Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2018

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I didn't know where to start with today’s post, so I went straight in.

This week in the UK, it’s eating disorder awareness week (or #EDAW2018). Although I’m grateful that this provides people with the opportunity to speak out and to encourages people to seek support, in reality, every week should be ED awareness week.  

Eating disorders are not new, but prevalence has risen dramatically in recent years. For example, there’s been a 73.6% increase in UK inpatient admissions for children and adolescents with Anorexia Nervosa alone between 2002 and 2016 (NHS, 2016).

Eating disorders are complex. Biological, psychological and socio-cultural factors all contribute. No one factor leads to an ED and no factor leads a suffer away from it.

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate among all psychiatric disorders, but they receive substantially less funding than many other disorders.

This is where charities like BEAT come in.

According to BEAT, an average of 149 weeks passes before those experiencing eating disorder symptoms seek help. That’s nearly three years. Yet, we know that earlier intervention leads to better outcomes. The longer a suffer goes without help, the more treatment resistant the disorder becomes.

So, what can we do about it?

Well, everyone’s story is unique. I’m not here today to go into the specifics of my journey, as that will come when it comes, and really, this isn’t about me. This is about all those who have struggled, are struggling, or may struggle in years to come.

What I am here to say is that there are things you can do.

If you are suffering, then I urge you to speak out. Whether it’s to a family member, friend or health professional, please do not suffer alone. I know it feels terrifying to admit that something needs to change and terrifying to admit that your ‘world’ isn’t as perfect as you’d been made to believe, but speaking out is the only way forward. Below I’ve listed a list of resources, which may be of help, to point you in the right direction.

If you are worried that someone around you is suffering, then I urge you try to talk to them. Express your concerns, but please don’t go in like a bull on fire. Every eating disorders is individual and the sufferer will likely feel vulnerable and scared. Let them talk to you. Ask them gently if they are okay, but don’t push them. Ultimately, the want for ‘recovery’ has to come from within. You can walk alongside that person, but you cannot do it for them.

So how do you spot the warning signs?

Well, firstly it’s important to remember that eating disorders are not all about weight loss. Excessive or rapid weight loss are certainty both symptoms of eating disorders, but many others include; preoccupation with weight and body shape, disordered thoughts about food, anxiety around ‘unplanned’ food and eating out, a fixation on eating only the ‘healthiest’ foods, excessive exercise, strict habits or routines around food, making oneself sick, and taking laxatives…

It’s important to remember that eating disorders affect people of all ages, from very young children to older adults. And, men get eating disorders too. The media may focus on women, but men get eating disorders too. It’s just as dangerous and just as worth of our concern. Please don’t forget this.

It’s important to remember that eating disorders are complex and there is no ‘one size fits all approach’. The individual may think that they are happy, as they are living by the rules of a very destructive illness. I’m worlds away today from the person I was years ago. I may be smiling on the outside in the images on the left, but inside I was petrified and felt so alone. In the image on the right, taken a few weeks ago, I'm smiling inside and out, as I'm slowly learning that life really is for living.

What I am here to share about me personally, is that this year, I’ve been more open, more open than ever before. I’ve shared my struggles with others and they’ve shared theirs back, whether it’s been about their ED or another struggle in their life. Opening up about my ED has been strangely liberating and freeing. It's enabled me to seek support when I've needed it and to inspire others to continue on their journey. I’m no longer ashamed of my past; I’m not ashamed that I missed a year of school and had to re-sit whilst all my friends moved on, I’m not ashamed that my glamorous ‘gap year’ consisted of me living in an inpatient unit far away from home. I’m not ashamed that there have been days in my life when I really didn’t know whether I could continue the fight. And I’m not ashamed that, at times, I still have to face the guilt, the fear, the anxiety and the criticism that my ED inflicts on me. Because I will not let an illness defeat me or define me.

Everyone has a past and everyone has a future.

I wouldn’t be here today without the support of my friends and family, both years ago, during my darkest times and more recently, when sometimes the daily struggle becomes too much. We are all on a journey. I’ve come a mighty long way, which I’m slowly but surely realising is something I can be proud of, but I’ve still got some way to go. However, I am the person I am today because what I’ve been through. I’m no longer ashamed and I’m ready to speak out and to continue the fight. Can you? 

 My brother and I on a recent trip; a true source of support through and through. 

My brother and I on a recent trip; a true source of support through and through. 

Before I end, here’s just a few of the eating disorder resources available:

Anorexia & Bulimia Care

BEAT

  • The leading UK charity for people with eating disorders and their families.
  • www.b-eat.co.uk
  • BEAT helplines (open 365 days a year: 3pm – 10pm):

-       Adult Helpline: 0808 801 0677

-       Youth Helpline: 0808 801 0711

Heads together

NHS

Nightline

  • Nightline is a student listening service which is open at night and run by students for students. Every night of term, trained student volunteers answer calls, emails, instant messages, texts and talk in person to their fellow university students about anything that’s troubling them. 
  • https://www.nightline.ac.uk/want-to-talk/

And here are just a few of my favourite inspirational ladies on social media, all professionals in their field, who are doing great things in the world of eating disorders and evidence-based nutrition:

As you can see, if you’ve made it to the end of this post, it’s quite a long one. It’s longer than I’d originally planned, but I felt the content was important and needed to be shared. I hope this inspires you to speak out, to keep fighting or to support someone who is struggling. Life really is for living and no mental health disorder should ever get in the way of that.

As usual, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to comment below, to tag me on Instagram @mylifeisforliving or message me directly if you’d prefer.  

Until next time,

Hannah x

#mylifeisforliving