When lockdown across England was first lifted, Lydia’s first reaction wasn’t feeling happy about reconnecting with friends or going out. Her first thought was how would she be able to restrict her diet at social events.

This is the reality that many people suffering from eating disorders face, only exacerbated by the easing of coronavirus restrictions, putting more pressure on their body and mind.

Lydia Harkus, 25, a civil servant from Bristol has suffered from bulimia and a binge-eating disorder since January 2020 and lost control during the first lockdown in March.

She said: “I feel like lockdown made me have the mentality of ‘sod it’ and just eat it. Because I was working from home, food was very accessible for me to binge-eat. I am also a very big emotional eater, and with the ups and downs of lockdown and the way it had made me feel mentally, I turned to food every time to comfort myself.”

Lydia Harkus, 25

Lydia eventually went to her GP in June 2020 when the signs of bulimia first appeared, and she was referred to a mental health charity.

But this was simply a short-term solution.

“I felt as though I needed long-term support as this is a long-term disorder. I definitely feel there is a significant lack of support for those who have eating disorders, but particularly those with a binge-eating disorder, where it isn’t perhaps taken as seriously as anorexia or bulimia.”

Lucy Robinson, 23, a university student from Derbyshire, shares Lydia’s concerns surrounding eating disorders during the nationwide lockdown.

She was first diagnosed with anorexia nervosa in her first year of university in 2017, but admits she has had symptoms for over a decade.

She also believes lockdown exacerbated her mental illness and led to a resurge in her eating disorder.

She said: “There was definitely a regression in my symptoms, and I started slipping back into old habits. It was like all of the things I did to keep busy and distract myself had gone. Eating disorders thrive on secrecy so it was extremely easy to justify to myself why I shouldn’t eat certain things because all I had to do all day was to listen to my head.

Lucy Robinson, 23

“I didn’t want to eat, and I didn’t want to shop for food either, so it was a match made in heaven in terms of being the breeding ground to enter the cycle where my world became dominated by food.”

According to BeatED, the UK’s leading eating disorder charity, around 1.25 million people in the UK suffer from an eating disorder, which also has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

BeatED saw a 300 per cent increase in the amount of support being requested from their helpline during the lockdowns, similar to other eating disorder charities across the UK.

But, the easing of lockdown restrictions has led to a different type of problem for people with eating disorders.

Their ability to keep their struggles to themselves is contrasted with eating in public surrounded with other people, leading to a surge in bulimia and restrictive type disorders.

Lydia admitted: “I’m worried about the lockdown rules being lifted, as I know that my friends will start going out for food or social events where I won’t be in control of my food consumption.

“When I feel out of control that’s the worst time for me to binge-eat to regain control again. Because I often binge and restrict with my food in order to be in control, I’m worried that lockdown being lifted I won’t be able restrict myself in order to lose weight.”

Last week (April 9), Celebrity Big Brother winner Nikki Grahame died after battling an eating disorder for a number of years. As a result, a number of triggering articles and images started circulating online.

Both Lydia and Lucy avoided the content but fear for the triggering effect it could have on people currently battling an eating disorder.

Lucy said: “I think just the fact that people are more open online means that it’s a lot harder to avoid conversations that are triggering. In real life, people don’t really complain about their weight or if they’re ‘feeling fat’ and things like that – and if they do, it’s usually conversations between friends. But online, this talk is normalised, but we don’t really recognise it.

“The sheer amount of people talking about it is quite exhausting and intense to deal with. I’m happy people are paying attention, but it’s a lot to be faced with someone dying of an illness that you came face to face with.

“I stepped back from Twitter because people were sharing their experiences with disordered eating and it was bringing back a lot of trauma.”

First Steps ED said the pressure on people suffering with eating disorders was “unmistakeable” and encouraged eating disorder sufferers to seek the help they need.

They said: “Having spoken with many of our service users of the last few months, the impact of COVID-19 on those struggling with their mental health or eating disorders is unmistakeable.

“The uncertainty and isolation, as well as the barriers created in accessing vital support networks and services, has meant that so many people have felt left behind and alone with their struggles.

“Many services have reported increased referrals, including First Steps ED who have seen a 49% increase, as well as a 46% increase in referrals to our Children and Young Persons (CYP) service.

“The easing of restrictions brings with it new challenges for our service users who are experiencing a number of emotions regarding the pandemic. Whilst many of us are excited with new freedoms, others will have a new underlying anxiety around this return to ‘normality’ and how the changing guidelines are going to affect their routines and recovery.”

Feature image credit: Pixabay