Trigger Warning: This blog includes discussion surrounding eating disorders, eating and weight.
Mental health is not formulaic, it does not adhere to ‘swings and roundabouts’, ‘crest and waves’ thinking. Periods of mental ill health can creep up on you unannounced, slowly devouring your ability to function, or can capture you all at once without warning. My own struggles with mental health have predominantly manifested themselves within my relationship to eating and food.
Awareness of your own well-being is one thing which poor mental health can impede right away and I feel this had a larger effect on me than the actual disordered eating that it resulted from. My own mental health problems had in many ways evaded my acknowledgement, it took me quite a while - well after the most serious episodes - to accept I had an issue with eating. ‘Had’ being used kindly as residual issues still stand.
At my thinnest, I was a size 8 but have always been curvy and, at the times when my eating devolved into all but starvation, managed to not look or seem ‘unwell’ coupled with a ‘healthy’ appetite at other times, allowed my condition to largely go unnoticed - by myself included.
Jovial observations about my somewhat quirky eating habits were occasionally made by friends, I developed an unannounced predisposition to eating only hashbrowns for a time at University, but not many people pried further. Issues around avoidance or refusal to eat anything other than one certain type of food for a period of time has lessened over the years but at times I would eat solely mashed potatoes for months like a self-destructive Badger of Bodger and Badger fame.
Despite this rather obviously difficult relationship with food and eating I’m not entirely sure when these issues began or at what point I became aware that my eating habits were a mental health issue. Periods of eating little to nothing were often intense and concentrated but I would easily find excuses which lay within external situations and not on my own choices or mental well-being. For a long time I felt that because I wasn’t severely underweight I couldn’t claim to have suffered from an eating disorder, and only through understanding how I feel and act with regards to food when I’m feeling healthy and uninhibited have I came to be able to identify my bad periods.
The journey of understanding and accepting my own mental health issues has brought me a better toolkit to deal with my struggles around eating, although even now I still find it difficult to say I have had an ‘eating disorder’ and prefer to say ‘disordered eating’ - partly due to my own reservations about claiming a term I’m still not entirely sure I fit into or yet feel comfortable claiming. But also partly to do with wanting to be able to express and shape my own narrative without a stereotypical understanding of these conditions being applied as soon as ED is mentioned. Even now I still find it slightly difficult to marry the concept of suffering ‘issues with food’ and ‘poor mental health’ together, I sometimes still distance myself from the reality of it, perhaps out of shame or perhaps out of a continuing inability to fully claim ownership over my experiences.
As with mental health the coping and recovering of poor mental health is also not formulaic, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be fully recovered, but as we all undertake our own unique journeys it’s important to try and find even the smallest means to remain aware of our well being. This can take various shapes but for me finding out others around me had suffered in similar ways; women who had been in my life for years, women I didn’t really know, complete strangers, allowed me to finally view my situation, not as something ‘othered’ or removed from the ‘typical’ narrative of eating disorders but as just another way of experience.
Over the coming months I’ll be writing more about eating disordered and the people affected by them, exploring lesser known issues around mental health and eating/food issues as well as further reflecting on my own journey - if you have any stories you wish to share or would simply like to chat please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or across any of our social media channels!