A Sufferer’s Reponse to Eating Disorders Awareness Week

I was not going to do this I was not going to do this I was not going to do this.

Disclaimer: this post refers primarily to anorexia nervosa, though I shall touch on eating disorders as a whole. I am talking from my own experience so not all that I will say can be generalised to all each individual’s struggle.

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW) runs every year around late February early March every year. The idea is to spread “awareness” about the most common types of Eating Disorders (namely anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, orthorexia nervosa and EDNOS). The concept behind EDAW is one I hugely admire given my personal 6-year battle with anorexia, however, scarily the week has become abused by some (not all) wishing to use the week to reaffirm how “ill” they are or once were. Graphic pictures of NG tubes and paper-thin bodies clutter people’s timelines to the point one forgets what EDAW was even meant for? To enhance the stigma that you have to be skeletal to have anorexia?

As a society, we have become so used to seeing the “transformation” photo of the sanguine looking individual next to the healthy one that it seems commonplace to equate anorexia with thinness. This needs to change. This is where society is misinformed. And even worse, this is where medical professionals and the NHS are wrong. When diagnosing anorexia, doctors are given the information that one only meets the criteria for anorexia nervosa if they have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of under 17.5 (when a healthy BMI is classed as anything above 18.5 height and age dependent). Yet there are numerous sufferers battling with this illness who do not reach the 17.5 criteria. Where is the support for these individuals? Quite blankly: there isn’t, they are turned away. Hence, the problem arises that the sufferer seems themselves not “ill” enough to receive treatment and so continues down their destructive warpath until they meet the golden criteria.

Why are we allowing sufferers to get to the point of crisis before they are able to receive help? It is inherently wrong. Should I consider myself lucky for being dangerously underweight each time I have sought help from the NHS?

I guess I have been through quite a “pick n’ mix” (excuse the dark sense of irony) experience of treatment for my anorexia since I have undergone CAMHS (Child and Adolescents Mental Health Service), CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) at my local GP, the school counselling service, an inpatient admission, group therapy, CRT (Cognitive Remediation Therapy), group therapy, relapse prevention therapy, medication, private therapy, online therapy – to be quite honest, I have tried it all. 6 years on, I can truly say that if it were not for the hospital admission I do not think I would be here to this day. It was the most traumatic, horrific experience of my life which I do not want to divulge too much into at this point. Besides the point, I would not have been able to receive any of this help if it were not for my low weight. This needs to change. The 17.5 BMI criteria needs to change.

Every day individuals with a statistically “healthy” weight are being denied help and there is not enough being done to help them. In light of my own experience, when I have previously reached a healthy weight, I was in a very bad mental place. The anorexic thoughts pervaded in my mind to the point I felt excited at the prospect of a relapse; hoping it might kill me this time. I am so lucky to have an amazing support network that stopped me from doing this. It was after this time that my parents sought private therapy for me which came at a hefty price. Simply, if you cannot get help on the NHS, you are expected to pay. This isn’t always feasible for many sufferers given the price of therapy can be anything up to 200 pounds a session. This should not be the case. Individuals should be able to approach the NHS knowing that the support they need is readily accessible to them. However, due to the idea that one has to be of such a low weight to receive treatment for anorexia, sufferers feel too embarrassed to even seek help for fear they will be “laughed at” or judged as a “fake”. I can tell you now, there is no such thing as being a “fake anorexic” and no doctor will ever, ever laugh at you. I truly hope if reading this and that you are in a similar position that it might reassure you that you do deserve help. There is a reason that anorexia is classed as a mental illness: because it is to do with an unhealthy relationship with food and an intense fear of weight gain. Anorexia does not come with a shopping tag of the weight you need to get to (though it is a devastating symptom).

I know this is not your average Eating Disorders Awareness post, but I wanted to show the bleak reality of the system we are in. It is 2019. It is time for improvement. And my hope is that support for those with this chronic illness can be improved; after all, 1 in 5 die from anorexia. All it takes is one sufferer to share their own experience to inform others and hopefully prevent more from developing an eating disorder. So if this post helped even one person, it was worth it.

Lots of Love,

Is xxx

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