Ingrid Whitaker: Food – what does it mean to you?

Eating is something we all need to do to nourish our bodies with the fuel it needs to be healthy and stay alive. Some people may think very little about food and the type or quantity they consume. Yet to other people food is a huge part of their lives, generating great pleasure and providing a social context for us to connect with our loved ones, whilst staying healthy and well. Unfortunately for some people, the act of eating or not eating may be a way to punish them and/or others; and could result in feelings of anxiety, shame and self-disgust. Our relationship with food is often complicated.

It is estimated that 1.6 million people in the United Kingdom have an eating disorder. Eating disorders can involve eating too much or too little, or becoming obsessed with body weight and shape. This may affect many aspects of an individual’s life and adversely impact on how they feel about themselves and influence their work, education, family and social life. Eating disorders can seriously impair physical health and in severe cases can even result in death.

I am a Consultant Clinical Psychologist in the Adult Eating Disorders Team for Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (LPFT). Our team provides assessment and National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended treatments in the community, for individuals who are at significantly low weight, or people who have complex conditions of either Bulimia Nervosa or Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED). We work with individuals and their carers to restore a healthy relationship with food and themselves. Before we can begin to help, the individual has to recognise that there is a problem, and have a willingness to hope and believe that change is possible. Having hope is key to making recovery happen.

As a way of reaching out to give hope to those who struggle with eating difficulties (and their carers), our team and some of our service users produced a video to share their stories of recovery and experiences of treatment. This video is available directly here, or via the Trust’s YouTube channel www.youtube.com/LPFTNHS.

Within these stories there are examples of how people have successfully been able to disentangle their distorted relationships with food, reclaim and rebuild their lives to achieve their goals.

I consider it a privilege to have been able to work in this field for the last 15 years, developing trusting relationships with individuals and working together to make the seemingly impossible possible. It is truly satisfying to help people to turn their lives around.

Eating disorders can affect people of any age. If you feel that you, a loved one or friend would benefit from some professional assistance to manage relationships with food, please speak with your GP to discuss this further. They will be able to direct you to appropriate services for help and support.