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Having any kind of eating disorder is enough to deserve treatment

Note from Beat: Nina is currently waiting for treatment for her eating disorder, and many people may share her thoughts about the idea of not feeling "ill enough" for treatment. She explained, "I just want people to know that no matter what people say about eating disorders you don't have to wait... before you get help."

For Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Beat are focusing on the theme of ‘why wait’. I should probably start by saying that I don’t feel like I deserve to write about suffering from an eating disorder – but that’s exactly why I have to write about it. Because feeling undeserving is a crucial part of my and so many other people’s eating disorders.

I feel unable to say I have anorexia because my eating disorder makes me think my weight and my thoughts and behaviours around controlling food are normal. I am afraid I don’t deserve treatment, and my eating disorder tells me if my BMI isn’t as low as it could possibly be then it isn’t low enough. 

I decided to write this blog because I want people to know that it’s okay to seek help before your hair falls out or before you get amenorrhea (for people who have periods) or before lanugo starts to grow. Because I know the shame I feel about not hurting my body “enough” is felt by so many other people who are too scared to say they are suffering. Having irregular periods isn’t “enough” if your menstrual cycle hasn’t stopped altogether; having a low BMI isn’t “enough” if it isn’t low “enough”. 

An eating disorder will play with this game of “enough” because it knows it will always win. At some level, I am aware that at no point will my eating disorder congratulate me for hurting myself “enough”, because if I became as thin as I could possibly be I wouldn’t be around to celebrate. Yet for some reason I still firmly believe that my eating disorder is something I can’t cope without.

When I went to my first eating disorder assessment last November, four years after I started to struggle with controlling food and exercise, I told her I was terrified of going to group therapy because I thought everyone would be thinner than me. What she said back to me was probably the most enlightening thing anyone had ever told me with regards to my eating disorder: “if I had a pound for every time somebody said that to me”.

Eating disorders by their very nature will tell you not to get treatment – that you don’t need it and you don’t deserve it. But the truth is if you are having those kinds of thoughts then you do need the treatment. An eating disorder is a mental illness. Every person’s eating disorder is different, and anyone who understands eating disorders will know that you can’t always tell if somebody needs help just by looking at them.

I am writing this blog for people who may have OSFED or early signs and symptoms of eating disorders, who may have huge respect for people who have recovered from anorexia through hospitalisation, but can’t relate to their stories because they feel their own eating disorder isn’t severe enough to warrant treatment.

I have never had to have physical treatment for my eating disorder, but I still know that my relationship with it is one of the most important relationships in my life. It makes me feel in control, helps me feel out of touch with reality when things get tough, and most importantly it will always be there for me. As hard as it is to admit, at some level I know these ideas are just lies my eating disorder is telling me, masking the negative impact my behaviours are having on my mental and physical health.

Due to a past experience with severe OCD, I am lucky enough to be able to recognise when I’m being controlled by irrational thoughts and get help. I hope this blog reminds people who don’t believe they deserve help that you don’t have to wait until your eating disorder fully supports you in seeking treatment, because the chances are it never will. #whywait

Contributed by Nina
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