Sunday, 1 March 2015

Let's Sock it to Eating Disorders

As some of you might already be aware, this week has been Eating Disorders Awareness Week. I’ve been having a think about what I could write about this year because I didn’t really just want to write out my story again like last year. A lot of stories that you read talk about being at a low weight, which can obviously be part of having an eating disorder, but it doesn’t have to be the case. So, I thought I would talk about what it feels like to have an eating disorder while being at a normal or higher weight.

Don’t get me wrong, I have been extremely underweight and physically compromised, but for the last couple of years I have maintained a healthy weight and have also gone into the overweight category. Yes, when I was underweight things were hard, but from the perspective of someone who has been both over and underweight, I actually feel that being at a normal weight is a hell of a lot harder. I just want to reiterate that this is only my opinion, and I’m sure you will find many people who don’t agree and say that being underweight is a lot harder. But this is just how it has been for me.

When I was underweight I felt very numb. I was using my eating disorder as a way of blocking out all the difficult thoughts and feelings that I didn’t want to experience. I spent my life consumed by thoughts of food, weight and body image, so I didn’t have the capacity to concern myself with anything else. It was hard. I’m not going to lie. These thoughts consumed every single moment of my life. Even when I was asleep I dreamed about food. I would wake up in sheer panic because I had dreamt I’d eaten a chocolate bar. I couldn’t even get away from my eating disorder by sleeping. It was exhausting, draining – food had become my whole life. I couldn’t work, socialise with other people or study because I was so focussed on my eating disorder. But to some extent that was acceptable. I was ill and people could see that. They didn’t expect me to do normal things because they could see how much I was suffering and that I desperately needed support and treatment.

Restoring my weight was hard. Forcing yourself to eat when every single part of you is telling you it’s wrong is a massive struggle. But to some extent it didn’t really feel real. I spent every weekday in hospital with other people in similar situations to me. All we focussed on was our eating disorders. Eating in the hospital didn’t feel quite so hard (although it definitely wasn’t easy) because we were being told that that was what we had to do. It was like being given permission to eat, and I shifted the responsibility off my shoulders and onto my treatment team. I could also justify eating to some extent because I was being told I was underweight, so therefore I could allow myself to eat because I could convince myself that my body needed it.

I vividly remember hitting my target weight. I already knew I’d hit it before I stepped on those scales, but seeing that number really threw me. I stormed out of the room, ran downstairs and outside and just cried. Reaching that number, to me, meant I was fat again. Looking in the mirror I could see my body expanding in front of me. Then what made it even worse was having to sit up for lunch. I was fat, so why did I have to still eat? I’d done what they wanted me to do; there was nothing they could tell me now to convince me that I needed to continue to eat. This was when things got really hard. I didn’t look ill anymore, so people assumed that I was better. What they don’t realise is that weight restoration is only the very beginning of recovery. The real recovery can only start to happen when you’re at your target weight.

I was still weighing myself regularly, restricting and compensating, making myself sick when I felt I’d eaten too much or eaten the wrong thing. But no-one could see that and the turmoil I was going through in my head. Unfortunately, fairly soon after reaching my target weight I was discharged from the day hospital. Something that I have never really understood is the fact that, at hospital they place so much focus on the fact that your eating disorder is not about weight, yet when you reach your target weight you suddenly lose all this support. This reinforces the idea that the only way to get the support you so desperately need is to be underweight. Saying that though, I have friends who are seriously underweight who are now being denied help, so it doesn’t always work like that.

Losing the support of the eating disorder team sent me into a downward spiral. I was making myself sick a few times a day and my self-harming went downhill rapidly. I took several overdoses because I just couldn’t cope with all of these thoughts and feelings that had come flooding back after reaching my healthy weight. I couldn’t focus on losing weight anymore, or obsess over calories and food as much as I had been, so the floodgates opened and all the reasons that had led me to develop an eating disorder in the first place were there again, but 10 times worse. I started to hate the eating disorder team for what they had done to me – they made me fat and made me feel all these horrible, horrible feelings again, but had abandoned me to deal with things on my own.

Something I really struggled with was comments from other people. Being told you’re looking healthier, happier or well is just translated by your eating disorder so all you hear is people telling you you’ve got fat. I’ve even had people make comments about the fact I’ve put on weight, which obviously reinforced my awful thoughts about the weight gain. I’ve now been discharged from my eating disorder team for 18 months, and I can honestly say it hasn’t got any easier. I might look happy and healthy, but inside I feel incredibly broken. It’s an incredibly lonely place to be, looking fine from the outside but falling apart inside. I was actually referred back to the eating disorder team recently because I admitted I was struggling and desperately needed some help, but they turned me away, saying I had been given more than enough help and that, because my weight is normal, I don’t meet the criteria to qualify for help any more. It was a massive kick in the teeth. Asking for help is hard enough, but then to be told you’re basically too fat to have an eating disorder is devastating. If there’s one thing I would like people to take away from this post, it’s that weight is purely a symptom of an eating disorder. You can have an eating disorder at any weight, and your weight does not determine how deserving you are when it comes to recovery. Everyone deserves to be helped and to recover, regardless of their weight and other symptoms. Eating Disorders can be beaten with the right help, and we need to fight together to get people the help and support they deserve.

Has anything I’ve written about spoken to you? Do you have any experience of eating disorders that you’d like to share?
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  1. Great post, but I don't with the picture :) Love your blog :)

  2. Love this. Thank you for sharing, it really matches my own thoughts and my own past (sometimes ongoing) experiences with disordered eating. I often find these kind of posts difficult to read, but I really enjoyed this :) x

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comment Natalie - I'm so glad you enjoyed reading this and you were able to relate to it xx

  3. Awww! I'm sorry to hear that, Jenny. Suffering from an eating disorder is really hard. Recovering from it can be a long term process, but as long as you have the determination to overcome it, you'll get there. Just stay positive. Thanks for sharing that! I wish you all the best!

    Margaretta Cloutier @ Aspire Wellness Center