Hello! So I know I’ve been slacking with these blogs, but between finishing my dissertation and revising for my final year exams, blogging has had to take a back seat. However, when I heard that May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I knew I had to contribute. I am a huge advocate of opening up the conversation on mental health, getting people to share their experiences and removing the shame and the stigma around mental health. My particular passion, as I’m sure you are aware if you have read my previous blogs/ Instagram posts, is Eating Disorders (ED). I started suffering from an ED from around the age of 15, and I have worked with and supported many people who are either going through it themselves or are caring for someone who is. My life pretty much centres around finding out more about ED, and there is not a day that goes by where I don’t listen to a new podcast, or read a new journal article/book etc. on why and how eating disorders occur, and what we can do to help. So I’m as clued up as I can be, despite the research still being pretty vague and ambiguous as to a clear cause and treatment.
But there is still so much stigma. People don’t understand them and they often don’t want to understand them. Which is why I am writing this blog, and I hope to post on the subject of Eating Disorders every week for the month of May. This week I want to share some of the common myths around ED’s in order to provide a little bit more of an understanding into the disorder, and hopefully create a little (or a lot) more empathy.
- ED’s are only experienced by young white females. X –> Anyone can suffer from an ED. They do not discriminate and can be experienced by 90 year olds or 10 year olds, people from India or people from Germany, rich or poor, males or females. In fact, 10-15% of all those who suffer from an ED are male. There is just so much more stigma that it is often not talked about.
- ED’s are caused by the media. X –> Research demonstrates that the media is not sufficient to cause ED. The media may be an environmental trigger to someone who has a genetic pre-disposition, and a maintaining factor, but it is likely that ED’s are caused by an accumulation of contributing different variables, such as genes, personality traits, hormones, serotonin, dopamine, childhood trauma, family factors, chemical imbalances in the brain etc.
- ED’s are all about food and weight. X –> Ironically, although eating and weight is often at the centre of ED’s, food has very little to do with it. Food and weight are just the individuals way of expressing something much deeper. For me personally, controlling my food and my weight was a way of controlling my entire life, at a time when I felt like I was completely out of control (i.e. hitting puberty, bodily changes, social changes, friendship groups).
- ED’s are attention seeking. X –> This one GRINDS MY GEARS. Sufferer’s of ED are the most secretive people I have ever met in my life. My ED made me into a liar. I lied constantly to the people closest to me about what I had eaten, that I couldn’t come out for lunch or tea, that I didn’t like certain foods, that I couldn’t go round to family member’s houses because I knew they would make me eat food I was uncomfortable with. If they are attention seeking, then it is often a cry for help, and that is something we should not ignore.
- The solution is to “just eat”. X –> Please, please, please never say this to someone who is experiencing disordered eating. Again, ED’s are not about food, therefore “just eating” is completely sidetracking the root cause. Research has shown that the most effective and enduring approach to treating ED’s is holistically, through a range of therapies targeting the biological, social, environmental and cognitive aspect of ED’s. This can include CBT, family therapy, nutritional rehabilitation, dietetics, art therapy, mindfulness, even yoga. Treatment is not a one size fits all, and an 8 week CBT treatment on the NHS is not sufficient to uncover the complexity of the disorder.
- To have an ED you have to be thin. X –> No, no, no. Some of the most severe ED’s I have observed were of people in completely “healthy” looking body’s. Anorexia affects around 1% of the population, bulimia1-2% and binge eating disorder 5%. Each ED can be equally as dangerous and life threatening as the other. “You didn’t look like you had an ED” was something I heard many time. No, but they didn’t see what the inside of my mind looked like. They didn’t see me crying over eating a piece of cake, or binging after nights out on full blocks of cheese, or refusing to leave the gym until I had burnt 700 calories. ED’s have the highest mortality rate of any illness, and purely basing it on the appearance of the individuals body is dangerous and life-threatening.
- Recovery is easy. X –> This is the biggest myth at all. Recovery is hard and it’s tiring and sometimes you wake up and think “nope, not today. I absolutely cannot do this today”. Think about it – when a drug addict is recovering, or an alcoholic, or a gambler, they are not constantly faced with their source of fear. Eating disorder recovery requires facing your fears at least 3 x a day at every mealtime. You have to constantly commit to being at war with yourself and your demons, and some days without warning your ED sneaks back in in ways you didn’t expect.
It is 1 step forward and 5 steps back. It’s messy and bumpy and painful, but it’s worth it, and I commend anyone who is going through this on their bravery. You deserve to live a big, full life, and only by choosing recovery will you accomplish that.
For more information on ED please visit the B-eat website: https://www.b-eat.co.uk/
If you or anyone you know if suffering, please get in touch with your GP, or reach out to a professional. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me: