What I wish people knew about life battling an eating disorder...
For the past year, I’ve been battling an eating disorder. Despite having seen multiple health professionals and had treatment for it, this is one of the first times I’ve ever really admitted I DO have an eating disorder. After all, I don’t fit the media’s stereotype. I’m not a young girl who has a diagnosis of anorexia and reached horrifically low weights.
The media gets it wrong. Eating disorders affect anyone, at any age. They aren’t about weight. I’ve been ill at low weights; I’ve been ill at healthy weights. There’s a lot of stereotyping about weight because services within the NHS are so stretched that in some cases weight (BMI) has to be a criterion for providing a service, which seems ludicrous as eating disorders are a mental illness. How can you base someone’s mental anguish on a number that flashes up on a scale? It isn’t just the sufferer’s pain, either. Their families are watching someone they love disappear – maybe physically but definitely mentally – into someone they don’t recognise anymore.
You forget what life was like before it revolved around food/calories/weight/exercise. You forget what it’s like to go out with friends (that’s if you have any left because you’ve cut yourself off from them) and laugh. You cannot imagine the feeling of going out for a meal and ordering something you actually WANT off of the menu and enjoying it with no thought as to how to get rid of the calories. (That is before you stopped going out for meals altogether). You can’t imagine not feeling ill all the time, not suffering from insomnia because you wake up in the night to eat because you’re hungry. You can’t imagine exercising without having to record every step walked or run or every length swum. You can’t even imagine being able to eat a sandwich without the horrible voice in my head insisting you don’t need that/don’t deserve that/shouldn’t eat that/how much weight will you gain? The guilt if you do eat is so immense that most of the time it ends in tears. This is even worse when you’ve crept into the “magical” healthy weight BMI.
The fear of seeing my weight increase on the scale is a fear like no other I have known. My fear is real. I am petrified of spiders, but put me in room full of them rather than tell me I’ve gained weight. It’s relentless. My mind is consumed by food/weight/anxiety/self-loathing 24/7. But no one sees any of this. I “look” healthy. I look “much better” than I did because I’ve gained weight. Eating disorders aren’t reflected in your physical appearance most of the time. They are mental illnesses and weight loss or gain is just a physical side effect of that. You cannot judge how severe my eating disorder is by looking at me and telling me I’ve put on weight; it doesn’t work like that.
Think eating disorders are a fad or a cry for attention? Think again. They threaten to destroy your mental health, they wreck relationships and friendships. They take their toll on your body. Maybe not straight away, but after many years of this I’m slowly beginning to see and realise the strain my disordered eating has taken on my body. Think they are glamorous? Nothing glamorous about hair falling out, inability to control body temperature, fainting, dizziness, headaches, insomnia, weakened teeth and bones, exercise injuries. The list goes on. Nothing glamorous about endless appointments, outpatient appointments, GP appointments, blood tests, weigh-ins. Eating disorders take control of your life; they threaten to destroy your whole life and everything within it.
Despite all of this, I have to believe that there is hope that it WILL get better. That I will live my life at some point free from this hold that food has over me. After all, I’ve got two little people I brought into this world watching me as I cry over a bowl of breakfast cereal. I owe it to them to try and be best role model and mummy I can be, and that means beating this.