an un-funny blog

For once, an un-funny blog. Boooo. But you’ll see why…
Today I’m featured in a big piece in Grazia magazine here in the UK. Grazia is generally full of fashion and pretty people and badly-dressed celebs and must-have face creams. And today, it contains a bit of me as well. Eek.

The story – for those of you who live outside of this currently snow-covered Isle – is about mothers and what we want to pass on to our daughters. Or not pass on, in my case.
Because my story is about eating disorders. See – not so hilarious really.

Thing is, everybody who knows me, knows bubbly, happy, fun, smiley, positive, energetic, ‘Yes I CAN!’ Liz. Which is good, as this is how I am most of the time these days. Apart from when people piss me off or I’ve got PMT, obviously. Then I’m a witch.
But it wasn’t ever thus. For fifteen years I had an eating disorder that came as close to killing me as it’s possible to get without actually knocking at the Pearly Gates and having your bags checked. 

It started when I was about 15 or so, and continued throughout the last years of school, through my Gap year – what a bloody waste of a good time! – through university (the worst years of it), and throughout three pregnancies.

This last bit has raised many concerned eyebrows since I first wrote about it in my best-seller, The Yummy Mummy’s Survival Guide (the title was ironic. Nobody got it. Ho hum…) in 2006. It was one paragraph in a 370 page book, and WHAM! I was on the BBC Breakfast sofa, on the GMTV sofa, talking to Marie Claire, and journos and random people in Tesco’s about it.
Crikey, I touched a nerve!

Seemingly, nobody had publicly admitted to having an eating disorder during pregnancy like this, and questions were asked of me: how can a woman who is pregnant have an eating disorder? How can she be so selfish? So irresponsible? Why can’t she just love her enormous belly and be happy that she doesn’t fit into any clothes without using a shoe-horn?
Well, my own question was always this: how on Earth can we expect any of the million or so people who currently suffer from an eating disorder in the UK alone, to miraculously snap out of their ‘selfish, stupid’ behaviour the second the sperm hits the egg and burrows its way in? Does it not seems a TAD unlikely to you that no pregnant women starve themselves, or make themselves sick, if this is the addiction they suffered from before they were pregnant?

And let’s be clear: the eating disorder I had – it was the B one, by the way, not the A one, although it was probably a bit of both most of the time, as is very common – is an addiction like any other. I lived for it, thought of nothing else, missed lectures and meeting friends and boyfriends, and experiences and too many fun times to list, spent hundreds of pounds and incalculable hours of a young life in the pursuit of eating more food than I now eat in a week, and then throwing it all up again.

Great. Nice one Liz.

The high was tremendous: during a binge (how I HATE that word) I felt I could achieve anything. My heart raced, my palms sweated, I was filled with adrenaline and excitement and possibility. The world and all the worry, insecurity, fear and crushing self-loathing it contained, disappeared during the eating, and I felt powerful, able and clever, I would pass these exams, write that book, achieve all my goals and show the world what I was made of.

And after the high, the inevitable low. Low, low, like you can’t imagine. Low so you want to die, every second, every minute because you’re such a waste of space on this Earth. Low so you hate yourself in ways you never dreamed possible, even on very shitty days. Low because you know you’re hurting others, and wasting everyone’s time. Low, so you swear you’ll never do it again.
And then you do. Because you’re an addict.
And there were the headaches, the strange heart beats, the sore mouth, the swollen face. It’s not a pretty illness, that’s for sure.

In late 2003 I came within a minute or two of dying due to this illness and I can honestly tell you that when you see that white light at the end of the tunnel, and you didn’t choose to see it, and you realise there are 3 kids upstairs in bed whom you might never hear giggle again, you want to LIVE more than you’ve ever wanted to live before.

And that’s what I set about doing, from that day: LIVING. I have never binged again, nor wanted to. Not ever. It’s as though someone flipped a switch, and I woke up in a different, better, clearer world.

A year after that day, I sent a book proposal to an agent, and a year after that it was sitting pretty in the best-seller charts. Then I wrote another. And then another. Now I’m writing my first novel, and loving every minute of it.

All of this is possible because the fog that clouded every day for fifteen years of my life lifted the second I got better. I could see clearly, remember things, hold information in my brain, concentrate, work, have friends, be a better mum and make up for the lost days and months and years that I’d flushed away. Every day now is a chance to make up some of that lost time, and every morning I’m happy to be here to live it.

I’ve done a huge amount of press about this, as I believe it’s still a massively misunderstood illness, and the more people who’ve had it – and have fully recovered, like me -that can speak out and explain what it’s really about, why it can happen, how serious it is, the after effects it leaves (I still have an irregular heart beat which terrifies me and my tooth enamel is a bit buggered in places) the more sufferers may be helped.

And I know I’ve helped many. I’ve had piles of letters and emails from readers over the years, saying everything from ‘you’ve saved my life’ to ‘you’ve saved my marriage’ to ‘thank you for making me aware of what my daughter is suffering from. I had no idea it was so serious and we’ll seek help now.’
That kind of thing makes the embarrassment at speaking of something so ghastly and un-pretty, worthwhile.

One of the most helpful comments I’ve ever had about this came from Dr Hillary on GMTV not long ago. He said to me ‘You didn’t have an eating disorder while you were pregnant. You had a pregnancy during an eating disorder.’ He is so right, and if you are suffering, please, please try to get help and get it sorted. It CAN get better. It CAN go away forever. And when it does you won’t believe how much EASIER and BETTER life is when you don’t have an eating disorder screwing up your brain 24/7.

I’ve not seen the Grazia piece yet, but I’m going to pop out now, slither across the ice and buy my copy. If you get a sec, do the same. They’ve no doubt chosen the worst mug-shot of me and Emily, but never mind. She’s an incredible girl, and all I can do is hope that I raise her to believe in herself and to be happy. And to come to me if she’s not.

Thanks for trawling through this. Like I said, not so funny today, but hey, because I’m better, now there’s always a tomorrow.
And there’s always a smile : -)


10 thoughts on “an un-funny blog

  1. georgia

    That is a brave and inspiring blog, Liz, and its made me cry. I think many girls have eating disorders and its not something that you can really prevent just by good parenting (although am sure it is made easier to overcome by good parenting). Children take in so many messages about body image as they’re growing up, there is the “control” issue of eating and the self-love angle. Plus the highs and lows. I also had an eating disorder, for 4 or 5 years until I could just leave it behind gradually, move on and relax about food. Now I NEVER think about food in that damaging way anymore, never “eat emotion” – I have no idea how things changed or why but they did. I have no idea how to help others with an eating disorder, but can spot one a mile off ! Sadly I feel they are personal battles, the sufferer seems to have to want to save themselves. And thats not because I can’t be arsed to help someone, but because the illness is so subtle, and based on so many many complex things, I think its mental illness really. No idea why am writing so much – just my response to your blog. Love G

  2. lizfraser Post author

    Ah, Georgia, now your comment has made ME cry. So we’re both crying. Great!
    I’m so touched by your reaction, and you’re right: the sufferer has to WANT to get better, or nothing will work. I had counselling, CBT…all for nothing because I wasn’t ready to be myself, or face myself,or accept myself. I’ll always have food ‘issues’ and I do certainly use food to fight my demons. When things get to me, or I’m working hard, I lose weight in a flash. But I know it looks awful so I make sure I keep eating and keep looking good. Odd thing is, I am VERY body-confident these days. If I could only have thought that before I wasted so much precious time life would’ve been a lot simpler. Thanks for the lovely feedback, and for being so honest. x

  3. Freddie

    It really surprised me that you had such issues. You were (and are) beautiful. I used to envy you. I was a geek with glasses and you were popular and pretty.
    Count me in as crying as well. God the teenage angst we all suffered.

  4. lizfraser Post author

    *passes tissues*…What a jolly day this is turning out to be!
    Nobody I know now who knew me then had any idea. I was pretty good at hiding it. But hey, I was a geek too – we geeks rocked! I just never had glasses, so I was only a semi-geek. I have them now, so qualify as total geek. I got the highest Bacc mark in our year – that’s geek-tastic! I’m dreading the teenage years with my kids, but so far Ems is doing really well, and seems pretty happy. It’s so hard to say where these things come from. Just so glad it’s all over and life is better. x

  5. Mel

    I’d left the Euro-school before then, but you were always such a happy confident girl, I am really suprised. Your cooment about being dumpy and out of place on alive and kicking had me saying “no!!” out loud: I’ve seen the clips, you were no such thing!!!

    I have a very petite daughter who at 6 yrs old is very aware that she has 4 & 5 yr old friends who are bigger than her. But as a mother of a 10 year old boy, I think I have to be as careful not to pass my hang-ups on to him: if its the teenage years that cause the angst, I suspect that we have to teach our sons that a nice girl isn’t defined by a particular body-shape. After all, my son will also become someones boyfriend, husband, father..

    You are an individual, a one-off. Be proud of what makes you spcial, what makes you.. You. xx

  6. lizfraser Post author

    Thanks for the lovely note, Mel. Eating disorders so often affect outwardly sunny, happy, jolly people – it’s very strange. With annorexia it’s easy to spot, but bulimia can be entirely hidden because the sufferer often has a normal body weight, and eats normally with friends or family. It’s extremely secretive – and hence very emotionally draining as well as physically – and it’s a very nasty illness that I’m just so glad is over for me, and I can do something useful by putting the message out about how to spot it and treat it.
    My younger daughter sounds very like yours…TINY, very skinny and eats like a horse – it’s just how she is! Her sister is way above average height, and very strong too. And you’re so right about teaching boys what’s attractive in a girl. Nowt wrong with some curves!! But actually most men know this already – it’s girls who convince themselves skinny is better, or weight is a way of controlling your demons. Ah, it’s a tricky one, that’s for sure.
    take care, xx

  7. Crystal Jigsaw

    Yes, there is always tomorrow, and the next day. Thanks for sharing this story, it is probably an all too common one. I eat too much I’m afraid, but that’s because I’m always hungry!

    Best wishes, CJ xx

    1. lizfraser Post author

      That’s made me laugh – thank you! You munch away, and be happy with yourself. That’s about all we can aim for. People come in all shapes and sizes…and some are hungrier than others…! : -)

  8. Harriet Frew

    Hello Liz
    Great to see your article in Grazia. I am a Eating Disorder Therapist (strangely also 35yrs old with 3 children – and lived in Cambridge until very recently!). I was motivated to work in this area after having BN myself from 17 – 24yrs old. I was keen seek support at the time to address the illness but at this point, nothing was available in Cambridge. Thankfully, times have changed a lot and now this is an excellent service at Addenbrookes, plus many more private therapists also working in this area.
    All the best with your new book.
    Best wishes

  9. lizfraser Post author

    Harriet. I’m taking a bit of time this weekend to go through some old blog posts and check everything’s ‘in Ordnung’ and I’ve just noticed that I never replied to your comment! I’m so sorry!! I’m not quite sure how this oversight happened, but wanted to say now (almost a year later…ahem..) that was touched that you wrote it, and I really hope you’re keeping well. I know a few people whose children have used the Addenbrookes service, and am so glad that it exists. We live in a really great place where medical support is concerned, I’d say.
    all best to you and your family, apologies and thanks again. Liz


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