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What I wish people understood about eating disorders

Although awareness of eating disorders has increased in recent years, they are still often misunderstood. Rebecca, 20, shares what she wishes more people understood about eating problems.

In the news recently, there have been reports of an increase in the number of patients being admitted to hospital with eating disorders. And when it comes to eating problems, I am very much aware that there is a huge lack of understanding. I think the best way to learn is from those with experience themselves – no book, lecture or degree can match experience. So take it from someone who knows….

What do I wish I could tell the public about what it is like to struggle with an eating disorder? Simple…it is HELL.

The 'c word'

An eating disorder is driven by control – that dreadful ‘c word’! And with the eating disorder having such control over me when I was struggling, it sometimes felt impossible to live.

When I was really struggling with an eating disorder, I was not myself. Everything I wanted to do, say or think felt out of my hands. I couldn’t make choices without my eating disorder giving its opinion. I felt like I lost my sense of being and even my personality. It felt as though everything that makes me me had been destroyed. So, for me, having an eating disorder felt like being a walking zombie – I had no sense of what was going on around me, let alone what I was doing.

I wish people understood that when I was snappy or rude, cancelled plans or gave attitude, it was not because I did not want to go out, listen, speak, be involved or be kind, but because my eating disorder was not letting me.

Eating disorders do not all look the same

An eating disorder is not as simple as just not wanting to eat. There are many different forms; some people love food, but their brain will not allow them to eat it, or they will eat it and then compensate in alternate ways; others may feel differently. Eating disorders look different for different people.

The behaviour most people would associate with eating disorders is not eating because of the fear of putting on weight. But what about being addicted to exercise? What about cutting down your diet and removing certain foods, because you feel that is the only way to make you happy? There is no one experience of eating disorders.

When I was struggling, as much as I wanted to get better, stay positive and give up the eating disorder, it was not easy. Trying to fight it was really difficult, especially when I was so ill and malnourished. Sometimes it was easier to just give in and follow what I was told by my eating disorder.

Hope and recovery

However, there is hope. You can recover. You can win. But you have to trust the process. Unfortunately, there is NO QUICK FIX to recovery. And it most certainly is not as simple as saying, ‘just eat’. It is much more about what’s going on in your mind than you may think. But you can get there. So, if you are struggling with an eating disorder, please don’t give up.

And that is the thought I would like to leave you all with - relatives, carers, patients, anyone…just wait, hold on and believe. If you have a loved one struggling with an eating disorder, give them time and - most importantly - love and support; eventually they will be ready to fight back and work towards recovery.

I know it is horrible - for them and for you. You want to help, push them in the right direction, make them see the mistakes they are making, but for some, recovery is a slow process, so the important thing is to be there for them. Make sure they get the help they need, but also try to look after yourself and get support for yourself if you need it.

Where to find help

If you think you may be struggling with an eating disorder, have a look at our eating problems page for advice and guidance on ways to get help.

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