Eating disorders do not discriminate on grounds of age, gender or background. Anyone can suffer from this serious mental illness, which the experts say is not about food but a way of coping or feeling in control.
Megan Phelps from Cabinet Office HR has shared her personal story of living with anorexia to stand up for the estimated 1.25 million people in the UK who suffer from eating disorders, and the many more who have not recognised their illness yet.
Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychological illness so I hope Megan’s story inspires those who are suffering to access the support they need to recover and enjoy life.
My name is Megan Phelps. I am 28 years old. I have a fantastic mother, father and younger sister, who are all alive and well, and an incredibly supportive extended family.
I have a wonderful group of friends. I went to two brilliant schools. I got to experience going to university and have two degrees. I have a job that I love and am passionate about, and a wonderful team to work with.
I’m in a new and exciting relationship. I’ve had the opportunity to live all over the UK and to travel to Africa, America, Asia and all over Europe. I’ve climbed huge mountains and run half-marathons. I practise yoga, can play the piano, clarinet and sing.
In the future I want to have a family. I want to get married. I want to make even more of a success of my career. I want to travel the world.
And I also have anorexia.
Anorexia is different to every other part of my world because it is invisible to everyone who meets me. For most of you, on the outside, I’m the successful girl with the pretty perfect life I’ve just described. But inside, I have lived with anorexia – or ‘Annie’, as she is more familiarly known to me and my therapist – for many years.
For years I was ashamed. Trying to fight anorexia alone, while the constant fear of someone finding out meant the cycle of the disease kept on going. Trying to be ‘normal’ on the outside but on the inside believing that would be all people saw if I breathed a word of its existence, fearful that people would just tell me to ‘eat more’ and the problem would be solved.
It is estimated that there are over 1.6 million people suffering from diagnosed or undiagnosed eating disorders in the UK. But the truth is, there will be thousands who don’t feel able to reach out for support. People who feel like they aren’t sick enough, don’t look like they have an eating disorder, or don’t fit the eating disorder mould.
You do not have to be underweight to have an eating disorder. I was always quite thin, but not so painfully thin that people would think I had a ‘serious problem’.
Having an eating disorder is not solely about food. For me it is emotional. I started to restrict my eating because I wanted to find a sense of control when I felt other parts of my life were out of control – it was never purely about being the thinnest girl in the room.
I sought help because I was fed up of the voice in my head controlling my life. Going into hospital and having intensive treatment was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, accepting that I needed help. But I came out the other side with a huge sense of determination and new belief that saying ‘yes’ to life would be liberating.
I still have difficult days where it gets the better of me. But because I spoke out and sought help, I now have a support network around me to help me through it, both in and out of work. Talking about it openly and calling out the warning signs means I’m able to get through the hard days and I allow myself to achieve all the things I want to. I am determined to not let it stop me achieve my goals in life. And it doesn’t define me.
Anorexia has taught me that I have huge amounts of willpower, courage, determination, the ability to cope in a crisis, and that I am very passionate. It has taught me that I’m very stubborn, resolute and a bit obsessive. But none of those qualities are because of the illness – my parents will tell you I’ve always been very stubborn!
So my message during Eating Disorders Awareness Week to anyone silently suffering is to speak out. Eating disorders are the loneliest illnesses, so if you can find the courage to ask for help, people will be there to guide you through it.
To find out more about Eating Disorders Awareness Week and access support for yourself or someone you know check the Beat Eating Disorders site.
Comment by Trish - Manchester posted on
Thank you for opening up and giving some insight into your anorexia. I have had mental health problems from a young age and had both medication and counselling at various times to help me manage my life.What struck a chord with me is that I have never told anyone that although I have never been underweight (I am slim) that I use food to bring or keep "control" in my life. I recognised my relationship with food years ago but never discussed it. I suppose I thought nobody would undertstand I would keep a bar of chocolate in my bag and as long as I didn't crumble and eat it then I was still "in control". I have over many years moved on from just the chocolate bar to other foods and even wine. I think I am getting "better" and more "in control" as now I allow myself a certain amount of the chocolate/wine/cake (basically my favourite things) but not it all as that would show some kind of weakness. I am making progress and maybe one day I will just eat what I want when I want?
Comment by gavin thomas posted on
Thank you Megan for sharing with us your personal journey and the challenges that you have faced.
Hopefully through speaking so openly about this, it help you to achieve your goals and have a fulfilling life.
I also hope that story will empower others to talk about their mental health issues, rather than suffer in silence and will show them that through seeking proper support, you can go on to achieve a sense of normality in life.
I wish you all the best for the future.
Comment by Ian posted on
Congrats on being strong enough to share your experience and showing others that it is ok to ask for help....... you never know what others are dealing with. All the best to you!!
Comment by Natalie posted on
Such honesty. i hope this message helps those get the help necessary. I suffered from Anorexia as a child and somehow found my way out of it with no support but had i felt there was someone to reach out to I am certain I would have got through it sooner.
Comment by Ray Dempsey posted on
Megan, thanks for sharing your story to awareness of a condition that often gets overlooked. Your willingness to talk about this will help and inspire others.
Comment by Sue Booth posted on
Thank you for this insight into the illness Megan.
Comment by Richard Small posted on
Megan a very thought provoking article. Thank you for being brave enough to talk so openly about it. For every person who talks it helps remove some of the stigma around mental health just a little bit more.
Comment by Will Richardson posted on
Thanks for sharing your story, Megan.