“Why don’t they just eat something?”

What do you know about eating disorders? I’m going to guess and say probably not a lot. But I’m more bothered about what you think about them, because eating disorders can be a very misunderstood and disregarded illness.

In this article I’m going to focus on Anorexia Nervosa, where people try to keep their weight as low as possible by any means. Now, Anorexia wasn’t accepted by the medical profession as a recognised condition until the late nineteenth century.  Even then, it wasn’t seen and treated as a mental illness until the twentieth century.  Often, treatment was based on physical health and meeting target weights whilst in hospital to then be released with no mental treatment, where the process would then usually begin again at home. Though this has changed and treatment is much improved, people being properly treated for all aspects of the disease; I would argue Anorexia is still very much of an enigma for the public.

I think it’s sad. It’s sad that even today, many people do not take anorexia seriously and fail to understand the complexity of it. I think it’s sad, the amount of people who make such ignorant comments like ‘why don’t they just eat something’ as they are clearly unaware of how it is simply not that easy. Anorexia nervosa is so much more than just not eating. But the harsh truth is, people do make these comments, and probably lots of other comments too. More often than you might think. I know this because I’ve heard it and I’ve seen it, I wouldn’t be surprised if you have too perhaps in passing or without even acknowledging it. It’s disturbing that people have such a judgemental, oblivious and insensitive outlook towards anorexia and it’s sufferers. As if it’s some sort of myth that people think they can tear apart, making heinous comments and regards like it’s nothing; like they know so much about it. I think too many people have this misconception of anorexia, using it as a target for abuse and hatred. Don’t you think such comments only make it worse? I think it’s sad that every time I’ve heard such comments made, they’ve all been from people who are the same age as me. This to me poses some serious concerns and questions.

When I say people don’t take anorexia seriously, I mean they don’t realise that it can be a life threatening condition. Did you know Anorexia Nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness? It is not a passing phase. It is not a form of attention seeking. It is not something to be taken for granted. It is something that needs to be handled with care and patience. Let’s say, you find that you’re teenage child hasn’t been eating, perhaps hiding food or throwing up whatever they do eat. The last thing you want to do in that situation is get angry at them. Do not punish somebody for experiencing symptoms of a mental illness. Too often people/parents react completely the wrong way, proceeding to force their child to eat whilst being angry and critical towards them about their behaviour. Rather than being comforting towards them, offering help and support.

If you or someone you know is (possibly) suffering with anorexia, there are ways to support and ways to get help. There are numerous eating disorder charities such as Beat, Anorexia and Bulimia Care (ABC) and Men Get Eating Disorders Too (MGEDT). And of course the NHS, visit your local GP or hospital where you can receive help, treatment and referrals. If you’re looking to support a friend or family member with an eating disorder you can read how on the NHS website.

Anorexia is so much more than what you probably think it is.

Article by Young Reporter Rachel Coo
First appeared in Grimsby Telegraph 21st May 2019