Eating Disorders Week 2013: Advice and help on how to cope

Fenella Lemonsky

scales 300x225 Eating Disorders Week 2013: Advice and help on how to cope

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Fenella Lemonsky runs the North London eating disorders support group in collaboration with BEAT ( and the Phoenix Wing at Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health Trust eating disorders service. Having had personal experience of eating disorders and being a service user expert, she offers readers advice.

Having run the North London Eating Disorders group for the last 11 years there is little I have not seen or heard. From severe emaciation to a wife who feared her husband would find out about her binge eating, I’ve seen most things.

Women come from all walks of life – eating disorders are classless and affect all ages. I’ve seen and supported teachers, nurses, students, graduates and middle aged mums. However we don’t see many men in the group which is not to say they’re not affected.

Men and eating disorders

We know from academic and epidemiology as well as Phoenix referral data that men do experience a lot of distress and are underrepresented in services and in support groups. There is a specialist men’s support organisation called ‘Men Get Eating Disorders Too’. Information aimed at men is available from a team of men who have experienced eating disorders.

For more information visit


Recovery is achievable – it just takes time. I once heard an eating disorders expert say that it takes a minimum of one year of treatment for every three years of having experienced an eating disorder to realistically look at recovery. However, my belief is that whilst long term treatment may well be necessary for many – all treatment gives a chance at recovery.

Getting help

Struggling without a support network and holding down a job is excruciatingly difficult. Hiding the disorder is hard and emotionally draining. It is also a dysfunctional way of being; hiding highly distressing behaviour from your partner or family means that you are constantly watching over your shoulder and frightened of being “found out”.

Finding a way to confide in a partner is a good idea and talking it through with someone on a helpline is also a good plan. If you are already using the eating disorder service, you can get help from a therapist.  If you haven’t got help yet, speak to your GP who can refer you to the eating disorder service.

You can call the Beat helpline on 0845 634 1414

The process from getting a referral to being seen does take time so keep tabs on what is happening with the referral. Let the eating disorders service know that once the referral has been received you are available to take short notice cancellations, now and again it happens. If additional mental health support is needed, e.g. for low mood and depression, a mental health referral is not a bad idea whilst waiting to be assessed by the Eating Disorders team.

Mealtimes will be hard – if you have severe anorexia and are not eating much and or losing weight rapidly do let the GP and eating disorder team know. In the support group we help people through all of this and there is a group for carers too which supports friends, partners, siblings, etc.

Helping someone with an eating disorder

I often receive phone calls and emails from parents or boyfriends desperate to help their loved one but they just don’t know how. My suggestion is this: be supportive but don’t give advice, leave that to the professionals. Encourage the person affected by an eating disorder to seek help through their GP.

A few good quality books can also help your understanding – look for books by respected eating disorder specialists such as, Professors Janet Treasure, Ulrike Schmidt and Chris Fairburn to name a few. All their books will be helpful but be sensible, don’t buy out the whole section of Amazon.

Health professionals with an eating disorder

Finally if you are a member of staff with an eating disorder don’t believe you are not entitled to get help. You can be seen in another trust, away from your workplace, for effective treatment that won’t affect your career. Usually psychiatrists write supportive reports for occupational health and most employers are happy that someone is getting help, far safer than no help and risking collapsing at work.


Whoever you are don’t suffer in silence, ask for help and the recovery journey will help you feel happier and healthier.

For more information on the North London Eating Disorders Support Group (NLEG) visit

For nationwide help and support visit

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