Grossly misunderstood: I spoke to Annie Freeman, who suffers with an eating disorder, about the myths associated with them.
Annie Freeman, 18, is a student and currently studying for her A-levels in Psychology, English, Philosophy & Ethics and Citizenship. Annie also has an eating disorder; she was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, specifically the binge/purge subtype, in Autumn 2011.
Annie has agreed to discuss some anorexia myths with me today, to discover whether there is any truth to these stereotypes.
Myth #1: ‘People with anorexia do not binge eat’
Annie says: ‘The binge/purge tendencies of an eating disorder vary from person to person. They can eat lots in one go and self-induce vomiting, or eat very little and still self-induce vomiting.
‘The frequency and amount of food consumed constitute towards the differentiation between anorexia nervosa b/p subtype, anorexia nervosa restrictive subtype with bulimic tendencies and bulimia.
‘Forced vomiting is what is mostly meant by the term “purging”, although it can relate to other obsessive behaviours, such as excessive exercise and abuse of laxatives. In my case I ate very little and still purged it, which warranted a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa b/p subtype, as opposed to bulimia’.
‘I also exercised to the point of physical exhaustion despite the weather, despite my state of mind, despite the complete lack of energy I had; my mind forced me to do so, until I could do nothing but collapse in bed.
‘Occasionally I would run or sprint, but I mostly fast walked over 5 miles a day, cycled over 10 miles at a 20 mph pace, ran up and down the stairs as many times as I could and did 700-1000 sit ups in a day.
‘Some days I would only do one of these things, others I’d do them all and more. It varied a lot depending on what I ate and what my mindset was like.’
Myth #2: ‘Anorexics see a fat person in the mirror’
A: ‘There is actually truth in this. I fit best in children’s clothes and yet I still see myself as almost 3 times the weight and size that I am.
‘That is possibly the most frustrating part; the remnants of your logic telling you all of the facts and all of the evidence, which proves that you cannot possibly be fat, and yet you see the complete opposite.’
Myth #3: ‘A person cannot have anorexia if they eat three meals a day’
A: ‘I have never really faced it myself, but I think the whole stereotype of “you have to be emaciated to have an eating disorder” is a hugely disturbing one.
‘I dread to think how many people this stereotype has stopped from getting the help they need. Eating disorders are a mental illness, fluctuations in weight are a symptom.’
Myth #4: ‘Anorexia is a rich, young, white girls’ problem’
A: ‘I do not believe that is true at all. Anorexia effects people of all ethnicities.
‘While statistics show that most anorexia sufferers come from households at middle-class income or above, it’s important to remember that these are only the statistics for people that seek help and are formally diagnosed.
‘In places where healthcare is not free, people of lower incomes may not be able to seek the help they need due to financial problems,
‘There are children as young as eight suffering with anorexia and adults in their late fifties, people on low incomes and people with 6 digit salaries, white people, black people and every culture and race in between.
‘Stereotypes like this are wrong and damaging to sufferers. I know people who suffer with eating disorders with no money, of different ethnicities, genders and sufferers that are twice my age.
‘Just like any other mental illness, it can affect absolutely anyone.’
Myth #5: ‘Anorexia is primarily about food and weight’
A: ‘Anorexia is not a diet choice, it is a mental illness. I developed anorexia at age 11 and I had few insecurities about my weight and appearance around that time.
‘Although I recognise that the media has a giant impact on ideals of what is the “perfect body” and what we as women should aspire to look like, I certainly do not think it is the cause of a high percentage of eating disorders – they tend to be much deeper-rooted than just that.
‘Anorexia crept it’s way into my life. For me, it was a coping mechanism for other problems going on in my life. It was never about food or dieting or being “skinny” – whatever that means.
‘It was about coping and it was about dying; it was about killing myself in the most painful, drawn-out way as possible, because that was what I believed I deserved. It was not about food.
‘Anyone that says they “admire” sufferers of eating disorders is blissfully ignorant and consumed by the stereotypes they believe to be true.
‘I do not believe that anyone who has been exposed to the reality of eating disorders would ever think it was admirable.’
Myth #6: ‘It is just a phase’
A: ‘Phases do not steal your whole childhood, your innocence and everything that you were supposed to enjoy away from you. It is sickening that a persons’ suffering is trivialised in such a way.
‘There are no words to describe the sadness I feel when I think of all the amazing birthday cakes, beautiful Christmas dinners and wonderful meals I should have enjoyed but didn’t, that I can never get back.
‘Instead I was wishing I was dead when I blew out the candles on my birthday cake and felt sick and infuriated at myself whilst watching everybody else eating the cake I should be enjoying.
‘Having panic attacks over a bowl of vegetables at Christmas and being told that “It’s okay to eat, it’s a special occasion” or “just let it go or one day”; if only it were that easy.
‘I have yet to overcome anorexia and there are some people that never do. I have received a variety of support, from inpatient treatment to fortnightly therapy, as well as medication, meal plans, group therapy and so much more.
‘I have attempted recovery quite a few times, but am yet to succeed without falling victim to relapse. The support has been endless, but my disorder is persistent.
‘I’m hoping to really try again in the new year and I am looking at inpatient treatment again; although it is incredibly frightening and I really don’t want my disorder to affect my studies any more than it already has, as it would involve me staying in hospital, missing school for several months.’
Annie hopes to go on to study Psychology at university and believes that it is important to address and dispel these anorexia myths, Annie says: ‘I think honesty about this is really important, considering the social stigma and stereotypes surrounding eating disorders.
‘Anyone displaying symptoms of an eating disorder should not be ignored, or left to potentially worsen.
‘Whatever they are going through may pass in due time, but it is important that they get the support they require in the meantime and are not made to feel as if their suffering is any less important.
‘Without truth, the stigma cannot possibly be broken down. These negative stereotypes and anorexia myths ultimately have the power to prevent sufferers from getting the help they need.’
NOTE:If you would like more information about eating disorders or you would like some help please do check out the BEAT website.