What an eating disorder IS and ISN'T

There are some things that I want to clarify with anyone who is unaware of what an eating disorder is and what an eating disorder isn’t or for anyone so is caught up in false myths or is troubled by the harsh reality.

First of all, anyone that suffers from an eating disorder wants you to know this as much as I do:

We would never wish this disease on anyone as we know the sheer pain of it. But it would be wonderful if the non-disordered eating population could understand a few key things behind the pain we do feel so they don't fall into stereotypical views that annoy the *insert bad word* out of us.

So with that ultimate target in mind, let me get started…

What an eating disorder is and isn’t: 


Isn’t: An attempt to get attention from those around us.

Is: A mental illness that is all consuming. 


Isn’t: An attempt to lose weight.

Is: An innate fear of physical judgment that triggers the desire to be 'perfect and slim'. 


Isn’t: Strong willpower or lack of willpower towards food.

Is: A learned behaviour over time that has become a way of numbing out any emotion. 


Isn’t: A glamorous act or vanity.

Is: A traumatically terrifying way of living with an obsessed, paranoid, addicted, consumed and illogical mind that needs help.


Isn’t: A disease that can only be determined by weight. 

Is: A disease of the mind that can affect those in any way, culture, gender, age, shape, or form- it does not discriminate. 


Isn’t: A selfish act.

Is: A deep feeling of lacking self-worth that can cause selfish thoughts and actions to take place.


Isn’t: An easy and which fix.

Is: A long road that takes lots of time, money, patience, professional support, teamwork, family and friend support, guidance, education, possible medication and hospitalisation and sheer grit, tears and tenacity to overcome. 


Isn’t: A choice. 

Is: A disorder, a disease, a mental illness that can be explained by my favourite of phrases “Nature loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger”.


Isn’t: Widely understood. 

Is: Widely misunderstood and is often made light of or praised because sometimes society and especially social media deem disordered eating behaviours as healthy.


Isn’t: Understood by most medical professionals, (GP's, nurses, doctors, etc).

Is: Often misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all due to lack of knowledge and training on medical professionals. Half because it is a very subjective disease that needs a specialist driving but also because there is no accurate cookie cutter definition to diagnose eating disorders and many medical professionals rely on appearance and weight.


Isn’t: A naturally thin, privileged, white girl problem.

Is: Experienced through all sizes, genders, races, ethnicities, financial and religious backgrounds.


Isn’t: “Just a phase” or “normal” or “no big deal", "they'll grow out of it".

Is: A disorder that without treatment can end in the short term and long term physical problems and mental effects that can have dramatic or detrimental life-changing effects and in many cases can in suicide or death caused from heart failure and other organ failures.


Isn’t: Easily funded by the NHS.

Is: On average recovery treatment is very expensive and not all treatments are insurance covered. If the treatment is financially covered often the specialist centres are very far away affecting both the transport and petrol costs but also parents or carers in work who must take time out to offer both support and transport to their ill loved one.


Isn’t: About food.

Is: About control. 


Isn’t: An option to eat or not eat, run or not run, purge or not purge, to do or not do.

Is: A life with no choice as their eating disorders commands are too strong and loud to hold an option against. 


Isn’t: Living life to the fullest. 

Is: A living hell for those who suffer and those who love the sufferer.


What can you do to help?

For someone who has never suffered from disordered eating, and eating disorder, or mental illness, the solution may seem simple: Don't be fooled by stereotypical views.

Yet those of us who have been in or are in the trenches of an eating disorder know that simply does not always stick.

So what are you to do to help what you have simply learned stick?

Abolish your stereotypes, ask questions, care relentlessly, and love unconditionally.

Photography By: Daniel Brookman

Photography By: Daniel Brookman