Recovering from an eating disorder is a gruelling battle against your own mind, toying with perceptions of self, insecurities, and the judgemental eye of society, while trying to maintain a ‘normal’ life. And it’s a battle many people don’t win.
The debilitating nature of addiction makes cases like Regan Slatic, a university student from California who suffered with bulimia, even more inspiring and important to understand.
The 21-year-old, who once frequented the toilet to vomit her meals out and competed with her peers to consume the least calories, has now come out the other side with the invaluable commodity of self-love.
Regan explained that the eating disorder started when she was 15 in 2012, saying it was the age when ‘every girl is insecure about her body because it’s still changing and developing’.
Speaking to UNILAD, Regan said:
I had naturally thicker legs and I remember running during PE class and having some girls and boys point and whisper at me and later on had a friend tell me that I was nicknamed ‘Thunder Thighs’.
This was also around the time that Tumblr blogs that promoted anorexia and bulimia were a huge thing, and these blogs sold me the idea that if I were skinnier, if I had a thigh gap, if my collarbones stuck out and I could count my ribs…that I would be happy, and I eagerly bought that idea.
I let everyone else’s opinion of my body affect me way too much. In my freshman year of high school, I dated a senior who constantly ridiculed me for ‘being too tall’ and if I was going to ‘be that tall, I should at least make sure I was skinny, otherwise I look like a man.’ Those words affected me a lot, and soon after I started dieting and working out a lot.
I also read Tumblr blogs promoting bulimia religiously, telling myself that the only way I could be beautiful was if I lost five pounds…and when I lost those five pounds, I’d be beautiful if I lost five more, and five more.
I remember feeling a competitive nature with quite a few girls to see who could eat the least amount of calories, who could workout harder, etc. If a friend told me their coffee from Starbucks they got everything morning was only a certain amount of calories, I’d make sure to change my usual coffee order to have less calories than theirs.
If they told me how they burned 500 calories at the gym that day, I’d go out of my way to make sure I burnt 600 or 700 when I went to the gym next. I kept telling myself that I was ‘competing to be the skinniest and have the best body’ but really the only person I was competing with was myself.
Regan explained the ‘slippery slope’ she found herself on when the eating disorder took over her life. Dieting was the guise under which she concealed the disorder, both to herself and others, and because of this, Regan struggled to admit she had a problem.
I wasn’t ready to admit that something was wrong with me and that bingeing and purging and skipping meals had taken over my life.
The act of starving myself, bingeing on too much food and then throwing it all up had become a comforting routine that I wasn’t ready to give up, the idea of gaining weight and getting better seemed nonexistent.
I even struggled with it all through my freshman year of college, even after joining a sorority. A few times I’d even gotten caught vomiting in a bathroom in my old sorority house and I played it off to being ‘hungover’ because that was easier than admitting to someone that I wasn’t okay, that I had an actual problem.
Regan said she had tried ‘crying for help’ by writing on anonymous slips of paper during a bonding exercises ‘I have an eating disorder and want to get better but I don’t know how’, but said they were ‘always overlooked’.
A year ago, following sessions with a doctor and psychologist, Regan made the decision that she would no longer withhold food from herself or force herself to purge again.
She gained an understanding that the eating disorder ‘stemmed long ago from a lot of deeply rooted issues that I wanted to fix’ and she ‘wanted more than anything to stop being controlled by the routine of bingeing/purging, skipping meals, counting calories, and working out far too often’.
Regan decided that ‘enough was enough’ and she was going to take her life back, adding that her relationship with ‘an amazing man’ who makes her feel incredible about herself and gives her extra love on the days when ‘those negative voices do creep back into my head’.
Regan told us about the messages she received since posting her photos to Twitter:
I have received an overwhelming amount of direct messages on Twitter from people asking for help, wanting to know how I got to where I was, and I told every one of them that the fact they wanted to know how I got better was huge in itself.
The hardest part of recovery is actually wanting to get better. The moment you decide you want to get better, you want to stop letting anorexia/bulimia/any other eating disorder take over your life, you already have control.
It takes work to look at yourself in the mirror and like what you see and to love yourself inside and out, and it takes work. But one day you’re going to look at yourself in the mirror and not be able to count your ribs, your collarbone won’t jut out, and the number on the scale will be much higher than it once was... and you won’t panic, you’ll actually feel at peace; when that happens, that means you’ve won.
Without having suffering from an eating disorder, it's difficult to empathise with the struggles people face whilst being consumed by it, and there are many commonly held misconceptions.
Regan explained her thoughts on these misconceptions:
I’d say the most common misconceptions are that eating disorders/bulimia are a quick fix to lose some weight, and honestly, that can often be how it starts.
You withhold food from yourself for a short period to lose a few pounds, you make yourself vomit after a meal so you aren’t bloated, but that’s the most slippery slope and not worth it.
Another misconception is: why don’t you just eat? Why don’t you just not throw up? Because it’s not that easy, it’s an addiction, and if it was something you could give up cold turkey, it wouldn’t be a disorder.
At 5 ft 6.5 inches Regan weighed just over 100 pounds at her lightest, and the 'countless times' she forced herself to purge has left her with permanent damage to the enamel on her teeth.
In terms of psychological scars, Regan said she has a 'hole in my heart' knowing she 'wasted some of the best years' of her young life 'obsessing over calorie intake and making excuses to leave meals with friends and family' so that she could make herself vomit or work out excessively.
All she wanted to do was lose weight, but with sadness she explained that she 'ended up losing out on memories and opportunities as well'.
After getting to this point in her journey, Regan's biggest lesson she learned is:
If you’re hungry, EAT. Don’t withhold yourself of anything you want, whatever it may be, especially food.
It is what gives you the energy to be the best version of yourself, and although it’s hard to develop a healthy relationship with it, food should be your best friend not your worst enemy.
She now loves herself and is happy with her body and how she looks, so she posts photos of herself in 'crop tops, short shorts, and bikinis'.
Despite now looking very healthy, Regan still receives horrible comments about how her body looks, trying to bring her down, but the strength she has come out with means she doesn't take them to heart.
In response to horrible comments, Regan said:
Guess what: I do think I’m hot! And I love that I think that! I love feeling beautiful, and I love posting photos that make me feel beautiful.
Although the negative comments of others do hurt my feelings, it feels even better to look at myself and love what I see because for so long, I didn’t.
With at least 30 million people suffering from an eating disorder in the US and around 1.25 million in the UK, it is becoming increasingly crucial that, as a society, we have empathy, understanding, and support for those affected.
If you have been affected by the content in this article and want support with eating disorders, you can call the BEAT helpline on 0808 801 0677.