Let’s talk eating disorders.
When WE hear the words EATING DISORDERS we tend to automatically think Anorexia. As someone that struggles with ‘disorderly eating’ I know the many different types of eating disorders that there are.
It seems a common thing now, that eating disorders are referred to more as disorderly eating. I didn’t and don’t like to refer to myself as someone with an eating disorder. But it is much easier to think of myself as having disorderly eating.
Now, this can consist of many different things. This can be anorexia. This can also be binge eating, Bulimia, you may think you just over eat and that this is not a disorder. This too can be a form of disorderly eating. It takes on many, many forms.
Now for me, I have struggled since I was 15 years old. It started with family and friends telling me I was ‘fat’. I realise now, that this was more due to the fact that they knew it got to me, as how can someone that weighed around six stone, be fat? The thing is, this stayed with me. I found myself often starving myself and doing lots of exercise to make sure the weight stayed off. Other times I found myself eating (and not always binge eating, sometimes I could just have a salad) just so that I could make myself sick.
I remember being at school and a dinner lady told the Head Teacher she had caught me making myself sick in the toilets one lunch time. I don’t recall this ever happening. Don’t get me wrong, I had done it on several occasions at school. But, never was I aware that someone had ‘caught’ me. I was very clever with it. For months I made myself sick at home, where I lived with a large family. And yet I managed to hide it. Because I was clever with it.
After this lady told the school she had caught me, they then spoke to my mum. I remember getting home and my mum having the biggest jacket potato waiting for me. Like she needed proof that it wasn’t true. At the time, I was annoyed. How dare she? Now, I can see that she was just worried and didn’t really know how to handle the situation.
Age 18, I started a new job and I can remember comments about how thin I was. But I honestly thought at the time I was really fat. At this point, I weighed 5 stone 13.
My anxiety would then make me question whether I have an eating disorder, or whether it was an attention thing. I knew what a strain this was putting on my body. It scared me. It is not something I would have put myself through for a bit of attention. Yet my anxiety would try to convince me otherwise.
At 24 years old I decided it was finally time to get some counselling to help me with my disorderly eating. I didn’t want to be like this forever. She became quite concerned about my fight with food and water. Mainly because I had disclosed to her that I rarely even drank, because it made me look bloated and I was worried about looking fat. Looking back now, I cannot quite believe that at five stone thirteen, I thought I was fat!! She encouraged me to seek medical help, as if I didn’t, she would have to seek advice on my behalf. This pushed me into going to the GP and asking for help. The GP put it down to anxiety and referred me onto the Mental Health team. This absolutely terrified me. I cannot remember who said it to me, but someone once told me that if I ended up under the MH team, that I would have to disclose this to every future employer. This is not something I wanted. Now, I know this is not true. But at the time, it was a huge worry for me.The MH team had me weighed at the doctors’ surgery once a week. If I could show that I was gaining weight, they would discharge me. Each week, I had gained. I had gained just to make sure I could be discharged. I fully intended on losing the weight again once I was discharged.
Fortunately for me, at 25 I fell pregnant and that was the turning point for me. I didn’t want my baby to think that this was normal. I didn’t want my eating habits to rub off on her.This was finally what would make me change. And it did. For some time.
Six years. Six WHOLE years!! I was free from this awful thing. I didn’t even have a tiny blip in this time. It felt fantastic to keep adding up the days, months, years that I had been free from this.
Life became very stressful. Without going into too much detail, as this is a whole other story! But life became one big fight. A fight for the right support, a fight for the right services. A fight to get the right school. A fight for everything. My child has additional needs and it was very hard to get the professionals to see what we go through on a daily basis. This fight, this lack of control over EVERYTHING, this lack of belief from the so called experts, this made my anxiety soar and it made me blame everything on myself – as this is what they told me. It was me. I now know that it wasn’t, I know that my child does indeed have additional needs. But in that moment, when everyone is telling you that the fault lies with you, you start to believe it. The guilt over having a ‘naughty child’, as they led me to believe. The lack of control over everything. Even leaving the house. It pushed me back to the days where I had control of something. The one thing I could control. My disorderly eating.
This is where I realised that my eating habits always fall back on times when I feel that things are out of my control. If I can’t control everything else, at least I can control this.
I also realised that there was a cycle to my disorderly eating.
I went to a group for adults with disorderly eating. I was so nervous about this. I had a vision of what I would walk into. I had a vision of everybody clearly having an eating disorder. Then fat me walking in and people looking at me, thinking, why are you even here? That could not have been farther from the truth. Looking around that room of eighteen people (and I know there were this many as I was constantly counting them to help control my anxiety), you would not guess that the most of these people (men and ladies!) had difficulties with food. It was such a relief!
Sat in this room, a comment was made about everyone knowing what eating disorder they had. I didn’t. I couldn’t pin point one. I had several. This is where I realised that my issues with food seemed to go around in a cycle. I would starve myself to lose weight. Then I would eat, but I would make myself sick after. I would then over eat and gain some of the weight back that I had previously lost. Then I could have some time where I ate ‘normally’ (whatever that was) and then when things were out of my control again, the cycle would go back around. Each part of the cycle could last weeks at a time. There was no telling how long each part would last.
But this is where the lack of help and support comes into play.
I went to my GP. I begged for help with my issues with food. I knew that I didn’t want to go back to this place where I had previously been. I remember the lack of energy. The awful hair and skin I had. The way my nails were so brittle. The damage the bulimia had done to my teeth, even though I cleaned them after every time I was sick. I remember it so well and I didn’t want to go back to that. I asked for help and I was told that they could not refer me onto the MH team for help because you had to have a BMI of 17.5 or below!!
So, they were telling me that someone with a serious eating disorder had to have a BMI which classed them as‘underweight’. That someone like me, that had a BMI of 36.7, could not possibly have an eating disorder!! Hence the stereotype of an eating disorder looking like anorexia! This made me so angry. How dare someone tell me that I can’t possibly need help with an eating disorder because my BMI makes me obese! Even when, in the space of 3 months, my BMI dropped to 29.9, butting me in the ‘overweight’ category, I still could not get support.
I managed to get the GP to agree to refer me onto the weight management team at the council. This is a team that helps support you to lose weight. Once they received my referral, they called me and they wanted to see me in person as ‘we don’t normally deal with eating disorders’. Within a day of this meeting, I had a call to say they had discharged me because they don’t deal with eating disorders.
Now what? Now where do I go?
I went to a centre that supports women with all kinds of mental health difficulties. They currently didn’t have any support groups for women with eating disorders.
I went to a centre that supports men and women with a whole range of mental health difficulties. They too currently had no support for eating disorders.
There was nothing. Nowhere. All I had discovered was a loop hole in the system!
I ended up having to travel 50 minutes, one evening a month, to attend a support group for people with disorderly eating. The only problem being, whilst I could attend the support group, I could not access any of their individual support, because this was only for people living with in the area. This is not something I could keep up with, as it was 7.30pm until 9pm. I had to rely on my husband to be home from work early to drive me there. We also have children who we have no childcare for and who had to be up for school the following morning. So we were back to no support.
I also travel in the other direction to the next town for counselling.
It is absolutely ridiculous that there is no support for people with eating disorders in this town, unless you are anorexic. It is about time professionals understand that disorderly eating takes on a whole range of roles. It is not a one size fits all.
Currently, my eating habits are under control. I dare say that this will come back and rear its ugly head at some point. But for now, it remains okay.
It is important for me to say, that not every area have this issue with accessing help. If you are concerned about your eating habits, speak to your GP or another professional who can help point you in the right direction.
You can also access advice and support at www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk – here you will find weekly support chat rooms, message boards, advice and help. Below, are the contact details for BEAT. Whether you have an eating disorder, you support someone with an eating disorder or you know of someone with an eating disorder, there is help and advice available.
Help for adults
The Beat Adult Helpline is open to anyone over 18. Parents, teachers or any concerned adults should call the adult helpline.
Helpline: 0808 801 0677
General enquiries & head office
Our head offices are located in Norwich:
Unit 1 Chalk Hill House
19 Rosary Road