Emily O'Halloran, also known on Instagram as 'Forkingyum' is a foodie whose heartbreaking story left me struggling to hold back tears. This week in our Love Languages series, O'Halloran discusses the importance of self-care, eating disorders, and recovery.
Once 'flatties in welly' and now 'forkingyum', the Instagram page run by O'Halloran has seen it all. Beginning as a joint venture with her best friend posting flat meals they cooked and local Wellington cuisine they indulged in, the account became O'Halloran's when her friend moved overseas. Since then, she has run the page by herself and documented not only food but her journey with it.
For nearly a decade, O'Halloran has suffered with an eating disorder and at the time, her followers may not have even known her struggles as she continued to post delicious content on her page. It wasn't until she knew she had fully committed to recovery with the help of medical professionals that she began to share her story online and was overwhelmed with the response.
"I've had people message me saying that they started their recovery journey because of my Instagram, that they didn't think recovery was even possible until they started following me. I was at the airport the other day and a lovely mum came up to me to say that she loves my content, and I've also had many other parents of children diagnosed with eating disorders message me, thanking me for providing hope."
O'Halloran describes the grips of her eating disorder as a very lonely time. She felt empty and alone mentally and in turn, began to isolate herself physically. She found herself unable to engage in normal social activities, essentially spending all of her time in her bedroom and she cried, a lot. Her eating disorder had become her safe space and if she tried to fight back, it would tell her she would lose complete control of her life. The eating disorder had full control while O'Halloran had none and it was a very confusing time especially when people began to praise the weight loss.
"People were complimenting me, telling me I looked amazing, and asking me for my weight loss tips and secrets, but little did they know I was completely in the grips of an eating disorder that was draining the life out of me. I spent hours and hours crying, I calorie counted every single thing that I ate for nearly three years, down to chewing gum. Everything was weighed and measured and there were a million rules surrounding what I was and wasn't allowed to eat, when I could eat them, and how much I could eat, depending on how much I'd moved that day. I was totally fixated on the numbers. People were congratulating me and praising me, and my Type A personality translated that as winning, it felt like I was succeeding at something and people were acknowledging it."
She found this the most difficult part of recovery. "When you have to unlearn all of the rules and behaviours that have become completely ingrained and all-consuming and go back the other way to get yourself to a healthy place again, that means gaining some weight back. You kind of feel like a failure. Even when people started to tell me I looked 'healthier', I took that as an insult because I knew they could see I'd gained weight".
Despite feeling completely alone in the depths of her illness when O'Halloran started to share her story online it became evident that so many people were also fighting their own, often silent, battles. Whether directly or indirectly, O'Halloran could see that diet culture had affected so many people and social media was one way people were being fed its destructive messages.
"I often wonder if I ever would have developed an eating disorder without the internet, I honestly don't think I would have."
Like many young women and men, O'Halloran spent hours scrolling on social media, often consuming the many uneducated opinions surrounding fitness, health, and beauty that are easily accessible and highly damaging.
"When I was in that dark place and spiraling further into a mental illness, I would watch hours and hours and hours of Youtube videos, I'd be researching nutrition and googling how to lose weight, how to get a lean body, and what foods I needed to cut out. I was brainwashed by diet culture and online rhetoric that only valued thinness. I really believed every single thing that I read online and alongside that, was also falling victim to comparing myself to every single person and their "highlight reels" on Instagram."
It's a story told far too many times, which is why O'Halloran understands the importance of sharing her recovery online. She knows the extreme and devastating effects of an eating disorder and wants to help anyone she can, starting with her own Instagram community.
"I wanted to build a community that pushed back against diet culture and focused on the good stuff, like body positivity, moving away from all of the constant confusion that saturates the online world as people try to figure out what they're meant to eat, how they're meant to move and what they should look like. People have forgotten how to simply listen to what their bodies want and need, and that 'health' looks different for everybody. Food is also about so much more than fuel! It's important culturally, historically, and socially."
O'Halloran tells me that the scary thing about eating disorders is how quickly and quietly they can creep up on you. Hers started innocently as she wanted to lose some of the weight that she had gained after her first year at university, she started running and signed up for a half marathon. Within six months, the weight was just falling off her and her thoughts were almost entirely controlled by what was soon diagnosed as anorexia. It wasn't until her flatmates called her mum out of fear for her health that she came to the hard realisation that maybe she did need help.
"As soon as someone says to you, we're getting you help, it feels like everything's falling apart. Your ED wants you to believe that everything will be ruined. That can mean you feel scared and confused and can cause you to lash out at the people trying to help you, but no matter what, recovery is just the only option.
"I know it's not easy to get professional help, but if you feel like you're in a bad place, at least reach out to someone close to you and tell them that you're not okay."
O'Halloran is now equipped with a "toolkit" provided by her psychologist and dietician that helps her fight back when the eating disorder thoughts start creeping in.
As well as her "toolkit" O'Halloran has worked hard to curate her online world into a safe space filled with inspiring and positive content. It's something she encourages everyone to do especially if they are on the more negative side of social media "You need to be 'woke' and have a hard look at the messages you're consuming online."
A comment from O'Halloran's psychologist aided her recovery and it's something she still reminds herself of today, "An eating disorder's end goal is essentially to kill you, so if you're going to give in to it, then that's your fate.
"I didn't really understand what she meant at the time, because my ED was telling me that I was the healthiest I'd ever been. But at my lowest weight when I was mentally and physically very ill, and the unhappiest I'd ever felt, it still wasn't enough. It scares me to think how far it would've gone had I not committed to recovery when I did, with amazing parents and an incredibly strong support network around me "
Recovery was one of the hardest things O'Halloran ever had to do but she has no regrets because she is still here today to remind those who may be fighting their own battles that it does get better, and there is a life of freedom on the other side of the journey.
She wants to remind anyone in the midst of their own ED battle to get help as soon as they can because the longer you're in it, the longer it takes to get out of it.
"I've started to appreciate everything my body is capable of when I fuel it properly. I now remember how good it feels to have real energy, listening to my body, and practicing intuition when it comes to food and exercise. For a while, the narrative in my head was always negative and filled with self-loathing. I now shift that narrative and replace those thoughts with positive affirmations. I'm learning every day about how to be kind to myself by speaking to myself about my body like I would to my boyfriend, family and friends, the same way I would speak to 5-year-old Emily. I don't want to spend my whole life at war with myself."
Forkingyum is now a place for O'Halloran to share her passion for NZ's food scene, as well as her ongoing journey to recovery and finding her new joy.
Do you need help?
Get in touch with Eating Disorders Association of New Zealand if you need help finding a private provider in your area by phoning Ph 0800 2 EDANZ or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
If you need urgent help, reach out to your GP or local mental health provider.
Or if you need to talk to someone else:
• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 ,free text 234 or email email@example.com or online chat.
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)