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Speech given by Diana, Princess of Wales on "Eating Disorders"
27th April 1993
Ladies and Gentlemen
I have it, on very good authority, that the quest for perfection our society demands can leave the individual gasping for breath at every turn.
This pressure inevitably extends into the way we look. And of course, many would like to believe that Eating Disorders are merely an expression of female vanity - not being able to get into a size ten dress and the consequent frustrations!
From the beginning of time the human race has had a deep and powerful relationship with food - if you eat you live, if you don't you die. Eating food has always been about survival, but also about caring for and nurturing the ones we love. However, with the added stresses of modern life, it has now become an expression of how we feel about ourselves and how we want others to feel about us.
Eating Disorders, whether it be Anorexia or Bulimia, show how an individual can turn the nourishment of the body into a painful attack on themselves and they have at their core a far deeper problem than mere vanity. And sadly, Eating Disorders are on the increase at a disturbing rate, affecting a growing number of men and women and a growing number of children.
Our knowledge of Eating Disorders is still in its infancy. But it seems, from those I have spoken to that the seeds of this dis-ease may lie in childhood and the self doubts and uncertainties that accompany adolescence. From early childhood many had felt they were expected to be perfect, but didn't feel they had the right to express their true feelings to those around them - feelings of guilt of self revulsion and low personal esteem. Creating in them a compulsion to 'disolve like a disprin' and disappear.
The illness they developed became their 'shameful friend'. By focussing their energies on controlling their bodies, they had found a 'refuge' from having to face the more painful issues at the centre of their lives. A way of 'coping', albeit destructivly and pointlessly, but a way of coping with a situation they were finding unbearable. An 'expression' of how they felt about themselves and the life they were living.
On a recent visit to 'The Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children' I met some young people who were suffering from Eating Disorders. With the help of some very dedicated staff, they and their parents, were bravely learning to face together the deeper problems, which had been expressed through their dis - ease.
With time and patience and a considerable amount of specialist support, many of these young people will get well. They and their families will learn to become whole again. Sadly, for others it will all be too late. Yes, people are dying through Eating Disorders.
Yet all of us can help prevent the seeds of this dis - ease developing. As parents, teachers, family and friends, we have an obligation to care for our children. To encourage and guide, to nourish and nurture and to listen with love to their needs, in ways which clearly show our children that we value them. They in their turn will then learn how to value themselves.
For those already suffering from Eating Disorders, how can we reach them earlier, before its too late?
Here in Britain organisations such as 'The Eating Disorders Association' are currently being swamped with enquiries and requests for support and advice, so overwhelming is the need for help. Yet with greater awareness and more information these people, who are locked into a spiral of secret despair, can be reached before the dis-ease takes over their lives. The longer it is before help reaches them, the greater the demand on limited resources and the less likely it is they will fully recover.
I am certain the ultimate solution lies within the individual. But with the help and patient nurturing given by you the professionals, family and friends, people suffering from Eating Disorders can find a better way of coping with their lives. By learning to deal with their problems directly in a safe and supportive environment.
Over the next three days, this International Conference, has the opportunity to explore further the causes of Eating Disorders and to find new avenues of help for those suffering from this 'incapacitating dis - ease'.
I look forward to hearing about your progress and hope you are able to find the most 'beneficial' way of giving back to these people their self esteem. To show them how to overcome their difficulties and re-direct their energies towards a healthier, happier life.
© Peter Settelen 1993