Across the UK there are more than 725,000 people with eating disorders. I was one of the numbers that made up this stat, living with anorexia in a mental health hospital. It frustrated me then and it still frustrates me now when people don’t fully understand, or even try to understand, how deeply rooted eating disorders are. I used to sit for hours in hospital and with my family and friends telling them they didn’t understand it. They didn’t understand that I wasn’t being selfish but that I had lost all control. That I had been well and truly sucked in to my anorexia.
So here are 10 things I want you to know:
Eating disorders aren’t just about weight
When I was 13 I first started skipping meals. Yes, I had body image issues but my main reason for doing this was so that I stopped feeling things. I was fed up of family arguments and fed up of not being completely happy with life and skipping meals gave me reassurance and made me feel good again. These feelings were short lived and looking back they didn’t complete me at all but at the time I certainly put all my time and effort in to them.
Just because you can’t see someone is struggling with food doesn’t mean they're not
I sit down at meals every day and I get on with it and the majority of the time I feel fine. However, there are still some days when I struggle. Depending on where people are at in their recovery, these days will happen. I used to sit down to a meal, frantically add up the calories on the plate, the fear flooding through me. I felt lost and alone and the guilt that swallowed me after was intense. But you get through it and you keep going. You just have to talk about how the meals and general food make you feel.
Eating disorders are not a phase
Whatever anyone says, eating disorders and not just a phase people go through. They are a serious mental health problem and can end of killing people.
Eating disorders can affect everyone
The perception of eating disorders is that they only affect teenage girls. But this is not true! Eating disorders can affect anyone of any age, any gender and any background.
You can’t see yourself the way others do
I get up each day and look in the mirror. Some days I see a normal sized, athletic shaped girl. Other times I see a huge person staring back at me. Before I got admitted to hospital I didn’t think I was that thin. I didn’t believe it when the outpatient teams told me I was going to die if I didn’t start eating and when everyone said I looked so unwell with my size I thought they were trying to make me fat. But on the first Friday in hospital, after a long three days of trying to eat, tears and feeling completely alone my key worker came in to see me. She got me to draw myself on huge paper how I saw myself and then she drew round me. The images were amazing how they didn’t match up. After initially thinking she had somehow lied to me, I realised she might be right and it was that point that I realised that maybe my perception of myself was all wrong.
Eating disorders dominate your entire life
It is not simply about food, but about so much more. It is important that the problem is tackled head-on and that people are given time to recover.
Developing an eating disorder is not a choice
I didn’t choose to have anorexia. Anyone who says that about anyone else is wrong!
Sharing is hard but life is so much better when you do
I find it so hard sharing with others, especially around food, weight and exercise. Having an eating disorder is really secretive and sometimes it seems hard to share with others. But find those people around you that you trust and then share with them. Bring them onside, let them in and let them hold your hand when you feel like giving up. I was terrified of writing a book about my anorexia, scared what people would think and scared people might interfere in my life a bit more but now I have done it, it feels good.
There is so much more to recovery than just weight gain
The mental vs. the physical side of eating disorders is hard work.
Recovery is possible
When I was in hospital I never thought I would get out, I never thought I would have a day when I didn’t feel fat or when I didn't let calorie counting dictate my entire life. But I have done it! Yes, I still have bad days and I have to manage my eating but it has been worth it.
So wherever you are with your recovery or whether you are supporting someone with an eating disorder, be patient, give them space to talk to you and give them time to recover as the mental impact always takes longer to catch up on than the physical weight gain.
Hope Virgo lives in London, where she works for the Alzheimer's Society. She also volunteers for charities supporting refugees, and young and abandoned children. She is a dedicated runner, competing in marathons, with a keen interest in maintaining good mental health through healthy eating and exercise. She campaigns for mental health awareness, and hopes that, by sharing her experience battling anorexia, she will help others.
Stand Tall Little Girl by Hope Virgo, (Trigger Press, 6th March 2017, £11.99)
Stand Tall Little Girl is the first book in Theinspirationalseries™, partner to Trigger Press' innovative Pullingthetrigger® range. Theinspirationalseries™ promotes talking freely and without fear about mental Illness.
All proceeds from sales of Trigger Press books support mental health charity The Shaw Mind Foundation: www.shawmindfoundation.org