*This blog talks about eating disorders, please be aware of potential triggers.
Three weeks ago I was in the “best shape” I have ever been in…
But in reality I was losing control of my life and everything in it. My grasp on what were healthy habits and what were dangerous habits was slowly slipping away from me and that was quite scary. To feel my body deteriorating but hearing people around me commending me for being healthy when actually I was being restrictive. When pictures of me made it look like I was just going to the gym more than usual but that came with only eating one meal a day and feeling awful when I ate more. I want us to be able to look out for our friends and loved ones and be able to pick up on when these things just aren’t right, when the habits aren’t healthy and the mentality behind it is impacting their mental health. I am so guilty of encouraging bad habits in other people by going along with jokes but the amount of people that are suffering without knowing it is very discouraging to see.
My disordered habits come along with other mental health problems and thankfully I have people to encourage me to seek the help I need, so this blog isn’t about me. This blog is about the thousands of people out there who hide their eating disorders and restrictive habits behind “diet culture” and “cleansing their bodies” when in fact we should be encouraging them to open up about what is really going on. These problems might seem small now but they can spiral which I hope can be prevented.
Here are a few tips that could be helpful when spotting signs in your friends:
Do all their jokes come along with a comment about hating their body? I would just talk to them about this, and if it really is just a joke then this conversation will assure you of that but if there is something more concerning going on then this gives them a time to talk about it.
Is exercise something they do because they want to or because they think they need to lose weight? If their opinion about their body is making them overwork themselves then it could be helpful for you to try to make them realise this. Alternatively if you feel that is not your place then you could try to make sure your friend is nourishing themselves enough to cope with that amount of exercise.
Is your friend lying about skipping meals and how much they are eating? Don’t get upset about it or talk to them in an accusatory way because that will make them defensive and you have to remember, this is hurting them and it isn’t a thing that they can just choose to do or not to do. You may want to lead them to some help that they can get or discuss their options with them but if they are very opposed to facing the idea of needing help, you could talk to someone in school (if you go to school or college) who will be able to intervene.
Someone’s weight or appearance does not judge whether they are suffering with an eating disorder or not. In no way can you tell that someone does not have an eating disorder because of the way they look and you should not brush aside the worrying habits or comments from friends that you do not deem the “right body shape to have an eating disorder”.
Some people are really good at hiding it and are really great (a bit of an ironic word in this context) at hiding their insecurities. Just because someone seems very confident to you and doesn’t fit the stereotype of a person with a mental health problem or even a person struggling, doesn’t mean they are not. In some ways these people need you to reach out the most when it seems like no one else is noticing them.
Also, just because you know people who are struggling more than you doesn’t mean you don’t deserve help too. It doesn’t mean that your problem is invalid and (this may sound weird so bare with me) it is never too early to get help. I say this because I found myself several times saying that “it wasn’t bad enough yet” or “I’m not light enough to get help” or even more concerningly “I’m not actually underweight yet so no one will give me help”. These all came from a place of feeling like my problems were worth less than everyone else’s. But as one of my friends said, these are the thoughts that get you to a place that could have been prevented if you had gotten help earlier. In no way am I saying getting help is easy because it is one of the hardest things I have ever done to have to go back again and again trying to find a way to make me better, but it is so worth it. By building a support network around you and trying to rid yourself of the toxic culture that perpetuates these habits and makes them seem ok, you can help yourself so much more than you think.