CW: eating disorders
As part of the UMatter initiative by ANUSA, on Tuesday 27th September, general representatives Maddison Perkins and Cameron Allan put together and moderated a panel on body image, with a focus on eating disorders.
The panel was aimed at educating people who might have friends or loved ones facing an eating disorder or body image issue as well as those who had experience these conditions themselves. The initiative sought to educate about the experience of disorders, both mental and physical, how best to provide support, and the ongoing recovery process.
The panel consisted of students Andrew Diprose and Anna Dennis who gave insight into their distinct lived experiences of eating disorders and recovery. Also on the panel was Center for Mental Health Research PhD student Kathina Ali, who is conducting a study on how youths can use technology to improve their mental health.
Though two of the panels spoke about their lived experiences fighting disorders, Andrew state that “everyone’s experience is different” and what might work for some in recovery might not work for others.
In talking about her experience with anorexia, Dennis indicated, “talking about eating disorders is a crucial part of breaking down the stigma”.
Both Dennis and Diprose spoke about how their eating disorders stemmed from body consciousness, which can lead to a sense of powerlessness and anxiety. Often low self-esteem can become distorted to the point where the individual has little to no self-worth. Here, mental health issues can manifest in a way that adapting eating habits can become a way of gaining control.
Diprose spoke of the diversity of eating disorders and the different ways of identifying them. Speaking of physical symptoms, he said, “when eating patterns disrupt your life to the point where you’re no longer able to function properly”, it’s a sign that you have a disorder.
Ali spoke about the mental symptoms of disorders, stating that it is not a choice or a lifestyle, but a mental illness that is projected on the individual’s conception of their self.
Dennis spoke about how in modern day society it is easy to get caught up in a trendy food diet, but it’s about knowing when to draw the line. When a preoccupation with food becomes unhealthy, there can be a hyperawareness of calories, weight and certain types of food.
Diprose spoke about how often mental health issues that accompany disorders are seen as “invisible illnesses”, due to the individual’s internalised shame and fear of disclosing this to others.
The panel also discussed how others could help a friend that was experiencing an eating disorder. The panelists suggested encouraging the friend to seek professional help through counseling or a nutritionist.
Dennis emphasised that it was good not to jump to conclusions as no one can give a proper diagnosis but a professional. She suggested that it is important to support rather than accuse.
Next the panelist spoke about how recovery was an ongoing process. Dennis referred to recovery as “restructuring the self” and determining that one’s worth is not based on their relationship to food.
When speaking of friends who might not be supportive, Diprose said, “prioritising yourself and your recovery is most important”.
The panelists discussed how recovery was a long road and largely consists of identifying how the disorder affects one’s thoughts. Though the thoughts may persist, the identification and dismissal of them is a key step in recovery.