Eating Disorders Awareness Week was 1 – 7 March this year. Paula Camp, a records team manager at EIP, wrote the most moving article about her own experiences, to help raise awareness and understanding among her colleagues. She has kindly agreed to share it with us here.
I chose to write an article on this subject, as I have and still do suffer with “disordered eating habits”.
An eating disorder is defined as “any of a range of psychological disorders characterised by abnormal or disturbed eating habits”. Today between 1.25 and 3.4 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder.
When most people think of an eating disorder, they think of someone with visible bones protruding under their skin where they barely eat a morsel of food each day. However, disordered eating is so much more than that. For most of us it is the one thing that occupies the full capacity of our minds 24 hours a day, 52 weeks of the year, something that you can never escape from.
My disordered eating started when I went to secondary school. I was 14 and fed up with being picked on because I was over-weight. I decided that I wanted to be “skinny” like the other girls in my class and I lived off chewing gum throughout the day at school, only eating a small amount of my dinner my parents gave me each evening but feeling like I was a failure for even eating that. I started getting attention from boys which was all very new to me, which again reinforced to me that being “skinny” was attractive and likeable.
In my early 20s I was in a relationship with someone who was very much into fitness and nutrition and he told me if I got above a certain size, he would end our relationship. This once again sparked up my bad relationship with food. This got progressively worse throughout my 20s and I started over-exercising and restricting my food intake, weighing everything that touched my lips (even lettuce!).
The problem with restricting my eating so much led me to having a binge eating disorder (BED). BED is a serious mental illness where people eat very large quantities of food without feeling like they are in control of what they are doing.
I had never heard of BED until I saw a counsellor who specialised in eating disorders, as it is not very openly spoken about. I know for me I felt ashamed and disgusted at myself that I was doing this to my body, but I had absolutely no control over it. I did not feel I could speak to friends or family about it, as it is such an overwhelming feeling that it is difficult to describe, and I did not think they would be able to understand, even if I could put it into words.
I had thought for months that it was something I could do on my own and there were weeks I felt more “in control” of it, I thought “I’ve cracked it”, but then something would happen to trigger these feelings again, and I would be back to square one. It took all I had to go to the GP and finally seek help about it.
I read a blog someone suffering with BED wrote that I could really relate to. She said:
“It was like a snow ball rolling down a hill, getting larger and larger and faster and faster. Every so often, you feel like you’ve got it in control and that you’ve hacked away and made it small again. But then something in life will distract you and the snow ball will start rolling again.”
“A binge: it’s like a trance or a ritual; you can feel it in your bones before it’s going to happen.”
“The food isn’t even like food: you don’t enjoy it, it doesn’t taste nice, it’s like bleach trying to scrub out all the anxiety and sadness you feel inside. Once you’ve stopped and you have to pick up the pieces, you would do anything to get the food out of your body. It’s such a dark place. It’s really lonely.”
Unfortunately, I still have not made a full recovery and it is something I continue to work on managing; however, I have got better at knowing what my triggers are, I still have weekly counselling sessions and I now speak to my friends and family about it. All these things help.
It is not always obvious that someone has an eating disorder, as it is after all a mental illness. If you are at all worried about yourself or someone else, it is always best to seek help as soon as possible, as this gives the greatest chance of a full recovery. The first step is usually to make an appointment with your GP.
Websites that can help:
Page published on 8th March 2021
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Paula, thank you so much for sharing your experience of this condition, which is so rarely talked about or even acknowledged at work (or, often, outside of work, too). Your description of the overwhelming and seemingly uncontrollable feelings that accompany it have helped me to understand it better. Thank you again. Julie