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Raising Awareness about Eating Disorders


 Trigger warning: contains information about eating disorders.

Fancy a bar of chocolate? Or maybe ordering Dominoes tonight? Perhaps going out to a restaurant? Food is a social activity, providing enjoyment, and we should be able to pick out a snack without a second thought. Yet for 1.6 million people across the UK, this privilege does not exist, but instead food creates a world of turmoil that is an eating disorder. An intense manifestation of persistent and punishing thoughts, not just lowering one’s self esteem, but manipulating their whole identity to never feeling good enough. Food is no longer a nourishment or pleasure, but a numerical and quantitative pile of anxiety.

Alongside the stress of University deadlines, homesickness, and just trying to remain in a conscious social reality – each day can become a nightmare of thoughts, resulting in tears, binges, purges, restrictions, anxiety and self-doubt. The thoughts alone are exhausting, racing through the mind, calculating calories, and criticizing every aspect of ourselves. All of which lead to an intense self-hatred and the constant feeling of being inadequate. After the mechanical actions of eating, the anxiety doesn’t dampen easily, the day will hold fears of having eaten too much, gaining weight, continuing to eat uncontrollably, and results in a day lost in a world of clouded vision, an unintentional, self-centered bubble of worry and rumination.

An eating disorder can feel like nothing we say or do, will ever be right or good enough. Nobody will want to hear our voice or opinion, so staying silent is the only option. The inner turmoil of silence can begin to build up, but who will listen to someone who is inadequate? The sly nature of an eating disorder means that it can become a ‘friend’, something or someone to rely on or fall back on, when our surrounding reality is too chaotic, when nobody else can be trusted. Our bodies and eating habits, become the way in which we can finally express ourselves. Unknown to the sufferer, this ‘friend’ draws us in to what can only be described as an abusive relationship, but we accept the criticizing thoughts, because we accept what we feel we deserve.

Yet nothing will ever be good enough for the eating disorder, no amount of restricting, purging, or bingeing, will be acceptable for our new found ‘friend’. No weight will ever be low enough, not for us and not compared to anyone else. An eating disorder makes us feel that we need to struggle more severely and for longer, in order to be worthy of the diagnosis itself. In a world of inadequacy, an eating disorder feels like something that can finally give us hope, that we can finally be ‘good enough’, because it feels like something that makes us different. But in reality, this is never achievable, and nothing will ever be good enough for an eating disorder.

An eating disorder can become our identity, when nothing else about us feels good enough, or worth defining ourselves by. It’s so consuming to the point we can try to hold on to it, we give in to the stigma of how we ‘should’ be, avoiding activities like meals out, simply because managing this is not what someone with an eating disorder should be able to do. We feel others will think badly or differently of us if we challenge ourselves to situations like this, because it is thought that one with an eating disorder, ‘must be thin’ or ‘just doesn’t eat’. The stigma itself, unconsciously drives us back into the arms of an eating disorder, because even though a life without this internal battle is what we truly desire, a life without our ‘friend ‘we can trust and safely know won’t reject us, is terrifying.

There is no black and white description of an eating disorder, all types present themselves differently, but all stem from a battered sense of self. Trying to achieve the standards of society’s view of an eating disorder, can further enhance those feelings of never being good enough. It’s time to accept that individuals can be a healthy size, and still need help to fully recover.

Eating disorders are classified as mental disorders, because they are an internal and ineffable struggle. A constant mental battle between wanting food and fearing food, taking up all cognitive capacity, destroying one’s entire personality and perception, causing amnesia of the person you truly are. They are not attention seeking illnesses, they are not a choice, and often those who suffer don’t seek the help they need, because they feel they don’t deserve it, because the stigma dictates that a healthy weight equals a healthy mind, which is certainly not the case. No matter what someone’s weight, size, shape or portion size is, this does not depict their struggle in any way. Weight is a symptom, and everyone deserves compassion if their mind is hindered by these thoughts. The simple message is; don’t judge a book by its cover.

 Jazz McCutcheon

For advice and support, contact Voice, the Wellbeing Centre and Advice Unit here.

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