Thursday, 26 February 2015

Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

I've been debating writing this post for days now, I suppose because I know some people would say I shouldn't. But it's quite an important week for me (and for so many people) and I don't want to let another one slip by unmarked - this week is Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and as well as being a personal cause I know it affects so many people and I also know that the best way to break the stigma surrounding the topic is to get as many people as possible talking about it. And yes, one person may not make a difference, but imagine if everyone spoke up? Don't worry I'm not going to be talking personally because there are plenty of good memoirs (I recommend Wasted by Marya Hornbacher, Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi, and An Apple A Day by Emma Woolf), and I'm also not going to be posting pictures of me at various times during my own struggle with eating disorders. Suffice it to say that I have been struggling for years, and it has been enough of a fight that I wish nobody else had to deal with it. I am in recovery now, and as well as just speaking up and proving that a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, I hope I can say a few things that make you think.

For starters, an ED is not a phase or a stage in growing up, something confined to teenage girls, and it is also not a habit or a choice. It is just as real as any illness - your brain is an organ too, and can be just as prone to malfunctioning, so there should be no shame around it. Another thing to stress is that they are not the fault of the individual, or indicative of insanity. They indicate pain, a difficulty coping, a channel into which all energy can be focused to block out whatever is worse. But in the end the ED can become the bigger problem. But that is still not the fault of the sufferer - if somebody develops cancer, we don't blame them, we send flowers. It should be the same for mental illness.

The causes of EDs are wide-ranging and often cannot be pinned down. There are some causes passed around like buzzwords: control, vanity, fear of growing up, catwalk models, society and pressure. But every case is different and cannot be categorised this way. The term 'eating disorder' itself covers many types of disordered eating from anorexia to bulimia, from binge-eating to orthorexia and EDNOS and many more in between, and none of those are superior. In my experience all are miserable, and are certainly nothing to aspire to. They are also certainly not about food. Weight and numbers and calories and image are not the real problems, more likely a way to manage other things because EDs are coping mechanisms.

They are also so treatable, but personally I think the treatment in this country needs to change. For a mental illness far too much attention is placed upon the physical aspect (when really physical decline is a side effect), meaning that many people go untreated because they haven't managed to cause themselves real physical damage. Yet. Of course, treating people physically is important but that doesn't mean the mental side is fixed and that's the part that will lead people to relapse after treatment for example, or to still engage in unhealthy behaviours or even to find a new outlet. If cancer was detected in a patient in the early stages there is no way on earth they would be told to wait until it's stage four and then come back for treatment! But so many people with eating disorders experience this and I think it's wrong. As soon as issues with food are noticed they should be treated, because the psychological issues will already be strong.

Anyway, enough rambling from me, I'm sure everyone's already stopped reading and although I haven't said half as much as I'd like to (and could write a dissertation on the things I've already mentioned!) I will end this post with a few words of advice for both sufferers and those who have a loved one with an eating disorder - probably most of us, and some of us won't even know that they do.

To all sufferers, I know of course, that recovery is a choice. I am inclined to believe it is a state of mind. You can be physically ill and fighting your hardest, and vice versa. And now I urge anyone suffering to really think. Maybe things are already bad for you, maybe you’ve been in treatment or taken time out of school, maybe your health is already danger; it’s not too late. Bodies are surprisingly resilient. And maybe things aren’t that bad for you, maybe you think you can tick along forever with your eating disorder. But I promise you, that ED will become your life. And whether it takes two months, two years, or twenty, soon your body won’t be able to cope and the people around you will be hurting because you are hurting. With all the beautiful things in this world, why choose to focus your gaze upon numbers? With all the experiences out there, why hone in on food to the exclusion of all else? 

For those who know someone with an ED, I’m going to give you a few tips. Don’t get angry when they struggle. Don’t try and blame it all on supermodels or Vogue magazine or diet culture. But most importantly, don’t give up on them. Recovery requires support, and while it is hard to watch, I know, just think how much happiness it will bring to see your brother, your daughter, your mother, your best friend finally free.

I'm going to put some links now to useful sites for everyone, and don't worry I'll be back to fashion blogging in the next few days!

Tara India xo

nhs choices eating disorder page

the symbol of ED recovery.

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