Warning: If you’re likely to be triggered by talking about real life eating disorders, look away now!
So, it’s Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and the media is full of faux sympathetic talk about helping people with bulimia or anorexia and getting a diagnosis from your doctor being the key to getting your life back. Is it? Bullshit. Sorry mum.
Anyone who’s read Gorgeously Full Fat will be able to tell you that getting a medical referral for an eating disorder (in the late 1990s anyway) was no route to health. And I don’t think anything has changed in the past 15 years, given that according to the Huffington Post today, “Last week, it was reported NHS is failing thousands of patients with eating disorders who are being turned away by doctors because their condition is not deemed ‘serious enough’.”
That’s pretty much word for word what I was told when I asked for help. I wasn’t ill enough. I wasn’t half dead through starvation, or throwing up three times a day. I knew I had a problem therefore I was intelligent enough to be able to deal with it. Would you tell someone with severe depression that they didn’t need help because they weren’t at the stage of jumping in front of a train yet? It’s EXACTLY the same. Telling someone with an Eating Disorder Non Specified (EDNOS) that they should be able to figure it out by themselves is just like telling someone with depression that they’re a bit fed up and need to get a hobby.
Actually, I did beat it myself. The worst of it, anyway.
Here’s what I did. It might not help you, but on the other hand it might give you a bit of a heads up if you think you are dealing with an eating disorder and haven’t had any help from the NHS (I was actually offered sessions with a nutritionist. At that point I’d studied two diplomas in weight loss/nutrition and fitness, read every copy of Zest and Health & Fitness cover to cover and could probably have recalled the nutritional value in just about anything.).
You might also want to read ‘You can heal your life but not with chocolate‘ on the blog…
Disclaimer: This is my story. It’s what worked for me. If you think you have an eating disorder and you’re harming your health, my advice is to see your doctor first.
Admit it – you’ve got issues.
I thought I was just crap at dieting. That’s what I told my then boyfriend when he laid into me for not telling him I had a mental problem, as he so charmingly put it. I cried and wailed and protested that I didn’t KNOW I had a problem. It was only after researching and talking to other people just like me that I actually grew a pair of ovaries and owned up to needing help. OK, so maybe he wasn’t the most sympathetic person to confess it to, but then I moved onto step two.
Once I’d got my head around the fact that no, it wasn’t normal to eat entire packets of chocolate Hobnobs in one sitting, and then follow them with two mini pork pies because I thought a savoury taste would stop me feeling as if I was going to barf, I decided to try and find support.
That was where the Internet came in. Back in 1998 I didn’t have it at home so I was restricted to accessing pages at work in my lunch hour. Or when the bitch boss from hell, the one who had escalated my eating issues from occasional attempts at dieting to full on uncontrollable binging, wasn’t looking. Despite the fact that it took about 20 minutes to download a page back then, I found a support group called ASED or ‘alt.support.eating-disorders’. It’s now a really awful Google group with nothing much of any use on it but back then it was a lifesaver. What it did for me, apart from help me when I was having a REALLY bad day, is make me realise that actually, I was a worthwhile person. I used to help other people on the forum, people with severe bulimia and anorexia, and I’d often find myself getting more out of supporting them than I did from reaching out for support myself. It made me feel useful and needed.
I forged a few offline friendships with some really great people through ASED, and they were good for book recommendations and therapy techniques as well as virtual hugs. The downside was that occasionally someone would die. Yes, that’s the trouble with eating disorders, they kill people. Some women (or men) who’d posted regularly on the forum committed suicide, unable to deal with their issues any more. Occasionally someone would get sectioned, or sent off to a clinic, usually the people with anorexia, and sometimes it would just be too late. Those posts were always the worst.
Once you know what you’re dealing with, you can start looking for answers and help. It’s much, much better these days with so much information available online, social media, online therapy, web-based support groups and more. Back in 1998, there was nothing like that. The ASED group did direct me to some great resources though and once I’d started to get to grips with Amazon (I was so excited that I could order books on the Internet and they’d arrive in a couple of days) I started to order the sort of books that I was too chicken to look for in Waterstones or read unless my boyfriend was out. The first book I ever bought about eating disorders was:
Dr Christopher Fairburn: Overcoming Binge Eating
It;s a brilliant book. His straightforward CBT style techniques did start to have a positive effect fairly quickly, although I couldn’t do everything he suggested because I didn’t want to arouse the boyfriend’s suspicion and have to deal with him having another go at me about my eating disorder. The second edition came out last year and I’d highly recommend it if binge eating is a problem for you.
Other books I immersed myself in include:
- Overcoming Overeating – Jane Hirshmann and Carol Munter
- Eating Less – Gillian Riley
- Breaking Free from Emotional Eating – Geneen Roth
I hadn’t really started to get into fat acceptance or any kind of body positivity, I just wanted to stop binging. The books above all approach the issue from different perspectives, the Geneen Roth book was hard going at times and if I’ve read one piece of advice to stock up on all your favourite foods, I’ve read them all (couldn’t do that – boyfriend would have thought I was going loopy)
The fourth and most important step out of eating disorder territory for me, took longer. In fact, if I’m honest it’s still going on, and it’s VITAL if you want to stop binge eating.
STOP PEOPLE PLEASING AND ACCEPT THAT YOU’RE OK
Sorry for shouting, but it really is the fundamental thing, the hardest and the most obvious all in one. I didn’t start to really get over my issues until I’d got shot of one of the things that was exacerbating them. The man. How can you possibly get over a diet addiction and make peace with your body, with food and everything else when you’re living with someone who makes you feel as if you’re in the wrong just because of the way you walk? (yep, he really did.)
I’d got over the worst of the problem by 1999, a combination of the techniques above, some counselling and moving job did the trick. It was always there under the surface though and I still binged, just not every day. I didn’t consider myself cured – I still don’t completely, but I’m a work in progress on the people pleasing and I do genuinely believe that I’m OK these days. In fact, some days, I feel positively fabulous!
So, that’s my contribution to Eating Disorders Awareness Week. I’ve been there, done that, thought about throwing up or starving myself but never done it (deliberately). I’ve binge eaten Kettle Chips, Hula Hoops, pies, cakes, biscuits and special fried rice. I’ve done every diet known to woman. I rarely binge now. I’m still fat…I find that the mere mention of the D-word sends me into the kitchen for food I don’t need so I avoid it. Yeah I’m fat. I’m fatter than I was in 1998, that’s for sure. But am I happier?