What you think you know, but you actually don’t – on having an eating disorder.
This post contains mentions of self-harm and disordered eating behaviour. If you suffer from an eating disorder and the mentions of said things could trigger you, please don’t read the post and don’t hesitate to ask for professional help.
Hi, my name is Virginia and I am a recovered anorexic.
Easy sentence to say out loud, but did you know that it took me exactly three years and a half to be able to say those words out loud, and actually believing them?
I can’t believe it either. I still struggle to believe it when I get out of the shower and catch a glimpse of my normal-healthy body, which I would have labelled with a big F A T only a few years ago.
I can’t believe it when people tell me they love my big butt and I don’t feel like squishing them with my bare hands.
And I can’t believe it when Twitter reminds me that it’s National ED Awareness week and I don’t feel like being swallowed by the biggest time-travel wormhole that even Donnie Darko wouldn’t be able to imagine.
The reality is that recovering from anything that stays wrapped around your brain for so long leaves you always with this bitter taste in your mouth that sort of stays with you.
That’s what years of self-hatred, self-harm and any other possible self-actions you can possibly imagine – do for you.
But I have been waiting to be ready to write this post for so long. I have scribbled it on my diary in my worst times; I have said it out loud to my friend who were struggling with the same pain and scary thoughts that I had.
I am ready now.
And I am ready to share all I have learned hating my body and loving my body back in the next 3-4 days to discuss this nasty illness that is increasingly spread all over our society.
WHY DO WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT EATING DISORDERS?
Like many other mental illnesses, eating disorders are a big taboo that is kept locked in a box, hidden away for being too ‘personal’ and ‘weird’.
However, because we don’t talk about it, people start to form the wrong ideas about what is means to suffer from something that drives you brain to the point of not even being able to eat with enjoyment.
And so the misinformation is spread; the nasty comments, and the assumptions that one is okay only because their bodies pass this invisible ‘perfect body’ check-point that we have all imprinted in our brains.
So let’s start NEDA week with destroying the myths behind having an eating disorder, so we can all learn when to shut up, but also how to approach people who suffer from a debilitating illness like that.
THE BIGGEST MYTHS ON HAVING AN EATING DISORDER
WE SHOULD JUST ‘EAT’
If I had got a dollar for every time someone had begged me to eat, or asked me why on Earth I couldn’t bring myself to take a tiny bite of that sandwich; I would be rolling in cash like Donald Trump.
The thing is, eating disorders might seem to be revolving around diets, exercising and obsessive thoughts on your body; but they are very much in fact about something entirely different.
Refusing to eat and self-harming through binge eating are signs of a much bigger problem, and they are manifestations of something that is not entirely working inside of us.
We still don’t know the specific cause of eating disorders. Surely, living in a culture where thinness and beauty are commodified and glorified like gold from an early age doesn’t really help; however, you can develop an eating disorder by past traumas, especially happened during your childhood.
One thing is certain: the environment you’re in definitely gambles with your probability of following that path or not.
If you are surrounded by people who talk obsessively about losing weight, if you watch movies and shows that are only about skinny, successful and attractive people with perfect lives; if you learn physical and emotional abuse from an early age – it is very much likely that you could mimic the same behaviour.
So the refusal to eat, or the urge to throw up everything you have just eaten is NOT a stubborn and selfish choice; it’s a natural response to the big mess it’s going underneath.
If we could eat normally with a sense of guilt, or an overwhelming urge to eat the whole cabinet, we would do it, trust me.
Your question sounds as dumb as asking a depressed person why don’t they cheer up a little, or tell an alcoholic to stop getting drunk.
Also, pressuring a person suffering from an ED to eat when they are not ready to, is really risky and a dick-move, because it pressures them into doing something they find debilitating and impossible to do. So stop it.
2. YOU DON’T HAVE AN EATING DISORDER IF YOU’RE NOT SKINNY
The common picture of someone suffering from an eating disorder that people have is somebody – specifically a female – who looks like Nicole Richie when she used to party with Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. A depressed, human coat-hanger who has sealed her lips to anything edible, except for cigarettes and coffee, because they make you cool and like one of the Olsen twins.
Nope. You couldn’t be further from the truth, even if you wanted to.
A person suffering from an eating disorder could be anyone, even your annoying neighbour. Doesn’t matter the race, their weight, or their gender.
Mental disorders don’t discriminate. They fuck everyone up with no preferences.
When my eating disorder was munching my brain away the most, I was at a seemingly normal weight, (struggling to) eating healthy foods and exercising regularly.
I seemed happy and smiley all the time, while l inside I was like the Empire of Mordor, waiting to be destroyed by the last ring.
There are some specific things that you can look for in a person who might be suffering from an eating disordered.
- How do they talk about food and exercise?
- How do they talk (or not) about their bodies?
- Do they avoid eating in public, or do anything that has to do with food?
- Have their moods completely changed?
Extreme weight loss can be a sign that something isn’t right; but remember that eating disorders affect people differently, and denying that somebody is suffering from the pain they are enduring because they ‘don’t look it’ is highly damaging, because it might trigger them into working harder on becoming sicker. (Yes, mentally ill people don’t really have the best logic and water is wet, now let’s move on).
3. EATING DISORDER MEANS BEING ANOREXIC
When I say to people that I once suffered from an eating disorder, people stare at me with their eyes wide open and they whisper: “So you used to make yourself throw up?”
Eating disorders are nowadays have been pictured in pop culture many times; think about Blair Waldorf in Gossip Girl; Girl Interrupted and The O.C.
Unfortunately, the average person doesn’t know what the heck living with an eating disorder means, so we end up spreading hurtful misinformation.
There are many types of eating disorders. Meet the squad you should never meet:
Somebody who suffers from anorexia nervosa is constantly worrying about their weight, which leads to volountary fasting, obsessive exercise routines and optional use of vomit to purge the little food they had ingested.
Since the average teenage girl is exposed to invitations to change her body that are horribly similar to those that anorexic use to starve their body; the natural assumption is that our cultural and social environment causes a disorder that has such a high fatality rate.
But research has recently found out that suffering from anorexia nervosa could be genetic and a biological response that our brains develop in front of a huge trauma.
Your mother being so obsessed with her weight could not just be ‘her thing’, it could be a dangerous gene that you’re carrying as well.
People find it hard to separate bulimia from anorexia, because that’s pretty much the only eating disorder that is really talked about in the media.
Being bulimic means consuming huge amounts of food and/or drinks (binge-eating), and then making yourself throwing them up, or expelling them in other ways. (Laxatives).
I want to specify this. It’s not just vomiting a pizza, or the pastry you ate for breakfast.
It’s eating to the point that you feel like your stomach is about to burst that you make yourself vomit, or expel it in other ways, so that you can survive your emotional breakdown.
Before you stop and ask me the obvious dumb question ‘why do they do that’; I can tell you that what drives somebody to eat and drink to the point they are about to explode is clearly a sign of them trying to deal with whatever emotional baggage they have inside.
Nobody clearly wishes that upon them; so again, stop asking stupid questions, and above all, if they do tell you about their bulimic attacks, don’t just act shocked and disgusted – show them your support and listen to them.
Avoiding to bring shame and self-disgusts into a person suffering from binge-eating is highly fundamental, because it helps them not feeling trapped in the same cycle of shame and guilt that comes with eating so much.
With the increasing trend of obesity and fast-food consumption is no surprise that binge-eating is becoming the most common eating disorder among First World countries.
Our eating portions have increased, we are more bored and depressed than ever, cheap and tasty food is more advertised and available than drinkable water – excessive overeating has a fertile ground to blossom in.
Binge-eating is experiencing lack of control in eating excessive amounts of food and using food to emotions for clearly a significant period of time.
Eating a lot after a hungover isn’t binge-eating. Eating more than usual isn’t binge-eating. And you should stop saying that when you eat a lot, because it’s not considerate towards to people who struggle with eating healthy portions.
It’s not big news that our society thrives off an obese and unhappy population, yet the media obstricitzed the ‘fat person’ to the point that it’s not even seen as a human being. Memes, YouTubers making hate-videos on fat people, ridiculing celebrities when they gain weight and praising them when they lose it.
All we see about overeating is just a big shameful and ‘it’s all your fault’ mask; we don’t see that people struggle with their emotions and self-confidence so much, that they turn to food. And a lot of food.
So it’s no brains that you shouldn’t say ‘you’re eating all that?’ to people who do overeat, or ask them why they eat so much, because you know the answer: there is no answer. So again, shut up.
These are three major branches of eating disorders, but since our world is still not helping young people dealing with their bodies in a safe and healthy way; other eating disorders are found, like the obsession with a muscular body (muscle dysmorphia) and other ones that don’t fall under those boxes (ednos) are still valid eating disorders and are also the most commonly diagnosed.
So to sum it up, the bottom point is that you shouldn’t assume things you have no knowledge about.
4. BEING HEALTHY WEIGHT MEANS BEING RECOVERED
This is probably the point that needs attention the most.
Like I said before, you can have an eating disorder at a normal weight range. Also, you can be recovering and finally reaching the normal weight that you need for your body to be physically functioning again, but that doesn’t mean that your mind is 100% freed from disordered thoughts.
Any kind of battle against a mental illness is clearly internal and often happens in silence, behind closed doors.
That’s why going back to the old eating habits is so tempting and easy to fall back on; because dealing with a sick mind is a lot more complicated than dealing with a sick physical body.
Teaching yourself how to trust your body again, how to find hunger and how to respect it, learning how to protect yourself from the millions of expectations that we have to be ‘perfect’ – all of these are real huge challenges that can’t just be tricked by looking healthy.
5. THAT IT WILL BE WITH YOU FOREVER
When I first saw my psychologist about my eating disorder, I was in the middle of my recovery and she told me that this experience would have always stayed with me. That I needed to be aware of its presence, because it would have been easy to fall back into it again.
I wish she had worded what she meant differently, because I quickly assumed that I was going to carry a ticking bomb for the rest of my life.
Saying something like that to somebody who isn’t confident about themselves and who has tendency of hurting themselves is just an invitation to give up on fighting and just take the easy route to just giving in.
Why fight, when it’s going to be there anyway, right?
I see and talk to so many people who have undergone the same amount of pain and similar problems, and they go through a constant cycle of self-abuse, that is seen by them as some kind of fatal occurrence.
It is doomed to happen, so why should I stop it?
But then my life changed when I realised that yes, this took a huge chunk of my adolescent life and ate my self-worth and self-confidence; however, this was my brain’s response to something that really affected me.
See, seeing my eating disorder as something that didn’t just happen to me, or a curse that I would be carrying with me for the rest of my life, inspired me to dig deeper into the world of emotions that I kept locked away for so long.
It made me face what was really at the bottom of the ship that was sinking. I learned to avoid what triggered me and what empowered me.
Dealing with my emotions with time, patience and a good supportive system was the key to overcoming my eating disorder.
That’s why we need to stop pointing the finger and pretending that it’s a nice little theatre freak show, when we see people suffering from eating disorders. That’s why we need to stop glorifying internet celebrities, pop culture and brands whose message is the aspiration to a perfect body.
That’s why we need to talk about it.