An Awareness Week for eating disorders will put a vital spotlight on the illness, says Roseanne O’Driscoll, who battled with the condition in her twenties
A WEST Cork woman who battled with an eating disorder throughout her twenties is appealing to anyone in the same situation to reach out for help.
Roseanne O’Driscoll from Schull weighed 6 st 12lbs when she was in the worst grip of the illness and, as Eating Disorder Awareness Week takes place (February 26th to March 4th) is speaking out, so no one has to go through what she did.
Roseanne, (29) and now living in Ballydehob, is a qualified life coach and personal trainer, helping others to be fit, healthy and learn to love themselves. She feels her food problems started when she was as young as eight when, she says, she was bullied for being overweight.
‘I started reading diet magazines and trying out every diet going. Around the age of 11, I started to throw away and hide food. Once I started secondary school I was able to eat very little all day and only have a small dinner in the evening. My first heavy food restriction started at 16. I ate half an apple and a flash of tomato soup for my lunch, had boiled potatoes, veg, and meat when I got home. All low fat and low calorie.
‘I was bullied until I was 24. It took a long time to learn to stand up for myself. I had a lot of self-hatred which caused me to bully myself in a sense, and anorexia was a way of punishing myself for being so “fat and worthless”.’
The illness was at its worst when she was 21 and it dictated her entire life.
At 5ft 6, her weight plummeted from its highest of 9st 12 lbs, to just under 7st, at its lowest with a body mass index of 15.4 when it should have been in the region of 19.5-24.5.
‘I didn’t want to leave the house because most things to do with friends is food-based. Popcorn at the cinema, a meal out, meet up and have a takeaway? No thank you. If I had to go out for food, I’d research everything online, estimate my calories, then restrict my calories a few days before and after the event. I’d even fast – my longest fast was 50 hours.’
Sleep and exercise were what preoccupied her. ‘I’d sleep all the time, 14 hours, I had no energy. I’d wake up, exercise, burn 400kcal on the treadmill, have a breakfast of 15g instant oats made with water, half a banana and cup of tea, splash milk, no sugar. I would work out again, burn another 400kcal and then eat the same. My lunch was 100g pineapple, or a light cereal bar. Dinner was only eaten because I would be with my partner and he’d make me. I’d also have two litres of diet Coke.’
Such restrictions saw her suffer hair loss and damage her joints.
‘I fainted once from low blood pressure, banged my head off a heater and nearly needed stitches. I couldn’t sit on wooden chairs or go for a bath because it hurt my bones. I had hair loss. It took a lot of supplements to repair the joint damage I caused myself.’
Recovery was a very gradual thing, but eventually she saw what she was doing to herself, sought help from her partner and attended counselling, which also helped her deal with an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
She went once a week for two years, and then once a month, or whenever it was needed, for another two years and she credits it with her recovery.
‘I feel the focus can be on getting your weight up, but not addressing what caused the eating disorder in the first place. I was bullied, my parents divorced, I had bad relationships, everything that made me feel unwanted and unloved. Eating disorders are less about vanity and more about control. Counselling is key if you ask me. Mental health is vital and that needs to be addressed more.’
Six years on, and Roseanne says she is ‘a whole new person.’
‘I learned to accept myself. That was the start. I grew to love myself. This gave me confidence and I learned to stand up for myself. I qualified as a personal trainer, life coach and did further studies in nutrition and positive psychology. I guess you could say I am the ‘me’ that I was always afraid to be.’
Her message to anyone struggling with eating difficulties is that they are beautiful and perfect exactly as they are right now. ‘They do not need to act a certain way or have a certain look in order to be loved and seen as beautiful. The world is full of billions of people. We cannot all share the same morals and values. We will not always agree on what is considered beautiful. People will love you and people will hate you and none of it will have anything to do with you as a person. You cannot please everyone, so simply please yourself. The only person that needs to love you, is you.
‘If you are struggling, please talk to someone. There are no rules to recovery, do it in your own way at your own time. One day, one meal at a time’.
She believes that initiatives like Bodywhys Eating Disorder Week are vital because there is still a lot of stigma surrounding eating disorders. She addresses these on her website llivingwithroxy.com
‘It is my goal to be there and be a support for people so that they never have to go through what I did.’
See bodywhys.ie for more.