What Do People With Anorexia Eat?

Over a year ago I wrote a post about how people with eating disorders were misrepresented in the media via their use of skeletal pictures when interviewing or discussing someone with the disorders, yet lately I have noticed there is another stereotypical image being promoted that drives me equally round the bend, that being the idea that people with anorexia do not eat anything at all, and it is this myth I really want to tackle in this post as it is simply not true and is unhelpful to everyone.

You see when you come across articles in the paper interviewing someone with an eating disorder, they always make it sound as if the person has gone years without ever letting a morsel of food pass their lips. 

I am often reading pieces stating that someone lived on half a cornflake for three years or something ridiculous, a statement that is physically impossible and that must be taken with a pinch of salt as everyone knows journalists will often exaggerate or make things sound worse by picking and choosing details from an interview to make a good story. If an article makes it sounds like someone interviewed supposedly hasn’t eaten more than half a cornflake for three years, it is most definitely false and cannot be taken as a fact in general or by which other sufferers can be measured. 

Admittedly, people with anorexia frequently do not eat enough, it is after all one of the symptoms, the classic restricting of calories to lose or prevent weight gain. Indeed people with anorexia often eat very little, nowhere near as much as they need to keep themselves alive, but that still doesn’t mean they don’t eat anything at all and spend years living on air. In addition to those in relapse  who still eat at least something (regardless as to whether it be enough or not), when people are in recovery and on a weight gain meal plan they may actually eat more than some “normal” people. I know I have certainly followed meal plans that exceed the “government guidelines” irrelevant calorie limit, which have been prescribed to me both in and out of hospital. People in relapse and recovery are still considered as having “anorexia” if their mental state dictates that diagnosis, no matter how much they eat, and they should all be counted and taken seriously as a voice for people with eating disorders without being discriminated against for (brace yourselves)…having breakfast. What about the people who have severe anorexia but eat to keep their families off their back or to maintain a job? The ones who eat purely to stay out of hospital or the ones who are trying their best to eat to get better yet are still in as much mental pain as anyone else and hating every second? The ones who want to scream and shout every time they eat but force themselves on anyway because they don’t want their kids to see them worrying about food in fear that they may also pick up on the anxiety? That image, of people with anorexia eating, is never represented in the media, as equally valid or not it isn’t a dramatic image that would sell a story in a magazine. After all, headlines of “anorexic eats an appropriate number of calories, not because they are better but because they don’t want to scare the children” are never going to sell or create as much drama as “anorexic eats nothing and only licks a blade of grass once a month for 10 years”.

I am pretty sure that every member of my family is aware that I have anorexia and in a way I find this helpful. With them knowing, it means I don’t have to lie all the time, if I disappear for a few months to go into hospital it isn’t a big secret and I don’t have to pretend I have been off travelling, climbing Kilimanjaro or building schools for orphaned penguins in the Arctic, but in a way it actually makes things harder because I feel there is an expectation of the way I should behave at family gatherings. I am currently unable to eat outside of my house or with family anyway, but even if I were able to I would find attempting it incredibly intimidating as I imagine if I were to eat anything, people would be confused. If a person without an eating disorder goes out for a meal and eats, nobody raises an eyebrow, but if someone who is known to have an eating disorder goes out for a meal, when they eat people start to question whether there is anything actually wrong with that person in the first place. If you hear someone has to go into hospital for a new leg and then you see them prior to admission dancing the tango pretty happily using their old one, you might wonder why on earth the new leg is needed as clearly there is no problem. The issue is of course that though someone may appear to be eating happily on the surface, they could still be going through mental torture inside and may be just trying not to make a fuss and embarrass themselves or draw attention.

The dangers of this misconception that “anorexics don’t eat” are very similar to the ones created by the idea that people with anorexia are underweight. Again, family members or professionals may not be concerned about someone they suspected may have an eating disorder because the person often sits down for a family meal. Sufferers also might find themselves in situations where they don’t eat, not because of their disorder in particular, but because they feel they can’t incase people suspect that they are faking the whole thing. Much like images of skeletal bodies, people hearing the myth that people with anorexia don’t eat can cause people to think that they are not “that bad”, “not ill enough to warrant help” or even worse it can trigger them to restrict their intake further because they think there is some “anorexic standard” they have to live up to. You cannot compare the severity of a person’s illness with that of someone else’s just by looking at what they look like or how much they eat without having any idea of what is going on inside their heads. 

Overall I guess the message of this post is that when it comes to the portrayal of people with eating disorders in the media, take all the pictures and interviews as pieces of journalism to sell a paper with the nuggets of truth inside partially skewed or not representative of eating disorder patients as a whole. Making judgements based on accounts that are for the purpose of selling papers rather than truly giving a voice to people with no ulterior motive is never going to provide an unbiased piece that one can make conclusions from. Basically what I want to say is do not trust the media at all, instead you should trust strangers on the internet like me…actually don’t trust strangers on the internet…that isn’t the message I want to promote at all…. just don’t think that people with anorexia don’t eat. 

Take care everyone x

Sandwich

Psychiatric Unit Themed Halloween Parties And Why They Are Always A Bad Idea

So tomorrow is Halloween, and though not exactly my favourite holiday as I may have mentioned in my Halloween themed post last year (…ahem…Why Halloween Can Be Difficult For People With Mental Health Problems…) it is a time that a lot of people celebrate and get rather excited about. Some even have Halloween parties with houses decorated to fit in with some Halloween style theme from haunted mansions to circus tents and unfortunately, insane asylums.
Being actually in an insane asylum for Halloween this year then, you would think I would be in the ideal position. Why decorate a place to look like a mental ward when you are on a real mental ward? My job is done. I don’t have to worry about a costume this year either as simply getting out of bed and putting my normal clothes on will qualify me as an accurate representation of a patient in a psychiatric unit. I don’t even have to bother with face paints or drawing spider webs on my face with black eyeliner which then doesn’t wash off for three months, meaning I have to go to my best friend’s wedding with an arachnid adorning my cheek. Think of the time I will save…I can use it instead to have a nice cup of tea with my feet up. Bargain!

Rather appropriately, Halloween this year falls on the same day as ward round on our unit, aka the scariest event of the week (because you have to sit in a room with a lot of intimidating professional people staring at you making scary decisions, not because there is always a ghoul wailing in the corner…he is there all year round and we are all pretty used to him by now…his name is Derrick.) Other than that spooky coincidence however, there is, rather disappointingly, nothing very Halloween like about Halloween in a real life psychiatric unit which might disappoint some people, but it is important to note if you are planning a party with the “asylum” theme, because trust me when I say this is not the ideal setting for your festive frivolities.

From that opening, you may very well assume that from here I am going to send this post in the direction of a serious “why you shouldn’t set a Halloween party in a psychiatric unit theme” rant, highlighting and raising the awareness of the fact that these parties promote stigmatising ideas of mental health problems that are already far too prominent in society. You may think I am about to get all up in your faces about people needing to be politically correct, plead for you to see us patients as mere troubled folk rather than fodder for a costume idea, but you know what, today I am not even touching any of the politically correct important serious issues with mental hospital themed parties this year. Nope, instead I am going to raise awareness of the far more important fact that, aside from being insensitive and offensive in a million different ways which I should probably talk about but won’t because others have no doubt done it before me, celebrating Halloween with a “mental hospital theme” is simply impractical and will not involve any of the fun games and activities people associate with Halloween.

Think about it, what are the common things people do to celebrate this time of year? Number one on the agenda: pumpkin carving.
Pumpkin carving? I am supposedly in the ideal setting… but how the hell am I supposed to do that? Do you really think I would be allowed a knife in here? I don’t even have the wrap around belt for my dressing gown! Do people have any idea about things that are and are not allowed in a psychiatric unit? You can’t go carving root vegetables with machetes when you are in hospital and if you can’t do that then a Happy Halloween party is pretty much impossible. I mean you can try but a Happy Halloween without a pumpkin? Forget it.
Anyway, where am I and all of these “crazed deranged loons” supposed to be getting these pumpkins? In the supermarket? In my homegrown special organic vegetable patch at the local allotments? I can’t leave the ward!
Unless Cinderella’s fairy Godmother is planning on turning up any time soon, pumpkins are another no go item (although admittedly pumpkins are not specifically mentioned on the list of things staff search your bags for upon admission…they are more focused on things like knives and razor blades…shiny silver things mostly…I have a theory that all of the staff are secretly magpies…).

Aside from pumpkin carving then, what else do people do at Halloween to celebrate the holiday at parties and create merriment? Ah, apple bobbing!
Surely that is possible in a mental health hospital? Surely a party in a real or with a mental hospital theme could celebrate via that classic game? NOPE.
Again party planners, think about the impracticalities! I am on an Eating Disorder ward for goodness sake! Food is scary and hard enough as it is without adding the obstacles of a black eye due to a violently bobbing Granny Smith and the potentially fatal risk of drowning mid meal time. Do people think staff allow patients to go submerging their heads underwater like that? OF COURSE NOT (that is unless the staff have a chance of patients retrieving something shiny for them from the bottom of the pool of water…Magpies the lot of them I tell you.)

How about a Halloween party ghost walk? Sorry. No ghosts.
What ghost would decide to haunt a mental hospital? If you get the opportunity to spend eternity in the location of your choice are you really going to settle on “psych ward” as your idea of a forever home? Of course not! If you ask me it is far more likely there will be ghosts haunting more enjoyable places like a beach in the Bahamas or the local pub. Me? Well, keep it on the down low because I don’t want to give everyone else ideas and end up with my chosen location being overcrowded with the wandering souls of the deceased, but personally if I get a chance to come back to hang around earth for a bit longer, I have my eye on Disneyland. No queuing for Thunder mountain and a chance of bumping into Mickey Mouse every day? Sign me up good Sir! Ok, when it comes to the specific mental ward I am on, we do have Derrick in ward round so I guess I could try celebrating with some kind of ghost walk but like I said…he isn’t really that scary (or clever to be honest. Like I said nobody with any sense would decide to spend eternity in a mental institution. Why is Derrick here you ask? Yeah, turns out he is lost. Broken sat nav. Was aiming for a Broadway Theatre so that he could watch all the musicals he wanted for free every night. It is pitiful really. Sometimes I try to cheer him up by singing Cabaret and doing a bit of a tap dance but alas it just isn’t the same.)

Seriously, throw any Halloween party activity idea or game at me and I will be able to prove my point that realistically, trying to play that game in one of the top rated theme setting type places of a mental hospital is simply not a good idea. Playing with a spooky pet rat or a creepy horror movie style jump scare of a black cat leaping around every doorway? Yeah, good luck getting that around infection control. Pin the bone on the skeleton? WHAT DID I JUST SAY ABOUT SHARP OBJECTS AND STAFF LIKING TO CONFISCATE SHINY THINGS. Huddling up to tell scary stories at midnight? Cancelled. Your anti psychotics will have you asleep by 9pm before you have even had a chance to say “Once upon a time on a dark and stormy night”.

See what I mean? Aside from all that serious nonsense about being politically incorrect and damn well offensive, setting your Halloween party in an insane asylum is simply not a good idea because it is impractical when it comes to celebrating with any of the usual activities. Of course don’t let that stop you, if you feel ultra compelled to promote the stigmatising stereotype that people with mental health problems are terrifying lunatics to be feared, then be my guest. Just thought I should warn you that if you do that you really aren’t going to have a very happy time if you are doing the setting/theme accurately, aka without the obligatory activities pumpkin carving, apple bobbing and other Halloween classics. My advice for your Halloween party theme this year? Go with the haunted mansion plan or vampire lair. Trust me, as well as being less offensive, those ideas will provide a lot more fun…I hear some vampire lairs even come with their own poisonous bats, with no infection control getting in the way and neat vegetable patches supplied with organic, perfectly round pumpkins, ripe for the carving…Hoorah! Happy Halloween!

Take care everyone x

HalloweenInvite