Recovery is Possible: Leaving the Anorexia Mindset

by | May 25, 2014 | Mental Health

Recovery is Possible: Leaving the Anorexia Mindset

by | May 25, 2014 | Mental Health

We’ve been sold on the idea that You Can Never Be Too Thin. When we lose weight it’s a cause for celebration! Compliments roll in, you’ve got a spring in your step, and you feel like, finally, you’re of value. Unfortunately, the You Can Never Be Too Thin mantra doesn’t go away once weight is lost. There is always something that still needs to be fixed. In fact, the mindset of anorexia can be summed up as:

“There is something wrong with me and I need to fix it.”

That is anorexia. It’s not, ‘I am vain so I will lose weight’. It’s not a phase that girls go through and it’s not something that only the rich or famous are privy to.

Anorexia is a deep dissatisfaction with oneself that never goes away no matter the number on the scale.

It is the feeling that, if one gains weight, that one will never be loved. At one stage of my anorexia I wrote, ‘I have the feeling, and I know it’s wrong, but I would rather die than eat’. This was the fear I was experiencing.

I lived with anorexia from age 17, was hospitalised at age 18, and am proud to say that age 23 I am fully recovered from my obsession with weight and body shape. Alongside anorexia I experienced depression, anxiety, and lived – for a time – with a relentless voice inside my head that told me I was repulsive and unlovable. After hospitalisation I still grappled with food restriction, dieting, binge-eating, over-exercising, body checking, and body comparing.

A number of years later and I have very slowly let go of the anorexia mindset and its behaviours. It has been long, slow, and at many times with the feeling that I would never be able to let go. Sometimes I took 10 steps back but, even though I sunk very low, I kept on going. The road to success is not a straight line. And boy did I learn this the hard way!

I am now at the stage where I want to educate other people about eating disorders and the mental health system in Australia. I have experienced all the stigma of anorexia first-hand and found them to be utterly incorrect, damaging, and a barrier to treatment. I want to show through my experience that anorexia wasn’t something that was wrong with me nor was it something that I wanted. It was something that, because of my personality; circumstances; family history; age; indoctrinated cultural beliefs about success, just happened. That’s it.

In addition to education and reducing mental illness stigma, I want to inspire hope in others that recovery is possible. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. Collectively we all need to work together to make people understand that weight does not equal worth. We are valuable simply because we exist.

I want to be an example of what early intervention and personal determination can achieve – people who are happy, healthy, and valuable members of our community. People with mental illness should not be thrown to the scrap-heap; with timely and effective treatment people can and do recover. The amount of funding allocated to mental health initiatives needs to reflect the idea that recovery is possible for all individuals and that, when recovered, the whole community benefits.

For me, personally, recovery = courage. It took courage to seek help, leave the anorexia mindset, and embrace life. And life is scary! It’s full of uncertainty, challenges, disappointment, grief, and loneliness. But life is also full of joy, surprises, elation, contentment, and fulfillment. Anorexia is a barrier to experiencing life.

I will be writing about the bumpy road of recovery in a series of posts (Update: now completed, see here and here for my recovery posts). By the end of the series I hope to have enough information to start talking in the community about eating disorders alongside Australia’s largest eating disorder organisation, The Butterfly Foundation.

I hope you can join me!

If you are currently living with an eating disorder then there is no better time than now to seek help. Call The Butterfly Foundation support line on 1800 33 4673 (1800 ED HOPE), e-mail support@thebutterflyfoundation.org.au or obtain further information about services and accessing clinical experts at www.nedc.com.au (call 02 9419 4499).