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Wednesday
2
March 2022

Living with an eating disorder

I qualified as a Social Worker in 2013, after training for two years in London. Having moved from the countryside, studying, and living in London was such an exciting and eye-opening experience. I remember during one of our very early teaching sessions we were tasked with drawing a trauma timeline of our own life experiences; my fellow peer and I still giggle at how our trauma timelines were much messier than many of the people around us.

Rewind back to my childhood and let’s just say I loved my food! I would eat absolutely anything and everything – sweets were best of course. I was incredibly lucky to go to a small village school with homemade meals, which offered seconds and thirds almost every day.

From a young age, I was put on and off diets. I learned very early that being chubby wasn’t “acceptable”, began to label food as good and bad and from there maintained a diet obsessed life.

You’ve probably already predicted but of course this developed into an eating disorder and disordered eating.

Eating disorders and disordered eating

I recently looked back and counted that from the age of four I have tried over 20 diets and more than once.

Technically speaking, binge eating disorder is commonly experienced as eating large amounts of food over a short period of time; it is followed by a sense of loss of control, feelings of shame and guilt and is now recognised as a serious mental illness.

It is the most common eating disorder – according to the eating disorders charity Beat, it makes up 22% of all eating disorders in the UK, compared to 8% anorexia and 19% bulimia nervosa – yet in my experience very little is known or understood about the illness.

Like most things, it’s complicated. There’s no single cause or simple solution, but our society’s obsession with perfection and body image certainly doesn’t help.

Pushing past judgement

Even as a social worker, working with informed professionals, I’ve been faced with really challenging views about our bodies – especially fat bodies – from colleagues that have been horribly triggering.

I used to dread my days at one job especially, when I worked with a group of diet obsessed social workers. They constantly talked about the new fad diet they were on, cutting “carbs”, giving up sugar or eating seriously low calories in preparation for a wedding or party, only to of course put any weight lost back on.

On more than one occasion those colleagues commented on my body or weight, making assumptions about my health, exercise and food intake. It made it very hard for me to want to come to work and its worth mentioning, not one of those people ever asked about my mental wellbeing.

But language and the way we talk about eating disorders is hugely important.

Support, don’t shame

Mental Health services, promote a generally “healthy lifestyle” to support healthy mental health. I certainly think this is right and do my best to live it. I know my mood lifts when I commit to walking on a regular basis, every time saying to myself “that’s why we tell people exercise helps!”.

Reaching out and approached well: you could really help someone; but badly handled and that person could be left feeling embarrassed, blamed or even shamed.

The tricky thing is everyone’s relationship with food, health and their body is completely different. You can’t bundle everyone with an eating disorder into one bracket and there are no quick fixes.

We have to encourage more open discussions about eating disorders to improve awareness and understanding. Give people safe spaces and actively support them rather than shame them.

And, just as we do in social work, we need to treat everyone as an individual, meeting them where they are, and supporting them to find their own way through.

I’ve been on a long journey, and if anyone reading this is on their own journey or knows a loved one who is, I would just say help is out there.

 

Beat is a brilliant charity and a good starting place, you don’t have to go through this alone.