Gabrielle Clark


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:

I’ve tried my luck at a fair few diets, including when I stuck it out with a popular shake diet and lost almost 20 kg, which hardly lasted when I put it all back on again plus more. But I’ve also gone down the doctor recommended path of seeing a dietitian and wasn’t hugely successful either.

Most of us have tried our luck at some sort of diet, whether it’s a juice cleanse, the shake diet, intermittent fasting or the cigarette diet (ok, maybe that one’s a far stretch). We’re constantly bombarded with advertisements and news articles telling us which diets are best for us. There’s always Jenny Craig ads on TV where Sharon parades around town showing off her 32kg weight loss, all while you’re on the couch polishing of your eighth taco. Thanks a lot Sharon.

Fitness guru and former Bachelor star, Sam Wood, told A Current Affair, “Your shake diets, your fat burning pills, all this kind of stuff, it’s really not good for you.”

“Typically, you’re not losing fat. These short-term quick fixes are designed to help you drop water and often muscle.”

“It’s a vicious cycle that goes around and around and before you know it, you’ve actually put on more weight than you’ve lost in the first place.”

This is partly my experience with shake dieting. In 2017, I lost 17kg from using Optifast shakes and then, only a few months later all the kilograms piled back on, and more. These are just some of the diets I’ve tried in my time…

In a Facebook post in one of the support groups recently, somebody asked, “Has anybody actually sustained weight loss for more than two years?” nobody responded.

Lite n’ Easy
I still receive (love) letters in the mail from Lite n’ Easy and no I will not ever go on it again. To me it was paying more for eating less. Plus living at home with a fridge full of groceries, there was no space for the over packaged food. I had to plug in the Engel and put all my Lite n’ Easy stuff in there.

The mornings were good, I remember I would get a piece of toast, maybe two, I was always full. The lunches were pretty hit and miss. I remember I got this awful vegetable salad that I had to heat up in the microwave and was soggy and revolting. I do remember making what I would call a mini burger for lunch, it was so tiny and I inhaled it less then 30 seconds.

But there was no snack with dinner. I would force myself to wait until 6pm and eat at a reasonable time but then I was still so hungry. Anyway, I did walk every day, I was determined and I did lose four kilos over about four weeks, but that was as long as I could take it.

I was at my friend Georgia’s house and she offered me a piece of chocolate and I straight out refused because I didn’t want to slip up on my diet.

Vita Weat or ‘Birdseed’ Diet

When I was in high school I became passionate about fitness and weight loss. I developed a fitness routine and diet plan for myself and I was so dedicated to stick to it. Looking back, I was on a very low calorie diet and I remember feeling light headed and found it difficult to concentrate sometimes. Just about every day I would run 4km and I was also on the running team and the rowing team at school.

As for my diet, I can’t remember who it was who called what I was eating birdseed, referring to the Vita Weats, I think it was my aunty, I laugh now when I think about it.  I was at my friend Georgia’s house and she offered me a piece of chocolate and I straight out refused because I didn’t want to slip up on my diet. My meal plan every day was:

¼ cup muesli for with plain Greek yogurt
Morning tea
Plain almonds and dried apricots for morning tea or an apple
Carrots and celery sticks and 4 Vita Weat crackers with vegemite and cheese
Something light

My sister did this diet with me too and we both lost some weight. I remember getting lots of compliments on my figure at the time but I definitely don’t suggest eating like this as it was not healthy.

I would force myself to wait until 6pm and eat at a reasonable time but then I was still so hungry.

Optifast Diet
As mentioned before, I lost 17kg in several weeks, but then I put it all back on again plus more so, take from that what you will. Someone once said to me “shake diets are good if you have a wedding to go to”. I think they summarized it quite perfectly, if you have a date set, and you need to shed the kilos fast, a shake diet can be a quick fix. But beware that the weight can come back.

But if you want to go down this road and a lot of people do, there are some benefits.

I actually started my own Instagram page for my weight loss journey which I shared with my close family and friends which I found helped me stay motivated. There are plenty of hashtags where you can find other Optifast dieters and follow their journeys.

There are various support groups on Facebook including Optifast Support, OPTIFAST SUPPORT for Aussies, Optifast Recipes – Intensive Phase and Opti Cook. In a Facebook post in one of the support groups recently, somebody asked, “Has anybody actually sustained weight loss for more than two years?” nobody responded. I think that example speaks volumes about this diet in that there’s hardly any evidence to suggest that weight loss is sustained post diet.

After trying a few diets and not really getting anywhere, the doctor suggested I see a dietitian.
Seeing a Dietitian – The long hard road
After trying a few diets and not really getting anywhere, the doctor suggested I see a dietitian. I went to see a dietitian and she gave me a meal plan to follow, it was mostly what you’d expect – eat more veggies, less carbs and a small amount of protein with every meal and I was told to ditch fruit juice. Everything had to be measured from now on. I basically had to go out and buy a whole bunch of Chobani yogurt and tiny cans of baked beans. Initially nothing was happening in terms of weight loss, because I wasn’t really following the dietitians plan at all. But then I had a sudden motivation and I lost 10kg following exactly her plan and it worked. And I was actually able to sustain that weight loss for a long period of over a year.

Can we simply obtain Self Love from a beauty makeover, buying a new outfit or reading an inspirational self help book? Is Self Love is not simply just “loving yourself more” or a state of “feeling good”?

Some may say that without loving yourself, you will never be able to genuinely love others.

Popular singer, Lizzo, who regularly refers to her own process of loving herself, recently told fans to “give your growth time – it took me 10 years and I’m still not 100 per cent there.”

Whilst Queer Eye’s, Jonathan Van Ness, said on Channel 10’s The Project “Everyone is always on a journey to Self Love and self-acceptance” and it’s a continued relationship we have with ourselves. Here are some simple ways we can incorporate more self love into our daily routine.

Face masks

We should all take the time to do a face mask at least one a week, because we’re worth it. There are all sorts of face masks on the market from cucumber to charcoal, clay and mud varieties, to the sheet and creme options, but what are the actual benefits? Tyler Hollmig, MD, Director of Aesthetic and Laser Dermatology at Stanford Health Care suggests face masks are good are moisturising the skin saying “even if you were to just put a mask on top of the skin with nothing in it, it would naturally moisturise the skin”.

A rule of thumb from Shilpi Khetarpal, MD, a dermatologist at Cleveland Clinic, “Just because a product is expensive, doesn’t mean it’s better.” Some do-it-yourself at-home masks can deliver great results too, she says. Ingredients like milk and yogurt for example, contain lactic acid, which exfoliates the skin and can make it appear brighter. Aloe vera contains antioxidants that can brighten skin, too. And coffee, because of the caffeine, can minimise the appearance of pores by drying out the skin.

Lighting a scented candle can boost energy, relieve stress and even enhance mental clarity.

Take a Nice Bath

Signs that we can be depressed are that we stop showering regularly. Draw yourself a nice hot bath and pour in some Epsom salts, you might like to also add some sort of bubble bath soap or a bath bomb and light some candles. You can also add some drops of your favourite essential oils. Essential oils can improve our physical and emotional wellbeing, for example relief from anxiety and depression, improved quality of life, particularly for people with chronic health conditions and improved sleep.

10 popular essential oils:

Peppermint: boost energy and aid digestion

Lavender: relieve stress and reduce pain

Sandalwood: calm nerves and help with focus

Bergamot: reduce stress and improve skin conditions like eczema

Rose: improve mood and reduce anxiety

Chamomile: improve mood and relaxation

Ylang-Ylang: treat headaches, nausea, and skin conditions

Tea Tree: fight infections and boost immunity

Jasmine: help with depression, childbirth, and libido

Lemon: aid digestion, mood, headaches, and more

Eating Well
There is a strong link between what we eat and how we feel. Eating well can help improve sleep, energy levels, concentration and you are also less likely to crave sugar, salt or fat. New research suggests if you eat Colourful fruits and vegetables, Wholegrains, Fermented foods and Fish whilst cutting back on Sugar, Alcohol and Saturated fat, you will feel good. – Headspace

Drinking Two Litres of Water Every Day
Minor dehydration can have effects on our mental and physical performance. The body is made up of between 50 per cent and 80 per cent water and relies on water to function properly. We need water to absorb nutrients, for digestion, to lubricate our joints to help us move, get rid of waste products and to regulate our body temperature. Drink around two litres of water everyday.

Mindfulness meditation often takes just a few minutes and there are a wide range of apps available. Meditation is one way to help manage anxiety and depression. Sadhbh Joyce, Senior Psychologist and PhD Candidate at the Black Dog Institute, says “When freed from the task of processing so much external stimuli, the brain has the opportunity to focus its resources differently. For this reason, meditation can often lead to us to experience greater creativity. Meditation allows us to take advantage of our brains’ neuroplasticity and effectively rewire it to enhance things such as concentration, focus and memory.”

Light a Scented Candle
Lighting a scented candle can boost energy, relieve stress and even enhance mental clarity. The smell of the scented candle is said to stimulate the part of your brain which is connected to memory and mood.

Lavender: relaxes instantly both mind and body

Clary sage: lifts mood

Cinnamon: makes you feel refreshed
Pine: relaxes

Orange: reduces stress

Lemon: improves mood

Apple: controls anxiety

Peppermint: wakes up your mind and enhances focus

Frankincense: helps battle anxiety and gives a great stress relief

Sandalwood: relaxes and calms body and mind

Vanilla: increases happiness levels, uplifts your mood and stimulates feelings of relaxation and joy
Rose: makes you more likely to have happy dreams

Get a Massage
Getting a massage is one of life’s many pleasures and has so many physical and emotional benefits. Studies of the benefits of massage show that it is an effective treatment for reducing stress, pain and muscle tension. Studies have also found massage may be helpful for anxiety, headaches and insomnia related to stress. Take time out for yourself a book a massage.

Eat a Cinnamon Scroll
Danes are the happiest people on earth, and experts think a philosophy called Hygge that encourages the savouring of everyday pleasures could be the secret. One thing Danes like to do is eat baked goods, especially cinnamon scrolls. There’s something special about the smell of the cinnamon, the warmth of the dough and its delicious sticky goodness.

Call a Loved One
When were feeling depressed we tend to withdraw from close family and friends and we don’t want to go out anymore. Usually we’re left feeling overwhelmed, guilty, frustrated and unhappy and what we really need is to reach out to someone. If you’re feeling down or distressed, call a friend or family member or alternatively you can see a psychologist or call lifeline on 13 11 14.

Listen to Music
Make an empowering playlist on Spotify, with music that really uplifts you, something upbeat for example a track by Lizzo. Although one song that might calm a person down may irritate another. So you may choose something sombre for example have you ever felt better after crying to a breakup song? Or maybe a happy song brings you a sad memory? Go with what makes you feel most comfortable.