February 24, 2010

Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2010 (Natasha)

To coin a phrase frequently repeated by anyone who works long hours – “It’s only Wednesday and I’m knackered already!”. This week is passing in a blur of radio and press interviews and of discovering yet more people dedicated to promoting change and stamping out the growing trend for eating disorders – Hoorah!

I was delighted to see Sam Thomas’ campaign “Men Get Eating Disorders Too” (http://www.mengetedstoo.co.uk/) receive some well deserved press-coverage, including a feature in the Daily Mirror (go Sam!).

Sam and I were both lucky enough to be interviewed by Jenny “Loveliness Personified” Barnett on LBC on Thursday 25th February about what has been termed by the media as the “Manorexia Epidemic”. (I’m not sure how comfortable I am with this term – It’s like “guyliner” – Surely eyeliner is for men and women so why do men need an entirely different word?)

It’s my observation that young men and women represent two opposite extremes when it comes to addressing the issues of relationships towards food and body image. Girls incessantly overanalyze, constantly scrutinizing their own diet and body shape as well as those of their peers. Whilst these topics tend to come up frequently in conversations amongst females, it often means that the dangerous thought-processes and destructive habits which can lead to eating disorders are normalized and excused. Their male counterparts, conversely, are desperate to maintain a façade of casual disregard for all body-related issues and this constant quest for bravado means that problems fester silently and have to become sufficiently severe before they can be recognized. Sam’s campaign, which aims to ensure that eating disorders amongst men are treated with equal gravitas as those in women, will go some way to redressing this imbalance and that is why we support it at Winning Minds, where we have seen many male clients who feel trapped by their own silent self-loathing and harmful eating habits.

Ilona Burton, ex anorexia and bulimia sufferer and now an ambassador for B-eat, is another person who is passionate about tackling misconceptions and prejudices so often applied in the Eating Disorder sphere. This week, she has been working with the local press, Radio 1’s Newsbeat and Channel M, sending out the vital message that, contrary to popular belief, eating disorders aren’t the curse automatically associated with being a white, middle class female. There is no common component uniting sufferers, and no one is genetically or socially more predisposed to an eating disorder – They can strike anyone regardless of race, class or gender. Ilona writes a blog for The Independent, which aims to educate families and friends of eating disorder sufferers.

The official National Eating Disorders Awareness Week site defines this week as “a collective effort of primarily volunteers, eating disorder professionals, health care providers, educators, social workers, and individuals committed to raising awareness of the dangers surrounding eating disorders and the need for early intervention and treatment”. With this in mind, Mark and I have been talking ourselves hoarse to anyone who will listen about the causes of eating disorders and how we can actively encourage change, on both a personal and sociological level. We have even recorded a CD called “Understanding Eating Disorders” which features Mark offering various pearls of wisdom during a question-and-answer session and is designed both for sufferers and the people around them who might be struggling to understand their mentality and behaviour. You can find out more about the CD by going to www.winningminds.co.uk/self-help-tools/.

Heart FM, being the wonderful starlets of social awareness they are, interviewed me not once, not twice, but thrice, for their stations in Essex, Gloucester and the West Midlands. I later found out that this also meant clips were featured during the hourly news bulletins on 1017fm, which is listened to by pretty-much all of my Essex based friends, who then proceeded to phone me in various states of hysteria – “babe! You’re, like, famous! And everything!”. Meanwhile, Lorna Milton of BBC Three Counties asked questions which allowed me to remember why I started all this campaigning malarkey in the first place – To make a noise about the often dismissed and overlooked issue of bulimia nervosa, which is neither as ostensibly shocking, nor as glamorous, as the much-hyped anorexia. Dave Monk at BBC Essex then very patiently allowed me to rant maniacally, often to comic effect, about Botox, why designers who find themselves unable to make plus size models look fabulous in their creations are not very good at their job and why the Lynx advert should be banned for its laughably blatant attempts at manipulation of the entire male populous.

ITV West will air their piece on my body confidence campaign (in association with Body Gossip) on Friday – Which features the lovely students of Gloucestershire College giving their verdict on my attempts to make realise there’s more to life than expending all your energy attempting to fit the identikit celebrity aesthetic, and (with any luck) making some equally lovely comments.

With all this frantic awareness-raising, advice-giving, campaign-mongering and general rant-age, one would have thought the message would be clear. However, to my dismay (and when I say dismay, what I actually mean is me stomping into Mark’s office, shoving a newspaper cutting under his nose and saying “I’m livid, I am!”), there have been several pieces in the national press which proffer a ludicrous line of logic, which can be summarized as: “Why are we all focusing on eating disorders so much, when obesity is the real problem in this country?”. You may read my response to one such journalist in my blog (http://realbeautydebate.blogspot.com), but before you do, bear in mind it was written almost solely by my inner bitch. My inner bitch is a flamboyantly camp, flame haired drag queen, who has just been spurned by his boyfriend for a much younger man and wants to take it out on the world. You have been warned.

I have two points to make on the warped reasoning of these articles:

  • Compulsive overeating, to which a large proportion of severe obesity can be attributed, IS an eating disorder and has the same common root as anorexia or bulimia – Low Self Esteem.
  • Shockingly, a viable solution to the so-called obesity crisis in this country would NOT be anorexia.

As for the majority of people in Great Britain, who are a little above their ideal BMI and are perpetually being told so by health professionals, the media and the generally self-righteous: How anyone could believe that torturing oneself relentlessly both mentally and physically is in any way preferable to having a muffin top, is beyond my comprehension. Whatever the general state of the majority population, eating disorders are an increasing and terrifying problem and will continue to be so unless there is a fundamental change in attitudes – Including, but not restricted to, ceasing to deflect the issue by talking about the obesity crisis whenever our attention is drawn to the uncomfortable realm of EDs.

These are exactly the views I expressed on Talk Sport, in the wee small hours of Monday morning. The sleep deprivation was worth it to be welcomed into the bosom of the UK’s no1 commercial radio station. I was commenting on the story of 5 year old Lucy Jones, who was sent home from school with a note from her PCT, stating that she is overweight and therefore at increased risk of cancer and heart disease. Closer investigation revealed she was just 1% over her “ideal” BMI, although such investigation was unnecessary as anyone who took a few miliseconds to glance at her with their eyes would realise that she is far from overweight and perfectly healthy. Let’s hope she continues to be so, despite the damage that this incident has no doubt inflicted upon her fragile, infant self esteem. If people are searching for the reason behind the steady incline in eating disorders over the past decade, and why they are affecting increasingly young people, I think we need look no further.

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