Isolation has allowed eating disorders to thrive, say experts

Report by ITV News Meridian's Derek Johnson

Experts say isolation has allowed eating disorders to thrive and there are fears the number of people experiencing eating disorders has soared during the pandemic.

One charity, Beat, says calls to its helpline have increased by 173% over the past year. 

Experts say it is crucial that people identify possible symptoms as soon as possible.

Firefighter Vicki is recovering from anorexia and bulimia

Vicki Oldfield, 33, who is a firefighter, is two years into recovery for anorexia and bulimia and she says lockdown has been tough.

Vicki started experiencing eating disorders in her late teens and has been in and out of treatment since then. 

She said: "It's been hard because you've been put back in that environment where you're told to be at home.

"With lockdown and quarantine, that completely fed into that feeling of isolation. I keep fighting the eating disorder every day."

April House is part of the Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust eating disorders service. There is concern here about the effects lockdown has had.

Jack Siou is an eating disorder therapist, he said: "If you think of the panic buying back in the first lockdown, there was less access to the food they would be used to, be more comfortable eating, but the broader things too.

"There's also limited support from the people they would normally get support from, whether that's friends from colleges and universities or even colleagues."

Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses and there are many different kinds, including binge eating disorder, anorexia, or bulimia.

There is no single cause and symptoms can be different. Recovery is possible at any time but experts say it is important to try and seek help as early as possible.

The following organisations can offer help and support with eating disorders:

Debbie Watson is the founder of not-for-profit organisation Wednesday's Child, which helps individuals and those supporting them.

She said: "I am hugely concerned about what we are going to see in the long term around eating disorder support and the level of people that are going to need help as we start to emerge the other side of the pandemic.

"Already we had been seeing that figures around eating disorders had been on the rise year on year. I am expecting that we will see a significant uplift as a result of what people have gone through with the pandemic."

With social isolation identified as a trigger, it is hoped that people's recovery will improve as lockdown eases.