If you are suffering with​ an eating disorder, have hope

This one is for everyone out there who is going through an eating disorder (ED) right now. Please notice that I said “going through” because you are going to go all the way through it. There’s a great quote from Winston Churchill: “If you are going through hell, keep going” – Don’t stop till you get out the other side! I want to empower you to keep going. Eating disorder recovery is hard, but so worth it! I specialise in eating disorder recovery and would like to share some of the things I have learned along the way.

Eating disorders come in all sizes

First of all, some numbers.

The average life expectancy of a person in the UK is 81.5yrs and the average duration of an ED in the UK is 6.5ys. So in terms of a percentage of your life, it’s 8%. That’s less than the equivalent of one hour a day. What these statistics give us hope. For the vast majority of people, the ED is a blip in an otherwise healthy life. In fact, nearly 80% of people with ED improve considerably, especially those with support.

When I was doing my training, the first time that I worked in an ED out-patients clinic, I didn’t know what to expect. I was really surprised to find that everybody was doing exactly the same things I used to do before I learned that I didn’t want to lose weight and that diets are not the way to do it even if I did.

Calorie counting, purging through exercise, weighing my food, filling up on very low-calorie foods, and when I found it too difficult to stick to, experiencing the guilt and shame that came with “failure”. Now, I didn’t have an ED and I realise that there are complex risk factors for developing EDs. But when I wondered to myself years later about why I did all that stuff, I found that I did it because I thought that was what I had to do. But why did I think that? Why did I think that was what I had to do?

Diet culture is why.

magazines don't help eating disorder recovery

And this type of magazine above fuel the fire. It is not just this magazine though, I’m unfairly picking on this one because I particularly hate that it’s called “women’s health”. When I think of women’s health I think of things like how to prevent anaemia; increasing bone density because of our increased risk of osteoporosis; pre- and post-natal health; pregnancy and so on. There is virtually nothing on these covers that relate to actual health. Even the “healthier recipes” here is followed by to slim and tone. I often comment in this magazine, trying to shoe-horn in the voice of reason wherever I can, but I fear it gets shouted down much of the time.

I mean look at that stuff! And the numbers! It’s no wonder we become obsessed with counting things! 

Diet culture makes it very hard to trust ourselves and our bodies. Your body says you are hungry but diet culture says you have “had enough”. You really fancy a sandwich but diet culture says carbs are not allowed. Your friend wants to meet for dinner but it’s a fast day, and so on.

I want to empower you to trust yourself and your body to make good decisions about food.

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

I love the quote above because it’s true. And although it’s difficult to be positive all the time, having some things that help you get back on a positive track is a good plan. Motivating aphorisms that you can refer to when you are having a bad day and feel like a failure, can sometimes be just enough to remind you of how strong you are.

Three Ways to Eating Disorder Recovery Empowerment

  • Listen to the right people
  • Recognise your strengths and weaknesses
  • Set yourself goals

These three things are, I think, the most important. I said that I wanted to empower you to trust yourself to make good decisions about food, but trust has an element of knowledge that you are doing the right thing. So this first one is really important. If you want information about food or health or your eating disorder, go to a qualified professional and check their credentials. Journalists, bloggers, friends, family, people on forums and message boards are not necessarily qualified professionals so please be discerning about what you listen to. If you have got your information from an evidence-based qualified person then you can be pretty sure what they are saying is of good quality.

The second one is really important for empowerment because it helps you to nurture your confidence. If you give yourself credit for the things that you have done well, you will give yourself a little boost. Identifying your weaknesses can also build confidence because forewarned is forearmed. For example, if you know that a friend or family member or particular social situation leads to you making bad decisions about food, knowing that – and planning for it – can help you avoid the problem, which in turn can empower you.

And the third one. If you are trying to get somewhere, it helps to know where it is! Set yourself achievable, measurable goals to aim for. For example, you may set yourself the goal to not be swayed by media projections of what it is to be healthy and happy. If you then walk past a copy of Women’s “Unhealth” magazine and don’t stop to read about the latest way to “improve” your body, that is an achieved goal! Recognise that you made a good decision and trust yourself to do it again next time.

If you are struggling with any kind of eating disorder recovery, please, please get help. In the UK the IAPT service provides free access to talking therapies on the NHS; Beat is an ED charity with a wealth of information. In the US the National Eating Disorders Association is a great resource. I also love some of the podcasts available now. One of my favourites is The Eating Disorder Recovery Podcast with Dr Janean Anderson.

Most important of all, know you can do it. The numbers are on your side!