I'm All Too Aware of Eating Disorder Awareness Week

This week has come around way too quickly again: National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

*sigh*

Snippets of NEDAW specific media have been cropping up for the past two weeks and I have become increasingly apprehensive about the days ahead. Of the stories I might see. The photos of tortured faces and skeletal bodies. The swapping of confessional histories, tallies of hospitalisations and physical complications. Then ultimately the lip biting and need to stifle judgement it all may personally lead to because I really don’t want to upset anyone. It’s all so precarious.

I am very much aware of eating disorders. Too aware. Painfully aware. I wish I wasn’t.

I find the whole EDAW thing completely draining and part of me wants to burrow away into a tight ball and hibernate till it’s over.

One of the most difficult things is the barrage of confessional life stories that we will hear - I’ve already seen many cropping up on various social media platforms. I don’t mean to criticise individuals posting this confessional stuff  - I really do recognise that intentions are good, but there’s a distinct gap in understanding and sense of consequence there. A lack of care over the content they are presenting to what may be a particularly vulnerable audience.

We all say it eating disorders aren’t about weight. But the anorexic voice can be almost laughably predictable in obsessing when it comes to our own weight. Personally, I avoid pushing inspirational advice to anyone else, because I know the way I look and evident behaviours can make it sound false and patronising. But others don’t seem to see the problem in doing this. Yes, it’s okay to talk about your struggles, your successes, and nobody should have to hide away from a camera capturing real life moments - being ill is nothing to be ashamed of. But I can’t help but think people should think twice before posting objections to flawed media coverage and damaging advertising when their posts made contradict their arguments. Preaching about fighting stigma and how eating disorders are not about weight on Facebook rings hollow at best when accompanied by emaciated photos. If it’s not about weight then nobody needs to see them.

Certainly, if looking back at those painful reminders helps someone personally to feel motivated and want to continue in getting better, that is great, but surely it can be done without exposing it to a public space with the potential of causing others harm? I do completely empathise with that nagging need for validation, but putting that responsibility onto others is unfair, especially if they have eating disorders themselves.

It feels like standing in an echo chamber when coverage starts to crop up on your social media feed. Voices bounce back and forth against the walls, each one trying to increase the volume of pitch, be louder than the rest. Yet the people that really need to listen and take notice are outside in the open air and completely oblivious.

EDAW is supposedly about raising awareness and educating people. But I just don’t think this kind of approach will ever educate anyone much at all.  The media regularly sensationalises their lifestyle articles with low weight photos for shock tactics. It’s not really that startling anymore, and whether partially aware or not, the fact is that these posts really have the potential to affect followers in adverse ways.

The cherry on the cake this year is that the focus had been set by B-eat as ‘early intervention’. Don’t get me wrong, early intervention is hugely important and a worthwhile topic that needs acknowledgement, but to me, right now, it feels like another huge slap of rejection and dismissal - invalidation even. See, early intervention has ALWAYS been important, but it’s only in recent years become cast into the spotlight for attention, yet what about those of us who didn’t get the early intervention we needed - WE needed it too – we didn’t get it then, and we need support now. [Another blog to come on this later in the week.]

I feel like what those of us that regard ourselves as advocates need to be working towards is challenging misconceptions out there. Because although eating disorders are being talked about more and more, it’s too often couched in ignorance and misinformation.

This is particularly relevant in regards to ED-DMT1 or diabulimia, which is only just becoming more talked about. Despite the success of more widespread coverage over the years there have been a lot of mixed messages about what diabulimia is and how it is distinct from ‘ED-DMT1’. DWED aims to put up definitions and resources relating to this as part of our new ‘about us’ page soon. We feel we have achieved our first goal which was to just get more people to hear the term ‘diabulimia’ and begin to talk about it.

Awareness – about eating disorders in general and diabulimia specifically - can be raised without implicit competitiveness. Without showing photos and offering stats in an attempt and prove our right to a voice. We all have that right. Words are more meaningful, and all of us offering any commentary during NEDAW need to stop and think for a second before we press the send button: it can be too easy for the eating disordered mindset to sneak in despite our best intentions. Let’s be real and let our stories stand alone and challenge each other if needs be. The fight is not over, but often we can be shouting so much that we fail to realise the hardest fight begins closer to home.

 

By Claire Kearns.

What Not To Say To Someone With Type 1 Diabetes and/or an Eating Disorder

Knowing how to talk to someone struggling with a serious mental illness such as an eating disorder, or even an individual with just type 1 diabetes alone can be a minefield for family and friends. Both conditions are regarded as invisible illnesses that are often misunderstood. Innocent comments can quite easily be taken the wrong way entirely. My eating disorder will reframe and misconstrue anything it can potentially collude with and use against me. You somehow become psychic and can read minds. It’s often the case that I know I am being duped but I’ll gladly fall head first down that rabbit hole.

So that said, these are gentle suggestions of what not to say to someone with an eating disorder, type 1 diabetes or a comorbidity of the two. Mostly those flippant remarks that that can’t be caught until they are said out loud and then realisation hits. But sometimes it can be ignorance, it can be frustration and anger and shock tactics, none of which work but all of which are born from desperation.

I hope this might be of use to individuals in a supporting position for someone who is ill. Often the way our minds twist things can make absolutely no sense. These pointers are devised through not just my own experience but that of other eating disorder sufferers I know of, voices from some of my close friends, some that I have met in treatment settings, and also members of the diabulimia online Facebook community.

Please feel free to add any others you think are important via our social media pages and share this with your spouse, parents, siblings, your best friend or anyone you think might find them to be of use. My personal commentary is in bold

1.   Try to avoid diet talk. Yes, sadly it’s normal. It’s messed up but it is inescapable. Women in coffee shops opting for skinny milk because they think they need to lose a few pounds or gaggles of young girls asking “do I look fat in this?” as they stand in front of the changing room mirrors. Gutting, but that is the reality of it. Still, making an effort not to talk directly about weight loss and diets to someone with an eating disorder is important. We have enough of that talk going on inside our heads to contend with. Especially don’t ask us for diet tips. Actually, this is never okay, to anyone, as you never know the reasons behind weight loss, or gain for that matter

2.   Further to this, a bit of a difficult one that mostly applies in early recovery when an eating disorder sufferer is struggling to accept their body and the guilt that may come alongside eating and accepting insulin. “You look so much better/healthier/brighter/your face is so much fuller!” Okay so we might know these are intended as compliments, they show compassion and the fact that someone may be so relieved to see you looking better. But again, someone with an eating disorder can manipulate those words automatically. We might hear “You look fat”, “you must not be ill anymore.”  I also know that these kinds of things can be said when actually someone is looking horrendous, as some kind of way to displace that awkwardness and reassure when someone appears to be evidently struggling.  “But you don’t LOOK sick” is another jarring one that can often prompt the automatic thought of Oh well I’ll show you what sick is.”  Outside appearance can also be deceptive; a diabulimic may present as okay on the outside yet be in acute DKA and in need or emergency assistance. Ultimately, any kind of commentary relating to appearance around someone with an eating disorder should be vetoed wherever possible. Positive or negative, we can take it the wrong way.

3.     To a type 1 diabetic with an eating disorder: “Oh wow I could NEVER inject myself.” See the thing is, we sort of die if we don’t and we are trying to avoid that option. “My uncle/great grandfather is diabetic too but he doesn’t have to jab himself.” Yeah, wrong type. Please read a book if you care about me. “Did you become diabetic from eating too much sugar?” “Are you allowed to eat that?!” Just NOPE NOPE NOPE. Especially if you know someone also has an eating disorder. Just NOPE. Educate yourself, please.

4.   “You talk about your illness too much; you need to not be so obsessed.” Funny that, see imagine you have this thing on your back every second of every single day, it’s sort of hard to ignore. Don’t stigmatise something that many people with diabetes and eating disorders have struggled to accept and acknowledge. Let us talk, it helps and is far better than denying it exists. Living with this constantly gives us the right to moan and rant and shout if we damn want to.

5.  “Wow that’s a huge dinner.” “Ooh that looks like a nice treat!” “Glad to see your appetite is back” I have to say, this often seems to be a dad thing. A stereotypical male that is clueless about nutritional content and thinks the four pork pies he just finished were fewer calories than your sparse meal. We might have a huge plate of salad, yeah lots of leaves, some protein. Or okay we could actually be binging, but we are cringing inside already and it’s too painful acknowledge what it looks like through someone else’s eyes. As with the point about body comments, just refrain from commenting on our food unless we specifically ask for your help or guidance, that has to come from us. Don’t be the food police, as it can cause us to want to isolate even more and protect the disorder, as twisted as that sounds.

6.    “Please eat, for me? What did I do wrong? Why are you doing this to me?” This one is a hard one, often from a parent that feels helpless. Personally, the hardest part of being ill has been the hurt it has caused to my loved ones. But it is not about you. Regardless of any relevant cause factors, it comes down to the way WE react. To suggest we would do this to ourselves to spite another person can be painful when most people with eating disorders only want to hurt themselves. It is a mental disorder and rational thought is completely compromised. It can be so powerful that you just don’t realise it’s pulling the strings, and that the control you believed you had was actually your eating disorder playing puppet master.

7.   “You just need a good burger/sandwich/slice of cake in you!" (Worse if followed by ‘love’ ‘dear’ ‘darling’) Clearly unhelpful. Eating disorders are not just stubbornness or forgetting to have breakfast in the morning. Often someone that is struggling a lot will find it a huge challenge to eat in public, and that’s not to mention the effort someone with type 1 diabetes needs to do to determine carbohydrates and insulin doses. Sometimes it doesn’t feel worth it, but we shouldn’t have to put on a show to satisfy someone else if it results in us becoming distressed. Let us be.

 8.   “If you think you are fat you must think I am obese!Again, anorexia, bulimia, BED, and ED-DMT1/Diabulimia, are all specific to the sufferer. Body dysmorphia is very commonly linked and an eating disorder sufferer may see a different image in the mirror to what others around them can see. We are the exception to the rule. Additionally with Diabulimia the fact that eating disorders are NOT about weight is even clearer HBA1C levels being a far more accurate risk indicator. People with Diabulimia will often have huge fluctuations in weight as they manipulate insulin levels and so this cannot be used to determine how well or unwell someone is,

9. “I wish I could lose weight that quickly!” “I wish I was as thin as you” “god what’s your secret?!” Ha, you really want to know? All completely inappropriate if someone doesn’t know the circumstances being someone’s weight or behaviours. Another that links to the first is “god I’d love to be able to eat anything I wanted and lose weight.” Oh well you can gladly have my diabetes and diabulimia if you want! No refund policy though. Take the ketone breath, fluttering heart and constant thrush with you too.

10.  Being told of the damage we are doing to ourselves is simply patronising. We aren’t stupid and nothing will shock us. We know all about the blindness and amputation risk thanks. It’s not lack of intelligence that causes a person with an eating disorder to neglect their health needs. Similarly: “This could kill you, you know?” We sort of do but right now we are more focused on being thin and/or self-destructing.

11.  Last but not least and in my opinion the most grating of them all “You do realise that men like a bit of meat on their bones! Righhht, because I am doing this to myself to snare a man, damn got that on wrong then. Again, ketone breath isn’t much of a turn on. Oh better start eating again if I want to be pretty for boys. I don’t quite understand how this one seems to crop up so often. EATING DISORDERS ARE NOT ABOUT VANITY. If they were then I am definitely going about it the wrong way as I look like crap. Maybe I’ll just tell Mum (see this one seems like a mum thing) that oh well, that’s it then, may as well become a lesbian and join the circus instead.

By Claire Kearns.

Exciting Innovations in the World of Diabetes Technology

Research and scientific discovery is constantly evolving in relation to diabetes, including exciting technological innovations. Through recent years the use of insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors has become more and more common, with a range of different models now readily available. Future advancements are coming, with hope relying heavily on news of the artificial pancreas, which may really change the landscape of diabetes care beyond recognition. Gone are the days of large bulky blood testing machines and insulin drawn from little glass bottles by one use needles.

An insulin pump is a device that is worn on a type-1-diabetic patient’s body. Suppliers of insulin pumps in the UK are Medtronic, Dexcom, Abbot and Animas. A pump provides a constant trickle of insulin through a cannula which is inserted under the skin and can receive blood glucose results from a linked meter via a Bluetooth sensor. In reaction it then automatically calculates the amount of insulin units needed to correct a high reading if requires, or to cover the amount of carbohydrate in a snack or meal. Pump settings can be adjusted to personal rates of insulin sensitivity and target ranges as well as be used to track progress and patterns in blood sugar control.

An insulin pump can also be linked to a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM). This is a small sensor which is placed on the skin and used to track blood glucose at regular intervals. A CGM can work alongside an insulin pump to predict and provide the means for a type 1 diabetic to administer the appropriate insulin doses required. The most innovative product on the market at the moment would appear to be the FreeStyle Libre if hype and demand is anything to go by. Comparing the Libre to a CGM, the charity INPUT explains “Both measure the glucose in interstitial fluid but Libre could be better described as CGR – continuous glucose recording – with the ability to read that record each time the sensor is ‘flashed’. It does not transmit, and cannot notify the user of adverse events as they happen.” At present however, a Freestyle LIbre cannot be funded on the NHS and the initial outlay as well as pay out for sensors can become costly.

Neither a pump nor CGM take away the need for someone with type 1 diabetes to be proactive and in charge of their own medical needs. Both devices can make living with diabetes more manageable but they are certainly no easy cure and can also be very difficult to get to grips with. Some type 1 diabetics have described the process as close to the experience of diagnosis all over again, and having to learn from the beginning.

Currently, NHS funding and availability for these types of technologies is unfortunately regionally dependent. This failure was addressed in the All-Parliamentary-Group’s recent report Levelling Up: Tackling Regional Variations in Diabetes Care which explored ways in which such post-code lotteries can be dissolved. Additionally, recently published NICE guidelines for children and young people as well as their recommendations for adult indicate the crucial need for type 1 diabetics to have access to such technology to adequately treat their condition.

INPUT are a UK based organisation with a 'mission to support people in accessing diabetes technology.' On the work they do, Chief Advisor Melissa Holloway, explains:

“Many people who contact us are interested in a pump or continuous glucose monitoring, or Libre, and want to talk about what might suit their needs best. Some people have been told they aren't suitable for a pump and they want to go back to their team with some further points for discussion. Others have been recommended a pump and want to hear from people with first-hand experience.”

For someone suffering from ED-DMT1 or Diabulimia a pump or CGM may be beneficial, but the process needs to be carefully considered and comes with a high degree of risk. A comprehensive breakdown of the possible advantages and disadvantages that should be acknowledged in evaluating such a situation can be found in our members' section as part of January’s premium content. We also provide examples from two individuals that had differing good and bad experiences of using a pump while also managing an eating disorder.

On the important considerations required to determine pump and CGM suitability for someone with ED-DMT1, Melissa from INPUT said: "There are cases where a pump has helped someone with diabulimia, but there are also cases where someone has disconnected their pump and purposely missed insulin to lose weight.

"If someone isn't checking their glucose level to begin with, could they get into a medical crisis from not calibrating a CGM?" A CGM can't help someone keep better control if they turn off the high alarms; would someone who is prone to under-dosing actually find it more stressful to have constant data? Can Libre lead to better outcomes even when someone isn't regularly bolusing for meals? This is an area where there are lots of individual variables and unanswered research questions.”
 

 

Seeds can grow

Seeds can grow and flourish.

I refuse to be a fucking shrub, alright?! (Subtle nod to the film Girl, Interrupted. Had to.)

SEED stands for ‘severe and enduring eating disorder. I only actually heard them refer to me as such in the past year or so, and was taken aback to have it used so candidly. By ‘them’ I mean my current eating disorder service providers.

A SEED patient is classed as someone with an eating disorder that has lasted beyond 7 years. Why 7 exactly I do not know, but that’s the line they draw. It feels like a line between worthy and not worthy of help. Like you suddenly fall through cracks into shadows, case aside, hopeless.

I understand that it is a way of being realistic about future expectations, of making it okay to only aim for stability. I agree that someone with a long history of disordered eating should be regarded differently to someone with say a year of anorexic or bulimic behaviours, and expecting big changes is too much. But I don’t think anyone should ever be labelled as unable to ever achieve recovery. It’s disheartening. It’s an opinion that colludes quite easily with the thoughts inside your head that tell you that you are worthless and good for nothing.

But boxes are for objects, not people. Language and attitude is key, because it’s not just that word ‘SEED’, but the way I have been made to feel. Disregarded. Left on a dusty shelf with rag dolls and unwanted stuffed animals.

12 weeks of CBT just last year was of help to me. I managed to make behavioural changes and start to tackle my negative thinking patterns. Yet because my weight chart didn’t show a steady line upwards from week to week they concluded it unsuccessful. My GP stressed that more therapy would be beneficial but they just refused to offer anything further. Now I just see a nurse every few weeks and it seems the only objective is to weigh me (a trigger every time as I try to stay away from scales these days) and make sure I am still alive. I actually last had an appointment around 2 months ago as have been waiting for a new appointment in the post, so really that shows how much I am of concern.

Of course I also see that early intervention is being implemented a lot more than it was in the past. This is a really good thing, and indeed best use of the light NHS money pot. It just means that for those of us that are of the old ‘system’, with the approach whereby not much help would be available until you reached an acute stage of crisis, when suddenly it would be all sirens flashing, it’s tough. We drew the short straws, pretty much. It stings.

Today I have seen how the approach can be different, though, it can be better. I attended my first session at Kings College Hospital which now has a specialist team that treats diabetics with psychological struggles, particularly eating disorders. My GP made the referral and I was so relieved that it passed by the commissioners without any trouble. I have come away from this appointment with renewed hope.

Therapy was very much on the agenda. Some med changes. Most of all, understanding. No weighing, just listening.

We need more places like Kings, desperately. An eating disorder alongside diabetes must be tackled differently from more typical eating disorders. Losing trust in clinicians is inevitable when they continuously get the facts about your chronic condition completely wrong. Some of the things doctors have told me about type 1 diabetes are just laughable. Of course, we know this illness inside and out, we are the experts, more so than some psychologist or psychiatrist that did a few modules on diabetes in medical school.

We must keep on pushing for more specialist pathways like that at Kings, more open doors that are widespread. Nobody should have to feel beyond hope and that they do not have the support to try and make changes. Small changes are so important.

An eating disorder is not living it is simply existing. Just like a seed, contained, without water it will remain as it is. But just a little sprinkling of rain can be all it needs to begin emerging and uncurling itself with green stalks and sometimes, eventually, rosebuds. Let’s see.

By Claire Kearns.