journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

Eating Disorders Amongst the Dancer Community

More than 725,000 people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder, 11% of these being male. The main eating disorders are Anorexia, Bulimia and Binge Eating Disorder (BED), eliminating EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified).Before the latest change in diagnostic criteria, it was estimated that of those with eating disorders, 10% were anorexic, 40% were bulimic and the rest fall into the EDNOS category which included BED.

In the dance world, these statistics are even higher. Society puts pressure on people to look a certain way in order to be accepted. In dance, the pressure to be thin is not only due to appearance but also due to performance. Dancers, especially those who take ballet, are often expected to be very thin. Young dancers look to dancers much older who have thin bodies. Dance places a large emphasis on physical appearance. Dance requires you to wear skin-tight clothes whilst dancing in front of a million mirrors for hours at a time. This environment can impact dancers views on their self and possibly lower their self esteem. Dancers constantly look at themselves and their bodies and compare themselves to others.

Many dancers also believe that achieving a lower weight will improve their dancing as well. Female dancers must be held in the air by their male counterparts in a series of long and strenuous lifts. Being lighter and easier to hold is desirable. Because extra weight changes the balance of the body, ballet dancers are careful to maintain a lower weight, thus allowing them to move easier and land softer.

Many people who suffer from eating disorders feel that the disorder gives them a sense of control. This act of self-discipline and structure is inherent in the nature of dance as well. Mastering a skill or achieving a low weight is a tangible goal for dancers. Some dancers have reported that being thinner than the other girls can give them an edge when it comes to getting a role in a dance. Having a sense of control over your body and your competition is powerful for dancers. These pressures are extremely relevant in the world of classical ballet, but that is not to say that developing an eating disorder is the right way to find success as a ballerina. In fact, it is just the opposite. Eating disorders destroy your body, leaving you malnourished and lacking in muscle tone and bone strength. Dance is a rigorous sport that requires an enormous amount of strength. A body plagued by a serious eating disorder is weak and not able to execute difficult leaps and skilful manoeuvres.

Studies have shown that girls begin to express concerns about their own weight or about becoming too fat as early as the age of six. Most dancers begin their high level training around age seven. These girls are dreaming of becoming professional dancers, and are doing so at an impressionable age. Feeling the need to be lean like their idols can significantly damage them both mentally and physically.

The dance world is tough and it can be easy to follow the rules of society.

It can be difficult to spot the onset or re-occurrence of an eating disorder when a person is of a normal weight. Warning signs include:

  • Constant or repetitive dieting such as always counting calories, skipping meals, avoiding foods, replacing meals with fluids.
  • Extreme exercise regimes and abnormal amounts of time spent at a gym to ‘burn calories’. Exercising when injured, in bad weather, exhibiting distress if not able to exercise, refusal to stop exercise for any reason.
  • Evidence of vomiting or laxative abuse – frequent trips to the bathroom during or after meals.
  • Changes in food preferences – suddenly refusing to eat certain foods, changing to vegetarian or vegan to avoid foods, claiming to dislike foods once enjoyed, interested in healthy eating.
  • Avoidance of eating food or social events that involve food.
  • Strong focus on body and body weight – interest in weight-loss websites and pro-ana sites, dieting books and pictures of ‘thin’ people.
  • Development of repetitive behaviours – pinching waist or wrists, constantly weighing, excessive time looking at the mirror.
  • Social withdrawal and isolation, avoidance of once enjoyed activities.
  • Eating very slowly and denying hunger  – even when the belly rumbles.
  • Sudden or rapid weight loss or frequent changes in weight
  • Complaining about being cold even in warm environments
  • Signs of vomiting – swollen cheeks, calluses on the knuckles or damaged teeth.
  • Fainting spells, panic attacks and dizziness
  • Always feeling tired and unable to perform many activities
  • Intense fear of weight gain
  • Negative self-esteem and body image as well as a distorted body image
  • Sensitive to comments or criticism about the body, weight or exercise and eating habits
  • Heightened anxiety, especially around food
  • Depression and other psychological disorders
  • Black and white thinking – everything is either good or bad, no in between.
  • Feeling out of control or hopeless
  • Moody or irritable

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Eating Disorder symptoms are as follows:

There are physical and psychological indicators of eating disorders. Depending on the disorder, some include: • Preoccupation with food, weight, and body • Unrelenting fear of gaining weight • Refusal to eat except for tiny portions • Dehydration • Compulsive exercise and inappropriate time spent at the gym • difficulty concentrating and focusing  • Distorted body image • Abnormal weight loss • Sensitivity to cold • Absent menstruation • Rapid consumption of a large amount of food • Eating alone or in secret • Abuse of laxatives, diuretics, diet pills, or emetics • Depression • Shame and guilt • Withdrawal • difficulty regulating mood (sad then happy) • associated mental disorders: depression, anxiety, OCD and substance abuse • slow pulse and blood pressure • dizzy spells and shortness of breath • chest pain • electrolyte imbalances • stress fractures, broken bones or injuries • low body temperature • low energy or extreme fatigue • constipation and stomach problems • laxative dependence

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journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

Turning Love into Life

It’s very easy to lose touch with reality sometimes, or be totally unaware of everything that goes on around you. The exhaustion I’ve felt over the past couple of weeks is indescribable. I’ve been physically and emotionally drained, not even wanting to leave my bed. I’m not going to go into too much detail, but things have been difficult.

To get out of bed, to get dressed and to even leave my room has been such a big task, and a lot of people who have gone through mental illness will understand what I mean by this. But today, I feel slightly proud of myself. I got out of bed, got dressed and actually made it church. Despite all the anxiety, all the emotion and extreme exhaustion, I sat in that theatre and absorbed every single word our pastor said. It was all about being the greatest person you could be. That instead of feeling bitter inside when someone else’s life is going great, you feel happy for them and work on being the best you can possibly be.

I’m not the strongest person in the world, or the most considerate, or the most open minded. I’m not good at social situations, or people in general, and this stops me from doing so many things. I’m not the greatest person in the world, but I’m the greatest me I can be right now.

Life with mental illness is incredibly hard. It seems as though everyone around you is going on with their lives and you’re there in your own little bubble – totally ignored, isolated and confused. Confused on how you ended up this way or how you just can’t seem to grasp life like everybody else does. How are they so happy? That’s what you think.

My church are happy. As a community, they are happy. They are giving. They are strong. They have hope in every single person, and for that I am so grateful.

I hope I am able to someday put love into life and create something for myself that will not only benefit me but will benefit so many other people around me.

One day at a time.

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