Since the first lockdown in March 2020, eating disorders have increased dramatically, with up to 3.4 million people in the UK said to be affected. Beat, the UK’s national eating disorder charity has seen demand for their services increase and, waiting lists for treatment have increased, both by 200%.
I have had calls from terrified parents whose children have been diagnosed with anorexia because what started off as a ‘health kick’ when we were encouraged to go for our hourly exercise once a day, quickly led to an addiction.
Children who were told they needed to self isolate themselves in their bedrooms if their classmate tested positive for Covid for fear of getting it and potentially ‘killing’ their family.
Children who were previously told that taking time off school for a term-time holiday was not allowed as it would affect their exam results, and exam results were everything. They were then told that school would be shut and who knows whether or when you’ll be coming back and if you’ll be able to take your exams.
Children who were isolated from their important support network; their friends and grandparents.
In the UK, according to the Government, approximately 2/3 of adults are overweight or obese and this costs the NHS £6 billion a year. I understand the need to help people be more healthy. However, in my opinion, the government’s ideas of tackling the obesity crisis are bloody ridiculous!
First up: Calories on Restaurant Menus. No matter which eating disorder you have or if you’re a yo-yo dieter, you know how many calories food items have. We’re not stupid. Plus, we have it drilled into our heads, what is good for us and what is bad for us. I’m not saying education isn’t important, but let’s not make it all about calories. Calorie labelling on menus to be introduced in cafes, restaurants and takeaways – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
Then we have rewards for healthier eating and exercise. This is due to happen next year (January 2022) just in time for your New Year’s Eve resolutions I guess (BTW I never make NYE resolutions as I think we can make changes any at point, and smaller, more achievable goals are the best way to start). Anyway, this will be a new app that will track your supermarket purchases and activity levels and reward you for buying fruit and veg and for going for a run, etc. Now full details aren’t available but it’s thought that many companies are to be involved in this scheme and will provide merchandise, discounts, vouchers and gift cards. New pilot to help people exercise more and eat better – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
I have several problems with and indeed concerns about the above strategies:
1. Eating disorders are mental health illnesses. They’re not about the food!
2. There are many types of eating disorders, including anorexia. Anorexia is a way of feeling in control and safe – I’m not in control of what’s happening around me so I’ll control what I eat and what I weigh. It’s a way of numbing painful emotions. It’s not a conscious choice, this happens subconsciously and without us realising. The ‘root cause’ of why the ED has developed needs to be worked through in order for true recovery to happen. Anorexics are experts in calories and the fear of food particularly in a social environment is immense. It is common for those with ED’s to scrutinise menus beforehand to find something ‘safe’ to have. Not because that’s the food they would enjoy, but because it involves the least risk of a complete meltdown and punishment later. Now imagine, if the calories are there, looking you right in the face. Any thoughts of “come on you can do this, you can order what you fancy just for tonight”, will be kicked right out because of those numbers staring right at you.
3. Another type of eating disorder is Binge Eating Disorder. BED can be a way of dealing with painful emotions like the death of someone close and therefore grieving and feeling alone. For some, who may have experienced sexual abuse in the past, it is a way of staying safe and of protection eg. if I’m bigger, no one will notice me or hurt me again. Again, these are not conscious choices or decisions, and the root cause(s) needs to be dealt with, so that food isn’t used in this way anymore. I just don’t see how the above strategies can really help. Maybe initially but not for the long term as the subconscious mind will sabotage any plans to lose weight.
4. It is common for someone with an eating disorder to ‘move’ from one ED to another, ie. anorexia to BED and vice versa, or ‘skip’ to another addiction. These strategies aren’t offering help with people’s mental health, they are short-term tactics that are based on symptoms and behaviours, rather than dealing with the root cause. People will still be struggling with their mental health, so how can things really improve?
5. People with eating disorders already suffer a lot of guilt and shame. They beat themselves up and punish themselves for who they are and what they look like. Someone who is overweight or obese is already being fat-shamed by society. They aren’t greedy or lazy, they’re just trying to get through this life, as best as they can, with the tools, resources and knowledge they have, just like you and me. Again, I just don’t see how calories on menus or apps that monitor your food and activity will help in the long term.
As a professional and someone who has had anorexia and bulimia myself, I’m wondering who came up with these strategies? I’m imagining that it was someone high up who has never had a mental health issue or used food to help with their emotions. After the news of the calories on menus being introduced, many ED charities and advocates spoke against this idea but it still seems set to go ahead. I imagine for the App a great deal of money will be spent on the scheme, but I wish it’d been spent on Mental Health instead as I feel it would have been more effective. Or perhaps it’s like the situation with Big Pharma, they prefer to keep us ill because that’s how they earn their money.
It is known that early intervention is the most effective policy however resources for mental health have always been lacking, and now even more so. BMI is often used as a measure of whether someone with anorexia is ‘ill enough’ to get help. When someone reaches out for help they need it now, but waiting lists, particularly for adults can be several months at the very least. And the message that is interpreted while they have to wait, “I’m obviously not thin enough”, so more restriction and weight loss are required in order to be taken seriously.
My clients with anorexia often tell me about their experiences with GP’s and other professionals. Comments such as:
“I’ve seen worse than you”
“You’re not that thin”
“You just need to eat”
“Eat some cake and enjoy it”
“Your boobs are small but it’s OK because some guys like smaller boobs”
WTF!!! I’m genuinely outraged at people’s ignorance and as such am on a mission to support those with ED’s by educating people about eating disorders, what might cause them, what it feels like to have an eating disorder, strategies and tools that can help and much more, so that they can better:
Work With People With Eating Disorders (practitioners, GP’s, nurses, students, teachers, etc) – click Working With People With Eating Disorders – Online Training 22.10.21 (mailchi.mp) for details
Support Someone With An Eating Disorder (parents, carers, friends, family, loved ones, etc) – click Supporting Someone With An Eating Disorder – Online Training – 18th October 2021 (mailchi.mp) for details.
If the above dates aren’t feasible, please email me at [email protected] to request upcoming dates, and please share with anyone else who you think would be interested.
Find out more about me through my website www.kissgoodbyetoana.com or reading my book “How To Kiss Goodbye To Ana – Using EFT in Recovery From Anorexia”, published by JKP in 2018, available from Amazon worldwide.