This week marks Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2018 (26th February – 4th March).
According to Beat – the UK’s eating disorder charity – approximately 1.25 million people in the UK live with this particular mental illness and with numbers on the rise, I thought that now would be a good time to speak out and share my own personal experiences of living with an eating disorder.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, please read with caution as this article contains details that could be triggering.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
From the outside, I may look as though I have my life together: I’m 25 years old and I’m married to an amazing man. We have a beautiful baby boy together and we own our own home. I have a degree and I a job that I love. I come from a loving family and I have wonderful friends. And yet, I lack the ability to do one simple human thing: eat.
I’ve had an eating disorder for more than a decade. I was first diagnosed with anorexia at 12 years old and have spent most of my teenage and adult years in and out of treatment, consumed by this illness.
I’ve always found it very hard to talk about my mental health issues, even to those closest to me, because eating disorders don’t make a lot of sense. Like breathing or sleeping, eating is a basic human need that we all need to do in order to survive, so why does my mind try to convince me otherwise?
Eating disorders are complex.
In my experience, what started out as a pursuit of self-improvement, very quickly and unexpectedly developed into an eating disorder.
I started high school in 2003, aged 11. I, like many others I’m sure, found the transition from primary school to high school to be quite overwhelming. I’ve always had a Type A personality – ambitious, competitive but insecure – so instantly, I felt like there was a lot of pressure to work harder in order to stand out.
It’s a well-known fact what we put into our bodies affects what we get out of them, so I thought that by improving my diet and lifestyle, I could improve my performance at school.
At first, I stopped eating junk food – chocolate, crisps, sweets – opting for healthier snacks instead. I also started exercising more and everyone praised my new, healthy lifestyle.
I then decided to cut out snacking completely. I believed that I didn’t really need to snack in between meals if I was eating a good, nutritious breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Around this time, my mindset shifted and my thoughts became distorted. I stopped eating at school because I became paranoid about people seeing me eat. Not eating at home was difficult as we always sat down as a family at mealtimes, but I ate nothing where I could and ate less where I couldn’t.
I lost a lot of weight very quickly and people – family, friends, teachers – became worried, but despite their concern, nobody really knew what to do or how to help me. Knowledge and understanding of eating disorders were basically nonexistent and the resources available were limited. I was eventually referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) and that’s where my recovery began.
I just want to clarify that eating disorders are not causing by dieting alone. The exact cause is often unknown, but it is generally believed to be a result of biological, psychological, and/or environmental influences. Through working with my therapist, I have discovered that there were other factors that contributed to the development of my eating disorder, but I’m not ready to share that part of my story just yet… also not to mention that this piece would be twice as long!
13 years later and I’m still in recovery. I’m now under the Community Mental Health Service for Adults (CMHSA) and have a team who I see regularly for support and monitoring when I’m struggling.
Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. Research has found that 20% of anorexia sufferers will die prematurely from their illness. Bulimia is also associated with severe medical complications, and binge eating disorder sufferers often experience the medical complications associated with obesity. In every case, eating disorders severely affect the quality of life of the sufferer and those that care for them.
Recovering from an eating disorder is hard.
Food is a fundamental need, so unlike someone recovering from a drinking problem where the focus of treatment is working towards a life that doesn’t necessarily include alcohol, recovering from an eating disorder is complicated, because the focus of treatment is working towards a life that does include food.
Some days are better than others, but there’s no such thing a day off from mental illness. Sometimes, it feels like you’ve taken 2 steps forward and 1 step back… but as long as it’s not the other way round, it’s okay, you’re still moving forward.
Until recently, I’ve always been reluctant to talk about my own mental health. I’ve always viewed it as something negative – a weakness – that would change the way others saw me, but with the new year, I found new strength and determination and I decided that talking about and breaking down the barriers surrounding mental health could only be a positive thing.
Having an eating disorder has shaped who I am as a person and whilst there’s nothing I can do about that, I can and want to help shape the future of mental health by raising awareness and encouraging others to speak out too.
If you are affected by any of the issues highlighted in this article, local signposting is available here.
If you are facing a time of crisis, do not wait, contact your GP, A&E or the Crisis Team on 642860.