Living with a Mental Illness: You don’t have to be stick thin to have an eating disorder

Written by Hope Virgo, Author of Stand Tall Little Girl and Mental Health Campaigner

Imagine getting turned away for not having a broken-enough leg. There would be complete outrage, but yet for people with eating disorders this is happening on a day to day basis. People are turned away for not being “sick” enough. We know a healthy BMI is 18.5 or above but yet some places in the UK are turning people away if their BMI is about 14!

I lived with anorexia from the age of 12 to 17 years old before being hospitalised with a failing heart, so you would have thought that when I relapsed 8 years after being discharged from hospital there would be some understanding around this. But no, instead I was turned away for not being thin enough. I was told my BMI wasn’t under enough so there was nothing they could do for me. Being left in the lurch like that you end up feeling like this fake anorexic person, someone who needs to prove a point. I felt fat, and hypocritical and that relentless voice in my head, my anorexia was making everything feel so much worse. I was left feeling suicidal and extremely unsure about how I could keep moving forward in life with this. This relentless voice dictating my every move.

The thing is, this isn’t something that just happened to me but this happens to 100s of people across the NHS every single day! And it is just not right or fair. Imagine telling someone with a broken leg to come back when there leg was more broken… we would never dream of that so we cannot let this continue with those with eating disorders.

Eating disorders are not about weight, there is so much more to them than that. But yet still for some reason across the whole of society and for diagnosis there is this mind-set that to have an eating disorder you have to look like a skeleton.

We know that if eating disorders are treated sooner there is a better chance of long term recovery. So why then do we feel the need to wait?

Not only does recovery take longer when you have have lived with the illness for that long but it causes this feeling that we cannot accept this illness. That we aren’t good enough at having anorexia. It fuels that competitive side of the eating disorder making the individual feel so much worse than they already felt.

Through the work I do in hospitals I meet individuals who have eating disorders (sometimes as the primary diagnosis, sometimes as the secondary) and so many of these people talk openly about how hard it is to be taken seriously when their weight is going up, or if they didn’t get as low as someone else. As someone who has had anorexia. It is upsetting that we live in a society where people judge the severity of the mental state of an individual with an eating disorder is judged on their weight.

I launched my campaign to #DumpTheScales to tackle this entire misconception of eating disorders. The campaign is calling for adequate GP training around eating disorders, full implementation of the NICE guidelines through communications and a commitment to bring in a standard to measure and report on this.

The campaign has made huge progress over the last few months; and I have sat opposite the Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention on a number of occasions but still not enough is being done. We need to keep talking about this, sharing the petition, and sharing stories.

Together I know we can change this and but I need your help.

So what now?

Add your name to the petition:

Share the petition on your social media making sure you tag #DumpTheScales

Get in touch with me if you would like to share your story

Write to your local MP asking them to support

It is a complete injustice that people with eating disorders are turned away for not being thin enough

Hope x

1 thought on “Living with a Mental Illness: You don’t have to be stick thin to have an eating disorder”

  1. This is so terrible – it wouldn’t happen with other disorders or ailments, it is completely ridiculous and makes me supper annoyed. Your campaign is truly a wonderful thing – thank you so much for writing this post x

    Liked by 2 people

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