Katie's story: managing an eating disorder during lockdown
Hey! My name is Katie and I’m a 23 year-old final year student, studying BSc Food Science. Oh, and I have an eating disorder. With this in mind, mine might seem a surprising degree choice but it’s actually part of what piqued my interest in the first place, and it gives me fuel to fight my negative thoughts around nourishing myself.
Throughout my teenage and adult years, I have spent time in and out of hospitals, battling anorexia nervosa, as well as a personality disorder. I have had good and bad periods, and towards the end of 2019 I began to struggle again, restricting my eating and exercising compulsively. I knew I was spiralling and with the help of a university counsellor I identified a treatment centre where I could seek support to prevent things from getting worse. Great news; right?
Wrong. Five weeks into treatment: lockdown 1.0! Earlier in the year, I (like everyone!) had no idea such a curveball would come my way, and the sudden change to ‘virtual’ treatment was incredibly difficult. Not only this, but my entire coping strategies had been ripped from me.
Before the pandemic, I had two main tools to help me manage my mental illness. The first was building motivation, planning fun things for the future like holidays, theatre trips and nights out with friends. The second was avoiding isolation. Connecting with others, filling my days with plans to see other people.
Needless to say, lockdown wasn’t exactly compatible with these! I suddenly found myself with a lot of excess headspace: which was promptly filled with thoughts of food, calories, weight and exercise. I felt I had no control at all over how I went about my life anymore. Feeling directionless and out of control were perfect catalysts for my eating disorder to encompass me once more. I retreated into self-harm to cope, putting myself at risk in an attempt to illustrate the pain I was in.
Throughout this, I continued to attend treatment, struggling to connect in the same way over Zoom, but continuing regardless. Gradually, through this, as well as support from my family, and an online support group, I began to formulate new coping strategies. They were different from before, but I learned that that was okay. I connected with friends virtually, focused my mind on studies, wrote in my journal every day and tried out self-care – making a list of activities that made me feel safe and grounded. Whilst unfamiliar, these were very helpful in loosening the grip of the disorder and allowing me to act in a recovery-focused way.
You wouldn’t know from looking at me that I have been plagued by anorexia, anxiety and depression for the past nine years. But that is, unfortunately, the whole point. It’s not about what you look like or how highly you can function. It’s about mental state – eating disorders are often invisible. There are thousands of people living with eating disorders in the UK and there is growing evidence that this figure has sky-rocketed during the pandemic. Whilst the treatment available can be incredibly helpful, in my experience I’ve found it can also be incredibly limited. There are simply not enough NHS resources for the number of people who need support, and very few are in the financial position to access private treatment. The tragic news of Nikki Grahame’s death highlights this so clearly. She is a devastating example of something happening all too frequently. Nobody should be dying from a treatable disorder because they’re stuck on a waiting list or because they do not have the funds.
Current campaigns are doing fantastic work, pushing for more, vital funding for NHS eating disorder services. In the meantime, I would urge anyone struggling to seek as much help as they can, whether that comes from friends and family, a GP, mental health services, online support groups or resources, or a therapist or counsellor. I can wholeheartedly promise anyone living with an eating disorder, you do not have to face this alone, but you alone can face this. Recovery is possible (and yes, for you too!).
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What are eating disorders?
An eating disorder is a mental illness. You will use food to try to manage your feelings. If you have an eating disorder you will have an unhealthy relationship with food. This may be eating too much or too little food.
Find out more What are eating disorders?