and I was off school for three weeks. I didn't eat very much because I was not well and so I lost weight.
When I went back to school, people were saying, "Lucy, you look fantastic." It was like the dots just joined up in my head.
Don't eat, lose weight, look good, get attention. My bedroom walls were plastered with photographs from magazines of skinny models. Those were my role models, that was how I wanted to look.
The following year, I went on a holiday with mum, dad and my best friend, Karen, and by that time I had started making myself sick. Karen noticed what I was doing.
Apparently, she phoned my mum, who said, "No, no, she's just taking care of herself, she's just eating well."
But then I remember the day that our form tutor called me in and said straight off the bat, "So, what's going on with your eating?" I was completely sidelined and I just burst into tears.
That was when I became seriously anorexic. It was like I was given a green light to do what I wanted because I didn't have to hide it anymore. I didn't have to even pretend to eat anything because everyone knew I had a problem.
I just didn't eat ;— there was a point where I ate five grapes in a day and each one I would peel the skin off with my teeth very slowly to make it last longer.
I got down to just under 44kg. There's this weird feeling when you don't eat. You feel euphoric and that kind of gives you energy. There's a school photograph from that time and when I look at it now, I don't know myself.
When I left school, my friends were going off to uni. I fell into another crowd, who were more interested in having fun, and I suddenly felt like I belonged and gradually, over time, I started eating more.
I'm happy with myself now. I'm fit and healthy. I eat well, but I also know the signs and how to manage things. For me, exercise has become a kind of meditation and a way of coping with stress.
When I look back, it makes me want to cry. I had no self-esteem and I wish I could go back and give that anorexic girl confidence.
No one encouraged me to be anything because all they wanted me to do was to eat. All they wanted me to do was survive. I never felt that I had anything to offer and I really feel that failed me in life. Nobody failed me. I failed myself.
FOR HELP: The Butterfly Foundation operates a national helpline and a range of facilities and recovery groups for all people affected by eating disorders, sufferers, their families and friends.
Read more of this story in the February issue of The Australian Women's Weekly.