Help for eating disorders is out there

BEATEN Paul McNamara from Titchfield Common, has overcome an eating disorder which he battled with for ten years. Picture: Sarah Standing (13343-8015)
BEATEN Paul McNamara from Titchfield Common, has overcome an eating disorder which he battled with for ten years. Picture: Sarah Standing (13343-8015)
Staff Andrea Pledge, Ellie Hardy, Susan Hazzard and Mary Ramsay celebrating 21 years in Cosham. Picture: Habibur Rahman

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To everyone else, and himself, it looked like he was eating healthily and exercising regularly.

But Paul McNamara’s strict regime was masking an eating disorder.

For almost a decade the 34-year-old felt guilty for eating, and to make himself feel better he would push himself to run.

Paul, of Course Park Crescent, Titchfield Common, shares his story during national Eating Disorders Awareness Week, run by charity B-eat.

He says: ‘I used to weigh just under 53kg.

‘The first time I tried to get help was when I emailed B-eat. They replied and said I was entrenched in an eating disorder.

‘At the time I wasn’t prepared to confront that. If I went to the doctor it would mean I was bringing it from my mind to the real world, and I wasn’t prepared to do that.

‘I didn’t want to accept it, that would be one step too far, so I let myself forget about it, or just compartmentalised it away.’

Despite never being overweight, Paul had on occasion been teased for putting on weight. He started running to ensure he stayed healthy and began to watch what he ate.

Then in 2002 he took part in the New York Marathon, followed by the Dublin Marathon.

‘Running marathons gave me a goal to train for,’ adds Paul.

‘I thought after each marathon was completed, I would take a break from running.

‘But that would never happen, I would just keep going.

‘I ran the Florence Marathon, but nowhere near as well as the other two.

‘I flew home, and on that day my legs were aching, but all I wanted to do was run.

‘I would run in the freezing cold and could feel every bite of it.

‘But I couldn’t stop. I wasn’t enjoying it and I felt like crying.

‘I just didn’t want to be running, but it was part of the cycle.’

And the obsession with running was linked to eating.

Paul, who wants to be a sports writer, says: ‘The food was a huge part of it.

‘After a morning run I allowed myself to eat cereal and some yogurt.

‘During the day I couldn’t get around the fact that I would need to eat again. I would snack on Ryvita or carrots.

‘Then at dinner I would eat a big amount, and I would eat a lot of carbohydrates.

‘But as I was eating I would think about running off the carbs.’

Paul was able to keep his disorder a secret as he would be at home during the day, and no-one would see how little he was eating.

He stopped socialising with friends and focused on running.

If he couldn’t get out to run then he would cycle on an exercise bike.

‘I surprised myself with how obsessive I became,’ adds Paul.

‘It took a hold of me very quickly, and that’s what I filled my days with.’

But in November 2008, things would hit breaking point, and finally Paul spoke out about his condition.

‘I just couldn’t run any more and I came home early,’ adds Paul.

‘My mum asked why I was back so early, and I just told her how I was feeling.

‘For the rest of the day we talked about me and what I was doing.

‘Then I realised I needed some help. I realised I was immersed and addicted to it.’

Paul went to see his GP where he was referred to an eating disorder service based at April House, in Southampton.

The service is run by Southern Health NHS Trust and offers out-patient service as well as day clinics.

Paul was diagnosed with anorexia, received one-to-one help and attended clinics.

Slowly he began to cut back on his running and started increasing his eating.

‘During the sessions, I understood what was being said,’ adds Paul.

‘But I wasn’t changing my behaviour.

‘I could understand what was being said, but felt I had little control to change it.’

But after three months of attending, Paul began to see a change.

‘It was such a relief to have permission to eat,’ adds Paul.

‘I didn’t go out for runs in the morning to compensate for eating.

‘In the mornings I was having cereal and toast.

‘As a snack I would have a cereal bar or some chocolate.

‘At lunch I was having a piece of fruit and yoghurt.

‘For me lunch was huge. That was the most difficult meal for me because I wasn’t used to eating a meal in the day.

‘For eight years I had been running to take the food off, but that was normalising.

‘I started having smaller dinners in the evenings because I was eating more in the day.

‘There’s a stigma attached to having an eating disorder, and while there were a lot of females in the clinic, there were men too.

‘I’ve stopped running altogether. Instead I go for a walk for about an hour every day.

‘I still watch what I eat, but at least I’m eating regularly.

‘If you know someone that has an eating disorder, or you have one yourself, then talk to your doctor or B-eat and get help. Try not to hide it.’

HELP IS AT HAND

IN THE first two years of an eating disorder service starting in Portsmouth, 91 people received help directly from the team.

The Eating Disorder Service (EDS), which is run by Solent NHS Trust, has been providing specialist assessment and treatment of Portsmouth patients since October 2007.

The EDS looks after any adult with an identified eating disorder, excluding obesity, and receives an average of 10 patients per month from GPs and other health professionals.

In its first two years, the service saw 91 people who sought help directly without having gone through GPs and health professionals.

Consultant clinical psychologist Dr Lorraine Bell, who leads the service, said: ‘We are very successful at engaging patients before they are at significant physical risk in the majority of cases.

‘Our approach is to provide a comprehensive range of treatments, including intensive support for people with severe eating disorders and their families.’

To find out more, call (023) 9262 7762.

TRAPPED BY ILLNESS

THERE are many reasons why someone might develop an eating disorder, according to specialists.

Triggers could include emotional problems, anxiety about appearance or problems with managing weight.

But help is out there.

Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust provides services for around 500 people across Hampshire with an eating disorder each year.

Dr Hannah Turner is a clinical psychologist from April House, an eating disorder service.

Most people, like Paul McNamara, are referred to the service.

Dr Turner says: ‘We see people who have difficulties with their self esteem or their emotional state.

‘There’s a range of reasons why people develop eating disorders and we’re here to help.’

The service provides one-to-one help as well as a day clinic.

Typically a person will go through 20 to 40 sessions, depending on how much help they need.

Dr Turner says: ‘People with an eating disorder often feel trapped by an illness which can completely dominate their lives.

‘But there is hope – talk to your friends, your family or your GP.

‘There are people like us who can help you recover and regain control of your life.

‘If you notice someone being fussy with their food, who tries to avoid eating and socially withdraws themselves, then they might need help.’

For more information, call the B-eat helpline on 0845 634 1414, or visit b-eat.co.uk.