Are you struggling with an eating disorder during these challenging times? We understand how difficult it can be to focus on self-care during this time when there are so many challenges around us. This is why we want to share our knowledge about what you need to know right now – from keeping yourself safe through maintaining your health, wellbeing and well-being to finding ways to cope with anxiety and stress.

Alongside experts in treating eating disorders from Substance Rehabilitation UK, we look at the correlation between the impact Covid-19 has on the rates of eating disorders

Eating Disorders Affect Us All

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Eating disorders affect more than three million people in the UK where Substance Rehabilitation’s services are based. The number one cause for admission into eating disorder treatment in England is a diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa (AN). Other diagnoses include Bulimia Nervosa (BN), Binge Eating Disorder (BED) and Orthorexia Nervosa. In Scotland, AN and BN are also common reasons for referral to mental health services and account for 2/3rds of admissions.

Eating disorders are complex illnesses that affect many aspects of a person’s life. They often start during adolescence and young adulthood, and although it may not seem like it, they can last into middle age. There are three main types: Anorexia Nervosa, Binge-Eating Disorder  and Bulimia Nervosa. In some cases, these conditions overlap and become more complicated. All forms of eating disorders involve extreme weight loss or gain, and food restriction. These behaviours go hand in hand with negative thoughts about one’s body.

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For people with bulimia, bingeing or purging occurs regularly and repeatedly. For people with anorexia, this behaviour can happen only once a day or every few days, and for people with BED, it can occur several times a week. These episodes usually lead to feelings of guilt, shame and low self-esteem, which make people want to avoid situations where they might engage in the behaviours again.

According to the latest data, more than a quarter of the affected are male, a number which is growing exponentially with each new survey.

Befoe Covid-19, the lockdowns and the changes in the rules for menus in restaurants in the UK, the NHS shared that 25% of the UK hospital admissions for eating disorders in 2019/20 were for children under the age of 18. That is nearly 3,005 admissions out of the total reported hospital admissions for any of the registered eating disorders.

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How Did Covid-19 Change Our Fight against ED?

Shocking statistics revealed by the NHS show that hospital admissions for eating disorders have risen by  41% as of 2021. The provisional data (April to October 2021) is the most recent available. It demonstrates 4,238 hospital admissions for children aged 17 and under. This is a 41% rise from 3,005 in the same period the previous year.

The 2021 figures also show a 69% rise when compared to 2019. From April to October 2019, there were 2,508 hospital admissions for British citizens aged 17 and under. The overall data is also up 21% on the 19,244 admissions among all age groups in 2018/19.

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Admissions for anorexia nervosa were the highest out of the different conditions, with 5,941 admissions among all ages from April to October 2021. 3,263 people sought help for issues related to Bulimia.

These figures are a direct result of the covid-19 pandemic and the multiple lockdowns which were imposed on the communities. Health centres were unavailable, consultation offices were closed down. People in recovery lost jobs and relapsed due to stress and sudden changes in their lifestyle. Teenagers who couldn’t find adequate medical support had to handle their mental health alone or with insufficient, outpatient care.

While Zoom meetings helped various businesses and attempted to handle the flow of home schooling, mental health consultants and counsellors were unsuccessful in reaching all who needed their assistance.

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How to Find Help and Assist Our Loved Ones?

We all have an important role to play in helping others to recover from eating disorders as well as supporting those who are currently suffering. It can feel lonely or isolating to be experiencing symptoms of an eating disorder, but please remember that anyone can fall ill with their illness and that help is available.

If you are concerned about someone’s health, ask them how they’re feeling. If they say they’re fine, check if they’ve been getting enough sleep, exercise, food and water. Ask whether they’ve been sleeping properly, avoiding alcohol and drugs, and eating regular meals. They may not realise they need your help until they notice physical signs such as weight loss, tiredness or paleness.

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Sometimes people don’t recognise themselves as having an eating disorder because their symptoms seem normal to others. Don’t assume anything – talk to them about their concerns and encourage them to seek professional advice if necessary. You can also offer practical help, like cooking healthy meals together, doing chores instead of them and easing their time management programmes for them. Stress comes in different ways and is one of the main causes of eating disorders.

If you are unable to help yourself, charities such as BEAT, the NHS outpatient services, as well as inpatient options from private providers such as the ones offered by Substance Rehabilitation UK are available for all who need advice, help or treatment for an eating disorder.

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