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anorexia a disorder of the mind

Jan 30th

Former anorexic – whose weight plummeted to 4 ½ stone – describes how chocolate saved her

A YOUNG women who suffered with a life-threatening eating disorder for five years has revealed revealed how a chocolate treat saved her life.

Annie Windley, 21, first started suffering with anorexia when she was just 15 years old and plummeted to just four and a half stone at her lowest weight.

The 21-year-old from Derbyshire had to be hospitalised five times over the course of her illness as her nutrition-starved body brought her to the brink death.

But after five years of surviving on a meagre slice of toast and jam everyday, Annie says that eating a single Lindt chocolate gave her the strength to overcome anorexia.

After discovering that chocolate hadn’t caused her to put on weight, Annie started to repair her relationship with food and began eating normally again.

Reflecting on that moment, Annie said: “It was crazy to think by eating one part of chocolate I’d instantly gain weight but that day was when I realised eating was not as frightening as I’d made it out to be.”

Describing how “something so small” as eating a Lindt chocolate was a “big deal” to her, Annie added: “I could not be near food, if I was going to eat I’d have toast with jam or low fat ready meals to avoid gaining any weight.

“It got so bad, one time I was sectioned I would scream and bang my head on the wall, I just wanted to leave and not be around food

Annie’s eating disorder first spiralled out of control when she began counting calories while attending Monkton Combe boarding school in Bath.

Along with avoiding carbohydrates, meat and dairy, Annie was paralysed with fear when it came to mealtimes.

She added: “I used to refuse to eat meals, if you put lasagne in front of me I would physically shake, swear and become agitated, I could not be in the same room as food.”

As well as having a troubled relationship with her parents, Annie also claims she was bullied by other girls at school for her weight and was diagnosed with anorexia in 2012.

But while she was complimented by other students for her weight loss at first, Annie’s obsession with calorie counting quickly spiralled out of control.

Describing her lowest point with the eating disorder, Annie said: “It got so bad, one time I was sectioned I would scream and bang my head on the wall, I just wanted to leave and not be around food.

“I was even told I was at risk of a heart attack because I was so small.

“I could barely stand up without blacking out, looking back at the pictures I took, I was scary to look at but I just wanted to be smaller and smaller each day.”

Although Annie was able to complete her GCSEs, her drastic weight loss took its toll on her school performance and she was also withdrawn from sports teams and monitored closely by school nurses.

Annie said: “I used to be very active, I was involved in athletics, hockey, tennis, javelin and netball, I absolutely loved it.

“Once I started to lose a lot of weight the nurses got so concerned I got pulled off the teams because I didn’t have any more weight to physically lose.”

After giving in to a chocolate craving in October 2017, Annie started to fight back against her eating disorder.

Along with eating three healthy meals a day, Annie began exercising again and moved back to her home in Derbyshire where her Uncle helped her overcome her fear of gaining weight.

Reflecting on how her eating disorder shaped her late teenage years, Annie said: “I wish I could tell my younger self to stop, it makes me sad thinking how much time I have wasted.

“I left school with 5As and 5*s, I was very smart but I haven’t been able to go to college or university, trying to get back into education is proving very difficult.

“I feel better now, however, it’s something that does affect me mentally.”

Annie now shares her recovery journey with her 12,100 Instagram followers and says her friends and family have helped her through her darkest times.

She added: “I have a boyfriend and new friends now who has helped me so I am not as lonely as I used to be.

“People think it’s about attention seeking but it’s not, it’s hard to explain what you’re going through to someone who does not understand.”

Dec 7th 2018

For People With Eating Disorders, Christmas Can Be A Torturous Time – Here's How They Get Through It

"I just wanted the day to be over so the food would stop appearing."

Christmas can be a cruel time for people with eating disorders. The lead up is dominated by eating, drinking and partying – team this with a turbulent relationship with food and family members silently monitoring your every mouthful, and you can begin to understand the challenges.

When Hannah was 19 years old she began to struggle with bulimia – bingeing on food and then purging by either vomiting or taking laxatives. The now 29-year-old banker from south west London says she was bulimic for three years and those Christmases were some of the hardest she’s had to endure.

“It’s a really torturous time because I so desperately want to participate, feel a part of it and also enjoy the food. But somehow it becomes about either avoiding the food or overindulging in the food,” says Hannah, who has also struggled with anorexia and binge-eating tendencies.

She has had Christmases where she’s deceived people and hidden food so she didn’t have to eat it. She’s also had years when she’s binged on a whole tub of Celebrations. “All of these behaviours stopped me from being able to enjoy the day,” she says. “It was just all about the food. I just wanted the day to be over so the food would stop appearing.”

It’s thought around 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder, with girls and young women aged 12-20 years old being most at risk. These are serious, mental illnesses which require treatment. In some cases, the illness can become so severe that people need to be sectioned.

Hannah experienced this herself – at one point she was taking 100 laxative tablets in a day which caused her to bleed and have accidents in public. The pills impact her to this day, almost a decade on. “If I needed the toilet now, I literally couldn’t walk 50 metres to the toilet,” she explains. “I would have to go right now. Last week I had two accidents, so I still suffer.”

Christmas can be a particularly triggering time for people with binge-eating disorder and bulimia, according to the eating disorders charity Beat. It can also cause huge anxiety for those with anorexia, who often have to sit at a meal table with relatives and their questioning eyes.

Two Christmases ago, Ellie Wildbore was in hospital because of her eating disorder. She was diagnosed with anorexia and bulimia in her late teens and managed to enter a period of on-and-off recovery before she relapsed again this year.

The 31-year-old describes her relationship with food as “complicated” and recalls her earliest memory of feeling guilt around food at the age of three-years-old. “It’s been a background theme in my life,” she says. “I do really love food, but allowing myself to eat it freely is very difficult.” A lot of this, she says, is down to body image. 

Christmas, for her, has been up and down. The years when she felt better, she was able to have a festive period relatively free of guilt and actually enjoy it. But at other times it’s been utterly overwhelming. “Because I have binge-purge tendencies, having all these foods around that aren’t around the rest of the year, I think: ‘Oh my god, I need to try them all before they go away.’ Bingeing has always been an issue at this time of year.”

Some years she’s had to eat pasta because she hasn’t been able to cope, other times she’s plated her dinner up in the kitchen rather than ladling it up at the dinner table in front of others – something that she finds overwhelming.

Dave Chawner, 29, was diagnosed as severely clinically anorexic in 2014, just two days before Christmas. That time of year has always been difficult for him. “I remember previously chucking whole bits of food like whole sausage rolls down without chewing them and then getting a distended stomach and having to go home early and be sick,” he says.

“I think Christmas Day is an odd day and Christmas is a weird time because you’re meant to be jolly and you’re meant to be care-free, this is meant to be a relaxation. However the antithesis of that is being bombarded by food all the time. So you’re caught in a weird juxtaposition between everyone telling you you should be jolly and happy and relaxed, but then actually one of the biggest fears is present and ever constant.” 

Dave, a stand-up comic and presenter, says he has had to learn to be kind to himself during this period – and advises others to do the same. “You probably will fuck up, you might binge or restrict,” he says. “But you know what, [that’s ok] as long as a) you’re learning from whatever mistakes you make, b) you want to change and c) you remember that Christmas is only one day of the year.”

Ellie Wildbore is having ongoing treatment for her eating disorder and, as part of her recovery, swears by meal plans which help her decide what she’ll eat so that when it comes to Christmas Day she doesn’t feel out of control. She’ll also sit down with her mum each year to discuss how they’ll handle Christmas on the food front – coming up with an action plan of how to navigate it.

Hannah also said meal plans helped her when she was suffering badly. She would be really specific about what she would eat over Christmas – “so I would have X amounts of turkey, two pigs in blankets, one Yorkshire pudding,” she explains.

Meal plans seem to be a helpful tool for many people with eating disorders including 19-year-old Ellie Pool who, after repeated trips to her GP, was told by a counsellor she has disordered eating. She also has coeliac disease and emetophobia (a fear of being sick), which makes the run up to Christmas an anxious time.

Disordered eating is a term used to describe unhealthy eating behaviours and worries about body image. Ellie, a content and social strategist based in Cheshire, says she analyses everything she eats because she’s scared of gaining weight. And Christmas only serves to amplify her feelings of fear around weight gain. 

“I find resisting temptation to snack or eat ‘naughty food’ is a lot more difficult at Christmas as there are chocolate and treats everywhere,” she says. “As someone who gets a lot of guilt when I eat a treat or a snack that I wouldn’t usually, this is hard.”

The social element that Christmas brings with it can also cause issues – especially if relatives are unaware of a person’s mental illness. 

Beat’s director of services, Caroline Price, says: “People with eating disorders often try to hide their illness and at Christmas when eating is a social occasion – often with people who they do not see frequently – they may feel ashamed and want to isolate themselves from others.”

At the same time, Christmas can be hard for families who are aware their loved one has an eating disorder, as they don’t necessarily know what to do or how to act. Hannah says friends and relatives will often oversimplify things: “If I’m over-eating or being bulimic, they’re just like: ‘Will you just stop eating?’ And if I’m not eating, they’re like: ‘Will you just eat?’ And actually it’s not as simple as that.”

She asks for understanding during this time. Being able to open up about issues can help reduce those feelings of shame and isolation among people with eating disorders. “It’s really helped me to speak to people,” Hannah says. “Texting is good but actually saying stuff out loud like ‘I’m really struggling’, it alleviates the obsession [with food] somehow. Making calls makes a huge difference.”

Avoiding buffets (“they never work”) and also alcohol has been hugely helpful to her. “A lot of people with eating disorders also suffer with alcoholism,” Hannah continues. “Alcohol makes it hard for lots of people to stick to their boundaries. Some of my worst binges and purges happened when I was drunk.”

She adds: “Other people, especially when I’ve been really under weight, they’d say ‘eat more eat, more’ and it made me want to eat less. So my advice would be: do what you need to do to get through the day.”

Nov 27th 2018

More Boys Are Being Treated In Hospital For Eating Disorders Than Ever Before

Here's some advice for any worried parents.

·      The number of boys being treated in hospital for eating disorders is at an all-time high, the latest data from NHS digital suggests. 

Although there are still more girls than boys treated for eating disorders in England, Scotland and Wales, the number of boys aged five-19 treated has doubled from 235 in 2010 to 466 in 2018. 

In the past year, the number of boys being admitted to hospital increased by 18.5 per cent, compared to an increase of 12 per cent for girls, according to the BBC

The data is part of a large-scale NHS review of mental health disorders among children, which included information from 9,117 children and young people, and their parents or teachers. One in eight five-19 year olds had a mental disorder in 2017, the equivalent of three in every classroom of 24. 

Previously speaking to HuffPost UK about the topic of eating disorders, Dr Marc Bush, YoungMinds chief policy adviser, advised parents to bring up conversations around body image with their sons.

“In the boys’ world, we are decades behind what has happened with girls and young women when it comes to the way they view their bodies,” he said. “Many parents may have conversations with their daughters about the impact of yo-yo dieting or similar, whereas very few will have a conversation with boys.”

He said talking about images of male bodies in the media can be one way to approach the topic.

 “If you’re walking past a huge billboard and someone with a ripped six pack is on it, ask them what they think of the image,” he suggested. “They might say what it reminds them of, and you would say: ‘Yeah, but it doesn’t look like many other men’. 

“The media disproportionately creates unrealistic body types and there is this base assumption that what the media puts out is something that can be obtained. Point out the variation in mens’ bodies. Allow young boys to talk about it and allow them to have time to voice their understanding about why they think these bodies are aspirational.”

Nadia Mendoza, co-founder of The Self-Esteem Team, recommended these conversations are approached sensitively and said reminding your son he is more than his body can help.

“Tell him how he makes you laugh, or what a good listener he is, or celebrate his efforts on a project,” she advised. “So he knows his value is tied up in more than the number of likes on his last selfie.”


Dec 2nd 2017

With her finances spiraling out of control Emma Oldfield was not blowing her student loan on clothes or nights out with friends.

Instead she was spending £100 a day in budget supermarkets, filling bag after bag with as much junk food as possible.

As soon as she was out the door, Emma would tear off the wrappers and start bingeing on the crisps, cakes and sweets she had bought.

“I can overeat to the point where I am in pain,” explains Emma, 22. “At my lowest point, at the start of this year when I was spending all that money, I was making myself sick up to 30 times a day.

"It would feel like a clean slate each time afterwards, but then the cycle would always begin again.”

At this rock bottom point, Emma was regularly filling three bin bags with all of the crisp packets, and sweets and chocolate wrappers she was discarding.

“Other than going out to buy food, I didn’t leave the house or see anyone for three months,” she says. “Life completely ground to a halt because I couldn’t pull myself away from doing it.”

For Emma, whose mum passed away in December 2012, overeating provided her with a brief respite from her grief.

“When I binge it numbs everything and time goes so much quicker,” says Emma, who lives in Stockton-On-Tees.

“It got to a point where I didn’t want to be here if I was left alone with my thoughts so I had to overeat to block it all out.

“But I’d quickly feel guilty about eating anything bad, and I would have to make myself sick. It escalated from being a once a week thing to multiple times a day.”

Losing her beloved mum and best friend Donna to pancreatic and liver cancer, a devastated Emma was aged just 17 at the time.

“It was the hardest thing ever,” explains Emma.

“Mum supported me in absolutely everything I did. I get upset because I feel like if she was still here maybe I wouldn’t have got ill, or it wouldn’t have got as bad as it did. She would have intervened and forced me to get help in the early stages.”

Emma says she has been unhappy with her body for as long as she can remember.

“Even as a young kid, I always wanted to lose weight, but it was only after losing my mum that my eating disorder really took hold.

“I felt I didn’t deserve to be nourished, I didn’t deserve to eat. Why was it fair that I lived when my mum couldn’t be here? Controlling what I ate gave me a coping mechanism that distracted me from my unhappiness.”

Cycling to work every day, Emma began eating very little and started to lose weight.

Keen to get as far away as possible from the constant reminders of her mum, Emma moved from her home in Clacton-on-Sea to start university in Middlesbrough.

She is not close to her dad, who split from her mum when she was 11. Almost 300 miles away from her brother Daniel, 26, and her circle of good friends, Emma started overeating increasingly huge amounts before making herself sick every time any food passed her lips.

So terrified of gaining weight, Emma would also exercise too much – always having to do 10,000 steps before bed – and abused laxatives. She did pay a visit to her GP in November 2014 but says her fears that she may have an eating disorder were dismissed.

“I was told to get self-help books,” says Emma. “It’s so hard to ask for help when you know you’ve got a problem. To then get dismissed, or told you’re not severe enough or your problem isn’t actually an issue, it can have such a bad knock-on effect.”

It wasn’t until she collapsed ten months later when Emma was working as an action sports instructor at an American summer camp that her illness – and its drastic extent - was revealed.

“It was hard work and long days, 8,000 feet up a mountain in the Californian sun,’ she says. ‘I was overeating at mealtimes and constantly making myself sick in secret. I lost about a stone-and-a-half in seven weeks. No one had a clue.”

Collapsing at work, Emma was rushed to hospital where doctors discovered her potassium levels were dangerously low.

“I was told I was at risk of cardiac arrest, and that I was lucky to still be here.”

Sent home to the UK, her mum’s best friend took Emma straight to the doctors and in August 2015 she was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa - Purging Subtype, a combination of both Anorexia and Bulimia.

“I started getting help but by that stage it felt like it was too late,’ says Emma. ‘I had formed so many habits and routines that felt impossible to change.”

Two years on, Emma has undergone intensive therapy and treatment including two hospital admissions.

Although she feels the stay was too short, an eight-week stint in hospital earlier this year has helped Emma to get back on the road to recovery.

While she is still struggling with her illness, Emma – who has recently started a Masters degree in Creative Industry Management at Northumbria University - says she has made

massive improvements.

“It’s really hard but I’m trying to make sure my life comes first and the eating disorder comes second. It’s frustrating because I just want to wake up yesterday and be better. People don’t understand that it's a mental illness, it’s not a choice.

“I’ve missed out on going out, birthdays, and holidays because of it. I’ve lost friends because they don’t understand it. And I know that it’s just as frustrating for people around me; I hate the fact that it doesn’t just affect me.

“But I’m learning to take one day at a time and to see the benefits of taking little steps that eventually add up to make a big difference.”

Determined to reclaim her life, Emma says she has seen first-hand how care for eating disorder patients must be improved.

“You have to meet a certain criteria to get help,” she says. “Getting help depends too much on how low your weight and Body Mass Index (BMI) is, even though it’s a mental illness.”

So Emma has teamed up with Fixers – the national charity that gives young people a voice to campaign on issues that matter to them – to make a film. Targeted directly at medical professionals, Emma highlights five key points that she believes would have helped her recovery process in the film.

Her recommendations include earlier intervention and offering treatment before people reach a critically low weight.

“Rather than solely focusing on a person’s BMI, doctors need to listen to an individual and focus on their mental health, stability and relationship with food,” she says.

Today, Emma is continuing to get help for her eating disorder and says she has learnt to accept that it will always be part of her life that needs to be managed.

“Having an eating disorder is an illness that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy,” she says. ‘Even if I help one person by speaking out and sharing my experiences that would be amazing.”

To find out more about Fixers, or to fund Fixers projects in your area, visit Fixers - Young people fixing the future.

For help with an eating disorder visit Beat .

Aug 29th 2017

Mental health is a growing concern for parents in the UK, with almost a quarter of a million children and young people receiving help for anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

Earlier this year it was reported that children as young as four were attending health services for eating disorders, while Beat - the UK's charity for anorexia, bulimia and binge eating - have warned that disorders "can affect anyone, regardless of age".

In a bid to open up the conversation around young people and eating, Channel 4's latest documentary, Wasting Away: The Truth About Anorexia, sees journalist Mark Austin discuss destructive impact anorexia had on his daughter Maddy.

At her lowest point, at 18, she weighed just 5-and-a-half stone and developed bone marrow failure.

The programme takes a look at how health issues are continuing to grow among young people, and whether enough is being done to actually treat them.

If you're the parent of a child, like Austin, that has developed an eating disorder, you may feel unsure how to help and how to act around them.

But fear of what other people might say, or being criticised or punished can often stop young people from taking the first step, so it's important that you learn to find ways to help your child cope and manage their eating habits at home.

Here, Pablo Vandenabeele, the Clinical Director for mental health at Bupa, offers his practical advice for parents supporting a child with an eating disorder.

Talk about it

If you’ve noticed a change in your loved one’s eating habits or significant weight loss talk to them about it. Create a safe space, maybe somewhere they are the most comfortable and have an open, judgement-free conversation. Start by asking them if there’s anything that is making them feel anxious or stressed which is having an impact on their eating habits. Try finding out why they are having difficulties with food and work on finding a solution to that issue with them. Also speak to a doctor, they’ll be able to support you and your loved one with your physical and mental health and put you in touch with support groups.

Don’t force it

Although your instinct may be to push them to eat, this may not be right for them. They’re already dealing with a lot of negative emotions when it comes to food, so by adding more pressure onto them won’t help. Instead, ask what they might want to eat, now or in a couple of hours time.

Don’t blame them

Overcoming an eating disorder can be very difficult. Remind yourself during the challenging times that your child is not doing this to hurt you.

Take time for yourself

Caring for a loved one with an eating disorder can be emotionally challenging. You may feel frustrated the person isn’t eating healthily, or worried you’re not doing enough. It’s easy to forget to make time for yourself – speak to a doctor about what you’re going through or seek a support group.

Be honest about your feelings

Caring for a child with an eating disorder is tough and there will be times where you lose your temper, or say something you wish you hadn’t. Explain to your child how you’re feeling and why you acted the way that you. Remind them that you love them and praise them when they do something that makes you proud.

April 4th 2017


You probably first came across it with a pale-looking colleague slumped over their office desk. Or with The Fast Diet author Michael Mosely speaking effusively about it on television. Fasting, they’d have told you, is a great way to lose weight. It makes sense: eat fewer calories a couple of days a week, and don’t overeat on the others, and you’ll slim down. What’s less clear is the assumption that fasting from time to time can bring other benefits such as avoiding disease, keeping your brain sharp and even letting you live longer. With all this for the price of just a sprinkle of willpower though, surely it’s all too good to be true?

The answer is not straightforward. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the evidence is strongest with type 2 diabetes – a disease often caused by overeating. The disease means that a person can no longer control their blood sugar levels. Once diagnosed they are left staring down the barrel of a lifetime on medication, unless, think researchers at Newcastle University, they begin to fast.

They’ve tested an extreme low-calorie diet – a hunger-panging 600 calories a day for eight weeks – in 11 people with type 2 diabetes: all were disease-free by the end of the fast; seven were still disease-free three months on. Later studies suggest that the sooner people fast, the better their chances of reversing their disease. Roy Taylor, who leads the group, thinks that fasting is beneficial because it gets rid of dangerous fat in and around your organs, including two that are important in sugar control – the pancreas and the liver.

When an otherwise healthy person’s blood sugars get too high, their pancreas makes a hormone called insulin that tells the liver to remove the sugar and store it safely. “If you have fat around these organs it clogs up the way they work and your body can’t control its blood sugars,” says Taylor. After about 12 hours of fasting, he says, the body uses up all the glycogen in the liver, its go-to source of energy, and starts to dip into its fat deposits. “The first type of fat to go is that dangerous fat around the organs, freeing them up to do their job properly.” He stresses that people with diabetes should not fast without consulting their doctor – a combination of insulin drugs and fasting can be lethal.

Taylor and his colleagues are now testing their fasting diet in around 300 people with type 2 diabetes. The results of that study will give a better idea of how beneficial the diet can be. The question is how much of the effect is down to fasting and how much is down to just the weight loss? “It’s almost certain that other forms of dieting will do the same,” says Taylor. “But this low-calorie diet is one that I was confident would let people lose the roughly two and a half stone, or a sixth of their body weight, that we were looking for.”

There is, though, reason to believe that fasting might have benefits over and above weight loss. It’s down to what happens to all living organisms when they don’t have food – they begin to eat themselves. Gruesome, maybe, but it’s beneficial: it lets the body recycle energy and do some housekeeping – the first cells to go are the faulty ones.

Valter Longo is a scientist at the University of Southern California who believes that, because of this process, periodic fasting can help people stay healthy. Faulty immune cells, for instance, could be pruned back so that when a person starts to feed again, new cells are spawned from only the strongest and the fittest.

In experiments in mouse models of multiple sclerosis, a disease in which rogue immune cells erroneously attack a person’s nerve cells, he’s seen that periodic, low-calorie fasting can slow down the destruction of cells and even lead to some regeneration. His preliminary work in people with the disease suggests it could improve their quality of life.

The potential reaches further. Fasting-mimicking diets can help people with cancer undergoing radiation chemotherapy, presumably by promoting the growth of healthy cells and restricting the growth of cancerous ones. Restricting the amount a mouse eats by about 30-40% can extend its lifespan by a third.

This year Longo showed that a fasting-mimicking diet could help mice with diabetes regain blood sugar control, not only those with type 2 but also those with type 1 diabetes, caused not by overeating but by a faulty immune system. The benefits, he says, were down to a reprogramming of beta cells, a type of cell in the pancreas that makes insulin. He also starved cells taken from people with type 1 diabetes and saw a similar reprogramming.

“These results are surprising and completely new territory,” warns Gordon Weir, a diabetes researcher at Harvard Medical School. “I’d be cautious about assuming that fasting will help people with type 1 diabetes until the mouse studies are replicated in other laboratories and it has gone on to be shown to work in human beings, not just in human cells.”

Longo, too, is wary of giving false hope but is bullish about the potential of fasting. “In research over 25 years we’ve seen it in E coli bacteria, in yeast, in human cells, and in mice,” he says. “The foundations are so deep that it’s as old as life itself, but we have to respect the complexity – a yeast is a yeast, a mouse is a mouse, and a person is a person.”

The difficulty in transferring a theory from mouse to man is that people live much longer than mice. At middle age we are much farther from when our stem cells, the type of cells that make other cells, are most active, so our ability to generate new cells might not be as strong.

“We don’t have conclusive data that any of this works in humans,” Longo says, “but we do have some promising data.” He’s referring to a study of 100 generally healthy people given a fasting-mimicking diet low in calories, sugars and protein but high in unsaturated fats. Despite only a minor reduction in weight loss, he says, risk factors for ageing, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke were all improved. He’s planning a bigger trial in 250 people to confirm these findings and to figure out which benefits are the result purely of the act of fasting and not just the result of weight loss.

Other tests will take a little longer. Whether fasting will ever make us live longer, given the time needed to prove it, will be for only Dracula and Dorian Gray to know. What could be more compelling is the idea that fasting can keep us in better mental shape.

When the body metabolises its fat deposits during fasting, says Mark Mattson, a neuroscientist at the US National Institute on Ageing and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, it produces acids called ketones, a source of food for brain cells. Ketones also trigger the production of a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which encourages the brain to make new connections.

It’s not an entirely new concept; in fact, the ancient Romans stumbled across it. Roman doctors found that by locking epileptics in a room with no food for a few days they could cure them of their disease. “They thought they were causing demons to go away but really these people’s ketones were increasing and suppressing their seizures,” says Mattson. Today, ketogenic diets that increase ketones by mimicking fasting are increasingly prescribed to people with epilepsy to help them control their seizures.

Mattson’s experiments in mice suggest that fasting could slow the onset of brain diseases such Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. “We’ve also got evidence in mice that fasting reduces anxiety and depression,” he says.

So far so good, but mouse does not equal man. The way you test anxiety or depression in a mouse is by chucking it into a beaker of water or dangling it by its tail. While we can all empathise with how that mouse might feel, the relevance of these studies to us with our more complicated lives and more complicated brains remains to be seen. Still, these are the same tests drug companies use to find promising antidepressants, so there might be something in it.

That fasting might have a beneficial effect on our brain makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. If our caveman ancestors hadn’t eaten for a few days it would make sense for them to do something about it. “This ketone signal tells the brain ‘hey, brain, you better figure out how to get some food because if you don’t there’s going to be a problem soon’,” says Mattson. “Now we’re eating three meals a day plus snacks so we’re never going to raise our ketones. If we fast from time to time, maybe we can take advantage of this evolutionary adaptation to help us in modern life.”

Like most people, if I’m going to skip a sandwich to help my inner caveman, I want him to be as pumped up and raring to go as Rocky at the end of a training montage. The problem is that nobody knows exactly how you’d do that.

“Simply too few studies have been done to know the long-term effects in people,” says Susan Jebb, a nutrition scientist at the University of Oxford. “There’s clearly something about not putting food in your system that’s beneficial, especially for diabetes, but how close to fasting do we need to get? Is it the 5:2 diet or is it long periods of a low-calorie intake? Do we need to eat only 600 calories or can we get away with 1,200?”

One reason for the paucity of studies is the lack of money to be made. With no drugs to sell, drug companies are not testing it. Nobody is suggesting they are sitting on data or getting skinny professors whacked, it’s just that it’s not their responsibility. “Pharmaceutical companies are there to make useful drugs and to turn a profit,” says Taylor. It’s as simple as that.

In lieu of evidence that periodic fasting is beneficial, we should consider the potential harms – which are few for overweight people. People with medical conditions, especially diabetes, should consult their doctor first. People should not do water-only fasts, which cause your body to start breaking down its own proteins. Messaging needs to be careful not to condone eating disorders such as anorexia.

With so much unknown about the relationship between fasting and health, Jebb urges that we don’t lose sight of the basics. “We know that if you’re overweight, losing weight will reduce your risk of disease,” she says. “For many people an intermittent fasting diet will help them lose weight, for others eating a few less biscuits every day will be better. The trick is to find the diet that works for you and go for it.”

Fast habit, free

A no-nonsense stopwatch app. Tell it how many hours you want to fast for then press a button to start. It tracks your fasting over time and, helpfully, lets you edit your record in case you “forget” to log a fast.

Zero – Fasting Tracker, free

Zero has two predefined fasting plans: 5:2 and another one based on work done by US researchers that suggests fasting has added benefits if done at night. It uses your phone’s location to remind you when the sun will set. You can download your data to a spreadsheet and geek out over long-term performance analyses.

5:2 Diet TrackMyFast, 99p

Despite having 5:2 its title, this app has other plans including alternate day fasts and the frankly weirdly named Johnson Up Day Down Day Diet. The usual weight and fasting tracking functions are supplemented with recipe ideas, which you can contribute to and share with other users.

5:2 Diet Complete Meal Planner, £1.99

This app is just a collection of recipes within different calorie brackets. Useful, but it’s tough to justify the price given that lots of recipes are available for free online. Warning: the recipes look incredible but when you make them they come out tiny.

MyFitness Pal Calorie Counter, free

Not a fasting tracker per se but contains a massive database of foods – more than 4m can be scanned by barcode – to help you manage your calorie intake.

A tale of rescue

One day when she was browsing Instagram, she stumbled across an account using a body positive hashtag that changed everything for her.

One day you'll see, that it was inside you all along - the power to smash the mirror into pieces too small to ever pierce through your self esteem again. One day you'll see, that you could have lived unburdened by lies about your worth residing in your reflection. That you could have laughed with your whole body shaking. That you could have devoured every bite without shame. That you could have lived every moment, for yourself.


Anorexia nervosa

A serious disorder in eating behavior primarily of young women in their teens and early twenties that is characterized especially by a pathological fear of weight gain leading to faulty eating patterns, malnutrition, and usually excessive weight loss

This article is taken directly from the National Health Service in the UK

Anorexia nervosa is a serious mental health condition. It's an eating disorder where a person keeps their body weight as low as possible.

People with anorexia usually do this by restricting the amount of food they eat, making themselves vomit, and exercising excessively. 

The condition often develops out of an anxiety about body shape and weight that originates from a fear of being fat or a desire to be thin. Many people with anorexia have a distorted image of themselves, thinking they're fat when they're not.

Anorexia most commonly affects girls and women, although it has become more common in boys and men in recent years. On average, the condition first develops at around the age of 16 to 17.

Read more about the causes of anorexia.

Signs and symptoms of anorexia

People with anorexia often go to great lengths to hide their behaviour from family and friends by lying about what they've eaten or pretending to have eaten earlier.

Signs someone may have anorexia or another eating disorder include:

  • missing meals, eating very little, or avoiding eating any fatty foods
  • obsessively counting calories in food 
  • leaving the table immediately after eating so they can vomit
  • taking appetite suppressants, laxatives, or diuretics (a type of medication that helps remove fluid from the body)
  • repeatedly weighing themselves or checking their body in the mirror
  • physical problems, such as feeling lightheaded or dizzy, hair loss, or dry skin

Anorexia can also be associated with other psychological problems, such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, alcohol misuse, and self-harm.

Read more about the symptoms of anorexia.

Getting help

People with anorexia often don't seek help, perhaps because they're afraid or don't recognise they have a problem. Many have hidden their condition for a long time – sometimes years.

The most important first step is for someone with anorexia to realise they need help and want to get better.

If you think someone you know has anorexia, try talking to them about your worries and encourage them to seek help.

This can be a very difficult conversation because they may be defensive and refuse to accept they have a problem. However, it's important not to criticise or pressure them as this can make things worse.

You may want to seek advice from an eating disorder support group such as Beat about the best way to raise the subject.

If you think you may have anorexia, try to seek help as soon as possible. You could start by talking to a person you trust, such as a member of your family or a friend, and perhaps ask them to go with you to see your GP.

Read more about supporting someone with an eating disorder and advice for parents of a child with an eating disorder.

Treating anorexia

Before anorexia can be treated, a physical, psychological and social needs assessment will need to be carried out by a GP or an eating disorders specialist. This will help them work out a suitable care plan.

In most cases, treatment will involve a combination of psychological therapy and individually tailored advice on eating and nutrition to help gain weight safely.

A range of different healthcare professionals will usually be involved in your care, such as GPs, psychiatrists, specialist nurses and dietitians.

Most people are able to be treated on an outpatient basis, which means you can go home between appointments. More serious cases are treated in hospital or specialist eating disorder clinics.

Read more about diagnosing anorexia and treating anorexia.


It can take several years of treatment to fully recover from anorexia, and relapses are common. For example, a woman may relapse if she tries to lose weight gained during pregnancy.

Around half of people with anorexia will continue to have some level of eating problem despite treatment.

If anorexia remains unsuccessfully treated for a long time, a number of other serious problems can develop. These can include fragile bones (osteoporosis), infertility, an irregular heartbeat, and other heart problems.

Despite being an uncommon condition, anorexia is one of the leading causes of mental health-related deaths. This can be because of the effects of malnutrition or as a result of suicide.

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