I remember very clearly the day, well night, I was diagnosed with bulimia, body dysmorphia and social anxiety disorder around food and men.
The level of shame that rose within me was unbearable. My first response to the therapist was, how can I get to 35 and not know I have an eating disorder?
Strangely, the social anxiety disorder around food and men made sense. I never ate in social settings where there were men, and very little when there were women. I was in a work environment where I had to attend ALOT of events where there was food, and 95% of the time I was managing them and would binge straight after them.
The body dysmorphia, whilst I didn’t agree, didn’t have the same level of shame in the diagnosis. To me, it was an “opinion” of those professionals, not a fact.
What I couldn’t cope with, was being told I had an eating disorder. Being diagnosed with an eating disorder meant I was weak. Mentally unstable. Broken.
It was 10 years ago, and what I have realised today, that the shame I felt then, I still see in my clients today. The stigma attached to eating disorders, and any eating challenges such as binge eating and emotional eating is still high.
I still hear stories of clients hiding food, hiding binges, secret food shopping, eating in the car so husbands/ kids won’t see it, hiding in bathrooms stuffing down chocolate bars.
When I ask why they hide, it is always the same answer, “they don’t / won’t understand”, “they just tell me to stop eating”, “I’m too embarrassed that I can’t control how much I eat and don’t want anybody to truly see how much it is”.
I totally get it. When I was diagnosed, I hid from everybody. I went from being at personal training four times a week to cancelling all sessions and hiding. I didn’t go to work for two days and avoided eye contact.
After a week, I knew I was going to have to tell my flatmates, and I remember telling my very skinny flatmate, and I still remember clearly her saying “hon, just stop eating”. Yep, of course, why I hadn’t I thought of that!
My other flatmate was a male personal trainer, and his response, was exactly how I already felt. He shamed me, said I was weak, to stop eating, and told me that if I was his client, he would just put me on a paleo diet to control my eating (he was into paleo well before it was cool!).
Yep, let’s put a person with an eating disorder on a diet, that will help!
Thankfully my own personal trainer’s response was ALOT more supportive and understanding and when I eventually faced him and told him, through my layers of shame, he just said, “we will get through this together”.
Whilst in society today, mental illness is spoken about more openly, with the likes of the Royal Family speaking about it, sadly, people don’t seem to comprehend that an eating disorder like bulimia, eating challenges such as binge eating, emotional eating, overeating, chronic dieting, are also mental illnesses and yet, sufferers for the most part, still don’t talk about it.
We need to take the stigma away from our eating challenges and bring them out into the open. Brene Brown says it perfectly, “shame cannot survive being spoken. It cannot tolerate having words wrapped around it. What it craves is secrecy, silence and judgement. If you stay quiet, you stay in self judgement”
For those that are currently experiencing eating challenges, and are hiding it from loved ones, and not seeking support, I strongly urge you to find someone you can trust, whether a friend, or counsellor, even find a free phone service such as at The Butterfly Foundation, and speak your truth out loud. Do not let the shame of your eating challenges consume your every thought, your beautiful being. Set it free, so you can begin to heal and experience the freedom that comes with stepping on to the pathway to a life where food does not control you.
For those that are not experiencing challenges with food, but know someone that is, kindly just support them, listen to them. Maybe open a conversation with them in a loving supportive, non judgemental way. They will appreciate a non judgemental space to share how deep their challenges are. Comments such as “hon, just stop eating”, not so helpful!