Eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice
Posted Wednesday 24 February 2010
A guest post by Ilona Burton, who blogs in the Independent Minds community and campaigns for greater awareness of eating disorders.
At the age of just seven, my new year’s resolution was to lose weight. I began to hide food, throw it away, stuff it in my mouth and spit it out, and give it away to other people. Not a particularly conscious decision, not the result of bullying or a reaction to an obvious trigger – just something that very gradually, inexplicably became habitual and horribly addictive, an illness that ended up affecting over three quarters of my life.
Contrary to popular belief, the development of my eating disorder, as with the majority of sufferers, was not a vain attempt to lose weight in order to resemble skinny models or celebrities. This was a time when the Spice Girls were a picture of health, nobody knew who Nicole Richie or her stylist Rachel Zoe (later blamed for the size zero epidemic) were, and I was shopping at Tammy Girl, completely unaware of size zero, size 6 or any fad diets.
Anorexia slowly became what I perceived to be the larger part of my identity, it was just what I did, what I was, who I was. During high school, despite worries raised by my friends to teachers that were passed on to my parents, I did everything I could to deny these allegations that I was ill or in danger, and as I wasn’t on death’s door, even my GP passed me off – the same story with too many other people in my position.
Not surprisingly, the situation worsened while I was at sixth form. Skipping lunch was a non-issue to me by then as it had become so normal, so I moved on to skip as many other meals I could, ever the inventive, creative excuse-giver – my intake became lower and lower, and consequently, so did my weight. Clothes hanging from my pelvic bones, I would walk an hour or so to college and back come rain or shine and despite worries and concerns from loved ones, there was little anyone could do at this stage that would stop me from being wrapped up in my anorexic behaviours.
University time – freedom, independence, but for me, a tragic waste of what should have been the best year of my life. Instead of leaving home and drinking myself into oblivion, I isolated myself and slipped quickly into a routine which involved spending most of my time wrapped in a dressing gown, weighing myself obsessively and living off an oh so fun diet of Diet Coke, celery and sugar free jelly.
While my flatmates were out socialising and dancing till dawn, as students are supposed to, I was in my room, alone, writing depressing angst-ridden poems and seeing how many stomach crunches I could possibly do – the number increasing every day. By the end of that first year, I looked like a poster girl for the line between life and death.
In the second and third year of university, I set my heart on getting a first Class degree, was the lead singer in a band, became a DJ, made an amazing group of friends and had a damn good social life – signs that things were better, especially as the previous summer I had been threatened with hospitalisation and had therefore gained enough weight to escape that.
But behind all this, my anorexia had made a little friend in bulimia – whenever I wasn’t busying myself with all the above, I was going to more dangerous lengths (vomiting, laxative abuse, diet pills which contained ephedrine, banned in most countries) to somehow feel better about myself. Of course, no matter how much weight you lose, it is never enough and it certainly never brings with it the promised state of ‘feeling better’, not even close.
It took me a three month stint in a specialised unit, a year in outpatient care and another nine months in hospital to get me to where I am now. Even after all that effort, hard work, stress and strain of fighting against an illness that clings to you, not wanting you to ever let it go, I still am at a low weight, still fighting every day to stay well enough to get by.
I am and feel a million times better and less scared, trapped and controlled by food, but I hope that my story will highlight a few of the truths behind some of the many misconceptions that are made about eating disorders.
Eating Disorders are serious mental health illnesses that affect approximately 1.6 million people – male, female, young, old, gay, straight, vain, plain – in the UK.
Eating disorders do not discriminate – they can affect anyone and anytime for any reason.
Eating disorders are not glamorous, nor are they the result of glamourisation through the worlds of fashion or celebrity – although social pressures may contribute to a disorder, they are rarely ever the cause.
Eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice or a diet gone too far.
Eating disorders CAN be beaten – though secretive in their nature and unbelievably hard to recover from, full recovery is possible. The support is there, just reach out.
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