Recovery Unveiled: Kirsty Copeland's Journey to Conquering BulimiaNov 09, 2023
This conquering bulimia blog presents a bulimia recovery story with the intent of inspiring you. In this article, with her permission, I share my profound interview with Kirsty Copeland.
Kirsty, thank you for sharing your recovery story.
Can you tell us a bit about your background in dealing with an eating disorder? How long did you struggle, at what age, and what was your treatment process like?
My battle with bulimia spanned around 16 years, manifesting in various degrees of severity. It began at a young age when I was involved in dance and felt the subconscious pressure to meet certain appearance standards. Excelling academically and adapting to new countries as a child taught me how to please people and make friends, which led me down a perfectionist path in everything I pursued.
My unhealthy relationship with food started well before bingeing and purging. I distinctly recall watching a drama on eating disorders in school and deciding that if I ever gained weight, I'd choose the bulimic route as I cherished food and couldn't fathom the anorexic option. At 16, my family moved back to my native Scotland from the USA, and my dance regimen decreased from five times a week to just one. My lifestyle shifted; I discovered alcohol and naturally began gaining weight. I don't remember precisely when it started, but I began experimenting with laxatives, starving myself all day, and then purging my food.
The initial year or so was the most challenging. I lost myself, consumed by thoughts of calories, restrictions, and planning when and what to eat to throw it up. It didn't take long for my parents to notice my bloated body, swollen face, poor skin, and unhappiness. I initially denied it but eventually broke down. I tried to convince them that I could recover independently, and as they struggled to comprehend my ordeal, they believed me.
I moved away from home and spent most of my early twenties in a cycle of bingeing and purging. I confided in a few people, but mostly, it remained concealed. During a particularly dark episode, I confided in my mother, asking for help. I was placed on a public treatment waiting list, which was three years long. In the interim, I consulted a dietician (who recommended a diet), saw a private therapist (whose cost I couldn't sustain), and shared my struggles with a few friends. From an outsider's perspective, I appeared to be a cheerful university student whose weight fluctuated more than others.
I initiated Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which persisted for several months. My bulimia transformed into a stubborn habit, akin to smoking but no longer dominating my life.
It wasn't until my late twenties, after relocating to Australia, that I witnessed significant progress in my recovery. I joined an eating disorder recovery support group, challenged my behaviors, and began discussing my struggles more openly. It has been a long journey with numerous highs and lows, but I now consider myself fully recovered for about five years. After becoming a mother, I decided to become an eating disorder recovery coach, and I am immensely grateful to be able to assist others.
Was there a specific moment in your eating disorder recovery journey when you realized you wanted to recover, a moment where something shifted within you?
A pivotal moment for me occurred in December 2013 when I chose to openly admit that I had an eating disorder. At that point, I had silently battled bulimia for 12 years, with only a handful of family members and friends in the know. I composed an email along with a poem and a testimony of my experience to date, and the outpouring of support and love (as well as shock!) was incredibly heartwarming. I cried for days while reading through the responses. I felt immense relief that it was no longer a secret, and I could rely on others for support.
How did you deal with feelings of shame during your eating disorder recovery journey?
Shame is a formidable adversary that can keep you immobilized and tempt you to hide, but hiding is not helpful at all. I attempted to transcribe my thoughts to consider them with a more objective perspective. Seeing my thoughts on paper allowed me to assess their validity.
I also pushed myself to discuss my feelings with my trusted circle of friends. For instance, I'd say, "I know you may not fully understand, but I'm really struggling right now with X, and it's better for me to confide in someone." Often, that simple act of sharing was enough to loosen shame's grip on me.
Lastly, I engaged in prayer. Despite feeling guilty about my recurrent setbacks, I believed in a non-judgmental God. I practiced self-compassion and treated myself as others would. This is an ongoing practice in other aspects of my life.
If you could pinpoint the three most significant factors that helped you achieve full recovery from your eating disorder, what would they be?
- Altering my eating patterns: Moving to Australia as a vegetarian who feared fat and protein led to me expanding my food choices. This courageous step became a catalyst for reintroducing my fear foods and adopting a balanced approach to eating. I discovered that by eating sufficiently, I was less prone to binge and purge.
- Writing: Writing serves as my creative outlet, and I derive immense joy from it.
- Transitioning from intense exercise like running to gentler forms like walking and yoga.
Do you have any preferred eating disorder recovery resources?
While not directly related to eating disorder recovery, I hold a deep appreciation for Caroline Dooner's two books. They challenge diet culture and society's obsession with ceaseless productivity, a narrative to which many perfectionists and overachievers can relate.
Click HERE to see Kirsty's two favorite books!
Do you have an inspirational message for readers currently struggling with an eating disorder?
Small, incremental changes may appear insignificant and slow, but trust me, each step you take brings you closer to full recovery. Anticipate setbacks and challenges, but persist, nonetheless. You are far stronger and more resilient than you realize, and there is always hope.
Could you share your favorite quote?
"If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got." – Henry Ford
Author: Kirsty Copeland
To learn more about Kirsty, who is also a Certified Eating Disorder Coach, CLICK HERE.
Interviewer: Sarah Lee
Certified Eating Disorder Recovery Coach, CCIEDC
Fully recovered from Bulimia since 2006
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