Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Helen's story

Mum-of-two Helen Hunt shares her experiences of anorexia and recovery to help other parents with eating disorders.

Staff at Connect: The West Yorkshire Adult Eating Disorder Service wanted to do more during the pandemic to make sure that no-one was left facing an eating disorder alone. So, in addition to their usual services, they started a series of Instagram Live ‘Connect Conversations’ and an online support group, the ‘Hub’, to help reach out virtually to those in need of support. Nearly a year on, and to mark Eating Disorders Awareness Week, we’ve been speaking to some of the inspirational people who’ve engaged with the service via these platforms.

Helen Hunt, 38, is from Huddersfield.

I can see that I’ve had anorexia for five years or more, but I think it was the end of 2018 when I realised something was wrong. I didn’t realise it was an eating disorder though.

I’d just had my son and I wanted to get back into shape, so I started exercising and cutting out foods, but it became quite ritualistic and my friends pointed out that I might have a problem. So I saw my GP and was referred to IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies). At the time, I thought I was experiencing anxiety, but as I got worse, I was diagnosed with anorexia.

I was referred to Connect and seen by the team, as well as receiving support from a Health Visitor as I have two children. But I wasn’t having any of it. I knew I wanted to fight anorexia, but it needed to be in my own time and at my own pace.

Unfortunately I kept deteriorating and it became a really dark time for me and my kids. I lost my connection with them and I wasn’t allowed to be left alone with them for their safety, in case I fell while I was with them. I also found myself projecting my eating disorder on to my daughter, and I knew that was toxic.

Then in 2019, on the day before my birthday, I became so poorly that I had to go into hospital for two weeks. After that I was referred to Connect’s inpatient services and spent six months there. When I was discharged, I received CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and 1-2-1 appointments in the community, and although I did have a relapse, I was discharged in September last year. When I first realised I had an eating disorder, I was quite naïve with it. I thought I’d go to hospital, do a recovery programme and then be fine. But I’ve learnt now that it doesn’t necessarily work like that. For me recovery is taking things one meal at a time and it’s not always a straight road.

Since being discharged, I’ve joined the Hub and I now go every week. I find it really beneficial and I’ve learnt so much about myself. It gives me a reason to stick to my plan and I’ve now started working with the service, as I’m determined to give something back. I’d particularly like to focus on working with parents with eating disorders as this is something that’s close to my heart. I feel very lucky that, as a mum, I’m now able to make up for lost time and it’s an absolute delight.

I also find the Connect Conversations on Instagram useful as they focus on some great themes. I can choose the ones that are relevant to me and find I often join the supported snack sessions. If I’m struggling with a snack, I know that there’s a Live that I can tune into and that really helps me. When the dietitians talk about food, it’s a reminder that all foods are fine. If I’m struggling with this, I find the Hub really helpful. After the sessions I feel I can breathe a bit and can go and have my dinner.

I’m lucky in that I’ve got a very good support network – an amazing husband, two kids that I’m very lucky to have, a great mum and dad, my sister, Catharine, and amazing in-laws. But despite all this you can still feel lonely with an eating disorder. At times you can feel like an alien or like you speak a different language. Sometimes, I’ll get comments like ‘don’t you like food’ or ‘but I’ve seen you eat before’, and ultimately it’s quite a difficult illness to explain. That’s why things like the Hub are so brilliant. You are with around 25 or so other people who are saying ‘I get it’. When I’m in the Hub group, or when I’m watching Connect on Instagram, I’m sitting there listening to somebody who’s been through a similar experience to me and I find it a really good reminder of what you can have if you carry on fighting.

I feel safe there, and I hope others do too.

How can I access this online support?

The online support being offered by Connect is currently available to anyone affected by an eating disorder.

Regular live chats are taking place on Instagram @connectlypft at around 10am and 4pm each weekday. Those unable to attend live, can watch these back via the service’s IGTV channel.

The Hub support group is currently running on Zoom. You can email for the joining details.

Anyone taking part in these opportunities for online support is asked to read and adhere to our patient agreement for social media use. This is to ensure that these remain safe spaces for everyone.