Eating Disorders Awareness Week is incredibly close to my heart. Firstly, because it’s so important to raise awareness surrounding eating disorders, but also because this time three years ago was the first time I publicly ‘came out’ on social media as somebody who had struggled with eating disorders in the past. I shared a blog that I’d written for Time to Change some months before but kept it private from people who knew me. I realised that I wanted to be a part of reducing stigma and discrimination; finally talking was definitely one of the best decisions I’ve made.
I now find the fact that I suffered with anorexia fairly easy to talk about in some ways. It’s the most well-known eating disorder and the one we see portrayed most often in the media. It’s the most easily recognised disorder, although there are still a lot of misconceptions around it. For example, it is still portrayed and often considered as the illness of young, white and middle-class females. Yet anorexia, and other eating disorders for that matter, do not discriminate. Anybody can become unwell and the more we acknowledge that fact, the more people who don’t fit into the ‘typical eating disorder’ stereotype will feel able to seek help. It’s also important to recognise that although anorexia is the most talked about of all eating disorders, it’s actually quite a small percentage of eating disorder sufferers that will receive this diagnosis.
The disorders that are most difficult to talk about are the ones you can’t see; your thoughts are the same, your body feels exhausted, you’re still sick, but you’re not underweight. You’re ED-NOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified), OSFED (other specified feeding or eating disorder) or atypical - you don’t quite tick all the boxes for a specific diagnosis. Your weight might not be quite low enough or you might not be doing certain behaviours often enough. Consequently, you don’t feel quite sick enough. You have all the thoughts that torture you constantly, but with the feelings of inadequacy that you aren’t deserving of treatment, because you don’t meet the thresholds. You don’t look ‘sick’, yet this is actually the category that most people fall into. As a result, thousands of people aren’t getting the right support, either through not seeking it due to feelings of not being ‘sick enough’, or not meeting thresholds for treatment.
There are a lot of myths about eating disorders, some of which I’ve already mentioned. But one of the biggest is that you have to be thin. People with binge eating disorder, bulimia and any number of OSFED’s are rarely underweight, yet are struggling just the same. And even when we consider anorexia, people rarely start off underweight. They reach that point over time. Those first weeks and months are critical in identifying a problem - weight is not the only indicator.
So yes, anorexia is incredibly dangerous and a horrible, torturous disease. But I’ve arguably been more miserable before I’ve met that threshold, when I’ve been in limbo; 'atypical'; looking perfectly healthy but feeling horrendous, both mentally and physically.
Recovery and weight restoration are also incredibly difficult. People think you are well because you are becoming ‘healthy’, but these can actually be the times when the voice is at its loudest. You’re fighting against everything the illness is telling you, still having all those same thoughts but not looking ‘sick’ anymore.
So, I urge you all to start noticing. Pay attention to those around you. There’s a chance that someone around you is struggling, with a battle you know nothing about.
Eating disorders are incredibly serious. People die. Let’s work together to raise awareness and spread the word:
You don’t have to be thin to be sick.