The media is now full of stories of body transformation tales. Tiktok has been rife for months with young women sharing online what they are eating throughout the day and showing their reduced waists. Teenagers are mimicking the smoothie bowls they see these new found influences making and are receiving messages from them about what is a healthy diet. Many of us have been without our preferred form of exercise and the last three months of winter lockdown has taken its toll on us emotionally and physically.
So now the diet companies are rubbing their hands with glee. Working as a Counsellor, and someone who was bulimic as a teenager, I am concerned for the impact on young people. They have been trapped in their bedrooms with nothing but online schoolwork to do. Everything that enables them to thrive has been taken away from them. GCSES were cancelled, their A-levels are a confused mess. Should they bother going to Uni this September? They are all in the throes of grief having lost a fundamental year in their development.
When we feel overwhelmed with feelings and emotions and our lives feel out of control, we revert to doing things that make us feel we have some mastery. What we put in and out of our mouths is a way that we can feel in control. For teenagers, their clothes and apperance is of paramount importance. So add in the teenage pressure of wanting to look good, making friends, and stepping into their emerging sexuality. The idea which is constantly sold to them by the media of changing your body shape to assist you with this can be tempting.
How do Eating Disorders start?
What can often start as a desire to lose a few pounds can escalate into skipping meals. As the weight starts to drop off, you start to feel better about yourself. You may feel a sense of achievement and you attract positive comments from family and friends which encourages this behaviour. However, there can be a point when this tips and starts to move towards an eating disorder.
The lightheadedness felt from hunger becomes addictive and for many, the internal critical voice can get louder and louder – shaming you if you have detoured from your diet and eaten something you shouldn’t. This voice can become so persecutory it can take over and those suffering with anorexia feel beholden to it. Women I have worked with have shared that however horrible this voice is in their head, it is also company. Anorexia can start up when people are feeling lonely and isolated and it is as if this persecutory voice is a replacement for companionship and care.
For others, when they detour from their resticted diet, the shame can lead to Binge Eating and /or Bulimia. Over exercising or purging can seem like a quick and easy solution to getting rid of those extra calories you have eaten. Before long purging one meal can lead to purging all meals. If you are going to purge, you might as well eat all the foods you don’t allow yourself to. So biscuits, cake, ice cream can all be eaten and then purged. Again, this gives the illusion of control. You often feel deeply shamed about overeating, but then the relief comes with the purging and you feel back in control.
Eating Disorders often begin because people want to lose weight. Messages in the media and society are constantly telling us we will be happier, be accepted, and be succesful if we look a certain way. They become an addiction in a similar way to drugs and alcohol as a way for us to manage overwhelming emotions and feelings. Once an Eating Disorder takes a grip, it takes a lot of work and support to change our behaviour.
How to get support?
We have to learn to value ourselves and care for our bodies. To nourish ourselves with nutritious healthy foods and to find other ways to manage our difficult feelings and emotions. As a hidden bulimic sufferer myself for years, the shame prevented me from telling anyone. I had buried my emotions and was unaware I felt anything other than shame about being overweight. Working alongside an empathic Counsellor and processing these supressed emotions, enabled me to start caring for myself and my body.
If you are concerned about someone who is showing signs of rapid weight loss, be mindul of what may be going on beneath the surface. They may need support with the underlying feelings that are going on and may benefit from Counselling so they can share this with someone who understands how they are using their relationship with food as a way of managing their distress.
As well as working as a Counsellor, I run workshops and events throughout the year. If you would like to be kept informed of those, please leave your details below.