February 28th – March 6th is eating disorder awareness month. This year the focus is on asking ‘why wait?’ as the average time that passes between first noticing eating disorders and seeking help is 149 weeks. I know for me, this was much, much longer although with lengthy NHS waiting lists I’m still waiting for help nearly 10 months on. Beat eating disorders has more information, helplines and support on their website.
Firstly, I want to address the obvious – eating disorders affect a whole manner of people, no matter their age, body shape, size or gender. We live in a society that glorifies the idea of a perfect body that doesn’t really exists because photo image editing software exists. We also seem to believe that you can only have a problem if you’re thin, and if your fat then your issue is just laziness. People hate seeing fat people admit they have a problem other than a sheer lack of willpower because society has made us believe that thinness = health. Eating disorders are caused by so many different reasons and not only do they affect an individuals relationship with food, but they cause harm, sickness, problems functioning, sleep issues and a long lasting negative relationship with a persons body. Eating disorders are something that you live with for life, and take a lot of individual and well supported work to get through. My aim for this post is to just talk about them and my experience and what steps I did to seek help in the hopes that it helps others pick up the phone to their GP.
I have had life long issues with my weight, since perhaps the age of about eleven or twelve. So since I was a child. The fact that my weight was addressed as a preteen girl really affects me in a negative way. It makes me feel angry for the child I was, because I feel it was the wrong time to talk about my weight. Perhaps then if I understood my body was growing and changing a little more I would have negated a lot of the problems I’ve had for the last twenty three years. I didn’t grow up wealthy and my mum, who will admit this, hated cooking. Alongside me being a bit of a fussy eater and really disliking the flavour of some meals, and then the frustration at my friends fancy lunch boxes, full cupboards and nicer tasting dinners – well I think this is where my relationship with food really started to change. I also remember being in the early years of secondary school and it being commented on that I had ‘puppy fat’ as well as the constant reminder that I didn’t like going outside, running or playing sport like many of my family members did. I was pretty responsible though so was often asked to babysit, giving me my own money which would be blown on sweets, snacks and ice cream that I would binge on. Before I was sixteen I was encouraged to sign up to weight watchers.
Looking at the photo above makes me feel really sad because I know I was going through a pretty hard time during those years and I look at this photo and remember what a fun night I had. I’d had my last GCSE exam that day, it was Graphics Design, I got a D overall which is fine because I can’t actually draw or design things. But I remember crying about my body shape and size. I remember craving sugary things. I know I was stressed and probably depressed. The last two years of school especially were tough for so many reasons and I remember not really going. I remember getting ready to go and then just…not going. I think I blamed a lot of it on period pain, or I lied and said I had study leave and went to my grandparents house instead. This behaviour carried on well into college too where I was separated from my school friends, had broken up with my boyfriend, there was some strain in my relationship with all my parents and it was just a pretty bad time really.
I don’t think I ever actually realised I was binge eating until many years later. For years I have tried so many diets from weight watchers to slimming world to 16:8 diet, 5:2 diet, slim fast shakes, starve and binge…all to just put the weight back on and then some because deprivation leads to binge eating. Because exercise would be uncomfortable and make me feel judged and self conscious. Binge eating was for me linked to my emotions which I am trying to unravel now but I think now it was also linked to ADHD. I remember going a long time without eating because I would be hyper focusing on something and forgetting to eat which would inevitably lead to a binge when I realised just how hungry I was.
Over the years this has lead to decreased self confidence, constantly hating and disrespecting my body, self harm and so much guilt and shame over my appearance. This has only gotten worse after having two children and that changing my body shape permanently. I asked for help the same time I asked for an ADHD diagnosis but I am still waiting to see what happens next. One thing I did do which has been hugely beneficial is to stop dieting because I need to fix the relationship I have with food and my body before I even consider what I’m eating. The mentality I have around food needs to change as it’s been in deprivation mode for such a long time. Since stopping dieting, I haven’t put on weight which is a revelation in itself, although I recently wrote how my body image and being anti diet was conflicting particularly as a person drawn to an alternative sense of style but not being able to find clothes easily in my size. I do try and listen better for my hunger cues by stopping when I feel full and trying to eat small and often to prevent the need to binge although I do still struggle with this.
I’m not sure how much being referred to will help as it’s not particularly for eating disorders but again a focus on loosing weight despite me saying over and over again that I need help to mentally fix my relationship with food rather than being told to lose weight. I have been following and reading from body positive and fat activist people which has helped me stay far away from diets but hasn’t yet got me to a point where I feel confident or comfortable moving my body as often as I would like to and it deserves. I also can’t escape from the fact that for two years we’ve been living with plague and that has stripped down a lot of my confidence, my ability to socialise and interact properly with people and in all fairness the want to do anything other than things that make me happy. I have neglected a lot of myself, my writing, my want to be more physically active and the want to get help just because I have been so drained of energy.
I think this is something we as a society completely discount when it comes to eating disorders. The fact that they’re often caused my self esteem issues, low self confidence, a need to control something in an uncontrollable world and holding ourselves to unobtainable standards as portrayed in the media. The way that people from poorer backgrounds are more likely to have negative relationships with foods and those on low incomes are more likely to be obese because financial stress is a burden that is tiring to carry around with us. So don’t wait when it comes to seeking help for an eating disorder because as time goes on it only gets worse. Speak to a trusted friend, a GP, or reach out to BEAT. I encourage people to read about body positivity as it’s not just about being fat and loving your fatness but embracing your body and learning to love who you are. Acknowledge emotional eating cues and try and find other ways to satisfy those emotions if you can but reach out. Don’t struggle in silence.