‘She’s so fat! What’s wrong with her thighs? They jiggle like jelly! What’s wrong with her stomach? It’s bigger than her head! What’s wrong with her body? What did she do to get that big!’ she cried as she looked back at the girl staring at her in the mirror.
‘How did I get so big?’
But she wasn’t. She was completely fine. She was a healthy weight. I just wish she could see that. That was the state I was in during year 9. ‘Skinny’ was the only word I wanted to embody and thus began the journey of skipping meals, compulsive exercise and horribly low self-esteem: the journey of anorexia.
Of course, I’m okay now, I’m (definitely) no longer underweight nor skipping meals and have regular amounts of exercise! However, looking back and remembering the thoughts that played in my head and how the journey finally came to a halt, I know there’s a lot of things about anorexia people don’t understand, especially about how to help someone who is affected by it…
What is Anorexia?
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder. One who has it strives for the lowest possible weight and has body dysmorphia (they look at themselves in the mirror and see something that they’re not). In order to achieve their goal, the victim will miss meals, eat very little or nothing at all; take medications to reduce their appetite, or even weight loss pills; as well as this they may fall into purging (compulsive exercise, vomiting, fasting). Even once they reach their original goal, it will never be enough. Anorexia is often confused with a similar eating disorder: bulimia – this is an eating disorder in which, rather than limiting calorie intake, the affected will binge eat and then immediately purge in a constant cycle. One other thing to remember is that, whilst this article focuses on anorexia, eating disorders also include binge eating disorder – this leads to obesity rather than loss of weight.
There are many symptoms that come with anorexia. Emotional behaviours that come with anorexia include:
- not eating properly
- body dysmorphia
- obsession with body image
- loss of focus and interest in things
However, anorexia nervosa also comes with horrible physical symptoms:
- brittle hair – which can eventually lead to hair loss
- lanugo may begin to grow – this is fine body hair that is often referred to as ‘peach fuzz’
- body temperature drops
- kidney damage
- osteoporosis – brittle bones
- slowed thyroid function – causes an imbalance in hormones – this is bad for both boys and girls as it can affect their fertility as it can cause girls to stop menstruating and boys to have erectile dysfunction
Anorexia nervosa is a mental health condition and it is important to speak to your GP for proper diagnosis.
What to do about someone who has it?
One of the biggest things when trying to help someone with an eating disorder is letting go of all the stereotypical beliefs and myths about anorexia. As someone who experienced it, one of the biggest barriers for improvement and healing were the people around me who made uninformed comments, even if they were trying to help, it simply lowered my self-esteem further.
Common Misconceptions: (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/eating-disorders/helping-someone-with-an-eating-disorder.htm)
‘You can’t be anorexic – you’re not even skinny!’
You don’t need to be skinny to be anorexic – usually people of an average weight or who are overweight or of an average weight become anorexic trying to become skinnier.
‘You’re mean to be a man – snap out of it!’
Just because someone is male, it doesn’t mean they can’t have anorexia – anorexia is a mental health issue – all of us have brains and therefore all of us are susceptible to mental health issues!
‘You’re so self-absorbed. Get over yourself!’
It isn’t often that vanity leads to eating disorders – the behaviours that come with the disorder tends to become a coping mechanism to deal with something happening in their lives. Even so, they could be so self-conscious due to events in life such as bullying or just simply needing attention and a cry for help that they have been driven to the eating disorder.
‘It’s not serious anyway.’
As you saw from all the symptoms I listed earlier, yes, it is very serious. In case you need a reminder: brittle bones, kidney disease, infertility, drop in body temperature and many more.
Now that you have that out of the way – communication is key. Find a time where you and the person you are concerned for are free from distractions and in an environment where they feel safe and secure. Once you’ve got the right setting and are comfortable – just speak to them. Explain why it is you feel the way you feel without putting them down. Don’t force them into something they don’t want to do as this can lead to secretive behaviour from the affected person as a way to escape the situation again. Don’t comment on their weight the way you would with other people – you’re speaking to someone who is already obsessed with body image! Telling them ‘you’re not even fat’ can do more damage than good as they may take it the wrong way and think it justifies them staying away from being fat – your being negative about the possibility of them being fat! Rather than doing this, try to ask ‘why are you afraid gaining weight?’. Don’t make them feel ashamed of themselves by putting all the blame on them: ‘why can’t you just eat something’ – tell them that you are worried for them; show them they aren’t alone and that there are people that care for them! If it were as easy as to ‘just eat’, the person wouldn’t be suffering.
Stay patient and supportive for the person you are worried about. What you need is for them to admit they have a problem, to understand that they need help. They need to make themselves to go through treatment (therapy), otherwise it can lead to worse things. They may refuse to listen to what you say, but you have to be there to continue to help and support them so that they can see past their morphed reflection in the mirror.
By Antonia Jayme
This website has a list of websites you can contact for help: