As someone with anorexia nervosa who is also overweight, I find that being excluded from discussions about eating disorders can really impact how I feel.
"Though my weight is now higher, my thoughts about food and exercise are still very distorted".
Living with anorexia
I developed an eating disorder when I was sixteen. I was never thin and had always eaten well. From the outside, it probably seemed as if it had developed overnight when the reality was that I was always hyper-aware of myself, constantly feeling ashamed and wanting to take up less space, both physically and also with the way I acted.
Now, three years down the line, I’ve been through all the ups and downs that come with recovery from an eating disorder. I’ve learned a lot about myself from this such as what is really behind my eating disorder.
For me, the presentation was restriction and exercise. The root cause was more to do with control, perfectionism, pressure I put on myself, past difficulties, and how I asserted myself.
Yes, my weight dropped drastically when my eating disorder first developed. And yes, it stabilised when my disorder was treated. Now I’m at a higher weight than I have been in the past, being classed as overweight.
But I still have anorexia. I still struggle daily with the urge to restrict my eating and exercise excessively.
Yet now, the way others react is very, very different.
A different reaction
My fight against anorexia has gone from sympathy cards and gentle words to people with and without eating disorders talking carelessly about their weight and, even more upsettingly, others’ weight, too.
Sometimes, I feel like I’m totally ignored, as though I’m not even in the room. It’s easy to assume that people don’t care.
But I know that the myths that exist around restrictive eating disorders are strong, and without being told otherwise, many people continue to assume that these are true.
Eating disorder recovery is rarely straightforward. Though my weight is now higher, my thoughts about food and exercise are still very distorted. I get strong urges to restrict my eating and exercise excessively. I feel ashamed a lot of the time, both about how I look and my life in general.
If other people want to help me and others to feel better, there’s a few things that can be done.
First, everyone who knows someone with an eating disorder should understand that they aren’t able to "cure" them. Even therapists can’t do that. This mindset could make you feel that you are failing the person, and you can’t support people well if you are blaming yourself for not being able to take their difficulties away.
Instead of trying to "fix" the person, my biggest suggestion is to look at how you see food and exercise. Sadly, we live in a world which is terrified of being overweight. This can sometimes keep your body working well but it has its downsides.
If you know someone with an eating disorder, whether they are physically at risk or not, try not to talk about your current diet.
Another thing you can really do to help those in recovery, especially those like me who are not skinny, is to stop assuming. Don’t assume that we’re better now. Don’t assume what we want to hear about food. If you’re in doubt, feel free to ask.
I’ve often wished people would just ask questions rather than guessing what may help. I may not always have the answers but, with the help of others, I can usually articulate how to support someone through difficult times.
- See more: For information and video insights about living with and recovering from anorexia, see MHT's 'Disorders Hub'
- See more: Treating anorexia: an alternative to prolonged hospitalisation
- See more: Join us at Mental Health Today Wales 2020 to find out more about compassionate responses to mental illness
You can change your language around eating disorders to be inclusive of everyone, especially when discussing weight and recovery. Instead of saying "you can have an eating disorder and be a healthy weight" try saying "you can have an eating disorder at any weight".
Eating disorder recovery is not easy.
With my weight being higher than medical professionals recommend it should be (based on the dubious measure of Body Mass Index), the way people may act has made my anorexic thoughts a lot harder to cope with. I know this isn’t intentional. But my decision to try to combat how others treat people like me is.