Nadia, 33, Librarian who battled anorexia nervosa after graduating from university, BRISBANE
Tea and music enthusiast, Nadia, 33, Brisbane, battled with anorexia nervosa for over three years before receiving an official diagnosis from a healthcare professional.
At the end of 2012, Nadia, then aged 25, graduated with her second bachelor’s degree. While at university, Nadia would receive daily praise and feedback for her work, however the task of securing employment post-graduation proved difficult and she no longer felt like she was ‘achieving’.
As she continued to face difficulty in seeking work, her family continued to strongly emphasise the importance of securing full time employment, causing Nadia’s self-esteem and self-worth to plummet further. Nadia believes this marked the start of her eating disorder.
Striving to ‘achieve’ in some other way, Nadia began vigorously exercising and engaging in restrictive eating behaviours in a bid to clean up her diet. These behaviours soon escalated, causing Nadia to lose a substantial amount of weight and eventually develop further health problems, including osteopenia (weakening of the bones caused by loss of bone mass).
Since her diagnosis of anorexia nervosa, Nadia has progressed from purely ‘managing’ her eating disorder, by preventing further weight loss and working towards medical stability, to a journey of recovery. She has received and continues to receive regular support from a clinical psychologist and regularly attends peer support programs at Eating Disorders Queensland.
Today, Nadia is proud to say that she has recovered from anorexia nervosa and is passionate about using her lived experience to help others.
This is Nadia’s story.
Nadia’s transition from a music honours student who was receiving daily praise and feedback, to a new graduate facing difficulty in finding employment proved detrimental to her self-esteem and self-worth. This further compounded what Nadia now recognises in hindsight, as tainted emotional development and sense of self, stemming from the trans-generational holocaust trauma which has gone un-resolved in her family for two generations.
The more jobs she applied and interviewed for, the more she began to feel like a failure, and a burden to her family.
“I felt that I needed to continue to ‘achieve’ in some way, so I hurled my focus and energy further into improving myself in other ways with exercise and food restrictions. Receiving compliments for my self-control and weight loss combined to perpetuate and strengthen my anorexic tendencies in its early months,” said Nadia.
By late 2015, Nadia’s disordered eating behaviours had escalated and she reluctantly sought help from a therapist. It would be two years before Nadia would receive a formal eating disorder diagnosis, initially not meeting the diagnostic criteria for anorexia-nervosa.
“It was two years after I initially sought help, that I was officially diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. Ironically, between 2015 and 2017, my health deteriorated significantly before I started my journey to recovery.
None of my therapists or doctors particularly liked to use diagnostic labels. I was however, constantly reading pro-anorexia forums online and watching documentaries on YouTube, in a bid to validate my experiences.
“Once I received an official diagnosis of anorexia nervosa it helped me to finally feel that I had ‘proved myself’ and done ‘enough’ so that I could start to look towards recovery,” Nadia said.
While in the depths of her eating disorder, Nadia found great difficulty in socialising, given her immense fear of food and food related situations.
“My mind was consumed with thoughts about where and when I would next be required to eat, how I would reduce my intake without attracting questioning and if I did have to eat, how I could compensate later,” said Nadia.
Despite the ongoing battle she was waging mentally, Nadia’s career and personal life was actually progressing in a positive direction. She bought an apartment, a new car, received two promotions at work, undertook a two-month fellowship in the USA and was able to travel internationally.
“These achievements only reinforced to me that I could continue to succeed, while satisfying the demands of my illness and that recovery was not necessary for me.
“My anorexia always tried to tell me that I was special and that I could keep going without recovery. I now know that’s a lie,” Nadia said.
Physically, at her sickest Nadia had to have weekly blood tests, blood pressure checks and weight checks with her GP.
“After a day of food restriction and overexercising, I would lie in bed at night feeling my heartbeat through my whole body, because there was very little fat and muscle to cushion it,” said Nadia.
Having now recovered from her eating disorder, Nadia continues to attend therapy as a form of ongoing self-care and self-development. She has also participated in a number of therapeutic groups and peer support programs run by Eating Disorders Queensland, and still attends a fortnightly peer support group.
Nadia recalls that recovery began when she called a ‘truce’ with her anorexia.
“I made a decision to stop fighting it (anorexia nervosa) and to not allow it to get any worse. I started to force myself to eat regularly, a compromise between the agenda of the anorexia and a healthy regular eating schedule. Even when the anorexia wanted me to skip a meal, I made sure I ate something at every meal and snack time, eventually building up to an adequate intake.
“I did not begin to challenge my fear of foods, food rules or social or spontaneous eating until much later. Following the RAVES model really helped me understand where I was at in recovery” said Nadia.
For Nadia, the hardest part of recovering was realising she needed to take a step back from her family, to give herself the time and space to learn who she really is and individuate.
Nadia strongly encourages those who have experience of an eating disorder to participate in the Eating Disorders Genetics Initiative (EDGI) – the world’s largest genetic investigation of eating disorders ever performed. The 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.
“It would be exciting to be able to test early on in the presentation of an eating disorder for these gene variations to ensure that support and monitoring is provided early.
“Knowing that a gene is there will also help sufferers stop blaming themselves for their illness or the challenges they face in recovering,” Nadia said.
Importantly, Nadia urges anyone with an eating disorder to start a conversation with their GP.
“Talk to your GP, find a therapist and get on the wait list so that when you are ready you can immediately gain access to the help you need.
“Recovery is probably the hardest thing you’ll ever do in your life, but it is so worth it. Reaching a place of body acceptance, intuitive eating and joyful movement is so worthwhile.
“You matter. You are enough. You deserve recovery,” said Nadia.