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There’s been a sizable amount of overt fat shaming during the COVID-19 pandemic which adds pressure to the great number of people with a Binge Eating Disorder in Australia. People make jokes casually to their friends, family and co-workers about how they’re going to come out of this a lot fatter or how they’re avoiding ‘ISO-ARSE’.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is one of Australia’s most prevalent eating disorders but perhaps the most under-recognised, and the extreme uncertainty of COVID-19 has exacerbated the symptoms for many.

For example, seeing photos of supermarkets filled with empty shelves, home isolation’s increased exposure to food, disruption to food shopping, increased focus on our bodies and the inability to receive face-to-face or group support are all triggers for people with BED.

BED is a psychological illness thatis characterised by a person frequently eating excessive amounts of food and feeling that they’re unable to stop, often when not hungry. In Australia around 913,986 people have an eating disorder, of those people 47 per cent have a binge eating disorder.

BED can be triggered by an inability to cope and process emotions such as stress, anger, boredom, distress, traumatic experiences and genetic predisposition.

Psychologist and Manager of the Butterfly National Helpline Juliette Thomson says during isolation, stress and a change in routine can cause anyone with BED to have increased behaviours and thoughts about their illness.

Ms Thomson says eating disorders thrive on isolation environments and that people with BED should turn to crafting, journaling or reaching out to friends to distract them from their eating behaviours and thoughts.

Perth Psychologist, Sherry-Lee Smith says that people with BED may have increased behaviours at this time. “As people with Binge Eating Disorder often use food as a way to soothe emotional distress and boredom,” say says.

She says “We know from data from other outbreaks, such as SARS and Ebola, that the psychological impact of quarantine, including isolation and loneliness, is likely to increase the incidents of acute stress, post-traumatic stress, depressive symptoms, low mood, irritability, insomnia, anger, fear, sadness and grief.”

Many people who suffer from an eating disorder have suffered psychiatric comorbidity whereby linked additional conditions co-occur with a primary condition such as anxiety or depression.

Research shows that women with eating disorders have a higher prevalence of anxiety than men.

Jerita Sutcliffe is a 25 year old young woman from Perth, Western Australia who has BED and says it has affected every aspect of her life.

“It’s a vicious cycle of a poor and unhealthy coping mechanism,” she says, “I then get depressed about my weight and appearance and binge eating then transforms from an unhealthy coping mechanism to a method of self- harm.”

Jerita Sutcliffe and her husband Ash Sutcliffe on their wedding day.

Due to a weak immune system from her chronic illness, Jerita is in a high-risk category and hasn’t been seeing her friends or her family during COVID-19 which, she says, has negatively impacted her mental health.

As a result she has turned to food to numb the pain of isolation and loneliness, although this is only a band-aid solution.

Not everyone recognises BED as a serious condition and in fact the condition only received formal recognition as a distinct eating disorder in 2013, in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5.)

It is no wonder people with this condition feel this illness is misunderstood as it has only been accepted as a formal illness in the last decade.

Jerita feels people don’t take an eating disorder seriously when one is overweight, she says “It’s just easier to see a person as ‘lazy’, ‘overweight’, ‘a slob’ or ‘a glutton’ rather than see the truth that this is a serious mental illness.”

Contrary to popular to belief, having BED does not necessarily mean someone is overweight, but it is a serious mental illness affecting a large proportion of our population.

People with BED often have feelings of shame or guilt about eating, and eat in private or avoid social situations, particularly those involving food.

“I don’t enjoy eating out in public or even simply being in public because I am constantly worried about the opinions that strangers have of me, based solely upon my appearance.”

Lucia Picerno, a designer from London took to Instagram with a powerful message; “the pandemic is not an excuse to fat shame” she continues, “A lot of people are posting memes that make fun of fat bodies … is it really your worst nightmare in this pandemic to end up looking like me?”

While the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the behaviours and thoughts of BED for many, treatment has become less accessible.

Ms Smith says the pandemic has created barriers for people to seek usual treatment including group programs, and “inability to attend even telehealth sessions if their significant others are unaware of the eating disorders.”

If you need help with your Binge Eating Disorder here are some tips:

https://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/blog/stop-binging-and-start-building-a-healthy-relationship-with-your-food-2/

Did you know that anxiety is the most common mental illness found in Australia? On average 1 in 3 women will encounter anxiety, meaning a large chunk of Australian mothers take on the mental condition. Read this honest experience of anxiety from an everyday Aussie mum.

Heart racing.

Shortness of breath.

Sweaty palms.

Thoughts so loud, I turn the radio off.

Distorted vision.

Alaia crying.

Migraine onset.

Welcome to my world.

They say a photo speaks a thousand words well, not always. The smile on my face and the gleam in my eyes is definitely deceiving, under the surface lies a whole other story.

It’s something I was always unsure if I would share just yet but, with my sole purpose of wanting to inspire and help others, how could I possibly not be real with you all?

Anxiety. That seven letter word that has seemingly taken over my day to day life over the past three months.  If I had to put my finger on a moment or event that triggered it, I would say it was my ectopic pregnancy loss but, I also believe it is a culmination of life events, motherhood and a recent drama which funnily enough really flipped the switch into full force.

So, what is it? Let’s start with the textbook definition:

“the state of feeling nervous or worried that something bad is going to happen”

My first thoughts – understatement at its best. So here’s my definition which I hope does more justice for sufferers:

An intense state of feeling overwhelmed, nervous and worried, sometimes for no good reason, accompanied by sweating, a significant increase in heart rate causing heart attack like symptoms, loud and overbearing thoughts and a gut wrenching feeling inside your stomach or chest also causing nausea. Sounds dreadful right? Well it is.

 

“Motherhood brings with it, its own share of anxieties – how will I get this all done? Am I doing a good job? What will other mothers think of me?”

To onlookers, anxiety is often not detected. It’s silent and mostly only affects its victim. Because it comes with such a stigma, people often shy away from sharing their feelings. Society expects sufferers of anxiety to be weird, introverted, crazy or different in some way, but this couldn’t be more far from the truth.

More often than not it’s the so called “normal” person sitting right beside you, the girl with the bubbly personality, the overachiever at work who always gets a promotion, the clown of the group or that mum friend you think always has her shit together that in fact is suffering in silence.

One thing for certain, anxiety does not discriminate. Sadly, a staggering one in four Australians will suffer anxiety at least once in their life – one in four!!!! So why aren’t we talking about it?

It’s time we raise the lid on it and become more transparent and educated on it.

You see for me, I am totally new to this anxiety world, I am still identifying my triggers. And, while some days I am completely unaffected, other days I am so consumed and would like nothing more than to stay in bed all day and sleep it off, but I can’t because we all know a mothers job never sleeps.

Motherhood brings with it, its own share of anxieties – how will I get this all done? Am I doing a good job? What will other mothers think of me? I want to be a mum but also want to work and have a social life – how do I manage that? The pressures we put on ourselves are endless.

Some days, you just want to throw your hands up and claim defeat, we all have those days right? But, instead, I find solace in retracting to a quiet room while Alaia plays, just to gain bearings again or even meditate. If I am out, I remain quiet or withdrawn which can make me seem socially awkward at times but it’s what gives me comfort in those moments. I know some people reading this will be shocked as it’s a far cry from my old bubbly, carefree, lively and social butterfly self, but lately it’s been my reality.

It sucks, it really sucks.

And while I kept convincing myself I didn’t chose anxiety, it chose me – I would be lying. A lifetime of high standards, perfectionism and people pleasing would lead me to this point. But, I am learning.

 

“I am finally making ME a priority because sometimes as mothers we lose sight of this.”

I am learning that firstly, I am not alone. SO many share this struggle with me and some are far worse. I am learning that I can manage the symptoms – I am finally making ME a priority because sometimes as mothers we lose sight of this. I am now on a mission to work on my mind, body and soul daily – I exercise, meditate and invest in self-development on a regular basis. And lastly, I am learning to love myself – would I be so hard on someone else as I am on myself? Definitely not. It’s time to be gentler on me.

The point of my article is far from a pity plea, but instead an arm reaching out to someone else out there suffering in silence, to shed light on a topic on that for so long has been taboo.

It’s a reminder for us all to really think before we speak. Is what we are saying going to add value to the people around us? If not, then why say it?

We may assume to be good judge of characters, but as I always say, never judge a book by its cover. Unless you have read every single chapter, you don’t know someone’s full story.

Moral of the story – be kind, always. Everyone has a story, every mama has a story and this is just one chapter of mine.

Articles courtesy of Solonge at Simply Solonge. Check her out on Instagram and Facebook.