We need to stop tip-toeing around eating disorders

I was falling deeper into my orthorexia nightmare. I lost an extremely unhealthy amount of weight, I lost my period and worst of all, I lost myself.

We all know what eating disorders are. But do we really? Ask yourself, what do YOU actually know about eating disorders? That people get really thin? Do runway models munting between shows spring to mind? Celebrities on the covers of tabloids who are deemed to be looking dangerously thin? We live in a society that positions eating disorders as fads. A phase that people enter into for attention. For these reasons and a lot of others, eating disorders are packed away into a box and left neglected in a corner. Why? Because they’re a problem that’s not our own.

Then one day. The box arrives at your door. You open it to find a horrific piece of information. That your friend has anorexia. You run away from the box in a state of shock. It’s no longer a bold headline on the cover of a glossy mag. It’s your problem and it’s real. All of a sudden you’re panicking. The seemingly endless and extremely complex implications of an eating disorder have never occurred to you, because why would they?

I myself have had an eating disorder. I am consciously not using the term battled. Because although it was in a sense a battle, it’s so much more than that. It’s a journey. Since my orthorexia ordeal in 2014-2015, I have come to realise something. Not only is an eating disorder in itself almost impossible to deal with, people around you do not know how to deal with it either.

An eating disorder affects an individual on a physical and mental level. It alters their lives and consequently the lives of all others around them. Socially, spiritually and sexually, to put it in the most simple way possible. Not to mention, the long-term and even life-long, flow on effects.

My own best friend did not understand what I was going through and as a result had no idea if she could even talk to me about it. All she could do was speculate about what was possibly going on and if I really was okay. All the while, I was falling deeper into my orthorexia nightmare. I lost an extremely unhealthy amount of weight, I lost my period and worst of all, I lost myself.

And that’s the issue. Everyday, more and more individuals succumb to their inner demons and have to utter the devastating words, “I have an eating disorder.” And I can tell you now, it’s not easy to admit to yourself. Let alone to your friends and family.

It’s around you more than you think. Your friend who’s looking rather slender, who claims to be eating healthily and working out, is potentially not. Your friend who is supposedly saving money and ordering water at brunch, is maybe not eating at all.

Facades are easy to create. Especially thanks to social media. But, a smiling girl in a ‘hot’ bikini shot does not a healthy person make.

The scary thing is that when I look back, I have to admit, there was nothing and there was no one that could save me from myself. It’s a bleak and terrifying reality. But it’s real talk.

I’m not trying to create an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion. I sure as hell don’t want you to start interrogating every one of your friends when they claim to have already eaten. I’m also not trying to say that you shouldn’t try to help your friend or loved one because it’s a futile exercise.

What I really want to communicate is that you don’t, and no one on an eating disorder journey needs to go it alone. You won’t be able to stop it from running its course. What you can do is be their by their side, to support them and to make the journey a little bit more bearable.

The majority of the time, when suspicions are raised about a certain individual, your friendship group will grow weary and discuss it amongst themselves. No one ever actually speaks directly to you. This is quite frankly a horrendous waste of time and effort.

For me one of the biggest struggles was telling myself that having an eating disorder isn’t something to be ashamed of. Being vulnerable is not being weak, and you can find strength in admitting you have a problem that needs to be addressed.

Whatever stage of an eating disorder you or a friend may be at, make sure that you both know that it is not something to be ashamed of. I cannot stress that enough. If we can aim to live in a society with a solid foundation of compassion, love and support, maybe less of our friends and family will end up institutionalised. This starts within your own friendship group.

So the next time your friend is seeming out of character or looking far too thin to be healthy, check in on them. More often than not, people deal with more than they let on. Show them your deep, heartfelt kindness that we all have inside of us. Maybe they’ll share something with you and they won’t have to walk the path alone. Vice versa, if your friend is worried about you and truly wants to understand, consider opening up to them. I know I wish I did.

Words by Amber De Luca – Tao

IG – @fettywamber1738

Art by Kerrie O’James

IG – @kerrie.oj

The Butterfly Foundation support people with eating disorders and body image issues. If you are in need of assistance, you can contact the Butterfly Foundation National Helpline via phone call or email.

1800 33 4673, Monday – Friday 8:00am to 9:00pm AEST.

support@thebutterflyfoundation.org.au.

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