Observations from Eating Disorder Awareness Week

This week (February 24 – March 2) was Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I followed the #EDAW2014 hashtag on Twitter all week as well as sharing news stories that I found online relating to it. It was awesome to see so many people contributing. It was especially ace to see so many people who have beaten eating disorders and/or are in recovery sharing their own experiences in a bid to help others.

One point that I noticed people emphasising the most was the fact that eating disorders are not a choice. Well, yeah, obviously… Does that seem like such an obvious statement to you as it does to me? ED’s are a mental illness, just like depression and schizophrenia. No one chooses to develop an eating disorder, it just happens. Right? The fact that people actually do think that eating disorder victims actively choose their predicament (other than totally boggling the mind) just shows how much we need charities like Beat. We shouldn’t have to be pointing out the fact that people don’t turn round and say ‘Hey, you know what? I’m going to become anorexic.’ Insinuating that people do is a bit of a slap in the face for all of the sufferers out there, I’d say.

Now, I am by no means a Doctor, Nurse, Psychiatrist or a person who is qualified to help ED sufferers in any way. I won’t sit here and tell you that I know everything about them because I don’t. They’re very complex and I’m still educating myself about them through charities like Beat and Body Gossip. But, being a Body Confidence Campaigner, talking about eating disorders kinda comes with the territory and ending the stigmas that those affected by these horrific illnesses face is something that I really believe we need to be discussing more. It can’t be talked about enough if you ask me.

I myself struggled with my own body image for many, many years and I understand how it feels to feel trapped in your own skin instead of belonging in it. Luckily enough for me though, I never ended up with an eating disorder.

Something else that I noticed people talking about a lot during EDAW2014 was the fact that so many sufferers are going either unnoticed or untreated. Because ED’s are a mental illness, we can forget that there’s a lot more to it than ‘just’ food. For some sufferers, it’s not food that’s the problem, but control. Life is very stressful. And for someone with an ED, food can be the only thing they can control and keep in check. The specific ‘textbook’ behaviours of those with an ED are often being missed by those closest to them (perhaps because awareness is lower than it should be?) and so loved ones often have no idea that there’s anything wrong until the individual’s weight loss becomes apparent.

If and when an ED sufferer plucks up the courage to seek help does not always mean that it’s the start of happier times for that individual. Another thing to come from Eating Disorder Awareness Week was the fact that so many people are being refused help because they don’t fit the ‘requirements’ in order to be referred for further help. In other words, if a patient is not under a certain weight, they will be told to come back once they are below said weight. Very helpful. Beat and Cosmopolitan UK have paired together in order to raise awareness and educate people about ED’s. They really hit the nail on the head when they said:

‘No Doctor would tell a cancer patient to go away until their illness got worse. But that’s exactly what’s happening to thousands of women with eating disorders…’

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       – Cosmopolitan UK

I hosted a special EDAW2014 #BodyConfidenceHour on Twitter tonight as it’s been really interesting to see what everyone’s had to say on the matter and as I said, I’m still learning about eating disorders and am interested to find out more about them and how I can potentially help charities and organisations help people. All of the above are just observations I have made from Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I’m very uneducated when it comes to the complexity of eating disorders and am merely sharing my observations in the hope that someone will learn something new. I have tried my best to write this post in the least triggering way I can.

Obviously, I don’t expect the following to fix everything, but, if you’re reading this post and you yourself have suffered and/or are suffering with an ED, please remember that your life is incredibly valuable. You are incredibly valuable. There are so many people who love and cherish you and only want to see you happy. I hope you know that there are organisations and charities whose purpose is solely to help people suffering from these cruel illnesses. Recovering from an eating disorder IS possible! You CAN move on from it! It will be a slow and steady process, you mustn’t rush yourself, you must do it at your own pace. As long as you have the support of those closest to you and/or a charity like Beat – you’re on your way! You are an individual. One of a kind. Unique! And you’re pretty damn amazing.

You can find out more about Beat here: http://www.b-eat.co.uk/

You can also find out about Body Gossip here: http://www.bodygossip.org/

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About Leyah Shanks

Positive body image activist and advocate for mental health.

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