A girl with too many thoughts...

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Why Anorexia Sufferers Can't 'Just Eat'

TW: Eating disorders (Please also note that I am aware there are many different kinds of eating disorders, not all of which involve restriction, but I am specifically referring to restrictive eating disorders in this blog post).

I've been watching a few eating disorder documentaries on youtube recently and when scrolling through the comments, I can't help but get frustrated. Clearly there is still little understanding of eating disorders and this can lead to extremely ignorant and misinformed comments telling sufferers to 'just eat' or accusing them of being selfish, spoilt, stupid, ungrateful etc. Telling an anorexia sufferer that they are a bad person because there are people starving in other parts of the world is not going to help them. In fact, it's going to do quite the opposite.

However, I don't necessarily blame the general population for this lack of understanding. Before I developed an eating disorder myself, I couldn't comprehend why somebody would want to actively restrict their food intake to the point where they put their own health at risk. I too questioned why anorexia sufferers wouldn't 'just eat'. The whole concept of wanting to be underweight didn't make sense to me. I mean, looking unhealthily thin doesn't look attractive, so why would anybody strive for that? (That's what I thought, anyway). Only now do I realise that this is an incredibly narrow minded view of eating disorders such as anorexia, because there are far more complex mental processes behind it than simply wanting to be 'skinny'.

There are many, many factors that contribute to a person developing a restrictive eating disorder - none of which are a choice. Feeling guilty or ashamed for eating. Not feeling worthy of food or not deserving of it. Low self-esteem. Getting a sense of achievement from restricting. Needing to have control over food intake and weight. An obsessive compulsive personality which can lead to specific rituals and 'rules' about food. There is no one single cause and as I said before, it isn't as straightforward as 'wanting to be skinny'.  That is why telling a sufferer of anorexia to 'just eat' is not going to work (and is instead just extremely unhelpful!). 

Even I didn't used to understand this because back then I did not suffer from irrational thoughts surrounding food or weight. I just saw food for what it is - food, energy. In fact, I loved food (and still do) and could pretty much eat whatever I wanted without gaining weight, so I never even considered that one day it might be me suffering from an eating disorder. I enjoyed eating, I was happy with my weight (it was one of the only things I didn't actually mind about my body in secondary school) and calories didn't mean anything to me. 

It's all too easy to negatively judge others based on something that we ourselves are not personally experiencing and therefore do not fully understand. This is why it's important that we are willing to listen to others' perspective and inform ourselves of what they are going through before making brash judgements or blaming them for something they have no control over. Eating disorders are not a choice, they are serious mental illnesses that require medical treatment. What I've mentioned in this post is only a tiny insight into the possible thinking behind an eating disorder, but my point remains: sufferers of eating disorders do not choose to suffer from eating disorders and making them feel guilty for it or simply telling them to 'eat' is of little use. If they could, they would.
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2 comments

  1. Well done for writing something that will definitely help others. I can't even begin to imagine what it's like to have an eating disorder but I hope you can fight your battle with it. I have experienced OCD where I HAD to wash my hands whenever I touched anyone else. My skin was peeling off my hands and were so sore and I could see the damage but it's not easy to just stop. If it were easy, no one would choose to live their lives like that would they.

    Emma xx // A Little Freckle

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  2. Thank you so much for your comment, it means a lot. I'm so sorry about your experience with OCD, I've been exactly the same in the past with the hand washing. I would wash and wash them until they bled, but even that wasn't enough to make me stop. Like you said, if it were that easy to stop, nobody would live like that. I hope you are generally feeling much better with it all now and are receiving the support you need.

    Lisa :) xx

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