Body issues surround us on a daily basis, in every media outlet, and almost every conversation. So it’s no wonder that so many people have eating disorders, and it’s no wonder that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. No one can disagree that 81% of ten year old’s being afraid to be ‘fat’, and 24 million people in the world having various EDs, tells us that the media is doing a hell of a lot wrong with body image.
I myself have always hated my body – I was first aware of it at about ten when I realised I was so much bigger than any of my friends – at this point, it was just genetics. My parents ensured I had a healthy, well-balanced and moderate diet, and I did plenty of exercise. I was just destined to be a chubby girl. My real problems began when I went into Secondary School. From twelve, I hated myself because of my body. I switched from diet to diet, and spent the majority of my years at school skipping lunch and lying about it to my parents. Add in my depression, self-harm and suicidal tendencies, and you get the picture of how I felt.
But then it began to happen – all my friends who had previously been similar sizes to me lost their ‘puppy fat’ and turned into slim, beautiful teenagers who I would have killed to look like. In hindsight, as a size 12-14, I wasn’t overweight, but the way I felt, and what I told myself is completely opposite to that. I felt like an outcast. It doesn’t help that doctors will use the excuse ‘it might be your weight’ for nearly anything – from depression to anaemia to a cold, it could always ‘help to lose some weight’. What message does that send to young girls?
From about fifteen I tried desperately to lose weight healthily. I’d go through phases of gym workouts, bike rides and calorie counting before falling off the wagon and bingeing for a week. Whatever I tried, however hard I tried, it never lasted. Despite this, I remained a size 14-16 until a couple of years ago. At the time my depression was peaked, I was trying to find other coping mechanisms than self-harm, and I had a girlfriend who would constantly buy me excessive amounts of food or treats even if I asked her not to – and she said I was beautiful and would love me no matter how big I was, so why would I refuse? Then the weight just fell onto me and clung there. My only way to deal with this would be to over-exercise, starve myself and then once again, breakdown and eat something, only to punish myself for days afterwards. The circle of self-loathing and unhealthiness destroyed my self-esteem and ruled my life for months.
When I reached an unhealthy weight and even my mother told me she was concerned about just how fast I was gaining weight, I decided enough was enough. I would beat this thing once and for all. I started documenting my meals, weighing myself and weight-lifting. This helped slightly, but it spiralled down after my recent break-up. What was anorexia (although perhaps not a severe case) turned into BED. BED is ‘binge eating disorder’ where you go through short periods of time eating large amounts of food, unable to control yourself, only to feel extreme guilt and disgust afterwards, it’s common to stockpile food to eat later when you’re alone, but to eat normally around others. It’s a mix of anorexia and bulimia, and has only recently been accepted and diagnosed as an ‘official’ eating disorder. Looking back, I have always had this – from a young age I’d eat late at night and hide the packets or wrappers, and live in fear that someone would find out, telling myself I was revolting and disgusting. BED is something you cannot control. It is not being ‘greedy’, it is not ‘eating too much’ – it is, in every way, as severe and as valid as anorexia and bulimia. It is also very common for anorexia to evolve into BED when you try to start eating again after starving yourself.
Eating disorders often remain un-diagnosed, (only 1 in 10 men and women who have EDs receive treatment) as so many people ‘hate their bodies’ and are trying to lose weight; what is a serious mental illness can be mistaken for or simply dismissed as normal behaviour. But hating yourself, and treating yourself as worthless because of your shape, size or eating habits, is in no way normal. One major way in which EDs are dismissed is among the overweight – people assume if someone is overweight or even just not very underweight, they cannot possibly suffer from an eating disorder. But they can. This myth must be dispelled. It is bad enough to feel inadequate because of your body, but even worse to be told you do not ‘qualify’ for an ED because of that body. It puts even more blame on the person suffering.
Before ending this, I would like to emphasise that despite my feelings about my own body, there is nothing wrong with being overweight. So long as you are healthy, it doesn’t matter if you’re a size 4 or a size 40. There are plenty of people who are overweight and perfectly happy. So stay fat and fabulous, because I sure as hell will!
Read about BED, EDs and statistics here: