Eating Disorders Awareness Week: 23rd Feb – 1st Mar 2015
Blog post by Anna Clarey
Eating Disorders are not often a widely spread topic for conversation among the masses; they are difficult to understand and often regarded as taboo to talk openly about. This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week, so there can be no better time for us to challenge our understanding of what it is to have an Eating Disorder, than there is right now.
Firstly, I would like to note that I talk from experience when I talk about the ignorance of Eating Disorders, as well as about the suffering from them. I did not always understand the differences between the main categorizing disorders: anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder, until I came to suffer from two of them myself. I then learnt that these were not even the only kinds of Eating Disorder a person can develop; there are shades that mix and cross between these primary definitions too. Although the term ‘Eating Disorder’ does very heavily insinuate that these illnesses are largely physical, their root is undoubtedly founded in the mindset of the individual. Eating Disorders are mental illnesses that manifest in physical ways. From all of the counseling, and recently Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, I have received to help me with my disorder, very little has ever been said about my actual eating. Not when I eat, or how I eat, or what I eat can change until I ultimately come to face and challenge the way I feel about my body and myself. Eating Disorders can only be overcome when the person suffering decides that they must change the way they think, in order to change the way they eat and how they treat their body.
Therefore this can be a great way to begin challenging our understanding of these disorders. Acknowledge that if you want to help somebody suffering from one of these illnesses, that you cannot change the way they eat until you help change the way they think. There is also a stereotype that only very thin people, and usually thin females at that, can have an Eating Disorder. Wrong. According to anorexiabulimiacare.org.uk (2008), around 10% of cases of anorexia in the UK are men, and as many as 15% of cases of bulimia are men.1 Eating Disorders are not limited to a certain age group either, they can develop at any stage of life, from primary school age to middle age. There is absolutely no poster person for Eating Disorders. Anyone can be affected. If someone you know does seem to be acting very strangely about their eating and exercising habits, but you think, “they don’t look like they have an Eating Disorder…” just remember that there is no right or wrong way to be when you are suffering from a mental illness. This is important for sufferers too; for a long time I did not reach out for help because I did not believe I matched the aesthetic criteria to be suffering, but I was, and the sooner you can reach out, the better.
Finally, let us challenge the perception that Eating Disorders are a vanity project. This is one of the most damaging stigmas there are about these disorders. People who are diagnosed with an Eating Disorder are often also diagnosed with other mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression and cases of self harm, or have had counts of these in their past. Sufferers are not trying to control their body because they are vain, they are trying to control their body because they are lonely, they are using their bodies as distraction from unresolved emotional issues, among other very upsetting and difficult reasons. Treat an Eating Disorder sufferer with care; the best you can give them is your patience and an ear willing to listen.
For more information on Eating Disorders and places where you can gain awareness about these, try websites like: