In another post to mark Eating Disorders Awareness Week, our blogger Alice talks about her own experience of eating problems and the link with self-harm.
Young people who have an eating disorder may also self-harm.
Young people who self-harm may also have an eating disorder.
There is a definite link.
For me, I’ve always seen my eating disorder as my self-harm.
Recognising My Eating problems
For years I had eating problems without a formal diagnosis of an eating disorder like Anorexia, Bulimia or Binge Eating Disorder (BED).
This was because my weight never dropped below or rose above a certain number. And I was very good at hiding it too.
My family barely even noticed what was going on – not because they didn’t care or were absent – but because my eating disorder made me hide everything that I was doing. I was completely ashamed of what other people might think of me, and ashamed of myself for ‘getting’ this problem, as if it was something I could control.
Without the obvious physical signs of an eating disorder, my disorder took hold for six years.
Not Deserving of Help
When things got really bad, and I was deep in a cycle of restricting or over-exercising, bingeing, purging, then restricting/over-exercising again, even I tried to reach out for help. But, because I wasn’t an extreme case, doctors just put it down to ‘exam stress’ or ‘college/uni lifestyle’.
I denied my problems to myself. ‘The doctors don’t think I have a problem,’ I said to myself. ‘I’m not that skinny; I don’t need help.’ It was as if my problems ‘weren’t that bad’, as if I ‘didn’t deserve’ help.
This was just part of the emotional torture I was putting myself under.
All this self-denial did was worsen the cycle, and my emotional and mental health got worse and worse. I started isolating myself from social situations. I used bingeing and the fear of eating in public as a reason to avoid going out.
All this did was leave me sitting alone with the bullying voice of my eating disorder repeating and repeating its criticisms in my head…
‘You’re too fat to go out.’
‘Your friends will laugh at how much weight you’ve put on’
‘I can’t believe you just ate that much, you’re so weak, so pathetic’.
All this self-criticism did was leave me feeling vulnerable and hurt. And what was my answer to that? Eating more.
Eating provided both a comfort and a moment of peace between those horrible thoughts. During the short time I was eating, my mind was numb.
However this just made the cycle go on for longer and longer, sometimes days, weeks or months at a time.
My eating disorder was my way of emotionally bullying myself. I was my own worst enemy.
My eating disorder was also a way to hurt myself physically.
When I binged, I ate and ate and ate until my stomach felt like it was going to burst from all the food that was inside me. I have IBS, and during a binge I would also eat the foods that I knew were going to hurt me later. I made the pain last as long as possible, sometimes for hours or days at a time.
From the outside, I can’t imagine many people being able to understand this. Even to part of me, to my logical side, this sounds irrational and ridiculous.
But eating disorders are far from rational.
Looking back, I think that maybe I was in so much emotional pain, that I wanted to be able to reflect that in physical terms. I wanted my pain to feel real, and then maybe I could justify it more.
‘It doesn’t have to be like this’
This message has been so powerful for me in getting over my problems with my eating disorder and self-harm.
Eating disorders are powerful, painful illnesses that can take over your mental health, your physical health and your day-to-day life.
But there is hope.
I know so many people who have come to terms with their eating disorder and are either seeking help, in recovery, or recovered.
This doesn’t mean recovery is easy, I’d say it’s far from it. But for me, just being able to talk and write about my experiences helps a lot. It has always surprised me how many other people there are out there with similar experiences just waiting to have that conversation.