The recent Netflix film To The Bone required Lily Collins to lose weight for the lead role to show a skeletal figure. This is often how we envisage people struggling with anorexia but this is not always the case.
Anorexia is extremely complex and is a mental health condition and the chance of recovery is more possible the earlier you seek help. However, those struggling often deny there is a problem and don't seek help because they don't see themselves as skeletal. Many people are made to feel that they need to lose more weight in order to be taken seriously because their BMI is not low enough to get access to help.
So what does a woman with anorexia look like? It obviously can depend on how ill you are but in my experience, it is possible to have anorexia and not be underweight. You can still be eating. However, the one common factor is the voice in your head that's torturing you. So in some cases anorexia can be 'hidden' and not at all obvious.
So is a person with anorexia 'recovered' after they start eating regularly and restoring weight? This is probably the most difficult time for someone in recovery. You have made the decision that you need help but the fear and guilt involved are immense. You are constantly being pulled in two directions of wanting to recover and then wanting to retreat back to 'safety'.
To give you an idea of what a woman with anorexia can look like, a few ladies have bravely shared their stories with me:
Jo Barber, 45, married with 2 children from a previous marriage, living in Pershore, Worcestershire, and works as a Sales Administrator for a car dealership. Jo developed anorexia at 19 after going on a diet, losing weight and getting lots of compliments. She felt great and finally knew she could achieve what she wanted and be in control of what she ate. She became obsessed and the next 10 years were spent in and out of hospitals and clinics. At her lowest weight she lost the use of her leg due to loss of muscle and nerve damage. She overdosed with Paracetamol whilst in one clinic and was sectioned. At the age of 29, she managed to gain weight but still struggled mentally. She married at 32 and desperately wanted children, to look after something precious, to give her a purpose in life. She had two children but needed treatment to conceive. She has now re married and sees that she only married the first time because she thought no one else would want her. She still exercises and feels terribly guilty and fat if she doesn't. She eats healthily but does allow treats at weekends. She still struggles with her appearance and thinks she could do with losing weight. She also still suffers with depression from time to time.
Michelle Hauer, 39, married with 2 children, living in East Helena, Montana, and is the Compliance Manager for the Montana Department of Corrections. Her anorexia started at the age of 12 as a way to deal with the intense pressure of being perfect both academically and athletically. Her counsellor's approach was often "just eat" and about food, with no one realizing that anorexia was a coping mechanism and not the true issue. She entered recovery in 2005 after having children but in 2014 a series of events led her back to anorexia, and 18 months later she'd lost a lot of weight and was very close to death. She is now back in recovery but says "Anorexia is something I battle every single day, even when recovered. The negative thoughts of being unlovable, unworthy of recovery, not good enough, haunt me constantly. Feeling insecure is something that I battle with every day but you'd never know it by meeting me or working with me. And when I get overwhelmed, I control food as a way for me to feel in control of my chaotic life".
Sue Daniel, 55, married with two adopted children, and is Labour and Delivery nurse in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was 11 when she started with her eating disorder. She wanted to feel better about herself and a voice inside told her that if she lost a little weight, things would be better. In fact she lost weight but never really felt better, and the more weight she lost the worse her body image became. Her eating disorder became her fix for the next 28 years. It kept her energized and she felt as if she was better than other people because she could do what other people couldn't. However her perceptions on food, weight, health were all so skewed. There were many stages to her eating disorder but it controlled her for all of her life. As she got older she wanted to stop but couldn't, the voice was too relentless in her head. She tried to recover after one of her children questioned her behaviours. It took nine years of hard work with setbacks, trust issues and relapses but she was finally was able to get to those underlying issues. She says now "I am practicing intuitive eating. I am living life without worries about weight or food or calories or exercise etc. I am laughing, loving, feeling and most of all accepting. I am home!!"
And finally me ... Kim Marshall, 42, divorced with two children, founder of Kiss Goodbye To Ana, living in Pershore, Worcestershire. At 30 years old, I discovered my husband was having an affair. He appeared indifferent and moved 450 miles away within 24 hours, and I became a single mum. I couldn't deal with the hurt and rejection that would threaten to tear me apart if I let it, and this is when anorexia entered my life. Being in control made me feel good and with Ana by my side I felt invincible. However this feeling didn't last and soon she became abusive, making me feel worthless, despising myself and my body. I became tortured by the voice in my head, by food, eating and strived for goals that would never lead to happiness. I felt like I was in the deepest darkest well with no chink of light shining through. I felt alone and desperate and considered suicide several times a day. Eventually I was admitted as an inpatient to an eating disorders centre and although during the 4 months there I learned to eat and restored weight, the voice in my head never ceased and when I was discharged I still felt the urge to return to old behaviours. I was soon introduced to EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) which I used to transform my life by changing the way I felt about myself and became more confident, positive and happier. I founded Kiss Goodbye To Ana and now help other women with eating disorders out of the torturous place they're in, whilst helping them feel safe and in control, every step of the way.
If you are struggling, I know it's scary but do seek help, even if you don't think you fit into the stereotypical image of anorexia. Don't put it off, there is no better day than today and the sooner you get help, the more possible it is to recover. By recovery I don't just mean that you're able to manage your meal plan and maintain your goal weight. Recovery for me is about being happy and confident and being free of that voice in my head. It's a great feeling and it's possible for you too!