For those on here that don't know: I used to have an eating disorder. One that consumed me from the ages fourteen until eighteen. Anorexia Nervosa, to be specific. But I spent so long having to talk about it in the out-patient program, then to my friends and family afterwards, that I soon tired of mentioning it, and from there it didn’t take long until I tired of thinking about it as well.
But I saw a program on television a little while ago that brought it all to the forefront of my mind again. The program was like all others, trying to decipher exactly why people stop eating. The media is almost always blamed. The size of models, the obsession with looks, and the unhealthy eating habits that is often encouraged with articles like ‘I lost 6 kilos in 3 days!’ And I agree that this sort of attitude that is currently pervasive in society is detrimental. And I believe that it can contribute to people abusing food and their bodies.
But it is not the cause of eating disorders. I certainly never wanted to be a model; I found the whole idea shallow and quite frankly, boring. And I knew that I looked worse the more weight I lost, when looks from boys turned from interested to scared or amused at the sight of my now emancipated frame. The other girls in my out-patient program felt the same way. For us, it was never about looks, it was never about trying to be beautiful. It was so much deeper than that.
I went into the program in 2005, when the buzz surrounding the media hadn’t quite picked up yet. At that time the theory was that girls (the focus was mainly on girls; the theories surrounding boys were completely different) stopped eating because they were scared of growing up and developing woman’s bodies. But the thing is, yes we were scared of growing up, but we were scared of everything. We had looked ourselves in this tiny safe bubble, become more and more segregated from the outside world, until soon anything outside our bubble terrified us.
The theory that we were scared only of our changing bodies did not last very long, thank goodness.
And just like that theory is now null and void, the theory that the media causes eating disorders will soon pass too, and another one will take its place; one formed through studies and interviews conducted by professionals. But they will always be wrong.Because when it comes down to it, the answer as to why eating disorders occur is so much simpler than anyone would dare to believe.
Happy people don’t stop eating.
Happy people don’t starve themselves to the point of hospitalisation.
I was sad, and the other girls in the group were sad. This unhappiness could have been manifested in a variety of ways, such as drug or alcohol abuse, self-harm etc. But this was the path that we just happened to go down. Telling people with eating disorders to learn to feel beautiful, doing a lot of ‘love your body’ work, is simply fixing a problem on the surface. The reasons behind it all are much further down; outside appearance is just another issue amid a myriad of issues that these girls are facing.
Because of this, we need to realise that we can’t put all people with eating disorders into one box, with one idea for treatment. People are sad for a multitude of reasons, and we need to recognise this. Those with eating disorders are so completely different from one another, in a way that current theories do not recognise, and as such, need completely different approaches when beginning recovery.
But the first step will always be the same: Ask them why. Ask them why they stopped eating; ask them why they are sad. Instead of pulling out a textbook and making assumption.
If we recognise that each person is different, and adjust treatment to suit the individual, then the road to recovery may become a whole lot shorter, and we may be a whole lot closer to really understanding than we are at the moment. Jumping from scapegoat to scapegoat is not helping anybody, particularly those who need our help the most.