In the light of Eating Disorders Awareness Week in the UK, I was approached by 30ish me to write three articles about my own recovery and healing, as well as how to help those afflicted with eating disorders:
Eating disorders: Why admitting to ourselves and others we have a problem is the first step to recovery
Why Admitting to Ourselves and to Others We Have an Eating Disorder is the First Step to Healing and Recovery
According to the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence, 1.6 million people in the UK have an eating disorder .
And the number of hospital admissions continues to increase year on year in the UK: Statistics from the Health and Social Care Information Centre document 2,370 admissions during 2011-2012 (a 16% increase from the previous year), and 2,560 during 2012-2013 (representing an 8% increase). 
While these figures cause a great deal of concern, I believe that these, and any statistics that claim to put an actual or accurate figure upon the number of people suffering with eating disorders are gravely inaccurate, and pale in comparison to the reality and severity of this ever-growing phenomenon.
Why? Because they fail to take account of the hundreds if not thousands of people who do not come forward and seek out the help and support which they so desperately need. And the tragedy is that in doing so, they deny themselves the opportunity to heal, and can continue on a downward spiral which may have dangerous and potentially fatal consequences.
How do I know this? Because I was one of those people who suffered alone and in silence for 18 long and painful years with a whole host of eating disorders – bulimia, binge eating/compulsive eating disorder, anorexia, orthorexia, food addiction and emotional eating, as well as radically unhealthy preoccupations and obsessions with weight, body image and dieting.
Not only did this all take an enormous toll on me physically, mentally and emotionally, but it affected every single area of my life – my work, my relationships, my family life, my finances, my social life… nothing was left untouched/unaffected.
I had naively thought for years that this was simply an issue concerning weight… that “if I just lost the weight, everything would be perfect”… How wrong I was….
At the end of 2011 at the age of 32, I had hit “rock bottom” – I was completely consumed by fear, guilt, shame and self-loathing and had gotten to the point where this was either going to kill me or I was going to kill myself, but I simply could not go on this way any more… something had to change… and I was willing to do whatever it took to end this struggle, once and for all.
I made the decision to quit my job and embark on a journey of self-healing, which began with me being truly honest with myself for the first time – I was finally able to admit the truth that I had been denying for so long: that I did have an eating disorder, that it was ok to admit it, and that I could not handle this burden on my own any more – I had to muster up the courage to be open and honest with others about what I was going through.
And this is where everything began to change…
I have come to realise that only by admitting the truth and being honest with ourselves and others can we truly open the door to recovery – we cannot heal what we do not acknowledge, nor can we attract or seek out the help and support we need.
However I also appreciate why taking this first step may prove difficult:
There is a severe lack of education and a great stigma attached to eating disorders. This is why raising awareness is so critical. Not only to inform, but also to assure those afflicted that they are not alone, there is no shame in what they are going through, and they do not need to continue to suffer alone.
I do not believe it conducive in the slightest to label eating disorders as a “mental illness.” Not only could this prevent people from coming forward, but to give into this false belief that there is ‘something fundamentally wrong with them’ is extremely disheartening and does little to raise the self-esteem of those who suffer.
In addition, to the first step, we must be willing to change, and most importantly, we must believe that we can heal.
The medical establishment would have us believe that eating disorders are an incurable and life-long sentence. If we allow ourselves to entertain this false belief in the slightest, we may deem it hopeless to even try. And even if we do try, this belief may become a dangerously self-fulfilling prophecy that threatens our continued efforts on the road to recovery.
Full recovery thus hinges upon our belief to the contrary – that healing is possible – that we can and we will do it. When it feels like we have taken steps back or as though we cannot go on any more, it is this belief, this inner knowing and certainty that we will triumph, which will keep us going and will ultimately lead to our freedom.
How do I know? Because I am living proof of this.
With the right support and our own inner strength we can all heal. Allow yourself this gift and do not deny yourself any longer. You do not need to continue to suffer needlessly anymore.
Recovery from eating disorders: an important commitment to make to yourself
In the last post (link), I talked about the very first steps we can take in embarking on the road to recovery and freedom from eating disorders:
• Having the courage to admit the truth to ourselves and others, • Having the willingness to change, and most critically of all: • Believing we can heal.
This journey is very much an individual and multifaceted one… and to attempt to cover every aspect of it in the confines of this article would be unrealistic, and really not do justice to this complex and deeply emotional topic.
However in this post, my intention is to share some further steps and practical advice that proved immeasurably helpful in my own recovery, in the hopes that they may offer some guidance and help you in some way too.
While I believe there are few Universal truths, there is a principle that I feel is absolutely vital, and fundamentally non-negotiable for recovery:
The Commitment to be Kind to Oneself
This is such a foreign concept to so many of us, but I cannot begin to stress how incredibly important this is and what an immense difference it will make.
Those suffering with eating disorders know all too well the extreme cruelty we are capable of subjecting ourselves to in so many ways – physically, verbally, mentally, emotionally… A cruelty which we would never even dream of putting another person through, yet for some reason, we feel it perfectly permissible to do to ourselves.
Our self-talk can be the cruelest and most damaging of them all; we criticize ourselves, we doubt ourselves, we judge ourselves so harshly, we reprimand ourselves… But let us ask ourselves: Does this behaviour actually benefit us? Does it serve to motivate or inspire us in any way, shape or form? I think I can safely say a resounding and unequivocal “no.”
Yet the sad thing is, is that we become so accustomed to these behaviours that they actually become habitual to us, often without us even being consciously aware of it.
We can be our own best friend or our worst enemy. And by continuing to be cruel to ourselves, we only exacerbate the issue further, thwart our efforts at recovery and could even destroy them completely. In addition, it has a hugely detrimental impact on our self-esteem, health and wellbeing on all levels.
So how do we begin to change this?
According to Socrates: “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
It is time to consciously choose a new way to relate to and treat ourselves: to choose to become our own best friend. In doing so, we can truly champion our own recovery, and transform our whole lives.
And this starts with a simple promise: a promise to yourself now to refrain from criticizing yourself and to be kind and speak kindly to yourself instead… no matter what.
As we begin to heal and throughout the process, we may have times when we “relapse.” It is all too easy and common to berate ourselves, to feel like a failure, and to potentially give up, feeling as though “it’s not working”… “what’s the point?”
I would like to assure everyone out there that these “detours into darkness” are a perfectly normal and natural occurrence on the road to recovery, so please do not despair or give up hope. In committing to your own recovery, issues that have been buried so deep within for so long are finally rising to the surface so that they can be healed.
And it is during and after a relapse when it becomes the most important time to be kind, loving and gentle with yourself. Forgive yourself, breathe, let it go, and understand that every moment is a chance to begin again. These episodes will gradually lessen over time, until they eventually become a distant memory. Trust me… I know.
The healing journey, as with the journey of life itself, will inevitably have its “ups” and “downs”… but know and trust that the direction you are moving in is indeed a positive one. Just keep going, and take things one day at a time.
The aim here is progress, not perfection. Acknowledge and congratulate yourself for how far you’ve come. Focus on the positive. Have unwavering faith and believe with every part of your being that you will succeed… and you will.
“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.” ~ Buddha