Giving blood with an eating disorder

Isabel writes about her experience

Written by Isabel Read


I can still remember being given a talk in primary school about the importance of giving blood and the impression it left on my young mind. That day I decided as soon as I turned 18 I wanted to give blood and help make a difference. However, on my 18th birthday I was pale, frail, weak and below the weight limit to give blood.

I would like to say I was devastated but as many of you know an eating disorder takes away your ability to care about the important things as you are all consumed by thoughts about weight and food. So on my 18th birthday instead of being upset that I couldn’t fulfil a childhood longing, I was worrying about how to worm my way out of eating birthday cake and having my first legal alcoholic drink.

Giving blood for the first time

I finally gave blood for the first time many months later. I felt immense pride at how far I had come in my recovery journey and for me this signified that I had a healthy body and was well on my way to being free of my ED. However, far from it being the easy pain-free experience described by many after almost 1 hour I had still not managed to give a pint of blood. I may have been a healthy weight but I was far from being what was healthy for my body. I spent the rest of the day on the couch feeling nauseous, unable to get up because every time I stood up I saw stars and the world started spinning before my eyes.

After this experience, it took me almost a year to sum up the courage to go again. Last Saturday, I decided I felt well enough to see if this time it would be different. I went alone, sat nervously in the waiting room, passed the doctor’s interview with flying colours and before I knew it found myself sitting in a chair and a nurse asking me if I wanted to donate from my right or left arm. I nervously said left and prepared myself for the horror I imagined I was about to endure.

More blood donors are needed

In spite of my nerves, I chatted with the nurse and was shocked to learn only about 3% of the population give blood when approximately 40% are eligible. This further fuelled my determination to make it through and before I knew it, the bag was full! I couldn’t believe how quickly and painlessly the whole process had been. After this I sat in an airconditioned room and helped myself to juice, a yoghurt, a roll and a packet of biscuits.

A sense of pride

My sense of pride only ballooned as I was able to go on with the rest of my day as normal with no adverse effects knowing that that day I had made a difference. The weight I gained in the period between the two donations may according to BMI not have been necessary but seeing how differently my body reacted each time only proves to me that fixating on a certain target weight is of no use. We must trust our bodies and let them decide for themselves the weight at which we can best function. As strange as it sounds, I’m looking forward to donating blood again soon from my new healthy body.

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