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The truth about anorexia

6th May 2015
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Anorexia is when people stop eating to be skinny, right? That’s certainly what I believed: when my ballet teacher warned me not to lose any more weight I laughed at her and reassured her I would never be anorexic because “I LOVE food”. I mean anorexics consciously decided to do this to their body; they chose to starve themselves in a ridiculous fashion, right?

Wrong. Anorexia nervosa is a mental illness. It is a disease. Saying someone chooses to be anorexic is the same as saying someone choses to suffer from cancer. The death rates aren’t that far off – one in five sufferers die from anorexia. 20%. I have come to learn in the most horrible way the truth behind this illness, and how very wrong I was.

This uninformed view of Anorexia nervosa, that I once shared, has been so widely accepted that I came across a post on Instagram where a girl declared she was going to ‘try out anorexia’, as if it were a trend. I will state this clearly and simply; it is an ILLNESS. There is a huge difference between someone going on a crash diet and someone suffering from the mental torture of an eating disorder.

Firstly those who suffer from them certainly don’t want to, there was a trend in the recovery community a little while back called the ‘f*** you ana/ed selfie’ where people post a picture of themselves gesturing to the camera and caption it with a number of things that they hate their eating disorder for – for example ruining their education and friendships. Sufferers HATE their eating disorders and are in constant battles trying to fight it.  Everyone understands that someone doesn’t become an alcoholic because of their love of alcohol, it is clearly because of underlying problems, yet people perceive anorexia as due to people’s love of being skinny? Anorexia develops from genetic, social and psychological triggers; most sufferers have similar personality traits: Low self-esteem, perfectionism, stubbornness. Also most will also suffer from other mental disorders such as anxiety and depression; anorexia rarely acts alone.

If someone develops this illness it is normally because of a self-hate. The focus on food and calories gives a sense of control – everything else in their life might be crumbling and in disarray but at least they have one sense of achievement and power that they are in complete control over. It also gives a sense of transformation; you can hate everything about yourself but if you can begin to see a change in your appearance it brings hope; maybe you can eventually be worthy of love.

Despite this feeling the truth is that you are never in control when you suffer from an eating disorder. The longer you struggle the less control you have, because the eating disorder will never let you stop once it has a grip on your mind; you will never perceive yourself as skinny or good enough. It constantly whispers in your ear that you must not stop, that you are unworthy and the only way to make yourself better is to make yourself smaller, to gradually begin to disappear. As a sufferer I found that this was my trigger, severe social anxiety led to me wishing to be accepted and eventually depression developed and I just wished to disappear altogether, so by starving myself I was slowly eradicating myself from the world.

A big part of the illness for me was also a sense of punishment. Believing that I do not deserve to enjoy any delicious foods; that I am so despicable of a person that I don’t deserve to enjoy a basic human necessity. This causes severe feelings of guilt when consuming anything not low in calories or low in fat, which is the real issue with the illness. The guilt that it creates makes it so hard for recovery because it means that it is not simply a case of deciding to put on weight but instead the whole process is a war with your own mind, finding a way to conquer the intrusive feelings of guilt and shame.

There is also a troublesome idea nowadays that anorexia is synonymous with the emaciated, and that all anorexics are pure skin and bones. This is not the case. Anorexia is a mental disorder, if you take a test to see if you suffer from it the questions focus on your mental state, not your weight. Loss of weight is one physical symptom; it is NOT the disease itself. Many anorexia suffers have thoughts like ‘But I’m not skinny enough to be ill’, ‘I don’t LOOK anorexic so I’m fine’. I know these thoughts have plagued me throughout both my illness and my recovery. We need to stop using anorexic as an adjective for skinniness and realise that whilst anorexia does manifest through physical symptoms it begins within the mind, and that is where the true battle lies.

So please help those who suffer and don’t make judgements based on uninformed perceptions. If someone is fighting an eating disorder then they need support, a friend who will remind them that they are worthy, that they don’t deserve their self-inflicted punishment.

Written by Julia, Beat Young Ambassador




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