Shropshire Star

Lockdown had profound effect on eating disorder sufferers, says expert

Lockdown has had a profound effect on people suffering from eating disorders, an expert in the West Midlands said today.

Beat, an eating disorder support charity, has recorded a spike in the number of people accessing their services during lockdown

The loss of face-to face counselling has provided a big setback to many who are struggling to recover.

And the unpredictability of food shortages has also affected the recovery of those who rely on a routine of buying supplies for meals.

Dr Mark Tattersall, a consultant psychiatrist with the Huntercombe group which has a hospital in Stafford, specialises in treating 12- to 18-year-olds across the region with anorexia nervosa.

He says there have been some positive aspects to lockdown, by ensuring younger sufferers are spending more time with their family. But for many it has been unsettling.

Dr Tattersall said: “There has been a range of effects on patients. Negatively, the face to face work of our community teams was stopped due to lockdown, unless it was a crisis situation.

“Early on in lockdown, food shortages were difficult for some people and caused a lot of anxiety when items they were used to getting were not on the shelves.

“A lot of patients find it difficult to put things into words, so trying to speak to people over the phone and get them to articulate it has been hard at times. Some of the activities our inpatients do have had to be limited, and parents can’t come in to eat with children.

“However, on the plus side, because a lot of parents are now at home they are there to supervise their child at meal times and with foods.

Mark Tattersall

“Also with only one person per household allowed to do food shopping this means that the person with the eating disorder can’t be there to check labels on foods and choose what is being bought.”

Eating disorder charity Beat has recorded an overwhelming surge in the number of people accessing its online support services and helplines since March.

Reflecting on the number of admissions and referrals to specialist treatment services during lockdown, Dr Tattersall says levels are in fact lower than usual at this time of year.

He said: “Referrals dropped at the start and we aimed to discharge people earlier where possible too.

Mark Tattersall

“This time of year we expect to see more referrals, although people have been visiting GPs less.

“The big thing for a lot of people is summer holidays have been cancelled and exam stress has vanished, which normally can cause a lot of young people anxiety, so it is very different for them.”

Dr Tattersall advised parents who may be concerned about their child’s wellbeing to not be afraid to seek help, saying: “If you are a parent and are worried, then trust your instinct. Contact your GP or a charity such as Beat for advice and support. If you are getting a bad feeling then go with it rather than hoping it will go away and letting it go untreated.”

Beat's confidential helplines are open 365 days a year from 12pm to 8pm during the week, and 4pm to 8pm on weekends and bank holidays, more details can be found on its website. Contact its helpline on 0808 801 0677, studentline on 0808 801 0811 and youthline on 0808 801 0711.

Case study: Lockdown shed light on problem

Walking became part of Ellie’s routine to keep her weight under control as she struggled through lockdown

For one sufferer, the pandemic has brought the harsh reality of her eating disorder to light.

Ellie, not her real name, said: “I knew I had a problem with body image and food, but I had always swept it under the carpet and because I was at work, my family never questioned what I was eating when I was out of the house or how much time I was spending at the gym.

“I was tracking calories constantly, every crumb that went in my mouth was noted down and obsessed over, something else my family never realised until I was with them 24/7 and they saw me do it.

“Then gyms closed and I started exercising at home. My parents would comment on the hours I spend each week trying to burn off as many calories as I would have done following a day at work and a two-hour gym session.”


The 21-year-old said young people have more spare time than ever before, they are investing more and more hours online, especially on social media.

She said: “As lockdown continued, all I saw on my feed daily was people losing weight, exercising more than I was, running 5kms, biking here there and everywhere. It made me feel inadequate, why couldn’t I do as much as these people?

“I began waking up early to run before work, and before anyone else was awake to see, doing workouts on my break or going for two, sometimes three walks per day.

“As anxieties about normal life resuming built, everything got worse. I hadn’t hit my goals before things began to reopen and I could see friends again, this terrified me. I wasn’t sleeping, I began taking laxatives, chewing food and spitting it out into the bin and trying to make myself vomit.

“I finally found the courage to speak to my family about everything, and instantly it was as if a weight had been lifted. I am now getting the help I need.”

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