Eating Disorders Awareness Week blogs: '˜I turned to food for comfort'

Today two women have bravely shared their own experiences with anorexia and over-eating as part of the YEP's Eating Disorders Awareness series.

Pam Dolan

When you think of an eating disorder most people will only know of two: bulimia and anorexia.

When in reality there are many more.

I know this from personal experience as 16 years ago I found I was suffering with emotional overeating.

I can pinpoint the exact time it started.

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My partner was killed by a drunk driver in 2000, then two years later my mum died after a very short cancer diagnosis.

Being an only child I felt I had no one I could talk to.

So I turned to food for comfort, living alone I could hide food wrappers so no-one could see how much I was eating.

I’d put my rubbish in neighbours bins - in one sense I didn’t really care who knew but also it was my secret.

For me, food wasn’t at set meal times.

I ate when I wanted and what I wanted. Savoury foods were my go to.

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A multi-pack of crisps in one sitting, packets of crackers, nuts, litres of full fat pop along with “proper” meals like pasta, stews, vegetables. But I just didn’t have a stop button.

Food just dulled all my emotions. I wasn’t always aware what I was doing until I was surrounded by food wrappers.

I was sad and very lonely and some where in my mind I was thinking: ‘keep eating then no-one will love you, that way you will never have to lose anyone again’.

No-one really said anything to me. I recall being invited to relatives’ for a meal (proper home-cooking).

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I guess they thought this would help my eating habits when really it just hid them more.

I would eat sparingly then and when I got home I would binge eat.

This carried on for six years and it kind of hit home when I couldn’t walk more than a couple of yards - and only with a stick.

At my heaviest I was 25 stone.

I live just 93 yards from the shops yet I used to go in the car.

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I accepted an offer of counselling and after a few years everything just became clearer.

Over the last 10 years I’ve been extremely lucky with my health professional team, so I’m now in a much better place physically and mentally.

I do find occasionally when I’m sad I reach for food but now I don’t have those type of foods in the house, so temptation can’t win.

And I use the coping actions I have been taught.

I’m under no illusion, food will always be an issue for me but now I’m more mindful about it.

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If I could give one piece of advice to someone experiencing this: don’t hide it, talk about it, even to strangers.

There are lots of websites and charity organisations who can support and help.

Eleanor Paisley

I never meant to embark on the single deadliest mental illness.

In fact, it wasn’t for two years that I was diagnosed with anorexia.

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Before that it was ‘you’re anxious’, ‘you’re stressed’, ‘you’re depressed’ and finally ‘your BMI (Body Mass Index) is very low, there’s something else going on here’.

Anorexia has taken a very good friend from me already this year.

Contrary to common beliefs, anorexia and bulimia nervosa are just two of a whole spectrum of eating disorders that currently torture many people.

There are many variations on these, as well as many other damaging eating disorders that include over-eating, over-exercising and atypical disorders.

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Eating disorders can affect anyone at any time in their lives – not just young girls.

Now 20, I have been struggling with Anorexia since I was 12.

I have had two inpatient admissions into specialist hospitals, several outpatient admissions, including at Seacroft hospital, Leeds, and frequent relapses.

As well as an ongoing problem with anxiety disorder and clinical depression, I find anorexia to be one of the most debilitating, destructive and intensely traumatic illnesses in mental health.

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The irony is, the only thing that will really make you better is the one thing you cannot do – eat healthily.

My eating disorder is my trauma.

I have always been surrounded by loving and supportive people, but many people, like myself, will develop an eating disorder out of the blue.

We’re often asked: ‘why? What caused it?’.

The simple answer: ‘I don’t know’.

I actually like food; my depression and anxiety causes me to avoid it – I don’t deserve the pleasure or the nourishment.

Even though anorexia stops me fulfilling my life, asking me to eat a sandwich is akin to asking you to eat a shoe.

It just feels like an alien concept, and I feel alien too.

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In my experience, simply wanting to ‘look thin’ doesn’t cause people to risk their lives.

Spending a lot of time being thin makes it very difficult to maintain a healthy BMI, it feels wrong.

We definitely get a certain ‘high’ from eating too little, but the mirror never tells me the truth.

Anorexia is more importantly a form of self-harm; we don’t lose weight to ‘look good’.

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Anorexia is a slow-suicide, a slow, and steady, walk into oblivion.

Unfortunately no matter how hard you struggle, the mental health system currently doesn’t provide you with the help you need until you are critical.

Anorexia is a mental illness with physical symptoms; someone with a healthy BMI could be struggling just as much as someone who is severely malnourished, but they will be put on a waiting list because they are not ‘thin enough’.

When I was told that I couldn’t access inpatient treatment because I wasn’t yet critical, I stopped eating altogether.

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I had to get worse to get help. Throughout my treatment, the concentration has been focussed on the physical.

What I would like to see is a mental health system that recognises an eating disorder through someone’s mental state, not their physical state, and one that provides help before the patient is emaciated.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the current state of affairs.