Eating disorders don’t discriminate

Eating disorders affect any age, gender, body size, ethnicity and socioeconomic background

One of my main motivations for starting this blog was to contribute from the ground up in informing misconceptions surrounding eating disorders.

Look at the person to your right, look at the person to your left and in front of you. (If you’re currently alone try this next time you’re in a room full of people). Chances are one of those people has had some form of struggle at some point in their life with relationship with food/ body image.

If you’re like me, you had possibly never thought about what a person with an eating disorder looked like before you had one or supported a person suffering with one. Eating disorders affect ANYONE. The sad truth is, society has helped create an image of what an eating disorder should look like. Typically a white, emaciated, teenage girl with anorexia nervosa. Although I fitted this demographic, this is actually the rarity. I want to help change people’s understanding of this. I want treatment to be available to everyone, this happens with awareness of what an eating disorder really looks like.

A person in a “larger” body may be as unwell as the stereotypical emaciated person. Anorexia, can affect any size, weight and BMI cannot identify this. A person in a larger body is less likely to seek help when they are significantly impaired by disordered thoughts or physiological consequences of eating disorder. They can be as malnourished as a person who appears emaciated. Seeking help is harder, why? Because when a person in a larger body loses weight they are often rewarded by society, health professionals. Making it impossible for them to find help or feel like they need help. Health professionals carry their own biases and this needs to change.

Additionally anorexia although the most portrayed eating disorder, is the least common eating disorder. Binge eating disorder, Bulimia, OFSED are more common but talked about less. Why? Because often they are not the stereotypical image.

Globally eating disorders affect close to 1 in 10 people (10% roughly)

Eating disorders have the highest mortality than any other psychiatric illness. Startling.

Before I started recovery, I used to get angry with myself. I questioned how as a doctor I could possibly be having this struggle. I have seen first hand the consequences of eating disorders. Even in the thick of my disorder I treated patients medically, this makes me feel sad now. There was a constant dissonance within. It was like a DVD playing on repeat in my brain, you should know better, you’re a doctor, why don’t you stop? This highlights beautifully the grip an ED can have on someone. It is a mental illness. I could not stop. It was not a choice. It was not a diet “gone wrong” I didn’t like being thin, although I couldn’t stop. So how can we expect others to understand when we don’t understand ourselves.

Not only was I a doctor, I was an adult and in healthcare there is a stigma towards anything other than being 100% all the time, let alone suffering from a mental health problem. Not only did I question myself, how could I be so irresponsible as a doctor. I received the same judgement, confusion from those I chose to share my struggle with. They could not understand how a healthcare professional could behave this way. That made the inner disgust and struggle that the ED likes to feed on so much more powerful. This was not their fault, this is society’s lack of understanding of mental health full stop.

This, I hope highlights how EDs sink their ugly claws in, and become an unwanted hitchhiker. The sufferer may think they have control, but when challenged to stop behaviours, thoughts they cannot. It adds to shame when people describe eating disorders as a choice. Some EDs may have started from “good intentions” like a special diet for health reasons etc, but once the disorder develops, takes hold it is crippling. My ED was a perfect storm, I had the “perfectionism traits” genetic vulnerability and I dieted. I wanted to stop, I did know better, I couldn’t stop until I sought help. But once I knew it was an illness, even if others didn’t understand (they don’t have to) I could use it to my advantage and make choices towards recovery. EATING DISORDERS are not a choice, or a lifestyle. They are a mental illness.

The earlier someone seeks intervention for an eating disorder the better the outcome. That’s not to say that someone who has had an ED for many years cannot recover, because ANYONE can recover. But recognising signs you or someone has an eating disorder is the first step towards recovery. Understanding the diversity within eating disorders is fundamental to change.