Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Olivia's story

Olivia has found online eating disorder support invaluable during the pandemic, and hopes others can benefit from it too.

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.

Olivia (not pictured) 23, is from Bradford.

I was diagnosed with anorexia at the start of 2017, but I’d been struggling with it for a while before that.

When I was first diagnosed, I received treatment in Leeds and was travelling in from my home in Bradford each week. That was quite difficult and took up a lot of time, but it was something I did for a year, before I was discharged in 2018.

After that, I began to struggle again and after a slow decline I was referred to Connect in 2020. Unfortunately Covid had an impact and I initially felt disappointed that I wasn’t able to have the full experience, but that’s when I found the Hub.

I’d been watching the Connect Conversations on Instagram for a while before that and I found those really useful. It was like having a conversation with a professional without actually being in the service. It was a way to meet other people and know that you weren’t on your own. All these people share the same experiences and the support that comes from those conversations is invaluable.

I went to the Hub for the first time in April last year and I was sceptical at first. I’d never really taken part in an online group before, especially over video, so I was quite nervous but from the first session I felt welcome and the love and support I’d go on to receive was clear from the start. There were different facilitators each week and it’s been really helpful to have access to all those different views.

Since then, I’ve been to the Hub every week. Having openly accessible support like this is so valuable because criteria for accessing eating disorders services can be quite strict and it can be really disappointing if you don’t meet these criteria. So to find a place where you feel welcome, where you don’t even have to have a diagnosis, you just have to be facing struggles with food or your body, is amazing.

The Hub has been a big part of my recovery journey, and through it, I’ve met friends for life. It really is a lifeline for some people, particularly those who don’t meet the criteria for other support. It’s great to have something that everyone can access.

I know that recovery can be up and down. You can have good weeks and bad weeks, and weeks where you want to keep moving forward but feel like you’re going backwards. But when I go to the Hub I feel I can be completely honest. In that space you feel like you have people cheerleading for you and even when you’re struggling, it really helps you feel like you can keep on the path to recovery.

Likewise, when you’re doing well, it’s really nice because everyone is genuinely happy and proud of you. It’s definitely kept me moving forward, and you always feel like people are backing you.

Sometimes with an eating disorder you can feel like you’re on your own and like nobody understands you, but I want people to know that there is help out there.

You don’t have to fit in a specific box, or meet certain criteria, there is support available that anyone can access, and there are people out there who want to help. It’s a scary step to take, to admit you want to take back control of your life, but it’s one you won’t regret.

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.