(Interview - Part 2)
Eating disorders are often seen as a disease that affects young people only but the reality is that many people often get diagnosed with EDs when they are adults; this happens primary for two reasons. As this phenomenon was much less known 30 years ago, people presenting symptoms of EDs in young age didn’t receive a proper diagnosis because of the lack of knowledge on this subject and those very few who actually received one didn’t take the situation seriously because eating disorders or mental illnesses in general, weren’t considered a big deal.
Giorgia is one of those many people who are part of the first group, she has spent most of her life fighting against weight and body acceptance for then finding out only at the age of 45 that she was dealing with binge eating, something she had never heard of before. I have met her to talk together about her story and all the progress she has made.
Q: How would you describe your eating disorder?
A: The type of eating disorder I suffer from is called binge eating, which means feeling the need to eat a huge amount of junk food without being able to control myself. It took me quite a while to get the diagnosis. As I was already 45 years old when I found out about my disorder, people thought I was just lazy and greedy and a person with little willpower. It is very difficult to distinguish between having a binge eating disorder or just an unhealthy relationship with food, and this happens because binge eaters do not engage in explicit behaviours like avoiding food completely or going to the bathroom after eating, so people just think that you like food too much; it’s a very sneaky disorder.
To me, being diagnosed with EDs meant a deep insecurity, it has absolutely affected my whole life, sometimes I really think of it as something disabling.
Q: When did you become aware of your eating disorder?
A: As I already mentioned I became aware of my disorder very late, I started noticing that every time someone would get in between me and food in the moment I was feeling low, I would became very aggressive. I realised that I was really out of control, I started feeling depressed and depression quickly lead to panic attacks and at that point I asked for help.
Q: What is food for you? What does it represents?
A: Food for me is my cross and delight, of course I love eating but I know my love for food is exaggerated. Food is certainly a compensation, when I feel moody or sad I fill up my mouth with ice cream, pizza and junk food in general. I understood that searching for food often means searching for something else like people do with alcohol or drugs; the point is that searching for food is easier because it is socially accepted.
Q: Has it been difficult for you to heal from your disorder while being a mother at the same time?
A: I have always been afraid of possibly passing my unhealthy behaviour with food to my children. With my first born, I realised I probably traumatised her because I was afraid she would be overweight like me; when she would ask me if she could have a chocolate bar for snack I wouldn’t say no but I would add “ Do you see how difficult it is for mum? Are you sure you really want the chocolate bar?” so of course she wouldn’t eat it after that. I am aware this is the reason why she has always been strict with herself especially about food. When she was 15 she also was diagnosed with behavioural eating disorders.
With my second one I decided I didn’t want to put too much pressure on him so I didn’t take care of his alimentation too much; he has always been tall and with a normal weight so I thought EDs would never been in issue for him. The situation for him went out of control when he grew up and started eating with his friends after school; he started eating a lot of sweets and fat food. I am sure he probably has always copied my toxic behaviour but I never fully realised that because of his normal weight.
My last born is the one I thought I would worry the most about; he was born from my second marriage and both me and the father are overweight but surprisingly he ended up being the only one having a healthy relationship with food. Having seen me and his father struggling with weight and his sister undereating to avoid becoming like me, he probably was more aware of this problematic and that he might develop a disorder as well.
Q: Do you think there is enough focus on this topic?
A: Absolutely not. In my opinion education to a correct alimentation should be thought to children since they start nursery, they should have monthly meetings with professionals who visit schools and teach them how to have a healthy relationship with food and parents should participate as well. We live in a society where it is very difficult to express our feelings for fear of judgment or misunderstanding; all those feelings that we repress don’t go away, they mutate and very often they flow into an eating disorder or drug/alcohol dependence. Learning how to deal with your emotions and live in a family environment that allows you to do so can make a huge difference.
Q: Do you have any advice for young people dealing with eating disorders?
A: As a mother I strongly believe that juveniles should have more self-esteem and trust their feelings more because they know what is right and what is wrong even when they are really young. There are many ways for you to ask for help; doctors, psychologists, associations, self-help groups and much more, even if you’re not sure whether you really have an disorder or not just talk to someone, nobody will get mad at you for worrying about your health.
Q: What would you like to say to parents with children affected by EDs?
A: My advice for them is do not oppress your children too much. Whether your kid is eating too much or too little, being too intrusive will just make them run away from you and their problem. The wisest thing to do in this case, is to ask yourself as a parent, if you could have possibly done something, even unintentionally, to provoke this behaviour. It is very important to listen to them, we can’t pretend we know everything that is happening in their lives just because we are their parents. The perfect parent doesn’t exist and this is fine, it is important though to understand where we can’t help anymore and when it is the case to ask for external help.
We thank Giorgia for her time and for opening up with us on such a difficult topic, we hope that her contribution will help to raise awareness about eating disorders in adults and to which extent EDs can affect your life if they are not diagnosed in time.
If you want to know more about why Giorgia developed a binge eating disorder, you can find Part 1 of this interview in the “Why do EDs happen?” section. Click on the link below.