Struggling to allow yourself to eat because of anorexia is a scenario that few people can understand. That includes the very people who are struggling with this problem. Often they feel trapped, overwhelmed, anxious, and distressed, both by the thought of change, and the thought of staying the same.
Many people in this situation will start to get “warning signals” in their heads that the situation is not right, and it’s starting to distress them or their family members. Maybe the word “anorexia” will start to get put out there, and that might be a phrase that makes people really uncomfortable.
Where can you look for help? How would you even start if you wanted to “fix” anorexia or highly restrictive eating?
First, let’s take a look at what anorexia, or problematic restrictive eating might look like…
Here’s the scenario that sometimes plays out. Please note that all characters in this blog post are entirely fictitious and invented for the sake of explaining the topic, they are not based on any actual people in any way.
We have a person, let’s call her “T”. T starts out trying to be “really healthy” (T’s words, not mine)… but somewhere along the lines, the scenario changes. T starts to get a sense that things are not going well, that her rules around food and worries about weight are spiralling out of control. There’s no room for other thoughts in her mind now, the food and weight worries seem to always be there. T reaches her goal weight… but nothing changes. There is no sudden sense of relief from the fear and guilt, no burst of happiness. T realises she’s not happy, and suddenly feels trapped in her cycle of food rules and guilt. She wants to change, but feels it’s impossible. Somewhere along the lines, T’s family members start to worry. “You need to eat more”, they say. T can’t seem to get them to understand that it’s just not that easy for her. They’re making her more distressed, but not fixing anything.
So… that’s T. She’s struggling, with a lot of different things in her life. The sense of helplessness and the feeling that change is impossible are things that really make it hard to seek help. Food restriction, moving into anorexia, might have slowly developed over week or months, and it started out in a very different way… but right now, T really could do with some help.
Seeking help for anorexia… finding someone who ‘gets it’
Anorexia and disordered eating are really complex issues, and the truth is that not all health professionals spend a lot of time working in this area. Sometimes this means that people try to get help but fall through the cracks. Let’s go back to our friend “T” and see what this might look like…
T goes to a health professional, but feels unable to say that she has an eating disorder. So instead, she dredges up all her courage and says “I don’t know how to eat” and hopes the person understands. He doesn’t. T tries again: “I feel I just want to avoid food completely.” The health professional is a bit pressed for time and still unsure what she means, so he gives her a food pyramid and tells her not to worry about it too much. T is devastated: she feels her struggles have been invalidated and vows not to seek help again.
Do you recognise this scenario? Can you see what’s actually playing out, when it’s happening to a hypothetical other person?
The problem is that T has spoken with someone who isn’t familiar with eating disorders and so he didn’t understand what she was trying to say.
A different provider, one who has a special interest in eating disorders, probably would have picked up on the message that T was trying to send. Should T give up on seeking help for her eating? No! She just needs to look in the right places for people to work with!!
There are members of ALL healthcare professions – doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, dietitians – who have a special interest in disordered eating, and finding any of these is a good place to start. Aside from being better able to understand the situation you’re in, they’ll also be able to point you in the right direction for other providers with the right knowledge to help you out. Most GP clinics will have a website where the doctors will list their particular areas of interest – so checking there for “disordered eating” or “mental health” is a good place to start. Even if you don’t think you have an eating disorder, GPs with that background are more likely to know how to manage the situation and who to refer on to if need be. For other health professionals, take a look at the health practitioner database on the Inside Out Institute for Eating Disorders
You might also want to check out my blog post on Where to start looking for help when you want to recover from an eating disorder. (coming very soon!)