26th February this year is Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Beat (the UK’s leading eating disorders charity) are asking Why Wait? So I thought I’d try and answer!
Beat’s research shows:
“On average, 149 weeks pass before those experiencing eating disorder symptoms seek help. That’s almost three years, 37 months or 1,043 days.”
I’m going to be addressing this primarily from the point the point of view of having recovered from anorexia but some, if not all, of this will apply to other eating disorders too.
People with no experience of eating disorders would be puzzled by the delay in seeking and engaging in treatment but having been deeply entrenched in one for many years, I know recovery from an eating disorder involves a lot of ambivalent feelings.
The most prominent reason for waiting to recover is fear – saying ‘yes’ to treatment means saying ‘yes’ to change, saying ‘yes’ to stepping out of your comfort zone and most feared (when it comes to anorexia) saying ‘yes’ to weight gain.
Denial is also a problem, delusional beliefs about weight, shape, body shape and the extent of the problem lie square in the way of stepping up to getting help. Interestingly, I found, that even when my delusional beliefs were challenged, and I started to see and understand that my beliefs may not be entirely accurate, it was fear, again, that made me hold onto my inaccurate beliefs.
Some people hold on incredibly tightly to their delusional beliefs, no matter how gently or ferociously it’s challenged, there’s no budging it.
Fear and anxiety are helpful emotions – they tell us when something is dangerous, when something should be avoided. I’d be pretty grateful for the fear if I was being chased by a lion, my fear would be accompanied by a rush of adrenaline that would help pump blood to my muscles and help me run faster.
The fear of recovery from an eating disorder is pretty much on this level. Imagine everyday, feeling this fear, it’s not surprising that denial feels like a friend. Every time I was challenged about my weight, my restricted diet or my weight controlling behaviours, this fear and denial kicked in. It felt like I was being chased by a lion I was never going to be able to outrun, the fear was immense but accompanied by feels of hopelessness.
Fear of gaining weight is incredibly powerful – it’s a genuine belief that if you engage with professionals they’ll make you balloon to 100 stone, if you already think you’re overweight, it makes absolutely no sense that you should have to put on more weight…!
So, it’s pretty clear, there are some good reasons not to recover but now I’ll address some reasons why recovery could be a good idea, right now.
When I was struggling, I was advised to step back and look at your life as objectively as I could, as if looking at a friend.
Is there anything you’d change?
Do you want the daily fear to decrease?
Would you like to socialise more?
Do you want to feel less anxious?
Do you want people to stop worrying about you?
Would you like to stop thinking about food all the time?
Would you like to be able to find clothes that fit?
Do you want to go on holiday and just eat what you want?
Would you prefer not to be chained to the bathroom scales?
Do you want to enjoy exercise rather than flog yourself through it?
Would you prefer to be less deceptive and secretive?
Do you want to be free from the number on the weighing scales dictating your mood?
Do you want to try new foods?
Would you prefer to enjoy your food rather than fear it?
Do you want to stop feeling faint?
Do you want to eat your favourite food without fear of a binge?
Do you want to be free from numbers?
Do you want to satisfy your hunger rather than ignore it?
Even if it’s just one of these things, just think about it… Don’t immediately think – “but putting on weight/recovery” won’t do that for me, don’t worry about that right now. Just think, what you’re doing at the moment isn’t working, is it?!
The definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
Perhaps now is the time to try something new?
Recovery gave me all of this, and more!
If you’re watching a loved one battling an eating disorder, whether they’re in denial or fearful, perhaps direct them towards this blog, this maybe the first step for them to start the conversation about recovery.
I’m not offering all the answers, I’m just suggesting, recovery is there for the taking, but it has to be an active choice, the only thing that’s going to work is to find professional help and engage with it.
When in treatment I was advised to read a book called ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ – I was very angry that I was being advised to read this book and I’m sorry to say I read the blurb and went no further. Every single day I felt fear (fear of going out, fear of being seen, fear of eating, I was afraid of everything) and I got on with my day anyway, I never let anything stop me. I was offended that this therapist didn’t have the first clue that I was ‘doing it anyway’ every single minute of every single day.
I haven’t read the book so I can’t be certain what it was about but I’ll hazard a guess that it would have challenged my way of getting through, the only way I could manage was to deny my fear. Yes, I was fearful of everything but I feared feeling that fear fully as I thought it would halt me in my tracks. I’m someone who pushes through regardless. If I’m worried about something, I don’t put it off, in fact, I’d rather get on with it, soon rather than later, I hate having worry gnawing away at me. I never avoid anything…except my feelings!
Maybe the book would have taught me that fear is ok (something I’ve grown to learn anyway) you don’t have to ignore or deny it, you can accept it, appreciate it, get to know and understand it…and then ‘do it anyway’!
Maybe we could all learn from this – if there’s something we’re fearful of, the fear is telling us to beware but it’s also giving us the energy to fight. As an eating disorder sufferer, when I worked out how to use that energy to fight, that was a big step towards recovery.