Today’s topic is a sensitive one, nevertheless, it’s one that I’ve thought about writing about a few times, and recently a friend of mine messaged me suggesting I write about it. All answers provided have been given anonymously.
As I’ve said in previous posts, this has been written to raise awareness, not to belittle or offend those with or who’ve had eating disorders. Hopefully this will help somebody going through something similar right now.
We all go through some awful things during our lifetime, I think the only way to turn them in to almost positives is to discuss our experiences to help another.
Thank you SO much to those who answered the survey. Your bravery is incredible and I am so grateful for your help.
The responses below came from 14 females and 1 male, 11 of those were 18 -24 years old, 2 were under 18 and 2 were 25-34 years old.
So what exactly is an eating disorder you may be asking? An eating disorder is an extremely unhealthy attitude towards food which then develops to become a serious and sometimes fatal illness which must NOT be confused with a lifestyle choice.
Symptoms can include obsessions with food, body weight, shape and excessive exercise.
According to statistics, the most commonly affected are young women aged 13-17 years old, however men and women of any age can get an eating disorder.
An eating disorder is an evil and cruel illness of the mind. Personally, I believe it’s difficult to understand it, if you haven’t been through it yourself. That’s why I’ve chosen to ask for and then share people’s experiences and write about it.
“Year 10. Started with an obsession with eating healthier. Escalated to anorexia from there. Noticed first when I would avoid social situations that included food.”
“16. Started noticing when I turned from confident to extremely unconfident, would do things like calorie count to the extreme, would look in the mirror and see a size 18 girl when I was a 6, would lose my appetite completely looking at skinnier girls and comparing.”
“13, I was bigger than a lot of girls my age, weight became an obsession I was convinced I would be more well liked by my classmates if I was smaller.”
“15, avoiding eating / food and weight constantly on my mind, obsessively weighing myself , obsessively counting calories.”
“18. Calorie counting and documenting. Complete fixation on being perfect. Felt I wasn’t exceptional anymore and wanted a new goal to achieve (the goal being weight). Absolutely terrified that after retiring from sport, I would put weight on.”
“I was 18 and I knew when I realised losing weight in the wrong way was a constant on my brain.”
“16 – I was bulimic so the signs consisted of me going to the bathroom after every meal, I felt I looked very ill always really pale and I used to get really bad headaches.”
“15, I was looking at myself in a very negative light and I was losing weight very quickly and felt that I needed help so I went to the school nurse.”
From these responses, the external symptoms aren’t so clear and that’s why eating disorders can sometimes go unnoticed, unsurprisingly as they are a mental illness after all.
If you’re looking out for a friend or relative, external symptoms can include –
-Fluctuations in weight.
-Calluses on the hands and knuckles.
-Feeling cold all the time.
If you think you yourself may have an eating disorder, please seek professional help or confide in a friend or relative.
Eating disorders affect sufferers lives and those around them in many ways. Here’s how.
“Strains relationships especially for family and significant others. Feels as if they are against you but all they want is the best for you therefore it’s frustrating for them.”
“It still impacts me every day, a lot of my thoughts during the day are taken up by food and what I plan to eat next. I can seem snappy, or short-tempered to those around me during these times.”
“I constantly felt watched by my family so would lead to big arguments, I also thought my family were trying to make me fat by adding extra food to my plate so would get angry. I felt like my friends were out to get me and that they didn’t want the best for me but wanted to sabotage me.”
“I defined my body in comparison to somebody else’s, as if it was a competition in the mind. I used to plan out how much I was to eat in the week to come until it became obsessive – writing everything I ate, regretting everything I ate, followed by extreme exercising. I began going out less as I thought alcohol was too much calories to even handle in my mind.”
“My family always comment on how much I eat. I still can’t see myself in a positive light. Even though I am “cured” I feel like this will always be a big part of my life and will mean that I can’t see myself in a way like most people do.”
“It mentally drains you.”
“Made me feel weak that I could not control what I was forcing myself to do, now I’m recovering I can see it’s making me a stronger person.”
“I felt guilty every time I put on 0.1 of a pound, I also became obsessed with not only my weight but other people’s.”
“It just takes over your every waking minute, becomes some sort of ritual almost, that you have to count and check you’ve eaten and stay away from certain foods.”
“Having an eating disorder doesn’t occur over night. It’s a crumbling feeling inside and it only occurred to me that I had an issue with eating until my recovery. It started in sixth form. I was constantly surrounded my young adults, pretty and confident girls an i couldn’t understand why I couldn’t be like them. My disorder escalated from my low self-esteem and not necessarily from food. At one point i remember feeling worthless like I had no purpose to myself. Instead of flipping the switch and proving myself wrong I just fizzled away. I also ate a pot of yogurt for breakfast but then went all day without anything to eat, came home from school and just relied on coffee followed by a gym session.”
How can you help a friend or relative dealing with an eating disorder right now? Instead of getting frustrated at them for putting themselves through such awful things, please read the following off people who’ve lived through it themselves. Frustration disappears when we understand a person’s reasons for doing something.
“I eat to excess, for example, if I feel low, I will go to McDonald’s and have the equivalent of maybe 3 meals. I don’t enjoy it or even really taste it but it gives me a full feeling that I lack when I am in a low mood. Essentially it fills that void for me.”
“It’s not an obsession with being skinny, which I think is a stigma. It’s triggered by stress so my family and friends are always around and making sure I’m okay when stressful situations come about.”
“For support I would just ask for people to just listen when you need – just listen, no point in telling someone they look fine if they don’t feel it.”
“I would say it’s helpful maybe not to bring up the subject itself because it often feels like an ambush, but to just offer your support, make it clear you’re there to listen and avoid talking about foods that are “bad for them” around them.”
“I would describe anorexia as a form of obsessive compulsive disorder, it takes over your thoughts and you have near to no other thoughts. I would describe bulimia as being in a state where you’re so terrified of binging and purging that you push yourself to do it. The best form of support I would say is to seek professional advice, and remind sufferers of what they used to love, encourage it and be there to do the things they love with them.”
“You can’t see it yourself, you can’t see how skinny you are, you are blinded by the obsession.”
“I couldn’t help thinking the only way to comfort myself was to get rid of the food I was eating.”
“Never say stuff like ‘you’re not thin enough to have an eating disorder’, it’s not helpful. Help me by giving me space and help me see myself in a positive way.”
I tried my hardest to cut this next response down but I found I couldn’t, the incredible person who wrote the response was so open and honest about her experience and I truly believe it’ll help so many people if they just take a minute to read it.
I’ve been lucky not to experience an eating disorder myself, however their words are so inspirational and they deserve to be seen.
“Instead of facing the fear of going to sixth form socials and throwing myself out there I just stuck to my usual routine of school, gym and revision, nothing else. I experienced a traumatic experience during the lead up to my A levels. I and my boyfriend at the time helped each other through it and we had endless support, which was great. I felt strong at the time, I continued to focus on my studies whilst also running back and forth between two families. I was running on adrenaline. I was eating the bare minimum and wasn’t listening to mind at all. My boyfriend at the time was very good to me, he stopped me from crashing and i thank him so much for that.
With the pressure of A Levels and trauma there was no time to even think of recovery. Summer of 2018 was hell. I couldn’t make memories as I hated social outing and had crippling anxiety, which always lead to panic attacks. However, believe it or not I went to Kavos on a girls holiday. I knew it would be a bad idea – didn’t eat anything, i drank only because i wasn’t eating, hoping that it woud ease my mind. Less than 24h and i was on the strip, lying on the floor hyperventilafing. My panic attacks usually lasted 15 mins but it came clear to me that this was a big one. I woke up 5h later in a bed, covering in ice cold water an my best friend looking down at me relieved that I was still alive.
I got into uni, got more than the grades I wanted, but this didn’t bring happiness like I though it would bring. I was a girl with good grades, entering a decent university, what I always wished for. I know I’ve detoured off topic, which makes me realise how much details there are to a single disorder. Anxiety, eating disorder lead to Depression. And from then I found myself reiterating the trauma that was happening to someone else a few months earlier down the line.
Recovery is very very personal. For me it was dropping negative people, people that belittled my confidence and that I was comparing myself to. Leaving school cut the cyclic routine of starving myself all day and so i ate at least one meal a day. The more I ate the more I hated food. Gym is an integral part of my life and so my personal recovery was combining healthy food with an active lifestyle. The more i gym’ed i realised the more i had to eat.
Over time i became to enjoy the mental enjoyment of coming and leaving the gym, instead of that physical goal. I ate more an more and i got more out and about. The balance was good. It’s been a tough two years but i’m currently writing this after being to the gym and now tucking into my fish an chips (extra chips).
The last 4 months have been the best despite a break up and dropping negative people. I wake up everyday now loving my body and loving what i can do with my body. I push it and every time I learn new things my body is capable of doing. I go to bed every night excited for my breakfast, instead of dreading the thought of it. I love it.
For anyone that doesn’t understand what an eating disorder or any mental health, I don’t blame you. For years i didn’t have a clue. However, myself, family and friends have all suffered and now mental health is very close to my heart. I cannot describe exactly how crippling the fear of it is but it’s certainly not nice. I would not wish it upon anyone. Looking back i just wished that someone could’ve read my mind (impossible) but at least say “you ok?”. But even that I still answered “yea good thanks” behind a sunny smile.
For anyone struggling with mental health it’s finding someone you know well, the one you can trust and reach out for. For me i didn’t do that though, I waited for university and then pulled the courage to phone the well-being services. Sometimes you just need someone annonymous, like a therapist to spill the beans to.
Contacting a therapist was a massive deal to me as I didn’t want to label myself with a mental health concern. From my experience, I now reach out to people for others in need yet I am so lucky to have fab friends who are always ensuring that I embrace my body and my personal traits. They love me for who I am and not who I want to me. I am me.”
Thank you SO so much to those that answered my survey. Your bravery is incredible and you are amazing for taking the time to share your experience in order to help somebody else.
If you are going through it right now, PLEASE do not struggle on your own. Help is always available.
The charity BEAT are also available :
Adult Helpline – 0808 801 0677
Youth Helpline – 0808 801 0711
Student Helpline – 0808 801 0811
Thank you for taking the time to read this post.
Ciao for now x