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My anorexia is very real

This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week and we are sharing a blog by one of our Young Champions about her experience of anorexia. 

When I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, I was incredibly ill - both physically and mentally. And yet, despite this, I wanted to get better. As someone with severe co-existing mental illnesses, this was quite unusual for me.

I think that seeing the physical effects of my illness made me realise how real it was. In my experience, restrictive-type eating disorders tend to be validated by the physical. This means that, if you’re someone who is seen to be a typical patient with weight loss and low weight as symptoms, you might feel that your eating disorder is more legitimate.

For me, this realisation that I was seriously ill was a motivator to heal. In times where my relapse thoughts are intense, I reflect on them to drive my continued recovery. But for some, it fuels a competitive side and I have seen a lot of that. The thing is, it’s ok to feel this way. It’s not pleasant to realise you’re comparing yourself to someone’s pain, but it is a sign of disordered thinking and rejecting those thoughts may not help.

What’s not ok is actively acting on these competitive urges. By this, I mean that you should avoid, for example, talking about your weight to others with restrictive eating disorders - even if they do it first. Everyone’s eating disorder is highly personal, and so what’s hardest is different for all. For me, it is linked to my weight, but not in the way you would think.

I am an overweight anorexia patient. I’m recovering and not turning my disordered thoughts into disordered actions. In some respects, I’m in a much better place than I was, so I’m at a low risk of relapse. However, this seems to make people forget that I still constantly battle through the intense thoughts. My weight has made anyone, from friends to professionals, seem to think that I no longer have an eating disorder. I don’t want one. But I still have one, and I deserve the respect that other patients would receive.

I can find it difficult when insensitive comments or conversations are raised. These vary, but can include people leaning on me for introspection about getting out of a bad place. Or I’ve also been told that I ‘don’t look anorexic’.

The hardest thing for me to cope with, out of every aspect of my personal path, is exclusion. I see it all the time, both from those I’ve already listed and from so-called advocates. It takes many forms, but can be summed up in one infuriating phrase: ‘Eating disorder patients can be a healthy weight!’ Yes they can, and often are. But this is not a positive sentence to me.

Instead, this sentence triggers content that sends my thoughts to a dark place, which can take days to get over. It not only implies that ‘eating disorder’ refers primarily to anorexia (which of course it does not). It excludes others with an eating disorder, but also excludes anorexics like me who are overweight.

I know that some would respond to this by telling me that I should be responsible for my own mental health, which is very true. But regardless of intention, we all have a responsibility to help each other stay safe. I don’t mean we should go out of our way, making ourselves uncomfortable – instead, we should all consider how our language can hurt others, or help them.

A simple fix is to say this instead: ‘Eating disorder patients can be any weight!’ As someone with anorexia and a higher weight, I can confirm that I struggle with my thoughts to the same degree as I did at a healthy weight. There have been times when I have been very high-risk at this weight.

My anorexia is very real. My only wish is that others would acknowledge this.

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.