I never intended to write a blogpost on this subject, because my understanding and knowledge of it comes from a deeply painful place, but with celebrities who should know better, but clearly don’t, spouting nonsense about eating disorders being down to vanity, perhaps it’s time I did.
I have known far too many sufferers of eating disorders, most of them female, but one male, who was in hospital at the same time as a family member who was there for a different “women’s problem”. Even though I was a child at the time, I found it odd that they’d put this frail young man on the women’s ward, but it makes sense now: he was emasculated by a “girls’ illness”, so he could be shoved in with all the others and similarly dismissed as hysterical.
A friend had a sister who died of anorexia nervosa. I didn’t know her. But I do know women in their thirties, forties, and older who still battle daily against their eating disorder, and, with the exception of one friend who is able to view herself from the outside as an “interesting case study” yet is still unable to do anything about it, none of these women think I know their secret.
There are many signs that someone may have, or be at risk of developing an eating disorder, and it takes a practised eye to spot them. Certain behaviours that could pass unnoticed by some, will set alarm bells ringing in my head. I’m unsure whether to list any here as it could lead to misplaced amateur diagnoses resulting in suspected sufferers being confronted and caused immeasurable harm.
Instead, I will talk about The Voice. Virtually all anorexics experience this, but most will never admit it, largely for fear of being forced into treatment.
Consider your inner critic. The one that calls you an idiot when you make a massive mistake, slip on a banana skin, or break your best china. Now imagine that voice amplified and never quiet. Imagine it criticises everything you do, not just the things you know are stupid. Nothing you ever do or say will be good enough to escape its derision. Someone told you you did a good job? They didn’t mean it. Think you look nice in that outfit? You look ridiculous. And fat. Oh my god, you’re eating again. You know that apple has 60 calories, don’t you? Do you know how far you’ll have to run to burn it off? Your poor family. Look at what you’re putting them through. They’re ashamed of you. You’re an embarrassment. They don’t really care about you, they just want you out of the way…
Imagine that. Every day. Sometimes all day. Imagine thinking so little of yourself that you feel unworthy of food, perhaps even life. You want to be invisible. All this stuff you do – the dieting, the obsessive calorie-counting, the constant exercise, the striving for your perceived idea of perfection – all that stuff is an attempt to fit in, to feel good enough about yourself to be allowed to exist.
Now imagine people are saying that you’re doing it for attention. You’re vain, you’re a narcissist. You’ve caused problems for everyone around you. You’re selfish. Think about how your family are suffering…
Sound familiar? If you suspect someone you know has an eating disorder, tread very carefully. Before you even think about confronting them in even the mildest way, first let them know they are good enough, they are loved, they do deserve to thrive. They may not believe you at first, but if you keep saying it, maybe one day it will sink in. But prepare for a long battle to get the kind, positive words to stick, because the unkind negative voice has had many years worth of a head start.