Anorexia. Even now it’s hard for me to look at this word without wincing. Recent research has shown that over 1.6 million people in the UK suffer from an eating disorder. This is a monster that we cannot ignore and it’s about time we spoke about it.
My experience. I was 12 when I first developed anorexia and struggled with it for around 3 years. The disorder took over my life. Every mealtime became a battle as all eyes round the table were focused on me; was I going to eat or not? I was consumed by this uncontrollable obsession and nothing else mattered. For me, it was about control. Yet ironically the disorder left me utterly powerless. Most of my time was filled with trips to the hospital, consultations and weight in sessions. I was constantly asked ‘are you ok?’, or ‘how are you feeling?’ A lot of these questions didn’t scratch the surface of how ‘not ok’ I had become. This is not how a young girl should spend the beginning of her teenage years.
Now, I can recognise that I became a horrible person, but that person was not me, I was transformed into someone else; I became the disorder. Food dominated my every thought and I spent my time completely miserable; reaching for a goal that was ultimately unattainable. Those were the worst years of my life. However, overcoming this means that I know recovery is possible. It won’t last forever.
There is no checklist or step by step guide for beating an eating disorder. Recovery is gradual and individual. It doesn’t happen over-night so don’t feel bad if 3 months down the line you are in the same place as you were yesterday. Don’t hate yourself for relapsing or being plagued by thoughts of self-doubt as genuine body confidence is something that very few of us possess.
If I could give any form of advice it would be this: talk to someone, even if you don’t want to, even if it is painful. Having someone that you can trust and confide in is essential. A lot of the time you may feel completely helpless and alone, but this is not the case. If you can’t turn to your family, talk to a friend and if that is too hard; there is always professional help available. The NHS offers support services, some of which I found to be particularly helpful. Sometimes talking to someone who is entirely impartial can help you to open up and better understand this destructive illness. In the end, recovery comes from you. However, you cannot do it alone, what you need is support.
If you are a friend of someone suffering from anorexia I understand that it can be hard. You might not recognise what they have become, both physically and mentally, and your relationship centres around them and their illness. However, as a friend the worst thing you can do is to walk away; be there, be aware and be supportive. Don’t question them on what they are eating or comment on how much weight they’ve lost. You may not understand but that’s ok, simply being there is enough.
Eating disorders are a disturbing consequence of our modern society and it is true that the statistics for recovery are troubling, but they are not absolute. All we can do is offer unconditional support and not lose sight of our happiness.
(Image: Bare Biology)