Figures published by the national institute of health state that over 1.6 million people in the UK are now suffering from eating disorders. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating with the vast majority (89%) of sufferers being female. That said eating disorders can affect anyone at any time as 22-year-old Millie Turner knows only too well.
‘Living with an eating disorder was the hardest time of my life. It wasn’t the hunger that hurt it was hiding it from everyone, I lost friends because I just couldn’t face seeing them and having too eat with them or explain to them why I wasn’t. It was like I was stuck in my own bubble and I couldn’t get out and I couldn’t let anyone in I felt so alone all the time.’
Millie was just 15 years old when she developed anorexia, the disorder ran away with her quicker than her or anyone she knew could have imagined when she joined an online forum which promoted and encouraged an anorexic lifestyle. Social media and the rise of the internet has been linked with the glamorization of eating disorders, promoting an unhealthy body image through editing software such as Photoshop, creating obsessions with unrealistic body goals.
As social media has developed, as have online communities, these can be for anything that users share a mutual interest in. The most common online communities include gaming communities, online fandoms and YouTube/Blogging communities. With the rise in such online forums it has become far more accessible to gain health and fitness motivation and in more recent years, help on being anorexic.
At only 15, Millie decided that extreme measures had to be taken to change the way she felt about her body, through joining an online community she became close friends with a girl named Sophie who wrote a blog supporting the disorder. ‘It might sound absolutely insane but I actually came across Sophie’s blog very unintentionally. When I first decided I needed to do something about my weight I actually did a google search for ‘how to be anorexic’ and came across it. I would be lying if I said it didn’t instantly intrigue me and have me hooked from my first visit.’ She explained.
The disease itself is explained; a sufferer of Anorexia Nervosa often has a very distorted body image and an intense fear of gaining any weight. Though a sufferer may be hungry they inflict weightloss by brushing any calorific foods and fats. The condition is more common amongst girls usually being in their mid-teens and has little to do with looking good/more to do with a deep rooted emotional problem and the need for an element of control.
Anorexia is considered one of the worst eating disorders as it has the highest mortality rate in the UK at 25%, with a recovery rate of 60% with the increased use and access to Pro Anorexia dedicated FaceBook pages, Twitter and Instagram Accounts as well as blogs it is now easier than ever to gain help, support and motivation to become anorexic.
Such blogs describe pro anorexia (pro ana) as a religion and a lifestyle choice and not as an illness something which is concerning when accompanied by hashtags such as ‘thinspo’ and tag lines such as ‘Hello Skinny Bitches’ and ‘DON’T BINGE!’ thus promoting the lifestyle as desirable and something to aspire towards.
These accounts are typically ran by teenage girls and are therefore increasingly dangerous as they are aimed at their peers who’s family members may have no idea what they are looking at online and are not aware of the exposure their child is getting to such hard hitting and self-esteem killing material. Some blogs also include posts on how to hide anorexia from friends and family.
When asked how the community had affected her eating disorder Millie explained; ‘It didn’t make me feel any less alone, I didn’t feel like these people I spoke to were my friends, I didn’t feel like I knew them I just felt like they were my competition. I felt more determined to fast because of them. For me, because I have always been a competitive person, that’s what it was for me, it was a competition and that’s’ why it got to the stage it did I think. The very thing which gave me control was what made me lose it completely.’
Things only got worse for Millie when the online forum she was visiting turned into private chats between group members. ‘It made me competitive, especially once I started talking to a few of the girls through private messages. There were six of us involved and we decided to do a weekly weigh in to see who had lost the most. At a point these weekly weigh ins were what I lived for. I was weighing myself two times a day religiously and I would stand in front of the mirror crying at the state of my body. Anyone who says this isn’t an obsession truly has no idea. It consumed every part of me I very rarely thought of anything else at all and avoiding talking to many people because I knew they couldn’t understand me. I was wearing baggy jumpers and spending days in my bedroom to avoid seeing people. Because if they saw me they might notice and if they noticed they might stop me and that was something absolutely incomprehensible to me.’
Some Pro Anorexia websites include a disclaimer explaining that it is a support mechanism , Millie disagreed that this was what she experienced during her encounter, ‘Looking back, I was in such desperate need for help but I didn’t want it at all. I also think now that my mum knew all along. How could she not know I lost almost 3 stone in 20 weeks and she very rarely saw me eat anything for months. But I was at college and I had forgot my laptop and asked her to bring it in for me, it seems so strange now that something so simple was the beginning of the end for me. But before it had even crossed my mind that I may have left the webpage open or anything open for that matter; my mum was ringing me to come home and she knew everything. The next day I was in a hospital bed hooked up to a drip. I don’t remember too much of those 24 hours, I just remember not being left alone. Like I wasn’t trusted, like I was a risk to myself but I just couldn’t see it like that. I felt like my freedom and my control was gone but I also felt like my walls were coming down and I wasn’t quite so scared to be alone. It’s not a feeling I can describe to anyone really. I was just so scared I was going to get even fatter than ever.’
When asked about her recovery Millie added ‘Recovery is such a scary word for me. Mainly because I associate it with weight gain. I also didn’t think I ever had anything to recover from. But I was really wrong in that sense. I have a new outlook on recovery now I see it as a way of regaining the control I lost over my life. The control that the pro anorexia lifestyle and community took from me. Recovery for me is being able to be happy with my body. I wouldn’t say I was entirely happy with it now, but I would say I’m in a good place with it and I just take things at my own pace. It’s difficult and not a lot of people understand me and my addiction I’m just lucky to be surrounded with the right people now.
‘I think it’s difficult to give advice to others on how to deal with a situation in general. Mainly because I truly think everyone’s situation is different but advice on getting away from the community is crucial. It absorbs you in a way that I can’t even begin to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it. I would just say that being anorexic will never make you happy. It will not give you the body you want and it definitely won’t give you a life you want. In actual fact, it does the opposite of that. It takes the life out of you and no matter how many days you go on just drinking water and eating carrot sticks you will still look in the mirror and see a fat person looking back at you. And even when you are at your lowest you will still want more because that’s what it does. There is absolutely nothing glamorous about anorexia and trust me, its’ not worth it.’
For further help and advice on issues raised in this article please contact Beat. Beat is the UK’s leading charity supporting anyone affected by eating disorders or difficulties with food, weight and shape. Providing information and support through Helplines which people can call, text or email.
Help for adults
The Beat Adult Helpline is open to anyone over 18. Parents, teachers or any concerned adults should call the adult helpline.
Helpline: 0845 634 1414
Help for young people
The Beat Youthline is open to anyone under 25.
Youthline: 0845 634 7650