Tiffany (26) has anorexia: ‘An eating disorder is not about weight’


Looking back on her childhood, Tiffany mainly remembers nasty comments about her body and weight. The positive reactions were diametrically opposed to this. That became a motivation for Tiffany to always go one step further. Losing weight started to take on more and more extreme forms – resulting in an eating disorder.

The Kiem Foundation is a foundation that is committed to reducing the impact of eating disorders. They describe an eating disorder as a psychological condition that can manifest itself in many forms – for example, being obsessive about eating little or exercising excessively. Someone can also eat too much in a short time, as is the case with binge eating disorder. All eating disorders center on a disturbed relationship with food, with major consequences for both the body and mental well-being. At the core of an eating disorder are often deep-rooted feelings such as shame, sadness, fear and insecurity. An estimated 200,000 people in the Netherlands suffer from an eating disorder.

Eating disorder thoughts

“My parents discovered fairly quickly that I was unhealthy,” Tiffany reflects. ‘So we went to the doctor. But I didn’t want help. Or actually the eating disorder didn’t want that. Help was equivalent to eating again, which of course was not allowed to happen. Then I would go back to how I used to look. My parents listened to my wishes and the eating disorder won.’

Slowly but surely, Tiffany began to give in to her eating disorder thoughts. “At my lowest point, I wasn’t doing anything else,” she says. ‘My life consisted of counting calories and eating as little as possible. I couldn’t do more than that, because I was way too tired to do anything. If I only gave in to hunger in the evening and ate something, then I would have done well according to the eating disorder.’

Passion for the kitchen

Even when the eating disorder had gripped Tiffany for several years, she did not let go of her greatest passion. From an early age she became addicted to cooking and baking. She even started a cooking blog where she shared her own recipes and attended chef training. A dream come true for Tiffany, because as a little girl she wanted nothing more than to become a chef.

‘I wasn’t allowed to cook or bake anything, even though I get a lot of pleasure from that’

Logically, her eating disorder had an impact on that passion: ‘I barely tasted my own dishes. And if I could taste anything, it would be small amounts. In my deepest depths I was unable to create new recipes. Sometimes I even received ‘punishment’ from my eating disorder. Then I wasn’t allowed to cook or bake anything, even though I get a lot of pleasure from that.’

During that time, Tiffany increasingly realized that she could not overcome the eating disorder alone – so she decided to seek help. Although she had known for years that she was struggling with an eating disorder, it was only then that she was officially diagnosed: ‘Anorexia nervosa’, she says. ‘My first treatment was CBT-E therapy, a special treatment aimed at eating disorders. Now, five years later, a number of clinic admissions have passed and I am following MANTRA treatment – ​​another form of therapy for eating disorders that suits me better.’

Lieke Noordink works at the Kiem Foundation. According to Noordink, there is still a lot to be gained when it comes to stigma: ‘Many people have no idea what an eating disorder entails. An eating disorder, contrary to popular belief, is not about food. It is an unhealthy way of dealing with your thoughts and emotions. It is not a cry for attention, but a way of gaining control over difficult situations in life. Another harmful misconception is that eating disorders only affect young, white girls. An eating disorder can happen to anyone – regardless of gender, ethnicity or age.”

Weight means nothing

Tiffany was left with a bad aftertaste from her first treatment, the CBT-E therapy. She did not get along well with her therapist and did not feel taken seriously. In retrospect, Tiffany knows that she fell victim to one of the biggest misconceptions about eating disorders. The determining factor for the seriousness of her situation was the number on the scale. When she managed to get to a healthy weight, it was assumed that Tiffany herself was doing better too.

‘I had lost a lot of weight and suddenly I was taken seriously’

The opposite was true, Tiffany knows. ‘My weight might have been good, but in my head I felt far from good. The eating disorder still dominated my thoughts. He therefore decided that I had to lose that weight again. After three months there was a return day. I had lost a lot of weight and suddenly I was taken seriously.’

Tiffany saw the other side of the coin when she suffered from binge eating for a while. “My weight was healthy again then,” she reflects. ‘And that got rid of my problem with binge eating. With a binge eating disorder, it is often immediately expected that you are overweight. That’s utter nonsense. An eating disorder – in any form – is not about weight.’

On the road to recovery

Tiffany now not only shares recipes on her blog, but also writes about mental health. She expanded this to her Instagram, where she lends a helping hand to fellow sufferers: ‘This morning I received a message from a girl. At that time she suffered from a strong urge to exercise (the tendency to exercise excessively, ed.). Then we will discuss it and I will help where I can.’

Tiffany does guard her boundaries in this regard. “I don’t share my weight and I don’t want to receive messages about it,” she says firmly. ‘That is and remains a trigger. And yes, weight is only a small part of my treatment. I only stand on the scale for the first five minutes of a session. Then I and my therapist really get to the heart of my problems. For example, I now know that my autism reinforces the eating disorder.’

‘An eating disorder is a mental illness and not a choice’

Her therapy also focuses on self-stigma. “I often blame myself for my eating disorder,” she says. ‘After all, I am the one who decided to lose weight. And I’m the one who sought help too late. In my therapy I learn what it really is: an eating disorder is a mental illness and not a choice.’

Why help is often not an option

Noordink explains that with an eating disorder it often takes a lot of time before help is called in: ‘An eating disorder takes place in your head. It is a survival strategy for which someone often does not want help. And if someone does want to seek help, there is often self-stigma. There are often thoughts like: I’m not sick enough. Or: I don’t deserve help, because I don’t fit a certain image. We see the latter, for example, in anorexia and bulimia. There is a stereotype of a thin, starving body, which not everyone recognizes. Binge eating disorder is most common in the Netherlands. Here too, people do not knock on the door for help – or only do so too late. There is still too much shame and that has to change.’

Tiffany hopes to one day regain her freedom. ‘I don’t do much because of my eating disorder. A dinner with family or just getting a sandwich somewhere remain major challenges.’ Yet there are victories she tries to be proud of: ‘I moved from my village this year. I live in my own apartment and I am happy with that. I was doing fine in my village, but there I was that girl with the eating disorder. Here I’m just Tiffany.’

In a six-part series, young adults share their stories about their lives with a mental illness. In candid interviews they share a glimpse of their experiences, obstacles and victories. With their stories they make a powerful voice against it stigma that sticks to their labels.

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The article is in Dutch

Tags: Tiffany anorexia eating disorder weight


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