Isle of Wight teenagers debunk eating disorder myths

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Today marks the end of Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 27 – March 5). Earlier this year, yoppul spoke to Island teens and heard their accounts of struggling with eating disorders. 

Eating disorders are becoming increasingly common—in fact, leading ED charity Beat estimates approximately 725,000 men and women suffer from a type of eating disorder.

They can strike at any age, although statistically teens are more likely to be affected.

Eating disorders are mental illnesses which have serious physical effects. The most common are anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder.

Beat describes anorexia as “people keep their body weight low by dieting, vomiting, using laxatives or excessively exercising. The way people with anorexia see themselves is often at odds with how they are seen by others and they will usually challenge the idea that they should gain weight.”

Anorexia differs to bulimia, which is categorized by binge eating and then purging (vomiting/taking laxatives/excessive exercising) to prevent weight gain. Binge eating disorder is similar to bulimia, however bingeing is not followed by purging.

Side effects of the illnesses can include severe weight loss, growth of downy (soft and fine) hair all over your body, or hair falling out, and girls can experience amenorrhea (periods stopping or becoming irregular).

The disorders can quickly spiral out of control to become life threatening, yet sadly common misconceptions prevent many sufferers from seeking help.

Here, Island teenagers share with us their experiences, in the hope of debunking some of the biggest myths about EDs.

Eating disorders are a conscious decision 

“Some people think having an eating disorder means you consciously restrict eating. My personal experience is that I didn’t even realise what I was doing. I just kept cutting out certain foods over time, which is what the illness made me do. It was never a straightforward decision that I was going to stop eating.”

People with anorexia don’t eat

“People assume if you do eat, even minimally, that you can’t be anorexic. A lot of the time for me it was about these weird rules I got into my head about not eating certain things, or not eating in certain places with certain people. I didn’t completely stop eating. This certainly stopped myself, and other people I met in hospital, from initially getting help, because I thought I couldn’t have an eating disorder because I wasn’t aware how I was restricting my food.”

You have to be underweight to have an eating disorder

“I’m “too fat” to have an eating disorder, people assume that everyone with an eating disorder is 3 stone, whereas statistically people with bulimia are on average overweight. My weight fluctuates about 2 stone within a couple of months, and people don’t see this as a problem because I’m not ridiculously skinny anymore.

“I think it definitely stopped me getting help for a while because I believed that I didn’t have a problem because I wasn’t ‘skinny enough’ to have an ED. I still don’t tend to tell people because of the reaction I get, and I hate going to counselling sessions because I feel I’m not ill enough to deserve their time. “

All eating disorders are image related 

“People assume my eating disorder is image based—anorexia is about looking a certain way. I’m barely concerned with appearance, it’s more about becoming obsessed with the idea that I don’t deserve finding happiness in food.

“It really bugs me that the poster child for eating disorders seems to be a pretty, thin girl who wants to look her best. The reality is so ugly, and it’s ultimately deadly, which is why it’s so hard to hear people say that they’ll just ‘go anorexic’ to lose weight.”

Eating more is the cure to eating disorders

“A lot of people think you’re classed as anorexic based on weight alone. Gaining means you’re getting better. It doesn’t. It’s a complicated and difficult mix, as it’s a mental and physical illness—you’re constantly battling your mind and body, trying to find a balance.

“It’s really important to make sure you can find that equal, healthy balance between your mental and physical wellbeing otherwise recovery becomes pointless. This is why recovery is so hard, each case is different and there is no set cure at all—different things work for different people. Unlike most physical and in some cases, mental illnesses, there isn’t any medication.

“Asking “Why don’t you just eat more?” isn’t going to solve anything.”

If you’re worried that you, or someone you know, has an eating disorder visit https://www.b-eat.co.uk/ to find out more.