My name is Sarah Rav and I am a 20-year-old medical student with a story to share. During the past couple of years, I developed a serious eating disorder which resulted in me almost losing my life.
Trigger warning: The following story goes in-depth about a woman’s battle with eating disorder.
I first realised I had an eating disorder when I was diagnosed with “anorexia nervosa – restrictive subtype” in hospital. Before the diagnosis, I remained adamant that I DID NOT have an eating disorder because my goal was “never to lose weight” but instead to be “healthy”. Nevertheless, this attitude resulted in me restricting my food intake way too much, having intense emotions of guilt and fear about food, over-exercising and developing an attitude towards food that was harmful.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what triggered my disease.
In part, I believe my passion and vast knowledge of health and fitness contributed to the restrictive attitude, but most of the problems probably arose from my perfectionist tendencies. I always go “all out” and commit 100% to anything I do. I won’t stop until I’m the absolute best, until I’ve achieved the highest rank or until I’ve completed my task.
Hence, the main driver of my anorexia was thoughts like “I managed to skip breakfast and lunch yesterday to study instead, so why can’t I skip those meals today to spend more time working instead?” or “I exercised for three hours last week. Why not add another three-and-a-half-hours today?”
Subsequently, if I couldn’t achieve the new goal that I’d set, I’d be filled with immense guilt and worthlessness. I’d hate myself and thought I was “weak”. So, of course, to avoid those feelings, I kept pushing my body to the limit.
As you can imagine, my eating disorder worked its way into every aspect of my life. I would wake up feeling utterly exhausted and dreading the day ahead of me.
Whilst I was suffering from my eating disorder, I became a recluse. I was terrified of going out, especially if it involved food. I would decline any offer to catch up over lunch or dinner because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to count exactly how many calories were in my dish, nor would I be able to hide how little I was eating. I also avoided many events because I wanted to spend that time exercising instead. Eventually, I hardly left the house because I just didn’t have enough energy to get out of bed. I was also always moody and irritable, so I was not a pleasure to be around.
My family and friends never really knew I had an issue until I had lost so much weight that there was no denying I was sick.
Many friends and colleagues expressed their concerns to the dean of the hospital I was studying at and because of this, he decided to take me aside and told me to “take time off” from university. This meant that I couldn’t return until I had Medical Clearance from a Doctor & Psychologist. At the time, I was so confused because I didn’t even realise that there was anything wrong. I felt completely fine!
But upon meeting my GP the next Monday, I realised that I was definitely not OK. She was shocked to see me looking the way I did. When she weighed me (I was 30kg at the time), she sent me straight to the Emergency Department because she was so scared for my life. It was after spending a few days as an in-patient that I was diagnosed with an eating disorder.
At first, I didn’t want to tell anyone because I was terrified that they would judge me.
I have always been seen as the “strong, determined, over-achiever that does everything right”. By admitting that I had an eating disorder, I was worried that they would think less of me or worse, BLAME ME for being “too weak” to fight it. Of course, once I did open up about it, the response was overwhelming. No one blamed me at all. No one thought any less of me. All everyone wanted was for me to get better and they were all willing to do whatever it took for that to happen.
Once I was diagnosed with the condition, I knew I needed to seek help. I knew that overcoming such a terrible disease would be the hardest thing I would ever have to do and that there was no way I could do it alone. I enlisted the help of a psychologist, a dietician and my local GP. Additionally, I had the full support of all my friends and family.
Click page 2 to read more.