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Combating eating disorders with courage, compassion and trust

17 May 2019

According to Beat Eating Disorders charity, 1.25 million people in the UK are diagnosed with an eating disorder. Between 2010-11 and 2017 the number of NHS admissions for people with an eating disorder has doubled. The demand for such services continues to increase today.

Here at the Trust, we have a dedicated community eating disorders team that helps over 200 people every year. The most common eating disorders our clinicians help treat include bulimia and anorexia. Here are stories from two women who want to talk about how their lives have been transformed thanks to the work they have done with the team at West London Community Eating Disorders Service.

“Zaynab” – 20 years old

Zaynab is 20 years old and battled anorexia for almost five years, with the first signs appearing at the age of 15.

Like with most cases of anorexia, it is difficult to know what exactly led to her illness, as it was a combination of external, societal pressures and the challenging conditions Zaynab was placed in. As a young carer, anorexia helped Zaynab escape her daily struggles and stresses, and so became a coping mechanism for any trauma she faced. This only accumulated during the stress of exams and securing a place at university, as well with finding herself in an abusive relationship.

Anorexia affected all aspects of Zaynab’s life, leaving her with very low self-esteem and fractured self-belief. She struggled to find a balance in life and left university within a few months of starting. Her anorexia was debilitating and destructive, as she felt that it had robbed her of her youth and her happiness.

In January 2018, around her 19th birthday, Zaynab felt she needed to change her life for the better. She contacted her GP and requested a referral to a service that would finally help her combat this eating disorder. The GP referred her to the West London Community Eating Disorder team, based in Ealing.

Zaynab had an initial session with a dietician that determined what treatment within the eating disorders service she should use in order to help with her condition. Over the period of one year, she had 27 meetings with a clinician in total. The sessions were challenging but ultimately very rewarding, as they helped Zaynab set herself free from the grips of anorexia and blossom into her own person once again. In her own words, “a life without anorexia never felt like a possibility before therapy, but it now feels like the only option I have.”

Today Zaynab is proud to say she is living a happy, fulfilled life. She is back studying – but at a different university – and is an active volunteer for a women’s charity. She is in full control of her life and finally feels normal and happy again. She strives to help other young people experiencing similar struggles through her charity work, as well as through her writing and public speaking.

Zaynab’s clinician was Giulia Di Clemente, who says: “Zaynab has been through what too many people are struggling with at the moment. Eating disorders can become a short-term support when faced with adversities and there are different reasons as to why they develop. One of the aspects of eating disorders is over-concern with weight and shape and, with increased societal pressures to fit specific (yet often unobtainable) beauty standards; many people are struggling in silence over this. There are many services available to provide support with this, with ours being one of them. I am really glad to have been a part of Zaynab’s courageous journey towards recovery and I hope to continue being a part of many more journeys.”

“Helen” – early 40s

All her adult life, Helen has had to overcome challenges. She has had an eating disorder since the age of 16. As this stage it was not diagnosed and living with pervasively negative thoughts about her body and eating patterns took its toll on her mental health. In addition, she endured chronic depression and symptoms that came to be diagnosed as ADHD. As a result, she came to be reliant on alcohol and prescribed drugs.

Now sober for 15 years, she holds much gratitude to the eating disorders team for helping her manage the demons she endured since she was a teenager. The team have helped her get to a point where she can see a more positive journey ahead and live for her two children. Helen feels that, as a result of the work she has done with the eating disorders team, she has been able to broaden her focus beyond her diet and body so that she can enjoy life to the full.

Sam Spedding, Principal Psychologist and Team Leader of the eating disorders service, says: “Every day, we have new cases of men and women coming forward with distress around eating and body image. Talking to someone in the service can be extremely daunting, but can also be the first step to loosening the often invisible shackles of an eating disorder. If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, please talk (or encourage them to talk) to a GP and ask to be referred to us. By providing a responsive, community-based service, we aim to keep people connected to their communities and as much as possible to avoid hospital admissions. I take pride in our compassionate and dedicated team and I hope to continue to raise awareness about eating disorders and help the clients we work with to overcome them.”