From today, February 27th -March 5th it is Eating Disorder Awareness Week and as this is a subject very close to my heart so I hope to be able to share my own experiences throughout this week to help raise some awareness and hopefully give others hope that they too can recover.
First of all, let’s just get something very clear, an eating disorder (ED) is a mental illness that can affect someone physically, psychologically and socially. There is a range of conditions within eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified). According to BEAT – “Over 725,000 men and women in the UK are affected” and that number is growing year on year. Anyone can develop an eating disorder, no matter what their gender age or culture, so it is really important that we all get a better understanding. Eating disorders are extremely serious illnesses and can have life-changing consequences if left untreated or undiscovered. This is why the focus for this year’s campaign is on ‘Early Intervention’.
This aids a greater chance of the individual suffering from an ED recovering. The sooner support and guidance is put into place for those who are unwell, the stronger the probability they will be able to learn to accept and learn to manage their issues that are related to their illness. Speaking from my own experience, I was very fortunate that my parents took me to the GP within a few months of me showing signs of anorexia, and from there, my GP was very helpful and contacted the local CAMHS team. However, the help I received from there was not sufficient enough for how severe my illness had already become which is what contributed to my five years along with my eating disorder and clinical depression. Who knows if the right care had been there from the beginning, would I have had to go through all those years of fighting and putting my life in danger several times?
The role of a GP within the early stages is so important as they have the ability to refer patients to the appropriate specialist teams and support groups in order for the best care to be put into place, but for some, it is still like a lottery draw for the level of care that is available. I really cannot stress enough how crucial it is that more attention is given to the services that can provide sufferers with support in those early stages of developing their eating disorder. With the illness not having such a lengthy period of time to manifest itself, there is going to be a better chance for that person to see a way to overcome their problems sooner.
There is such a stigma against eating disorders, in that there is this instant impression that you have to ‘look a certain way’ to have one. I myself felt judged by this stereotypical view of what an eating disordered person is meant to look like, which only caused me to fall deeper and deeper into anorexia. At one point, I hate to say it, but I actually got told that I didn’t look like I had an eating disorder – yes, that actually happened. At different times during those five years I suffered, my appearance altered. I did not instantly look incredibly emaciated as I did towards being admitted for the second time. From the outside, I could be seen as ‘just a slim teenager’ which causes this illusion to those unaware of what is really meant as a true eating disorder; it is in the mind (hence the term mental illness!)
Hover over images for information about my journey.
Think that it is best that I also highlight something so that you can get a greater understanding of why I share my story. Even though it is in BEAT’s guidelines that it isn’t advised to share images of when I was at my lowest weights, due to other sufferers from comparing themselves to those images, I strongly feel the need to share them is because I could only receive the best treatment for my ED was when I reached a critical BMI. This is disgusting and should be allowed to happen, not for me, and certainly not for anyone else. How can it be that someone has to be at a point of life-or-death for them to be able to get the treatment that they need for their illness? This doesn’t happen for many physical illnesses, but it continues to be the case for most, if not all mental illnesses to this day. So I hope you can be supportive of why I share these images. It isn’t to gain attention for how unwell I became, but WHY I had to go so drastically low to stand a chance at recovering.
During this week, I will be sharing more about my story as well as some advice for those who are going through an eating disorder and those who around the person suffering searching for a way to understand their illness better and help in the more supportive way.
Also, I hope to get as many of you involved in ‘Sock It’ on Friday 3rd March where you get to wear your craziest socks in aid to raise money for BEAT! It would be fantastic if you could donate anything you can to help support this amazing cause. The link to my Just Giving page can be found here – ‘SOCK IT with Sarah Leanne’
In the meantime, if you or someone close to you may be showing signs of an eating disorder, please seek professional help as soon as possible. Make an appointment with your GP and visit informative websites such as the National Eating Disorder Awareness NEDA and BEAT.
Together we can unite to fight stronger against eating disorders and become stronger for the hardships we face!