27 Feb Eating Disorder Awareness Week: when Eating Disorders Come in All Shapes & Sizes.
When we speak of eating disorders (EDs), what are your first thoughts? Really skinny? Teenage girls? Clinically underweight? Hospitalisation? Maybe even tube feeds?
What if we were to take a step back for a moment? What if we were to appreciate that the extent of EDs goes far beyond any stereotypical picture? That many underweight, overweight or even ’healthy’ weight people struggle with eating disorders.
Because disordered eating comes back to the RELATIONSHIP with food and your body.
Anorexia, Bulimia & Binge Eating Disorder all have very specific criteria to be met before diagnosis.
I didn’t meet any of those criteria. I even argued with a therapist once, insisting that I couldn’t have an eating disorder because my BMI was within normal range at the time. But for 3 years of my life, I struggled with food avoidance, purging and anxiety in social settings involving food. (It wasn’t long before I realised I had an ‘Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified’, or EDNOS).
And I know I’m not alone.
So many have struggled & still do. I saw it in myself. I see it in family. I see it in friends. I see it in clients. An ongoing battle from low self-esteem, guilt surrounding food & body size to outright body hate.
But how do you know if you have an Eating Disorder?
Let’s begin by understanding that EDs are complex. They’re a mental illness that manifests in the physical. EDs are often used as a way of coping with emotions and situations that bring about anger, worry, frustration, hurt, anxiety or depression.
It’s also important to appreciate that, like me, you might not have all the symptoms for a certain disorder.
So a few questions you could ask yourself that might be helpful in identifying an ED:
- Do I worry that I’ve lost control over how much I eat?
- Do I believe that I’m fat even though everyone else thinks I’m too thin?
- Do I think about food all the time – does it dominant my life?
- Do I make myself sick because I feel uncomfortably full?
- Do I make myself sick after eating certain foods?
- Do I miss meals and tell others that I’ve already eaten?
- Do I choose low calorie foods such as celery, especially when eating in front of other people?
- Do I refuse or struggle to eat in public places?
- Do I experience anxiety surrounding certain foods?
- Do I make use of laxatives to control my weight?
- Do I say things such as “You’re too fat. You don’t deserve this food.”?
- Have I intentionally lost more than a stone (6kg) in 3 months?
If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to two or more of these questions, then you may have an eating disorder.
What to do if you think you have an Eating Disorder?
Before you begin convincing yourself that your disorder isn’t ’serious enough’ or that you’ll be taking up too much of someone’s time, please know this: an eating disorder is an illness – and regardless of how it’s packaged, you deserve support.
There’s often a lot of embarrassment, guilt & shame surrounding EDs and many people don’t speak up as a result of this. Look, it does require a heap of courage to say anything but it’s the first, and probably hardest, step in what can be an incredible journey of healing.
Although speaking to friends, family or colleagues can be extremely beneficial, professional help is often required. Your GP would be your first port of call so that appropriate treatment, based on diagnosis & according to NICE guidelines, can be offered and explored.
Appreciating that recovery wasn’t about losing or gaining weight was fundamental for me on my personal journey. I realised that I had to do the work on my mental health which then equipped me to respect, honour and full-on love my body, beyond weight. And I can hands down say that it is one of the best things I have ever done for myself.
So please, I’d urge you this Eating Disorders Awareness Week, not to leave it any longer – please, get the necessary support.