I Should Have Been Smarter Than Bulimia

Redefining Success, The Power Of Women, Truth Telling

I’m a smart woman and I should have been smarter than bulimia.

I wasn’t.

It snuck up on me when I least expected it.

In 1997 I was 26 years old and working as a veterinarian in the UK. The pay rate was high and most of the jobs I took came with a house and a car. I’d alternate between working and travelling as my whim and bank balance decided. The world at my feet. It sounds ideal, doesn’t it? From the outside it was ideal!

I really wanted it to be ideal. It wasn’t.

Like many things, the external view was not the whole truth of what was really going on. In spite of my supposed glamorous life, most of the time I was lonely.

To cover the loneliness, I ate.

To cover the loneliness, I didn’t bother exercising.

To cover the loneliness, I became more withdrawn.

I hated my body. Totally despised it.

I hated how I looked and how I felt.

That’s when I decided to give bulimia a go.

For almost twenty years I kept that secret from everyone. All those years there was only one person who knew the truth. She was my travel buddy and she was the one who watched knowingly as I returned to the table from “the toilet” with red-rimmed eyes and a mouth shiny with saliva. She was the one who tried to gently suggest that it wasn’t a good path.

During those lonely, toxic months, not once did I feel like being bulimic was the answer to my loneliness. So why did I do it? Did I feel less alone if I was gorging on food or hanging over the toilet bowl? No way; I felt ashamed and embarrassed and out of control.

And I hated my body even more.

So what did I do? I came home. I harboured a residual fear that I had failed because I didn’t have a totally glamorous European holiday adventure. Instead what I had done was turn a really shitty situation into a really good example of beating myself up. And to beat myself up a little bit more, I tried the cabbage soup diet. Just so that I could fail at that too and feel even more miserable with myself.

Then, I started exercising again. I started eating food I loved that nourished me. I hung out with people who lifted me up. I moved my body from a place of love, instead of punishment. And I grew more determined that no-one should hurt or hate their body like I did. And I didn’t diet ever again.

My story continued (if this was a feature film, the pages would be turning super fast on a calendar now!), I got married, became a teacher and had kids – two girls and a boy.

It was when my oldest daughter was 9 that I had a terrifying moment when I thought the past might be repeating itself. We were sitting outside on our lawn on a balmy summer’s evening and I offered everyone some chocolate. My nine year old asked me if she should run up and back to the end of our 200m driveway a couple of times to “wear off” the chocolate. She asked if she should “worry about being fat”?

Can you believe that?

A gorgeous tree-climbing, gymnastics-loving, book-reading totally normal nine-year-old girl worrying about “being fat”? All of a sudden I was a young woman alone in a dark flat in the UK. It was like my past was coming back to haunt me. Will she battle with bulimia like I did? The thought of her with her face over a toilet bowl vomiting and feeling so ashamed and alone filled me with absolute terror. This is not going to happen to my daughter. In fact, this is going to stop now. No more dieting and poor body image. I made a pledge then to do whatever I can to stamp out the war we women constantly wage with food and with our bodies.

I’ve been a vet, I’ve been a teacher and I’m a daughter, a wife and a mum, a friend and a woman. The ‘woman’ part is what I’m most focused on right now, today. My purpose in life has been defined by my past and my future (my children) and it’s fairly simple: I want women to be at peace with their body and at peace with food. In fact, I am daring to bring the multi-billion dollar diet industry to its knees.

The diet industry that teaches us to fear food.

The diet industry that convinces us eating is complicated.

The diet industry that tells us we need to be fixed and perfect and flawless.

From a very young age, we learn, from media and from other females, that an integral part of being a female is hating your body and being on a diet. I am female therefore I diet.

You may not have experienced an eating disorder like me, but if you are female, you most likely have struggled with some of this – loneliness, self-loathing, emotional eating, despair, turning away from exercise. And dieting. Every single woman I have ever spoken to has a diet history, never a happy one. Dieting literally destroys lives. Emotionally, physically, mentally.

Food can be an incredibly destructive force. I have lived that and come out the other side.

Now I’m daring to bring the diet industry to its knees.

If you would like information, referrals and brief counselling for eating disorders, disordered eating or body image concerns, please contact The Butterfly Foundation:

1800 33 4673

Kate Tonkin

Kate is known as The Diet Disrupter. Her common sense no bullshit attitude to food brings a sigh of relief to women who have spent a good part of their lives on diets that make them feel like rubbish.

Although Kate struggles to score goals on the hockey field, her life goal is to bring the diet industry to its knees. She’s helped women around the world to give up dieting and start living the life they’ve dreamed of in a body they love.


Why are we doing this thing? Because there’s enough noise in the world telling women what we ‘should’ be doing.

We should parent more consciously, but not be helicopter parents. We should take care of our bodies, but not be vain. We should make boys pay, but demand equal rights. We should dress appropriately, but also be confident in our skin, wear what we want, but not be provocative, oh and please feel comfortable in the world’s skimpiest school bathers but then wear your jeans to the formal because last year the boys looked up the girls’ skirts and so you’ll have to be the ones to modify your behaviour. Yeah. No. 

We are a mother and daughter writing team who launched a platform for women 14 –  104. Women who need to read stories of daring. Women who need to write them.

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