By Natasha Holt, 3rd year Chemistry
Natasha Holt discusses the reality of eating disorders, and the large spectrum that they extend. She highlights her own journey and tackles misconceptions.
Eating disorders are as unique as the individuals who fall victim to them. They do not discriminate between gender, age, race and yes, weight. The only thing an eating disorder needs to flourish is a vulnerable mind and a way in.
As a hormonal teenage girl, I began interacting with myself and the world around me in a damaging way. I developed severe depression and anxiety, which manifested itself through OCD and disordered eating. For the last 12 years I haven’t experienced a day where I regarded food in a ‘normal way’. For a long time, it has dominated my existence. Weight and calories became the only thing that mattered. I was in an endless cycle of restricting, binging and purging. After seeking help, I was diagnosed with EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified). I did not fit into a specific eating disorder diagnosis, which is incredibly common.
However, as a mentally ill girl in the grips of an eating disorder, I took it as a failure. The eating disorder voice in my head was the only thing I listened to, it was the only thing I could hear. It told me, you aren’t good enough, you aren’t thin enough.
If I could tell the young me anything, it would be ‘you are sick enough.'
Not conforming to the skeletal image of eating disorders creates a dangerous way of thinking - in particular, that I’m not thin enough to get help. You do not need to be a certain weight for your struggles to be validated. The way your weight can change with an eating disorder, whether that be gaining or losing weight, is only a symptom of a larger problem. You deserve to live a better life and your weight does not engineer this.
The world of eating disorders is an absolute minefield, especially on the internet. As a young girl embarking on the World Wide Web of eating disorders, I was met with a community full of support on the one hand but full of incredibly triggering and damaging ideologies on the other. A community of mentally ill people that regards weight loss as the ultimate success which fosters the ugly competitiveness you can feel when suffering with an eating disorder. The thinner you are the better you are. Haven’t got your period? Great! If you have a feeding tube, you’ve made it, look how good you are at being anorexic! It sounds terrifying, but in the grips of the illness, it is a reality that actively prevents the recovery process.
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That is what is so sneaky about eating disorders. It engineers the way you think in a way that will allow it to thrive. In reality, eating disorders begin as a coping mechanism when your world is too hard to handle. But it quickly becomes so much more. It is an avenue for regaining a sense of control and in particular for me, a feeling of purity and cleanliness. Like most mental illnesses, it creeps in slowly and until you know it, you are replaced by a lifeless, obsessed, miserable shell.
I want to see the ‘glamour’ of eating disorders eradicated from the media. I want to see a true representation of eating disorders. I want to see binge eating, bulimia, anorexia and EDNOS represented as the spectrum it is, instead of these well-defined stereotypes we have been exposed to. I want to encourage anyone who feels that they are struggling with their eating habits to get help, regardless of what you look like or how much you weigh. For the last decade of my life, I have been affected by my eating disorder in all ways possible:
- Weight loss
- Weight gain
- Over eating
Not being at a weight low or high enough to raise a red flag has prevented me from truly seeing the damage it can do. This is why it is so important to raise awareness of the complexity of eating disorders so that someone just like me doesn’t have to wait 12 years to finally believe they are worth helping. Luckily, I have now started cognitive behavioural therapy and I am embarking on a journey of recovery and discovery.
Featured Image: Epigram / Marina Afzal-Khan
If you feel like you are suffering from any of the issues mentioned in this article, contact the student health service and arrange an appointment.