This year’s theme for National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is why wait? On average, 149 weeks pass before those experiencing eating disorder symptoms seek help. That’s almost three years. Perhaps the biggest question then, is why wait that long? There is, of course, a huge fear of speaking out in case people don’t believe you are sick enough, or worthy enough to get help. The shame that accompanies eating disorders is all-consuming and the prospect of exposing something so personal and private is often more terrifying than the thought of continuing down the same self-destructive path in silence.
The golden promise that when I’m ‘sick enough’ I will get help, is an unattainable affirmation. There is no point at which you will ever feel worthy of help – there will always be a comparison, a reason to wait a bit longer. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder and 20% of sufferers will die because of the illness. This can be as a direct result of the disorder or through suicide. Living with an eating disorder can often make you feel like there is no hope; no hope of getting better or any chance of living a relatively ‘normal’ life. You can become accustomed to it, functioning with day to day activities but still engaging in unhealthy eating behaviours as a way of salvaging control. Before you know it, years have slipped by and you’re watching your friends travel and get engaged whilst you are stuck in the same bereft cycle of numbness and numbers.
Perhaps the biggest misconception about eating disorders is that they are all about food. In reality, food is the crutch, a tool that can be manipulated: either consumed in large quantities or restricted and denied through starvation. Eating disorders are messy. They are complicated and debilitating and utterly frustrating for every party involved. Anorexia, due to the very nature, often becomes apparent to others quickly. Concern brews and comments grow. The disorder feeds off this, finding relief in validation; confirmation you are ill. But some of the ‘sickest’ people I have met have been at healthy weights. Eating disorders are NOT about weight, food, calories, exercise or narcissism. They are not diets, fads or trends. They are coping mechanisms, a way of trying to retain control when everything else feels out of it. They are manipulative and devastating and they kill.
The quicker someone seeks help, the better chance they have of a full recovery. The longer they wait, the more entrenched in the eating disorder they become. When you have been ill for several years, it soon becomes your entire world: a lonely, miserable world but your existence nonetheless. Everything revolves around food; what you are eating, when you are next eating, how much you are eating. You find yourself turning down social events because they ‘interfere’ with your routine. Of course, you don’t say to your friends that you can’t go out because you have to reach a certain number of steps that day or because you don’t have the energy to even walk down the stairs, but you make an excuse and slowly, people start to lose interest. When friends start to drift, that is often the hardest thing to come to terms with. Your eating disorder uses it as an opportunity to isolate you even further, making you think nobody cares and that you’re better off without them anyway. It offers companionship in a secluded, terrifying place and you latch on because it’s easier than being completely alone.
But you don’t have to be on your own. There is help out there, phone lines, charities, organisations that are there to listen objectively. If you don’t feel able to speak to friends and family, charities like Beat are amazing. Ultimately though, it has to come from you. Recovery isn’t linear and there is no magic cure but admitting that something needs to change is the first step in getting better. There is SO more to life than an eating disorder, there are things to learn, to experience, to discover.
So why wait?
Beat (Beat Eating Disorders)
Phone: 0808 801 0677
National Centre for Eating Disorders
Phone: 0845 838 2040
Anorexia & Bulimia Care (ABC)
Phone: 03000 111 213
NIWE (Northern Initiative on Women and Eating Distress Service)
Phone: 0191 221 0233
Durham University Disability Support
Phone: 0191 334 8115