Why You Shouldn’t Wait to Look or Feel “Sick Enough” to Get Help

by Health

Have you ever struggled with the idea that you’re not “sick enough” to ask for help?

Have you felt you weren’t “skinny enough” to consider yourself sick?

Have you believed others were more deserving or worthy of support than you, so you just stayed quiet?

This is such a common experience in recovery. So many people feel shame around asking for help, or convince themselves they don’t look or feel “sick enough” to be in need of support.

The scary reality is this: so many people’s experiences don’t adhere to our expectations of what an eating disorder or disordered eating “should” look like.

Furthermore, delaying getting help is holding you back from recovery, and making your journey to healing much longer and more challenging than it should be.

Eating disorders don’t necessarily involve weight loss, or require any physical symptoms for diagnosis. This means there won’t be a time when you suddenly look in the mirror and realise, “Okay, I’m sick, I need to get help now.”

In fact, your body could be telling a very different story to the lies your eating disorder voice is telling you. You may say to yourself and the world that “you’re fine” but underneath it all you know that food, exercise and body image are affecting your life in a negative way, and that’s reason enough to ask for help.  

The problem you may encounter is this: what if my symptoms don’t perfectly fit a certain diagnosis? Can I still get help and do I still deserve it?

The answer is yes.

There are lesser known eating disorders and disordered eating conditions that require just as much attention, such as:

  • Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED), which include atypical anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder of low frequency/limited duration, purging disorder and night eating syndrome. You can read more about each of these conditions by clicking here. 
  • Orthorexia: though currently not recognised as an eating disorder, Orthorexia Nervosa is an unsafe obsession with eating only healthy or “pure” foods, to the point where it interferes with your daily life. Again, this obsession with being “healthy” often doesn’t entail weight loss or below-average body weight, but instead causes significant psychological distress and can result in malnutrition of particular nutrients.

Whether you feel you fit into one of the categories above or not, and whether you get formally diagnosed or not, it’s important to seek support if you feel your relationship with food, exercise and your body image could use some work.

I know it’s a scary step, but delaying or ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away. 

So why should you seek early intervention and help, ASAP?

There are significant physical and emotional benefits to beginning your recovery journey as early as possible. In fact, the earlier you get help, the quicker and simpler your recovery journey may be. Here are some of the positive outcomes from early intervention:

    1. Recovery becomes potentially easier and quicker.

    Think about it, the further down a path you go, the longer the journey to get back to where you began.

    By actively seeking help for your disordered habits, you’re acknowledging you’re struggling. You’re asking for help, and accepting it. Only then can your recovery journey begin.

    The sooner you acknowledge the situation for what it is, and commit to your recovery journey, the sooner you can start to heal and undo the damage your eating disorder has caused. You can begin to rewrite the narrative which has convinced you “you’re not good enough” as you are. You can fight against and overcome your food fears, and work towards achieving a life of freedom and joy. A life without your every thought being consumed by food and exercise – imagine what that would feel like?

    Conversely, the longer you allow the negative behaviours and thought patterns to continue, the more your brain’s neural pathways solidify these habits – meaning your brain becomes harder and harder to rewire with time. 

    The earlier you work on contradicting these thoughts and establishing new behaviours, the more easily you’re able to use the neuroplasticity of your brain to form new neural connections, which gives you the chance to form more positive thought patterns, and to broaden your world once more beyond food and exercise!

    2. You can avoid some of the isolating effects of eating disorders.

    Eating disorders often lead to isolation from those you love – whether it’s intentional or not. There are so many reasons people isolate themselves from friends and family during these times. These include:

    • An intense fear of being scrutinised, judged or even noticed by friends and family for your eating habits
    • A paranoia around being in food-related scenarios with others
    • Not wanting to be offered help
    • Shame for your habits and thoughts
    • Feeling misunderstood, or as though no one can relate to what you’re going through.

    In fact, the eating disorder voice in your head often convinces you that you’re safer and better off on your own, leading you to seek further isolation. In doing so, you’re protecting the eating disorder and strengthening its hold on you, worsening the feelings of isolation yet again. It’s a vicious cycle.

    The longer you exhibit disordered behaviours, the more isolated you become over time. And the more you push your friends and family away, the harder it can become to get them back. 

    The truth is, support is so important when it comes to recovery. So instead of cutting off the people you love, leaving you alone with your eating disorder, reach out and ask for support. The sooner you do it, the less damage you risk causing to your relationships. In fact, asking for help can strengthen bonds and relationships in ways you may never have predicted!

    3. You can prevent or reverse malnutrition.

    Often eating disorders lead to people cutting out foods or even entire food groups, in an attempt to be “healthy”, even if the ultimate goal isn’t weight loss. This, in turn, can result in malnutrition or nutrient deficiencies.

    For example, something we see a lot in people struggling with disordered eating and hypothalamic amenorrhea is a fear of dairy foods. So many people avoid all dairy, fearing its high fat content and nutritional value, and thereby putting themselves at risk of poor bone health, due to lack of calcium from their diets. This depletion in bone strength and health is not entirely reversible, so you’re actually causing lasting damage to your body by removing this entire food group.

    Restriction is never healthy and the longer it continues, the worse the risk of ill health and deficiency becomes.

    The sooner you ask for help, the sooner you’ll be able to learn how to properly nourish your body, and overcome food rules and fears instilled by diet culture, allowing you to eat all foods in a balanced, joyful way!

    4. You can gain a deeper understanding of yourself sooner.

    Truly understanding yourself, your behaviours, and the motivations behind them, is critical to your recovery journey. There’s almost always a deep, underlying reason your eating disorder pops up – whether it arises out of perfectionism, trauma, grief, childhood experiences, media influence – whatever it may be! Understanding these reasons not only helps you understand what’s happening in your mind and body, it also helps you work through your triggers and traumas, to prevent any relapse into the negative behaviours.

    Being aware of your thought processes and underlying motivations can help you identify strategies for mitigating your triggers. For example, if certain people or scenarios trigger negative thoughts or behaviours for you, you can actively reduce your exposure to these situations in your daily life. It also means, by understanding what areas of your relationship with yourself need work, you can begin the journey of self-acceptance and compassion – a hugely important part of the recovery journey.

    Why waste another day feeling shame, guilt and unworthiness, when you could start to unravel the threads of your life that are keeping you stuck in these patterns today!

    What happens if I wait?

    If you wait too long to seek help with your eating disorder or disordered habits, the eating disorder sinks its claws deeper and deeper into you. You’ll find yourself more isolated, lacking in energy and adequate nutrition, more often falling victim to your negative and damaging thoughts, creating more food rules and fears to live by. You get the picture. Basically, things will continue to get worse – until you are ready to commit to making the change.

    Generally speaking, treatment is more effective before the disordered eating or eating disorder becomes chronic, but even people with long-standing histories can and do recover.

    Kickstarting recovery

    It doesn’t matter if you have a diagnosed eating disorder or not, nor does it matter how severe or minor your thoughts, habits and behaviours may be – all that matters is that you want to make a change. If you feel unhappy with your relationship to food, your body, or exercise, that’s more than enough reason to ask for help. 

    It doesn’t matter what the person next to you is doing. All that matters is that you seek help – right now.

    If you’re reading this and it’s hitting home, don’t delay for another day. Reach out for support from loved ones, and health professionals, and begin your recovery journey.

    You do NOT need to look a certain way, be a certain weight, or experience a specific physical or mental symptom in order to ask for help. You are worthy of help and deserving of full recovery.

    Reach out, begin your recovery journey TODAY! The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be able to achieve that life you’ve been dreaming of.

    Ready To Improve Your Relationship with Food and Get Your Period Back?

    Sarah King is an Exercise Physiologist and Health Coach specialising in helping women reconnect with their bodies and improve their relationship with food and exercise.

    Through her 1:1 Health Coaching Sessions clients learn to nourish their bodies without guilt, move for joy, improve body image and self worth, plus recover from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and get their period pack if it’s gone missing.

    Click below to book your free discovery call and get started.

    Sarah King

    Sarah King

    Hi future friends, I’m Sarah King, an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and health coach.

    Science, not trends is the foundation of my approach. By nourishing the body and mind with scientific facts we can build foundations for a life of realness, not just wellness.