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Content Note: This article contains discussion of disordered eating.

In year six, I could have focused on many things. I might have thrown myself into the leavers’ play we were putting on, or prepared myself for transitioning to secondary school, or simply concentrated on the time I had left with the children I’d grown up with. Instead, my focus was hijacked by anxiety. We were going to be weighed in school.

I queued with my classmates outside the room that I had, until then, associated with laying toy train tracks and mixing paint colours. We were called up alphabetically and asked to remove our shoes, before a clinometer was brought down on our heads and a scale thrust under our feet. My parents received the results in the post. Despite my nights of lying awake worrying, they refused to divulge the information. 

“Would you tell me if there was something wrong?” I asked. 

“There isn’t anything wrong.”  

The sense of unease I felt looking in the mirror was growing familiar. Aged ten, I considered eating less to protect my future self. Though it would be another few years before my eating disorder manifested itself, I think I could see it coming. I had nothing but compassion for her: this hypothetical, weight-watching version of me that would carry my body through high school, sixth form, and eventually university. I had heard about teenagers who hated themselves until they ceased to function as anything but diet machines, and I didn’t want that for her.  

"The lack of emotional support and use of BMI as a universal system might be laughable if they weren’t so dangerous."

In year nine, I watched a friend analyze the calories in a cereal bar. I tried to stop her worrying, as though expecting to fix something inside of her. Just months later, I was the one who couldn’t get through a day without logging every piece of food that entered my mouth. 

When I say I have a problem with the government’s new anti-obesity measures, it isn’t youthful left-wing spite. It’s anger that they reinforce the prejudice we as a society have against fat people. Although I have always remained on the privileged side of that rift, I find it abhorrent. As someone with an eating disorder, I’m terrified.  

Beat recently found that 9/10 people with eating disorders felt their symptoms worsening during lockdown, and use of their services has risen by 81%. I can’t say I was surprised. The threat of the virus and sense of isolation has devastated mental health worldwide. Whether it was the stress of exams, because I couldn’t be as active, a lack of control over grocery buying, or exposure to Tiktok’s tolerance for pro-anorexia: my own eating disorder was stronger than ever. 

With the spike in prevalence and severity of eating disorders that’s been associated with COVID prevention, one might hope for an increase in support. Instead, Boris Johnson’s government is ignoring expert advice. The rigid DSM-5 criteria and weight requirements leave many sans diagnosis. The lack of emotional support and use of BMI as a universal system might be laughable if they weren’t so dangerous. 

Societally, we love the idea that eating disorders affect thin, white girls, fuelling the romanticization of these deadly illnesses that kill up to 20% of sufferers. In reality, there are many types of eating disorders- which are mental illnesses, not defined by a body type. People of colour experience eating disorders just as severely, but are less likely to receive help . Trans people are more at risk than cis people. Men and boys make up around 33% of those affected. In an already neglected topic, these groups receive even less acknowledgement, let alone practical help. In a way, I’m lucky to fit the stereotype, although it doesn’t stop my feelings of invalidation.  

"When it becomes legislation for common triggers like calorie and nutrition counts to be presented everywhere, it's valid for people with eating disorders to feel threatened: this isn’t just ‘oversensitivity’." 

Instead of addressing these issues, the National Obesity Forum suggests that children returning to school should have their weight loss monitored. Some of these children are so young that my own eating disorder is older than them; such measurement protocols are triggering, and I hope the government realises it. We as a society have to be accountable for the way we treat people who are overweight- the way we praise weight loss, and our presentation of a constant pursuit of thinness as normal. We have to listen to people in marginalized bodies and those with poor body image. 

People with eating disorders may not always be the most rational. There’s nothing rational about spitting out half chewed-up food, avoiding socializing that might revolve around eating, or being genuinely afraid of a meal you haven’t prepared yourself. Even anonymously, I daren’t voice half of the thoughts that have pushed me to break trust with my own brain; rationality is a distant memory. But when it becomes legislation for calorie and nutrition counts, one of the biggest, most common triggers, to be presented everywhere, it’s entirely valid for those with eating disorders (and even those who have recovered) to feel threatened: this isn’t just ‘oversensitivity’. 


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If you think you might struggle, you might ask a friend to read the menu to you. You could try eating at smaller restaurants and cafes that are exempt from the legislation, or focus on what you’re gaining from the food: an opportunity for nourishment and socializing. Most importantly, if you have a calorie counting app, delete it. We can work on that together. 

When you have an eating disorder, particularly one that’s restrictive, sometimes it feels as though limiting your diet is the only way to stay in control. Remember that taking care of yourself- genuine care, not salad and weighing scales care- is the true control. Letting go of your eating disorder and remembering that you’re so much more than your body is the true control. Knowing you don’t have to be in control is the true control. Recovery is possible. 

 

If you think you have an eating disorder, you should speak to your GP. Sites that could help include Beat, The Eating Disorder Institute, Caraline, Anorexia and Bulimia Care, and The Recovery Club. 

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