Connor Spratt, a mental health recovery worker himself, who has just graduated with a psychology degree, says he has now fully overcome the condition commonly referred to as bulimia. He describes this as “characterised by constant restriction of food, purging through gruelling exercise routines and subsequent uncontrollable binges as a result.
“This pattern was beyond anything I could control, as I felt it was utterly necessary that I had to lose weight in order to be appreciated, cared for and respected,” Spratt said.
“I was going through real pain with the thought that there was no other way, as I simply had to make the number on the scale go further down each day”
The eating disorder charity BEAT said demand for its helpline services almost doubled in the year to September 2020 – a rise of 97 per cent on the previous year.
From May to July 2020, 28 per cent of callers linked Coronavirus as the possible trigger for relapsing or developing symptoms.
An eating disorder can take many forms but is most commonly linked to either restriction or overconsumption, with an overall obsession with food that typically results in severe effects.
Spratt identified how the lockdown affected his recovery. “I started off the lockdown fairly content with getting back into old hobbies, spending time catching up with friends. However, these things slowly get repetitive and monotonous when there is nothing else to add some variation to the day. This left me having a lot of time to myself and where I was at mentally.”
To keep busy, Connor started to think about getting fit and losing weight. He also cited the pressure of social media
“There was constant pressure to exercise during this lockdown from social media, with 5k challenges, mention of the ‘lockdown 15’ and so on. I had to distance from social media quite a lot, in all honesty.”
Ruth Micallef, a registered counsellor who specialises in trauma and sub-specialises in eating disorders, said she noticed a definite increase in the number of individuals suffering from an eating disorder throughout lockdown.
“Eating disorders are coping strategies, slightly misinformed superheroes rather than villains!" – Ruth Micallef
2020 was a challenging year like no other, and we have all had to 'cope' in one way or another, so of course, for many, these misinformed superheroes have reared their heads to give people an illusion of control or safety.”
“Existing eating disorders may have become exacerbated, and those just forming before the pandemic have instead developed at an accelerated pace,” Micallef said.
However, Spratt decided to turn his experiences with an eating disorder into something beneficial and he created the Instagram account @recoveryconnor.
“I started the account as when I was going through my own recovery, I could rarely find any men speaking on these issues, if any at all. It left me feeling invalidated.”
His account now has over 5,000 followers and his page has been praised for being so honest about his experiences with an eating disorder. Spratt frequently posts photographs of himself and quotes posts that reassure people they are doing the best they can.
He has spoken about “Why making new year weight loss resolutions is harmful” and “Veganism and eating disorders”. Each post receives a lot of support with his followers expressing their agreement and love for his page. The way Spratt opens up about his emotions online has evidently helped his followers to understand that it’s OK not to always be 100 per cent.
“Although I learnt a lot (and still do) from the women who run their own eating disorder recovery accounts, I was left feeling that I was the odd one out – that I wasn’t suffering with an eating disorder, it must’ve been something else. There is a stereotype that only women suffer with these issues, which seems to be upheld with statistics showing that the majority of people who suffer with these issues are female.”
It is estimated that around 1.25 million people in the UK are affected by eating disorders, around 25 per cent of them male. However, the National Centre for Eating Disorders said it was difficult to say how many males were affected because they tend to go under the radar. Men are more likely to find it harder to ask for help out of fear of being viewed as “weak”, it said.
“Fewer men speak out, fewer men seek help and more men will become entrenched by their eating disorder,” Spratt said. “Eating disorders represent some of the deadliest psychiatric conditions and it scares me that men will die as a result of feeling that they cannot speak out.”
Concerns have risen since the government's announcement of the roadmap out of lockdown and towards a return to normal life in June. This could increase the level of pressure felt by people to look their best when they re-emerge after lockdown.
“If you’re feeling the pressure to lose weight for post-lockdown life, know that you aren’t alone,” Spratt said. “Know that the feeling that you have isn’t a reflection on you or a flaw you possess, rather it is the result of a destructive culture that we uphold in our day to day life.”