My story with bulimia began at 19 years of age in my first year of university.

My high school sweetheart left me and I was 500 kilometres away from the comfort of a mother’s hug. 

I watched the happy, smiling girls around me and immaturely assumed because they were thinner than me, they were happy. 

Food never looked the same again. I started having salad instead of rice, boneless skinless chicken breast instead of lasagna. I started making safer choices and I started to lose weight.  I lost 20 lbs in there months.  I started getting attention from the world around me and the hole in my broken heart started to fill.  I felt happy again, but the happiness was only temporary, the emptiness returned.  

Naturally I ate less, lost more and hoped to reach that high again, that feeling of elation when you know you have lost.  But I never reached that summit again, I only found years of loneliness, pain, frustration and hunger.

As I continued through university my eating disorder worsened.  I was enrolled in the Opera Program at McGill University in Montreal.  I went from one of the most promising young artists to a lost cause in four years.  My constant ebbing hunger distracted me from all my academics and performing.  My eating disorder escalated and I began purging as well as starving.  I got nodules on my vocal chords and my voice was a mess.  I treaded water through my last two years and finished university with a whimper, not a bang.  I continued to lose, but now it was not just the weight, it was my friendships, my future and my sense of happiness.

Post university, I continued to live by my eating disorder.  I had all but given up on music, my mother died of cancer and I continued to spiral into my sickness.  After years of cycling between starving, over exercising, eating and purging, my body stopped losing weight.  No matter how hard I tried, no matter how much I ran, how many diet pills I popped, my body simply refused to lose any more weight.  

This was the most frightening moment of all, the moment when I knew I could no longer shrink.  My lowest weight was 118 lbs. I know this number well because the day I saw it on the scale I felt God-like.  I only held that number for a few weeks and then my body fought back.  My family asked me to get help but I refused to go for treatment.  It was too difficult to find treatment, plus I didn’t look like I had an eating disorder.  By my thinking, I really wasn’t that thin, therefore I wasn't really sick.   

Fast forward five years and I am in my 30s, still sick with bulimia and now I have two beautiful children, children that need me.  The trouble is, sustaining an eating disorder takes an incredible amount of discipline, commitment and time.  One woman cannot juggle two kids, a job, a marriage, relationships and Bulimia. Something had to give, the disease or them. 

I tried my hardest to do both, but I could not mange the everyday chaos and distress of an eating disorder and have the patience, love and commitment it takes to be a good parent.  After numerous trips to the hospital, episodes of purging at work, home, during nap time, and even while my kids were awake, I decided to get help. 

I was lucky enough to be accepted into the Lakeridge Eating Disorders Program in Oshawa, Ont.  The day I walked through those doors was the day I began to get my life back. 

I have been in treatment for a year and today my life looks incredibly different.  Today I do not purge when I eat.  Today I do not chose the salad instead of the rice. Today I exercise if I want to, not because I have to.  Today I am the mother I always wanted to be.  

I have patience, love and compassion for my children because I have learned to have patience, compassion and love for myself.  Today I enjoy all foods including hamburgers and salad and I show my children that food is to be valued and loved, not feared.  We teach our children through action.  We teach them normal eating by eating normally, we teach them what real self esteem looks like by building our own sense of value and worth.

I wanted to share my story because I suffered with an eating disorder for 15 years and I didn’t have to. I was never dangerously thin and for this reason many people including myself did not feel my illness warranted treatment.  Though I was not dangerously thin I was suffering the effects of starvation and I was suffering the pain and torment of an eating disorder.  My hair was falling out, I was severely anaemic, I suffered black outs, I had extremely low blood pressure, I had heart palpitations and severe anxiety. 

But most importantly, I had an intense fear of food and weight gain.  A fear that was so great that it dominated all my thoughts and drove all of my behavious day in and day out.  If your thinking is consumed by food, exercise and body dissatisfaction, you may have an eating disorder.  Go to your doctor and talk to him/her.  There is help out there and you do not need to suffer.   Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes.  It could be the mother of two children next door or the captain of the high school football team.  You need not be a size or weight to have an eating disorder because when you are sick, there is never a number too low.

Today my life is not perfect.  Recovery is not perfect, nor is it easy, but it is worth it.  Life is not perfect,   and being able to handle life when life happens is the most empowering gift of all. Recovery can give you that.

Peace and Love to all,

Joanne Cooper