This is a hard one to write, but one I feel compelled to post.
There are many people now working in the ‘wellness’ industry who talk about anti-dieting, body-positive, intuitive eating, disordered eating…etc etc. Whilst they have some value in helping us to accept our bodies, they are completely missing the point when it comes to a real life ‘mother-fucker’ of an eating disorder, as mine was once referred to.
Eating disorders are not really about the body…they are an illness of the mind. They make you want to scream, shout, cry and make you want to kill yourself at times (instead of the inevitable slow death, starvation leads to). No amount of chat about ’embracing your curves’ ‘mindful eating’ ‘intuitive eating’ ‘self-love’ will help, when putting ANYTHING in your mouth is a challenge.
Anorexia in my case is UGLY. It is an ugly beast that turns the kindest, selfless person into a ball of anger, rage and self-hate. It pushes and tests your loved ones to their limit, which is actually what my eating disorder wanted to do. If people left me or walked away, then it just confirmed to my ED that I was indeed, a worthless, useless piece of shit better off alone. Talk of ‘self-love’ falls on deaf ears when you are not even functioning on this planet…you are literally consumed by one thing, and one thing only.
A few reminders…
• Eating disorders take years and years to recover from.
• Anorexia is NOT a diet gone wrong.
• There is a HUGE difference between someone who has ‘disordered eating’ and someone who has a full blown eating disorder.
• The experience of an eating disorder differentiates depending on the age you develop it; an eating disorder at 14 years old, looks and feels very different for someone experiencing it in their adult life.
The reality of leaving your family and home, to be stripped of your phone, computer, money and clothes to enter an inpatient treatment facility is not something you would wish on anyone. The tears and the pain I felt in my mind and body is too excruciating to even articulate. The bed sores, not being able to lie down because your bones protrude, having someone watch you pee and shit, crying until your eyes are red sore are just a few of the gifts my anorexia threw my way. I had to delve into the deepest corners of my soul that I wanted to bury forever; in treatment this wasn’t an option and it was like being ripped apart and laid bare.
Why am I writing this? Well mainly because I have become frustrated that the grim reality of a real eating disorder is being masked by many in the ‘wellness’ industry, who seem to think they are credible to talk about eating disorders, when they have no bloody clue.
Eating disorders literally tear families apart. They cause untold damage and pain, with the consequences surviving far beyond the patient recovering. The anti-diet community is all well and good, but it doesn’t even touch on the reasons why someone begins to starve themselves to death. My anorexia was complex…it was about everything other than my physical self. I was broken inside and the only way I knew how to soothe those wounds, was to unconsciously show the pain on the outside. My anxiety and fears weren’t always played out in food…I self-harmed when the feelings were too much, and my OCD would raise its head when my anorexia felt threatened.
Eating disorders are not logical; they are the most nonsensical of illnesses. I have berated myself on many occasions for not being able to do the most simplest of things; feed myself adequately. It is not as simple as ‘knowing what you need to do’…’DOING what you need’ to do is a whole different ballgame.
Even after you have dealt with the heap of shit inside yourself, you are still left with a fight. Recovery throws up a whole new host of fears and anxieties. I left treatment just before I was 30, and returning to a life where friends were moving on at a rapid rate was terrifying. Reintegrating back into work and social circles, establishing relationships when you are in a different body and mind and discovering your sexual self (which I may save for a separate post) is just the tip of the iceberg.
Eating disorders…hideous eating disorders are not something that can be conveniently merged into the sphere of body positivity and wellness. We don’t need to be preached to about the ‘fear of carbs’ ‘fatphobia’ and ‘intuitive eating’ from people who have never had to live with the horror an eating disorder. I really do not mean to negate what these people are doing to promote better relationships with food and our bodies, but they need to know the truth. Sometimes it feels like the more talk around it…the harder it has been for me to stick on the right path. Finding those who truly truly ‘get it’ has become more of a fog. I’m fortunate to have amazing people around me, and I am old and wise enough to be able to filter out the bullshit, but I worry for those who are vulnerable and can’t navigate their way through the nonsense.
Another frustration are nutritionists…I was never seen by a nutritionist, only ever a dietician. There are big differences between the two. Registered Dietitians are the only qualified health professionals that assess, diagnose and treat dietary and nutritional problems at an individual and wider public health level; the only ones regulated by law and able to work within the NHS. Nutritionists and nutritional therapists are unregulated and are not allowed to work with people who are critical and in need of hospitalisation, which is where a severe eating disorder can lead you.
These views are not just mine own, which is why I decided to publish this. I know some incredibly brave and courageous souls who cannot access treatment because they are not deemed ‘ill enough’ or lack the financial means to bypass the NHS postcode lottery. I also know someone in their 30s who is living in the same four walls, day in day out…a self-made prison because they have lost all hope and are too exhausted to fight.
This piece is not intended to offend, but to highlight the murkiness which has become apparent in many conversations. Eating disorders are not a ‘lifestyle’ to make money from, promote trends or to bargain for a platform at some trendy ‘wellness’ event. They are about crying in your plate of food even when you think you have shed every tear there is to shed. They are about acknowledging that you may have allowed the bastard voice to get the better of you again. They are about feeling ashamed that you need some help to rewire your thought patterns. Recovery can be about not understanding why you have got lost and taken a detour. It’s about habitual behaviours, addiction, loneliness, complacency and denial. It’s about being shit scared you will lose everything you fought so damn hard for in recovery. It’s about doing the things that make your eating disorder rage so much, that you hardly recognise the beast that once occupied your entire being. It’s about trying to explain to those who want to help you why you still find it so bloody hard…and failing miserably because it doesn’t even make sense to you.
THIS is what an eating disorder looks like.