N.B. This post is in no way belittling, dismissing, or ignoring eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. Please do not think I do not have love and sympathy for anybody suffering with these destructive diseases and know that I am very aware there is a severe lack of psychological support for them. This is merely a post discussing food issues of another kind, food issues of which I am familiar with and have never spoken publicly about before.
This week is eating disorders awareness week, whilst I have never been diagnosed with an eating disorder food has always played an integral part of my mental health and phrases related to it are littered through my mental health notes going back to childhood when I would trade my mums healthy packed lunch for chocolates and crisps while at school and needing to comfort myself.
Until recently I didn’t have a healthy relationship with food. I used food as a crutch, an emotional support. I sometimes wonder; if developing a wheat allergy and severe intolerances of various other food items such as lactose and fructose; which had a hospital dietician put me on a LowFODMAP diet a few years ago; was some kind of intervention by my body to control my eating habits.
This diet is the first and only diet I’ve stuck to. Probably because it isn’t a weight loss diet, but to avoid me becoming unwell and ending up in hospital. I don’t have to calorie count it’s purely about what foods make me sick and what foods don’t.
A few years ago my comfort eating would consist of several large bars of dairy milk every day, sweets, crisps and on and on. A stressful day at work would see me getting through a foot long sub, a packet of doughnuts and on and on. I had a drawer in my desk which had nothing but food in and every day on my way to work I would stop at the supermarket to restock.
Some days would be so stressful and upsetting I would empty that drawer.
These days my comfort eating is a little more healthy. I can’t eat chocolate, or cakes. So when I comfort eat I lean to nuts, health bars, yogurts…but I do still comfort eat although not as much and I am learning to control it.
Various psychologists have told me I’m a “comfort eater”, “emotional eater”, “binge eater”, “compulsive eater”. An eating disorder diagnosis for people like me is rare and I am not an extreme case. But, this is an issue, my weight is an issue, and maybe if someone had stepped in ten years ago when I first owned up to it to a psych professional I wouldn’t have put on so much weight and I wouldn’t have spent years consuming copious amounts of sugar and fat!
In recent years we have heard more and more about overeating psychological disorders in the media. Compulsive Eating Disorder and Binge Eating Disorder are now recognised psychological disorders. But despite this people still publicly condemn those who are overweight calling them a barrage of names and insisting they just “get to the gym” and “get on a diet”.
One of the first people we heard talking about it publically was former Big Brother winner (and fellow BrizzleLass) Josie Gibson who was suffering with Binge Eating Disorder. She has now lost her weight and has written a book, has a DVD and tries to raise awareness and help others in similar situations lose weight healthily. It was seeing her speak openly about it on a TV show that made me realise that there was more to my “comfort eating” than I thought.
But there is more to these disorders than losing the weight, people need psychological help and this is where things fall down. I have received a lot of psychological help over the years because of having Bipolar, but not once, not one time, even though they have mentioned my issues with food has anybody discussed it in any detail or offered me any help around managing how I see food as a crutch.
I have had to face these issues on my own, to apply skills I’ve learned for other issues to my food issues and try to tackle it alone. I guess I’ve been lucky to have Bipolar in that sense because I have had some tools available, but what about people who don’t have a larger mental health issue and aren’t getting any psychological support? Why are these people not getting more help to confront why they turn to food when they can’t handle their emotions?
Telling them to go on a diet isn’t going to help, it won’t stop their urges or actions and will probably make things worse. They need help and support, any diet to deal with the physical has to come after the mental side has been understood and can be more easily controlled.
These people need access to the Eating Disorders teams within mental health services, I understand these teams are stretched and already people who should be qualifying for their help aren’t. But it is just another case of where more money is needed within mental health services so that people who desperately need support can get it.
I hope as awareness for these eating disorders grows that more psychological help becomes available, that the public become far more understanding, and that people feel more able to ask for help.
Earlier this week there was a very good post by Natasha Hinde on Huffington Post talking about what Binge Eating Disorder is and the sort of symptoms to look for.
The charity beat supports people facing life with eating disorders and their website has lots of information about all eating disorders.