What are eating disorders?
Everyone eats differently, and it’s normal to sometimes forget to eat for a day or have an occasional blow out when you eat far too much food in one go, or perhaps sometimes go on a diet.
However, trying to control exactly what you eat or how much you eat very strictly, or having urges to eat and then make yourself sick and becoming obsessed with your weight and body shape, are possible signs that you may have an eating disorder.
Eating disorders are common and can affect anyone - both males and females. It’s not known exactly why people develop an eating disorder, but it’s thought that there may be a mix of contributing factors, including your environment, your genetics and psychological factors. Eating disorders often happen when another area of your life maybe doesn’t feel right or is out of control, or if you are experiencing a lot of worry or stress. You might feel that being able to control how much or what you eat gives you back a feeling of control and order in your life.
Main types of eating disorder
Signs of an Eating Disorder
Here are some signs that you may have an eating disorder:
- You spend a lot of time worrying about your body shape, how you look and how much you weigh, worrying you are too fat and have a fear of gaining weight.
- You don’t feel as hungry as you normally do or may be eating when you are not even feeling hungry.
- You have made sudden changes to your diet and have strict rules about what you eat and how much you eat.
- You find yourself needing to make a note of everything you eat and weigh yourself every day.
- You are avoiding social situations that involve food, such as meal times at home or eating out with your friends or family.
- You are doing a lot more exercise than you would normally.
- You have been making yourself sick straight after eating.
- Your mood has changed and you may feel more anxious or irritable than normal.
How do I get help?
If you think any one or more of the above sounds familiar, it doesn’t mean you definitely have an eating disorder, but if they are affecting your everyday life and stopping you enjoying the things you normally would, and your family or friends have noticed things and have said that they are worried about you, then it’s important to talk to someone and get some support and advice.
It can be very hard to take that first step and to open up to someone, but try and talk to someone you trust. There’s lots of ways you can do this:
- Talk to someone in your family, your carer or friends
- Speak to a GP or nurse at your surgery
- Talk to someone at school, maybe a teacher, mentor or school counsellor
- Sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone you don’t know on the telephone, rather than face to face. Beat Eating Disorders has a Helpline available 365 days of the year.
Understanding you are not alone is really important, and there are a lot of groups around where you can talk to people who have shared your experience:
YoungMinds, a leading UK charity for young people and their mental health.
- Explain to your friends what an eating disorder is and why it’s important when you ask for help
- It’s okay to ask for help; ask someone to eat with you, ask someone to distract you
- Take one day at a time
- Have patience with yourself
- Talk, don’t bottle it up
- A slip up is a slip up and not a relapse so forgive yourself
- Make a motivational dinner mat or poster, including pictures and your reasons to recover
- Be kind to yourself on bad days and do something nice for yourself
- It can be a big challenge, and can take time, but with the right support recovery from an eating disorder can be possible
Real Life Experience: 1
My eating disorder started probably at the age of 14, however I hid it. I didn’t want people to know, I didn’t want to admit that there was a problem, it was the only thing at the time that I had control over. My parents are lovely, and at the time kept asking was I okay; however I had my mask on and never let them in, if anything I was horrible to them so I could keep my distance.
My parents took control and made a referral into CAMHS by going to our local Dr, I wasn’t happy at all, and didn’t talk to them, saying nothing was wrong. CAMHS were great; the appointment was split between me and my parents as I wouldn’t talk in front of my parents. Looking back now I think this was the turning point.
After the appointment we had a plan together, something that I was in control of which made me happy. I then began to understand why people were worried, as CAMHS took my height and weight and told me my BMI, and the dangers around this.
After then my appointments were every week. I started to educate myself about what is an eating disorder, this helped massively!
I was still in control of my weight, and my thoughts around this were negative, which was stopping me. I was scared of eating, I didn’t want to gain weight and felt that I was still huge!
At one point my weight was extremely low, and I was very poorly, I saw my friends and families reaction, they were worried; this made me feel guilty and I started to think about my future, what it looked like and how I would fit in it.
So I began to change, I started to work with my thoughts, challenging them. Reading others’ personal journeys on eating disorders really helped as I saw people recovered and I made a goal that I would too!
I worked really hard with the CAMHS staff and my family and I know I put them through hell; it was slow and I was so frustrated as I wanted it to be over overnight. I had to learn to be patient and take one step at a time, hour by hour, day by day.
I met with other families and this helped all of us.
And guess what? I got there! I have beaten my witch of an eating disorder, recovery is good, and my life is lovely. I have plans for the future and the relationship between everyone is loads better.
Thanks for reading.
Real Life Experience: 2
Cold. Weak. Lifeless. Controlled. Empty. Lonely. Just a few ways to describe my life with anorexia; everyone’s life with anorexia. For so long you know you have her picking away at your life inside, but it takes courage, strength and bravery just to utter that word to someone close and get the ball rolling into gaining back your life. Gaining back yourself. So firstly, I want to praise you with a huge well done because if you’re reading this then you’re at the beginning of your recovery journey with CAMHS.
At the start, on my very first day at the clinic, I felt it was the worst day of my entire life. My world came crashing down around me after being told “you should be in hospital”, “no more school or work”, “from now on you are housebound”, “you are to eat everything on this meal plan”, “you must eat all meals and snacks supervised”. As I’m sure you can relate, after two years of calorie counting, obsessively exercising, abusing laxatives and sufficiently reducing my food intake, hearing this made my heart drop and all the fear I never knew I had, overtook me; I thought that was it. I couldn’t imagine a life without anorexia. I had to be skinny because skinny = perfect, right? WRONG. No weight will ever be low enough for that malicious voice in your head. Two pounds turns to two stone and before you know it you’re at risk of a heart attack just walking up the stairs.
So vividly I remember, after the first week of my recovery journey had past and I returned to the clinic for my first weigh-in after being on a meal plan. I was so nervous I felt sick… I thought, “I must have gained loads of weight; I look obese, I eat so much more than everyone else, everyone will judge me on how much weight I’ve put on”. BUT NO; I gained weight and my family and my support worker were SO proud of me and to be honest, in that moment there were no negative thoughts coming in from anorexia, I couldn’t stop smiling because I’d made my worried family the happiest people alive. My point is recovery is worth it simply for moments like this. After months of weekly weigh-ins, I soon adopted the mind-set that each time I gained weight, I gained a bit of my life back; a bit of ME back.
This all sounds very positive I know. Honestly? In the beginning there are many more downs in the journey than ups. I’m going to be upfront and admit the times I would look at my bloated belly in the mirror that was getting used to consuming a healthy amount again, and I would just breakdown and cry. “Why does it go straight to your middle?” I hear you ask. It goes there to protect all your vital organs that have been slowly failing, to fix your damaged digestive system and to keep your body working. Bloating is perfectly normal and if anything, necessary in recovery, it will affect your body image massively, anorexia will tell you it’s fat and that you are huge. But bloating passes, it may take weeks, it may take months but that shouldn’t matter. What does matter is that your body is healing. From now on food = medicine.
Another massive hurdle to tackle on your journey: the day you feel your clothes getting too tight and must admit you NEED to buy new ones. Jeans so tight it hurts your tummy and you can’t breathe properly? As hard as it is, take that as a positive. How should you look at this situation differently? You should never have fit in that tiny size in the first place! Buying a bigger size means you will feel more comfortable and body thoughts should surely become less negative, after all, seeing your body bulge out of those jeans will only make you feel worse.
Now, let’s talk about the happiness that recovery can bring and what it has brought to me. I’m now able to wake up and get whatever I want for breakfast – no more painful measuring of milk and weighing my baby sized bowl of cornflakes. I’m now able to say yes to a greasy pizza after going out drinking in town and having the energy to dance all night long. I can now go to school and eat lunch, normally in front of my friends. I can now make my own meals, unsupervised and snack whenever I want on whatever I want to. I can meet friends for coffee without obsessively Googling the calorie information for every drink. I can now LIVE.
I’m not saying recovery is a smooth journey, but the ‘ups’ you experience are what you should focus on and be proud of working through the ‘downs’. It is okay to cry; you are allowed let out your emotions and scream because you know that the future will not hold these things. The future holds you looking forward to the evening meal around the table with your family and being excited for a big slice of your birthday cake. So, go on, I dare you, take the reigns from anorexia and keep a tight hold of them in your grasp.
If I hadn’t made the same brave decision that you have – opening up about your illness and reaching out for help – I wouldn’t be here today. So here I am, pleading with you to stick on your recovery journey and don’t ever let the bad days limit your progress. Do this for your family and your friends, but most importantly for YOU.
You are worth it. Life. Warmth. Happiness. Love.
Anonymous Anorexia Butt-Kicker
Real Life Experience: 3
It started in February 2017; we had a school weigh-in (this was when I was 11), for some reason I wanted to be five stone so I was determined to get to that number on the scales. I started by eating less food each day, at first I didn’t see my body change but after a few weeks I started to notice I was changing. It made me happy to see I was losing weight and it felt that I could control it. We got weighed, the results came back. My parents realised that I was quite a bit lighter than my twin. It said I was a normal weight and for some reason I didn’t like the fact that I was a normal weight so I decided I’d lose more weight.
It was April and my parents decided to take me to a doctor’s appointment to see if I needed to get treatment. The doctor told them to keep an eye on me and if things got worse they should get me treatment. It was the Easter holidays and we went to America. I didn’t want to eat much and refused to have anything except for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sometimes I’d get up extra early and pretend that I’d had my breakfast so I could tell my parents I had it and didn’t need it. It was a good holiday and all but I was miserable, people would look at me, even stare, because I didn’t look normal.
This is when my parents decided they’d book an appointment for me at the clinic. June 15th was my first day at the clinic; they talked to me, weighed me and made me answer a sheet which had quite a few questions about food, anxiety, etc. They used all this information so that they were able to find out what I had. Turns out I had anorexia. I was very lucky because I could have easily been sent to hospital, although I did need to go to hospital anyway to get a blood test and an ECG to check that my body wasn’t starting to eat on my liver. My blood was fine but my ECG showed that a few of my liver enzymes weren’t what they were supposed to be. I got a meal plan, which I had to follow every day and my appointments started. I was signed to a support worker. Each week was hard and I didn’t like seeing that I put on weight, I constantly checked my body and thought I looked fat when I really didn’t. I looked anorexic.
The summer holidays were here. We didn’t go anywhere abroad because it would have been too risky, especially to put on weight. The summer holidays passed and I started secondary school, it was kind of traumatic at first because all my emotions were heightened but I soon got used to it. I got different meal plans to help hurry up the weight gain; my support worker would talk to me and would help me understand how to make things better. Some days it would be easier than others, it really depended on what mood I was in.
It was April 2018. I had nearly been at the clinic for a year now. My weight gain would be quite consistent but sometimes I’d purposely hide my food so I could lose weight again, it made me happy. My mind still thought about my weight and food until my dad took a video of me playing netball. I know it probably seems random how taking a netball video makes you want to change but it did. I was in a netball team and I was still skinny, and when I looked at the video my dad took of me I realised how skinny my arms were, my face was very drawn in and it freaked me out. I didn’t want to look like that anymore. My attitude completely changed towards food and it kept getting better every week.
It’s June 2018 and school is close to finishing, I’m allowed to participate in P.E. and Sports Day. School finishes and it’s the summer holidays; we go on holiday and it’s great. I get weighed and I put more weight on, and I mean quite a bit more than I usually put on, but I wasn’t bothered because I started to feel normal. Two weeks passed and I put on quite a bit more. I’m at a normal weight and I’m feeling so much better. Next week is my appointment with the main doctor and hopefully it should be my last proper appointment here. It’s crazy to think how far I’ve come from being that 11 year old girl who just thinks about food non-stop. I’m about to turn 13 and hopefully when I turn it I can say I’ve been discharged and I’m anorexia-free. I’m so glad with all the help I have been given and I want to give a massive thank you to my support worker. She has helped me so much and I can’t thank her enough.
Real Life Experience: 4
I think, at the time, I didn’t like to go to CAMHS as I felt I was being attacked. But when I look back, I know that I did find it helpful and that what was making me feel attacked was the anorexia and not me. Going to CAMHS really helped because it meant that I was talking and it is always good to talk. My friends have also been very supportive and it has been helpful talking to them.
My advice to other people in my situation would be to trust CAMHS; they know what they are doing. And even if it doesn’t feel good at the time, remember that you are doing everything you can to get back to yourself where you can see your friends and have fun.
If you'd like to share your real life experience, please email firstname.lastname@example.org