I am finally ready! – I actually want to talk about it… Not only because I am ready but because it’s needed. There might be someone out there who needs to hear this. Maybe someone you know?
So, here I am, as a somatic yoga practitioner, ready to share my experience with anorexia!
I understand that some parts of my story may come as a shock, especially if you know me personally, but this is what happened to me and what happens to 4 million people in the world.
Because you give me so much trust, I want to show you my most authentic self and that everything is possible if you leave a window open for dreams and possibilities; and if you take the time to truly know who you are!
Here is what I have to say to everyone that is busy fighting any type of eating disorder. Read until the end to discover a Buddhist practice that helps with self-love and self-sabotage.
What Triggered my Anorexia?
… The loss of my little sister when I was 6, the abuse from my friend at 8 and then again from these guys at 14, my parents’ divorce and everything that came before (sorry Mum and Dad if you read this, but it hasn’t been as easy as it seemed), or the society I grew up in?
The only thing I know is that at this time, I was struggling with myself, as many teenagers are, but I was really convinced that something was wrong with me and that I wasn’t worth it… I was very shy and living in my own little world. It hasn’t always been easy for me to make new friends…( Thank god social media didn’t exist at this time!). I wasn’t fat but I wasn’t slim either, I had quite some acne on my skin…
One day, after I lost some weight for some reason, a girl that I was admiring told me “Wow, Caroline, you lost some weight, you look so pretty!”. At this precise moment, her validation made my heart so happy!
I started to lose more weight, my acne started to vanish, people were looking at me differently, and I started to feel respected, more like “them”. But then I couldn’t stop losing weight. I felt so much power within me, so much control and confidence!
I remember having a feeling of deep satisfaction every time I was saying no to a meal!
Unfortunately, I couldn’t stop this process of getting thinner and thinner, it was way too rewarding, even though I knew I was hurting myself.
At some point, I started to feel the side effects of anorexia (Low energy, dizziness, insomnia, feeling cold, losing some of my friends, being stared at…), but I was actually enjoying hurting myself because I thought that maybe this was what I deserved…
The Moment I decided to Survive
As my relationship with anorexia was getting bigger, I started to have more serious symptoms; one of them was losing my hair in big quantities. I would pass my hands in my hair and hair strands would come out.
I was also living in a kind of bubble where my vision was blurred. I couldn’t see how skinny I really was anymore. To me, I was absolutely normal, even a little bit too fat still… But I recall getting out of this bubble a couple of times while looking at myself in the mirror and realising how skinny I was, and wondering “How did I get there?”.
I was just becoming a ghost, a skeleton, my body was literally falling apart… I couldn’t even practise my passion anymore: horse riding! I used to be a great show jumper and won competitions with my horse, and this dream just disappeared as I was disappearing little by little.
One day my little brother questioned my mum: “What is happening to Caroline?”. When my mom told me that, I felt very heartbroken… I don’t want to hurt my little brother, I have so much love for him. I don’t want him to suffer like I suffered when I lost my sister, 2 years before he was born…
When you start to lose faith, think about someone you love… Someone you really don’t want to lose…
I was 16 years old at that time, weighing only 36 Kg, and a doctor was following me regularly. One day he warned me “Caroline, I am gonna see you again next week. If you lose weight again, I will have no choice but to put you in a hospital”.
The moment my doctor mentioned the hospital, I realised how real it was. I realised that I was about to lose my life to my eating disorder… No more friends, no more school, family, dreams…
After these moments of realisation and after the warning from my doctor, I finally decided that I was going to live!
The “after” anorexia is a pretty hard time… Accepting to eat again is one thing but doing it is another.
I had to learn how to eat again. My stomach couldn’t accept hard food, so I had to eat liquids.
Mentally, I had to keep in mind that I was getting healthier and not fatter, which is not obvious when you’re living behind the distorted mirror of anorexia.
I got very lucky, after a few weeks only of re-learning how to feed myself, I could already feel the benefits of my decision: I had way more life energy and had a better time hanging out with my friends, and eventually, I could ride horses again.
I know that for most people suffering from eating disorders, recovery isn’t linear at all. It takes a while before they can finally let go of these beliefs that anorexia creates within them.
As I mentioned before, every time you lose faith, close your eyes and think about someone that is close to your heart. Not necessarily a lover (especially if you’re not in a relationship), but a close friend or a family member, someone you really don’t want to lose. How do you think this person would feel if he or she loses you?
It took me over a year before I could reach a decent weight, which is quick, but was I totally recovered?
The Ghost of Anorexia
I wasn’t looking sick anymore, but I was still quite skinny. Sometimes people who met me afterwards would joke: “You are so skinny, don’t become anorexic…”
Even though I was looking okay, deep inside me I knew that this wasn’t entirely over. I knew that I could easily fall for her again. Anorexia became a ghost that was still haunting me in silence, I could feel her presence.
Controlling my weight was an absolute necessity… I knew that my BMI (Body Mass Index) was between 48 and 50 Kg, so I was making sure I would never weigh over 47.
Anorexia or the need for control, like if it was making me safe to know I could control this part of my life. I always had a scale at home, until I started travelling and couldn’t weigh myself anymore.
Aside from my eating disorder, I was experiencing other types of PTSD symptoms, like insomnia and anxiety. My insomnia was so bad that sometimes I wouldn’t get more than 3-4 hours of sleep per night for over 5 days. The first 2 days are okay but after day 3, I promise that you start losing your mind. At the age of 23, I was taking anxiolytics and antidepressants to put myself to sleep at night.
What Really Helped Me Recover from My Eating Disorder?
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, I was maybe broken but I’ve always had a lot of dreams. Thanks to my parents who made me live abroad and travel from a very young age, I’ve always had the need to explore new horizons. It gives me a sense of freedom and aliveness.
My gap year in Australia has been the beginning of a very transformative process… being by myself, free to travel wherever I want in the country, meeting some incredible people with a beautiful philosophy and living close to nature… Nature is also very beautiful and vibrant there, which made me wanna live forever. Australia is also where I met my partner with whom I started to travel with.
Even though my backpacking years were dreamy and exciting, I still had some moments where I had to cope with my gloomy mind. I remember sometimes feeling lost and having some existential crisis, suffering from insomnia and anxiety while I was in between two travel trips.
I was going to Thailand to meet up with some of my partner’s friends when I decided that instead of spending 3 full weeks with them, I would spend some time on my own and go to a silent meditation centre. I was having a big existential crisis at that time and had no idea what yoga or meditation was, but I just wanted to cut myself from the world for a while. I needed a real break!
The retreat centre was absolutely beautiful but the first few days in silence, meditating all day long, were very challenging. Living with these Buddhist monks and learning about their philosophy opened a new doorway within me that I’ve always had, but didn’t know existed. This was the beginning of my journey as a yogi…
How Does Yoga Help with Anorexia?
Here is one of my favourite yoga definitions. This is how the word “yoga” really sounds to me:
“Yoga is a profound school of self-discovery” – Cara Shanti
This is no secret that yoga helps with mental health. It’s just a shame that it’s not so obvious in our modern society as we tend to transform yoga postures into a workout practice.
Yoga allows the practitioner to have a deep connection with the body and with the self. When you start to realise who you really are and what your body really is, you also start to love yourself at a deeper level. You love yourself like you would love the beauty of a million stars in the night sky, a gorgeous sunset or whatever natural phenomenon leaves you in absolute Wow… Indeed, traditional yoga has a strong spiritual aspect, as it connects you to your essence, which is the essence of all life, and it gives life a new meaning!
With the practice of yoga comes meditation too, which makes you realise that your thoughts are just an illusion, a trick of the mind. The fact is that throughout your life, your emotions and your thoughts will change constantly, and sometimes they are wrong even though you might not realise it. In the middle of all these thoughts and mixed emotions, there is a continuity. There is something that is always here and stable: the real you that has always been here from the very beginning, the real you that tries to fight these thoughts (anger, jealousy, eating disorders…), even though it is buried by the manipulative mind.
By differentiating yourself from your thoughts, you can differentiate yourself from your eating disorder too, as this is also a trick of the mind.
This is how yoga and its philosophy have helped me end my relationship with my eating disorder, or with self-sabotage in general.
Buddhist Meditation for Self-love.
Here is a little exercise that absolutely everyone should do once in their life, not only people suffering from eating disorders, but everyone!
This is a Buddhist practice that I’ve learned from the book “Teaching on Love”, by the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. In his book Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us how to cultivate self-love and how to reconnect with your inner child.
Find a picture of you when you were a kid (around 5 years old) and stare at it for a moment. Look at every detail in the picture, and look at yourself for a while, as if you were meditating on yourself. When you finally feel connected to the picture and to your inner child, grab a pen, and a piece of paper, and write a letter to yourself as a child.
What would you like to tell him/her?
Tell your inner child how you feel, open your heart and tell everything. Write the deepest and the most honest letter you could write to yourself as a child, with the most loving words.
After writing this letter, take a moment to appreciate the feeling. Hold space for this moment of connection with your inner child.
If you have any questions or want to share your experience with someone who knows what is anorexia, you can reach me freely and I’ll be happy to chat.
Remember, you are worthy, and there is always hope if you look inside. Let’s face the future with courage and authenticity, knowing that we are capable of transforming our lives.
With love and understanding,
Yoga & Embodiment
My name is Caroline, but you can call me Cara. I am a Somatic Yoga Professional and Embodiment Therapist.
Because real therapy also involves the body, my goal is to help my yogi friends get to know themselves better and finally free themselves from all the tensions or traumas accumulated throughout their lives.