December 31st, 2011

2011, A good year for male eating disorder sufferers?

2011 has been a whirlwind year for me, Men Get Eating Disorders Too and of course my colleagues and I think this year we have seen some brilliant recognition of not only the charity but also the very reason we exist. While we still have a long way to go in what we do and what we want to achieve as it is the last day of 2011 I thought it would be a good idea to recap what has gone on!

First off at MGEDT we released our first ever national leaflet and poster campaign which was distributed around the UK to healthcare professionals, voluntary organisations and distributed heavily at events and conferences we attended throughout the year. This was shortly followed by our first ever national conference to address the issue of men and eating disorders, which featured some of our supporters, professionals and staff from the charity. We also had some good media coverage this year, including appearances live on national television, national and local radio, print and online articles and various blogs and guest columns.

Possibly the biggest achievement this year was the launch of our first ever live support chat sessions, the only sessions of their kind worldwide to offer specific support to men with eating disorders. This pilot session will continue to run into early 2012 but I personally feel it has been a massive success, giving men the opportunity to speak out about their issues in a safe environment, easing the isolation they have as a result of their issues.

Personally, I have had some fantastic experiences this year, from media appearances to challenges with Sarah, all the way to sitting on a research panel for Oxford University and the Men’s Health steering group. If anything it proves that the issues of eating disorders and body image in men are starting to be taken seriously, with more organisations and bodies realising the need to have representation of these issues, which is a big step in the world of men’s health.

It has also been a fantastic year for press, with several high profile research studies and figure releases highlighting the very need for increased service provision, better awareness and more support availability, both peer and professional.

In July 2011, the Royal College of General Practitioners released figures showing a 66% rise in the number of men being admitted for the treatment of eating disorders in the UK, urging GP’s to be more aware of the symptoms of eating disorders in men.

In August 2011 another set of statistics were released regarding the rise in eating disorder cases in young people, including a large amount of boys. This again led to national scale publicity in most major publications, radio and television.

In September 2011 there was a slightly different release which was all about the rise in weight loss surgery in young people, including a large amount of men. This was a good release as it is important to recognise that eating disorders are not necessarily restrictive but lesser known disorders such as binge and compulsive eating can cause just as many problems for sufferers and yet are not seen in the same light in restricting disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.

A lot of other stuff went on too, including the UK’s first ever fat talk free week, a highlight of self-harm in young people and a lot of focus on the effects of bullying to the mental health of all young people. We also saw really busy periods in both men’s health week and eating disorders awareness week. So much more happened in what I think has been our biggest and busiest year yet, but I have concentrated on some of the really key points here.

Undoubtedly, we still have a long way to go to make sure the appropriate recognition is given to male body image, eating disorders and mental health as a whole, but I would like to think that in 2011 we made a very good start. We have lots of stuff going on in 2012 to make sure that eating disorders and men’s mental health will remain firmly on the agenda and hopefully go that extra mile, building on what we have achieved this year. I would personally like to get out to more universities, deliver more training to professionals and stay on the media train to get our message out there.

All that is really left to do is thank everyone that has supported our campaigns, told their stories and contributed to the massive successes this year. It has been a good year for our cause, we have a long way to go still, but all in all, I think we made a good deal of progress.

Until 2012!


September 21st, 2011

Figures release by the NHS this week show a near four-fold increase in the number of young people under 25 receiving weight loss surgery on the NHS. Between 2009 and 2010 a record 210 of the gastric band operations were carried out, compared to just 55 between 2006 and 2007. Of that 210, thirty four were performed on people under 19.

Read more via the link…..

July 16th, 2011

My Article on Mental Healthy (formally uncovered magazine) about the rise in eating disorders among men

"Yesterday, the Royal College of General Practitioners urged GPs to look out for symptoms of eating disorders in Men after reporting a 66% rise in male admissions to hospital for eating disorders in just ten years.

Research from the charity beat estimate that around 1.6 million people in the UK are suffering from an eating disorder, they also estimate that around 1 in 5 of those cases are male.”

Read more of my article on the Mental Healthy Website here

May 10th, 2011


So we have the return of the ever controversial Supersize vs. Superskinny, a show which if your not familiar with pits an overweight person and an underweight person against eachother, swapping diets as they go.

I made a comment on twitter which had a lot of interesting comments which made me decide to sit down and write this blog. I stated that I felt the show was “sensationalist, dangerous and damn right unethical” so now I shall explain.

Eating disorders are all too often reported inaccurately in the media, pointing them out as a disease of vanity and almost made out to be a diet phase as opposed to a serious illness. A program which really plays on the quantity someone eats, often bypassing the fact that there are serious emotional difficulties behind a problem with food. They depict this with a plastic tube which is filled with that person’s food intake, as some kind of shock tactic. This sort of sensationalist depiction of eating problems in my opinion does nothing to help people, if anything it could make someone with an eating disorder worse.

I have heard from many an eating disorder sufferer who see the show as nothing short of competition and aspiration, almost in a pro anorexic sense, this irresponsible approach to grabbing ratings does nothing more than harm people who can be trying so hard to recover from serious disorders. So with the NHS information centre study showing as many as 6.4% of the population may suffer from disordered eating how much damage is this show really doing to people who are in serious need of intensive help?

So the break is over, you grab yourself a coffee and you come back to find that they have made the 2 people swap diets. To many this may seem like a good idea, but if recovery from disordered eating was that easy, would I  have wasted 8 years of my life fighting what is made out to be something that I can get over with a good meal? The sad thing is it is not just me, it is thousands of men, women and young people who could potentially be made worse off and ‘triggered’ by the way they engage in this practice.

It is also dangerous physically, there is a reason why people who under eat are bought back to normal quantities slowly, eating large quantities of food after long periods of restriction puts a lot of strain on the body and has been known to cause serious damage to individuals. This is why specialist centres spend weeks building up to the moment you can eat healthy sized meals again.

So what do they do? Well of course they give an underweight person a portion which is huge and way beyond that of most people who eat healthily, which makes absolutely no sense in my mind.

So physically it is dangerous, I think that one is pretty obvious, but what about emotionally?

Over and under eating are often ways of dealing with difficult circumstance and emotions, a coping mechanism of sorts, psychological therapy is the only real way of dealing with the underlying cause of a person’s eating behaviour. Once it becomes a habit, it becomes like anything, incredibly hard to stop. A week of a diet swap of barbaric proportions is not going to fix anything, for most people I know it would make them worse, a lot worse.

When you put the physical & emotional damage that is entirely possible for the participants together with the viewers who could well be vulnerable to the way the show is put together and find it damaging in terms of self-image and the worsening of eating disorder symptoms then hopefully start to see my point. These shows are dangerous and unethical to the point where I don’t think they should be shown on TV.

In the grand scale of things the show may well educate some people about eating habits and disorders, but at the cost of sometimes worsening the condition of vulnerable sufferers who are compelled to watch the show and making people feel uneasy and unacceptable in their own skin.

All of this while potentially damaging the physical and psychological well-being of the participants who should be receiving intensive help over long periods of time for their disordered eating.

At that cost, is it really worth a bit of sensational publicity?


April 25th, 2011

Eating Disorders, do people really get the full story?

There have been more and more articles in the last couple of years featuring eating disorders in all the major media outlets. Some have been good informative articles about the struggles faced by people suffering from eating disorders, others have been sensationalised beyond all belief showing just what we as campaigners don’t want to be shown, an inaccurate reflection of what an eating disorder is.

It has to be said, there is not that much variety in any eating disorder story published. You will usually see the same thing, I suffered from Anorexia, I didn’t eat because I hated the way I look and that’s it, usually accompanied with the most distressing of ‘sick’ photographs of people at their worst.

There are of course exceptions to this, but there seems to be not enough coverage of the broad umbrella term that is eating disorders, most people when you speak to them will say Anorexia as the first eating disorder that comes to their head. There is not enough on Bulimia, Binge Eating and compulsive & excessive exercise disorders reported.

Now this may be a radical opinion to have, but in my eyes the other eating disorders just are not deemed ‘sexy’ enough by journalists, when looking at binge eating for instance, a picture of someone of a likely normal or slightly overweight appearance just isn’t going to sell, is it.

There is nothing sexy about any eating disorder, be it anorexia, bulimia, binge eating or any of the other ones out there, but there seems to be a trend of the media wanting to glamorise anorexia and make it into one big body image war, which surprisingly brings me to my next point.

Body image is indeed a big factor in any eating disorder, but just as big a factor which is not portrayed enough is the severe psychological and emotional difficulties that drive eating disorders.  For most sufferers, there will be a catalogue of emotions and difficulties behind an eating disorder, from family difficulties, relationship problems & ‘coming of age’ emotions. Is it any surprise that the most common age of onset is the teenage years, when you are only really discovering who you really are.

We need to portray the full story of an eating disorder, the fact that it is a complex web of emotions, difficulties, body image concerns and everything else you may feel. It often comes across in reports that it was a simple case of’ I hated my body’ and completely bypasses the complexity of the disorder that is really at work.

When we are trying to educate people about eating disorders, perhaps people that have never come across them before, a lot of the stories that are published go the wrong way in maintaining the impression that it is a disorder of vanity, as opposed to a way of coping with the difficult feelings and emotions that someone just doesn’t know how to express any other way.

Now I am not going to blame the media outright here, as I feel that would be irresponsible. They have their part to answer to and they also have a responsibility to moderate the way eating disorders are reported in the media, especially in regards to images, they also have a responsibility to report fairly and appropriately to give people the full picture of an issue which is undoubtedly increasing in size. They also need to open their eyes and report about all the different kinds of eating disorders out there, as there are plenty of people willing to speak out.

But the people who tell their stories have their part to play too, a responsibility not to assume what a journalist wants to hear and insisting their story is told the way they want it to be told. People who tell their stories should be refusing to provide images which are inappropriate or distressing and make sure to tell their stories honestly and covering the true reasons why an eating disorder would develop.

I would rather see less stories of a higher quality in the media, instead of lots of stories reporting the same thing, an inaccurate reflection of an eating disorder. There are some great ones out there which report brilliantly about all the issues surrounding an eating disorder. We just need to be more selective in the people we give stories too and stricter about the way stories are reported. This can only be achieved if we all work together and have a standard we all work too. Maybe then we will see fairer, more inclusive articles in the media to give a true representation to the wider audience of what eating disorders really are, serious psychiatric conditions, not a disease of vanity.

What do you think? Do you think eating disorders can be represented inappropriately in the media? Do the wider audience get the wrong impression, do they truly get the idea of what an eating disorder is?