THE CIRCULAR
Search
Close this search box.

The harsh reality of living with an eating disorder

Photo by Inge Poelman from Unsplash

Eating disorders, we have all heard the word. But what does it mean to suffer from one? Suffering from an eating disorder does not mean eating an apple a day, or losing some weight because skinny has become the new trend. Eating disorders originate from insecurities, discomfort, discontent, and they present themselves in many different forms.

When we talk about eating disorders we immediately think of anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder. While these are common eating disorders OSFED is the most prevalent one around the globe. OSFED, other specified feeding or eating disorders, refers to a condition where a person manifests symptoms from across the spectrum but does not fit into a specific classification. According to Our World in Data, figures from 2017 indicate that an estimated 16 million people worldwide have anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Data published in the Lancet Psychiatry estimate that 17.3 million worldwide have binge eating disorder, while 24.6 million are affected by OSFED. Most people develop an eating disorder during and after puberty, and considering the life changes occurring during these years, it is easy to understand why this might be. However, it is important to note that, at any age, some people turn to controlling their body and food intake as a way of coping.


Eating disorders by Alessia Bonori. Information from https://www.bodywhys.ie/media-research/statistics/ and https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

Eating disorders have unfortunately become more and more common among teenage girls and young women. Photoshopped bodies, targeted workouts, and weight-loss diets have inundated social media making it impossible, especially for the younger generation, to look away. Katy, a woman in her early twenties, struggled with an eating disorder in her teens. Like her, unfortunately many others have felt unhappy with their reflection in the mirror and started forming ‘healthy’ habits to lose weight.

Katy was 16 when she chose to lose some weight in order to change her appearance. “One day, I looked at myself in the mirror, and I just didn’t like myself,” she explains. Katy had always been skinny in her childhood and early teens. However, after she stopped growing in height she noticed that she was suddently gaining weight. Katy was unable to get used to her new body. Friends and family began commenting on the weight gain triggering the girl even more. Those unintentionally harmful comments on Katy’s body left her sleepless for nights in a row, during which she would think of the best and quickest emans to lose weight.

Photo by Graphic Node from Unsplash

The decision to lose weight does not necessarily lead to an eating disorder. Nevertheless, especially when the weight loss occurs without the supervision of a dietitian or another medical professional, it can easily lead to the development of an obsessive fixation on healthy foods, targeted workouts, portion control, and much more. Katy began restricting her food intake. She stopped eating carbs, ordering desserts, or eating popcorn while watching TV with her family. Katy also began drinking a lot of water. Whenever she got hungry, she would drink water or black coffee to repress her appetite.

“It became an obsession. Once I realised that I could lose weight, once I saw the changes, I just wanted to lose more,”

Katy explains.

Every eating disorder is different, but the comparison to peers is often a common element. You are at a restaurant, you let your fiends order first and order based on what and particularly how much they are getting. You wait for your friends to say yes to the dessert because you cannot possibly be the only one getting it. On this and many other occasions, it is common to develop an eating disorder voice: a negative form of self-talk. The voice is problematic, distressing, and disruptive, as it creates a feeling of helplessness and undermines a person’s confidence. An eating disorder does not merely affect your relationship with food. It affects your everyday life, and it affects your relationships with friends and family. “Like my grandma she would also tell me to eat more because I was getting too skinny, but I became pretty good at pretending that everything was okay,” Katy recalls.

What goes on in the mind of someone suffering from an eating disorder? Bodywhys Ireland explains.
Photo by Jennifer Burk from Unsplash

Suffering from an eating disorder means that food intake and weight loss are always on your mind, and the continuous exposure to unrealistic body standards has made that worse. Kim and Lennon’s (2007) study on the media’s influence on body image demonstrates that women who were exposed to more fashion or beauty magazines were more dissatisfied with their overall appearance and were more likely to develop an eating disorder tendency. A very similar trend can be seen today with the rising popularity of social media. The perfect bodies teenage girls and young women are exposed to when scrolling through social media set unrealistic standards. Flat stomachs, thigh gaps, and smooth skin are among many of the details they pay attention to looking at these pictures. The daily exposure to these ideal body types has been leaving more and more girls dissatisfied with their appearance. Along with these pictures come the plethora of home workouts, weight-loss exercises, and low-calorie recipes that inundate Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and Facebook.

Luckily, for many, comes the point where they realize they cannot keep living like this. “As I got older, I realised that I was not a simple number on the weight scale,” says Katy. This realisation came after an open and heartfelt conversation with her parents during which the then eighteen-year-old realised that she needed to get external help. “Going to therapy was the best thing I could have done because there I did not feel judged,” Katy points out.

Photo by Blake Carpenter from Unsplash

Accepting and loving one’s ever-changing body is not an easy task. Recovery can be a very slow process, to be taken step after step. Some days you will wake up and smile at your reflection in the mirror, and you will thank your body for where it got you. Other days, you will not want to look in the mirror, and you will hate every pair of pants you try on. Katy has recovered from her eating disorder, and though sometimes she still finds herself checking the calories behind a box of cookies, she has learnt to love her body again. She has learnt to do sports because she wants to move her body and not to make up for the extra bag of chips. She has learnt that it is okay to have dessert even if no one else is ordering it. Most importantly she has learnt that her body does not define her. “I like myself now, I know that I’m loved for who I am and not for how I look like,” Katy stresses with a smile on her face.

If you are recovering from an eating disorder or simplywant to learn more about it, check out Amliae Lee’s podcast

Please note: the name in this article has been changed to maintain confidentiality.


Helplines: if you are struggling with an eating disorder or know someone who is, you can call Bodwhy Ireland’s helpline (01) 2107906 or send an email to alex@bodywhys.ie Bodywhys is voluntary organisation supporting people affected by eating disorders.

Share your love
Facebook
Twitter

Related News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.