The part Kenny show on news talk with Marter private network during current restrictions. Don't ignore your health concerns. Our expert team is ready to help. Eating disorders have the highest mortality and morbidity of all the mental health conditions. It's estimated they will affect between one and four percent of the population at some point in their lives. Emma McGovern, who is in recovery from an eating disorder, is on the line now. We're mocking Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and we want to talk about the importance of highlighting this illness and those living with it.
Emma, good morning. Good morning.
Thanks for having me. Well, we're delighted to have have you now talk to me about how all of this began because it is related to Lockdown's of the pandemic.
Yeah. And so it goes where it all began for me was in the first lockdown. There was no kinsfolk somewhere in such an unprecedented time that we had so much time on our hands. I haven't had time to think and not a lot really to think about for how I looked and how I felt about how I looked. So I had the time to focus on my health and fitness and preparing food and all that. So basically it started from there, as in if you felt like you weren't doing something productive with your time, you were nearly failing.
And so I just spoke on to food and exercise as a way to cope with that unprecedented time.
Now, just talk to me about how you were before this particular episode of I, where you very fit, where you have very health conscious. I mean, did you mind what you would eat, that kind of thing or you go on?
I, I, I played a lot of football with my local pub. I walked everywhere. I did a lot of running. I was living as I was quite healthy lifestyle. But I suppose I just kind of took it to another level during the first walk. I mean, before the lockdown, when you were out there doing all this exercise, playing for your club and so on, could you eat what you liked? You know, because you're spending a lot of energy in your sporting activities.
And I always use that as an excuse for having a slice of cake anyway. You know, if I've gone for a long walk. Well, I deserve a slice of cake or whatever it is afterward. But could you eat what you liked before all of this? Absolutely.
I had what I wanted when I wanted. And that is the ideal that I'm working towards now, I suppose, is to get back to the place where I can do things and not feel all the feelings afterwards, all the feelings of guilt and anxiety that go along with this. That is the ultimate goal for me. Now, you talk about exercising and concentration on what you were eating, did you get to the point that, you know, you're over exercising, if you like, and underfeeding?
Absolutely. It happens quite quickly. I think it started off as going for runs and eventually the runs got longer. And so for me, like a typical day would be I'd get up, I go for a run. I wouldn't have done anything for us. I would run probably between five and 10 kilometres. And then I get back and I eat my breakfast. But I would stick rigorously to time schedules that I'd set out for myself. And I would only eat a certain amount of calories at certain times of the day.
And I might go to work with having run a big amount and then also eating a lot. And I come home and I'd have dinner. And I say that in in common because it was usually not dinner food, you know, it was usually just something very small. I go for a walk then if I came home from work and I might then go for football training on top of that and and in between bars, all the all the thoughts that I would be having was thinking about how much I eat.
And I'd be thinking about how much I Birdsall did I do enough to eat the foods I love to have, but just told myself that I couldn't. I was just completely and utterly consumed with pots of food and exercise and numbers. My whole life revolves around this for a very long period of time. Now, what physical effects were you observing in yourself or did you observe them or did it take other people to say, hang on a second?
You know, initially, if people lose weight, people often compliment them on it. But that's not necessarily the right thing to do.
Yeah, exactly. I suppose the first thing that I was noticeable with me was that I did lose weight and which again, was met with praise by people that didn't know that I'd lost it in a healthy way that I had. And I always had an excuse. I've already eaten or football. Later I'm not going to eat. So I avoid meals for like the first thing that I noticed was obviously weight loss push towards, I'd say, September time when it was getting colder.
I was absolutely freezing all the time to the point that it was actually painful. My hands, like feet were very, very cold all the time. I had to go all over my body, which is like a fine hair. And it's basically your body's way of trying to insulate itself. And I still have notes and hair loss in my head and arms amenorrhoea, which is loss of menstruation. And I'm I'm still bothered with these things every day.
But I suppose the only thing that people would see. Would be the weight loss, and that was the one thing that people honed in on, they don't see the rest of these things very the amount of things that go along with the weight loss. Is way more catastrophic in the long term. Now, did anyone intervene, did any of your pals, your football team-mates, or would ever say, hang on a second, you know, you're not looking as fit as you were because you can't be that fit?
If you're losing, you're going to lose muscle tone as well.
Exactly. Yeah. My mom noticed, as mothers do, she noticed quite quickly after I lost a good bit of weight and she tried every single day to intervene. But I didn't want this. I didn't want her help. She really did go to the ends of the Earth to try and show me the damage that I was doing. But I was so I'm so engrossed in the illness that I didn't see the problem. I really, really didn't like the eating disorder.
Boys told me that there was it was no problem. So I pushed her away and she tried and tried and tried, as any mother would. But I just I wouldn't hear it. But one day I was in my kitchen and Goldway and my housemates, Ashley, sat me down and said, look, this is this is the problem. I'm worried about you. And, you know, I want to help you in any way possible. She just she said, I just want my friend back, but I know I want her and not this person who is just so consumed with how they looked and exercise and everything.
And it just it hit me then there that I needed help and I could not do it alone. And there is no shame for asking for help because the people you love, like my mom, they want to help me. And there was I was never going to be begrudged or blamed for asking for help. And in fact, asking for help is probably the most powerful thing that I did throughout my whole eating disorder is just reaching out and asking for help.
Now, what form did that help take? I mean, did you go to a GP or who did you talk to or how?
Because this we know is a mental condition rather than simply a physical condition is a mental condition with physical manifestations, I suppose.
Yes. Yeah, yeah. So I with the help of my friend, I, I rang my mom and I told her she said, yes, fine, I know. But there is no point in me telling you, you know, you have to come to that realisation yourself. So it's so hard. It's not as you said, it's it's a mental illness and it affects everyone around you. But so I rang my GP and I made appointments the next day to to go and see her.
And that was just before Christmas. And it just everything happened from there, I suppose. Now, you've actually given your problem a name because you don't want it to be you.
Yeah, and so I call her Debrecen, and that's not that's not a bad luck on anyone. Call Deborah. But it was just a name of no, I don't know anyone called everand so I wanted to personify it. And it wasn't me. It's not me. And I know it's not me, but it is a big part of me. And so I suppose when you take that step back and look at it as something that's not you and it's a separate entity, it becomes a bit easier to voice.
Now, did you get any kind of referral to to help, and if so, what kind of help was that? Yeah, so I was obviously raised by my GP and she did all the primary tests and she referred me on to the mental health services where I met with a psychiatrist and a dietician and I had my own nurse and it just went from there. And I have to say that everybody that I've met in the public system has had their best interests at heart.
For me, there's not one person I met that didn't want the best for me. It's just been it's been phenomenal, really, the amount of support I've received. And I don't think a lot of people know that there is that level of support for people, because I certainly didn't until I experienced it first hand. Now, you also believe that a lockdown in this pandemic, as is, may be fertile ground for this kind of thing to prosper.
Oh, absolutely. And, you know, there's such pressure on social media myself, I'm actually I was on Instagram, but I actually do because it was just toxic for me personally. That's not to say it's toxic, but just I didn't know how to use it in a healthy way. So I actually deleted my Instagram account. But there is such pressure from social media during the first lock down. People are running five kilometres, 10 kilometres. You know, they were they were seen to be giving their best lives.
And again, like, you know, really felt like if you weren't doing something productive along those lines, but that you were feeling in a way and like there was so much pressure on how you looked and how you were spending your time. And it's it was just so unhealthy for me. So I actually deleted mainstream accounts altogether because there was this pressure that I couldn't live up to the standard does these random people on the line had created for me.
So I just took a step back and knew that it wasn't for me. And you also suspected that the people who adopt different diets, you know, they were omnivores, for example, they go vegetarian or they go vegan. Some people do that on principle, but some people are doing it to disguise maybe an eating disorder.
Yeah, absolutely. I know for myself, like one of the rules that I had set out for myself was to avoid meat. And I've never been a vegetarian before in my life. But it was just another way of to anything thought disorder and those disordered behaviours. So that's not to say, like you said, that people don't turn to veganism and vegetarianism and all these other diets and everything. It's not to say that people don't do that with the best interest of animals.
And all that I've heard I know from me and from talking to other people who have experience disorders that it's just another way to restrict under the guise of something else.
Now, finally, the question of mentioning this kind of thing in schools, you know, people may be reluctant teachers or in various classes reluctant to mention it in case it prompts people to go down this road.
But you would think that education is absolutely vital, that you've got to be upfront and open about this possibility in order to combat it.
Absolutely. It's it's it's so deeply rooted in me that I think that, you know, getting it at an early stage is proving to be more successful. And I think people are kind of they're nearly afraid to to probe the subject. Like you said, as to you know, they might shine a light on it, but the amount of people that suffer with this is is unprecedented. A lot of people do suffer with us with disordered eating habits, maybe not with an eating disorder, but with eating habits that are disordered.
And they don't realise they think it's normal to do all this intermittent fasting. I think it's pivotal in schools that it's highlighted and that, you know, I never thought speaking from a personal point of view, I never thought this would be me. I never thought that this would be my life, that I would be resigned to an eating disorder at such a young age that I never thought it would be me. And that is the thing with eating disorders.
They're so sneaky. And you never think that it's going to be you until it is. And then you have no resources to kind of fight that. So I definitely think it's something in schools that needs to be highlighted more because it's a rampant problem. And it's not just with females, you know, as society tends to highlight, it's males as well. And it's scary. And I think the numbers in the health system system for the next couple of months are going to highlight that this is a serious problem and we need to fight it head on.
Well, Emma, I want to thank you very much for talking to me, because I've got a huge insight into what you've gone through and how easily it could happen to others. And I thank you very much for joining us. That's Emma McGovern. And if you or someone you know has been impacted by the issues that we've raised during the conversation, you can contact Body Wise, the Eating Disorders Association of Ireland. It's a double number two one zero seven nine zero six two one zero seven nine zero six.