Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Watching out for the early signs of eating disorders

CW: discussion of eating disorders

Many of us have struggled with our mental health during lockdown. However, an area that is frequently overlooked is the impact lockdown measures are having on people with eating disorders. Indeed, demand for the Helpline service run by BEAT, the UK’s eating disorder charity, increased by 97% from March to September compared to the same period last year.

For many, a lack of structure has led to day-to-day life revolving around the few things left in our control – food and exercise. In contrast, the heavy demands exerted on key workers has led to many others pushing the importance of these aspects of life aside. While the majority of people can adjust to these changes in healthy ways, they can be detrimental to those vulnerable to eating disorders.

The impact of lockdown shall likely be amplified in our local community

Not only can feelings of isolation, anxiety and a lack of control manifest in dangerous coping strategies, but a shutdown of face-to-face day-patient and out-patient services has made it harder for people to access support when they have needed it the most.

At least, this has been my experience and those of several other wonderful people I am currently living with in an inpatient ward. I am not yet ready to share my story, as it is very personal, and I am still going through recovery. However, I feel a strong need to speak up about the effect that lockdown is having on people with eating disorders, so that we can all be better equipped to support each other during these uncertain times. Do you know the signs to look out for?

In particular, the impact of lockdown shall likely be amplified in our local community as the majority of eating disorders develop during one’s teenage years or early adult life, especially when people first come to university.

It has never been more important to look out for one another

For most, your university years coincide with the first time you’re fully in control of your eating and exercise routine. Not only that, but I’m sure that many of us can relate to the added pressure of having to ‘adult’, make friends, and make something of your life. When combined with feelings of isolation, expectations and perhaps a desire to look and be a certain way, control over food and exercise can become an unhealthy way of coping with everyday life. With lockdown compounding all of these factors and removing chances to socialise and connect with others, I fear that many will turn to disordered eating and exercise to cope.

That’s why, in this bewildering world we live in, it has never been more important to look out for one another. We must educate ourselves on the signs to look out for, and the ways in which we can support each other’s mental health.

Eating disorders can hit anyone, of any gender, race, sexuality, religion, age or other social categories. We can no longer afford to talk about them as the “dieter’s disease” or a “women’s issue”; they are so, so much more pervasive and complex than this.

Please remember that you are not alone, and don’t be afraid to reach out

If you are struggling, that is ok. Please remember that you are not alone, and don’t be afraid to reach out. Maybe write things down and contact Warwick Wellbeing Services via their portal.

If anyone is concerned or interested in finding out more, I encourage you to explore BEAT’s website and get in contact with them. They even have a helpline service specifically for students.

Too many times, people with eating disorders and/or other mental health problems have to get far worse before they can get better. Yet it does not need to be this way. It all starts with learning the signs and simply asking, “are you ok?”, “do you want to talk?”.

If you’ve been affected by the issues raised in this article, contact Warwick Wellbeing Services or look on the NHS website to find support relating to mental health, eating disorders and general support as well as the helpline numbers for individual issues. Beat is a UK-based eating disorder charity which features support and guidance for anyone going through anything like this. 

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