Mental Health & Wellbeing Matters: the stigma of an eating disorder

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A few words on being diagnosed with an eating disorder, and trying to come to terms with being open about it.

Trigger warning: This article discusses eating disorders. If this is problematic for you, websites like and can offer resources and support, as well as your local GP, hospital, or health service.

I have always battled with my weight and eating habits, and ‘battled’ is absolutely not an exaggeration. From underweight to obese, and everywhere in between. In late 2019 I began to realise the problem was more worrisome than mere vanity. I was binging and then purging.

Before I could get to grips with that reality, The Dreaded Pandemic hit and we were thrown into lockdowns that saw many services screech to a halt for a prolonged period of time. This unfortunately meant that my problem began to spiral out of control. Finally, in April of this year, after multiple unsuccessful requests for help, I was referred to and assessed by a local eating disorder clinic and the diagnosis was official; Bulimia Nervosa.

Expected though that was, it was still difficult to digest. (No pun intended.)

The good news is that now I am in the system and I am about to begin treatment.

We live in an age when we are trying to break down the stigma of multiple aspects of life, significantly mental illness. There are hashtags and awareness campaigns insisting people need to speak up when they are struggling. Many reasons exist for this, but two of the biggest ones that I can see are (a) taking away the power of the words, and (b) allowing others to see they are not alone and encouraging them to seek help.

Having spent over three years learning to accept that I was suffering an eating disorder, even before the diagnosis, meant that I reached a point where I can say “eating disorder” without feeling shame. It is an illness I couldn’t prevent, but hopefully something I can soon learn to control.

So why, when recently I told some people, did I find them dismissing me?

Historically people with eating disorders (and countless other illnesses) have been unable to say the name of their condition, due to shame or denial. So my ability to say those two words were apparently proof that it wasn’t a real problem.

This is one of those ‘facepalm’ moments. Never mind that I was stating a fact given to me by official specialists, but I am living in a world seeking to end stigma while somehow stigmatising me.

And there –eventually- is my point; we can’t have it both ways.

How can we seek to end stigma when doing exactly that causes stigma? It is the equivalent of telling people to ‘be kind’ while you’re being rude to them.

I’ve spent my whole life discussing my mental, physical, and trauma issues with so many specialists, doctors, and therapists, that I can tell my entire life story with little emotion, for the most part. That doesn’t mean I’m not affected in any way. It just means the words are just that – words. I’ve already said them so often they don’t hold the same power they used to. But that somehow stands against me in terms of believe-ability.

My name is Sarah, and I have an eating disorder.

I can say it because it is a fact. I can say it because I’ve had time to adapt to it. I can say it because campaigns to end the taboo of speaking out have encouraged me. And I can say it because I know that not saying it will be more damaging to my recovery.

So don’t judge me for saying it.

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