Published on: 1 March 2024

As part of Eating Disorders Awareness Week (26 February to 3 March 2024), an annual awareness week aimed to challenge myths and misunderstandings around eating disorders, Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has a range of support to share for those with an eating disorder and their loved ones – including an expansion of its service so that more local people can get treatment. 

Development of Derbyshire’s Eating Disorders service

Residents in over half of Derbyshire will now be able to get an enhanced level of support if they have an eating disorder, as well as those who care for them – thanks to an increase in funding for local NHS and third-sector services.

In Derby, Chesterfield, North East Derbyshire and the High Peak, the referral criteria for the specialist NHS eating disorders service has been extended, meaning GPs and other health professionals can refer adults with an eating disorder based on a wider range of criteria, beyond just their weight or body mass index (BMI). The expanded support will continue to be rolled out throughout the year and it is anticipated that all parts of Derbyshire will be covered by the end of 2024.

The expansion of services is being made possible thanks to increased investment by NHS Derby and Derbyshire Integrated Care Board (ICB). The extra funding has been awarded by the ICB to Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which runs NHS eating disorders services in Derby and Derbyshire and works closely with the charity First Steps.

Adults aged 18 and over who are registered with a local GP will now be seen by Derbyshire Healthcare’s specialist NHS eating disorders service if their GP identifies a primary diagnosis of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder (BED). If the GP diagnoses another specific eating disorder which the team believe they can treat effectively, the individual will also be able to access treatment.

Across the city and the whole of the county, extra money is being made available to the local NHS eating disorder partner organisation, First Steps, to expand the number of skills group training sessions for parents and carers of those with an eating disorder.

First Steps’ Skills for Carers groups will double in frequency thanks to the extra funding. The four-week workshop aims to provide carers with a toolbox of skills for tackling eating disorder difficulties, focusing on warmth, empathy and self-reflection. It is free to attend and is open to any parent, guardian or older sibling with a carer’s role.

Dr Joanna Miatt of Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said: “We are delighted to receive this extra funding, which will enable us to increase the support available to people who are struggling due to an eating disorder. We want to be able to help as many local people as possible, as early as possible, to ensure that individuals can make a full and swift recovery. We will continue to investigate other avenues for expanding our services, working with our partners and commissioners.”

This year the focus for Eating Disorders Awareness Week is on ARFID (also known as avoidant restrictive food intake disorder), a condition that involves individuals avoiding certain foods. They may be sensitive to different tastes or textures, have had a negative experience with food or they may not recognise their hunger in the same way that others might.

According to the charity Beat, around 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder. Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses affecting a range of people, regardless of their ages, genders, ethnicities, or backgrounds.

Some common examples of eating disorders may include ARFID, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and anorexia.

Eating disorders are not always related to food, and may relate more to how a person is feeling. This #EatingDisordersAwarenessWeek2024, Derbyshire Healthcare aims to raise awareness around speaking out and seeking help.

*Amelia explains her experience of living with an eating disorder and highlights the importance of talking to others about their feelings.  

Amelia’s story

“Having an eating disorder is an experience that is profoundly misunderstood. It is not all about food, body image or weight. It is so much deeper and more complex. It is a mental health condition that becomes all consuming.

“I was left physically suffocated by it with no way out. The pain and suffering feel unbearable, so you desperately cling to coping mechanisms as an outlet, in the hope they will reduce your self-hatred. Every sufferer experiences their eating disorder in their own unique way yet the pain, anguish and disconnection this mental health disorder produces are felt in equal magnitude by all.

“Getting help and speaking about my personal struggles was the best decision I ever made.  I am forever grateful to have access to support and a specialist service that was able to take me in at such short notice whilst I was in such a critical state and my health was rapidly deteriorating – both physically and mentally.

“Recovery is an ongoing journey of personal growth and progression. There are dark days, but they are much lighter. I have learned to take negative emotions on the chin and feel through them, knowing they will pass.”

Eating disorder warning signs can often be missed, such as rapid weight loss, complex relationships with food and excessive exercise often being misinterpreted as phases, health kicks or diets. The NHS website details some important warning signs to look out for.

While recovery may seem a lengthy process, eating disorders can be overcome with the right support. Derbyshire Healthcare offers a wide range of support to those with eating disorders from doctors, dietitians, nurses, therapists, and support workers.

If you, a friend or family member are struggling with eating, there is a variety of support that Derbyshire Healthcare provides for both adults and children:  

Eating disorder support podcast

Derbyshire Healthcare’s Eating Disorders Service has also created a podcast hosted by the Assistant Psychologists within the service. The podcast has been developed to provide information around eating disorders, offer hints and tips and bust any myths. You can listen on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music.

It is important that local people can access support as quickly and easily as possible. Other organisations offering support include BeatFirst Steps DerbyshireMindYoungMinds and FREED Beeches.

For more information on Eating Disorders Awareness week, please visit Beat.

*Name has been changed for confidentiality.