These days it’s a rare week when food, eating and weight are out of the headlines (quite aside from the cover of Heat magazine). If it’s not the obesity crisis bringing the NHS to its podgy knees it’s competitive undereaters starving themselves at the country’s top independent schools.
Last week was Eating Disorders Awareness Week, a campaign championed by a charity close to my heart called Beat. In spite of the recent media coverage of teenage girls developing anorexia the campaign was not widely publicised – I only knew about it through my personal support of the organisation.
I wonder if part of the reason for this is stigma. Many people I know are loud and proud in their support of other disease prevention causes, like Cancer Research. To acknowledge that you support an eating disorders charity, I would guess, implies that you or someone you know has been affected by an eating disorder. And that feels harder to vocalise than ‘cancer’ or ‘heart disease’.
Beat encouraged its supporters to spread the word about the awareness week through social media and, while I did a quick under-the-radar tweet, I wasn’t quite ready to shout about the great work that they do or even that tackling eating disorders is a really important issue.
Why am I so reticent?
Close friends of mine who have known me for years know that I have struggled with food and body issues for around a decade. It’s not a secret. Nor am I ashamed to say that I asked for help (including from Beat), and that the help I received probably saved my life.
For me, promoting awareness of eating disorders and trying to win the battle against them is paramount for another reason. My younger sister, a high-achieving perfectionist teenager at an all-girls independent school is a prime candidate. She may not have been helped by growing up around a big sister whose mantra was “I’m fat”.
I would do anything to protect her from the life-sapping illness of an eating disorder.
It’s important to me that we break down the stigma surrounding eating disorders and start to talk about them in a less secretive, more open way. So I’m speaking out. Spread the word.