Roz Purcell has it all. She’s a best-selling author, entrepreneur, model and personal trainer and is saving the world one Keep Cup at a time. And as if that isn’t annoying enough she’s sound too, and sensitive. She also recently spoke out about her eating disorder and her road to recovery. What struck me about Roz’s story is the honesty with which she speaks. She doesn’t leave it at a struggle overcame. Instead, she shares the reality of the situation, for her and for those around her, and the multitude of ways it stole years of her life.
On Early Beginnings
Roz talks about being in her teens. She recalls what was in at the time, Britney and Christina the firm favourites. “They were who I saw on TV. The media has always played a huge part in what the ‘ideal’ figure is. It almost picks it. Back in the 90’s it was Kate Moss. Now it’s the Kardashian look. It changes all the time, it’s very much led by what’s popular.”
I ask if modelling perpetuated her eating disorder but she’s quick to point out that she probably would have ended up on that path regardless. “It was more about control than anything else. My life was chaotic, this industry is chaotic, not knowing day to day what I was doing. In a way controlling my food was a security blanket.”
In an industry where rejection is rife Roz had as much as the next person. “I went through years of rejection and I blamed my weight. If I was smaller I’d be a better version of myself. All modelling did was prolong and normalise my disordered eating.”
On the day-to-day impact of an eating disorder
Eating disorders are very complex and without any experience it can be difficult to grasp just how it affects people, both the person themselves and those around them. For Roz it was felt every day. As is the nature of most emotional disorders it can hard to separate yourself from your thoughts, it’s all consuming. “I was very difficult to be around. Everything had to revolve around me. If I went home Dad would have to make a completely separate dinner for me because I wouldn’t eat certain things. If we were going out for food we’d have to choose somewhere I knew I could get something really low calorie, that was the case in all my relationships. I stole all the attention when it came to food.”
Did your family know? Did they try to talk to you about it? “The people close to me knew what was going on but it was such a sensitive subject, it was very hard to talk to me about it. I would either tell you what you wanted to hear or act like you had the problem, not me. In hindsight, I was so controlled by this ingrained way of thinking, of how I saw myself.”
“I had moments where I wish things could be different but I honestly just thought that was who I was. I was very negative about myself, very hard on myself, found it hard to be positive about anything. I’d always had this anxiety lingering, where I had to be moving. No one could really relax around me, I was just pacing all the time. Once I was around people I could let my guard down with, I made others feel really bad about themselves. I knew I was very difficult but I felt my bigger problem was my weight and that would take priority.”
On Getting Help
Despite years of suffering, battling through disordered eating and denial it wasn’t until Rachel, Roz’s sister and best friend was diagnosed with CML (a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow) that she took stock and reprioritized what was important to her.
“It just gave me a completely new perspective on what our body does. It has a function. Rachel’s body was literally fighting for her, I never really considered my body like that until she got diagnosed. I was 25 when it happened when I sought help. In ways, I had been there for too long. I had been battling for almost 4 years but in my head, it felt like 10 years. Every day felt so long when this internal battle with myself was going on. I couldn’t enjoy anything. Time really goes so slow when you’re not having fun. At the end of the day, the only thing that’s important is that you’re healthy and that your family is healthy too. ”
But despite the fact that she was ready to embark on the journey she laments the stigma still associated with mental health. “There’s still a lot of stigma out there. There are people who have gone through so many different types of mental disorders and they don’t talk about it. They don’t feel like it’s ok. And I get that, I felt the same. I didn’t want to let people know what I was going through. I was afraid to show that I wasn’t this strong person, I thought it was a sign of weakness.”
Like many others Roz tried a few things before finding a treatment that worked for her. “I was binging and purging a lot. At the time I just thought it was about me not having willpower. But honestly, I just wasn’t ready at the time.” For Roz CBT was the route she settled on. “It’s a huge undertaking. It’s not an easy thing to do. There’s still so much stigma to it. It took me so long to talk about it because it gets worse before it gets better.
There were days when I was in bed and I would get up and I would just scratch myself, because I wanted things to be better. I wanted to be like my sisters instead of being trapped in aesthetics. As a society we’re congratulated for losing weight. Changing that ingrained idea to it’s ok to put on weight, you need food to fuel your body is hard.”
“The whole process was very hard but it did get easier over time. All those firsts – putting on weight, challenging your way of thinking, it was difficult.” I ask her if she has any advice for anyone at those early stages when considering reaching out. “For anyone who’s in the thick of it, when you get to the point where you know you need to get help, we can fight it and put it off or we can embrace it. By putting off treatment you’re wasting some of the best years of your life. When I look back I think god if I had someone to look up to in my teens it would have made all the difference.”
That said she’s quick to point out that it’s very much a timing thing and it’s something that’s deeply personal.
“I got help at 25 and it’s taken 3 years to be able to talk about it. And there will be people reading who are not ready to get help yet and that’s ok but the fact that they know they can get help, and can hear from someone who’s been through it, like them, felt stuck and came out the other side, that’s hope.”
And like so many before Roz cannot but recommend the benefits of therapy. “It’s something everyone should do, it really helps you to rationalise your thoughts. Even if you’re not someone who has an eating disorder, but you’re having difficulty communicating in work it helps you figure out how to respond and just generally communicate better with people.”
On Her Mission
The body positivity movement is in full swing and Roz is an increasingly important voice in it. But her sharing her story isn’t part of any greater plan. If anything it’s about providing a little bit of hope for anyone going through their own journey. “Social media can be a difficult place to be and if I can use my platform to make it a better place for someone else then I will. I’m happy with myself now, I don’t need to use it to feed my ego. I’m past that, I know I’m enough. I want my page to be informative, a place people can go to get positivity.”
On looking back
On looking back on the experiences that shaped her she notes “day to day I just wasn’t someone you’re want to hang out with for the day. That’s the hardest part looking back, I never wanted to be that person, and growing up I wasn’t that person. I loved meeting new people, having the chats. The thought of me being that person that made other people feel bad, I hated that but I really did become that person for those few years. Thankfully I got help and I’m not that person anymore. I can see a lot more than myself and my weight. But often you need to go through these phases to learn. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t go through this.”
And with a big sigh she’s off and I can’t help but wonder how much better the world would be if everyone was as generous with their honesty.