Melanie Murphy: Overcoming Eating Disorders, IBS and Social Taboos

Melanie Murphy is an Irish Content Creator, Lifestyle Youtuber and Author. She shares content based on topics such as sexuality, women’s rights, health and relationships. With an Instagram following of over 100k and more than 60M views on Youtuber, Melanie has a majorly influential job.

I first discovered Melanie five years ago with her viral acne videos which were relevant to me as a blemish-prone teen. I continued to watch Melanie’s videos as she started touching on topics such as eating disorders, pms, mental health and more. I saw Melanie as a virtual friend and her platform was a place of comfort for me when I felt I couldn’t talk to anybody else.

Melanie has since gained her large following, released a best-selling non-fiction book with her first novel on the way, released a short film and had featured on the cover of Blogosphere magazine. She also release her ‘Me Time Journal’ which includes a section for tracking food, exercise, mood, gratitude and more which I find helpful for tracking IBS symptoms.

You can find Melanie on Instagram ,Youtube, Twitter and on her website. Make sure to pick up a copy of her book Fully Functioning Human (Almost) and to pre-order her novel If Only.

  • What was your relationship with food and exercise like growing up?

I’d best describe little me growing up as ‘blissfuly unaware’ when it came to diet and exercise. As a child, I was pretty active in that I enjoyed being a part of various sports teams in school (throughout primary and secondary school!) and because it was all pre mobile phones and internet/social media, I spent a lot of time outdoors! As a teen, I became aware of ‘exercise regimes’ and exercise in relation to calorie burning because of magazines screaming about how celebrities would get personal trainers to shed pounds before events or beach holidays and I do remember trying to do hundreds of crunches a day thinking that would make me look like Britney Spears.

My diet was always extremely poor, though I always loved ‘food’ – I never gave real food a chance and existed on chemical explosions from colourful packets. My mother would insist that I have fruit for my lunch but I always threw it into the bin when I arrived in school (I know, TERRIBLE) and I’d get ‘treats’ from the bar machines – back then, there were machines on the school grounds dispensing chocolate bars and packets of crisps…even soft drinks! Which I assume/hope is against the law now.

I lived off of Coco Pops for breakfast with cow’s milk, chocolate and crisps for lunch and then a lot of frozen food and takeaways for dinner, washed down with a lot of Ribena and fizzy drinks. I was a very picky eater and only enjoyed junk food because neither of my parents were big on cooking…when my dad would cook, it would be a large portion of spaghetti Bolognese with garlic bread, so – all wheat and red meat with a tiny amount of tomato in the sauce haha. I don’t know how I made it to adulthood to be honest. I was always sick and always tired/in a bad mood, then during my teen years I developed really bad cystic acne which really bothered me, and at the time I had no idea that it was largely related to a lactose intolerance. 

  • You have been very open and honest about your struggle with orthorexia and binge eating disorder. What do you think were the main things that helped you to overcome your eating disorder. Do you believe that you are fully recovered?

I believe I’m fully recovered from the eating disorders but not from body dysmorphia – that voice still chats away in the back of my mind but I don’t allow it to rule me anymore which I feel is a huge win! Also, I know that I could very easily slip back into binge eating if I didn’t make sure that I keep track of my food…most days, I write down my meals in my ‘Me Time Journal’ (before I had that I did it in regular notepads and copy books) to ensure that I’m eating ENOUGH and that I’m eating balanced so that I don’t end up feeling like I’m restricted in any way, which is what would lead to the binges. This might not work for everyone but it was suggested to me by a professional and I’ve never looked back – it isn’t like using a calorie tracker, it is monitoring patterns and habits that lead me down a bad road.

My orthorexia was very much fuelled by fear and by how out of control I felt in my life at the time, combined with wanting to keep losing weight after losing 60lbs healthily. Even though I’d lost weight I couldn’t really notice the difference, probably because of body dysmorphia triggered or worsened by the weight loss, and I started Googling how to be as healthy and slim as I possibly could be.

I started off by cutting this and that from my diet, and it continued to become more extreme. Then I found Freelee ‘The Banana Girl’ back when she lived off of 30 bananas a day and talked about how cooked food was toxic and about how everything humans eat should be raw…I bought into it and spent all of my time ‘researching’ though I hadn’t yet finished my degree, or learned how to properly research something, so I’d believe every small study and anecdote I read. Restricting my diet so much led to more and more fear – I wouldn’t even blend my fruit in a blender by the end of it as I feared the blades would contaminate my food and make me sick. I thrived on my diet being ‘more pure’ and ‘cleaner’ than everyone else’s – I think it was all one big distraction from dealing with my other issues stemming from childhood. 

Therapy helped me with the orthorexia, which I had easy access to thanks to my uni degree, however while in recovery I started binge eating because my body was so starving from the constant weird diet. It turned into a binge and restrict cycle and that took a LONG time to recover from. The main things that helped were therapy, food tracking (without noting down calories or macros, just food type and variety to ensure I was eating little and often every single day and that I was indulging in things I really wanted like chocolate and wine because I noted that when I’d try to ‘be good’ and not have them, I’d binge…that’s still the case so I need to stay on top of this! When I have enough of what I’m craving I don’t overdo it!), and also just avoiding diets altogether and following people online who have healthy relationships with food and body image.

  • You have shared your current struggle with IBS on Youtube. How has it affected your life and how do you manage it? 

It has taken me a few months to accept that I’ll always have IBS. The only way it affects my life right now is that it really embarrasses me – I fart and burp up a storm if I eat even the slightest amount of a thing that disagrees with me, which is difficult if I’m in public or at a work event…it also happens if I get anxious or stressed. But thankfully my boyfriend and my family are all very understanding and they make jokes to calm me down! Thomas (my boyfriend) calls me Barney Gumble (from the Simpsons) when it happens, hahaha, and he pats my back and rubs my belly so all the air can get out of me and stop hurting me! When I eat a lot of high fodmap foods like gluten and lactose containing foods I suffer bigger consequences…extreme constipation, sometimes resulting in anal fissures and piles, so I really do try to avoid these on a day to day basis and only indulge on occasion in small amounts – which I need to, in line with what I said previously about keeping on top of my binge eating recovery.

  • Mental Health has been a huge topic of conversation in the content that you produce. Why do you think that it is so important for us to speak more openly about mental health?

People spout concerns about how much we talk about mental health, insisting that the constant talking about it is making everyone more anxious and depressed, but I completely disagree with that line of thinking – I think people have always suffered with these feelings, but in silence, alone. In older generations it was so common for household violence to occur, for people to become dependant on alcohol to numb pain, for men to die really young of heart attacks brought on by stress, perhaps of keeping everything in and doing nothing to manage the feelings…I even remember words like ‘crazy’ ‘mental’ ‘mad’ ‘nuts’ being used to describe certain people in my life when I was younger, people going through bouts of panic disorder etc.

I’m so glad the stigmas are being smashed around the subject of mental health because otherwise I’d hate to think where I’d be right now – I NEEDED to reach out to people, I needed help. I had a terrible year/year and a half and through that experience I’ve managed to learned SO many coping techniques and habits that have improved my quality of life immensely.

I talk about it online because I know it helps others to feel less alone. When I was in my early twenties I found a YouTuber talking about an eating disorder and in that video she managed to encourage me to seek help. I know it works, and so I try to give back. 

  • You are well know for speaking about controversial and taboo topics on Youtube and Social Media (sex, periods, abortion etc.) . What drives you to speak about these topics and what sort of feedback do you get from doing so?

I honestly think I talk about those topics because those are the things I talk to my friends about. There is so much more to life than fashion and makeup and food and I realised after making the same kinds of videos on YouTube for two or three years that I was becoming bored, that I wasn’t being true to myself. I discovered other people being REAL online and I was like YES, this is my purpose on here! I can do this! I have the confidence to speak about these things and a degree in education – let’s do this. Smashing taboos is the most fun I’ve had online, and it always gets incredible feedback as viewers are crying out for content that isn’t another unrealistic morning routine or another dumb prank, y’know?

  • What are your five kitchen essentials?

My coffee press, ground coffee, avocado, sourdough toast (which is the one kind of wheat that doesn’t impact my IBS – it’s actually a really great diet addition for so many reasons available online!), free range eggs from my boyfriend’s grandmother’s chickens, dark mint chocolate, tomato soup, red lentil pasta and red pesto!

  • Name three things that bring joy to your life.

My cats, my boyfriend giving me back scratches and being an idiot with me, long walks by the beach in my hometown!

  • What would a perfect evening look like to you?

A meal out in my favourite Italian, Di Vino, followed by a sunset walk, then back home with red wine, crisps and PJs with my family, boyfriend and a good movie or show on Netflix! Obviously, some great sex too, to top it off, haha. Gotta be honest!

 Quick Fire Round:

      Porridge or Avo Toast?      

It depends on the season! Porridge in winter, avo toast during the summer months, always with some pink salt!

      Freddie Mercury or Lana Del Ray?

FREDDIE FOREVER!

      Pasta or Pizza?

That’s cruel. So cruel. If I had to pick, pasta…*tear*

      GOT or Harry Potter?

Again, SO CRUEL! I’d have to choose Harry Potter just because it was such a huge part of my childhood!

      Gluten or Lactose (Hurray IBS)?

I can do without gluten entirely as there are some really great alternatives now, however lactose is almost impossible for me to avoid…I tend to have it in tiny amounts very often!

      Red Wine or Dark Chocolate?

I honestly think I’d have to pick wine because so much of my socialising involves myself and my mates having a few drinks…same with family social stuff!

      Weight Lifting or Walks Around Skerries?

Oooh. That’s difficult. Weights make me feel powerful and productive and capable but walks calm me down and clear my head…if I could only do one for the rest of my life though it would definitely be walks!

      If Only or Fully Functioning Human (Almost)?

If Only for sure! It was much more of a learning experience for me and I’m more proud of it, because with the first book I simply felt like I was elaborating on a lot of topics I’d already discussed online and it wasn’t nearly as creative!

      Youtube or Instagram?

YouTube! Instagram is great for easily digestible content but there’s nothing like a long vlog/an educational video/a short film/a comedy sketch/a chatty grwm. The quality stuff exists on YouTube and I can’t imagine it vanishing! 

      Home Cooked or Takeaway?

Home cooked food ALWAYS tastes better! That’s why I’d choose a restaurant over a take away any day of the week!

❤ ❤ ❤

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