Life after an ED in a World Obsessed with Weight

The world we live in is obsessed with weight. Obsessed with being thin, or having an athletic build, or what everyone is eating, and when they’re eating, and are they losing weight, how did they lose weight, how can I lose weight, how can I look like that. Everything seems to revolve around weight, appearance and more often than not, losing weight and trying to look a certain way. Clearly, not everyone thinks this way but, more often then not, that is the mindset of people that are around us. And it sucks. Being a certain weight does not tell you about the health of that individual. I was unhealthy when I was underweight and I was unhealthy when I was a normal weight. The way I spoke to myself and the way I treated my body was unhealthy and horrible.

Developing an eating disorder was a protection mechanism from all the things that I thought were wrong about me and that I wanted to change. I didn’t like who I was, I thought I was unattractive, I didn’t know how to be a good friend, and the answer that I came up with was to lose weight and somehow that would make me all of the things I wanted to be. Spoiler alert – it didn’t help and I spent months and months of my life neglecting my health, making myself unhappy and unhealthy, and opening a Pandora’s box of problems that I’m still dealing with the consequences of now.

Recovering from an eating disorder was almost worse than living in the eating disorder. Having to go against not only what my head was telling me, but what everyone around me seemed to be saying and doing was so difficult, it was more of a battle than I expected. Recovery is not going to be rainbows and butterflies, it’s tears and heartbreak and set-backs and discoveries and triumphs and lows. It’s fighting a battle that most of the time you don’t know why you’re doing it or whether it’s worth it. You go to therapy and you listen to your doctor and you go through the steps and if you could do it in a bubble it would be so much easier. Because you leave the therapy room and the doctors office, and you walk into the shops down the magazine aisle, and every page is screaming ‘How to Lose Weight in 4 Easy Steps’ or ’50 Ways to a Sexier Body’ or ‘Release Fat Fast’ or ‘Ways to Get Your Bikini Body’. And you are reminded that everything you are doing is the exact opposite of what society wants you to be doing.

I’m talking from the perspective of being in recovery from anorexia, or restrictive EDNOS, but the principle is literally the same with eating disorders such as bulimia or BED. Nowhere when you look in the supermarkets are people saying ‘this is what I eat to be healthy’, ‘this is what I do to love who I am without losing weight‘, or ‘I run to see how strong my body is without wanting to change how I look‘. The concept of balance is not one that has really filtered through properly. Like sure, we all know that you should live in balance, eat all your veggies, but also have chocolate and biscuits whenever you feel like not when you have ‘earned’ them (because really, how do you earn food anyway?). But it doesn’t tend to be something you see in the media as much. It’s something I had to learn the long, hard, and convoluted way over the best part of three years. I know that there are people saying this, and there are people who are honestly and truly living a life that doesn’t revolve around weight and appearance, but when you are bombarded daily with health adverts, and articles about losing weight, and reminded that x, y, and z are fundamentally and always bad for you, they’re really hard to find.

I carry my eating disorder with me. It has shaped who I am and how I deal with situations. It has given me a perspective on life that without it I don’t know whether I would have. It has shown me that the things you do to yourself can be so much worse then the things people do to you. It lives in my head. It is mostly quiet. It whispers to me on a daily basis about things it would rather I be doing. It latches on and gets louder when things are stressful, or when I’m poorly, or when circumstances change and make me more vulnerable than usual. I don’t know whether it will ever really go away. I’m willing to bet that there comes a day when I don’t hear it. Not just I don’t listen, where I don’t even hear its voice whisper out from the dark corner of my brain it’s been banished to. What I am most grateful that my eating disorder gave to me is that I am acutely aware of how we speak about our weight and our bodies. I know how I want to speak about mine, and how I want my friends and family to speak about theirs. Your body is not you. You are not your body and you are not your weight. Being healthy, and being strong and being appreciative and in awe of what your body can do is so important. We need to shift the focus from weight towards health. Weight is not the sole indicator of health. Health looks differently on everyone. Find the joy in movement, find the love for yourself and your body to fuel it properly and appreciate what it can do and what you are able to do because of it.

Maybe I would have always developed an eating disorder, maybe I’m too much of a perfectionist, with highly nervous tendencies and a predisposition to want to control the unknown. But I do know that if I had been surrounded by messages preaching that health is not a cookie cutter image and that weight is not the defining feature of health and importance in life then getting better and working through recovery would have been easier and less foreign, and less of a battle with what seemed like every single person on the planet. We need to change the way we define health. Health does not equal weight. There is so much we need to do and it starts with the way we talk to ourselves.

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Why I’m not watching To The Bone

As a result of who I follow on Twitter, my feed has been flooded with comments, reviews and criticisms about To The Bone, from people who have and who haven’t watched it. I’m writing this as an explanation of why I won’t be watching it, and hopefully, make anyone else who is feeling guilty about not watching feel better.

For anyone who doesn’t know, To The Bone is a new Netflix film that was released on Friday 14th July. It is about a 20 year old women who has anorexia and enters an inpatient residential program. Without going and googling the rest of the storyline this is as much as I know for sure. I have read enough articles about this film to have a brief idea, but I’m not sure on the specifics.

I’m not going to be watching To The Bone for a number of reasons. Primarily, I don’t particularly want to watch something that is going to make me doubt my recovery. I don’t need to prod and poke at this thing that feels very fragile and is very new. Honestly, I just don’t want to do something that is going to make me worse about myself. I mean, I’m being responsible and doing some good old self care over here. And I want to make it clear that if watching anything is going to make you feel terrible about yourself, and damage your mental health in any way whatsoever, please don’t watch the thing and definitely don’t feel guilty for putting your mental health first.

I am tired of eating disorders being portrayed in the media as some facet and representation of anorexia. Most people who have an eating disorder don’t have anorexia (or even bulimia). Most people struggle with a combination of behaviours and thoughts and most are diagnosed with OSFED (Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder) which replaced EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified), which people might be more familiar with. And a lot of people who have had anorexia or bulimia may transition into another type of eating disorder which in itself can be extremely distressing and disconcerting.

I think the reason most representations of eating disorders are of anorexia, or at least involve an underweight white teenage girl is that we seem to be obsessed with being thin. We are constantly striving for an appearance that is skinny and often, unrealistic and unhealthy. I see this in the children who are wearing activity trackers like Fitbits. These 8, 10, 12 year olds are wearing this watch that is constantly monitoring their steps, and giving them a best estimate of how much energy they have used that day. I just think that is the saddest thing. To be told by merely being given one of these, that your activity level and energy used is imperative, and by extension, that how much you weigh is one of the most important things about you. Also side note – anecdotally, it does seem that most of the kids I see wearing these trackers are girls, just saying, reinforcing unhealthy and plain ridiculous ideas about appearance and weight for girls.

I appreciate that people, many people, have this experience of an eating disorder. Hell, I did. I know the appeal and the feeling and experiences of starving yourself to death. And I understand why people are insistent on showing this to other people. Little by little, they make it a problem that people understand and so, reducing stigma (hopefully). What strikes me so often is that these accounts often give the impression that finding help is straightforward and easy. It really really isn’t. If you live in the UK, you will know how underfunded the NHS is. Unfortunately that also impacts mental health provisioning. For too many people, they are turned away from secondary care due to not fitting into a stringent criteria that only those who have physically deteriorated the most will fit into (for Adult Mental Health, CAMHS is a different story). This basically excludes hundreds and hundreds of people from treatment that they desperately need. So many people will fall between the cracks and be denied help unless they meet these strict criteria. Which inevitably leads to people deteriorating because they have been effectively told they are not unwell enough to deserve help. Which is stupid, dangerous and so frustrating. No matter what, if you are struggling with your eating and your thoughts around your eating, weight, appearance or self worth you are always worthy of help.

I just feel like maybe there needs to be a little bit of representation of the other manifestations of an eating disorder, and how life with an eating disorder is. Why don’t people who aren’t white shown with an eating disorder? Where are the men and boys who have an eating disorder? What about the older people? The people who binge and purge, the people who just binge or the people who over exercise compulsively? Just showing restrictive eating disorders in the media just perpetuates this myth that most people have anorexia, and the others aren’t as serious or as prevalent. It’s ridiculous and damaging. Maybe if people saw these other eating disorders represented in films and books they might understand that not everyone suffers in the same way. It might also lead some people to understand that their behaviours can be dangerous and life threatening. Because all eating disorders are, no matter how prettily they are packaged up. They are all life threatening through both damage to the body and risk of suicide.

I haven’t watched To The Bone, so I don’t know how accurate its portrayal of anorexia really is. From what I’ve heard there are both good parts and bad parts but overall it demonstrates how damaging an eating disorder can be to both the sufferer and their family. I just know that I’m not going to watch it, and no one should feel that they should have to, no matter what.