This week is eating disorders awareness week.
It’s a week incredibly close to my heart. Firstly, because it’s so important to raise awareness surrounding eating disorders, but also because this time three years ago was the first time I publicly ‘came out’ on social media as somebody who had struggled with my mental health and suffered with eating disorders in the past. I posted this blog that I’d written for Time To Change some months before but kept it private from people who knew me. I’ve also written a variation of this very post for them this year. Finally talking was definitely one of the best decisions I’ve made.
I find anorexia fairly easy to talk about in some ways. It’s the most well know eating disorder and the one we see portrayed most often in the media. Although there are a lot of misconceptions around it still, it’s the most easy recognised disorder. However, it’s actually the most uncommon.
The disorders that are most difficult to talk about are the ones you can’t see. Your thoughts are the same, your body feels exhausted, you’re still sick. But you’re not underweight yet. You’re ED-NOS, OSFED, atypical. You’re not quite sick enough. You have all the thoughts that torture you constantly, but with the feelings of inadequacy that you aren’t deserving of treatment because you don’t meet the thresholds. You don’t look ‘sick’. But this is actually the category that most people fall into.
Unfortunately, my experience of ED services does very little to dispel these feelings. Of course people who are most physically unwell get seen quicker and I understand the logic behind that completely. But there is so much evidence to suggest that early intervention not only saves lives, but years of treatment too. Relapse rates are significantly reduced the earlier treatment is given.
I know it’s not the fault of services – there just isn’t the funding to help everyone. But it’s counterproductive. It’s surely more expensive to keep treating people who relapse rather than prevent relapse through early intervention.
There are a lot of myths about eating disorders, one of the biggest being that you have to be thin. People with binge eating disorder, bulimia and any number or OSFED’s are rarely underweight, yet are struggling just the same. And even when we consider anorexia – not everyone with this illness starts off thin, they reach that point over time. Those first weeks and months are critical in identifying a problem – weight is not the only indicator.
So yes, anorexia is incredibly dangerous and a horrible, torturous disease. But I’ve arguably been more miserable before I’ve met that threshold, when I’ve been in limbo; ‘atypical’; looking perfectly healthy but feeling horrendous, both mentally and physically.
So I urge you all to start noticing. Pay attention to those around you. There’s a chance that someone around you is struggling with a battle you know nothing about.
Eating disorders are incredibly serious. People die. Let’s work together to raise awareness and spread the word:
You don’t have to be thin to be sick.