Coronavirus: Lockdown placing great pressure on people with eating disorders

7 June 2020, 00:17 | Updated: 7 June 2020, 02:03

Lockdown has placed great pressure on those with eating disorders, as exercise is restricted, face to face hospital appointments are cancelled and people bulk buy in supermarkets.

One of the biggest eating disorder charities, Beat, saw a 73% rise in contact across all of their helplines channels in May, compared to February.

And there was a 162% increase in social media contact, the charity found.

As people spend more time online, they are have been even more exposed to images circulating on social media depicting idealised men and women than they usually would.

Some are emaciated, with thigh gaps and so-called "bonespo" and "thinspiration" images celebrated, increasing the pressure on those with eating disorders.

Bulk buying, empty shelves and excessive focus on exercise mean those living with eating disorders have faced a perfect storm of concerns during lockdown.

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Daniel Magson, 27, is recovering from bulimia and said the last few months have been incredibly difficult.

He told Sky News: "I was in the supermarket just before lockdown was announced and all the shelves were empty. People were fighting. There was shouting. There was so much panic.

"That level of anxiety around food is a really dangerous place for me. It brought me back to where I was with my bulimia when I would have that empty feeling after being sick.

"It was the first time I realised that my eating disorder was going to come back and I had no control over it whatsoever."

Lots of private eating disorder outpatient centres, a lifeline to many, have had to temporarily close due to the pandemic, said Steve Clarke, hospital director of private mental health care provider, the Priory Group, which operates at more than 500 sites across the UK.

"It has left quite a wide range of people that, in my experience, are suffering with eating disorders and they have little support available to them," he told Sky News.

"So, while many people have transferred to what in my experience is very effective online therapy, it does still have its limitations."

In the UK it is believed there are more than a million people living with an eating disorder.

Rachel Egan was diagnosed with anorexia at 14 and although she is now in recovery, she said the lockdown has put on added pressure.

She told Sky News: "Certain behaviours start to creep in. When the lockdown was first announced, my initial fear was that I would be moving less.

"My eating disorder has been characterised by excessive exercise at various points.

"I am working towards a recovery, but there was obviously that fear that with moving less and the gym being shut, I wouldn't be able to carry out my usual routines.

"Also, at the beginning there was a lot of stockpiling going on in the shops, so a lot of people, myself included, weren't able to get the foods they would normally eat.

"So I had to change to different brands and consider different meals. That can be quite anxiety provoking."

NHS England said video and phone appointments are still taking place and for those who desperately need it, face to face consultations and inpatient care is available.