A 21-year-old female medical student and ambassador for beat, an eating disorder charity, tells us her story about dealing with anorexia.
“Telling my parents [that I had anorexia] when I was 13 was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done, but it was the right thing to do. The same day I got an emergency appointment from my GP; within a week I ended up being admitted to hospital because it had gone too far and I had lost too much weight.
“I was there for about nine months. I started on a general paediatric ward because there wasn’t a bed in the eating disorders unit. When I did get into the eating disorder unit, I’d never met anyone else with an eating disorder before and all of a sudden there were people who actually understood me. However, it was very competitive – who can get away with eating the least, who can be the thinnest – and I got led astray by certain people and in the end I had to realise that and stay away from them. When you put a load of anorexics together it’s not necessarily the best environment.
“They waited until I was an OK weight and then I was discharged. I don’t necessarily agree with that because I think that’s when you’re most vulnerable, because you’re not emotionally OK. As soon as I left the unit all I could think about was how big I was and how much I wanted to lose weight. I couldn’t cope because I didn’t have any outpatient care and the unit was quite a way away from me. When I got transferred to the services back home, it felt like I was starting all over again with people who didn’t really know me or understand me. I think that’s why so many people relapse, because they don’t have outpatient care afterwards.
“At the moment I’ve relapsed again. I went to see my GP, it took me a while to go and see her but I knew I had relapsed again and I know what hell it is to go through anorexia and I know what impact it has on my course and so I knew I needed help before it was too late. However, the referral has taken so long that it’s only just come through and now it’s too little too late, because obviously I’m home for the summer. I want support set up over the summer and they’re refusing to do that because they’re saying summer isn’t long enough. They then have to re-refer me in September and it’s just like, what do I have to do. I’m asking for help. I would like to see a dietician.
“I kind of feel like they will only refer you when your weight gets low enough and they don’t understand that eating disorders are an emotional thing. Unless you look physically unwell they don’t really realise you’ve got a problem. I don’t know how to make people understand that; unless they’ve been through it they’re not going to, necessarily.”
“We know people are at university or college are vulnerable; it is such a big period of life change," says Emma Healey, director of operations at beat. "Very often someone lives at one address but spends a lot of the year at another and they can slip through the net. We provide support through our helplines during holidays, but there doesn’t seem to be continuity of care. Eating disorders are long-term conditions and sufferers can have relapses.
“Our website is the biggest in Europe for eating disorders. It’s visited by over 25,000 people a month, and has message boards where people directly affected can get support from each other.”
- Go to www.b-eat.co.uk for more information