Food. Opinion on it is everywhere. Read our article for Eating Awareness Week
Fri 05 Mar 2021
Opinion on it is everywhere. Good food. Bad food. Eat meat. Go vegan. Fast. Too much. Too little. Diets. Obesity. March 1st to 7th 2021 is Eating Disorders Awareness week. Unfortunately, the global pandemic has made this group of illnesses become more prevalent. Statistics on websites are woefully out of date, as referral rates to eating disorder units have soared over the last 6 months. Binge eating disorder has been flagged up as being the commonest disorder within this group, worth knowing as we often think of Eating Disorders as meaning Anorexia or Bulimia and miss that there are others which can be just as disabling.
The question is can I write a blog post that is sensitive enough because the issues here are complex?
We are created with personalities and genetics which interact with our nurturing and land us here. Here today. Never mind that here today, we are in a pandemic. Forbidden to do things, that for many of us, are our coping strategies for stress. We are at home mostly. On our own or with our family. We have to eat. We have to have food. Stress and food do not mix. For some of us that means we eat more than we want. Others eat less than we know we need. Others eat things we don’t want to eat. Whatever we do we feel negative about it. How we deal with feeling negative becomes another set of layers that makes our own personal relationship with food and eating completely individual to us.
There are common themes. Guilt and shame. Perfectionism and control. There can be addiction, compulsion, and self harm. But when we take each layer of our life, from genetics through our life experiences, through to here and now, we are wonderfully unique. One size does not fit all. For many of us the effect food and eating has on our lives is so disabling. It stops us living.
So, is there a message that I can write that is for all of us on our relationship with food? Something that feels supportive because that is what this space should feel. I think the message has to be, to be kind to yourself. To realise that life is stressful. That sometimes our coping mechanisms are tested. They can crack and give way. That we can’t change what is behind us only what is ahead. Every day is a new and fresh start.
Things that I know to be true. Focusing on our weight is not healthy. Focusing on how you feel physically and mentally in the moment is a better target. Being skinny does not mean being healthy. Being overweight does not mean being unhealthy. Being fit and healthy is not a number, its about being able to do the things you want to do with your body. The way we look is completely subjective. There is no perfect. We strive for something but when we get there it isn’t enough. We are bombarded by images of beautiful people living perfect lives, but these images don’t have any bearing on how a person is feeling inside.
Creating a healthy relationship with food never starts with food. It starts with building our mental strength. Building up our internal support system. When we feel mentally strong then it is easier to take control of the parts of us that lead us towards unhealthy behaviours around food. When we feel mentally strong we can fight off the negative voices more easily. It can still be a fight. It is not easy. But it is easier.
The thing that hits me every time there is an awareness week for a mental health disorder, is the need for awareness. Mental health disorders are still hidden. They are something we feel we have to manage ourselves in secret. We view them as weaknesses. Secrets can feel much more powerful than they actually are. They feel shameful. They make us feel guilty. But if an awareness week does what it should, it should help take away that need to be secret. Because for all of them, ALL OF THEM, the more we talk about it, the more we feel able to reach out for help without feeling embarrassed or ashamed, the more we can start to get the help we need. The more we can reach into others and give help, the more these disorders can be treated earlier. Often one of the features of an eating disorder is denial. It can creep up on us gradually and it can be easier to blank out and push away rather than face head on. It is a symptom of the illness in itself. What we now know though, is that the earlier we recognise the symptoms the easier it is to treat. The other thing we know now is that this can effect men and women and is no longer a female illness.
There are many screening tools out there specifically for anorexia and bulimia but they miss a lot of the other disorders around eating. The one thing I would say is that if you find that food dominates your life and that you feel you have lost control over how much you eat then it is worth seeking some professional help. You are not alone. Moving these disorders away from being in secret is key to them having less of an impact. Please feel free to contact us at CST if you need help with any of the issues raised here.
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