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I am not my eating disorder: Megan S's story

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Having an eating disorder is like swimming in a lake full of clay. Being in the freezing cold, feeling like there is no way of swimming against the tide or escaping from its evil grasp. Having an eating disorder is not a choice, it is not about weight, or food.

BeatThis is something that is really surprising to individuals who have no experience of an eating disorder. There is no category of person who are excluded from the possibility of this horrendous illness - Caucasian, Hispanic, straight, overweight, underweight; eating disorders do not discriminate, and they come in many forms; anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, OSFED (Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders, previously known as EDNOS).

I originally had a diagnosis of anorexia aged 17, being underweight, severely restricting my eating, and over-exercising.

This was a lonely, miserable existence, where genuinely the most important thing in my day was making sure I didn’t exceed over X amount of calories. I wasn’t functioning, my periods had stopped, I was freezing constantly, had no social life because I couldn’t bear to be in any situation which involved food. I lied, cheated, and stole anything to guarantee that my eating disorder was safe.

Despite all these negative things happening because of my eating disorder, I still felt like I needed it. I was scared to let go, it becomes part of your identity, a coping mechanism. Now I am at a healthier weight but still struggling with the psychological issues, five years later my diagnosis is now EDNOS.

Eating disorders are such complex mental illnesses that I wouldn’t even know where to begin; they are about control, self-esteem, body image, black-white thinking, society’s influence, perfectionism. Food is a huge part, but it is a symptom, there is a big focus when people are anorexic on BMI, which is important when the individual is at a medically dangerous weight for their height. However, someone could have a BMI of 35 and still be anorexic. It is a mindset, not a number.

I do not find reading a story of someone who had anorexia, and got to such a low weight they nearly died, helpful. It just makes me think how my eating disorder was never really that serious. But that is ridiculous, everyone reading this needs to know that recovery is possible if you want it. It is horrendous, and difficult, and definitely very up and down. I am not at the other side and completely happy, but I am so far away from where I was. If you know someone who has an eating disorder, or are someone with an eating disorder, an invaluable piece of information I have gained through therapy is that I am not my eating disorder. You are not your eating disorder. Your loved one is not their eating disorder.

It is so easy to be infuriated with someone because they will not eat - you may think ‘Do they not realise what they are doing to everyone who cares about them?’ But it is not them; imagine that it is another person who has temporarily taken over. Take advantage of those brief moments when the eating disorder is not around. Talk to the person who is suffering and tell them how you feel, that you are worried about them, encourage them to be open and ask for support, but don’t judge or blame. That just causes more feelings of guilt and self-hatred, which only fuels an eating disorder. If food, or thoughts about food are affecting how you live your life, then you have a problem.

Something I am learning is to be proud of myself regardless of my size, what I have eaten that day, what I weigh. To learn to love myself the way I love my friends, and be kind. That is what we all need to do.

Written by Megan S., Beat Young Ambassador.

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