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The choice between heating and eating will have a big impact on people with an eating disorder, warns Emily Chundy

In April of this year, 4.6 million adults reported not eating despite their hunger because they could not afford or had no access to food.

This year’s cost of living crisis has driven thousands of people into hunger, and with energy bills, rent and basic necessities increasingly unaffordable – and the news that inflation could reach an alarming 13% in October – this situation will only get worse.

However, for people with eating disorders or in recovery, not being able to afford a full range of nutritious foods, treats and healthy portions is more than unfair. It’s their worst nightmare.

Around 1.25million people in the UK suffer from an eating disorder at any one time, according to charity Beat, although the figure is thought to have increased among young people during the COVID-19 pandemicand many more will have a difficult relationship with food or be in recovery.

The best known eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder, with common features being a disordered view of food, body image and health. Therapy, nutritional counseling and a specialized diet can be part of many people’s recovery. However, private therapy and a wide range of nutritious foods come at a cost, which more and more people say they cannot afford.

“The cost of living crisis may seem like another excuse not to challenge your eating disorder,” said Katie, a 31-year-old from London. Signing time.

“I used to be lucky enough to have private therapy for my anorexia, after reaching the end of my NHS allocated sessions, but I was still struggling.

“I had been saving during the various lockdowns and found it useful… But it seems increasingly unlikely [that I can start therapy again] because most of my money will have to go on bills.

Katie added that the cost of living crisis is affecting her recovery in many ways, from providing therapy, having to find groceries at different stores, staying warm (the cold weather can be very uncomfortable for those who are undernourished) as heating becomes more and more expensive.

Orla McAndrew

“Recovery meal plans often involve a wide variety of foods, in fairly large amounts, and that can be expensive,” she added.

“I am in a very privileged position in relation to some people with eating disorders, who may be unable to work due to their illness and dependent on Universal Credit or PIP payments. Some may struggle to pay for basic food or travel to their appointments. It’s incredibly sad.

While the majority of people can still afford basic necessities, including food, the current economic situation means that even those who manage financially must dissect their budgets, create meal plans and cut back on treats.

Valorie said Signing time that she has found that making meal plans and strictly budgeting for food – rather than feeling free to buy what she wants to eat – has been difficult for her and that monitoring the food she she buys “one way or another always turns into old messy eating habits”.

Although meal planning and budgeting are often seen as a good way to save on food, Valorie said that for some people with eating disorders, meal planning can be “strongly linked to counting meals. calories”, and that the cost of living crisis has taken freedom away. food shopping, instead causing feelings of “guilt for spending money on food”.

She added: ‘My eating disorder isn’t really a problem most of the time, it’s mostly present in times of high stress.

“So the fact that grocery money triggered some weird feelings for the first time in years was a bit of a surprise.”

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In addition to the cost of living crisis exacerbating the symptoms of people already suffering from eating disorders, the evidence shows that the food insecurity some Britons face – including limiting meals to save money, or anxiety over the cost of shopping – could in itself lead to a messy relationship with food.

In this sense, as more and more people face food insecurity due to rising bills and inflation, the number of people with eating disorders may actually increase, at a moment when he is take the NHS longer than ever to refer patients with eating disorders to treatment due to spending cuts.

Katie added: “One of the biggest issues facing people with eating disorders is the lack of access to services for eating disorders, especially services for adults… I hope the new government will commit to improving funding for eating disorder services at all levels and quickly.”

She added that bringing the £20 increase in Universal Credit that has been made available during the COVID-19 pandemic, or even considering “a small amount of food available on prescription for people with eating disorders” could help prevent low-income people from being triggered in an eating disorder, or could help aid their recovery.

Tom Quinn, External Affairs Director at Beat, said: “We are concerned that the cost of living crisis will have a significant impact on people with eating disorders. For example, we know that financial difficulties can increase anxiety and distress, which could aggravate an existing eating disorder or contribute to the development of a disorder in someone who is already vulnerable.

Sian Norris

“Food insecurity can mean that people are unable to eat regularly, which can contribute to harmful thoughts or behaviors for someone with an eating disorder…There is also a risk that people cannot access the specific foods needed for their meal plan, which may disrupt their nutritional recovery.

He added: “The government must do everything in its power to support those who are struggling, including those with eating disorders. We’ve already seen the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Beat delivering three times more support sessions between 2021 and 2022 than pre-pandemic levels.

“The government needs to invest in eating disorder services and work closely with professionals and experts to ensure policies are in place to support people with eating disorders.

The new government has indicated that it will help tackle the cost of living crisis by capping the price of energy for households and businesses.

However, the cost of living crisis is not just affecting energy bills, and over the next few months the government must prioritize not just ensuring that Britons never have to choose between eating and heat, but also to allow people to have the financial freedom to feel joy. every meal, rather than feeling guilty about yet another rising bill.

The Department of Health and Social Care has been contacted for comment but had not responded at the time of publication.

If you are worried about your own health or that of someone else you can contact Beat, the UK eating disorders charity, 365 days a year on 0808 801 0677 or beateatingdisorders.org.uk

Names have been changed at the request of interviewees

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