TW: Discusses experience of Anorexia
What does Anorexia look like to you? I can almost guarantee that the first image that comes to mind when you think of someone with Anorexia is one of a severely underweight girl who looks pale and malnourished and to be honest, that’s probably the exact image I would have had a year ago, before I was diagnosed myself. But the reality is that we don’t all look like Ellen from ‘To the Bone’ and yet this is what people believe as it is what the media tells us.
An eating disorder doesn’t have a look, it is not simply defined by being severely underweight. The reality is, you can be any weight and have an eating disorder and that the number on the scales should not define the treatment you receive. Even health professionals who should be much more aware of the psychological struggles that people with eating disorders face treat people in a hierarchy based on that number on the scales.
I’ve experienced this discrimination first-hand and when I first sought help. I was told that I didn’t qualify for any eating disorder service as I was a ‘healthy weight’ despite losing a considerable amount already. However, that supposed healthy weight was not supported with a healthy mind and being told that I wasn’t ill enough made me think that I was just a fake anorexic who had just made it all up. At that point, I had so many disordered thoughts about food circulating through my brain that I could not cope. I needed help. My mental relationship with food and my body image was so toxic in my head that in the end I did become underweight, but it wasn’t until I got to that critical point that people started paying attention. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done. The sad thing is that it can all be prevented with earlier intervention, yet the health system’s eating disorder hierarchy denies people the help that they so urgently need to prevent them from getting to that critical point. Why wait until we are almost ‘too ill’ to actually do something?
Anorexia is not glamorous; it is not a choice. And no, you telling me to ‘just eat’ is not helpful in the slightest. It is a mental illness with serious physical consequences, yet the psychological aspects are far too often ignored. We, as a society, have come so far in reducing the stigmas surrounding mental health in the UK which has encouraged so many more people to seek help and no longer suffer in silence. However, the health services simply cannot keep up with the increasing demand which means that many people aren’t being able to access the full support that they need or are receiving help far too late.
So, when are we, as a society, going to stop treating Anorexia merely a physical disorder and start to recognise the damaging mental impact that it can have on someone’s life?
I’ll leave you on one final piece of advice. If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out to someone. I am so lucky to be in the position I am today, receiving some brilliant support and I urge you to do the same.
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