From risk to resilience

16th October 2019

Around 1.25 million people in the UK are suffering from eating disorders. 1.25 million. And, while the deterioration of the stigma surrounding mental health has led it to become less of a taboo subject, the numbers still seem to be rising every year. To help the younger generations understand and defeat the growth of this disorder, Nick Pollard came into Brampton to discuss the issue; in particular, his daughter Elizabeth who suffered from anorexia nervosa for the majority of her teenage years.

The talk, titled From risk to resilience, begun with the heart-breaking story that outlined Elizabeth’s journey with anorexia. It became apparent that it had completely consumed her teenage years – being an inpatient in hospitals and homes dragged her away from school and socialising. She became completely defined by her disorder; shut out from life and confined within a constant internal turmoil which forced her into a state of guilt every time she ate. Her dad, Nick Pollard, spoke to us about the draining process and how it affected her and the family. He explained that at first, her disorder wasn’t properly understood by him – the mental consequences of eating were not apparent and he thought of Elizabeth as more self-obsessed rather than mentally ill. Only after she had recovered was she able to explain that she didn’t want to be confined by her relationship with food, but almost trapped as the disorder completely took over her way of thinking. Nick outlined that understanding this is extremely important when learning about mental health, as it highlights that it shouldn’t be ignored or left with the person to deal with. Elizabeth’s book about anorexia focuses on fighting the growing amount of people it affects, and helping those who don’t have it understand that the world of mental health revolves around us.

Nick also described the signs which can help identify that a friend or family member may be struggling with an eating disorder. One is that someone may isolate themselves from social interaction if it involves food – this may mean cancelling continuously if meeting up for lunch or dinner, or even finding new excuses to not eat. Something that Elizabeth was said to do is finding excuses not to go to the ice cream van during lunch (which is what her and her friends always did out of tradition). Another thing that may seem obvious but is sometimes looked over is physical appearance. Someone may have lost a lot of weight, or may just be wearing larger and baggier clothes in order to cover up how they look. They may appear more tired and drained, or even their mood could have transformed. Looking out for these small details, says Nick, could help a close one much more than you can imagine. Elizabeth is said to wish that her friends had noticed the signs, because it could have saved her from the years she felt she had wasted on the disease

A question that is generally asked is why eating disorders have become more prominent in today’s society. While there are many factors that would contribute to something as complex as mental health, a large contender is the increased influence of social media. The ideal body type presented in the media, and certainly in the world of fashion, is extremely thin. The constant image of this body type seen on social media has caused it to become seen as ‘normal’ and ‘what someone should look like’. Emphasis on the importance of how someone physically looks causes, for many, subconscious reminders that they ‘shouldn’t eat that’ or ‘shouldn’t wear that’ so that they match the ideal image that they see on their phones. This generally leads to being self-conscious and obsessed with their appearance, so much so that the idea of losing weight becomes more appealing. That is not to say that social media is forcing children into life threatening mental health disorders, but it is an undeniable factor that is causing the increase in these illnesses.

Nick Pollard’s visit to Brampton, as part of a series of Inspire talks for students, did bring more awareness around the subject of mental health and eating disorders. Hopefully the influence that he had on many at school can effect more people, so they too can work towards bringing more attention to the issue and understanding why it has become such a big issue today.


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