Anorexia is a hard illness to get your head around. It’s all about food but it’s about so much more than food. It’s centred around weight but it’s about so much more than body image. It’s difficult to understand, and for that reason, it’s also incredibly difficult to prescribe a set list of symptoms that every Anorexia sufferer will present with. The truth is that there is no set list. What one person struggles with, another person might not. How do I know this? When I was admitted to Riverdale (a specialist eating disorders inpatient hospital),I met so many lovely girls who will remain lifelong friends. What I noticed, and what surprised me, was how different our eating disorders presented themselves. Personally, my Anorexia was less about body image, and more about wanting to feel ‘in control’, however I met so many girls who were undergoing extensive body image therpay to help ease their struggles around their weight and body. It just goes to show that we cannot just assume that someone is okay because they don’t act, or look, like a ‘typical Anorexic’, because there is no ‘typical.’ The perception of an Anorexia sufferer being incredibly emaciated and white/middle-class is a load of bull s**t.
It was stereotypes like this that made it so hard for me to accept my diagnosis of Anorexia. I was in denial for years that I had an eating disorder, because everything I had seen in the media suggested that people with Anorexia ‘don’t eat.’ It was until I was sectioned and forced into treatment that I realised; of course people with Anorexia eat. If they didn’t eat, they’d be dead. I honestly think that if there was more out there to combat these sort of myths, I wouldn’t have ever been sectioned.
I hope this post helps people to understand that Anorexia can present itself in so many different ways, and hopefully if you, or someone you know, is struggling, it helps you to see that you do not have to meet stereotypes to seek help.
Symptoms of an eating disorder:
- Preoccupation with food (always talking about food, thinking about food, reading recipes etc) (The opposite can also be true. An ED sufferer might loose any interest in food.)
- Excessive exercise/ pacing
- Going to the toilet after meals
- Constantly saying ‘I’m not hungry’ before meal times
- Wanting to be in control of anything relating to food (ie. food shop, cooking)
- More anxious
- Mood swings
- Stalling at meal times/prolonging the eating experience by eating very slow/over-chewing (the opposite can also be true. People with ED’s sometimes eat excessively fast.)
- Obsessively reading the back of food packets/reading calorie content and macros
- Weighing oneself a lot (or not wanting to ever get weighed)
- Feeling anxious when clothes shopping
- Weight loss (or in the case of some eating disorders, weight gain)
- Wearing baggy clothes all the time to hide away
- Constantly looking in the mirror/ body checking
- Lack of enthusiasm for hobbies that were previously enjoyed
- Lack of energy/fainting
- Hair thinning/falling out
- If a girl, periods may stop
- Becoming very sneaky and obviously trying to hide something/lie about something
- Push friends and family away/ become isolated and unwilling to socialise
Although I hope this list has been helpful for you to better understand the symptoms of Anorexia, I want to emphasise the previous point that I made; THERE IS NO SET LIST OF SYMPTOMS. So, if you are struggling but your symptoms are not included on the list, it doesn’t make you any less worthy of help. You don’t need to wait until your periods stop to feel valid, nor do you need to be fainting. If you know that your relationship with food/your body has changed, then there is probably something wrong. Don’t let it spiral out of control, get help today. And if your symptoms are on the list, then the same principle goes. Don’t let your eating disorder have an opportunity to get even more engrained in your head, get help TODAY.