On Monday I got an email reminder that it was Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I haven’t written about this before but thought this week was as good as any to give it a go.
Although, I have a lot of friends who have experienced depression or anxiety I don’t have anyone else in my life, who I know of, who has struggled with disordered eating. As a teenager and in my early twenties I felt completely alone with it, the only one who spent every day battling with my body and food. Of all the problems I have had with my mental health my experience with bulimia is still the one I struggle to speak openly about. It took years for me to feel comfortable to admit to even having a problem. I was so ashamed of myself, angry that I couldn’t just snap out of it and scared of being judged for something I thought was disgusting and reckless.
Shame is a common emotion associated with mental health problems. For people who don’t understand them eating disorders are a skinny, teenage, white girl’s disease. These two factors make it hard for people who suffer from bulimia or binge eating disorder to seek or receive the medical support they need. Not looking completely emaciated can make it hard for people to get the help they need. Some GPs and treatment centres still use weight as a diagnostic criteria for treatment and most people will be complimented by friends or family if they lose weight. I first sought treatment when I was 19 and was seen by a counsellor who told me it seemed like I was looking for attention. I didn’t seek help again for years. By staying quiet (and not telling my doctor the counsellor was an idiot) my shame took a greater hold of me and I told myself I wasn’t strong enough or deserving enough to get better.
My route to recovery was not smooth, I had many more problematic responses from medical professionals before I found a team who supported me how I needed. I didn’t go from actively bulimic to recovery overnight and it took time for me to feel comfortable enough to speak to people about it.
Before I could speak about it, I read about it and listened to other people talking about it. Finding other ‘normal’ people who understood the shame and isolation of an eating disorder, people who like me didn’t ‘look like they had an eating disorder’ helped me to find a way to speak about it with non-medical professionals and accept it as part of me but not a shameful defining factor.
Eating in the Light of the Moon This book genuinely changed my life. Author Anita Johnston uses fables and fairy tales from around the world to create metaphors for disordered eating. Reading it helped me realise how isolated I was, by hiding my eating disorder I was blocking myself off and ensuring I could never overcome the shame I had about having the eating disorder in the first place. It has activities and strategies to help understand the roots of your disordered eating and how to combat them.
You can access more information on the Light of the Moon Café website, which has blog posts, resources and free books all aimed at helping you tackle your issues with food.
Sensing the Self This book was recommended to me by a therapist. It is quite academic but hearing testimonies of women who were in the middle of or in recovery from bulimia definitely helped me feel less alone. Seeing myself in other women’s experience was so powerful, hearing their shame made mine feel less scary and it helped me visualise a place where I could be free from my eating disorder.
So the blog title says books but I am also a big radio/podcast lover and my recovery has really been boosted by shows which promote body liberation and mental health.
Food Psyche Moving on from my eating disorder wasn’t easy and maintaining it while surrounded by messages which promoted weight loss and thinness was a real struggle. I tried a few different podcasts about eating disorder recovery, and although they had good advice, I didn’t enjoy listening to them. Food Psyche has a really diverse guest list; activists, dieticians, psychologists, yoga teachers, Instagram influencers all speaking about their relationships with food and being happy with the shape, size, abilities and colour of their bodies. I’m far from a beacon of body positivity but this podcast has really helped me feel ok with not being ok.
Getting Curious I was already in a stable recovery when I found the beautiful sunshine that is Jonathan Van Ness but this episode fully made me cry. Hearing someone who I looked up to and admired so much speak about suffering with and recovering from bulimia was incredibly powerful. The podcast in general is fantastic, and definitely a good shout for feel good listening, but this episode was a nice reminder that eating disorders effect all sorts of different people who go on to be successful and brilliant!