One in fifty people in the UK will experience binge eating in their lifetime, making it the most common eating disorder, according to national charity Beat.
March 1 to March 7 is Eating Disorders Awareness Week and this year’s focus topic is binge eating disorder.
Beat are aiming to raise awareness and understanding about the mental illness, so that sufferers will be met with more compassion.
But with the pandemic seeing a dramatic increase in cases of eating disorders and a 32% rise in related hospital admissions, many sufferers believe awareness is not enough.
“I remember seeing photos during these awareness weeks and thinking that I don’t look like that so I must not be that ill, so I can keep going as I am.”
Bella*, 22, suffered with an eating disorder when she was at university that took over her life.
It took her a long time to believe that she had a problem regardless of whether she was as thin as representation of eating disorders showed.
“It was 2017 when I went to the GP about my anxiety and depression. When I got in there I burst into tears and ended up bringing up my issues with food. I tried to downplay it and pretend I was fine.”
Bella’s GP was concerned and referred her to an eating disorder clinic through the NHS. But between a long waiting list and the ineffectiveness of the treatment, Bella’s experience was not a positive one.
Bella said: “I think awareness weeks can help people to speak up but if the funding isn’t there to support them when they do open up then awareness alone isn’t good enough.”
Labour MP Olivia Blake has this week written a letter to Rishi Sunak signed by 40 other MPs, that asks the Chancellor to invest in eating disorder services to meet rising demand.
When Bella was in treatment for her eating disorder, she believed that a lack of understanding from staff was equally a huge issue.
“It was like an interrogation”
“I didn’t find the ED clinic helpful, it was like an interrogation. They made me feel like I wasn’t ill enough. An appreciation for the complexity of my disorder was missing. It was all based on calorie intake and weight which shouldn’t come into it. You can still be ruining your body without weight coming into it.”
Bella’s BMI fell into the ‘ideal’ category at the lower end. She felt that the clinic thought she wasn’t thin enough to be at risk and she began to doubt her own illness.
“I felt I didn’t look like I had an eating disorder. EDs don’t look a certain way but I think that media portrayals and assumptions lead people to think that they do. I felt like a fraud because I wasn’t entirely starving myself.”
“I felt like a fraud”
Bella was also referred for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to help with her mental health struggles.
“I would say that I feel fat and disgusting and she would just say ‘but you’re not’. Thank you, very helpful, I’m cured! What was I supposed to do with that?”
Around the same time Bella was referred for an eating disorder support group through her university’s services. She said this was a pivotal turning point towards recovery.
“In the support group everyone was different sizes and in a weird way that made me feel more worthy of being there. I felt so supported and they never asked us which disorder we were struggling with.”
The support group made Bella see how unsustainable and damaging eating disorders were and helped her in her recovery.
But her experience with public treatment has stayed with her and she believes services are not adequately supported with funding and information.
Eating Disorder referrals have doubled in a decade
In Merseyside eating disorder referrals have seen a rise over the last decade in line with the national increase.
Mersey Care treated 30 children aged 17-18 in 2010 compared to 60 in 2019.
The average wait time on Mersey Care in 2019 from referral to treatment was 172.32 days, with the longest recorded wait being 415 days.
Budget allocation for Mersey Care’s eating disorder services has roughly doubled since 2010 from £214,517 to £525,787.
But with the dramatic demand seen during the pandemic, campaign groups believe more funding will be needed.
Bella is recovered now and she is healthier and happier. Without the support of her university, she may not have had the help she needed to recover from such a serious mental illness.
“You’re really tetchy, you have no energy. My grades dropped, everything upset me and I decided all my friends hated me and that was when I hit rock bottom – that memory spurs me on now.
I am so much happier, I’m a better friend and I have more energy. That thought helps me more than the treatment did.”
If you are struggling you can call Beat on 0808 801 067
If you or someone you know are at immediate risk call 999 or The Samaritans at 116 123