It’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week this week (25 February - 03 March 2019), so we have a couple of blogs lined up over the next few days specifically around eating disorders, all written by our awesome ‘blinkers’. The below was written by Maz which gives an insight into how dangerous eating disorders are, but also that recovery is possible. If you or someone you know needs help or advice on eating disorders, please contact BEAT via their website, or call them on 0808 801 0677
An eating disorder is a serious mental illness. It attacks its sufferers from within and drains all their physical and psychological resources until there is nothing but a shell of their former selves left. It’s debilitating, isolating and it’s a killer...anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, bulimia is 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 make every single day a living hell.
So often when we see news articles, information leaflets or support material about eating disorders the words “An Eating Disorder Is a Disease, Not a Choice” will be written on it somewhere. This is true. Eating Disorders are serious mental health illnesses with both physical and psychological consequences, but while developing an eating disorder is not a choice, we do have a choice on whether to recover or not.
A battle with an eating disorder is draining. For every single person it is a unique experience that can and does impact on their entire lives. What started as a coping mechanism to help us feel better, to help us feel more in control of our lives or to help improve our self esteem quickly turns into an internal battle that is relentless. How do we escape something that is harming us when it becomes an intrinsic part of our identity?
Eating disorders are all consuming, they make us forget about everything else that had meaning in our lives – friends, family, school and work all stop being important. All our time is spent thinking about food, calories, weight, exercise and how we look in the mirror; how can we possibly have time to care about anything else when we have all that to contend with. And the scary thing is, the more time we spend lost in our thoughts about these things the worse things get. That thing that was meant to help us feel more in control of our lives suddenly controls EVERYTHING. Depression, anxiety, fear and desperation are just some of the things we start to experience...but that’s only until we become too numb to feel anything at all. Emotions? Who has time for those and why would we want to feel emotions anyway when everything is just too painful for us?
Like any disease, the longer we live with it the more harm it causes us and unfortunately there is no magical, medical cure. No-one else can “fix” us, no-one can “make” us get better – choosing to recover and to take back our lives is a choice each of us has to make.
Will it be scary? Hell yes! Before we can choose to recover we first have to admit that we have a problem and who wants to do that? We believe that the shame, embarrassment, self-loathing and disgust that we feel for ourselves is shared by everyone else; we can’t see that the eating disorder has tricked us into thinking this way because it has become a natural way of thinking for us. We believe that we don’t deserve help and support to get better because we brought this on ourselves – we can’t see that it is a disease that we had no choice over. We don’t want our family and friends to worry about us; because no! Until this point we probably haven’t recognised their concern. And the scariest thing of all; how will admitting we have a problem and need help impact on our weight?
Recovering from an eating disorder is one of the hardest things we may ever do. At the start every second, every minute, every hour of every day will be filled with excruciating fear and anxiety. We are terrified of food and yet we can’t avoid it and each night we go to bed exhausted from battling ourselves only to wake up the next morning to start the battle all over again. And the food isn’t the only thing we are battling. We have our inner demons that fuelled the eating disorder to fight as well, emotions that we have managed to numb come flooding back making us feel overwhelmed and totally out of control; but that’s because the “illusion of control” that the eating disorder provided us has gone. It is scary but it’s what we need in order to start living our lives again.
If you are reading this and currently struggling with an eating disorder, please remember no one can make you recover. You need to make a conscious decision that it is what you want, but remember by choosing recovery you are also choosing life.
If you are someone that is supporting someone with an eating disorder, the important message is that as much as you may want to, you cannot force them to recover. You can guide and support them in the hope that they will see that they need help – you may feel powerless, but ultimately this isn’t your decision to make.
Next time you see the heading “EATING DISORDERS ARE A DISEASE, NOT A CHOICE” perhaps you could add “NO, BUT RECOVERY IS” onto the end of it – just maybe those 4 extra words might be enough to help someone you care about make the most important decision of their life.
Note from blink:
We recognise that the choice to recover isn't just a one off decision.
The below paragraph is from another one of our blinkers, Phoebe, who describes what ‘choosing to recover’ feels like for her:
“The decision to recover is one to be made over and over again, with every piece of food I eat or every time I resist an ED behaviour. I still make this decision with each meal and snack I have, and I've been doing that for four years. Sometimes the decision comes easily, almost second nature, other times it is laboured and takes a lot of strength and overriding extreme anxiety to consciously do what's healthy.”
As always, please do let us know what you think via comments below, social media or by email