EDA's response to Joan Bakewell's comments

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Eating disorders are serious psychological illnesses. They are not a fad, they are not a diet, and they are absolutely not as a result of vanity or as Joan Bakewell stated, narcissism. Joan Bakewell's ill-informed comments stating that Anorexia is a sign of narcissism and that it is as a result of individuals simply being preoccupied with being beautiful are not only completely inaccurate with no evidence base but are deeply offensive to those individuals who struggle on a daily, minute by minute basis with the illness. Rather than holding a deep love and admiration for themselves, those with Anorexia commonly hold very opposite beliefs.These comments are extremely unhelpful and potentially damaging to those struggling with Anorexia.

Anorexia Nervosa is a chronic and potentially fatal illness. It is an illness that causes pervasive pain and distress to not only the individual, but also to their family, their friends and their loved ones. Despite a large amount of research into Anorexia, the fact remains that it is still recorded as having the highest mortality rate amongst mental health disorders as well as having a high relapse rate. It is clear therefore, that despite huge advances in the field of research and treatment of Anorexia, mortality and relapse have still very much a central place in its presentation. The outcome of relapse is more pervasive than an outcome of recovery from the illness. Subsequently, a significant amount of people continue to live with the highly distressing illness of Anorexia. 

Eating disorders, while they may appear to be about food, weight and shape, may actually be understood in terms of a coping mechanism in response to some type of emotional distress. Those struggling with an eating disorder commonly talk about a sense of control when talking about their experiences.  When their lives and their minds are feeling so much out of control, a sense of control and focus can be gained through controlling and monitoring their food intake. This focus acts as a distraction from the underlying emotional distress.

Many factors may contribute to the development of an eating disorder, there is no simple answer.  Eating disorders manifest as a result of a complex interaction between psychological, biological and social factors. Factors such as low self-esteem, low confidence, a negative sense of self as well as specific personality traits such as perfectionism and obsessional traits are all risk factors. In addition, social factors such as adverse life experiences such as, stress, trauma, bullying as well as media and societal factors are also risk factors. These are risk factors not  prescriptions. Someone who experiences bullying for example may develop an eating disorder, however, another person who experiences bullying may not. The causes of an eating disorder are not straightforward and simplistic affairs. Eating disorders arise as result of a complex interaction between many factors.  

What individuals with Anorexia and other eating disorders need is to be understood and to be supported using accurate and evidence based information about the illness. Individuals living with Anorexia certainly do not need inaccurate and deeply flawed comments, especially in the public domain. These comments do nothing but add to the stigma and ignorance that those living with Anorexia already face on a daily basis. 

Anorexia is a serious illness and should be treated as such. Anorexia does not discriminate.

Eating Disorder Association NI
28 Bedford Street,
Belfast, BT2 7FE
Phone: 028 9023 5959
Email: info@eatingdisordersni.co.uk