A-Z

Lauren

Age at interview: 23
Age at diagnosis: 20
Brief Outline: Lauren was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at the age of 20. Through cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as an outpatient and her parents' support she is now in recovery. Relaxation, making time for herself, and writing and playing music also helped Lauren.
Background: Lauren is 23 and a part time youth worker. She is engaged and lives with her parents. White Scottish.

More about me...

The first time Lauren remembers worrying about food and exercise was in the summer before her second year at university. She started counting her calorie intake and exercising regularly. Living away from home allowed her behaviour to get more and more extreme. Around this time Lauren was having a difficult time at university and was in a controlling relationship. Lauren describes feeling very down and becoming secretive and isolated. She would watch food programmes and spend hours in the supermarket looking at food.
 
Lauren’s flat mate suspected she might have anorexia and gave her a book to help her. Lauren recognised familiar behaviours described in the book which spurred her to end the controlling relationship she was in. After talking to her flat mate and her mum, Lauren decided to seek professional help and was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.
 
Lauren first saw a very understanding nurse and was referred to a specialist doctor. However he had to wait four months before seeing the doctor – a very difficult and upsetting time for her and her family. Lauren felt lost and remembers feeling confused because at the time she could not understand what could have triggered the anorexia. Lauren started CBT and visited an eating disorder day centre as an outpatient. Lauren kept a food diary, as well as noting down any negative thoughts or feelings she had and then took time to rationalise them. Being weighed regularly was a mixed experience; she would feel guilty for gaining weight and equally guilty if she had lost weight. 
 
Lauren had contemplated leaving university earlier than planned because of the difficulties she’d had. But as she got better and gained more strength she decided to continue. Now Lauren describes her fourth year as the best year of her life and she graduated with a first class degree. Lauren says her life has completely turned around; she is now healthy, in control of the anorexia and getting married in a year’s time. She is a Beat (Beating Eating Disorders) Ambassador, doing media interviews, writing articles and giving talks about her own experiences. Music has always played a big part in Lauren’s life and she has written a song about her experience of an eating disorder.
 
 

Lauren first saw a GP who specialised in eating disorders. She felt completely understood and...

Lauren first saw a GP who specialised in eating disorders. She felt completely understood and...

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I first of all made an appointment with the nurse and ‘cos I had no idea what to do or anything, I just spoke to the nurse and kind of said to her what I thought my problem was and that I’d been losing weight and that I kind of had read this book and thought that that was maybe what. I was doing to myself and then she made another appointment for me to see a specialist GP who was kind of specialised in that. And then I remember meeting her and she was really lovely and she, so helpful as well, completely understood and didn’t make me feel like I was wasting time or anything and got me referred straightaway, which was fantastic.

 

Lauren found Cognitive Behavioural Therapy hard work. Attending appointments and writing down...

Lauren found Cognitive Behavioural Therapy hard work. Attending appointments and writing down...

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Once I’d sort of identified what the triggers were it meant that I could really tackle what, what issues I was facing and that just came through a lot of talking but parallel to that was the kind of food side of things. So I had to start writing a food diary of everything I was eating and the ideal was that I would try and add a portion every two weeks.
 
And that could just, it starts with really simple things like just changing from skimmed milk to semi-skimmed milk or like a low fat yoghurt to, to a full fat yoghurt and trying to make the changes kind of small and manageable. I had to choose the changes. So it was always me making the decision, “What do you want to start with?” And it was starting with foods that I still saw as safe but just trying to get me to eat more.
 
And alongside that I had to write down all my negative thoughts I was having. So whenever I was faced with a situation that I thought was difficult or I was getting those negative thoughts coming in, it might have been eating the food, it might have been at a social situation, and then write down the negative thought and then write down what evidence there was for that. So for example, if I was going out for dinner and I put, “I don’t want to go out because I think I’m going to get fat. The food’s unhealthy.” Those, those kind of things I would look at the evidence and say, “Well, actually, I’ve never been fat in my life. I’ve been out before and I’ve never put on weight and it’s…” So then replacing that with a kind of balanced thought and thinking, “Right. It’s okay to go out once in a while and I need food ‘cos I’m underweight.” So those kinds of things, it’s just rationalising the thoughts and getting my thoughts back in rather than the anorexic.
 
But that was a lot harder at the start. I found it really difficult to do and I didn’t think it was going to work because I found it such a chore and just having to sit and write down and all the negative thoughts I was having, there were so many in a day. So I was constantly writing and just doing the portion as well. Because I was at university I sometimes wouldn’t do it, and knowing that I was going to get weighed every two weeks I would feel guilty if I knew I’d lost weight or I was giving put on weight. You know, if I put on if I went on the scaled and I’d put on the weight I’d be a little bit happy but I’d also feel this enormous guilt but, at the same time, if I’d lost weight I would feel really bad ‘cos I would think, “Well, I tried and it didn’t happen.”
 
And at the start, I, it went downhill. It was kind of the first couple of months to the April, which was my twenty first birthday, which was when I was at my worst so actually, my weight did drop even with treatment before it could come back up again. I always found it really difficult and just such a chore and I didn’t want to go to my appointments. I didn’t like all the talking and just, I guess I just wanted to give up a bit or I just found it too much hard work and I didn’t want to do the hard work and it really wasn’t until the kind of May that I kind of had a turning point and started, things started changing for me.
 
 

Lauren created positive cards and a positive wall reminding her of why to get better. She also...

Lauren created positive cards and a positive wall reminding her of why to get better. She also...

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One of the great things I had was like a sort of positive card book so I made these lovely little cards with reasons of why I wanted to get better. Simple things like, “I want to go dancing again.” So I had a picture of me dancing. We had a wee picture of this wee boy that my mum looked after. As we were just saying, I want to have children. Things like that and I used to carry it around in my bag all the time and whenever I was having a sort of difficult time I’d just whip them out and it reminded me why I was going through this, why I was gonna to get better. Diary writing was always very good for, just writing down your thoughts and if you felt you didn’t have somebody to talk to you could write it in your diary. 
 
Positive kind of wall of just different things again, to remind me of my friends in my life that I was gonna get back, which was really good, and just generally making time for yourself and relaxation that I found writing songs was a big help for me and I, I wrote kind of one song specifically that was all about my experience and I perform it now quite a bit. It just, it’s kind of like my sort of reminder of where I don’t want to go back to and also a kind of goodbye, in a way, to my illness and sort of singing it to the, to the illness and saying, “No way you’re coming back.” Kind of thing and just relaxation, just listening to music and, you know, making time for yourself I think is important. But all these kind of things can really just help and remind you, it’s like a constant reminder of why you want to get better.
 
 

It’s important to realise that, when eating again, having small portions is not giving into...

It’s important to realise that, when eating again, having small portions is not giving into...

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I remember one time I was saying to a group of parents that, you might feel like you’re aiding the illness at first by giving in to what they want to eat but until they can come to terms with the food and to come to accept it, the fact that they’re just eating those things is important. So you might feel like they have to have a small portion and they have to have that but if you don’t give them that they might end up not eating at all ‘cos they’ll panic. So it’s like at first you’ve got to stick to just the portion so if like the first week it is just such like a half slice of bread with their lunch then that’s all they increase. Everything else stays the same because they have to get used to that half slice of bread and once they’ve conquered that they can move on to something else. So at the start it is, until people really come to accept their illness and come to accept the treatment, in a way, you do feel like you’re aiding the illness along but it’s not, it’s just that that’s what you have to do at, at the start to kind of get your mind into the right place first.
 
I should think a lot of people forget that it’s, you know, it’s a mental illness and the changes have to happen here first before they can happen anywhere else.
 
 

Lauren had to watch every food programme on TV, go around the supermarket looking at all the...

Lauren had to watch every food programme on TV, go around the supermarket looking at all the...

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I think like when you have an eating disorder you think you’re the only weird person like you and the only one that’s doing all this weird stuff but just like becoming obsessed with like food programmes, for example. I had to watch every food programme that was on TV. Going round supermarkets for like hours and just like looking at all the food that was there but not actually buying or finding it hard to buy it. You know, shopping, the, the day I would go and do my food shop was equally, one of my highlights of the week but also the worst part of my week. And I used to love going round looking at food but then I’d hate having to decide what one I was going to have and I found it very stressful. Just having like my strict timetables. I had to write everything down that, you know, when I was going to get up. What I was going to do. What I was going to eat. Making menu plans, buying recipe books and then using like, there were strange things like I had to use a certain bowl to eat out of. And like for cereal or soups and things like that I had to like use a teaspoon to eat with because in my mind it made it last longer and made me think I was eating more and things like that.

 

Lauren’s experiences also changed her mum who has become more confident and spoken publicly to...

Lauren’s experiences also changed her mum who has become more confident and spoken publicly to...

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We’re great. My mum and dad, I’ve changed a lot as well, they’ve been through a lot and I think that they’ve become more understanding of people. They’ve sort of realised their own kind of calling in life as well I think. My mum’s become so much more confident. She would never speak kind of out about anything. She was always really shy. She wouldn’t travel anywhere and through what we’ve been through she’s, you know, stood up at healing conferences and spoke to carers. She’s been speaking to other carers on a personal level and helping them. She’s coming to New York as well and You know, just she’s become more confident and I think ‘cos she’s realised that, you know, she doesn’t when this life is gonna end or what’s gonna to happen in her life you just kind of have to take each day as it comes and live for the moment, kind of thing, and not be worrying about all these silly things and just putting life into perspective a little bit. And taking a few risks because they’re so worth it if you do and if it works out, you know, it’s gonna be great opportunities and I think that’s really changed her and it’s been good to see that change in her. I think that’s come through my illness because she’s had to be stronger and she’s had to be more confident and she had to do that. 

 

Lauren said her sister has been “the bravest” in the family.

Lauren said her sister has been “the bravest” in the family.

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Yeah, we’re really close. We get on really well. She’s being my bridesmaid next year so we’ve been doing some wedding planning and stuff for it, which has been great, but yeah, she’s always been just there, like she’d never say anything. And through my illness, she wouldn’t really talk to me about it but she was always just there and I think she’s probably the bravest actually, because for all that time I was getting all the attention and she was just starting university and that going through those changes herself, but she had to deal with. Oh no, everybody was asking about Lauren and everybody wanted to know about what I was going through and everybody wanted to make sure that I was okay and seeing that stress and strain in the family I think that must have been quite difficult for her but she never let it show. And she never did sort of stroppy sister thing or said, “Oh, why, what about me?” And she managed to get through her uni and stuff and she’s training to be a nurse and, you know, she did one of her studies on eating disorders and was able to ask me about it and things and I think.
 
She’s yeah, she’s just been great and I think it’s probably made her a bit stronger as well and, and come through her life a bit better.
 
 

“Never ever give up on us”.

“Never ever give up on us”.

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It’s gonna be frustrating and it’s gonna be difficult but it’s just so important that these young people get the help and just not giving up on them. Never, never give up on somebody. Always fighting for them and although we might say we don’t want the help and we hate going I think, deep down, we really do want the help and we do want to go and just to really, I really admire people who do that kind of treatment ‘cos it must be really frustrating. And it must be so difficult, but just to never give up and to always keep trying. Yeah but it is difficult.

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