By Lauren Edwards
It is a stark reality that eating disorders are on the rise amongst young people following a year of lockdowns and school closures. According to NHS Digital, the number of children admitted to hospital with an eating disorder has risen by a fifth, with over 21,000 hospital admissions recorded last year.
During the pandemic, people may have felt out of control of their lives, perhaps felt targeted by social media showcasing weight loss and exercise, and that they should not access help through their GP as people with Covid might be a priority over an eating disorder.
When I was 17, I had just broken up with my boyfriend and I was devastated. I can look back now and think what a lucky escape as he was a bad boy and had not been kind to me. However, at the time, it was the end of my teenage world. My college studies suffered, and I just stopped eating. I didn’t think I was starving myself at the time. I just didn’t feel hungry. Ever.
My weight plummeted and my parents panicked. I can remember going to the GP with my Mum and telling him that I couldn’t be anorexic as I wasn’t trying to lose weight. My Mum cooked every one of my favourite meals, but I just picked at them. My clothes became baggy, but I didn’t really care. My friends tried to snap me out of it, but I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Except that I was sad. Really sad and not hungry.
My Dad was a Day Centre Officer for adults with learning difficulties. Around this time, he asked me to help him take a group of his students with Autism and Downs Syndrome on a day trip to the National History Museum in London. I agreed. He told his colleague, who was a good friend of the family, to not be shocked by me and my tiny frame. I was maybe about 6 ½ stone. I’m not sure. I never weighed myself.
That day kind of changed everything for me. My Dad’s students did not judge me for how I looked, and they were so much fun and had such a sunny outlook on the world, which was contagious. My favourite of my Dad’s students was Jimmy. He was 6ft tall, 35 years old but with the mental age of a 4-year-old and was unable to form words – but was still very vocal. At one point during the day, he grabbed my hand and dragged me down a corridor screaming with excitement, knocking tourists flying in his path, just to show me a stuffed chimpanzee. He loved monkeys. As he jumped up and down with glee, excited to see my reaction, I couldn’t stop smiling. The crowd of onlookers stared in disbelief, but I didn’t care. I wanted to be as happy as Jimmy again.
I got a lot better after this. My appetite returned, I became a healthy weight and my confidence improved. I never used the term ‘eating disorder’ to explain what had happened to me. It’s not that I was embarrassed or ashamed but more that I didn’t realise that I was suffering until after I was better.
Kelly Hollands, our resident beauty expert, has shared her own story with us:
At the age of 14, I developed a fear of eating in front of people, although I was fine eating with my family. After school and on weekends, I spent most of my time with my friends and was therefore always starving! I would hear my stomach growling, but I would ignore it. My friends would tuck into their food when we were out and I knew that they wouldn’t care if I had joined them, but I would tell myself that I couldn’t eat.
A few years later, I was in an extremely abusive relationship with a boyfriend. He would often call me ugly and fat and unfortunately I believed him. I shut myself away from friends, he became extremely possessive and stupidly I allowed him to control my every move. I had no self esteem or confidence and I never felt comfortable eating in front of him. My weight plummeted to around 6 stone and one day I collapsed in a shop. My parents were at their wits end trying to get me to see sense and eat, even resorting to scare tactics, telling me that I would end up in hospital.
Thankfully, at the age of 21, something clicked in me and I knew this wasn’t how life was supposed to be. I plucked up the courage and left the relationship. I started seeing my old friends again, made lots of new friends and enjoyed life. My eating habits improved and ten months later I met my husband who showed me the love and support that I had been missing. That was 23 years ago and the rest is history!
Living life controlled by food, thoughts of food or focusing on your weight is an extremely tough and challenging existence. I remember it consuming me day and night. I was lucky enough to overcome it. I hope that anyone reading this, who might be suffering in the same way as I did, will feel strong enough to change their situation, because everyone is worthy of living their best life.
According to the eating disorder Beat, eating disorders are serious mental illnesses where people use disordered eating behaviour as a way to cope with difficult situations or feelings. This behaviour can include limiting the amount of food eaten, eating very large quantities of food at once, getting rid of food eaten through unhealthy means such as vomiting, fasting or excessive exercise.
Beat has seen an unprecedented response over the last year with their Helpline delivering 100,000 support sessions and seeing a 302% increase in demand for those seeking help.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder then you can contact the Beat helpline on 0808 801 0677.