‘Remove the stigma’: MM chat to those living with illnesses for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

By Danielle Wainwright

Anorexia and bulimia are just two of the conditions being tackled as part of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

Around 1.6million people suffer from some form of eating disorder across England – mostly affecting teenage girls – and an estimated 30 countries are participating in the campaign.

UK eating disorder charity B-eat have urged the public to do all they can to assist in campaigning to remove the stigma of anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and other disorders.

Bushra Nazir, a PHD student looking at improving understanding and access to treatment for eating disorders among young British Asian females, is keen to recruit young Asian women for the awareness campaign.

Ms Nazir, who aims to show that anorexia and bulimia are more than just Western diseases, was compelled to help those afflicted by an eating disorder after watching her friend struggle for support.

“I wanted to do this because I know how hard it can be to find help for young Asian women,” she said.

“And I wanted to speak to parents and siblings because I think we miss them out and need to raise their awareness around eating disorders. 

“Those I have spoken too are really shocked that Asian girls starve themselves because they see it as a Western disease. 

“They say that when they came to Britain they had to work hard to put food on the table, so they see the girls who are starving themselves now as just spoilt.”

The Asian culture is one that heavily involves food within the lifestyle, so for many of these women struggling with an eating disorder, keeping the secret can be hard.

MM spoke to Anna*, who knows the challenge of the secretive habits of the disease and regularly mentors people who want help to stop struggling with their food.

“Eating Disorders (EDs) are very secretive illnesses people don’t like to share it; they often hide it because it is their coping mechanism and they do not wish it to be taken away,” she said.

“It involves behaviours that people are ashamed of, deceptive behaviour too and they therefore feel bad about themselves, also they don’t feel able to share these behaviours because they know that people will find it disgusting.

“Many people think that ED people should just stop and pull themselves together, or to eat properly to lose weight but they cannot just eat.

“I think professional people and people in society minimizing how difficult they are to solve mean that people keep them a secret.”

According to a 2012 NHS report, eating disorder admissions increased on the previous 12-month period by a bigger percentage (16%) than admissions overall (1%), with three-quarters through anorexia.

Eating disorders are characterised by an abnormal attitude towards food that causes someone to change their eating habits and behaviour.

Many women remain in denial over their condition for many years and pushing a recovery can often lead to relapses in food habits.

Flicking through a magazine deceives young girls into thinking thin tall and perfect is a normal way to look regardless of your health.

“I do think that the media contributes to low self-esteem in young girls and women in general, partly because the images presented,” Anna continued.

“But I think it is more the unconscious messages, the magazine constantly criticising people’s weight and ringing things round in circles, berating stars for their weight fluctuations, constant diet articles.

“For those who have an ED mental illness, it is not really about food and thinness at all but a solution to a problem often involving difficult emotions and controlling their lives.

“The media does not lead someone to develop this sort of serious mental illness.

“However, I think it does fan the flames, because when you have an ED you become obsessed sometimes by things that deepen the illness such as looking at images, and diet plans and calorie intakes.”

For more information on B-eat and Eating Disorder Awareness week, click here.

*Name changed to retain anonymity

Image courtesy Rega Photography, with thanks.

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