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'Bulimia is not a one size fits all' - what it's really like to live with an eating disorder

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According to Beat Eating Disorders, an estimated 1.25 million people suffer from an eating disorder in the UK.

Image Courtesy of Georgie Kelly

Image courtesy of Georgie Kelly

Mental Health Charity Time to Change has recently launched its Ask Twice Campaign, which reveals that nine in ten young people would say that they’re fine to family and friends when they’re suffering from a mental health issue.

Recent sociology and media graduate from the University of Worcester, Georgie Kelly, is a Young Champion for the charity. Having suffered from mental health issues since she was just eight years old, she is currently speaking out about her experiences with Bulimia, challenging the pre-conceived misconceptions surrounding it. Having previously aspired to go into marketing, Georgie now wants to work in the charity and campaigning side of mental health - something she is passionate about, especially after working with Time to Change.

Georgia suffered from Bulimia throughout her time at university, and, despite having a nice housemates, largely kept it from them. This meant that she missed out on things like house meals and the pinnacle of student-life: the “shit diet”. She recalls: “If they had a Chinese or an Indian, I just couldn’t join in – I was anxious about having one, and I was also anxious about not having one, which would put me in a bad mood. Whilst they were all eating whatever they liked, I was having a salad.” Instead, the then-student was heavily reliant upon and would talk to her boyfriend – “It’s really cringey," she says, "but he’s been my rock”.

Suffering from mental health issues from such a young age caused Georgie to internalise her low self-esteem and body-hatred; she almost believed it to be normal to think this way – “I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have anxiety,” she says. She largely attributes the normalisation of such thoughts to the media, believing that eating disorders are everywhere and low self-esteem is continually being sold to us. Social media is worryingly prevalent, even more so than when Georgie was growing up: “Even magazines have social platforms now and there are several influential celebrities that are endorsing and selling ‘skinny tea’, on Instragram, like Kim Kardashian,” she says.

Celebrities and influencers such as Cardi B and Kim Kardashian hold a worryingly big influence over the impressionable teens that idolise and follow them, often buying into what they advertise. “People are going to buy their products," Georgie says, "because they look up to them and want to look like them”. This is a pressing issue, Georgie says, as “children as young as seven or eight are going on diets... it’s so wrong that young children are so targeted, because these brands know that they’re impressionable and they’ll fall for it”. Of course, young children are probably less likely than young adults to be able to discern the reality from what they’re being fed on social media.

Despite eating disorders being a sensitive topic, Georgie still believes that we still need to address the issue of them with younger children. She’d tell them that “people are going to tell you all your life that you need to lose weight, because they need you to buy their products... you’ll be happy, you’ll have romance. But I’d just say to them, look, everybody is different and just because you’re skinny, it doesn’t mean you’re healthy, and just because you’re fat, doesn’t mean you’re unhealthy.” She says that if she was Prime Minister, she would put mental health on the curriculum, as it’s such an important topic.

The dangers of these weight-loss products that are being promoted by ‘high-profile’ celebrities have been brought to our attention by Actress Jameela Jamil. Unbeknown to many of the followers that buy them, skinny teas and similar products are, in fact, laxatives and can be extremely detrimental to health. Georgie admits that she bought into this: “I’ve done the ‘Bootea’ and the raspberry ketones. All they are is a laxative; you go to the toilet, and you think ‘oh it’s fine I’m done now, I’ll just keep going’. But they’re so dangerous- people have died from them; it flushes your pill out so people have got pregnant. These celebrities don’t see that – they just see a pay-cheque.”

Georgie believes that there should be more regulations on what celebrities are allowed to advertise, such as Kim Kardashian’s endorsement of appetite-suppressant lollipops. She says: “If there’s a product that’s being sold that could harm a person’s life, there should be regulations. They shouldn’t necessarily be banned, because these people need to make money, but we need to be told exactly what we’re having, and what the side-effects are.”

Since bringing the reality of these products to media attention, Jameela Jamil, who suffered from an eating disorder herself, set up an Instagram account and campaign,  I Weigh, which promotes body positivity and combats negative advertisement. She is highly praised for her tweets, too; she recently tweeted that she hopes that the celebrities that endorse laxatives under the guise of these weight-loss products “shit themselves in public”.

Heavily inspired by Jamil, deeming her as a 'superwoman', Georgie has set up her own Instragram account and blog, ‘yourstrulygx’, in which she posts inspirational quotes, documenting her journey to recovery and body-positivity.

Image Courtesy of Georgie Kelly, featured on her Instagram

Image courtesy of Georgie Kelly

Georgie initially refrained from going to the doctor, because she was a size 14 at the time and worried that they wouldn’t believe that her condition was serious. She says: “Now that I’m working with Time to Change, I’ve met people who’ve said they’ve gone to the doctors and they’ve turned them away saying ‘no, you’re not thin enough, come back when you are’”. This is the biggest misconception that she wants to challenge: “Bulimia especially is not a one size fits all – it can affect the largest person to the thinnest of people.”

Many eating disorders, especially Anorexia and Bulimia, are deemed as exclusively ‘female disorders’, thus males who are suffering generally struggle to speak out. BBC Three have recently released a series, The Naked Truth, and in one episode, a man documents how he went to the doctor and was turned away because “men don’t suffer from bulimia”. Georgie believes that this is because “men are taught to have a completely different relationship with food. Females grow up being told to ‘try this diet’ and ‘don’t eat carbs’, whereas men are told to be bulky and muscly”. She believes this creates shame around the illness: “you have bulimia? Don’t be such a girl”. Georgie praises reality TV star Freddie Flintoff for speaking out about his struggles.

Georgie initially spoke out because she reached a point, during her last year of university, where she needed to seek help for her eating disorder. Subsequently, by the time she went to the doctor and was diagnosed with Bulimia she was told that she was also beginning to recover from it. She tells us: “I didn’t know what to have for tea. I didn’t want carbs, or sugar, or even salad dressing. So, I did myself two pieces of cucumber; I sat and I just broke down. I just couldn’t do it, I thought, ‘I can’t eat it because it’s going to put weight on me’. And that’s when I rang my mum in tears, and I was just saying to her ‘I can’t eat it’, I was swearing effing and blinding, and I had just had enough."

Getting involved with Time to Change has been a huge help. Accepting her eating disorder has led to a more positive relationship with it. Georgie says: “I can say to someone, ‘you know what, I have bulimia’, even if they are like ‘really’? There are still parts of my body that I don’t like, but now I’m not afraid to say, ‘yes I have’ even though I’m still a size 12.” Her biggest achievement since speaking out has been changing the opinions of her dad, who she tells us is “a hard nut to crack”.

Now, Georgie is deservedly proud of how far she has come. She says that she knew she was getting better when she was able to eat an entire meal at an Indian restaurant with her boyfriend, despite it always being her “fear-food”. She says: “The panic began to set in, I wondered whether I should make myself sick, but I thought, ‘no, I’ve just really enjoyed my food and I’m not going to do that’”.

Georgie is a shining example of someone who, since speaking out, has begun to have a more positive relationship with not only food, but her body, and is actively encouraging others to do the same through her Instagram feed and her work with Time to Change. As she shows us, noticing and resisting the body-negativity narrative that social media is perpetuating is one of the biggest steps we can take into having a healthier relationship with ourselves.  

Boston is a Young Champion for Time to Change's Ask Twice campaign. Find out more about Ask Twice here. 

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