For the past few days I have been engaged in a charity band photo competition with Nick Watts of MGEDT. Which basically means stopping as many people as possible and getting them to pose wearing the Men Get ED’s Too charity band (which coincidently are available at www.mengetedstoo.co.uk)
The main thing I have noticed during this time (apart from how many of the public are total posers) is that people still seem to have a very limited and narrow understanding of what eating disorders actually are; who suffers, the range of symptoms and reasons behind them. It’s easy to pick up on someone suffering if they are severely underweight and emaciated, it’s much harder to spot a bulimic (sufferers of which are often a healthy weight). Similarly, I have known people of a healthy weight to be completely caught up in obsessive and unhealthy attitudes and behaviours around food, which essentially are the same as those of an anorexic, but because their physical appearance doesn’t match the cognitive struggles they face, there is far less sympathy and acceptance of their problems as serious. This needs to change. Too many people are failing to seek or receive help due to the ridiculous ‘tick-box’ criteria of these illnesses.
A man I stopped in the centre of town today seemed somewhat shocked when I told him what the charity was, and didn’t seem to be able to get his head around the idea that men could suffer from what unfortunately still seem to be known as predominantly ‘female mental health issues’. What many people seem to miss is that eating disorders are not limited to anorexia, or bulimia, or binge eating. An unhealthy obsession with exercise, or healthy foods can be just as dangerous and consuming.
The difficult thing with these disorders is often recognising or diagnosing them, which in turn can result in the sufferer receiving potentially harmful and misleading messages as to the seriousness of their problems. Someone who spends hours in a gym working out obsessively may be congratulated for their stamina and healthy lifestyle. During my 2ndyear of uni I had a friend come to stay with me. He’d always been into fitness and worked as a personal trainer. He enjoyed sport which is normal enough. It’s not ‘normal’ however, or at least it shouldn’t be, to freak out when you realise your gym pass won’t work in the town you are in for 3 days. Ok, so he didn’t look ‘ill’, he wasn’t underweight, he wasn’t overeating, and he did eat a normal amount of food- but his obsession with fitness and the way he looked was just as compulsive as that of
someone with a more ‘conventional’ eating disorder.
One man I spoke to, who very happily posed for a photo in front of an Elvis wall hanging, remarked rather proudly that he had read this morning about how over-eating can be as much of an eating disorder as anorexia and bulimia. That some people can be addicted to food in much the same way that others may be addicted to drugs or alcohol. The problem here is that because food is such a normal part of life, the addiction is often treated with less importance than others. Sufferers are also often labelled as greedy, with many believing they should simply build their self control and restrict what they eat. If only it were that simple. These problems stem from much deeper issues which have manifested in this particular addiction.
Perhaps most surprising in the past few days has been peoples reluctance to ask any further questions over what we were doing. Of the tens of people I have approached, only two have asked about the charity, the work it does and why it was set up. Of course there could be several reasons for people’s hesitancy to ask questions, and it didn’t stop me passing on as much information as I could in the 2-3 minutes I spoke to most of them for. But of course this time is not enough to even scratch the surface on the brilliant work MGEDT does.
So what can we do? Keep talking, keep trying to provide people with the information they need to understand these disorders and combat the often misleading and sensational stories in the media. And specifically in the next couple of days- continue to capture as many people as possible sporting the MGEDT band- bring it on Nick!
And as the competition is now complete the winner is by far the super amazing Sarah Fullagar! You can check out the photos on our facebook page here or get your band and take your photos by getting one from our shop here