An eating disorder is a mental illness defined by an unhealthy relationship with food that impacts your life causing psychological and physical harm to oneself. This can impact your health in many ways, and this can be life threatening. One does not have to be underweight to have an ED. Eating disorders can involve both overeating and under-eating. Many people suffering an eating disorder weigh in at a healthy BMI. This does not mean the eating disorder is less serious. In 2017 an estimated 16 million people had clinical anorexia and/or bulimia according to Ritchie and Roser (2018).
Types of eating disorders.
Anorexia manifests in a way that makes the person’s perception and body image different to what somebody else sees… While they are underweight, they cannot see this clearly and the anxiety manifests as a refusal to supply their body with the recommended daily calories leading to further weight loss and deterioration.
Bulimia involves repeated episodes of binge eating and then the inappropriate behaviors of trying to undo or rid one of the calories. (inducing vomit, misuse of laxatives/diuretics, over exercising.). Their view of themselves becomes distorted and they may feel out of control, trapped but the cycle continues.
Binge eating disorder usually occurs with the inability to control one’s eating patterns resulting in a large consumption of food followed by negative thoughts and emotions towards oneself.
OSFED (other specified feeding eating disorder). ARFID (avoid restrictive food intake disorder). This is the most common eating disorder. One which does not meet the full criteria for anorexia or bulimia but displays enough symptoms to be diagnosed with an eating disorder impacting one’s health and life.
Eating disorders are far from glamorous and that is something the media is still to yet understand. It is not models on the runway/catwalk and then famous parties in skimpy dresses If you watched a tape of the life of someone with an eating disorder you instead would see someone bent over the toilet, spluttering, and choking on their own fingers so far back their throats. The pain of the acid that accompanies bulimia. Eyes bulging, red, watery, and puffy from trying to destroy your own body. Bruises on your back from the 300 sit-ups you do daily. Yellow teeth and mouth ulcers. Hunger pains so severe they keep you awake at night. Most of all the hatred and anger you feel towards yourself. Punishing yourself over and over again. You can find my own journey with disordered eating here. Finding motivation when living with depression
I decided to ask a close friend of mine to help me open the world’s eyes to eating disorders. To recognize it as a mental illness and not a lifestyle choice. It does not bring you glamour, boyfriends, fame, No instead it is a mental illness that takes lives every single day. Emma kindly answered my questions to help shed a light on the battles one faces in the face of an eating disorder.
Questions and answers with Emma
1) As someone suffering with an eating disorder what is the biggest misconception you face?
The biggest misconception about Eating Disorders is that they are all about food, weight, and appearance. This is just an aspect of EDs and is a distraction from the real issue. The real issue is often a want for control in a world where you feel out of control, a lack of self-esteem and self-confidence, want to self-punish and a method of numbing out painful emotions and memories. A person with an ED often uses food and weight to distract themselves from these memories or to punish themselves. Another misconception is that people with EDs restrict and lose weight to look attractive. This is not always the case. Sometimes they want to lose weight to become ‘invisible’ and unattractive to male/females due to past sexual trauma.
2) If you believe someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder how would you best approach it?
With care, compassion, and patience’s. People have to realise it is NOT a choice and even if the person wants to recover it is extremely difficult and scary. It might be a hard subject to approach with the person and they may be in denial and resistant to change. The person needs to be gentle and explain that they are non-judgemental, and they will be there to support the person in any way they can.
Although they should be gentle there needs to be an aspect of ‘’strictness’’ and not to allow the persons eating disorder rule the relationship.
3) In your opinion what do you think the services are missing in regard to eating disorder treatment?
Often in my opinion treatment can be barbaric and can take all control and independence away from the person. I feel treatment should try and give the person some autonomy and control to allow them to function on their own in real life when they are discharged.
4) Do you believe social media has had a big impact in regard to dieting?
It has especially now with the likes of Instagram especially. People especially young girls are faced with images of unnatural body pictures and underweight models and will compare themselves to these people and even try and follow the persons supposed diet from hashtags like #fulldayofeating which can often be misconceiving.
5) Do you believe there is too much media promoting weight loss in magazines, news, radio?
Yes, definitely most women magazines are packed with weight loss stories and articles about the best diets and the best ways to lose weight and sections about celebrities weight loss or weight gain, criticizing the stars body. The news now in the UK is highlighting calorie counting and Obesity despite the fact that there is more underweight people in the UK than there is obese people. The government do not realize that adding Calories to menus will have a huge negative effect on people with eating disorders and could lead to disordered eating in children. I also am hugely against ‘Fitbit’ and they can easily become very obsessional for the user and are now even been given to children.
6) What advice would you give to young girls believing they need to diet?
This is a hard question as some young girls may actually genuinely need to alter their diet to become healthier, but dieting is not the answer and often does not work. I would tell them that unless they are unhealthy overweight that they do not need to diet they just need to eat healthy with a few treats when they want them. Self-acceptance and body acceptance is something they should strive for.
7) What has been the most significant factor for you in your recovery?
Wanting independence and freedom and realizing that my eating disorder may not kill me for the next 20 odd years, and I know that I couldn’t bear living in the grips of it for that long.
8) Has your past influenced your career choice and college?
Not necessarily as I have always from a young age wanted to go into a career where I was helping people and changing people’s lives. But my past has made me a more emphatic person.
9) Do you believe there needs to be more education in schools about eating disorders.
Hugely I got no education on Eating disorders in school and did not know what anorexia was when I was younger. It seems like a taboo subject even now in society.
I want to take a moment to thank Emma for helping me with this blog post. We have been friends along time and we have both witnessed each other through the good times and the bad. There have been times I have stayed up at night worrying I would lose Emma to her eating disorder, pulling away from the friendship terrified that I would have to bury my best friend. Emma has also experienced nights where she was up worrying that mental illness would take my life. I am so proud of how far she has come in the last year especially.
I pulled through life support after getting hit by the train and Emma completed her first year in college, is back eating meals and has such motivation to beat her illness. We both have. Me and Emma met many years ago when we were teenagers in a psychiatric unit for children and adolescents. I know recovery is a rocky road, it is hard and it is exhausting but it is also something that anyone can achieve. Take it from us two 7 years later we are still here kicking mental illness’s ass and we are recovering.
For more support or information on eating disorder signs and symptoms click below.
Happy Reading Guys
Lots of love Katie xx