With Eating Disorder Awareness Week taking place next week 27th – 5th March it’s a little reminder just how crucial awareness of this ‘silent’ illness is. Eating disorders are a very secretive illness. Using myself as an example, to begin with I looked fine, my favourite phrase was ‘I’m fine’ or ‘I’m ok’ and I acted fine and my behaviour was fine. On the outside everything was OK. As the illness progresses it begins to take its toll and it’s clear to people around you that you are not indeed ‘fine’ but by this point it’s too late, the damage is done, the thoughts and feelings are ingrained and have taken deep root. These thoughts and feelings are no longer thoughts and feelings but they are the truth, they are fact and you believe them. Belief is the key here. If you believe something to be true then no matter what your friends or family or the doctors say to you, you won’t believe them. You know the truth. Everyone else is lying to you. That’s when the paranoia begins, everyone and everything is against you, you feel on edge when you walk in to the room and everyone goes quiet… or worse overly chatty. Clearly everyone was talking about you. Against you. This is when you no longer look fine, your behaviour speaks volumes but it’s too late. This is the point where people may try to help you, where you are forced to see a doctor. I did exactly that and only agreed to see a doctor to make my family happy and stop them worrying. I didn’t see the problem and didn’t think I was poorly enough to get help. When it slowly clicked I was terrified but I felt like it was too late. I wished that I’d seen the problem at the very beginning so that I could have received the help I needed before things got too bad but I didn’t. No-one noticed the signs and that’s because I was so good at hiding it, I had all of the excuses, all of the lies and I manipulated. No-one knew what was going on and why should they? Eating disorders were not talked about so freely and so how could anyone have noticed the signs so early on when I was fighting so hard to keep it hidden.
Awareness of eating disorders is so so important and by people talking about mental health and understanding the early warning signs better places family and friends to make the intervention. It’s sad but true that this lies with family and friends because your loved one cannot be trusted to help themselves, that is not the nature of an eating disorder.
Recovery from an eating disorder is not a quick fix, you don’t get help and then you are better again, it takes years of hard work and in many cases you never fully recover BUT the sooner you get support and the treatment needed the sooner you can stop the downward spiral and begin working towards recovery.
Whether it’s the beginning of an eating disorder or a third or forth relapse getting help quickly is the most important thing.
I’m no professional but from personal experiences I have identified the early warning signs. If a handful of people are reading this and take something you never know when or if you might need it.
Early warning signs, to name a few:
Preoccupation with food:
- having ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods
- having a list of ‘safe’ foods
- eliminating entire food groups
- extreme interest in what others are eating
- feeding other people
Comments and thoughts around weight, weighing themselves more frequently and a desire for the number to go down
Looking in the mirror more often than normal and touching or pinching body parts.
If these phrases become part of your day to day conversations:
“I have already eaten”, ” I’ll eat later”, “I’m not hungry” “I don’t like that anymore” ” I had a big lunch”
Hiding food and throwing it away
Exercising obsessively with the intention of burning calories
Fixation on counting calories and numbers, checking food labels or knowing the calorie content in almost every food
Supermarket shops become painful, time consuming and stressful
Spending more time on the internet looking at diet sites and forums
Anxiety and depression
Having a few outfits that are worn and washed constantly and only feeling comfortable in these. They tend to be loose fitting
Becoming defensive and snappy and angry with intense mood swings. Becoming angry for what seems like no reason and then being tearful the next.
Rigid eating behaviours:
- using a certain bowl or spoon
- cutting food into tiny pieces
- chewing a certain number of times
- not letting foods touch
Avoiding social situations or being socially awkward and withdrawing and becoming isolated
Being cold and tired all the time
The more we talk and read about eating disorders the greater awareness there will be, with more people getting the help that they need. Eating disorders are silent… we need to give them a voice, we need to make them loud.