How do you come to terms with the fact you have an eating problem?
This is tough because the eating disorder thrives on denial but denying your own needs and who you really are is incredibly lonely. Show up for yourself and you’ll feel better letting the light come in.
Is an eating disorder a mental illness?
An eating disorder is a mental illness. The term mental illness has so many negative connotations. The common theme that I have found working with people over the years is that they have this sense that they are mad or not well. In the same way that our body becomes unwell if we don’t pay attention and care of it, our mind does too. An eating disorder is just a manifestation of our minds becoming unwell.
Since you can’t avoid food or emotions, can you really recover from an eating disorder?
You can recover from an eating disorder and the thing which is most misleading about the term ‘eating disorder’ is that actually it is not about food. If you are a sufferer then that might be quite annoying to hear because your life does revolve around food and body, but actually the origins of where an eating disorder comes from is about finding a way to cope with your emotions and how you feel. When you have an eating disorder all of your thoughts and feelings almost get put through a filter and come out as obsessive thoughts about food and body. Once you have treatment you can find other ways of coping with those thoughts and feelings so that they don’t come out in a destructive way.
How do you recover when eating disorders have been part of your life for so long?
The only difference between an eating disorder you have had for a long time and an eating disorder which is fairly new is how much harder it is for you to get your head around the possibility of recovery. When you haven’t had one for very long it can be easier to think that change is possible and I think when you have been entrenched in something for a long time, it is just that much more difficult to imagine things being different.
Literally, that is the only difference because actually if you follow the steps for recovery it is the same whether you have been unwell for six months or for many years. You just may find that your eating disorder is a lot more familiar to you if you have been living with it for a long time. You can still get better and can still get well.
How do you know when you are ready to recover?
I always tell people, particularly when you’ve got an illness like an eating disorder, if you are expecting to wake up one day and to just be totally motivated to get rid of all your symptoms, then really you don’t need the help. Part of the point of having an eating disorder is that we are a bit invested in some of these destructive coping strategies because they have helped us to survive so although they might be negative and ultimately might be damaging to us, in some ways they have served a purpose. We can only really put them down when we develop other ways of coping that are more positive and more nurturing to us.
The starting point just needs to be simply “am I very happy?” and if the answer is no, then that is reason enough to do something about things.
How do I motivate myself to recover?
Finding the motivation to recover when you are in the depths of your illness is so difficult and what I have found many people do is that they spend so much time and energy trying to resist their thoughts and behaviours which is absolutely exhausting. There is very little room to find anything positive or any motivation when you’re spending your day just battling against something that feels totally relentless and unwavering.
The first thing I tell people to stop doing is to stop fighting because fighting with an eating disorder doesn’t really work. Focusing your energy on building more of a compassionate relationship with yourself and being kind to yourself is much more likely to create a space for you to begin to feel motivated, empowered and inspired. Rather than focusing your attention on what you don’t want, you’ve got to focus on what you do want. Motivation isn’t something that is just naturally there for everybody, it is something that needs to grow so having a bit of faith that it will be there one day is really the best place to start.
How do I explain my eating disorder to my family?
The first thing to do is to try to manage your expectations about what it is you think your family are going to be capable of doing. Having an eating disorder is such a personal and difficult thing to go through and sometimes expecting family members or friends to really be able to understand that is impossible because quite often people can’t.
If our starting point is “this is maybe something you are not going to understand, all I need you to know is that I am having a really difficult time. I am working on something and I just need you to be there as a source of support for me” – that’s quite often manageable for both parties. It also takes a lot of pressure off family and friends when they are not being expected to completely understand everything that you are experiencing.
When you have been a sufferer of these things, obviously we have an insight into what those experiences are like but maybe just take some pressure off yourself and family members.
I feel like no-one will believe that I have an eating disorder because I am not thin.
Eating disorders are nothing to do with the way that you look. People who are really slim framed may not have an eating disorder and for people who can carry a bit more weight it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve got an eating disorder either. Eating disorders do not discriminate in who they target.
An eating disorder is so much more about how you think about your body and how you think about food than it is about how you look. So many people are made to feel that they don’t have a legitimate problem because they don’t fit neatly into one of these categories and particularly those who are portrayed to us through the media of what it is to be suffering with an eating disorder. That really isn’t an accurate portrayal.
Do you think it is possible to recover from an eating disorder without a support network?
I do think it is possible to recover from an eating disorder without a support network although it is a lot harder and actually in a lot of cases now it it really unnecessary.
People do look at social media as this really negative plague that can impact us in such destructive ways but also it can provide all of us with communities of support where we can engage with other like-minded individuals in a positive way and we can draw on those relationships to help us. If you aren’t in a position where you can connect with people in the real world today then I certainly would guide you to some of those positive forums to engage with people who are like-minded and who are also looking for some support on their recovery journey.
What advice would you give to people who feel like they might not be unwell enough for or deserve help?
For so many people they think they can only seek help or get support if they are in a really dark place, a place of crisis, are severely underweight or severely overweight and actually what is true is that most people don’t fall into those categories. Many of us are able to function and maintain a ‘normal’ weight but we can still be really unwell. It is not always evident to those around us that we can be really struggling.
We have so many people in the clinic who have been given advice by GPs such as “you are not underweight enough to get help” or “actually you just need to be eating a piece of toast at breakfast” and really unhelpful comments like that.
I know that at the core of anyone suffering is the belief that they don’t deserve love and kindness. If you intuitively know that something’s not right, then that is enough and is a reason for you to seek out support. If your relationship with your body or food is making you unhappy then that’s reason enough for you to seek out resources to help you to improve those relationships.
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