How Do Eating Disorders Affect Periods?
Being open and honest about real things that happen to real women is the fastest way to smash taboos and get us all talking about tricky topics. Which is why here, Rebekah 29, shares her experience of bulimia and how it affected her periods…
Do I have an eating disorder?
“I first became aware of my body at about aged 16. Up until then I guess I’d been a happy young girl, but it’s around then when I remember starting to agonise about myself and how I looked. My eating disorder didn’t properly develop though until a few years later when I’d moved to university halls. Being away from home for the first time meant I could control my eating habits without my mum and dad lecturing me. Once bulimia got a grip though, it very quickly began controlling me and all of my decisions. I’d plan my day around food – whether that meant avoiding it, binging on it or throwing it up.
“Looking back, I’d always been a fussy eater and I discovered the gym around the time that I discovered boys at 16. I became obsessed with not getting fat and had this wildly unrealistic goal of perfection. I felt ugly and lacked confidence and I put myself on a regime of plain food and lots of exercise. By the time my mates were getting up for school in the morning, I’d already run 5 miles in the park. And it wasn’t a fad or a summer bikini diet, my weight loss methods got more and more aggressive and obsessive over the following years.
Symptoms of bulimia
“The binge and purge cycle of my bulimia would rear its head whenever I felt stressed, sad, lonely or scared – basically any emotion that I found difficult to deal with. I’d get up in the middle of the night and eat everything I could get my hands on. I mean everything: cake, biscuits, crisps, I’d cook pizza and gorge in a chaotic and frenzied way. I’d eat to the point where it was painful not to rid my body of it all by throwing up. Waking up in the morning, I’d feel disgusted that I’d done it again. Beating myself up until I was low and unhappy, which would trigger another binge. I’d often take laxatives too and loved the feeling afterwards of being emptied – it made me feel clean, yet each time I’d swear it would be the last.
My eating disorder stopped my period
“My periods had started at 13 and I’d struggled with heavy bleeding and painful cramps for the whole of my teens. I was put on the pill for a while to try and regulate them, but mostly they were a hindrance, especially with the amount of exercise I was doing. That’s why I didn’t really miss them when they disappeared all together.
“My health deteriorated and my weight dropped pretty quickly, but the changes to my periods happened slowly at first – it took me quite a few months to notice what was happening. They were less painful, or maybe I just didn’t notice the pain because I was hurting more in other ways. My bleeding got lighter and lighter. I downsized my tampons, using a lite one for the first time since I’d even started my periods. I’d continually convince myself that by losing weight I was doing my body a favour. Ridding myself of the terrible heavy periods seemed another benefit in my warped way of thinking, so I got thinner and thinner and in my early twenties dropped below 50 kilos. My periods stopped altogether.
“To not have a period at all from then on felt weird, but I was very poorly and saw it as an achievement – I’m embarrassed to admit I was proud that my body was withering away. After two years of no periods though, I did start to be concerned about the long-term effects and what would happen if I wanted children in the future. I confessed to my doctor, who I’d been avoiding for years, and he referred me to endocrinologist to get my hormones checked.
How I live with bulimia
“The tests that followed showed that reproductively I was fine, but my body had just ‘’switched” off because I was too underweight to ever sustain a pregnancy. It makes sense, I was hardly the picture of health.
“The doctors also checked my bone density. It was at the lower end of the spectrum and they were worried enough to put me on HRT (hormone replacement therapy). The purpose was to induce periods and to help prevent osteoporosis by increasing my oestrogen levels.
“I was also persuaded to get some proper help, by way of therapy sessions, for my eating disorder. With this I slowly began to change the ingrained attitudes I had towards myself, and then towards food. It was a long process, but I managed to gain weight and with the help of HRT, my periods returned.
“Today, I’m in a much better place. I wouldn’t say my eating disorder has gone, but I’ve found ways to manage it so it sits dormant. I still find my periods a bit of a struggle when I’m being negative about my weight, but overall I am happy my body is healthy enough to have them. That’s what counts and that’s what I’ll keep striving to maintain”.
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