This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week and we will be sharing four blogs by our Young and Parent Champions about their experiences.
It doesn’t seem abnormal at all to hate your own body. To believe it’s weird, deformed, disgusting. There is something so despairing in looking in the mirror and hating your appearance. Something so miserable about looking at other girls, and wishing you looked a little bit more like them. It can take your happiness away within a second. An alarmingly large amount of girls diet and fail.
But in this blog I want to talk about someone so strong, a person who I’ve never seen fail in my entire life; and I’ve known her since I existed. My sister Amy is the most driven person I know.
Amy is suffering from an eating disorder called Orthorexia. Word documents underline this word with a red squiggly line, and I think many people, like Word, are unaware of it. So while I press “add to dictionary” for Word documents, I will also add it to yours: Orthorexia is an obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy. A person with Orthorexia will be obsessed with maintaining a perfect diet and fixate on foods that make them feel pure, and will feel impure when they eat anything they regard as unhealthy. This can result in panic attacks and constant worry about food. Amy prepared all of the food she ate throughout the day by herself at home and wouldn’t eat out. She would need to be aware of everything that was going in her body. Google also tells me this eating disorder is “difficult to identify”.
At the age of 11, my sister decided she wanted to move schools to one of the best ones in the country. Not only did this involve working hard on her studies, but speaking to the mayor of our town to convince him to let her go to a school in a different town.
At age 14 we relocated to London. She joined a school in the middle of year 10 and GCSEs had already started. She had to not only complete everything she missed in the beginning of that year, but also learn English as the language was new to us. She finished year 11 with incredibly impressive GCSE results. Motivated to study medicine, she picked four rather than three incredibly hard A levels including Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry and Hebrew. Throughout both GCSEs and A levels, she would shut herself in her room for hours, revising. She would hardly speak to us. She didn’t see her friends. She would wake up early every weekend to go to the library. She has always been an extremely driven girl and would never give up. She would get obsessed with a goal.
As well as a ‘perfect’ brain Amy wanted a ‘perfect’ body. Four years ago Amy started changing her diet. She stopped eating unhealthy foods, she started going to the gym and she would wake up early to exercise. Something most of us wish we could do but few of us succeed doing. At the end of last year, Amy’s hair was falling out, her eyes would always be surrounded by dark circles and Amy fell much below average body weight.
I imagine Amy fell into the same trap too many girls do. A perfectionist girl that couldn’t accept average; or what she considered to be average. She set herself a target and once she does she cannot be stopped. By the end of last year Amy would exercise seven days a week and would not eat enough to sustain herself. She would slowly restrict her diet more and more. No meat, no fish, no sugar or fats. No dairy products, no salt, no carbohydrates. She was playing a game which her mind wouldn’t let her lose; she could always play a HARDER level; she could always get a HIGHER score. She hadn’t a single day off. Not a moment to rest from her harsh consciousness. She couldn’t break her streak. It’s like the eating disorder is a side effect of this type of toxic mentality.
This almost inhuman motivation is something we all observe from the outside, we look at the over-achieving girls in our class, who are most at risk for this type of eating disorder and instead of seeing how hard they are on themselves we envy their perfection. We ask ourselves why we can’t be like them.
Amy’s type of eating disorder is one of the hardest ones to spot as it’s almost like she is doing nothing extraordinary. For years, her family, her friends and the people she surrounded herself with couldn’t see. Instead of seeing how much she was harming herself, I envied her motivation and her success. She never strays from the plan she sets herself.
The process is so slow it’s almost impossible for our brains to see a difference. Although it is admirable to be driven, what seems at the beginning to be motivation risks slowly turning into obsessive thoughts and toxic habits that can ruin our minds and bodies.
It’s been a few months since we finally noticed what Amy was doing to herself. It doesn’t take a day or a week, or a month. But with professional help and the help of the people who love her she managed to learn how to let go. She is still in the process, but Amy exercises less. She eats enough and she has gained some weight back, and she takes some days off. It is not an easy task when your mind is telling you to do the opposite. But the more you fight the easier it gets.
The hardest thing we can do is love ourselves for who we are and accept our flaws. This type of eating disorder is far too common and not discussed nearly enough. If you feel this may be the case for yourself or somebody you know, please seek help or let somebody know.
If you or someone you know needs help right now, you should, if possible, try to talk to a parent, carer or trusted adult. If talking to an adult is not possible, visit our urgent help page which includes organisations that are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
You can also find free mental health support services for young people aged up to 25 on the Youth Wellbeing Directory.
We also have contact details on our urgent help page for BEAT – BEAT provides support to help young people beat their eating disorders.