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"I’ve been struggling with relapse for the last few months...knowing I can access Beat’s Helpline is the only thing keeping me going right now". - Helpline Service user.

Message from the Chief Executive

"This year has been tough. For people affected by eating disorders, it’s been especially difficult. Through all the fear and uncertainty, in and out of lockdown, we’ve been here to help." - Andrew, our Chief Executive

An unprecedented year

The past 12 months have been marked by unprecedented change. For people affected by eating disorders, this has been an extremely challenging, isolating and uncertain time.

"The news about lockdown has made me so anxious again, I don’t know how else to cope. The thought of another year like 2020 just makes me feel terrible." - Helpline Service user.

Lockdown restrictions have helped protect many vulnerable people, but we also know how distressing those restrictions have been. For 90%* of people with eating disorders, the impact of the pandemic has been profoundly negative. With treatment plans disrupted and referral pathways stalled, we are facing an eating disorders crisis on a huge scale.

This year has been challenging for us as a charity, too. In the face of uncertain funding, we weren’t sure how we were going to keep being there for people affected by eating disorders in this time of dire need.

*Branley-Bell, D., Talbot, C.V. (2020) ‘Exploring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and UK lockdown on individuals with experience of eating disorders’. Journal of Eating Disorders, 8, 44.

Thankfully, you, our incredible supporters, rallied around us when we needed you most. Every penny raised and donated has helped us adapt our services so that we can be there for people at the end of a phone call, email or webchat when they are struggling. It’s only with your backing that we’ve been able to keep doing what we do best: supporting people on their journey to recovery.

"Lockdown ending is making me feel scared, anxious and full of unknowns." - Helpline Service user.
"Trying to make sense of the out-patient care my daughter was receiving during a lockdown was difficult. Just hearing other carers’ stories helped me feel I wasn't on my own and I picked up handy tips. The feedback from the Beat facilitator has helped me to grow in my confidence, as I journey alongside my daughter in her recovery." - Solace carer.

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Personal experiences of the pandemic

"I was referred to my local ED service a week before COVID-19 shut the country down. Like everyone who is currently under lockdown, my life has taken a complete change of direction."

Alex started her recovery journey at the start of the pandemic. This year has disrupted her plans and made sticking to her recovery that much more difficult, but she’s hopeful for the future.

"I for one am willing to risk my own health as well as others' to have that second run or check that shop again for ‘safe foods’. This is not because I don’t care about the population or my loved ones; this is because I am struggling."

Raven had been in recovery for over a year at the start of the pandemic, but the new restrictions still tested her. Being isolated and bombarded with online weight loss content has made it difficult for her to cope.

Funding our work

From the start of the pandemic, the challenge of funding our work was immediately bleak. With community fundraising activities cancelled and no clear end to lockdown, we were set to be £1 million short of what we needed to deliver our work.

In 2020-21, support for our work came from inspirational people thinking outside the box. It came from runners and crafters, bakers and writers. It came from people who shaved their beards and people who sold handmade scrunchies. It is thanks to the dedication and creativity of our incredible supporters that we’ve been able to continue meeting the urgent needs of people with eating disorders and their loved ones.

We are also grateful for the support of our generous funders, in particular the National Lottery fund, which enabled us to expand our service provision to meet the huge increase in demand for support.

  • Over 200% increase in demand for our Helpline calls.
  • Over 300% increase in demand for our webchat support.
  • Nearly 400% increase in demand for our online support groups.

We cannot stress enough how grateful we are for everyone who contributed to our funding this year. Without your creative and selfless contributions, our work this year would not have been possible.

Dave, a mental health nurse, was just one of the thousands of supporters who decided to raise money for Beat. Here's what he had to say.

"Working as an eating disorders nurse, I’ve seen right on the front line how people affected by these mental health illnesses have struggled during the last year. And at the same time the pandemic has put things into perspective – health, mental and physical, is everything. In January when the national lockdown was announced I decided to commit to pulling on my running shoes for 100 consecutive days to raise money for a charity who I know have supported so many people I work with. The challenge has been tough, but it has given me a real focus and it has helped my own mental and physical health too. The challenge is made easier seeing the money trickle into my fundraising pot for Beat."

As part of the 2.6 Challenge, another supporter, Sarah, sent 26 handwritten letters to people suffering from eating disorders.

And, very bravely, supporter Alisdair went “Bald for Beat”. Find out more about Alisdair’s adventure and his fiancé Charlotte’s moving story here below.

Bald4Beat
"This past year has floored me with how passionate our supporters have been...we simply couldn't have done it without them." - Emily, Community Fundraising Manager for Beat.

Christopher Eccleston presents Lifeline

In June 2020, Christopher Eccleston presented a BBC Lifeline Appeal to support the work we do for people affected by eating disorders. We are very grateful to Christopher for his inspiring support and to the BBC for helping raise awareness of our work. Watch the Lifeline Appeal video featuring some of our amazing Ambassadors here.

Digital transition

Our top priority this year was making sure we were there to support those that needed us, lockdown or no lockdown. From the get-go, we were thinking creatively about how we could adapt to the ‘new normal’. Our strategy was to go digital, fast.

We moved our phone lines to digital, so our Helpline advisers were able to keep answering calls from home. And we recruited nearly 100 digital volunteers.

We also moved all our training courses online, which meant for the first time, people could join in no matter where they were in the country. And we launched a virtual Eating Disorders Awareness Week, creating a Digital Toolkit to help our supporters spread the word and raise funds even from home.

Our digital transition has helped us reach more people and provide more support than ever before. Plus, our horizons have expanded: at our first virtual Eating Disorders International Conference in 2021, delegates tuned in from a remarkable 18 countries.

All of this was only possible because of the amazing support of our donors and the outstanding dedication of our staff and volunteers. Your contributions have helped us soar past our targets as we strive to end the pain and suffering caused by eating disorders.

"I’m really proud of how we were able to seamlessly transition from office to remote working, ensuring we were there for our beneficiaries, at a time when they needed us more than ever. We didn’t miss a beat." - Caroline, Director of Services at Beat.
"Sometimes it feels like you’ll never get to the bottom of the queue and you worry about those waiting to get through that they may not get their turn." - Natalie, Digital Volunteer.

Hear more from Natalie, Digital Volunteer.

  • Nearly 100 Volunteers recruited to support the increase in demand for our webchat service
  • 100s supported our first virtual Eating Disorders Awareness Week
  • 320 delegates attended our first virtual Eating Disorders International Conference.

Expanding our support, delivering high quality services

In many parts of the country, treatment for eating disorders has been severely disrupted. Combined with the impact of lockdown, this meant that for many people affected by eating disorders, this year has been an extremely distressing and anxious time.

To help people stay on track with their recovery, we created new services and adapted existing ones to fit our new digital-first approach. We launched a range of specialist support, including coaching to help people waiting for eating disorders treatment start their recovery journey as early as possible. Through our online forums, we helped people connect with and support each other. This has been especially important for many people who’ve been separated from family and friends this year.

"For the first time, we’ve been able to provide more specialised support to people who typically wouldn’t be able to get support on the NHS, including carers." - Antonia, Services Manager for Beat.

We also increased the support options for friends and family members, who have often been lifelines for people with eating disorders while NHS services have been under pressure. We brought people together to share their experiences and learn how to better support their loved ones. Caring for loved ones during lockdown has been particularly tough for many people, so we have also helped them to take care of their own mental health, too.

"Looking after a child with an eating disorder is like being part of a dangerous, nasty and toxic club you never wanted membership of. It is all consuming. It is the first thing I think about when I wake up, and the last thing I think about at night before I go to sleep. I honestly do not know what we would have done without Beat…with Beat, you don’t have to sugar coat anything. You don’t have to put on a brave face, and smile, and pick your words carefully for fear of upsetting the person you are talking to. You can just tell them how things are for you. Because you are with people who understand what you are going through, who know what it’s like, and who can listen to you without any judgement and - probably most importantly – without fear." - Solace carer.
"They are there when no one else is there for you. You can call them when you are scared, when you are anxious, when you don’t know what to do and they will listen and give you practical and helpful advice…they get you to stop and think about the things that you can do to support yourself and keep yourself well while you’re going through this gruelling experience. I have absolutely no doubt our daughter would be so much worse now without Beat’s support." - Solace carer.

The impact of the pandemic has been devastating, and we have a long journey ahead of us to make our vision a reality. But if this year has shown us anything, it’s that with a little creativity and a lot of dedication, we can deliver life-changing support.

"We have had minimal contact with other medical professionals due to covid and staff overload shortages in the NHS services. Beat has been my lifeline." - Raising Resilience carer.
"My befriender has gone above and beyond my expectations and she just really seems to understand me." - ShareED Service user.
"Some weeks I felt like I could have walked out of my house, away from my family because I could no longer do this. After my call with my coach, I kept fighting and finding these little green shoots that she taught me to look out for." - Echo carer.
"I wished I had known about this service earlier in my daughter’s treatment. It’s been invaluable. A great source of wisdom and comfort. I would recommend it to everyone looking after someone with an eating disorder, as it’s a very lonely place at times." - Developing Dolphins carer.
"This organisation is a treasure trove of skilled facilitators with a wealth of experience and knowledge to share with any carer." - Raising Resilience carer.

Holly gives an account of her experience of our specialist coaching support programme, Bolster.

"Before the pandemic I had a bit more structure, but then that was removed. I found things harder in terms of eating. It was really difficult for me because I felt like my behaviour was bizarre, I felt like I was the only person who felt some of those things. That was tricky for my mental health."
Bolster Coach
  • 99% of Helpline callers would recommend Beat’s Helpline to a friend.
  • 98% of Helpline callers rated the information and support provided as good or excellent.
  • Our new services directly supported 80 people with eating disorders and 718 carers.
  • Since our new services launched in September, we’ve supported 100 carers a month.

Changing attitudes, challenging stigma

With so many people suffering this year, it has never been more important to change attitudes and challenge stigma around eating disorders. We influence change wherever we can, from launching eating disorders training for medical students to campaigning for public health messaging that respects the needs of people with eating disorders.

Now, we’re becoming a go-to voice for expertise on eating disorders. This is in large part thanks to our inspiring Campaigners and Ambassadors, who speak out and share their stories to influence and educate the media, medical professionals, policymakers and more.

#PublicHealthNotPublicShaming

In July, we launched our ‘Public Health Not Public Shaming’ campaign to challenge the Government’s obesity strategy, which was launched without regard to the harm it could cause to people with eating disorders.

We still have a lot of work to do, but we were pleased when Public Health England made changes to discourage people with eating disorders from using its weight loss app. We have also welcomed the commitment from the governments in England, Scotland and Wales to involve eating disorder experts when shaping healthy eating campaigns in future.

Public Health Not Public Shaming
"The Public Health Not Public Shaming campaign is so important, thank you so much for running it and taking a stand. As someone who's been in recovery for two years now, these campaigns always affect me and become another hurdle to overcome. I find it can be difficult to maintain weight in a world that's telling you to shrink." - Campaigner.
"Your Public Health Not Public Shaming campaign encouraging us to contact the Prime Minister was just the thing I needed to see today – a reminder that it's not me who is wrong." - Campaigner.

Nearly 1600 of our supporters wrote to the Prime Minister to raise concerns about the risk anti-obesity campaigns pose to people affected by eating disorders.

Medical student training

A lack of understanding of eating disorders among health professionals can prevent people from getting life-saving treatment at the earliest opportunity — which we know is the best way to help them make a full recovery.

To help address this shocking knowledge gap, we wrote a training package for medical schools and deaneries, with support from the Royal College of Psychiatrists Faculty of Eating Disorders, Health Education England and the General Medical Council. We are now encouraging all teaching institutions to ensure all students and junior doctors receive the training necessary to equip them with the knowledge they need to help people with eating disorders.

"The medical training was really useful, really increased my confidence surrounding talking to people who may present with an eating disorder. I saw a patient recently with an eating disorder and was able to use the skills learnt from this session!" – 4th year medical student.
"I thought it was incredibly valuable and a really important training programme to roll out. I would be very happy to promote this to my university." – 5th year medical student.
"I think that eating disorders are such an important (and often overlooked) topic that needs to be better incorporated into medical education. The ability to practice with the simulated patient and working as a group were both so helpful as it was so nice to get feedback." – 1st year foundation doctor.

Beat in the Media

Harmful stereotypes about eating disorders are constantly repeated across mainstream media. These stereotypes have serious real-world consequences. That’s why we’re thrilled that media outlets are approaching us to make sure they’re sending the right messages about eating disorders.

This year, producers for The Crown approached us for help in portraying Princess Diana’s experience of bulimia. We advised Netflix and Left Bank Pictures on how to create a sensitive portrayal of bulimia for TV, as well as how to protect people with eating disorders from distressing or triggering content.

We’re also pleased that Steph’s Packed Lunch approached us to help tell resident chef John Whaite’s story of his experience with bulimia. We know that for some men and boys, the false idea that eating disorders only affect women and girls makes it hard for them to get the help they deserve. That’s why we were happy to help create a short film in which John spoke candidly with another man who’s experienced an eating disorder – our Ambassador, Ben.

John and Ben’s interview for Steph’s Packed Lunch aired to a prime lunchtime audience of around 200,000 viewers. You can watch John and Ben’s inspiring conversation here.

#YouMightKnowMe

For Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2021, we focussed on raising awareness of binge eating disorder (BED). BED is a serious mental illness where people eat large quantities of food over short periods of time, and often experience distressing feelings of being out of control. More people live with BED than with anorexia or bulimia, yet not many know the signs of BED or how to get help.

Watch our campaign video, ‘You Might Know Me’, which we created to raise awareness of BED and read Amelie's recovery story here.

"I want to say how fantastic it is that you have chosen binge eating disorder to feature in this campaign. Myself and a few others I know suffer from binge eating and I feel like it’s often overlooked as an eating disorder. Thank you for raising awareness." - Beat supporter.
"I am all for support for all eating disorders because I have struggled with them for a long time but seeing awareness for binge eating disorder is so important to me, especially in a society that judges you on your size." - Beat supporter.
  • 32 MPs across a number of parties signed our Early Day Motion for Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2021, calling on the Government to ensure people with eating disorders get the treatment they need.
  • Our Eating Disorders Awareness Week Campaign video, #YouMightKnowMe, has been viewed over 1.3 million times to date.

Our campaigning work is made possible by the inspirational people who boldly speak out and share their stories. Find out more about how you can get involved.

Much needed support

Thanks to our amazing supporters, this year we’ve been able to support more people than ever before.

Total support sessions over the last five years:

Number of people supported over the last five years:

Number of calls answered in 2020/21 compared to 2019/20:

Number of webchats answered in 2020/21 compared to 2019/20:

  • Working throughout the Christmas period, our Helpline delivered 1606 support sessions between 24 Dec 2020 and 1 Jan 2021.
  • Over 10,000 volunteering hours given to delivering our support services.

The difference your support makes

Our support services make a real difference for people with eating disorders and their loved ones, giving them hope and guiding them towards recovery.

We are particularly grateful for the professional support of the Schoen Clinic, who kindly donated their time to provide clinical supervision to our amazing Helpline advisers.

  • 97% of Helpline callers know where to go for more help, support or treatment.
  • People who used the Bolster programme, our specialist coaching support for adults experiencing disordered eating behaviours, experienced a 36% decrease in severity of disordered eating behaviours and a 50% decrease in severity of depression.
  • Carers receiving our telephone support service, Nexus, experienced a 67% improvement in their own mental health.
  • Carers who attended our structured training programme, Raising Resilience, reported a 60% increase in their knowledge of eating disorders, and a 58% increase in confidence supporting their loved one.
  • Carers who attended our online peer-support group, Solace, experienced a 124% increase in self-efficacy, and a 140% increase in confidence that recovery is possible.
"Just wanted to say a big thank you to your Helpline team. I called a few weeks back, looking for help for my boy who’s ten...if it wasn't for you I'd still be floundering around hoping he'd grow out of it. So thank you very, very much for pointing me in the right direction." - Helpline Service user.
"I found it so useful and it has improved my relationship with food in ways I couldn't imagine it would." - Bolster Service user.
"The coach was excellent in reminding me of the resources I had and those techniques I could use. I feel more in control than before and able to manage things. Most importantly, I do not keep blaming myself when I make a mistake but see it as a learning opportunity. Thank you." - Nexus Service carer.
"I CANNOT believe such helpful, professional advice is free. Why didn’t I get in touch with Beat sooner?" - Raising Resilience Service carer.
"Over the weeks I have been attending I have built up a fantastic bond with the other parents in the group and the clinical facilitator is amazing. I look forward to Wednesday nights so much, they are my lifeline." - Solace Service carer.

The journey ahead

"Thank you to everyone at Beat, and your sponsors, for giving us hope that we can overcome this nightmare we have found ourselves in. I know that we will be able to do it because you are there to help and guide us at every step along the way."

We are so proud of the impact we’ve had this year. At the start of the pandemic, we weren’t sure what the future held for us. But thanks to our supporters, we’ve been able to adapt to an unpredictable and evolving environment and continue to help people affected by eating disorders all over the UK.

As lockdown restrictions start to ease and the long-term impact of the pandemic becomes more apparent, the road ahead is by no means clear. We could never have anticipated the events of the last year or the harm they would do to those we support, from longer waiting times as NHS services are prioritised elsewhere resulting in a lack of access to vital treatment, to people relapsing or developing an eating disorder for the very first time. The effect has been too great to allow a return to “normal”.

With demand for our services at an all-time high, it’s more critical than ever that we keep pursuing our mission, continuing to be there for people that need us and keeping up the fight for meaningful change.

Next year, we want to help even more people than we have helped this year. We want to ensure the governments in each part of the UK set ambitious targets and provide sufficient funding for eating disorders treatment. And we want to dramatically reduce the number of health professionals who are practicing without an adequate understanding of eating disorders.

But we can only do all of this with your help. We are committed to making a real difference for people affected by eating disorders, and no matter how difficult things get, we won’t stop working to end the pain and suffering caused by eating disorders.

A huge thank you

We would like to take this opportunity to thank every individual supporter, foundation, trust and company who gave generously this year to make our work possible. In particular, these include:

  • Anthony and Kate Smith
  • BBC Children in Need
  • City Bridge Trust
  • Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
  • Department of Social Care
  • Ella Deighton
  • The Eastbury Cedar Trust
  • The Former EMS
  • The Fuller Endowment Fund
  • Garfield Weston Foundation
  • The Health Foundation
  • John Armitage Charitable Trust
  • The John Ellerman Foundation
  • The Leathersellers' Company Charitable Fund
  • The London Community Response Fund
  • The Mazars Charitable Trust
  • The National Lottery Community Fund
  • Oak Foundation
  • Orri
  • P F Charitable Trust
  • PHJ Wills Charitable Trust
  • The Scottish Government
  • Schoen Clinic
  • Sir Halley Stewart Trust
  • Stichting Vogelgezang Foundation
  • Stone Family Foundation
  • Terra Firmer
  • The Upstart Foundation
  • The Welsh Government

We’d like to give a special thank you to Beat Ambassador, Abi Steadman, who helped us to put this report together.

Stay in touch

beateatingdisorders.org.uk

comms@beateatingdisorders.org.uk

Unit 1 Chalk Hill House, 19 Rosary Road, Norwich. Norfolk. NR1 1SZ.

Beat (formerly Eating Disorders Association) is a registered charity in England and Wales (no 801343) and Scotland (SC039309). Company limited by guarantee no 2368495.