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Alia Al Hazami: I am not a victim
May 30, 2016
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I am on a mission to impact the Emirati society through proactively educating about eating disorders and raising awareness about the stigma surrounding such personal challenges.
Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Earlier this month, I told the world my deepest darkest secret, one that I have managed to keep to myself so well. I confessed that this year marked my sixth year battling an eating disorder, and I was not ashamed of it anymore.

As a child, my doctor told me I was in the early stages of Anorexia Nervosa. Anorexia Nervosa is defined as the continuous desire to control and hinder food intake. Usually, the person has an intense anxiety and fear of gaining weight, or has a continuous behaviour to limit and stop any weight gain. Most importantly, people with Anorexia Nervosa have disturbed perception of their weight or shape.

But that was not the case for me. I simply did not like to eat. I was young at that time and already skinny. I had no wish to lose any more weight. In fact, it was hurting me mentally to see how skinny I was. I enjoyed the feeling of starving myself; it was something I did for pleasure. Even though some people develop eating disorders by turning extreme dieting into a habit, many do not develop it with eating regimes. To some, they just happen to have eating disorders, like myself. It was never a choice to me; it still isn’t.

I victimised myself for years on end but I knew it was time to stop playing that role. I fought my way through it trying to overcome my diagnosis. Sadly, during that process, I developed another eating disorder. That disorder is a subtype of Binge Eating, called Starving and Binge Eating. It basically means that I was starving myself for days, not having any food in my system. Then, there would be a few days where I would eat nonstop. What baffled me the most was that no one truly understood what I was going through, and I was asked to “just eat” like it wasn’t something I was struggling to do.

The awareness around eating disorders is increasing worldwide, but we sadly do not have this culture in the UAE. The majority of people are convinced that eating disorders are another trend created by the mass media, and there was no medical evidence behind it, when there is.

Still, the stigma associated around eating disorders is not shocking. Mental disorders in general have such hostility towards them. I tried to think of a valid reason towards that negativity, and I deemed that people might think so because mental disorders are just that, mental, i.e., they cannot be seen. So, people might not believe in them because they do not get to see the chemical imbalance that goes in the patients’ brain. Nonetheless, a medical condition does not have to be seen in order for people to get help. People need to acknowledge the seriousness behind the issue.

Beat Eating Disorders, a leading charity of eating disorders in the UK, published that in 2015, 725,000 people were diagnosed with eating disorders. If that doesn’t call for a universal concern, I don’t know what does.

I tried to find statistics of eating disorders in the UAE, but all I could find was surveys. In fact, the latest article I found was in 2014, stating that the rates of eating disorders are growing at an alarming rate. So, if the news realises the danger why isn’t anyone doing anything about it?

That is my main concern, why don’t people believe in how much eating disorders can ruin someone’s life?

My parents did not know what to make of my problems with food. They just realised I had a problem and wanted to find means of treatment. However, even though I got the help I needed, many people do not get that privilege. Many people with eating disorders are forced to live with their disorder, not finding any way to get better. They are taught to be ashamed of what they have, and keep it concealed.

We are missing an awareness that is highly needed. Therefore, I am launching my own campaign called Five More Years. I am on a mission to impact the Emirati society through proactively educating about eating disorders and raising awareness about the stigma surrounding such personal challenges. I have a goal to have the Emirati society address eating disorders and give them the attention they demand.

For more information, follow @05MoreYears on Twitter.
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The writer is the author of “Alatash,” a columnist, and an
International Studies and English Literature student at AUS.

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