Despite the occurrence of eating disorders being on the rise, there is still so much stigma and shame around even discussing eating disorders. This article is going to try and start to break that stigma, by exploring 9 things about eating disorders that people don’t talk about.
1. Eating Disorders are not glamorous
Despite what is portrayed in the media, there is nothing glamorous about having an eating disorder. Restricting your food so much to the point your hair starts falling out, you are so medically unstable your only choice is being fed through a tube and being watched 24/7 by nursing staff. There is nothing glamorous about being surrounded by the remnants of a binge. There is nothing glamorous about purging, your teeth start to fall out or start decaying from repeated exposure to stomach acid, you vomit blood, there is the potential to tear your oesophagus from repeated purging. There is nothing glamorous about passing out in the middle of the shopping centre from an electrolyte imbalance because of restricting, binging and purging. I don’t know about you, but I can’t see anything glamorous about any of that.
2. Eating disorders aren’t about eating nothing
Despite common belief, eating disorders aren’t eating nothing at all. Even the most severe anorexics eat minuscule amounts. Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes, none of which involve eating absolutely nothing. Eating disorders can involve severe restriction, purging everything consumed, vicious cycles of binging and purging, uncontrollable eating. No matter how much or how little you are eating, you are always thinking about food.
3. You become consumed by routine
I can’t speak for everyone, but in my experience with anorexia, and for many of my friends with eating disorders, my life became consumed by routines around food, food rituals and food rules. Only eating at specific times, only using one specific set of cutlery, only eating half of whatever in on the plate, not matter how hungry you are. Only eating when there is no one home. Only eating the same foods that you have deemed as ‘safe’. Doing everything you can to avoid ‘unsafe’ food. Refusing to try new foods or eat foods that you don’t know exactly how it was prepared.
4. Your body starts eating itself
If you have anorexia, or another type of restrictive eating disorder, your body will eventually start eating itself. If you aren’t giving your body enough energy through food, it does everything it can to get energy. It starts breaking down muscles, including your heart, and organs including your brain and liver. It is truly terrifying, but even that fear can’t make you eat.
5. Starting to eat again hurts
if you have been restricting for any period of time, starting to eat again hurts. When you restrict, your body gets used to you only giving it small portions, so your stomach shrinks. Part of recovery and refeeding involves expanding your stomach back to a ‘normal’ size. It is painful and uncomfortable, but in order to maintain adequate nutrition, your body can’t continue to survive on small portions, so it is vital to increase your portions to a normal size, which includes eating when you it is physically uncomfortable. This is much easier said than done. It is not easy at all, physically or mentally, but it is doable.
6. You become isolated
When you have an eating disorder you go out of your way to avoid situations that involve food. And what do most social situations revolve around? Yep, you guessed it food. So in your avoidance of food, you end up avoiding practically every social situation. You become incredibly lonely, but can’t bring yourself to attend any social event, commonly due to fear of losing control around food. It is a vicious cycle, your eating disorder doesn’t allow you to go and socialise, so you turn to your eating disorder to try and escape the dark and loneliness.
7. You will lose friends
You repeatedly cancel plans with friends, not letting them see what is really going on. They gradually stop talking to you, and even when they text you, you don’t respond because you are convinced you don’t deserve friends. Before long your only friend is ‘Ed’ (eating disorder). Ed has you convinced he is the only friend you need, and he is always there to comfort you, so you believe him and stop even trying with your friends.
8. You will always believe you ‘aren’t sick enough’
No matter how sick you are, you will always believe you aren’t sick enough to get help. For me, I was still not convinced I was sick enough to get help when I was in hospital with a tube up my nose. I am sitting here now, on the edge of medical instability, still believing I’m not sick enough or deserving enough for help. If you are struggling with your eating, you are sick enough, and you deserve to get help. Yes, there are ‘people out there sicker than me’, but there will always be people sicker than you, but that doesn’t mean you are in need of help any less then they are. Are are sick enough to access help. You deserve to get help.
9. The health risks associated with eating disorders
Eating disorders can be potential fatal, something that is commonly overlooked. Anorexia, eating disorders that involve severe restriction, and eating disorders that involve purging can lead to irregular heart beats and heart failure. Eating disorders can cause constipation, and long-term constipation can weaken the muscles of the intestines. Restriction can lead to decreased sex and thyroid hormones and amenorrhea (loss of periods). Binge eating can increase the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, and starvation can cause high cholesterol. Eating disorders can result in long-term kidney and liver damage, decreased blood cells and low immunity. Even when a person is in recovery, they are at a higher risk of developing early onset Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis and some types of cancers,
If you or anyone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, please don’t be scared to reach out. There are so many organisations that are willing and able to help you. The following pages provide resources for sufferers of eating disorders and their loved ones: