In the spirit of Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2019, from the 25th of February to the 3rd of March, Seed patron Gemma Oaten has written an a piece about her experiences with eating disorders. Seed are supporting a change.org petition which aims to get the government to review the eating disorder guidance delivered by clinicians.
Find out more by clicking here.
Tell me about your experience of living with an eating disorder. Causes? What stopped you getting help?
Gosh, where to start? I think I would need 5000 pages...a page for every day of the 13 and a half years of hell my family and I went through. Ultimately, my anorexia started at 10 years old. There was no warning, it wasn't a choice, just one day my mind started thinking differently. I had always been so care free and happy but it felt like over night everything changed. Looking back, the eating disorder began to attack when I was going through puberty along with being a high achiever. I used to be such a tom boy, playing out with the lads, always the scraggy one in shorts and t-shirt rather than the gingham school dress, and bowler hat haircut rather than pig tails. I remember getting my hair cut into a more girly style and my body starting to change shape, I remember when I started to turn into a young women feeling like everything changed. I was seen all of a sudden as a threat to the girls. I remember excelling in sport, academically, being the lead in all the school plays...and that being met with jealousy and unkindness. The bullying started. I couldn't control what people said or did to me but I could control what went inside me. The less of me there was, the less of me they could hurt...or so I thought.
My Parents noted very early on that things were different and picked up very quickly on my relationship with food changing, my self esteem falling and my happiness fading. Nothing stopped me getting help, I was stopped getting help, my parents took me to the Doctors...I was turned away after being weighed and told I wasn't low enough in weight to have a problem. My parents were distraught, they knew I was fading fast but had no support. Thus began the 13 year rollercoaster and my parents fighting for my life.
The stigma around image for people with eating disorders is still very high - what do you think is fuelling this further?
The fact that there is still a misconception that images cause an eating disorder boils my blood. I think what is fueling it is lack of understanding and ignorance. Lack in the system too to really have an understanding as to the causes and how to treat and help someone recover. So let me educate as I see it! An Eating Disorder is a mental health illness. Not something that stems from an image they see. That totally undermines and demeans any person going through an eating disorder. Truly it does. An eating disorder isn't a choice, it happens because of an individuals need for control in their own unhappiness or external treatment. Is depression fueled by image? Is drug abuse? Is Alcoholism? Is anxiety? No. Why? Because it's a MENTAL HEALTH ILLNESS. I am showing my age now, but I am pretty sure I didn't read a Dandy magazine back in 1994 at 10 years old and want to look like Desperate Dan and grow a beard?! Just like I didn't read Mizz girls magazine at 13 years old and want a perm! Food isn't the cause, it's the consequence. To say that image is a major factor in developing an eating disorder sets us right back to the days when anorexia was called 'the slimmers disease'. Which totally belittles the hell and torment a sufferer is going through.
How much is social media to blame for the rise in eating disorders?
I don't think it is to blame at all. The rise in Eating disorders isn't a rise...it's always been there, just more people are speaking out, and thank goodness they are! Again, it is lazy and uneducated to just blame social media. If that's the case we should all be walking around with Kardashian bums! Honestly, it's just too easy to say social media is causing a rise in eating disorders. People need to be more aware and understand the depths this devastating illness runs. Eating Disorders has the highest mortality rate in any mental health illness and yet we are still so far away from having the right treatment in place that is accessible to all. Also the rise is being caused because people aren't getting the help they need SOON ENOUGH. Early intervention is key. Sadly CAHMS are not supported by the government enough, in my opinion, to have the funding and resources they need to help people...that is where the rise is coming from, not an Instagram account.
Why should others get behind the campaign to #Dumpthescales?
The government MUST review the clinical guidelines to help those with eating disorders. Its vital. An eating disorder doesn't always have to be a person with low weight. There are so many kinds of eating disorders, with their own health risks. Bulimia, anorexia binge eating type, binge eating...the list goes on. Bulimia alone can cause heart attacks and often you wouldn't know someone is suffering by the way they look. An eating disorder isn't about weight, it's about thoughts and feelings. It's a mental health illness. More and more people are being turned away from their GP because they aren't low enough in weight to have a problem..this is terrifying! Early intervention is absolute key when it comes to treating an eating disorder...someone gets turned away and the illness only develops more and more, it doesn't just magically stop. That person turned away may be dead in 6 months time. THAT IS THE REALITY.
Do you know anyone who has been refused help because of their BMI.
ME!!! Age 10 years old. My parents petrified as to what was happening to their once happy and healthy daughter, so they took me to the Doctors. I remember that day like it was yesterday and it was 24 years ago. I got on the scales, my weight was taken. And my parents were told there was nothing they could to to help and not to worry as my BMI wasn't low enough to cause real concern. 1 year later I was admitted to a children's psychiatric unit and told if I didn't drink water, let alone eat, I would be dead in 24 hours. THIRTEEN YEARS OF MY LIFE LOST BECAUSE I WASN'T LOW ENOUGH IN WEIGHT. Think on that? I nearly died FOUR times and also contemplated suicide. My family went to hell and back because we didn't get the help we needed when we asked for it. I write this and my eyes fill with tears. The guilt I feel for putting my family through that, the grief I feel for the years I lost, but ultimately, the anger I feel that this happened and STILL DOES. It's time to change. NOW.