'I can't marry you until I tell you something' - Woman on overcoming a life-long eating disorder

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An illustration. Photo by Getty Images
An illustration. Photo by Getty Images
  • Amanda Stokes, now in her 40s, developed an eating disorder in her early 20s.
  • She learnt to hide it until she was about to get married and felt the need to share her struggle with her fiancé.
  • Eventually, she sought help and is not well into her recovery.
  • Here's Amanda's story as told to Mitchell Jordan.

My stomach was so full I felt like I was about to burst. But the physical discomfort was nowhere near as strong as the wave of guilt that washed over me.

After months of following a strict diet and exercise regime, I'd just eaten three hamburgers and two bags of fries in about 20 shameful minutes.

"I've ruined everything," I thought.

Suddenly, I had an idea: if I quickly brought the food back up, the calories wouldn't have a chance to be absorbed. Rushing to the bathroom, I threw up until I was sure it was all gone. I felt I'd done the right thing.

I was 22, and from then on, I began a ritual of binge eating and then throwing up.

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I hid my secret well.

"Just a salad for me," I'd tell the waiter when I was out with friends.

They were amazed at my restraint. They had no idea about the cake, chips and lollies I'd already devoured. Sometimes, I even blocked it from my mind, too, but deep down, I knew it wasn't healthy.

With each birthday that passed, I promised to stop, but I never did.

When I started work as a primary school teacher, I met another teacher, Simon and we started dating. I was terrified he'd discover my secret, so I went to great lengths to make sure I only binged when we weren't together.

Thankfully, he was an umpire at the weekends, which gave me plenty of opportunities.

READ MORE | Covid-19 anxiety and stress causing body image issues

When we got engaged and planned our wedding, I knew I had to come clean. How could I be a good wife if I was living a lie? I'd already been keeping it from him for five years.

One day, we were chatting on the couch when I blurted it out. "I have an eating disorder," I confessed. "But I promise I'll get help."

Simon looked at me, suspiciously and said, "An eating disorder is a choice." And the matter was dropped.

I was disappointed by his reaction. This was more than just a lifestyle decision. It had become a compulsion.

Desperate to stop, I poured my heart out to a psychologist, but that didn't work. "It's useless," I thought, fed up.

It felt like everyone doubted me. What would one more lie hurt? "I'm fixed now," I told Simon. "Good," he said.

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We got married and had three children: Josh, Lily and Charli. Not knowing how to control my desire for food, I gained 30kg during my pregnancies.

It made me so miserable, I purged to make up for the damage I'd done, and my weight went back to normal. On the surface, we looked like a picture-perfect family.

"I wish I had your figure," shop assistants said when I went to buy clothes. Maybe they'd think differently if they knew what I was doing to keep my weight down.

Each night, I'd sit the kids in front of the telly before rushing to our bathroom to purge. One time, Simon caught me completely unawares."What's wrong?" he asked. "I'm just feeling nauseous," I stammered.

We'd never spoken about my big revelation 15 years ago, but I could tell he hadn't forgotten. "Promise," I added with a smile. Thankfully, he didn't push the matter further.

READ MORE | If you're beating yourself up about absolutely everything, it's time to detox your emotions

Over the years, I'd been racked with guilt that I was leading a double life. This has to stop, I decided. I found an online group for mums. Chatting with them made me feel better. They knew how hard it was to break free of an illness that had been dictating our lives.

One night at the family dinner table, I noticed Lily, seven, staring at her pasta. "I don't want it," she said.My heart hammered in my chest. The thought of my daughter going down the same path as me was terrifying.

Another night we had pizza, but Lily only picked at the topping, not wanting to eat the base."That's what you do," she said solemnly. She'd adopted my habits, and I realised I hadn't been hiding things half as well as I thought.

This couldn't go on. I felt riddled with guilt that my attitude towards food was rubbing off on the kids.If I wanted them to be healthy, I had to be, too. "I'm going to a psychologist," I told Simon later. "I've got some things I need to work on, and I need your support."

I couldn't bring myself to say bulimia, though I was sure he knew. He promised to do everything he could to help.

READ MORE | Superwoman syndrome: How trying to live up to an unachievable ideal can lead to mental health issues

This time, a different doctor was able to help me to overcome bulimia little by little.I fell off the wagon a couple of times, but I've been free of it for a while now and feel great. Lily's back to normal, too.

"I'm so proud of you," Simon said, wrapping me in a hug.

I've since started an online support group to help other women suffering from body image issues and to help each other raise our children. I have also created a series of dolls who have healthy figures.The kids are too young to understand my battle, but I might never have sought help if it wasn't for them.

I wish I'd done it 20 years ago, but now I'm just happy to be comfortable in my skin.

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CREDIT: aremedia.com.au/magazinefeatures.co.za

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