Content Warning: The following article contains detailed discussion of eating disorders. If you are likely to be negatively affected by this you may not want to continue reading. If you are affected by the article, you can contact the Eating Disorders Association of Ireland’s helpline on 1890 200 444, or the Samaritans on 116 123.
As a species we are OBSESSED with the notion of ‘thin’. It has become impossible to go a day without coming across some new diet that the thinnest of celebrities are supposedly doing, or being bombarded with people telling you that you need to lose weight and that you need to give them your money to do it. It’s impossible to escape. So many of us fall victim to the media’s fixation with having the ‘perfect body’ as if such a thing even exists.
Now I was lucky, in a way, because I didn’t have social media growing up. I wasn’t exposed to as much of the nonsense that we see on our Instagram and twitter feeds daily. I was thirteen before I started to even take notice of my body. But when I did, by god I wasn’t happy. It all started with an innocent, throwaway comment from my mother. And no, I do not blame my mother for my body insecurities, or eating disorder, that was entirely my own fault. She casually said in the middle of a conversation that my best friend at the time was a little thinner than I was. She wasn’t being malicious or trying to hurt me in any way, she was just stating a fact. However, her saying that sparked something in me and is engraved in my brain to this day. I’m still best friends with that girl, she’s still thinner than me, but that’s okay, I’m at peace with it now.
So you’re probably thinking “But Niamh, you’re not thin, how can you possibly have an eating disorder?” Because, my friends, it is a mental illness and is therefore largely invisible. There is also more than one kind of eating disorder. Anorexia is usually the disorder that springs to mind when one hears “eating disorder” but it is just one of a huge list. Out of that list, only some actually result in huge weight loss (and even then they don’t always!) I actually suffered from two eating disorders that are very often linked. Those are binge-eating disorder and bulimia. And it is exactly as it sounds.
As I have gotten older I have slowed down and almost stopped with the bulimic tendencies, but the bingeing is still something I am working on, hence why I put on a lot of weight in the past year. While I no longer purge my food, I do still have long stints of not eating after a binge, which is honestly just as bad. As I write this now I am pushing on 20 hours without eating…and do you know why? I’m scared. I’m scared that the second I put something in my mouth I will lose control and eat until I cannot move. And I don’t mean that feeling you get after you eat a roast dinner, I mean sometimes I physically cannot move with the pain. I went through quite a long phase of starving myself simply because I liked how it felt to be starving. I loved the empty, nauseating feeling that comes with being extremely hungry. It was the only way that I could feel pretty. The problem with starving yourself for long periods of time is that when you finally give in and decide to eat, you overeat and then you feel sick and bloated and worst of all: guilty. Guilt was a feeling I became very familiar with. I’m sure anyone who has ever suffered from an eating disorder can relate.
As a result, my relationship with food is complicated. I see it as an ever-present comfort in my life that I can turn to when things are not going well. But, it is also the cause of a great deal of distress and concern, it consumes my every thought. I wake up SCARED that I am going to binge as if I cannot physically control what I put in my mouth (which of course I can, but I also can’t)
It’s so ironic that the illness I developed from wanting to be thinner is exactly what is making me gain weight, life has a funny way of biting you in the butt sometimes doesn’t it?
Eating disorders, as with many mental illnesses, are largely invisible, despite the stereotype that many people believe. “Anorexic” is not a body type and not everyone with an eating disorder is a skeleton, deathly ill or even physically unhealthy at all! I guess what I’m trying to say with this is that every eating disorder is different, and everyone’s story is different. It is wrong to make assumptions about a person’s eating habits or relationship with food simply based on appearance. Many very thin people have a perfectly healthy relationship with food and do not starve themselves at all. Many overweight people also have an amazing relationship with food and are perfectly healthy. Sometimes, those who look like they’re at a healthy weight and are eating properly definitely are not. And all of those people also have the capacity to suffer from an eating disorder. As I said they are mental illnesses, they are invisible. If you take nothing else from this article then please let it be that. Eating disorders are among the most stigmatized of mental illnesses, we all need to become more educated on them.
If you have been affected by the content of this article, you can contact the Eating Disorders Association of Ireland’s helpline on 1890 200 444, or the Samaritans on 116 123. To learn more about eating disorders, visit bodywhys.ie.