Tag Archive: Eating Disorder Awareness


Like a 1980s throw back, the pavements are scattered with joggers, clad in fresh neon Lycra. Gyms full of frantic activity. Personal Trainer’s, like tour reps, guiding uncomfortable newbies, as the gym stalwarts look on resentfully, impatient at having to queue for machines they’ve come to call their own.

people in gym

Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

Me: I resist the magnetic pull of these sports, though my head aches for the hot, dripping sweat of impossibly intense cardio regimes. With every advert for a new workout,  I remember the hours spent pounding the treadmill, ever harder, ever faster. The high of running on empty, breaking through pain. The cycling, competitive climbing, rowing, bench press, skipping, weights…

… and actually, I hated it. Although I’ve always been fit, at 5ft 2″, I’m not a natural sportswoman. Don’t get me wrong,  I used to enjoy a cycle, climbing, a good walk, but in those days, it was a pastime, not a regime.

Why then?  Why did I endlessly punish my body with ever-increasing levels of cruelty? Why ignore the aching, the fatigue, the pain?

Ask the Anorexia.

Without wishing to sound too extreme, I want to warn anyone who has been lured into fitness regimes and fad diets this January.  Being healthy is all well and good, but making it a mission can make YOU a slave.

I write as one of the many who ironically start out flexible and end up rigid.

My illness began with a gym membership, a health kick. I had given up smoking and just  wanted to stay healthy, get fitter. That’s ok right?

But as I was running faster, and swimming stronger, and lifting heavier; the illness was very slowly, very quietly, creeping up behind me.

I had started toning up, losing weight, shaping up. I pushed my regime. Then I noticed that I felt guilty if I ate something ‘unhealthy’. Before too long,  I couldn’t HAVE anything unhealthy UNLESS I’d worked out. I pushed myself harder. I lost weight. The numbers started going down. I pushed myself harder. Then I could only eat on gym days… Before I knew it, I was too thin to exercise. I had the frame of a seven year old girl.

But I was thirty.

And trapped.

Over a decade later, I am still flying round the same old cage. There isn’t a bar which I haven’t beaten and broken my wings on.  I know every trick and trait of my captor and yet I can’t break free.

20190110_1255451711430478.jpg

I hate the January burst of diets and slimming aids and gym memberships, and new

fitness plans. I avert my eyes and ignore the call…

I know that for most, it’s a positive thing. But I write to make the case that we all need to be careful that a hobby doesn’t become unhealthy. This is especially pertinent if you’re prone to perfectionism, highly competitive and have struggled with eating problems / body dysmorphia. It’s fine to get fit, but be aware that Anorexia and other EDs thrive on seemingly ‘good’ initiatives. Be aware that these illnesses are clever, and pervasive. They take your brain prisoner…

And if you’re reading this thinking you’re immune, think again; because eating disorders tiptoe past your rational mind. You can’t OUT THINK them.

If you’re worried someone is developing an eating disorder or becoming obsessive about their diet, TALK to them. Be gentle. Suggest they talk to a professional. Be aware that they might not believe they have a problem. It’s crucial that they know it’s not THEM that you appear to be so against, but the stranger who is controlling their behaviour.

If it’s your intention to change your habits for 2019, try not to buy into the media hype. The diet and exercise industry cannot and should not promise you a new and sparkling existence.

#difficult

Without wishing to sound all bah-humbug about it, I REALLY can’t share the sentiment of the song that blares as I push my trolley up the soft drinks aisle in my local supermarket. I realise it’s not supposed to be taken too literally but honestly, the sheer inanity of some idiot’s wish that ‘it could be Christmas every da – aaay” is, at best, teeth grittingly stupid, at worst, utterly irresponsible. (I know for a fact that occurring even once a year increases overspending and subsequent problems with debt for some of the poorest families in the UK.)

The song continues to blare across the store and I swing into the middle aisle in time to catch one woman (who apparently has some inside info about a nationwide dearth of flour that the rest of us aren’t privy to) almost mow down an older lady in her path. Glancing round for someone to share her indignation, she looked at me shaking her head and starting to mutter something. Not really wanting to buy into this her fury, I just smiled sympathetically and shrugged offhandedly. “Christmas, hey?” She grunted disconsolately. “Really does bring out the best and the worst doesn’t it?” For a second, she eyed me with uncertainty and then snorted. “Bloody right” she said.

Thing is, and I bet my stocking this is true; most of us over a certain age would hate the thought of Christmas everyday! The shops are rammed, roads gridlocked, transport more squashed than ever, people more harried and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Even some of my most togetherest friends (poetic licenses granted for Christmas period Ts and Cs apply) struggle at this time of year. Christmas for those affected by any illness can be especially difficult, perhaps because the pain felt by sufferers and their families is brought into such stark contrast by the sense of festive merriment.

As a seasoned Anorexic, I find this time of year to be particularly torturous, so much so that almost every Christmas for the past five years, has in some way contributed to my ending up in inpatient treatment. I can only write from my personal experience, but I want to explain why Christmas with an eating disorder can be so difficult.

1. The fist reason seems obvious. Food is suddenly everywhere. It’s inescapable, and far more so than usual. Supermarkets are cram full of luxury items; not just your standard ice cream. No. The very finest ice cream made with fresh, sweet strawberries, rich chocolate or vanilla pods hand picked by velvet – furred monkeys living in luxury Madagascan tree houses. Shelves are lined with glistening golden wrappings, the finest of wines and giant tubs of cheap chocolates hang out, competitively priced, attractively arranged.

But Anorexics hate food right?

Wrong! But you could be forgiven for thinking so. After all, who in their right mind would starve themselves to within an inch of their life if they enjoyed food?

Well. This is why an eating disorder isn’t the lifestyle choice or the vain whim of a silly young girl who wants to look like a model, although the media have often billed it to be. An eating disorder is a mental illness, and a complex one at that. With the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, Anorexia needs to be taken more seriously by the media and by the fashion industry. It is still so misunderstood.

Back to the food thing… Contrary to popular understanding, Anorexics don’t dislike food. They love food. They long for food. If you are the loved one of a sufferer who swears they don’t like it, don’t be fooled. It’s the illness lying. I’ve known Anorexics who confide that they lie in bed at night, planning meals in such detail, that they feel as though they’ve actually eaten three courses by the time they fall asleep. Others cut pictures out of food magazines to stick in scrap books, watch food programmes and obsess over recipe books. I’ve even heard one clinician refer to this as ‘food porn’.

And all this time, with all this longing, the Anorexic starves.

Doesn’t make sense? That’s because it’s a MENTAL ILLNESS.

2. The second reason Christmas can feel like torture is because many sufferers spend a lot of time and a lot of energy on NOT thinking about food. Personally, I’m one of these. I do a lot to distract myself from a hunger that can sometimes be so raw that it terrifies me.

Because it’s a holiday, often mealtimes become the main source of structure in our unformed days. With all the added drinks and nibbles, the festive period can feel like one, perpetual banquet. This can be terrifying for an eating disorder sufferer because it means they may FEEL as though they have eaten far more than they normally would, and mostly, far more than they actually have (reality is generally very distorted).

I want to explain more because there is so much more to write about, but I fear this is in need of more structure as it is.

I suppose what I really want is to reach out to those unfortunate others who find themselves feeling so desperate and out of control over the next few days. I want to say, “hang in there. the days will pass. It’s not as long as it feels. You are not alone”. I want to speak to families who, through no fault, don’t understand. I want to encourage them to be gentle, not to lose heart, to seek support. A young anorexic / bulimic can’t be shouted / coaxed / bribed out of a mental illness.

And I want to say that somehow, somewhere, Christmas takes place irrespective of our state of health. Christmas takes place regardless of our state of belief even. It takes place for Him, and yet it began for us. In this, and in this alone, I find a flicker of hope.

If you’re reading, believer or not, sufferer or not, I pray you find the peace, health and touch of sparkle that the gift of the Christ child can bring at Christmas. If you’re finding it tough, please, reach out. You don’t have to be alone.