Michelle, 38, Customer Relationship Manager who was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa when she was 13 years of age
Customer Relationship Manager Michelle, 38, Albury, who enjoys spending time with her friends and family, playing tennis, and gardening, was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at 13 years of age.
In her early teenage years Michelle developed an obsession with exercise and controlled eating, working out three hours a day and consuming less than 2000kj daily. Not realising anything was wrong with her behaviour, it was Michelle’s parents who noticed that she looked unwell and decided to take her to their local GP.
What followed was six long months of regular doctor visits before Michelle was finally diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and given a treatment plan for her eating disorder.
Michelle now feels recovered, although describes a “humming noise” always in the background regarding food and exercise.
This is Michelle’s story.
As a young teenager, Michelle did not have a particularly outgoing life. She worked hard and socialised with her friends at school, but things began to change when she hit puberty and she started to avoid social events.
She believes this was in large part due to her fear of having to eat. She constantly created excuses not to attend parties and other social gatherings, so she could control what, where and when she was eating.
“I became withdrawn and obsessed with food and exercise. Nothing else mattered. I was nasty to my family if they used my plate I had especially for my food.
“I got so bad I was worried that if my grapes weren’t on the top shelf in the fridge that fat would sweep into them from other foods. My brain was under attack by a dark cloud,” said Michelle.
Michelle believes that puberty was a major contributing factor to the development of her eating disorder.
“After entering puberty, I felt like I wasn’t in control and didn’t like the way I looked.
“I felt like food intake was something I could control and therefore I felt good about not eating enough, exercising three hours a day and consuming less than 2000kj a day. It didn’t take me long to plummet to 45kg on a 168cm tall frame,” Michelle said.
“My health was deteriorating, my heart wasn’t happy, my period was non-existent, I was weak yet managed to somehow exercise and my body was in survival mode. Not to mention my mental health which was overridden by irrational thoughts, obsessing over food and exercise. I was consumed by it.
“I look back and I wonder how did I get out of the quicksand I was in,” said Michelle.
Michelle credits her recovery to a strong support system – her parents who never stopped persevering until she was better.
“I was lucky to have my parents and family support. My parents would drive three hours to take me to my appointments in Melbourne. But these weekly visits and outpatient and inpatient stays started to pay off.
At one point they were willing to sell their house to fund treatment overseas for me.
“Eventually I found strength and my mind started to recover and I was eating what my body needed to purely function each day,” Michelle said.
After taking part in the Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative (ANGI) study, Michelle has chosen to participate in the Eating Disorders Genetics Initiative (EDGI) – the world’s largest genetic investigation of eating disorders ever performed.
“Reading that experts have linked anorexia nervosa to certain genes just reiterates the need for more research to happen,” said Michelle.
The EDGI study is aiming to identify the hundreds of genes that influence a person’s risk of developing anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder to improve treatment, and ultimately, save lives.
“I was diagnosed back in 1996 where there was little acknowledgement of those living with an eating disorder. While there is far more awareness these days, I think it is important for more funding and research to be done in this area to fully understand the complexity of eating disorders.
“If researchers can identify the genes that influence a person’s risk of developing an eating disorder, then hopefully these people will be able to access the right treatment and support,” Michelle said.
Importantly, Michelle urges anyone displaying symptoms of an eating disorder to seek help fast, with a strong support system being one of the main driving factors for her recovery.
“Some think it’s simply a matter of eating a meal. It’s far bigger than that and those living with eating disorders need support in many areas If they are to make it. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy,” said Michelle.
Should you suspect that you, or a loved one, may be living with an eating disorder, speak to your local healthcare professional without delay, or head to www.insideoutinstitute.org.au to complete their screener and assessment, and to access more information and professional support.
Australian professional patient support services offering 24/7 helpline services include:
- Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
- LifeLine: 13 11 14
- Men’s Line Australia: 1300 78 99 78
- Kids Help Line: 1800 55 1800.