For Eating Disorders Awareness Week, we spoke to our client, Richard, about his journey with binge eating disorder and starting his recovery journey at Orri.
At what point did you realise that you were suffering with Binge Eating Disorder?
I had known for many years that my relationship to food wasn’t quite “normal”, that there was something not quite right about my relationship to food and eating.
I had struggled in one form or another since my early 20s – since about 17 years ago – but it’s only within the last two or three years that I’ve finally accepted that there was a serious problem.
Over the years, I had tried to understand it and do something about it, but I had struggled to get very far. I had been to counsellors in the past but found that many counsellors on directories listed ‘eating disorders’ as something they would treat…but amongst 50 other things! So, it was clear it wasn’t a specialism. I did end up going to see a counsellor – who was lovely – but the eating disorder side of things was never really touched on. I had also visited my GP to talk about my concerns, but the doctor suggested that I self-refer to the local depression and anxiety clinic – nothing related to eating disorders. It was mind-blowing to feel that my doctor didn’t know anything about eating disorders.
I’d been through a number of phases like that in my life: thinking that there’s a problem, trying to look into getting help and then not really getting anywhere. My thought was basically, this probably isn’t something I need to see someone about because I’m just not getting anywhere.
The biggest problem that I recognised was that I would go through cycles of severe restriction, consisting of low-calorie diets for many months, getting down to what I considered to be a “healthy” weight for me. But then within months of basically starving myself for a number of months, I would end up back where I started.
Then I would try and eat what I considered to be “normally” – and “normal” for me back then was, “let’s try this new diet!”. I had tried many, many diets and thought, “well, it’s just a case of me having to get down to my ideal weight in a healthy way.” But all those diets centre around severe restriction or really intense exercise – or a combination of both! – so I never really got to where I wanted to be.
It was towards the end of 2020, before I started with Orri, that I’d gone through so many cycles of restriction and putting on weight and feeling so hopeless…I just didn’t feel like there was ever going to be any solution to this. Yet I kept thinking, there’s got to be something in this. This has to be a real thing. It can’t just be me.
And then one day in October last year felt like a crisis point – a make-or-break day. It was a working day, and I was on the phone to one of my colleagues who asked me if I was ok, and I just said, “I’m really not” and broke down in tears. I spoke to HR to request the day off and thought, right. I have to do some research.
I started googling once more and ended up on the Beat website. I started reading about binge eating disorder and did a symptom check list and thought, wow. This is very much me. It felt like I was putting a label against what was happening – which was empowering in itself. I then found Orri’s online treatment and filled out a contact form.
Once you were in treatment, what was that like to access help and support?
Looking at Orri’s website, it was hard to believe that sitting and talking to people was going to sort the problem out. But I recognised that I had tried so much else and it was worth a shot.
I remember having an assessment with Ivana and Kerrie and feeling so understood, validated, and just reassured that, first, what I was experiencing was real – it was a diagnosed problem – second, that I probably did have that problem, and third, that there was hope that I could do something about it.
Towards the end of the call Kerrie said, “we think you do have binge eating disorder”, and I just broke down in tears. It was almost tears of happiness because I now had a label to put on it. I just remember going from feeling so hopeless a few days before to feeling so hopeful. That was magic feeling.
From that point forward I thought that whatever preconceptions I have about treatment, however sceptical I may feel, I will have to just go with the flow.
I was and am incredibly lucky that the company I work for are big advocates of taking care of your mental health. So much so, I’ve been given all the time I need to attend treatment with Orri and I’m lucky that we get private healthcare alongside that. All the pieces felt like they were coming together.
What was it like to be in treatment? To start progressing in recovery?
I still went into my first week of Orri feeling very sceptical. At the end of my first day of group sessions I thought, “As far as I’m aware, none of these people have binge eating disorder. How on earth is this going to be helpful when we don’t have that in common?”
But by the end of my first week, it had totally clicked.
Now I know that there’s so much commonality when it comes to eating disorders. Just because I demonstrate these behaviours and you demonstrate those, there’s actually a common core beneath what we’re dealing with.
In this common place, your experience is validated when people recognise it and say, “yup, I get it. I feel exactly the same.” It’s such a relief to know that someone else is going through the same pain as you – as weird as that sounds – but I suppose it’s the comradery. The support network around groups has been super valuable for me. The recognition, the validation…it has been so useful.
What I found quite strange in the beginning is that a lot of the conversations in group sessions wouldn’t necessarily focus directly on eating or our relationship to food. Sometimes we’d go quite far-off track, talking about feelings, emotions, anxieties and initially I thought “I don’t get this”, but I carried on with it, nonetheless.
Now I’ve got to a place where I’ve developed a healthier relationship to food and eating and understand that the things that put me in a place where I developed an unhealthy relationship with food and eating went beyond just thinking about food and weight and things like that. It’s likely that there were other triggers that lived in emotions, feelings and anxieties, etc.
One of the fundamental pieces of recovery for me has been the structure of the meal plans that Paula (Senior Dietitian) puts in place.
I had forgotten what “normal” eating looked like! I’d spent so long either starving myself or gorging that I’d forgotten what that middle ground looked like. So, when Paula put a food plan in place that included chocolate, cake, crisps and eating multiple times a day I was like, “What?! How’s this going to work?”
But the fear soon went away, and I came to really appreciate those things. Eating together in groups, snacks, and lunches etc, forced me to think about what I was eating, how I was eating, and being mindful of eating. It made me realise that slowing down the pace, actually appreciating what you’re eating and recognising when you’re full….that’s all stuff that I’d lost touch with.
I wouldn’t say I’m 100% there, but I’ll be leaving Orri with so much more awareness of how I ended up in the place that I did before. If there are slip ups here and there – which there are bound to be – I’ll know what to do with them and how to process them, and I’m comfortable with that. I know that I will get to a place where some point in the future all of this feels totally intuitive to me. I’m confident that I’m not going to slide back to where I started and that I have the tools I need to carry on in my recovery.
Today, we’ve got to a place in my one-to-one therapy sessions where it’s become really clear that there is a relationship between anxiety and unhealthy eating patterns for me. We’ve uncovered some really interesting and powerful things and we haven’t completed that journey yet – and won’t by the time I finish at Orri. But now that I’ve developed a healthier relationship to food, I recognise that what I really need to work on now is my anxiety. I can’t just carry on with Orri and the group programme just to see Romy (Psychotherapist)!
But Romy and Orri have been absolutely brilliant in supporting the transition away from Orri. It feels counterintuitive that Orri would help me leave Orri! But I really appreciate that this is the case. Romy is helping to find me a therapist that can help me to continue working on my anxiety, and there’ll be a handover session between them when the time comes. It just feels really comfortable.
If you had one message for someone who thinks they might be struggling, what would it be?
If you suspect that you may have an unhealthy relationship with eating – with food, with dieting – then there is a good chance that there might be a problem there. Don’t give up. Don’t give up looking for support.
I’d definitely recommend starting on the Beat website because that’s the place that finally made me realise that this is a problem and that I needed to do something about it.
One thing I’m really conscious of, and that feels important to say, is that on the one hand I feel really privileged and on the other really guilty that I’ve been in a position to go on my treatment journey with Orri. I feel really frustrated, perhaps angry, and again guilty, that somebody going to their GP via the NHS probably isn’t going to end up in the same positive place that I have.
My past experience with my GP made me feel like there was a total lack of understanding and that the publicly funded support just doesn’t feel like it’s there. I really feel like something has to change. It feels important to me that everybody should be able to access the level of care that I have from Orri.