Anorexia: a cry for help

"I didn’t know what I was getting myself into and I never realised how far it would go but this control over food began to take over my life," writes Tracy Stewart, a 29-year-old from Johannesburg who is recovering from anorexia. Here is her story:

Eating disorders are often misunderstood and there are many stereotypes that do not necessarily depict reality. It is important for people to gain a better understanding about those suffering from eating disorders - I hope that I can help create awareness by telling my story during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (from 26 February to 3 March 2012). 

A year after having booked myself into a clinic for treatment, I am finally well on my way to recovery. I battled with this illness for 16 years and it saddens me to see how many people have also been affected. An eating disorder is more than just an unhealthy relationship with food. It might begin with unhealthy eating behaviours but an eating disorder can become an ingrained form of control and power.

At 12 years old, I was struggling to deal with problems at home and there were many unhealthy relationships in my life that led me to become ill with an eating disorder. As a child, I felt that I did not have a voice and I felt imprisoned by the circumstances that I found myself in. I wanted to be free of the criticism and negative home life and I became desperate. I spent most of my days living in fear of what people thought of me. These people were people that I thought cared for me and loved me but I was often disappointed and hurt by their actions. I internalised everything that was going on in my family and the only certainty I had was my control over food. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into and I never realised how far it would go but this control over food began to take over my life.

'It was about the pain'

There were many times that I wished someone would just ask me how I was. I was desperate for someone to notice how unhappy I was but I was too ashamed to tell anyone how I was really feeling. My self-esteem was so low that the only way I learned to cope was through self-destructive behaviour and this carried on through my teens to my adult years. There were many times that I tried to tell those I loved what was going on but their ignorance led me to fall deeper into the eating disorder. I was asked: “Why don’t you just eat?” It wasn’t that simple. It wasn’t about the food. It was about the pain that I was experiencing in my life and I felt no one understood this.

This is why I am so passionate about creating awareness around eating disorders. The most detrimental thing a loved one can do is focus on food and weight. Whenever this occurred in my life, I would become extremely defensive. I didn’t want people to try and tell me what I should eat or weigh. It made me feel like a child. I also wanted to be acknowledged as a human being – not someone who is shallow and only cares about her appearance. This is so far from the truth. I just wanted to feel accepted and for people to stop focusing on my appearance. I never appeared emaciated or skeletal but this doesn’t mean I wasn’t battling every day of my life with an eating disorder.

Someone with low self-esteem fears judgement so the best way to approach someone with an eating disorder is to be supportive and to try and understand that person’s pain. Also, one cannot be forced into treatment. It has to come from that person. After years of counselling, I finally decided that I was worthy at a real shot at life and that’s why I finally decided to get help but for many the sad truth lies in the fact that they will never feel worthy of the nurturing necessary to heal.

Recovery is a process and the journey is certainly not a smooth ride but it is possible. With care and support of those who show unconditional love, it is possible.

(Written by Tracy Stewart)

Do you need help? Do you have a friend or family member who needs help? Visit the website of RecoverySpace, a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting recovery from eating disorders in South Africa. Find out more about anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating and other eating disorders, as well as treatment options and tips on recovery.

- (Health24, February 2012)

Any questions? Ask Health24's Eating Disorders Expert

Read more:

How to help anorexics and bulimics
Eating disorders and malnutrition
Eating disorders: 9 recovery tips

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