As a teenager, Anna Kulbacki battled with anorexia, which nearly killed her. Now aged 24, and a much healthier weight, she has spent the past few years supporting others with eating disorders through SEED and Breathe Therapies in Preston. As she has developed some supportive advice, she shares her story in the hope of raising awareness.
Anna, who grew up in Fulwood, started avoiding food during her first year at Runshaw College, in Leyland.
Admitting she had always been a high achiever, she felt things were getting out of her control, such as family illness and the pressures of A Levels.
So she stopped eating, hoping to control her weight.
At her worst she had a BMI of 13 - weighing just over five-and-a-half stones.
Her muscles were wasting away and her bones weren’t developing.
She sought help and received treatment at a specialist clinic and between the ages of 17 and 19 spent between three and four days a week there as a day patient.
At home, her parents supported her with a treatment and meal plan.
The 24-year-old says: “I had no muscle. At 18 I was wearing aged seven jeans. I looked like a completely different person to how I look now.
“For me, the hardest thing was to eat.
“I would only eat exactly what was on my meal plan. I was willing to put on weight but it had to be on my terms.”
As part of her recovery, Anna was given one-to-one therapy for depression, took part in group self-esteem days, family therapy and she was on medication for depression.
The former Archbishop Temple school pupil also attended art therapy sessions run by Breathe Therapies and was supported by the charity’s organisation SEED.
She says there isn’t a quick fix to getting better and for her, it was a long two years of treatment to help her get to where she is today.
But she hopes by raising awareness of eating disorders people will know how to deal with the subject.
She says: “Having lived with an eating disorder for several years of my life, I have found there are many things which still need to be discussed openly about what it’s like to have an eating disorder, how you can take the first steps towards recovery and how you can support someone who is suffering from an eating disorder.
As I have now been in recovery for several years I feel I am strong enough to try and help people understand and recover.”
Anna, who now lives in Manchester, working as an interior designer, has set out some guidance for others who may be struggling with an eating disorder:
1. There is no quick fix:
“Eating disorders cannot be diagnosed and then instantly treated, there is a degree of patience that comes with recovery.
“An eating disorder at the point of being acknowledged is often already engrained into a person’s way of life.
“This person’s day-to-day thoughts and actions are probably already governed by their eating disorder and it is most likely all they think about. To recover healthily and to avoid relapse in recovery things need to be taken steadily.
“Things need to be done on the sufferer’s terms and at their pace. An eating disorder is after all a mental illness, the mind needs time to process the emotion that has led someone to use their relationship with food as a way of coping with the thoughts and feelings that have led them to develop an eating disorder.”
2. It can be your friend:
“Someone who suffers with an eating disorder can hate and love their eating disorder at the same time.
“The person suffering with an eating disorder probably knows full well it is killing them and will know the damage it is having on their physical and mental health, but they can also confide in these unhealthy habits and predictability.
“Someone who controls their eating in a certain way can often be doing this as there are other things in their life they can’t control.
“Their eating disorder may be the only certain and predictable thing in their life and it’s theirs, it’s in their grasp and no one else can touch it, so to them this feels safe.”
3. You are not defined by your eating disorder:
“Someone is not defined by their eating disorder. The person you know, and love is there as a separate entity to their eating disorder. An eating disorder thrives off deceitfulness and lying to those closest to you and can take up a person’s entire rational thinking. This does not mean the person suffering an eating disorder is now a liar and self-obsessed, it is important that the eating disorder and the person are treated as two separate entities. You are not trying to cure the person, you are trying to cure the illness.”
4. An eating disorder sufferer did not choose this:
“No one chose this illness. A sufferer cannot wake up one day and decide to eat, or not make themselves throw up or not binge that day.
“This is an illness, just like any other physical illness. A sufferer can’t simply ‘snap out of it’, this is a serious illness that needs to be treated with the same respect as any other life-threatening illness.”
5. Be honest and communicate:
“An eating disorder thrives off lies and deceitfulness.
“One of the best ways to fight back against an eating disorder is honesty.
“The more a sufferer can be honest with their carer or medical professional the more chance they have of beating the eating disorder, if they can find someone who they can confide in and someone who they don’t feel judged by, this can be integral to their recovery. “This way they don’t feel alone, after all in the more armies in any battle, often, the easier the fight.”
6. You cannot force someone to recover from an eating disorder:
“Some people might not be ready or want to recover from an eating disorder. It needs to be the person suffering from the eating disorder’s choice to recover.
“They can only be shown what life can be like in recovery and encouraged to take those steps towards recovery but cannot be forced. The person needs to want to mentally heal as well as physically to be able to be in recovery.”
7. Do not be ashamed:
“You should not be ashamed to have an eating disorder. You did not choose this, you are poorly.
“More steps need to be taken to combat the stigma surrounding eating disorders.
“People need to be educated and not be embarrassed to have an eating disorder or to love and care for someone who does.
“The more people talk and know about eating disorders, the quicker people can recover.
“As with most life-threatening illnesses, early intervention is key.
“The earlier an eating disorder is acknowledged the less engrained the habits and behaviours of the eating disorder and therefore hopefully the easier to reverse.”
Breathe Therapies, based in Poulton and Preston, is centred on the individual and tailored to their needs, treating the cause and not just the symptoms.
This enables the individual to understand themselves, with appropriate treatment for depression, anxiety, stress and anger management issues.
Breathe also offers support for parents, partners and family members.
For more information e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0800 0883151
SEED (Support and Education for Eating Disorders) is a registered charity based in Preston and provides a network of resources, education, training and support for sufferers, their families, friends and carers around eating, food and weight-related issues.
It has a helpline, open from 9.30am to 5pm - Monday to Friday - on 01482 718130.