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You do not need to be underweight to have an eating disorder

An eating disorder is not about an extremely low Body Mass Index (BMI) or an emaciated figure, and even though this is how it ended up for me it makes me wonder, now I am on the road to recovery, if my road could have been different. I want to share what I have learnt with you. I feel if sharing my first-hand experience helps you or someone you know, my journey may have been a little less futile.

University is hard and the pressure is intense, and as my peers in my cohort would put the pressure off to another day, I would thrive in it. A form of punishment almost – the perfectionist in me wants to be the best, to achieve the best. However, the combination of twelve-hour shifts on placement and essays allowed me to be consumed with this illness. I felt by restricting I was taking control of these pressures. I won’t tell you the nitty gritty of my journey, but I will tell you it was not pretty. I lost who I was, I became a shell of who I was. I nearly lost everything I had worked so hard for.

A very good friend noticed I was not well and gently nudged me to seek help. At first the doctor was not very helpful, and I felt I needed to become more unwell to meet the criteria expected of someone with anorexia. However NICE guidelines state there is no minimum weight or BMI for an eating disorder diagnosis. There must be focus on the disordered thinking, too, not just physical signs. If I had known this, maybe I would have sought help before it went too far.

My experience with an eating disorder is with anorexia and even though at times I had episodes of bulimia, I feel it is not really a condition I can discuss in detail. The anorexia I lived with caused me many unwanted social side-effects. I became withdrawn, totally consumed with calorie counting and restricting. It was all I thought about and I felt numb from hunger, and constantly cold. I allow you these small snippets of my illness as I feel these will help you notice the first change in yourself or a friend. I feel if I had recognised my illness before it became as bad as it did then maybe I would have been able to manage it better before it became worst.

So my message to you is if you think you have issues around food, big or small, please seek help. You do not need to be under weight to have an eating disorder. If you spot signs in a friend that you are concerned about, please speak to them. Just ask if they are okay. Say you have noticed a change in them. But please, if you notice a friend struggling with food, please do not say “just eat”. It really is not helpful.

This is a prevalent illness and is more than worthy for discussion. So please, I urge you to start the discussion today. 

Contributed by Natalie