Over 9% of the population is suffering from an eating disorder, so it’s time to address this health issue by answering some common questions.
Ryan Jarvis, from Cambridgeshire, first started experiencing symptoms of anorexia when he was 26-years-old. He explains how his life fell apart and, with the support of his family, how he managed to piece it back together. You will learn a lot from his personal experience!
But before listening to his personal story, let’s learn a few things about eating disorders.
What Is An Eating Disorder?
An eating disorder is when someone has an abnormal relationship with food that causes them to change their eating habits and their behavior.
As you might already figure that out, eating too much food or too little leads to seriously altering your health.
Different Types Of Eating Disorders
There are three eating disorders that are very common amongst us. They are:
- Anorexia nervosa;
- And binge eating.
Anorexia nervosa, commonly referred to as anorexia, is when someone tries to keep his or her weight as low as possible, usually by starving themselves or by exercising obsessively.
Bulimia is when someone tries to control their weight by binge eating and then making themselves sick or taking medication to empty their bowels.
If you eat more than your body needs and don’t stop when you’re full, then you’re binge eating.
What Are The Common Causes Of An Eating Disorder?
Eating disorders are often blamed on the pressure to be thin. Pressure can stem from friends, family, the workplace, and often the media.
However, it is also possible that the cause is much more complex than this.
Some experts believe that if you have a family history of eating disorders, depression, or substance misuse then you could be more likely to suffer from an eating disorder.
Certain characteristics, such as an obsessive personality, can also make someone more likely to develop an eating disorder.
Is Anorexia More Common Than Bulimia?
No, it is thought that bulimia is five times more common than anorexia.
However, due to the difficulty of quantifying binge eating, it is not exactly clear how widespread the condition actually is.
What Treatment Is Available?
There are several different types of treatment available for those who are suffering from an eating disorder.
Treatment generally involves monitoring a person’s physical health while helping them deal with the psychological causes.
Some people may be advised to go through a course of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on changing how they think about certain situations.
Alternatively, interpersonal psychotherapy treatment is available, which involves talking about relationship-based issues.
There is also dietary counseling to help people maintain a healthy diet.
Now that we know what an eating disorder is, how it appears, and what are some available treatments, let’s hear Ryan’s real battle with an eating disorder.
My Battle With Anorexia
I began by not eating properly and became obsessed with counting calories, weighing myself, and controlling the food that I was putting into my body.
I remember looking at food and saying “I can’t have this, I can’t have that” due to the number of calories that it contained.
To this day I am not really sure what triggered my anorexia. But I now realize that there were a couple of difficult things that were going on in my life that could be contributing factors.
I was in a relationship with someone I really liked and it suddenly ended right before this harsh period. This was something that I found difficult to come to terms with.
I was also living back with my parents having lived on my own before. Living back with them was another bit of control I seemed to lose and I wasn’t enjoying my job, working for an insurance company.
There is one particular moment that I remember and it will probably always stick in my head.
I went to work and told the training manager that I was planning on losing 10lbs so that I could get down to 150lbs. I remember him looking at me and saying, “So you’re going to settle for being semi-chunky then?”
It was that phrase that planted the seed that, even if I did lose a couple of pounds, in my head, I would still feel overweight.
Hearing The Truth
When things got bad, it was my mum who first began to pick up on my eating habits. However, it wasn’t until two or three years later that I began to accept that I had anorexia.
I started to get a lot of chest pains and decided to go and visit my doctor. My doctor suggested the pains could be stress-related so he arranged an appointment with the local mental health team.
They asked me to fill out a questionnaire, which asked me about all sorts of mental health issues. Once I’d completed the form, the nurse asked me to sit in the waiting room.
Half an hour later they called me back and said, “Mr. Jarvis we have reviewed your questionnaire and we can confirm that you are suffering from anorexia.”
Even though my mum had been banging on about it, to hear someone official look me in the face and say it was extremely difficult to hear. I just sat there and broke down into tears.
Once I had been diagnosed with anorexia I went through a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) with a counselor.
If I’m being completely honest, I would sit there, listen to what the therapist had to say but then leave and carry on as I had been.
On and off, I had about three years of CBT and counseling. While this was going on, I was really struggling at home.
Most of my friends thought I was going mad and they couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to go out for a drink or a curry. It left me feeling more and more isolated and eventually most of my friends lost touch with me.
Despite the lack of support from my friends, my mum was a hero. I have often said that if it wasn’t for her and my family’s continuous support, I might not have been here today.
I know it makes me sound like a real mummy’s boy but I don’t know what I would do without my mum. My family became my best friends.
For me, my turning point was when my niece was born. I fell in love with her straight away and thought that she was the most amazing person on the planet.
When things were going really bad I remember my mum saying to me, “Ryan, if you’re not careful then you’re not going to see her grow up.” That hit me like a tonne of bricks.
By this time I was under 100lbs in weight, suffering from osteoporosis and I just didn’t know what to do.
The thought of not seeing my niece grow up was something that I didn’t want to entertain. But I still didn’t have the willpower to go home and cook myself a decent meal.
I went back to the eating disorders team who had been giving me CBT and monitoring my weight and I said, “My niece has just been born. I don’t want to die, I want to see her grow up but I can’t do this on my own. Is there anything that you can do to help me?”
That was probably the first time they had seen me in about 12 months.
Then I was submitted to Addenbrooke’s Hospital as an inpatient. I stayed there for about four months and then for the final two months I was in as an outpatient on a basic re-feeding program.
Slowly, my diet began to improve and I started to gain weight.
I remember before I went to the hospital I met a girl who was four weeks older than me and she explained that she had been readmitted nine times due to relapses. She said that this was now her life.
I remember turning to my dad and saying, “I’m not going to do that, I am only going to do this once.” They admitted me to the hospital and I accepted that was necessary, but I was damn sure that I wasn’t going to do it twice.
Since coming out of hospital my relationship with food has really improved. I eat most things and even have the odd takeaway.
I have also set up my own business as a professional photographer, which has been running for nearly three years.
Being a photographer is something that I would never have dreamed of without the encouragement of the staff in the hospital, who could see that I had a real passion for it.
I’ve realized that there are too many reasons to live; I don’t have time to worry about calories anymore.
My message to people that are struggling with an eating disorder is to let the world know that you’re struggling. Focus on the things that really mean a lot to you.
I was lucky because I found two things that meant a lot to me: I found photography and I also found this love for my niece. It’s a case of being honest and saying, “I’m ill.“