Special Report: Living with Bulimia
Liz Fraser, author of 'The Yummy Mummy's Survival Guide', on the eating and vomiting disorder that plagued her for more than 15 years
Sunday 29 October 2006
Liz Fraser is a successful author, broadcaster and mother of three young children. She wrote The Yummy Mummy's Survival Guide, a handbook for modern mothers. But despite her confident image, behind it all there is an insecure and anxious side to the 32-year-old, which caused her to battle bulimia for many years.
Her problems began at the age of 15, as her body started to change into that of an adult. "It's a strange feeling to be going through, and I believe that's when most young people's problems start. You are developing fast, and you are gaining weight as your body changes. You feel out of control and the only way for me to gain control of my body was with what I ate."
She believes her family thought that being fat was a sign of weakness. "I don't blame my mum in any way, but I grew up believing that physical appearance says a lot about you. Good people are thin, and being fat was a sign of being lazy. I felt that if I were fat I would be a failure."
Liz's feelings manifested themselves through first eating a lot, then being sick. "I used to make excuses as to why I wasn't eating at home. I would say I'd already eaten or I'd get something later. It became hard to hide it; so I found the perfect solution. My mum would make lovely family dinners. I was able to make her happy by eating them, and then make myself happy by throwing it all up."
Bulimia had a lower profile 20 years ago compared to today, and Liz - now living in Cambridge - managed to hide it from her family for over a year, by which point her purging had turned from a habit into an addiction. "There comes a point when you know that you want to stop but it has become a habit you can't break. Once I had talked to my parents they tried to understand, but they didn't know what to say or do."
The problem was at its worst when she was at Cambridge University. "It is an addiction, comparable to drugs and drink. When you wake up the first thing you think about is how to get your first binge. You live your life around making time for it. I told myself to go out, see friends, go to lectures. But it did not help."
By her third year at university she says she was much better. After she graduated she married Harry, whom she met in her first year studying psychology and neuroscience. "I didn't tell him I was bulimic but he knew I had a serious problem with food. He saved me. I know it sounds like a cliché, but he did. He held me and told me I would be all right."
For 18 months she was free of her problem. But it started again whenever she felt a lack of control in her life. A year after she had her first child the addiction came back. "For over 15 years I have battled this problem and I know the pattern. When life was a bit uncertain, I got control back by bingeing and purging. I hid it from Harry for a while, but I felt so guilty. I eventually told him and he was very understanding. I had counselling, and talking about it really helped." But Liz, who was a presenter on the BBC1 holiday show and whose second book is out in March, says that counselling could not have cured her.
"It was so hard to stop because, with most addictions, you have to stop doing the first thing that triggers the addiction. With bulimia, you can't stop eating. You have to train your mind and stop. You wouldn't say that to an alcoholic. Then, all of a sudden, one day it all fell into place. I woke up and felt happy".
Now, as a mother of three, she makes sure her children never hear negative comments about people's size. "A psychologist told me that the best thing you can do for your children is not to talk about body size. So they will never associate nice people with being thin and will learn to judge someone on their personality, not looks."
She plans to go back to Cambridge to talk to students about eating disorders. "It's so easy for people with bulimia to keep it a secret. Very often they don't lose a lot of weight, so it's hard to pick up on. I cannot understand people who use websites to encourage girls into developing an eating disorder. It borders on the criminal. I wish we wouldn't all want to look like famous people. I try to have more positive role models now - real women like Rachel Weisz."
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