SHANNON Williamson has been struggling with eating disorders since the age of eight and has been diagnosed as suffering from atypical anorexia. Speaking to Chloe Irvine, the 23-year-old calls on people to speak out and be open about the condition.
Shannon describes how her personal trainer at the Clickimin Leisure Centre first voiced the opinion that she might have an eating disorder.
“I had this bit at the top of my stomach that was constantly hard, my stomach was flat but there’d be this random bit sticking out. I went to a personal trainer to get rid of it,” she remembers.
“She was very suspicious and started asking me about what I eat. At that point I was cutting out orange juice because of the sugar content, I wouldn’t eat meat because of the fat content, it was just very restrictive.
“She told me ‘it sounds like you have an eating disorder’. That was kind of the first real moment.”
Atypical eating disorders are believed to take up more than half of eating disorder cases, according to the NHS Patient Guide of Eating Disorders in Scotland.
This means the person’s weight may be above the diagnostic threshold, and is therefore more difficult to detect.
UK eating disorder charity Beat estimates that 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder, 75 per cent of which are female.
Demand for these services have significantly increased as a result of lockdown – Beat reported a 162 per cent increase in calls to their helpline between April and October last year.
Shannon, who now lives in Lerwick, continues: “You grow up and think anorexia is when you are skin and bone, but that’s not always the case.
“I kind of went through a few different varieties. It started off as binging-restrict, then it went into a bulimic stage where I was making myself sick, then the older I got it went into more of an anorexic stage, which is a very competitive disorder.
“I haven’t been in hospital, but I know people who have with other anorexia patients and it’s all a competition [to lose the most weight].
“I feel like that sometimes with social media, when I look at people with eating disorders, I always feel like I’m not good enough because I’m not that skinny, so I must not have tried as hard or I gave up too easily. It’s like a virus.”
Whilst spending lockdown in Aberdeen, Shannon recalled staying up until 7am on her phone then sleeping until 2pm-3pm so she didn’t have to eat.
On one occasion, she went a whole seven days with just a single meal.
In July, the Scottish Government announced funding of £5 million to NHS boards to help expand treatment available to those living with an eating disorder.
Whilst this is an important step forward, Shannon stresses that the causes behind disordered eating such as dangerous diet products must urgently be addressed.
“Putting more money into the eating disorder treatment but not focusing on the cause, that’s basically just throwing money into the wind,” she warns.
“I tried a lot of those diet teas and smoothies, it’s really just laxatives, I didn’t leave the toilet for days.
“It doesn’t work, you can take all the diet products you want, every time I would go into a relapse and lose a lot of weight, as soon as I ate normally again, I would put it back on again.”
Shannon is now privately seeing a therapist she considers “amazing.”
Having gone through the eating disorder rollercoaster she is clear that intervention needs to happen as early as possible, and for that to happen people need to talk about it.
“It doesn’t matter what you look like, if you are starting to think ‘I need to lose weight, I’m going to make myself sick after a meal’, reach out and speak to someone.”
Shetland News has been trying for at least six weeks to speak to NHS Shetland about what is on offer for people like Shannon and many others suffering from eating disorders. We also submitted written questions at the end of September and have had no answers yet.
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