“The stress from GCSEs and having a big change in my life made my eating disorder behaviors much worse and they were noticed by others.”
Eden began struggling with her eating disorder when she was just 12 years old, after being diagnosed with diabetes. But when she got to her GCSEs, the stress of exams only made things worse.
Now 18, Eden, who asked to only be referred to by her first name, is sharing her experiences of seeking treatment – even though she felt ‘ashamed and afraid’ of talking about her feelings – in a bid to make sure others do the same .
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“I first began to struggle with disordered eating when I was 12 after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes,” explains Eden, from Tameside.
“The focus on food portions and counting carbs led to counting calories and obsessing over any weight changes.
“I was referred to the Community Eating Disorders Service when I began my first year at sixth form, the stress from GCSEs and having a big change in my life made my eating disorder behaviors much worse and they were noticed by others.
“For many years I had known that something wasn’t right with my thoughts about eating, but I was ashamed and afraid of talking about how I felt.”
It can be difficult for outsiders to understand how disordered eating can pull you into a vicious cycle, continues Eden.
For her, ‘it’s like having a voice in her head that tells her not to eat and that she should lose weight’.
And that voice grow dangerously loud, overwhelming any thoughts reminding Eden she does need to stay healthy.
“It’s difficult to explain what anorexia feels like to someone without it because it doesn’t make much sense; how restricting food and losing weight could make you happy,” continues Eden.
“It doesn’t always really make sense to me either, which brings a lot of contradicting emotions. For me it’s like having a voice in my head that tells me not to eat and that I should lose weight.
“This brings a lot of guilt when I eat or look at my body, so I restricted food to try to deal with this.
“Although there are still my own thoughts reminding me of the opposite, at times the eating disorder voice is overwhelming and none of my logical thoughts can make it go away.”
Confessing her feelings was frightening, says Eden, but ultimately it became a ‘relief’ to talk about what she was going through.
Eden sought help from her nearby community eating disorders service, run by Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust.
“Although the thought of having to open up to staff at Pennine Care was scary,” she adds, “it was a relief to finally be able to tell someone how I felt and begin to understand what I was going through.
“The eating disorders team taught me ways to distract myself from the eating disorder thoughts, reminded me that the thoughts were irrational and helped me disprove them.
“Going to them gave me a space where I could openly say anything I was thinking and feeling about my body and eating disorder where in the past I’d been ashamed to talk about it.
“A lot of the work they did with me was about finding reasons to not give into the eating disorder thoughts.”
Two years on from when Eden first reached out for help, she’s in a place she ‘never thought possible’.
The Tameside teenager wants to remind people that although she is still fighting to recover from anorexia, ‘it gets better’.
“I’ve been in recovery for about two years now and have reached a point I never thought possible,” she says.
“When I was at the lowest point with my mental health, I didn’t think recovery was possible and thought that trying was pointless.
“I think everyone in recovery is fed up with hearing ‘it gets better’ but it truly can. I still have eating disorder thoughts and still have a way to go with my recovery, but I’ve achieved things that wouldn’t be possible if I had continued to give into anorexia.”
Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust’s community eating disorders service provides care and support to children and young people with an eating disorder; as well as offering advice and support to families, carers, and those who work with, or support, a child or young person.
The service is based at two hubs: North covering Bury, Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale, and Oldham; and South covering Stockport, Tameside and Glossop.
Zoe Bradshaw, from the trust’s community eating disorders team, shared her team’s five steps for people who may be suffering, and for those who are looking after someone with an eating disorder:
- First, it’s important to speak to someone you trust and seek help from a professional
- Second, promote regular eating – we encourage, three meals and three snacks a day along with fluids at each mealtime.
- Third, treat every day as a fresh start – forget what happened the day before and focus on the new day ahead.
- Fourth, be kind to yourself – take some time out to relax
- Finally, never compare your loved ones’ journey to others – they are on their own path
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.