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UNDERSTANDING EATING DISORDERS: EATING DISORDERS AWARENESS WEEK

By 2021 Diana Award recipient, Ally Zlatar from Glasgow, Scotland

Her own struggle against anorexia motivated Ally to raise awareness of eating disorders, body dysmorphia and illness through the power of art. She created ‘The Starving Artist’, a global outreach initiative and publication covering artistic research and reflection from over 25 international artists. The publication also provided educational resources around eating disorders and can be found in over 30 universities worldwide. Ally also volunteers with eating disorder awareness groups across the UK.

28 February 2022

From 28th February – 6th March 2022 it’s Eating Disorders Awareness (EDA) week. I’m joining Beat in their campaign “to create a future where people experiencing binge eating disorders are met with understanding and compassion”.

To mark Eating Disorders Week 2022, this blog post provides an overview of the three most common eating disorders and identifies who is most at risk and the treatments currently available. Additionally, as an eating disorder activist, I’ll share my work and story to help promote change.

There are over 1.25 million people in the UK who have an eating disorder. It is important to note that eating disorders do not discriminate against age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or disability. Eating disorders can affect anyone and can develop at any point in life- up to 25% diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia are men. 40% of those with binge eating disorder are men. These disorders often have complex causes and can last for many years.

In this blog I share my experience with an Eating Disorder in aid of raising awareness for Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

Ally Zlatar with publications.

Binge Eating Disorder

People with Binge Eating Disorder may eat an unusually large amount of food in a short period of time, often when they are not hungry and to the point of significant discomfort. Beat claims more people live with Binge Eating Disorder than anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. Despite this, it remains a relatively hidden disorder and highly misunderstood. Many with Bing Eating Disorder experience high levels of shame associated with binges, feeling that they lack willpower and restraint.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is marked by severe restriction of calorie intake, an intense fear of gaining weight, and significant importance placed on body shape and weight in self-evaluation. Warning signs of anorexia can include dramatic and rapid weight loss, a refusal to eat certain foods, dressing in layers of clothing to keep warm, and an intense desire to burn off calories. We must understand that Anorexia is beyond the stereotypical representation. We often picture teen girls eating carrot sticks, running on treadmills trying to lose weight for prom. However, the reality is far grimmer and more dangerous than mainstream media states. Anorexia carries the highest mortality rate of any mental illness due to the immense physical complications such as bone density loss, damage to the brain leading to seizures and memory issues; and heart problems including heart failure.

Bulimia Nervosa

Those suffering from bulimia nervosa are caught in a cycle of eating large amounts of food, and then compensating by vomiting, taking laxatives, fasting, or exercising excessively. It is

in this ‘purging’ that bulimia differs from binge eating disorder, although the two disorders do share some symptoms.

People with bulimia often remain hidden because they tend to maintain a healthy weight, making it easier for them to hide their disorder from others. Physical complications from frequent vomiting include damage to the teeth, low blood pressure and irregular heartbeat, and kidney failure. Like all eating disorders the negative feedback cycle of restriction, indulgence and guilt can dominate a person’s daily life and lead to difficulties with relationships and social situations.

Ally Zlatar ” I was Blind to my illness” 6 x 4 , 2021.

While my eating disorder began at the age of 13, I was formerly diagnosed with Anorexia with a Binge Purge Subset at the age of 17. My condition further developed into Bulimia two years later and then followed by Orthorexia within the following year. Since then, I have developed a distorted relationship with food, weight, and body image. My central problem was not so much the external physical ramifications of the illness, but rather the internalized psychological and emotional struggles that I have experienced. My insider artist-researcher approach is pertinent within this work, since there is much need to give voice to those inflicted with eating disorders and to counterbalance the detached ‘clinical’ perceptions of the illness. The reality of living with the ‘inner torment’ deriving from these diseases is unbearable. It is incredibly difficult to express how having an eating disorder can impact self-identity and self-image of someone who is ill. I started The Starving Artist in 2017 and it is an artist initiative that is comprised of independent artistic research, publications, exhibitions, workshops, artist talks and events that explore the themes concerning the lived-in experience of mental illness and eating disorders.

Ally Zlatar’s Art House Holland Exhibition 2020.

The impact has been immense, and The Starving Artist has helped over 100,000 lives. As an artist activist, I believe that art can make a direct impact in society, and through my work I aim to particularly assist eating disorder sufferers. Sales from my artist book, exhibitions, and donations help fund The Starving Artist Scholarship, which is a charity I started in 2018 that offers financial assistance to individuals who are seeking inpatient programs but are in financial need. I have raised over $10000.00 and helped the lives of eating disordered individuals directly. This work and countless other, are trying to spread aid and activism for those inflicted with eating disorders.

1. Fundraise for EDAW: Sign up and join thousands of people fundraising in support of Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2022.

2. Campaign for EDAW: For Eating Disorders Awareness Week, we’re campaigning for medical schools to implement proper training on eating disorders – find out more about the campaign so far.

3. Help change lives: Donate to help provide a safe space for anybody with an eating disorder.

Useful websites for further information:

The Starving Artist

Beat UK

Global List of ED Organizations

HELP US REACH MORE YOUNG PEOPLE

© 2020 The Diana Award. The Diana Award is a registered charity (1117288 / SC041916) and a company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales number 5739137.