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Eating Disorder Awareness Week: Treatment for mental health to aid better recovery

For Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Amy shares with us her battles with eating disorders and her steps to recovery.

For Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Amy from our Peer Recovery Team in Portsmouth shares her story...

My own experience of eating disorders started at the age of 12 when I was undereating, lost too much weight and was obsessed with loosing more weight due to thinking I was still overweight or too big. With support from my doctor and my mum I did manage to recover from this and starting eating better, however I never regained the self confidence I needed to not have a healthy relationship with food.

The combination of using food as an emotional support from the age of 15 with the negative impacts of lockdown, meant that at the age of 23, I developed a binge eating disorder. The only way I can describe my binge eating is it felt like an addiction to food, due to that the second I would wake up I would think about what food I could consume, resulting in my binge eating nearly every day. 

I would consume such a large amount of food and only stop when I felt sick from eating so much food. I so believe and agree with the idea that an eating disorder is a form of self-harm, as I would make myself so unwell due to the large quantity of food.

A binge eating disorder felt like an awful viscous cycle of addiction and shame that I would hide from my partner. I was at home all day every day and the only person I needed to hide my secret addiction from was my partner. However, he was still working all day making it easier for me to hide the evidence from him, so he would never know what I was doing when left alone all day. I would hide my large amounts of wrappers and takeaway packaging in plastic bags in the bin, or take it straight out to communal bins.

I do feel like there is a lack of awareness still for eating disorders, especially binge eating disorders. I didn’t know at the time how to even get help, where to get help or how to even say what was wrong with me to my partner. It was only because he noticed I had hid food wrappers and takeaway containers in our bin and me continuously not eating in the evenings, he asked what was going on.

My Steps to Recovery…

· Talk – talk to those you trust for support and reduce shame.

· No Diets – no more restrictive diets as restricting can lead to binging.

· Self-Compassion & Self-Awareness – so important for recovery.

· The underlying issue – Is there something else going on?

Talk – The first and probably the most difficult step was talking about what I was going through with someone I trusted, which was my partner and a couple of my close family members. Just talking about it felt like a relief, even though it was very difficult, I think it really helped to reduce the amount of shame and disgust I felt for myself and my binge eating.

No dieting – I have always felt so much pressure due to my lack of confidence and social pressures to be dieting and loose weight. However, this had just turned into a vicious cycle of restricting and binging, which therefore would just increase the level of shame and disgust I felt about myself. It was a scary thought to not be watching what I am eating, whether that be the calorie content, protein, fat , carbs etc. However, this really helped me to break down that cycle I was in of restriction and binging.

Self-Compassion & Self-Awareness – This is something that takes time to learn and is still something that I am practicing and developing now three years on. Learning to be more kind to myself, learning my triggers and finding the positives in myself was so important for my recovery. I think patience is important for this one as it really is a long process that takes continuous work and effort.

The Underlying Issue – There was an underlying issue which made my eating disorder hard to manage, which was inattentive ADHD. Being on the correct medication now, and being aware of what was the cause for my binge eating which was my need for dopamine, has meant I have been able to recover. There is increasing supportive evidence of another mental health condition being prevalent with an eating disorder. 

A high percentage (78.9%) of individuals with binge eating disorder met criteria for at least one other disorder such as anxiety disorder or mood disorders, as well as this being 56.2% for anorexia nervosa and 94.5% with bulimia nervosa. This supports that another mental health condition may need treatment, as well as the eating disorder to aid better recovery.

Do you think someone close to you has an eating disorder…

Signs to notice – My partner noticed signs of me not wanting to eat in the evenings, which he thought was strange. He also started to notice my low mood and then noticed large number of wrappers and takeaway packaging in our bin. After a month or so of him repeatedly noticing it he then began a conversation about it.

How to approach the topic – It can be a delicate topic to talk to someone about, but my partner asked why I was eating food during the day and not eating dinner with him. He also said he has noticed I have seemed more down than usual. After me starting to get emotional and this confirming there is something wrong, he remained calm and patient and explained that he can tell me anything and wants to help. It can be a hard topic to discuss for the individual with an eating disorder, so it is important to remain calm and patient.

How to support the person with an eating disorder – After the initial emotional discussion of me telling my partner about my binge eating disorder, he would ensure to remain calm when I would binge eat whilst he was at work. 

Another very helpful and supportive way he would support me would be that he told me that he wanted me to tell him every time I did binge eat. He explained that he will never be angry or annoyed but wants to know when it happens so he can support me more and understand more on how often it happens. This really helped because even though I was still binging eating, I then didn’t feel the great level of shame that came with the secrecy that happened previously.

Overall - Patience, wanting to understand and listening is the most important, as well as getting help and support if this is needed for your own wellbeing when trying to support or help others.

Are you in need of mental health support to help in your recovery from an easting disorder? Our Peer Support teams have lived experience of their own mental issues and understand you. See Our Services here.

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