Wednesday, 8 February 2012

There's More than One Way to be Anorexic

I’m a little baffled by a war which seems to be being waged by certain ‘awareness raising’ campaigners on the subject of the ‘right’ way to have anorexia (a completely counterproductive and time wasting debate to begin with, so I don’t propose on spending too much time on it).

Anorexia, it seems, is a notoriously competitive field. Current and past anorexics battle to have plumbed the most crippling lows and reached the most dangerous BMI, thus claiming the title of ‘most knowledgeable in their field’.

I wouldn’t have dreamed of branding myself as a body image 'expert' before working alongside the All Parties Parliamentary Group on Body Image, speaking to more than 6,000 teenagers on the topic, reading the thousands of stories sent into the Body Gossip campaign, attending conferences where the most breaking research is presented by the world’s leading experts and reading every morsel of information I could get my hand on.

My eating disorder was my own, private, experience and, just as I am unique, so was my experience of first anorexia and then bulimia nervosa.

There are a myriad of different ways to abuse food and people do it for all sorts of reasons.

And I’m sorry to break this to the people who claim to feel patronised by the idea, but sometimes eating disorders ARE simply because of triggering websites, fashion magazines and peer pressure.

All over the country, the parents of my students are tying themselves in knots, reasoning that their children must have suffered abuse or some other horrific childhood incident because that’s the only reason someone gets an eating disorder, right?


Yes, eating disorders are complex. But acknowledging that they are complex also means acknowledging that one’s own experience is a drop in a bucket of 1.1 million in the UK alone. It’s not all inclusive.

The fact is that teenagers all over the country are starving themselves for days at a time, purging by vomiting or taking laxatives and exercising compulsively to achieve an entirely unrealistic beauty ideal. I know because they tell me. You can't get more empirical than that.

The pedantic brigade are spending far too much time hypothesising about why this behaviour isn’t a ‘real’ eating disorder and not enough time acknowledging that our young people are in the grips of a low self-esteem epidemic. Whatever the root causes, the effect is the same: A nation prepared to sacrifice its own health.

Eating disorders can claim anyone as their victim, regardless of age, race, social background, sexuality or gender. And, as a former bulimic, I have to add, regardless of size/the dreaded BMI.

Which is why ‘Gok’s Teens’, screened this week, a programme which DOESN’T present eating disorders and body insecurity as something only suffered by institutionalised five stone teenage girls is a magnificent feat of televisual brilliance. Furthermore, it does not claim to be an expose of eating disorders, it claims to reveal the naked truth about teens. It's right there in the title, people.

And I’m not just saying that because I’m in it.

(well, maybe I am a bit….)


  1. As someone who constantly starved herself and then binge ate throughout her teens and 20's, but stayed obese, I completely agree and wish there was more coverage given to "that" side of eating disorders, my pain was real, my experience was real, but I still feel grossly under-represented in the media.

  2. Why don't you just say this to my face?

  3. eating disorders like LIFE evolve and change, like LIFE!
    i used to be a skeptic, however having been IP of late, I've realized just how the media can and certainly does affect the youth of today!
    @ilona-who are you and why would you suspect yourself? Natasha has such an amazingly pro-active, supportive and educating organisation in Body Gossip??? I'm somewhat perturbed by the above note???
    are you THAT IMPORTANT?
    get off your own high horse and perhaps try to help not hinder others on their recovery journey.