Anorexia

Since the beginning of the pandemic, a huge emphasis has been placed upon caring for the elderly and those with pre-existing physical health conditions.

But what about those who have, often, been left to fend for themselves? Those whose afflictions are mental rather than physical?

Eating disorders have gone largely under the radar over the past year, but they are no less destructive, as seen by the tragic death of Big Brother star Nikki Grahame in early April this year, after a long battle with anorexia.

Around 1.25 million people in the UK suffer from disordered eating, with many battling their illness in secret.

Now, a report from the Women and Equalities Committee is calling for BMI to be scrapped and has branded the government’s obesity strategy as “dangerous”, stating that some of the measures could affect those with eating disorders.

Georgia Grantham, a 21-year-old student from Sheffield, says that her problems with eating began at the age of 11, when a fellow schoolgirl made a comment about her weight.

“When I look back on it, it was as simple as one comment being the spark, then as I got older it developed from there as I started to become more and more bothered about my day-to-day appearance.

“I used to skip meals regularly, rarely eat breakfast, only have a packet of crisps for lunch or even throw up after meals.

“I don’t think it was until the age of 16 I first tried to seek help for my eating disorder, and when I did approach my GP for help I was just met with the response ‘oh but you look alright’.

“It got to a point where I was essentially having to beg my GP to give me help, my disorder was so deeply rooted that I needed a medical professional to tell me or at least try to tell me how to change my behaviour.”

When Miss Grantham was finally able to get the help she needed, one of the first steps was for her to be weighed at the doctors, in order to determine her BMI.

“I was told at the time that I had an almost ideal BMI, but I always felt that this wasn’t an accurate measure of how ill I was and how much I was struggling.

“Even now going for a regular check-up I ask the nurse not to read the number out when they weigh me because it is so easy for someone with an eating disorder to think that they are defined by that number.”

Another aspect of the government’s obesity strategy to come under fire in the report was the introduction of calorie labels on all menus.

Miss Grantham adds: “I don’t think that anyone realises how devastating of an effect calorie labels can have on someone who engages in disordered eating.

“It could be triggering or encourage destructive behaviours, the last thing I used to want to do when my eating disorder was really bad was go out to eat and having calorie labels on menus would’ve made it my absolute worst nightmare.”

Beat is a UK-based charity whose mission is to end the pain and suffering caused by eating disorders.

This past year has been particularly difficult for those affected by eating disorders, with Beat’s Helpline delivering 100,000 support sessions and seeing a 302% increase in demand.

File:Beat logo.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

The organisation’s Director of External Affairs, Tom Quinn, says: “We welcome the Women and Equalities Committee’s recommendations regarding eating disorders.

“We also welcome the committee’s call for an urgent review into eating disorder rates, and to ensure that there is sufficient support available for those affected.

“BMI should never be used as the sole factor in diagnosing eating disorders, or for determining who is ‘unwell enough’ to access treatment.

“This can lead to potentially dangerous delays and can drive people deeper into eating disorders in order to be taken seriously.”

Beat have also taken a strong stance on the government’s obesity strategy, with Mr Quinn adding: “The Government’s obesity strategy must be immediately reviewed, as it includes measures known to be dangerous to those unwell or vulnerable, such as listing calories on menus.

“We believe that none of the measures that pose risks should be implemented until this review has taken place.

“We strongly support the call for increased, ring-fenced funding for eating disorder research, as they remain one of the most poorly-understood mental illnesses.”

Alex Norris, MP for Nottingham North and shadow minister for health and social care, has also been critical of BMI and shared his thoughts on the government’s obesity plan.

“I’m not a very big fan of BMI, I think everyone seems to be one side or the other of a healthy weight, and a tool that is so narrow is not an effective one for people.

“We can end up getting a bit fixated on our scale weight, and 12 stone for one person can be very different for another, so I think BMI does as much harm as it does good.”

Alex Norris - Wikipedia

“In terms of this government’s obesity strategy, while I am glad to have one full stop following 11 years of cuts to healthy weight services, the plan is too consultative.”

“There’s far too much in there which has a year delay built into it, we need to get on with it and we need meaningful action now because at the moment all we’ve got is warm words and a drift to nowhere.

The Department for Health and Social Care could not be reached for comment.

For the 1.25 million people around the UK afflicted by disordered eating, the WEC report represents a rare chance for them to have their voices heard, and hopefully, for meaningful action to get underway.