Is it just me or does the title sound sort of like an English Literature question? Just me? Okay. Today’s post is a very spontaneous one and not what I’d planned to talk about whatsoever but it’s just something that came to me and I think it’s actually something really important to think about.
So Eating Disorders suck (like, a lot) and the world we live isn’t exactly conducive to recovery. Life with anorexia is difficult enough but when you consider all the external factors as well, honestly it’s no wonder so many people go on to develop it – or any other eating disorder. 1.25 million people in the UK right now have an eating disorder of some form – and that’s only an estimate, it’s highly likely that it’s actually a much larger figure.
If you were to turn on your television right now and watch a set of adverts then I think I can say with some confidence that you will see at least one advert dedicated to dieting, weight loss or some form of exercise. Now don’t get me wrong, exercising is a good and healthy thing to do 99% of the time but the way it’s portrayed in the media isn’t generally healthy. The adverts tend to focus on body shape and weight loss rather than fitness or improving your general physical or mental health which is what exercise should be about. By focusing on appearance rather than health these adverts are reinforcing the idea that our bodies, far from just vehicles to our consciousness, are things to be judged, and that they are only deemed attractive if they fit a certain ideal. What this also says to someone with anorexia, who places far too many other things on their body anyway (self worth, attractiveness, whether they’re worthy of love etc.) is that the eating disorder is right. And the anorexia is never satisfied. You may think, ‘well most people with anorexia probably aren’t fat and are closer to that ideal than many other people without an eating disorder’ and yes, a lot (but not all) of anorexia sufferers are either within the ‘healthy’ weight range or are underweight but they can’t see that. It’s deeply sad that the people who place the most value and importance on their shape and weight and who may actually look like the body type they so aspire to be like, can’t see their bodies for what they actually look like.
Far from wearing rose tinted glasses, the anorexia sufferer wears glasses more like a fairground mirror that distort reality.
But, although it’s important to help people with anorexia be able to look past and recover from the body dysphoria, I think it’s equally important, if not even more important, to think about why we (and by ‘we’ I mean society as a whole) have come to view a certain body type as the thing to aspire to and why we continue to reinforce this.
It’s not just the adverts on TV though, they’re honestly everywhere. TV, magazines, newspapers, pretty much everywhere online. And exercise adverts aren’t the worst offence. Everywhere you go, society reinforces the idea that our bodies aren’t okay as they are AND that that is something we should all be working to change. If you go into a supermarket you will be met with diet product after diet product. You will see brightly coloured labels screaming, ‘ONLY 99 CALORIES’ or ‘LOW-FAT.’ They’re not actually saying, ‘less is better’ or ‘you need to be eating as little as possible’ but they still kind of are. Try and imagine for a second that you have anorexia and you go into a coffee shop for a drink. You look up at the boards and try and decide what you want to drink or maybe what you would like to eat. You’re immediately confronted by calorific or nutritional information. You see something that you’d really like but then you notice that the snack or drink next to it has less calories. You start to think, maybe I should have that… the voice in your head says ‘yes, you should’ but it doesn’t stop there. It also then says that if you choose the first option, the thing that you know you would really like, then you are greedy. You know that if you choose that first option you’ll be overcome with guilt and you don’t know how you’d cope. The best case scenario now is that you pick the second option. But maybe now you’ve started thinking in this pattern, thinking about feeling guilty, maybe even feeling guilty for even considering having the first option, that you don’t have anything.
I know that food and drink has to have nutritional information on it for medical purposes, I understand that, but it really doesn’t help when you’re trying to recover from restrictive thinking and behaving. It almost doesn’t matter how often therapists, dietitians, nurses or doctors tell you that calories aren’t important and that your self worth doesn’t depend upon your body or how much your eat, society can talk louder, can tell you more often that that’s not true.
This guilt that that the brain of an anorexia sufferer is so entrenched in, far from trying too remedy it, is reinforced everywhere. Take these sweets for example. If you can’t read it clearly then it says, ‘Delicious tasting without the guilt.’ Again, much like the world has twisted and warped what our bodies really are, the world has twisted food into something more than it really is. Our minds have been manipulated into thinking that food isn’t just nourishment, fuel to help us live our lives to the fullest, but instead is something that should invoke guilt for us. When packaging like this tells us that one food is ‘guilt-free’ it inadvertently suggests that another food is not. And it’s this kind of disordered suggestion that leads to disordered thinking, that then leads to disordered behavior.
All of the above, the foods, drinks, adverts etc. that can lead to disordered thinking then cause people to perpetuate that thinking and those beliefs. Even my family and friends who have adapted to help me the best they can for the majority of the time, will sometimes say things that are incredibly disordered if you actually stop and think about it. Things like, ‘Oh go on then, I’ll be bad’ when they’re accepting an offer of food (food is not bad, it’s nourishment and it keeps us alive) or ‘I’m going to be fat and have [insert food item here]’ (fat is not a state of mind, you don’t automatically become fat from eating one thing). They all add to an inherently unhealthy state of mind under the illusion of health – something I’ll be talking about a lot more tomorrow.
Now please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that society directly causes eating disorders as it’s no where near as simple as that, they’re immensely complex disorders with biological, psychological, social and environmental causes that all contribute to their development but what I am saying that the world we live in definitely does not help when you’re trying to recover from one.
If you have an ED and you’re reading this and feeling disheartened about recovery then please don’t! Recovery is hard yes, and lots of things don’t help but there are still lots of things that can and will help. Recovery is possible, I honestly believe that. Keep fighting.
Lots of love,