You definitely wouldn't know it now, but in my teens, I struggled with anorexia. Despite loving food for its taste, I hated the way it made me feel. For me (and actually, for a lot of sufferers), it really wasn't about the way I looked, contrary to Joan Bakewell's outrageous point of view. And one of the things that most people who haven't experienced an eating disorder will find difficult to understand is that it becomes nigh impossible to distinguish between physical and mental symptoms.
What I mean by this is that, when you're faced with a plate of food and suddenly feel overwhelmingly nauseous, you begin to think that there's something physically wrong with you. Like an allergic reaction, almost. When it comes to recovery, then, it's no wonder that many people suffering with anorexia find it extremely challenging to acknowledge and overcome this mysterious disorder.
And not everyone is able to. According to eating disorder charity b-eat, only 46% of sufferers are able to fully recover. Of the remaining percentile, 20% remain chronically ill. I count myself extremely lucky to be a part of the former group.
This said, I don't think it's always possible to completely recover from an eating disorder, even if you never again display the unhealthy patterns you once did. On a regular basis (albeit decreasingly so - if you're fortunate), it may be necessary to check yourself for symptoms and be 'strict' with yourself in new ways, even years down the line.
One of the biggest problems facing ED sufferers, in my opinion, is this expectation that they should be able to miraculously say goodbye to all disordered compulsions and be able to build a healthy relationship with food. It may be a little defeatist to say but, for some people, this just isn't going to happen.
And being realistic about your recovery is exceptionally important. If you expect too much of yourself, you will only be left feeling hopeless and weak when you don't get the results that you were told to aim for. You're going to feel terrible when you start to eat 'normally' again. You're going to have peaks and troughs in your recovery. Such bumps are inevitable.
Yet despite all of this, there is hope for everyone. When I say that it's not always possible to completely recover, I don't mean that anorexia or bulimia will continue to dominate your life. You can go on to eat without feeling nauseous. You can actually start to enjoy the feeling of being full, no matter how inconceivable that notion currently seems.
Of course, everyone's experience in overcoming an eating disorder will be different, but if solidarity and open discourse can help to make that experience easier or less painful in any way at all, I want to be a part of it.
While this alone is never going to be enough, you can also seek incredible support through other channels. For instance, b-eat not only offer a wealth of information that ED sufferers can read through, they organise peer support groups, where you can meet, talk to and support people having similar experiences to you. Such groups are open to friends and family, to prevent any misunderstanding and equip those surrounding you with the best possible tools to aid your recovery.
In theory, the more prepared you are for the somewhat unavoidable challenges that lie ahead of you as an eating disorder sufferer, the more likely it is that you'll get through to the other side.