Attempting to raise awareness is a hugely positive things but, as with most things, there are some negative repercussions – some of which we have to be particularly mindful of, especially during this week.
Eating disorders (Anorexia in particular) are naturally competitive illnesses. Those that suffer with it tend to constantly compare themselves to other people. Am I thinner than them? Have they exercised more than me today? Have I eaten more calories than them? Whatever you do is never enough and the truth is, it would only be enough when you’re dead; you just can’t win with anorexia. The only way to win is to overcome it, to prove that you’re stronger than it and it’s lying voices.
During Eating Disorder Awareness Week lots of people come out and share their stories, generally alongside a ‘before and after’ picture of themselves or a montage of images of them at their worst. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think people sharing their stories is amazing – the very fact that people feel able to do this without fear of being judged or discriminated against (or having the self confidence not to care!) is incredible. Ten, twenty years ago this wouldn’t have been the case and I for one am thrilled to live in a society that appears to be progressing in the right direction in terms of its attitudes towards mental health and reducing the stigma around it. There’s still a long, long way to go, but I really do think we’re getting there.
Sharing your story/ personal experiences can also be enormously inspiring for others and give hope to those that read it (I hope that’s what I’m doing here) but we do have to be careful of competition developing, or triggering still vulnerable people. No matter how ill you are, anorexia would have you believe that you’re not ill enough, and everyone else with the disorder is worse than you, skinnier than you, more deserving of help. It’s great to see how far people have come and they should be so, so proud of themselves but please be cautious of including specific numbers e.g. number hospital admissions, sections, weights, calories etc. and posting graphic images, remembering that not everyone is in the same place as you mentally. If you’ve been affected by any of the above please, please, please remember that everyone is deserving of help and support, everyone is strong and capable and everyone can recover. Never give up hope.
The next thing I want to talk about today is the glamorization of mental health conditions. Mental illnesses are incredibly serious conditions with incredibly serious effects on the lives of their sufferers and yet people often romanticise them and make them seem like something to aspire too. Celebrities in particular are guilty of this. In 2009, Kate Moss said the infamous line, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”
Firstly, she’s clearly never tasted pizza or cake 😉 and secondly, as someone in the public eye, with thousands of people (the majority of them being young impressionable girls) looking up to her this was a disgusting thing to say. It encourages all types of eating disorder and is a prime example of what I’m talking about. ‘Skinny’ is not something to aspire to be. Being incredibly underweight, which to me skinny equals, brings with it serious consequences. It puts stress on your heart, it compromises your immune system, meaning you’re more susceptible to illnesses and they can have much more serious effects than if you were healthy. Girls can also suffer from hormone dysregulation which, after a prolonged period (again, no pun intended!) could eventually result in them becoming infertile – permanently. You would also be at greater risk of developing osteoporosis (a condition that weakens bones) when you’re older which can be an agony to live with. Not only this, but people with a BMI below 18.5 are twice as likely to die young than those at a healthy weight. Is all that really worth ‘skinny?’ Is it worth literally risking your life to put your bones on display?
Plus, since when does being ‘skinny’ equal happiness? People that struggle with Anorexia often think that this is true but even once they’ve lost weight their ED is never satisfied. “More,” it say, “more, then you’ll be happy. Promise. ” Again and again the cycle continues but it’s never enough. This is the reality, this is why eating disorders kill.
In addition to the physical side effects, there are plenty of psychological effects and repercussions. Psychologists actually proved this with ‘The Minnesota Starvation Experiment.’ During and after the war thousands of people across the world were starving and the US government wanted to know how best to refeed them. Hundreds of people volunteered to be a part of the study and eventually 36 physically and psychologically people were chosen. These volunteers were put through six months of semi-starvation and forced to exercise excessively. As expected, the participants experienced physical and psychological effects but even after the end of the study these effects continued to linger. The volunteers reported an extreme preoccupation or obsession with food, they occasionally resorted to binge eating to try and satisfy their hunger, they developed, often bizarre, eating habits, their concentration and judgement was impaired and they became depressed, anxious and isolated themselves socially – all common side effects of anorexia.
And so when people equate happiness to weight, or see images of underweight people and think that this is a goal for them, we’re effectively normalising eating disorders, changing peoples attitudes and making people think that that’s okay when it’s really, really not. There are so many negative ideas and views out there and today’s society really perpetuates these. Social media, images of photo-shopped models everywhere you look, negative unhelpful comments from peers, and unfortunately sometimes even from those in a position of care, are everywhere, and so easy to access. Recovery from an eating disorder is really flipping hard and it doesn’t need making any harder. This links on to another post to come this week about what not to say to those with an ED and will include some of the ridiculous comments people have said to me and fellow fighters.
Thank you so much for reading,
Love and hugs,
…see you tomorrow!