Harrogate woman calls for more to be done as eating disorder situation reaches 'state of emergency' during lockdown
“You’re not thin enough to be ill”- that’s what one Harrogate woman was told when she approached her doctor for support with an eating disorder.
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Emerald Boyd, 29, is now backing calls from MPs to scrap the use of Body Mass Index (BMI) calculations when diagnosing eating disorders as they can often dismiss the psychological struggles of the illness by only focusing on weight.
It comes in the wake of the tragic death of reality TV star Nikki Grahame, who lost her battle with anorexia earlier this month aged just 38.
A report published by the Commons ‘Women and Equalities’ committee last week says the coronavirus lockdown has created a “state of emergency” for eating disorders and that more needs to be done to tackle the problem.
Emerald says she first plucked up the courage to speak to someone when she was around 25, after her boyfriend raised concerns about her eating and exercise habits but says she felt like she was “shot down” when she managed to open up.
She spent her days obsessing over what she ate, sometimes going to the gym twice a day and missing out on having fun with colleagues, family and friends if the plans involved food.
Although reluctant to admit she had a problem, Emerald’s boyfriend Tom persuaded her to visit her GP and talk about the struggles she was facing - but after checking her height and weight and calculating her BMI, the doctor said she was a “healthy weight” and “didn’t look like” she had an eating disorder.
Emerald told the Harrogate Advertiser: “My boyfriend Tom was really good at picking up on the signs as he had previous experience with these things and he was really aware of the signals and traits.
“I was restricting everything I ate and terrified of putting weight on or losing control.
“I worked in an office at the time and I would force myself to go to the gym after work, even if I was completely exhausted or I had already been that day, and I never took part in ‘fish and chip Friday’ or staff lunches with my colleagues as I could only eat salad.
“Eventually I started to unravel and Tom begged me to go to the doctors but I really didn’t want to - I didn’t feel thin enough and I didn’t believe it was a big enough problem.
“After I’d broken down in the doctor’s office about how I felt, he weighed me and said my BMI ‘didn’t fit the criteria’ of an eating disorder and said I looked ‘perfectly healthy’.
“It was awful - I felt like nobody was taking me seriously and was really disheartened. I broke down crying and felt like I needed to get thinner and more ill so I wouldn’t be dismissed.
“Eating disorders should not be measured on how you look or how much you weigh and we need to change the stigma around them - they are mental health conditions and people need to get help as soon as they can.”
Eventually Emerald was able to access some counselling and managed to get on the road to recovery.
She says it has changed her life and is urging other people to take the first step towards getting help - even if it is just opening up to a loved one.
She added: “There is so much pressure on people today, from social media and the fact we simply cannot escape from it, and this is a real crisis we are facing.
“Getting help needs to be made easier for people and we need to fight to scrap the BMI tests and have more education around unhealthy habits - no one should feel like they have to exercise constantly or like they have to obsess over every single thing they eat.
“Even though the system is not perfect and there are things we need to get better at, I still want to encourage other people to get the help they need because it really is possible and you just have to persevere. If you feel like something isn’t right then it probably isn’t and the best thing you can do is reach out because there will be someone out there who can support you.
“I finally feel like I have control over my life again. It was the best thing I ever did.”
Former Emmerdale star Gemma Oaten, who is now a manager at Seed Eating Disorder Support Services, says the conversation around eating disorders needs to be opened up to ensure as many people as possible access the support they need.
Gemma's parents co-founded the charity 21 years ago when she was suffering from an eating disorder herself.
She says early intervention is one of the most important tools in helping people who are suffering and that people will only come forward if the subject becomes less taboo.
She told the Harrogate Advertiser: “The more openly we talk about eating disorders the more chance we have of pulling people back before the illness takes hold.”
Gemma says Seed is actively trying to make changes to the way eating disorders are assessed and is calling for a wider conversation on how all health services, from the private, public and voluntary sector, can collaborate to make recovery as smooth and strong as possible.
She added: “Together we are stronger and at the moment it is easy for things to be swept under the carpet but we will keep fighting for change.”
Gemma has been vocal on social media about the issue and released a heart wrenching video after she received the news of Nikki Grahame's passing.
Speaking to the Harrogate Advertiser about this, she said: "Nikki's death will not be in vain, as heartbreaking as that is, this is her legacy. I know that she will be so proud that people are fighting for change because we don't ever want to lose anybody again.
"We can't ignore the pandemic of eating disorders - yes, we've been in a global pandemic for the last year but the ramifications of that on mental health and especially eating disorders has been like a pressure cooker. It has been so detrimental. There is a lot more that needs to be done and we do need to tackle this.
"I do have a message of hope though. Nikki and I knew each other for ten years and our paths were very very similar in terms of our journeys with eating disorders, it was painful for both of us, but I am still here. By saying that, I mean that recovery is possible but please, please, please reach out.
"At Seed, which was co-founded by my parents in a fight for my life, we have an amazing team and we will continue to fight for others."
Who to contact if you need help
There is lots of support out there for anyone struggling and a number of options to help you take the first steps towards recovery.
The NHS recommends speaking to your GP as soon as you can, who can then speak to you about treatment options and the best way to move forward.
It can be very hard to admit you have a problem and ask for help so it may make things easier if you bring a friend or loved one with you to your appointment.
You can also talk in confidence to an adviser from eating disorders charity Beat by calling their adult helpline on 0808 801 0677 or youth helpline on 0808 801 0711.
Yorkshire eating disorder support service, SEED, also offers an advice line which can be reached on 01482 718130 or you can visit the website at: www.seedeatingdisorders.org.ukFor children and young people with eating disorders in Harrogate, the Community Eating Disorder Team, Children and Young People, North Yorkshire and York provides help and support.
You can call the Dragon Parade Clinic team on 01423 726900.