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Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses affecting people of all ages, genders, ethnicities and backgrounds. People with eating disorders use disordered eating behaviour as a way to cope with difficult situations or feelings.

But there is a reassuring message from Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust for anyone who is worried that they or someone close to them could be experiencing an eating disorder.

We asked patients who are experiencing eating disorders to tell their stories and also how getting the right support means they are coping to live with the disorder from day to day. They have turned a corner in their recovery, and we hope their stories can inspire you to get the support you need.

Remember, if you are suffering from an eating disorder, help is available. Take a look here to find out how you can start to get help.

If you think that you, or someone close to you, could have an eating disorder there’s some useful information here that could be helpful.

Shauna

I started to lose weight during my divorce due to the stress and felt like I wanted to keep the weight off so started exercising. My portion sizes got smaller, but I was still exercising too much, and the process spiralled out of control. Following a few months of sickness, I spoke to my doctor and he was concerned the blood pressure medication I was also taking was causing the side effects rather than focusing on my eating disorder. I kept insisting on help and explained about the difficulties I was facing and was then referred.

I received support as an outpatient, but I was very sure at that point that I could manage on my own. It started well but then I struggled so I agreed for an admission at Cotswold House, voluntarily, appreciating that this was the support I needed, and I couldn’t do it all on my own.

I know manage my eating disorder by ensuring I eat the right portion sizes, eat balanced meals. I often use distractions at mealtimes to stop me focusing on exercise. I have challenged myself and faced my fears, but the recovery is a slow process.

Rose

My eating disorder is a mental health problem that sometimes causes physical symptoms. I have realised my eating disorder is not defined by a BMI or number on the scale it is how I am are feeling which has the bigger impact.

This disorder makes me feel like I am achieving something which the perfectionist trait in me loves. I feel my days are busy because anorexia gives me so many rules, routines, and structure, actually it’s pretty exhausting! Sadly, I feel less anxious and happy when anorexia is in control which is dangerous.

My family recognised it in me before I even knew myself. The mental aspect of it was hard, but when anorexia started to impact my health, I knew I needed to get help.

My family, friends, GP, and local eating disorders group were my support. I also opened up to work which made me feel less anxious and that I didn’t have to be the perfect employee all the time. At the start of this process I realised that challenging this anorexia was uncomfortable. It made it easier to deal with when anorexia was screaming at me inside, I know anorexia hated being challenged.

The biggest revelation for me is being able to be open about it and for people to now recognise and separate the two sides of my personality and realising that my anorexia does not define me.

Recovery I have found is like life, not always perfect and sometimes you have to take a few steps back to come forwards. I am learning how to be in control of my anorexia and for it not to control me which is essential for my recovery.

One of the specialists who helps people with eating disorders is Francesca Battisti a Consultant Psychiatrist who works at Cotswold House, Marlborough. She explained: “Eating disorder awareness week is very important as greater public knowledge will hopefully help more people to seek treatment more quickly with better outcomes.

“Eating disorders are a form of mental illness, they are not a choice. If someone has an eating disorder, there is a psychological problem which needs to be acknowledged and treated. The good news is that there is professional help that can really make a difference.

“It’s really important that if you, or someone close to you, is experiencing an eating disorder that help is sought as soon as possible. The sooner people receive treatment the better the chances of making a full recovery. Eating disorders are quite complex and the team here has a wide range of skills that we employ to work with patients to help them to get well and move forward with their life.”