A salutory reminder from yesterday’s Mail on the danger of treating just the physical aspects of an eating disorder.
Four years ago, Malissa Jones 21, used to weigh 34 stone. After a gastric bypass operation, she has lost 26 stone and is now battling with anorexia. Doctors have warned her than unless she increases her food intake, she could die within six months.
Where Malissa used to gorge on sweets and chocolate, now she says that she would ‘rather die than force myself to eat’. Commenting on her situation, clinical psychologist Dr Funke Baffour said: ‘There would have been psychological reasons for Malissa’ obesity that a gastric band would not have dealt with. It is not surprising she has swapped one emotional relationship with food for another’.
With any eating disorder, it is vital that the physical side of the disorder is tackled – sometimes before counselling or other therapies can begin. This is true for example, when patients are severely underweight and are unable to think clearly or logically. When I was at a low weight, I felt like I was underwater or behind a glass partition – to a certain extent I could make out what was happening, but the voices were muffled. Nothing mattered but losing weight. Ironically however until I started eating I was unable to see how serious the situation was or what I needed.
That said, eating disorders – whether anorexia, bulimia, overeating or otherwise are mental illnesses. They don’t end with a healthy BMI, unless the underlying issues are also addressed. This is complicated, time-consuming and exhausting. Sufferers say with their bodies what they feel unable to speak. Part of recovery is learning that emotions are not dangerous or unacceptable, but can be expressed in healthy ways, to people who will listen.
Malissa needed more than a gastric band, just as anorexics need more than a good feed. Real change comes from the inside out.