'You deserve to be healthy': What a global pandemic taught me about my eating disorder

A 22-year-old woman from Cardiff said lockdown has been "some of the best and worst" times for her in terms of coping with her eating disorder.

Chloe Pearce first experienced anorexia at around the age of 12. Ten years on and in the midst of a global pandemic, she said the isolating effect of lockdown has meant that anorexic voice in her head has crept back in.

However, she also believes this pandemic presents an opportunity for herself, and all of us, to start to put our health first.

She is urging people to realise there is no shame in seeking help if you are struggling with an eating disorder.

Beat, the UK's leading charity for people with eating disorders, have seen a 72 per cent rise in demand on their services during lockdown and a 229 per cent increase in contact via their social media channels.

Chloe first started experiencing anorexia at the age of around 12. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Lockdown has had a negative impact on the mental health of many people. Normal life was disrupted and that has caused issues particularly for people with eating disorders.

Chloe Pearce, 22, lives in Cardiff and started developing anorexia in her early teenage years.

Since then, she has received treatment and support from family and friends but admits that she still has that anorexic voice in her head which is "some days...louder than others".

When lockdown first came into force, Chloe said it was a positive thing for her and her eating disorder because it allowed her to just focus on herself.

She said: "For the first couple of weeks, I actually coped really well with it because I had been given this opportunity to live quite a stripped back life...I no longer had the stresses and pressures of everyday life.

"I think that is honestly, over the last ten years, the best I have coped with my eating disorder."

But as time went on, the isolation that came with lockdown began to take its toll on Chloe.

Chloe has spent time doing crafts and sewing during lockdown to help focus her mind on something other than her eating disorder. Credit: Chloe Pearce

Chloe had fears that lockdown would mean she would not be able to exercise enough and said lots of "people were scared of what this was going to mean for them".

She added that eating disorders "thrive in loneliness" and so she is not surprised demand for support has increased.

Beat, a UK-wide eating disorder charity, said contact to their services increased by 72 per cent in June, with a huge 229 per cent increase in contact via their social media channels.

The charity said common concerns of people with eating disorders included accessing 'safe' foods, disruption to their exercise routines and not being able to go to their normal food shops.

Zoe John is 28 years old and said she felt "panic" at the thought of not being to access her usual foods.

Zoe has had various eating disorders at different points in her life and said during lockdown those "things have definitely crept back in". Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

She has experienced various eating disorders for more than ten years and said initially, she "felt panic for so long" when lockdown happened.

Lockdown meant old, unhealthy behaviours started to creep back in for Zoe, who said it was "exhausting" fighting that voice.

Not being able to do things that made her feel positive, like training as part of one of her sports teams, added to the feeling of panic and isolation.

Zoe said joining sports teams played an integral part in helping her recover.

Luckily, Zoe said she has had a good network of support during the pandemic but feels that things could have been very different for her if she lived alone.

Both Zoe and Chloe are urging people with eating disorders to seek help if they are struggling with the disruption that continues to be caused by the pandemic.

Chloe is encouraging others to see this global pandemic as a reason to "treasure" our health going forward.

Beat run a special online support group, The Sanctuary, where people with an eating disorder can share concerns and advice on how they are coping with the pandemic. It is open every day from 4pm-8pm.  

If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s health, you can contact Beat on 0808 801 0677 or online.