My struggle with bulimia | Benenden Health

British actress Helena Grace Donald, who appears in the latest Hellraiser film, tells of her battle with bulimia

If I had known when I was a teenager what I know now, I never would have suffered from bulimia. Bulimia doesn’t just ‘happen’ to somebody – it’s a build-up of pressure, negative thinking, insecurity, despair and a desire to control that feels uncontrollable. Like most young girls, I wanted to look good and be cool, popular and successful.

My idea of what that would look like was formed by the images on magazine covers, advertising billboards and the social media sites of influencers such as top models, actresses and celebrities. They all seemed to fit into a certain ‘perfect’ body mould that, to my young, impressionable self, seemed to be a necessary requirement for happiness and success.

My emerging female body did not want to conform to this ‘perfect’ mould. So, in my pursuit of ‘perfection’, I started dieting and working out like crazy. My body would then rebel against the physical and emotional punishment I was putting it through.

I tried to numb the whirlwind of emotions, so I would binge on everything I could get my hands on to numb the feelings of despair that were bubbling up inside me. This resulted in weight gain, which would cause me to panic and go on another diet.

I yo-yoed between dieting and bingeing all through sixth form, but because the dieting had caused my metabolism to slow down my body didn’t burn up the binge calories quickly enough and I put more weight on each time. The stress of this combined with the pressures of studying for exams and my constant need to strive for perfection all became too much. I felt out of control, but I had to keep it all together to cope with school, so I started throwing up my meals in a desperate attempt to empty myself of calories, as well as the negative emotions building up inside me. I felt so alone with my shameful secret.

At age 19, I hit rock bottom. Over three years I had gained a lot of weight and no matter what I did, I couldn’t shift it. Dieting, bingeing and purging had wrecked my metabolism, played havoc with my emotions and left me feeling demoralised and hopeless. I knew I couldn’t go on living like this. It felt dangerous and I knew it had to stop. 

I knew that throwing up was becoming seriously harmful to my body and I wanted to stop, but I didn't know how, so I finally admitted to my mother that I was bulimic.

I began to use therapy to calm my need to purge. I finally quit dieting because my metabolism was so messed up by it. I learned what it was like to nourish your body through the foods you eat, rather than depriving it. I had to forgive myself for all the pain I had caused myself and every single day I had to learn to make peace with my body and learn to love and accept the skin I’m in. I found freedom in my life and body. And as a side effect, even though I was no longer punishing my body to lose weight, my body found its equilibrium and I'm happier and healthier than I've ever been.

If you're a Benenden member and experiencing emotions like the ones described within this article, you can access support 24/7 via the psychological wellbeing helpline. Call 0800 414 8247 to speak to a qualified therapist. 

See also Beat, the UK’s eating disorders charity

Helena Grace Donald’s book, Learning to Love the Girl in the Mirror: A Teenage Girl’s Guide to Living a Happy and Healthy Life, is priced at £11.85. Further information can be found here.