In this powerful list Hope Virgo, author and found of #DumpTheScales, writes about her long, painful and exhausting experience of anorexia. As she explains, eating disorders are still one of the most stigmatised of illnesses, and at times it felt as if there was no way out for her, but she also tells us that full recovery really is possible.


  • I used to describe the anorexia as my best friend and worst enemy wrapped up into one. That thing that has the power over you to make you feel amazing, but at the same time make you feel worthless.

  • I entered into this toxic relationship with the anorexia when I was thirteen years old and at the time I honestly thought it was the only solution to life.

  • I had experienced an agonising 9 months of sexual abuse from and been left with these feelings that there was something categorically wrong with who I was that I had to change.

  • The anorexia created a new narrative for me which helped me to think maybe things would work out that maybe I would be enough one day.

  • The eating disorder became my only solution to life in that moment.

  • It gave me this real value and purpose, numbing emotions, distracting me. I thought if I just kept doing this then everything would be okay.

  • I remember sitting in the dining room at school offering my food to others, feeling guilty if I consumed anything.

  • I remember the sense of feeling invincible that the eating disorder gave me as I walked home in the dark.

  • I remember watching on as my parents told me I had to eat something, and the eating disorder telling them where to go. Watching on as my Dad’s eyes whirled with tears as I threw bread across the room and walked out with no care in the world.

  • The eating disorder became my dirty secret dictating my day to day over the next four years as I continued to do exactly what it told me.

  • Aged 16, and I am sitting there terrified in a Mental Health Hospital Outpatients Department waiting to be seen. My eyes darting all around the room trying to take in every possible thing.

  • The peeling ceiling, the outdated leaflets, the smell of fear gripping the entire room as we sat there waiting.

  • “Jennifer Hope Virgo” – the sharp shrill voice cutting through the deathly silence.

  • After what felt like a lifetime of listening to my Mum and the clinician discuss what was going on for me they asked me to fill in all the questionnaires.

  • My eyes darted down the questions.

  • “How do you feel in your body?” I hate it

  • “Do you feel guilty when you eat?” Yep

  • The questions were endless… but what do I say?

  • Do I tell them how I really feel about food? Do I tell them the truth about what is going on in my brain?

  • Do I tell them that every day is a mental torment and ridden by shame and guilt? That the fear is keeping me stuck? That I don’t see any way out of this?

  • That surely this thing that makes me feel so good a lot of the time can’t possibly be that bad.

  • As I sat there watching the Clinician go through the forms, calculating, looking back at his notes, my mind thought to that evening. What was I going to do to get out of dinner? What could I do to do my own thing…

  • “You have anorexia”; the Clinicians words disjointed my trial of thought.

  • I stared blankly ahead as my Mum turned to look at me. Her anxiety consuming the space in the room.

  • I sat in the car next to her on the way home, my mind elsewhere. What I was sure about was that I didn’t have anorexia. I knew the ‘sorts’ of people that had eating disorders and that wasn’t me.

  • The next six months continued in this monotonous way.

  • Weekly appointments with my mask well and truly up stating confidently each week that I was FINE!

  • Daily arguments.

  • Each night the same, climbing into bed with the smell of dry sweat lingering.

  • Each night having these moments when I wished the eating disorder would just disappear completely. Wishing that something would click overnight.

  • The next morning, it was as if I hadn’t had those late night wishes.

  • I would get up, weigh myself, pull on my trackies, take one look at myself in the mirror, head downstairs, open the fridge, take one look inside but my brain just would not let me.

  • “Just one more day and everything will be okay” the eating disorder told me.

  • I hung on to this promise… And my days, weeks and the next 6 months turned into the same structure.

  • What I didn’t realise on that fateful day over 14 years ago was that I would have a yearlong stint in a mental health hospital, a relapse years later and make so many mistakes in my own recovery before really beginning to understand the eating disorder and what it was doing for me.

  • In 2016 following a family bereavement I began to sink back into old ways of doing things. I let the eating disorder seduce me back in. Giving me once again that false sense of security and numbing all those things that I didn’t want to feel

  • I battled, hiding it from everyone around me, flirting with the idea that maybe this would make me feel better.

  • The thing with eating disorders is so often the severity of an eating disorder is judged on a person’s BMI it meant that for me, I was quite literally hiding the eating disorder in plain sight.

  • I looked fine on the outside, perhaps I was exercising a bit more or eating a bit more healthily but in our society those sorts of habits are praised and respected.

  • My Mum intervened after a few months and convinced me to get a referral. It was in one of these moments that I knew I really didn’t want to get unwell again.

  • I had told myself I would not end up living in hospital again with my life on hold so I promised her I had a plan.

  • We went together to the appointment.

  • Sitting in a waiting room like we had all those years ago waiting and longing for something to change.

  • We went in, talked over my history and what had been going on. I was beginning to feel heard, doing my best to be honest and communicate

  • “Let’s weigh you”

  • My eyes fell to the floor, and as I stood there on the scales, watching her calculate my BMI, I knew what was coming.

  • “So you aren’t actually underweight.”

  • I could feel my face reddening, the sweat beginning to form on my top lip.

  • It took all my energy to compose myself

  • Stuck in this limbo.

  • Not sure where to go, what to do.

  • I felt like a fake anorexic person.

  • The eating disorder telling me that I didn’t deserve support, that I was a failure.

  • After months of continuing to struggle, a near suicide attempt I ended up being put on anti-depressants and my road to recovery began…

  • Again…

  • Recovery from an eating disorder is long.

  • Recovery from an eating disorder is relentless at points.

  • Recovery is hard work and there is no short cut.

  • But recovery from an eating disorder is possible.

  • Recovery from an eating disorder is possible even when it feels there is no way out.

  • Recovery from an eating disorder is possible even when you don’t feel heard or understood.

  • Recovery from an eating disorder is messy and exhausting but it will be so worth it.

  • Eating disorders are one of the most stigmatised illnesses, one that is often viewed as a lifestyle choice, a phase, something that only affects people with a particular look.

  • There is so much that I would want people to know about eating disorders because the reality is the shame and stigma behind eating disorders is killing people.

  • Eating disorders aren’t about weight.

  • Eating disorders are not a choice.

  • Eating disorders don’t just affect white teenage emaciated girls.

  • Eating disorders are complicated mental illnesses.

  • Some people won’t understand the eating disorder, will think you are being difficult or think you are fine if you look “healthy” or are eating. This is hard but you don’t need everyone to understand.

  • Focus on your motivations; I would often ask myself what future I wanted and whilst eating disorders aren’t a choice I could choose to focus on these in those moments when life felt like the eating disorder was pulling me back.

  • Full recovery is possible.

  • Holding on to hope is key.



Beat Eating Disorders:

NHS – Eating Disorders:



–  READ Bulimia and Me by Eloise Dale about living with an eating disorder, and whose discomfort is palpable as she revisits some of her memories.

–  READ Jen Spurr’s list Body Dysmorphic Disorder as she details how she was obsessed with her weight, appearance and exercise, and how she began to heal.

–  READ the eye-opening list Male Eating Disorders by Connor Spratt about his ongoing recovery from this illness.

–  READ Pandora Paloma of Rooted Living’s list about the freedom she now has from disordered eating after discovering intuitive eating and her vocation within it.

–  READ Anorexia and Motherhood by Lily Parkinson about how birth helped her find peace after suffering with a longterm eating disorder.

–  READ this great list by Harriet, AKA @Tobyandroo about her Battle With Body Positivity and how she is still learning to feel truly at one in her skin.

–  LISTEN to Alex Light talk Diet Culture on But Why? podcast as she covers body image, disordered eating and how we can move towards greater self-acceptance.





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** ‘But why don’t I feel happy all the time?’ ‘But why do people die and are they just sleeping?’ and “But why do adults drink beer and what does it do?’ are some of the tricky questions I tackle in my debut book BUT WHY? which is available to order now and also on audiobook.**

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