Sorry I have been away for a little while, I’ve been writing some articles for a different site for some extra pennies and I’ve found it really hard to concentrate on two different writing endeavours! However, this week is Eating Disorder Week, which I think deserves me driving to formulate some thoughts together.
Like every ‘awareness’ that comes around every year, there is a dedicated core of people who claim ‘why can’t we spread awareness all year round?’ and I do truly agree with that. But that, unfortunately, is not the way the world works, and if there is a specific day or week or month that will remind people of certain issues, that is better, because at least they are being talked about. At least, for that week they are the centre of awareness, and not always in a long list of everything that people need to be aware of.
Let me clear in that I have never had an eating disorder. I cannot ever truly understand what those who suffer with any form or variation of it go through, but I have seen close friends go through it, and I have seen how easily it can start, and how quickly and scarily it takes over. Eating disorders are still one of the trickiest mental health disorders to pin down. People tend to treat it as more of a taboo than depression and anxiety, I think because a lot of people still don’t understand it. People understand more now that depression doesn’t really mean that you’re just sad, but there’s still an aura surrounding eating disorders that people think can be fixed by just ‘eating more’ and that people just want to be thinner.
It is estimated that over 750,000 people suffer from eating disorders in the UK. That is awful enough in itself, but it doesn’t include the thousands of young people who are having negative reactions and thoughts about their bodies. The thousands of people who eat normally, but still feel a huge amount of guilt for this, and express hate towards their bodies. People who spend hours comparing themselves to the people they see in their day to day lives, to people online on their Instagrams, and to even the people they think they used to be. I am guilty of all of this. I express hate towards my stomach and my squishy bits, which are squishy because I enjoy eating and I don’t enjoy exercise, and despite my boyfriend and my best friend and my mum telling me I am beautiful, I find myself unable to believe them.
I have been in situations surrounded by girls much younger than me, and I have overheard them talking about their bodies and how they look fat or how they wish they looked a certain way, and I felt so sad for them that they would probably never be able to look at their body with love, because I know I never do either. I see pictures and blogs and writing about body positivity and I want to agree and feel uplifted so much but there’s always a niggling feeling in the back of my mind that says ‘you know you are only pretending, you are not happy with your body.’
My friend once told me that their struggles began when they were a child, because they used to see their mother as the most beautiful person in the world, only for that same mother to say to them that they considered themselves fat, that they hated themselves, meaning the child was immediately presented with these confusing feelings. They were introduced to the issue of not liking their body, and they had their vision of beauty cruelly taken away, starting the cycle of measuring themselves, as they were taught. Eating disorders need more awareness because they need more writing about it, more understanding of why and how they start. More people like Hannah Gale and Anna Saccone-Joly talking about their struggles, because that was a turning point for me. I think Anna SJ is one of the most beautiful women in the world, and I couldn’t believe that she suffered so much for so long. Eating disorders need more awareness because they are so saddeningly common, and finally people in positions of influence are talking about it.
Any type of eating disorder or disordered eating or a relationship with food that isn’t healthy should be treated as something serious. I, for one, speaking only from what I have seen in being around people who have suffered, think there is never a definite recovery. I think there is always an awareness of it, something that can jump out and affect you when you think you’re doing fine. (Apologies if I am offending anyone who has suffered or struggled with eating disorders, I am not trying to pretend that I know how you feel) Part of the problem of parents of people who try to help the people around them is that they aim only for that diagnosed ‘recovery,’ but there is no one stop answer to that.
There should be so much more awareness around eating disorders. People tend to think that you only have an eating disorder if you fit the ‘look’ of an someone with an eating disorder, leaving thousands of people struggling and suffering every day, but being told they are not sick enough to get help. I don’t want to bring children into this world. I feel a sense of overwhelming guilt that I cannot tell my daughter in all honesty that all bodies are beautiful, because I can’t bring myself to think mine is beautiful. I also want to be able to talk to my children, and have them tell me or for me to notice that they have an unhealthy relationship with food so I can get them help. I want my children to believe that their bodies are beautiful, even if I don’t. For that reason, everyone needs to know about eating disorders. It’s a well known fact that not all doctors deal with admissions of eating disorders very well, but along with all mental illnesses, it needs proper attention, it needs validation and acknowledgement.
My friend Rachel also wrote a wonderfully honest piece on her own experiences, please read that here!