My Experience: Doctors Mistook My Disordered Eating for a Heart Condition

Head Editor Beibhinn Thorsch writes about her experience with an eating disorder

CW/TW: Eating disorders 

 

I was fainting.  

Every now and then, no matter how fast I did it, I would stand up and proceed to fall to the floor. Sometimes I fully blacked out, most times I didn’t.  

But I was losing weight, so who cares right? 

In 2017 I was the thinnest I had ever been. I had just started an undergrad I loved, I was in a committed and supportive relationship, I had a job that I still enjoyed and kept me financially stable. But I was dieting. 

When I say dieting, I mean I was counting calories more than I was studying. I was sending my boyfriend more pictures of my shrinking stomach than of my face. At work, I ate plain salad. I spent my money on new clothes to fit the body I’d always wanted. Only it wasn’t even that, to me.  

I have always been big. My brother’s frail baby body, just 14 months older than mine, sat next to my rounded limbs and popped-out belly in our childhood photos. But we were both happy. Both as healthy as we could be. It was the way we were built.  

So when I started to lose weight, after years of battling my self-image, being called a “fat bitch” by 13-year-old boys in school or matching with someone on tinder only to receive the message “hahaha can’t believe you actually think I’d go out with you”, I kept going. Everyone complimented me, and I was even treated differently everywhere I went. No one questioned how I had lost the weight so fast.  

I had gone vegan, partially due to earlier health issues (pancreatitis, which my doctor mistook as indigestion that I was exaggerating the pain of for three years, but which got to the point of me being hospitalised as it can be life threatening) which meant I’d had to cut fat from my diet and partially because I became socially motivated to do it for the environment and especially for animal welfare.  

That made it easier to lose weight, in a way. I was a very motivated vegan, but not a very motivated cook as my living situation made that a bit more difficult. But the real problem came when I began to count calories.  

I started reasonably and worked my way down. For reference, an apple has 50 calories. Women are recommended to have, on average, between 1800 and 2000 calories a day. I was eating less than 1000 calories a day, and if I went over then I would cut the following day. This led to many days of “binging” by going over 1000, then restricting to as low as I could manage - around 600 per day, or 200 calories per meal. I walked for around two hours every day because that’s how I got to college. On weekends I worked two days in McDonald’s, where I was on my feet for between seven and nine hours running up and down the kitchen. I kept the calorie count the same throughout. I didn’t think about it being sustainable, I only thought about my size. 

Even then, at my lowest, I believed myself to be big. Many may have even still thought of me to be. I sought validation by posting pictures of my slimmer body on social media, trying to purvey an image of how “easy” it had been for me to get to that size. I had loose skin on my tummy which looked like a granny’s arm flaps. When I was fainting, I didn’t know what the cause was. I didn’t see anything wrong, as I was continuously being praised. The lack of eating or consuming anything at all, coupled with the exercise, the stress, everything, caused me to faint or almost-faint (pre-syncope) multiple times a day. Eventually, my stomach started feeling sore like I almost couldn’t eat. 

I went to the doctor. For once they didn’t ask about my weight. Although my heart sounded fine, I was sent to the A&E for tests. They told me to come back in a few months. I had blood tests done that were perfect.  

You may be wondering, as I’m talking about all of this, how big was I? How thin did I get? Well I ask you; does it really matter? Many people try to validate the experience of others based on how serious they judge it to be. If I was fainting and continued to do so, would you look me in the eye and tell me that I should keep it up in order to stay slim? Would you tell me to find another way to lose weight? Why? 

When I gained some weight back, the doctor started telling me I should treat whatever problem I had come in with that day by exercising. When I told the doctor that I was still walking two hours a day and doing a variety of other exercises on top of that, they suggested I change my diet. When I told them I was vegan, they told me to go out and exercise some more. Despite my healthy tests, despite everything, if you are “plus-size”, you are going to be told to lose weight.  

I’m sick of fighting a losing battle. I don’t own a weighing scale anymore.