Steevie - Interview 07

Brief Outline: Steevie, a 20 year old student nurse, has been diagnosed with bulimia. She attends an eating disorder clinic, has been having counselling and has been referred to a psychologist. Steevie would like to reduce her BMI (body mass index) from 36 to below 25. Ethnic background: Black mixed.
Background: See 'brief outline'.

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Steevie, a 20 year old student nurse, has been diagnosed with bulimia. She attends an eating disorder clinic, has been having counselling and has been referred to a psychologist. Steevie says that all the women in her family are big and that food was central to her family life. Steevie says that although they were eating healthy meals at home, the portions they ate were too big – and she didn’t realise this until she went to eat at a friend’s house. While she was growing up, her mum was always on a diet and Steevie would usually go on the diet with her as a way of being close to her. Steevie had been blaming herself when the diets she tried didn’t work.
Steevie had always been happy with her weight, because she wasn’t being bullied and it wasn’t seen as a problem at home. When she reached puberty, Steevie developed big hips and breasts and this meant she got a lot of unwanted attention from older men. When she got to 15, Steevie says her family’s attitude changed, and they told her she was too big. Steevie started making herself sick after eating after seeing a programme on TV. This helped her to lose weight for a short while but then stopped working. Steevie continued to secretly go through a cycle of binge eating and then ‘purging’ for about 5 years. At first, purging helped Steevie feel in control; but now, she says she’s “pretty much lost all control.” At one point, Steevie gained 6 stone in one year, taking her up to 20 stone. Around this time, Steevie’s grandmother was unwell, and Steevie was told to stop doing all her usual sports because she had a history of breaking bones.
When she’s bingeing, Steevie will compulsively eat anything that’s available and she’s missed lectures and trains as a result. The purging also means that Steevie has lost some of her teeth (because they were so badly eroded), has stabbing pains in her ribs, passes out and sometimes her throat bleeds. She also had a spell in hospital with pneumonia and at one point, her periods stopped. Steevie says replacing the food that she’s binged on is really expensive – one week she spent £200. Steevie also abuses diet pills, water pills (diuretics), and laxatives too. Even though Steevie is aware of the health risks of what she’s doing, she can’t stop. Eventually, Steevie’s housemates at university noticed there something wrong and urged Steevie to get help.
Steevie, who is 5’7”, says she would ideally like to weigh 8 stone and to reduce her BMI (body mass index) from 36 to below 25 - she believes that if she was thin, she would be a more acceptable person. She says you don’t see images of women who are bigger and happy with their size. She also feels that women are supposed to be smaller than men, and that in her past relationships she felt uncomfortable about being bigger than her boyfriend.
Now Steevie is getting help, she says she’s starting to question her behaviour and beliefs and she recommends that other young people get help straight away.

Caribbean food and cooking is important to Steevie's family.

On Sundays we’d always go down to my Grandma’s house and it would be big Caribbean cooked foods, so there would be about three different meats, about two or three different rices, like there’d be like a vegetable rice, and a plain rice and then like a curried rice. And loads of side dishes, like, and then there’d be starters and huge desserts, and my whole family bakes, including me, and my family’s is ginormous, like my Mum has six sisters and my Dad has two sisters and five brothers, so everybody, like it was just tradition, everyone makes a dish and carries it.
And I love baking, I’ve probably got that from my Aunt and my Grandma who taught me, so we’d always be making loads and loads of desserts. And in the weekdays as well, I’d come home and, it was like a little thing, me and my big brother and Mum used to always bake and she’d let us like lick out the dough and the mixtures and stuff, and it seems really fun now but when you look back and think how unhealthy that was, it was shocking. But yeah, so it was always loads of Caribbean foods when we were at home. It was like just kind of normal meals, but huge portions and like, if we did well at school we’d always have a big meal where the whole family would come over to celebrate or, again with birthdays, anything, any excuse there’d be some kind of big massive party with food to go along with it. 

Steevie’s grandmother called her ‘my chubby princess’ until she suddenly changed her mind one day and said Steevie was 'too big'.

Yeah, right from when I was a baby. I mean all the children in my family have been about 9lbs and over at birth. And I was no exception, I was about 9lb 4. My youngest sister she was 6lbs, and we all thought she was ill, everyone was like, “Oh my God there’s something wrong!” But no, she was just a normal child. But yeah, all the children in our family have always just been big. And my cousin’s probably the only one that’s now kind of come down and she’s about a size 12. But the rest of us are all 16, 18 and above. So yeah that’s kind of how it is. My little sister’s quite small, but then she’s always been small, from birth she’s always been quite small so.
So in terms in terms of in your family you fit in size-wise if you like?
Yeah. I mean I did fit in pretty much all the way until I got to about 15 then all of a sudden my Grandma was like, “No that’s too big now. You need to go down.” But it was literally instant, it was, all of my life up to 15 I was the cute chubby princess like my Grandma called me, and then literally one day I went round there and suddenly I was too big, and it was the opposite. “Oh you’re too big, you’ve got to lose weight, it’s too much, de da de da.” From then onwards, so it was kind of, I think it was like a conflict, like a conflict in my mind, and it was like, “What happened, what changed? When did I suddenly got over that barrier? When was big not good enough anymore?”

Steevie found that purging and losing weight made her feel more in control.

I think with the whole eating and throwing up thing it was just control. It’s just something I can do, it was also a bit of a power trip because it was secretive and when I did start, I mean I lost a few, I lost a bit of weight on that when I first started doing it more intensely, and I think people started noticing and saying nice things, and yet me and Mum were still dieting together as well, so it was almost like we were kind of both on the same level, we were both losing weight at the same time, but it was like this extra thing that I was doing, and it was just kind of made me feel a little bit more powerful I suppose. And that just made it worse, so I’d just keep doing it and get better at it, and I used to research it, and get online and see if I could do it better.
So how much weight were you losing from doing that?
Mum and I were losing about on average 3lbs a week, that was when I was about 18, and then I went, I got to 19, got into college was doing 5 A-levels and just stopped everything and I just went whoosh and just got even bigger and then, came to Uni, went the other way. I think I could binge and purge more without having to be worried that my Mum would either walk in on me in the bathroom or anything like that, or that my brother would hear because I was really close to my little brother, and he’d follow me everywhere. So I’d have to really make sure that he wasn’t around, and I think when I got to Uni it became, I just was so free I could just do whatever I wanted, do it more often, and more frequent, and the weight just, I just lost quite a lot of weight. Like when I came to Uni I was 6 stone heavier and that came off within about 4 months of being at Uni, it just came off, and I went home and everyone noticed. Everyone was going, “Oh God you look amazing.” And I remember one of my aunts that I hadn’t seen in a while, said to me, “Oh my God I can see your chin, you have a chin now.” And on the one hand it was like, “Oh my God was I that bad before?” but on the other hand it was such a power trip it just escalated, and escalated and escalated.

Steevie describes how she starts bingeing and says her brain goes into ‘overdrive’.

Before it was, had a really bad day, noticed something, like maybe noticed one of my friends looked a bit smaller and that would spark one, and it would literally just kind of, I think it was a part of like, because literally it’s like my brain is thinking in overdrive, and I’d think about everything, to just get away, to shut up for just a little while, cram as much food in as possible, and you’re thinking so much about what you’re eating that you don’t think about anything else for that little while. But then you get so full, to the point where you can’t swallow anymore, and you’re like, “Well I’ve got to get rid of this,” because then you just feel terrible and you go and you get rid of it, and then you feel better for a while. And then you feel really bad because you’ve eaten it and you’re not sure if you’ve gotten rid of all of it, and if you have then you’re worried about your stomach lining because of what you’ve read, and then if you haven’t gotten rid of all of it, then how much calories is still left inside you and therefore you should just restrict for a while, just to make sure you haven’t kind of, if you have taken in any, you’re kind of getting rid of it by not eating.
But that’s how it used to be constantly, but now it’s kind of like, I think now it’s because it went on so long sometimes it’s a bit uncontrollable like, I don’t sleep very well, at all, and I wake up and just need to go and binge, or like I’ll get home from uni and not be thinking about food at all, but thinking like what’s on TV or what I’ve got to study next, and next thing I’m in the kitchen and I’m just finding whatever I can find, and literally you binge on whatever’s there, it’s not like, “Oh I think I fancy some chips, I fancy a big portion of chips,” it’s not like that - it’s literally whatever you can find that’s what you will eat.
So I think that’s just how it is like, for instance today I came home and I went to the ED [eating disorder] clinic and they’d booked me wrong, they told me to come at 2 o’clock but apparently it was at 11 o’clock, and it takes me 2 hours to get there, and I got home and I was drenched and I was freezing and came home and all I remember is dropping my bag, and the next thing I remember I was sitting here and I had, oh I can’t even remember now, I think it was like, a bit of cake that was in the fridge and some, a bag of those pre-made salad and, something else.. a bag of crisps, and literally it was whatever I could find. I mean at one point I’ve got through a loaf of bread, just bread by itself, like nothing on it, just bread.

Steevie explains how she got into a cycle of bingeing and purging.

So yeah I got to about 15 and then was just wondering “Oh what am I going to do, how am I going to get this down?” You know, you’re in school and there was a guy, and it’s just like, “Oh I really need to get my weight down so I can be more attractive,” and I think that’s what it was like majorly about, and then, it came on TV once, just about eating and throwing up after. And I kind of went, “Oh that could be a good idea, that might work.” Because as I’ve said, family was always had food for every occasion, so it would be a way to do what you wanted, eat what you wanted, and still be able to like get rid of it after and be fine, not to worry about putting on your calories or anything like that.
So I started doing that for a while. And then I said I’ll do it for about a week, and in a week I’d lost about 6lbs, so I wanted to carry on doing it. And then it just kind of got worse and worse and worse. Well I thought I was getting better and better because I could do it more easily, and you could kind of lie your way out of any situation, and find another reason to run to the bathroom after or, so it just kind of got, escalated from there, and then went to my grandma’s house and she was like, “Oh you look lovely, you’re losing some,” and it just kind of was such a nice feeling, it just kind of escalated I suppose. And then my cousin called one day and was just like, “I’ve just been worried about you recently, I don’t know you just keep coming into my mind, are you alright?”
So I told her what I was doing, and she just went, “Oh you must tell your Mum now. Now, tell her now.” And I was like, “No I’m not telling her, she’d freak. I’m not telling her anything.” And she just said, “Oh if you don’t tell her, I’m going to tell her.” And I was really, really close to my cousin, like we were like best friends. She was more like my big sister. And then I told my Mum because she said she would otherwise. And my Mum, as I expected went nuts. She just kind of freaked out and shouted at me, was like, “Oh you’re being stupid, you know.” By then it was kind of like something I did, it was just natural, it became really natural, just something I did and it was I suppose an easy way out. So, I just told her, “Okay I won’t do it anymore.” And I carried on and didn’t tell her. And that was around 15.
It kind of just carried on from there till now. And I’ve pretty much been doing it ever since. But it’s only when it got to like 17 that it became more than just a weight thing. It was like being for any situation like if I had a bad day at college it would be just, “Oh I’ll binge and purge.” And it would just make, kind of make things easier. I stopped thinking about stuff. Or like I had a really bad break up at one point with my ex and that again made it worse, and it got up to like 5 times a day, and then started restricting on top of that so it was like, I kind of had a cycle, it was like, okay don’t eat anything for a while, then I’d get just ridiculously hungry and eat loads, and feel bad and get rid of it, and then say I won’t do it again for a while. And that’s kind of how it went on and on and on.

Steevie explains how her bulimia got worse and worse.

It’s like someone took the blacked glasses off and all of a sudden I could notice everything, and, you know, I’d look in the mirror and everything was not just a bit big, it was ginormous. And I just remember being petrified one day, I was getting dressed and I was petrified, I remember looking in the mirror and just thinking, “Oh my God, what’ve I done? What’s happened? How did I let myself get like this?” And I remember going to school that day, and all my friends like, “What’s the matter, you’re really quiet today, you’re really quiet?” And I just couldn’t look them in the eye because, and when I was looking at them, I wasn’t looking at them I was looking at their bodies and looking at everyone’s bodies and looking at, all the girls with the guys and, looking at my teachers. I remember looking at my teachers and thinking, “Oh God I’m even bigger than my teachers.” And, everything just became so noticeable to such, on such a big scale, it was like I just wanted to stay in the house, and never ever leave, but obviously I couldn’t. And I just think since then I’ve always been like that, I just think I’ve always just kind of noticed everything.
And I’ll look at everything like strangers, I’ll be on the bus and somebody’ll be holding onto the banister thing and I’ll notice their wrists are smaller than mine, and it’s just really literally if you could hear what went off in my head on a daily basis you’d think I was nuts, but yeah, and it just kind of got worse and worse and worse, but it just became so normal for me to notice those things, my eating would also adapt to that so, I’d go from eating huge meals to… this was like when I was at home, the same meal portion but just noticing everything, like every spoonful I’d take I’d be trying to estimate how much calories was in it. And you know when Mum was cooking and I was watching her cook, I’d be like, “Yeah, that’s about 10 calories, yeah that’s about 100, that’s about…” you know, I’d be noticing everything, and I’d notice what other people were eating, and I’d sit there thinking,”How are you eating that and not thinking about your calorie intake and your fat intake?” and all that stuff. So I think it was just that I couldn’t, like even though, but because that’s how we ate at home, even though I couldn’t really stop it because then my Mum would get suspicious and so I carried on eating the same way, but I just noticed it more, and I think if anything it just made me feel worse, and therefore the bulimia got worse. And that’s just kind of how it went on and on and on.
And it’s really interesting that you said, you know, you felt like you were kidding yourself, and then it was as if the sort of, you know, the blinkers were taken away, and all of a sudden you could see the truth. And I guess it’s so interesting that that you felt like you were kidding yourself because, before then would you say, before that point would you say that you were happy with your size?
No. But everyone else was in my family, so it didn’t bother me that much. I’ve always kind of been a people-pleaser, and the people at school it had gone past the point where, like I wasn’t being bullied, and I’d made friends and it didn’t bother anyone so, it never bothered me. And then at home it was the same, it, it never caused any problem and no-one said anything so it never bothered me. And even though I wasn’t exactly happy, because no-one else was being made upset by it all - like it didn’t seem to be affecting them - it didn’t kind of make me want to do much about it,

Steevie doesn't entirely share her mum'’s belief that her genes are responsible for her weight.

When I was just hitting puberty, that’s when he was like, “Oh you’re a bit on the big side, but  don’t worry about it ‘cos you know, you’re hitting puberty now, so it’ll probably come off in time.”
And then, I remember leaving and me and Mum joking about it, and she was like, “Oh don’t worry. They don’t understand, you know, it’s genetics, and our family is like that. So they can’t measure you with another girl your age,” and, you know, they couldn’t measure you in the same way, because, our family is very different, and whereas, and it’s true ‘cos my, well I don’t think it’s all true, I think obviously I was just eating too much.

It took Steevie a while to trust her counsellor but he has helped.

Not at first, it took me a while to trust him, but just because I mean for 5 years I hadn’t told anyone.
So it took me a, quite a while, and also I didn’t go for the right reasons, I went to shut my friends up basically. And after a while I kind of, I actually had a really bad day, about an hour before I went to see him, so I went to see him and it just kind of all spilled out, and it just kind of kept going from then and that’s when I kind of opened up and carried on opening up, so he was really helpful after a while. He was, I remember one thing, one of the techniques he used was just to say what I’d said to him back to me, but in a different way. And I remember it just sounded so weird, I was thinking, “Did I say that?” And I did, it was just the way he said it was like, oh, and it really kind of opened my mind to mm this isn’t that great; this isn’t the best thing to be doing. One of the things he said to me was, “As a student nurse if you had to deal with a patient that had exactly the same symptoms as you, was doing the same things as you, what would you say?” And I was like, “Why are you asking me that for, you know what I’d say?” I was really annoyed but he was right, he was dead right, and I was like, oh,  “I’d be trying to convince ‘em to stop and I’d say, I’d tell ‘em all the gory details of how it was affecting them and stuff, to try to scare ‘em out of it.” But I, he was just right, it was totally on par with exactly what he should have been saying, but it just kind of like wasn’t nice to hear, ‘I suppose I was in denial.
You said he was sort of saying things to you when you were sort of thinking, “Oh actually maybe that’s not quite…
…the right way to think about things.” Was that the first point where that sort of happened, where you kind of got that sort of change in thinking?
Yeah it was kind of the first point where I, I suppose challenged my ideas. I didn’t really believe him or want to believe him, but I, I could just hear his voice ringing in my head every time I was thinking of certain things or like, looking at how much thinner that girl was, I’d hear him you know ringing in my head, like , “not everyone’s supposed to be that size, or she may be that size but she may have other health problems,” and, you know, just little things he’d say that I’d just kind of start remembering, so I suppose that’s when I started challenging my ideas. 

Health professionals should 'be nicely blunt'.

Be nicely blunt. Don’t, don’t go, “Oh sweetie” and beat around the bush because it’s just, it give you excuses to, if you be too nice about it you can all, the person can always think, “Oh actually it’s not that bad because they’re being so nice.” But then if you be too blunt it, it can just scare you off. So you need to find like a kind of that that nice even that kind of perfect in between. That’s why I say you need to be kind of like nicely blunt, so, enough that they can notice okay this is not right and do something about it, but not enough to scare them off. ‘Cos I think I’ve had both, I’ve had on, you know, one occasion with the first ED [eating disorder] clinic, they were just too much too soon, and it completely scared me off. And then the other, the other way where family and the doctors in London are saying oh, it’s not, you know, it’s not that bad, so, you didn’t really do much about it. I think so. You could lose it; it was easy to fob off.
Can you give me an example, I mean I don’t know if you’ve been in a situation where they got that balance right, that you can think of?
Okay, the nurse in the health centre said, she said to me, “Oh, you’re, you’re too lovely to be suffering like this. And, you know, there’s so many ways you could get help to not do it.” And, “It seems really hard and like its miles and miles away for you to ever get close enough to get in it, but actually it doesn’t have to be that hard, and you don’t have to be going through it, and your life could be normal.” And it was just like if she was kind of so keen to do it maybe I should be too. And also she doesn’t know me that well, and if she kind of still has that drive to get me all these contacts to go and get help for it, then maybe it’s worthwhile doing. So I think she was a perfect in-between. She was blunt, but she was really nice with it so. 

Steevie found the BEAT website helpful and supportive because she understood what the others on the site were going through.

I think just because I’ve kind of, I notice well all the bad points, I’ve obviously of what I’m doing, whereas before, I just did not see at all. So that’s going wrong. I just think I’m kind of probably on the first step at the moment, I’m just kind of questioning things, and things will probably slowly start to change. And obviously I know I’ve got a long way to go, but they are gradually starting to change and  I go onto the “Beat” website which is quite a good one just because there’s other girls on there just going through the same thing and it’s nice to kind of talk about it and not have to worry about if everyone thinks you’re a bit weird, and you’re on it, so that’s nice.

Does that help?

Yeah it does, you go on there, some, sometimes the girls are like, “Oh this has happened so I’ve had such a big binge, and it’s like four times a day, you would have thought I’d stopped, and, you know, I can’t keep going, and it’s getting a lot more harder to purge” and your sitting there thinking, “I know exactly what you’re talking about.” And it just, it is nice. ‘Cause sometimes like you could tell people but if they’re not going through it, then it’s hard to, they don’t really get it.  
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