Eating disorders

Messages to other young people about eating disorders

The young people we spoke with, who themselves were at various stages of recovery, wanted to pass on messages of hope, courage and strength to other young people. Often these were among the things they wished they had heard when they were unwell and struggling to get better.'p>

"Value yourself’ - “There are things you can give to the world that no one else can.”

Most importantly, people wanted to tell other young people with eating disorders or eating problems to value themselves. Many people had struggled with low self-esteem and confidence, feeling worthless and that they didn’t deserve a better life. Some thought that low self-esteem and feeling inferior had contributed to them developing an eating disorder. Learning to value and love oneself was essential to be able to see a better future and to be able to accept help.

Sometimes people blamed themselves for the eating disorder and didn’t feel they deserved treatment. Once they realised it was an illness and not their fault, it was easier to contact help and not feel embarrassed.

People also talked about learning to value their bodies and their health. Over time they had realised how serious an eating disorder was and how it could damage their health and their future. Valuing health was something they wanted to pass on to other young people.
“Outside you look fine but inside you’re screwing up all your organs and your whole body is just going, you’ve got no vitamins left and your organs are failing.” James 
"Recovery is possible - for everyone"

People wanted to share their optimism and messages of hope to others. Many of them had never believed they could get better and live without the eating disorder. When people were unwell, they were unable to see beyond the illness. They felt that life with an eating disorder was safer and they had no reason to let go of it. Maria explained how she gained perspective over time and how, looking back she realised that things really hadn’t been as good as she thought at the time.
It was essential to realise that life without the eating disorder was “incomparably better” to the life with an eating disorder. Steph said that once you realise the eating disorder gives you nothing and how it can actually stop you from moving on, there is a reason to let it go. Rachel described how it’s important to actually believe that “it’s possible for life to be good again” and through recovery she discovered many new things to life.
‘Accept help’
“And it’s really hard to make the first step but when you do, things can get so much better and what you think is good there is really the thing that’s holding you back.” -Maria
The first step to recovery was admitting there was a problem and accepting help. People described how hard it had been to trust other people and accept their help but once they took the first step, it was often a big relief. People talked about the range of different forms of help available from Beat (Beat Eating Disorders), YoungMinds, MGEDT (Men Get Eating Disorders Too), online forums, GPs, schools, colleges, university, friends and family and that there was something to suit everyone.
People wanted to encourage young people to talk to others about what they were going through. Emily said even talking to one person “can change your life”.
Many people had delayed asking for help and felt the longer they’d left it, the harder it became. They stressed the importance of getting help early and wanted both young people and health professionals to be aware of this. They didn’t want others to feel like they had to be dangerously underweight before they could seek help'
“It’s a mental illness and a mental illness doesn’t have a number on it. So I'd say don’t think, “Oh I’m not too thin enough to get help,” everyone is, you know, if you’re ill, you’re ill, you need help.” -Fiona-Grace
However, we spoke to people who had not received any help for their eating disorder for years but they had still managed to turn their lives around so it was never too late.

‘Be proactive’

Recovering from an eating disorder can be a long process with ups and downs. Young people encouraged others to try and keep trying and be patient, to “give it time” and “not give up”. When unwell, people often felt that the eating disorder was in control of them and their life and encouraged others to take control back.
Setting goals could be helpful as well as “taking tiny steps” to achieve them. Reaching goals and seeing change made people feel “proud” of themselves that they were making progress.
Sometimes people had not found help from the first doctor they had seen. They encouraged others to not be afraid to demand to see a different GP or look for a different form of therapy, until they felt it worked for them. They emphasised how people were different and the importance of finding out what the best form of support was for oneself.

Last reviewed October 2018.


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