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Eating disorders (young people)

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.

"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.

 

Rob said you must learn to value yourself. Everyone has “things to give the world that no one...

Rob said you must learn to value yourself. Everyone has “things to give the world that no one...

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 14
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I think the most, I guess the most kind of important practical thing I would say is just talk to someone about it, you know, someone, try and find anyone that, you know, you can speak openly with because talking about it is so incredibly helpful. It really is and I know I know it can seem impossible but try to value yourself and acknowledge the positive aspects about yourself rather than dismissing them because, you know, whoever you are, you are important. You have things that you can give to the world that no one else can.
 
And that’s true, you know, and you can achieve amazing things. It’s just I guess it’s like trying to value yourself even though it can seem so against everything that you feel Just try to walk, however slow, just tiny kind of steps but to try and be proud of yourself and proud of your achievements because, you know, you are important and unique and special and, you know, there’s people who love you for who you are, I guess. Well, definitely and yeah. I don’t know but that’s essentially it.
 
Would you say that your life is better than what it was at fourteen?
 
Oh, most definitely, yeah. Incomparably better really. 
 

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 
 

“Don’t be ashamed and don’t blame yourself.” Annabelle encourages everyone to seek help. She...

“Don’t be ashamed and don’t blame yourself.” Annabelle encourages everyone to seek help. She...

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 14
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I think I would have told myself to not feel ashamed that you’ve got an eating disorder. And not blame yourself. To get, to ask for, help. And don’t feel afraid about asking for help and don’t feel embarrassed by it. To use everything that’s available to you, like the B-eat websites, the B-eat helpline. Online chats they’ve got now, they’ve got a lot of resources. Read self-help books which I didn’t read. And know that no matter how bad or good your situation is, like if you’ve got disordered eating then you have got an eating disorder and you do deserve to have treatment. And never, you know think that you didn’t, you didn’t do it well enough, or something. 
 
And to value, I wish I’d valued my health a lot more, and thought about that, and thought about how serious it is. Because I completely, do you know I just thought it’s not serious, you know. Like some people are thin. But you know three of my really close friends they’ve passed away, and they were eighteen, nineteen, and twenty two. And that’s, that is how serious it is.
 
 

David encourages people with any eating disorder to speak to someone about it.

David encourages people with any eating disorder to speak to someone about it.

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 19
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When you actually sit down and you talk to someone and you lay it out and you say it, then your head actually makes sense of what you’re saying. And just by admitting to someone, “I make myself sick,” or “I have bulimia,” or, “I gorge on food and then I do this,” just hearing it actually makes you realise in your head that’s really not the best approach. And it really outlines you know, it’s happening. It is a condition. It’s real and you need to overcome that and you’re not going to without talking to somebody, whether they’re a friend, a family member or if it is a, a support group, if that’s what works for you without talking about it you’re never gonna overcome that. And you know you may stop for a while, but if you haven’t talked about it thoroughly enough then you’ll fall back into it. You really just need to talk to someone and receive that support and then that’s gonna help you overcome it, or come through it at the end.

"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.
 

“To get better, you need to realise eating disorders give you nothing”.

“To get better, you need to realise eating disorders give you nothing”.

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 14
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I think I would say, in order to get better from an eating disorder, you need to realise that it gives you nothing. If you feel that you want to hold on to your eating disorder, then you’re holding to it for a reason, and if you can work out what that reason is, you can then work with yourself or whoever you’re working with to come up with another kind of coping mechanism to get what it is you get from eating disorder. That’s kind of what caused me to change in the end, was that I found other ways to get the feelings that I needed and the comfort that I got from the eating disorder. I just now get it in other ways, you know, from talking or going out with friends or seeing my boyfriend or having a hug from whomever. And also it’s not a happy life to lead, you know, it’s not one and it’s not one that is sustainable either. You’re eventually going to get to a point where somebody steps in and you need to change, or the worst happens which we don’t want to talk about. So if you can make that change yourself it will just make it so much more worthwhile, because if it’s on your terms, it’s more likely to stick.

 

Katherine found the will to change suddenly from within herself. “Don’t give up no matter how bad...

Katherine found the will to change suddenly from within herself. “Don’t give up no matter how bad...

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 11
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The main thing, and it’s such a cliché, is just to keep going at it. Because there is, like I got to the stage when I was in my darkest days, where there literally looked like there was no possible light at the end of the tunnel. And I was just beside myself, I had no idea where I was heading, how there was any possible escape. It was like I’d fallen down into the biggest pit and there was just no escape. 
 
And then all of a sudden despite everything the doctors had said, I meant, not only did it change, and I kind of went on an upward progression, but it was something that I instigated myself. That I had never thought that I‘d be able to take that step. I always thought that any help that came in recovery would come from outside. And it didn’t, and it’s just sometimes, no matter what the doctors say, it is literally just one of those things that can happen. And unexpectedly so, and I think that that’s something that people should always bear in mind, as parents or as victims, well victims, as sufferers of eating disorders that like no matter how bad it seems, like don’t give up on it. You know there is definitely potential for at least some degree of recovery. 
 
‘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.
 

It can be hard to let go of the eating disorder and accepting help can feel difficult. Laura said...

It can be hard to let go of the eating disorder and accepting help can feel difficult. Laura said...

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 18
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Do you think it’s difficult to believe when you are really ill that it actually is better?
 
Yeah it is really hard. Because when you’re totally consumed you feel like getting better would make things worse and maybe at the start of recovery it will feel scary and completely out of control and like it’s a lot safer to stay eating disordered and it does feel, yeah you do feel safer to start off with when things are changing, but as the changes kind of are put in place and you get used to them and you kind of make the first few steps, it does get easier. ‘Cos I know when you first start recovery it’s very hard because you’re having to completely change everything that is your normality. And you’re having to kind of relearn what is good and kind of normal in healthy terms rather than normal in your kind of world.
 
And although it’s horrible and scary in the short term, in the long term it’s a lot better. And it opens up more doors to you than staying eating disordered and staying kind of ill.
 
 

Harriet emphasised that although professionals can help and offer support, the individual needs...

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Harriet emphasised that although professionals can help and offer support, the individual needs...

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 15
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I think I expected the professionals to wave a magic wand and make everything okay, make me feel okay but it just doesn’t work like that and, you know, until you decide that you want to do something then the professionals can only do so much.
 
Taking the first step is the hardest but the next time you try it, it’s easier; take things a step at a time. You’ve got to stop believing what anorexia says as you will die before you’re good enough for anorexia; you may as well fight back against anorexia now. 
 
They can support you and not to discount what professionals say because sometimes it does make sense and, you know, things do, I mean you do, your thinking is a lot more restricted if you’re at a low weight or severely restricting, you know, it does make life a bit easier if you let yourself eat a bit more and just take risks. 
 
 

'Trust the people around you because they love you.' Katie said you don't need the eating...

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'Trust the people around you because they love you.' Katie said you don't need the eating...

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 13
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Trust the people around you [laughs] because, yeah, they’re probably doing things for your best interest and that, you know, there’s so much more to life than calories and food and things and, like, it’s upsetting because you see, like so, so many people and so such lovely people and they’ve so much to give and just a waste you know. And just to try and fight and be strong and, you know, remember who you actually are and that you have lots of good friends and you don’t need the, you know, the eating disorder is, you know, people love you and whatever without it so.
 
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”.
 

David learnt to value his health and his body. 'Without health you have no life'.

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David learnt to value his health and his body. 'Without health you have no life'.

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 19
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There’s nothing more important in life than your health, without your health you get you have no life, why do anything to harm your body. You know in the same way you shouldn’t drink too much, you shouldn’t smoke, doing that is harming your body as well, and you’re not gonna grow up and live a healthy fulfilled life if you’re from the very beginning, from the offset damaging your body in any way. And you just have to look to the future and realise that you know if that’s what you want, if you want a happy life and, you want to be healthy as such, then you can’t damage your body in any way, which is what you’re doing.

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.
 

Maria said it's possible to take control back from the eating disorder and recover.

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Maria said it's possible to take control back from the eating disorder and recover.

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Female
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And whilst it often feels like the eating disorder is in control of you, you are still a person, you are still there somewhere, and you will come out again when you get rid of it. And don’t listen to what people say when you can’t get better. Don’t listen when they say, “Once an anorexic always an anorexic.” It’s not true. That’s just rubbish.

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.
 

Emily described how proud and strong you can feel by coming through an eating disorder.

Emily described how proud and strong you can feel by coming through an eating disorder.

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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And there’s so many, like so many people’s experiences of eating disorders are like, they range from so many different things, and like it’s just, it’s just hard to try and, the majority of the world just will completely, it’s only a few kind of misconceptions that are held, but the majority of the world will completely accept eating disorders. And it is possible to get over them. It’s possible for life to be good again. 
 
And you can be happy in yourself and you can, you know you can completely work your way through it, and it might be tough, but it’s definitely worth, it’s like if it’s tough at times at least you’re challenging it and at least you’re making yourself better, and life will, you’ll just be so proud of yourself for having come out of the other side. And you’ll feel like such a better off person for having gone through this, and gone through the suffering and you’ll just be so strong at the end of it. And do have the confidence to take the steps to make yourself better, because you’re fully capable of getting better. And you’ve got it within yourself to get better, and it like one day, it definitely can happen.
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.
 

Keep going back till a doctor listens to you. Laura said not all doctors understand eating...

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Keep going back till a doctor listens to you. Laura said not all doctors understand eating...

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 18
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And if it doesn’t work the first time then just go back, just keep going until they actually listen to you. Because sometimes it does take a while because they don’t, not all GPs, well not many GPs do have a great understanding, so they might not realise what is actually going on and they might just think it’s a phase, but it’s not.

Last reviewed October 2018.

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