Why I interrupted my television show to talk about anorexia (2023)

For nearly 30 years he has been the face of Saturday football TV, delivering the scores and on-pitch drama with characteristic composure.

But last week Jeff Stelling halted pre-match discussion in Sky Sports’s Soccer Saturday to make a tearful impromptu speech about eating disorders, excoriating the government’s lack of awareness and funding as a “national disgrace”.

A clip of his speech went viral and Stelling, 68, says he thinks it was the most important thing he has done in his career. He had “no idea” about eating disorders until the daughter of a family friend developed anorexia about five years ago. Stelling felt compelled to speak after seeing how “unbelievably destructive” the disease was. “I’ve seen the destructiveness of it not just for the people suffering the eating disorders but also for the family unit,” he said.

His friend’s daughter was admitted to hospital and later a mental health unit and was sectioned. “Her attitude was, ‘I want to be the thinnest person in the world’, and when told that that might kill her she said, ‘I don’t care. I’d rather die than not be thinner. I need to be the thinnest person in the world’.”

Stelling added: “The longer these things are left untreated, the deeper into that mental morass these kids go. They lack any sort of insight, they lose touch with reality, their mental health is such that they’re just in a terrible, terrible place.”

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He visited a private eating disorder unit, which he found “harrowing”. “Look, this is going to sound a terrible exaggeration but it’s not, I’ve seen pictures at the end of World War Two of the prison camps and emaciated prisoners, and I’ve also seen young teenage girls in that condition at an eating disorder centre,” he said.

“If Rishi Sunak was to go to one of these units his heart would bleed. I’ve seen this in action, and the lack of awareness, the lack of specialist treatment, the lack of centres, and the lack of funding, just makes the problem of epidemic size really.”

Stelling made his comments after Soccer Saturday aired a discussion fronted by the reporter Abigail Davies, who has had anorexia, and including the former player Paul Merson and a consultant psychiatrist at the Priory hospital in Roehampton, southwest London.

In it Davies said that, at the height of her illness, she had planned her own funeral. Last week, she said she had cried when she watched Stelling’s speech.

(Video) An eating disorder took her life and changed her family’s world


Addressing the camera for a minute and a half, he said: “This is a difficult topic . . . I’ve got to be careful to get it right. More people die from eating disorders every year than any other mental illness. The government’s lack of awareness and funding is a national disgrace. They decided to put calories, for goodness sake, on people’s menus.

“The cycle goes like this. Boy, girl, woman, man, goes for help, they are told they are not thin enough, they are not underweight enough to need treatment. They go away, they lose more weight, they go further and deeper into the mental morass that they’re in. They have suicidal tendencies. They are then told, ‘You are now too thin to be treated’ and are offered palliative care for God’s sake. So we’re not going to help you but we will try and ensure you die comfortably. It’s 2023. Eating disorders are being swept under the carpet. No one should be dying of an eating disorder in 2023. Those with eating disorders need action and help and they need it now.”

Stelling presented his final Soccer Saturday show this weekend and will be taking a break before moving on to new projects. “I’m fortunate to have the platform to be able to do that and I was also aware that I’m not going to have that platform after [today],” he said.

Stelling, who has three grown-up children, said he had seen how critical early intervention was. “My friend’s child was dispatched urgently to a hospital. She had a heart rate of 31; most people’s sleeping heart rate is higher than that, so she was literally starving herself to death.” He said a consultant psychiatrist came to see her while she was eating. She promised him she would keep doing so when she went home and was discharged that day.

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“It was so naive because people who have got eating disorders will find any way to deceive . . . I’m not trying to condemn people by saying that, but they’ll hide their food, pretend they’ve eaten when they haven’t and mislead. To be able to hoodwink the hospital psychiatrist because he clearly doesn’t specialise in this and to be out of hospital the day after you’ve gone in is just incredible.”

Stelling added: “You still get people who say, ‘For God’s sake, give them a square meal’ and if I hear that ever again I’d probably be violent, because it’s much more complex than that.”

About 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder, according to the charity Beat, with anorexia having the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, caused by medical complications associated with the illness as well as suicide. There was a surge in cases during the pandemic. The charity provided 300 per cent more support sessions via its helpline and online in 2021-22 compared with pre-pandemic levels.

Beat has campaigned for every medical school to provide proper eating disorder training after a survey found 69 per cent of sufferers felt their GP did not know how to help them. On average GPs have received fewer than two hours’ training on eating disorders during their medical degree and a fifth of UK medical schools provide no training on them at all.

(Video) Why are eating disorders so hard to treat? - Anees Bahji

Beat runs sessions for GP, medical students and other healthcare professionals and has called for training to include how to spot that someone has an eating disorder, awareness of common comorbidities and the importance of early intervention.

Recalling the impact of Stelling’s words, Davies, 31, said: “I just burst into tears because it meant absolutely everything to me. Jeff Stelling is someone who I’ve looked up to for many years. He is a titan of our industry and to have him eloquently and passionately support a cause so close to my heart. It just elevates him even further for me. He has given a voice and a platform to an illness that is so often dismissed and failed.

“I hope people are shocked by it and I hope they are outraged, but I also hope people are encouraged and inspired as I have been by Jeff’s words to do more to get the changes required. I just hope it gives courage to those who are suffering that we’re not giving up on them and we are going to fight.”


Stelling said: “The reaction has been just astonishing. I’m trying to think in my life of anything that I’ve done that’s had more impact, and I can’t think of anything, so I’m really glad that I’ve done it. The response makes me feel that, actually, I should have done something much sooner.”

(Video) Anorexia's Childhood Roots (CBS News)

Tom Quinn, of Beat, said: “Beat has developed medical school training with Health Education England and the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Faculty of Eating Disorders. It’s designed to help medical students and foundation doctors to understand and support patients with an eating disorder, including e-learning modules and three hours of taught sessions. During Beat’s eating disorders awareness week campaign in 2022, over 1,000 people contacted decision-makers to call for more medical school training, and many schools are in the process of implementing or expanding their training.”

Quinn added: “We know that it can feel incredibly upsetting and isolating to support a loved one with an eating disorder. To help carers, Beat provides a free online platform called POD which helps people to guide their loved one towards recovery, access practical guidance and understand more about eating disorders. People can’t pour from an empty cup, and Beat also helps carers to support their own mental health.”


What do people with anorexia have the fear of answer? ›

Anorexia (an-o-REK-see-uh) nervosa — often simply called anorexia — is an eating disorder characterized by an abnormally low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of weight.

Is an ED a coping mechanism? ›

Understanding that an eating disorder is a person's coping mechanism helps those around the person to realise how frightening and difficult it is for the person to let it go as they recover.

What can people do to cope with anorexia? ›

  • Get a journal where you can write your feelings throughout the day.
  • Grow your support system. ...
  • Start calling safe people. ...
  • If you live with someone, plan a discussion about your needs. ...
  • Get a list of feelings if you have difficulty identifying your experience. ...
  • Notice meal times and content.

Why is it important to talk about eating disorders? ›

Eating disorder awareness is vital because it can help people realize that treatment makes anything possible. With the proper support, those struggling with an eating disorder have the potential to recover and build a life where individuals talk openly about their experiences without judgment or stigma.

What feelings does a person with anorexia have? ›

The psychological problems that people can experience include: negative thinking, low self-esteem, perfectionism and obsessions. Despite the difficulties eating disorders cause, it can be difficult for someone to want to get better. People can feel that obsessive behaviour, for example, helps them to cope with anxiety.

What do anorexics suffer from? ›

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder and a serious mental illness. A person with anorexia nervosa restricts their energy intake, has a distorted body image and an intense fear of gaining weight.

What are the behaviors of Ed? ›

Symptoms of students with Emotional Disturbances:
  • Learning difficulties.
  • Difficulties to focus or concentrate.
  • Inability to build or maintain interpersonal relationships.
  • Inappropriate types of behavior.
  • Pervasive mood of unhappiness.
  • Depression.
  • Physical Symptoms of fears associated with personal or school problems.

What are the 4 types of coping mechanisms? ›

Coping Styles
  • Problem-Focused Coping.
  • Emotion-Focused Coping.
  • Adaptive Coping Mechanisms.
  • Maladaptive Coping Mechanisms.
Oct 18, 2022

What counts as disordered eating? ›

Disordered eating may include restrictive eating, compulsive eating, or irregular or inflexible eating patterns. Dieting is one of the most common forms of disordered eating. Other behaviours that may be present in a person engaging in disordered eating include: • Fasting. • Binge eating.

What not to say to people who have anorexia? ›

When supporting someone with an eating disorder, here are some things you'll want to avoid saying to them:
  • 1. “ I think you look fine” ...
  • “You look great—did you gain/lose weight?” ...
  • “You aren't underweight.” ...
  • “You don't look anorexic.” ...
  • “You look healthy.” ...
  • “You just need to eat more.” ...
  • “You just need to eat less.” ...
  • 8. “
Jul 22, 2022

What is the most difficult part of treatment for anorexia? ›

The biggest challenge in treating anorexia is helping the person recognize and accept that they have an illness. Many people with anorexia deny that they have an eating disorder. They often seek medical treatment only when their condition is serious or life-threatening.

What is the first step in treating anorexia? ›

The first goal of treatment is getting back to a healthy weight. You can't recover from anorexia without returning to a healthy weight and learning proper nutrition. Those involved in this process may include: Your primary care doctor, who can provide medical care and supervise your calorie needs and weight gain.

Do people with eating disorders know they have them? ›

Anorexia is usually not quickly diagnosed because people with the eating disorder don't typically know they're experiencing it, so they may not ask for help ( 3 ).

What plays the largest role in eating disorders? ›

Family history. Eating disorders are more likely to occur in people who have parents or siblings who've had an eating disorder. Other mental health issues. Trauma, anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other mental health issues can increase the likelihood of an eating disorder.

What happens to your mind when you have an eating disorder? ›

A shrinking in the overall size of the brain, including both gray and white matter. An adverse effect on the emotional centers of the brain may lead to depression, irritability, and isolation. Difficulty thinking, switching tasks, and setting priorities.

What are two emotional consequences of anorexia? ›

Psychological symptoms of anorexia nervosa

rules about dieting, body shape and weight. irritability around meal times. depression and anxiety. slowed thinking and decreased ability to concentrate.

How long does anorexia last? ›

How long does anorexia last? In about 50% of people diagnosed with anorexia, the condition can last for 5 years or more. Recovery is a gradual process and can take years. For some, treatment for anorexia can be lifelong.

What is anorexia nervosa an obsession with? ›

In both anorexia and bulimia the individual clearly becomes preoccupied by incessant thoughts revolving around body image, weight gain, and food intake, leading to ritualistic methods of eating dieting and exercising.

What is the lowest weight for anorexia? ›

There are also different tiers of anorexia based on BMI ranging from mild (<17.5), moderate (16-16.99), and severe (15-15.99), to extreme (<15). A BMI below 13.5 can lead to organ failure, while a BMI below 12 can be life-threatening.

What are overlooked signs of anorexia? ›

Fatigue and Lack of Motivation

Compulsive exercise, a frequent sign of anorexic behavior, makes this fatigue even worse. It's common for people with advanced cases to experience blackouts, fainting, or seizures. Eventually, the body begins to burn away muscle to keep functioning, which weakens the individual even more.

What are 4 problems that can occur due to anorexia nervosa? ›

Over time, anorexia nervosa can lead to numerous serious health consequences, including:
  • Thinning of the bones (osteopenia or osteoporosis)
  • Mild anemia.
  • Muscle wasting and weakness.
  • Brittle hair and nails.
  • Dry and yellowish skin.
  • Growth of fine hair all over the body (lanugo)
  • Severe constipation.
  • Low blood pressure.

What is ED emotional? ›

Definition of Emotional Disturbance

“…a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child's educational performance: An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.

What is ED in autism? ›

Using the term “educational autism” appears to refer to the rare child who meets the educational classification of autism but does not meet the diagnostic criteria for an autism spectrum disorder (or has not been evaluated by a person qualified to make a diagnosis).

What are 3 good coping mechanisms? ›

Take care of your body.
  • Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate.
  • Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol, tobacco, and substance use.

What is the most used coping mechanism? ›

Among the more commonly used adaptive coping mechanisms are: Support: Talking about a stressful event with a supportive person can be an effective way to manage stress.

What are the three 3 basic coping strategies? ›

What are some common coping strategies?
  • Lower your expectations.
  • Ask others to help or assist you.
  • Take responsibility for the situation.
  • Engage in problem solving.
  • Maintain emotionally supportive relationships.
  • Maintain emotional composure or, alternatively, expressing distressing emotions.
Nov 24, 2020

What are three signs symptoms of disordered eating? ›

If you or a loved one need support, you can reach our team here.
  • Obsessive thoughts about food, eating, or weight. ...
  • Struggling to eat in front of others. ...
  • Developing rigid rituals or rules around eating. ...
  • Body dissatisfaction that interferes with daily activities. ...
  • Eliminating food groups or experimenting with diets.

Which is the most serious health risk from anorexia nervosa? ›

Typically, heart disease is the major cause of death in people with severe anorexia nervosa. One of the most common negative effects of anorexia is Bradycardia.

Do I have atypical anorexia? ›

Atypical Anorexia Symptoms

An intense fear of gaining weight or fear of being in a larger body. A drive to change one's weight, body size or shape, at any cost. Dissatisfaction with one's body size, shape or appearance, a distorted body image or body dysmorphic disorder. Low self-esteem, mood swings, anxiety or ...

What are common excuses anorexics use? ›

They may avoid eating with the family, using excuses like “I'm not very hungry” or “I just ate” as ways to assure you that everything is fine.

How do you cheer someone with eating disorder? ›

5 Things to Say When Someone Has an Eating Disorder:
  1. “I know this is difficult, but I am proud of you.” ...
  2. “You are worth more than your eating disorder.” ...
  3. “I might not understand, but if you need someone to talk to I will help as much as I can.” ...
  4. “Let's do ____ together.” ...
  5. “I trust/believe you.”

Is it hard to get out of anorexia? ›

Anorexia is not something you can overcome easily or on your own, always seek professional help. The first step toward recovery is to set up a treatment plan with your doctor. And even if you're already seeing a specialist, there are still many things you can do to help yourself.

What organs fail with anorexia? ›

Anorexia nervosa complications can occur due to every organ in the body is negatively affected by this disorder secondary to severe malnutrition. Malnutrition leads to electrolyte imbalances and loss of fluid in the body resulting in vital organ failure affecting the heart, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, and brain.

Who experiences anorexia the most? ›

Anorexia is more common among girls and women than boys and men. Anorexia is also more common among girls and younger women than older women. On average, girls develop anorexia at 16 or 17. Teen girls between 13 and 19 and young women in their early 20s are most at risk.

What are three long terms of anorexia? ›

The three long-term affects of anorexia are hormone and growth problems, heart problems, and neurological problems.

When does anorexia kick in? ›

They often have a distorted image of their bodies, thinking they're fat even when they're underweight. Men and women of any age can get anorexia, but it's most common in young women and typically starts in the mid-teens.

What is the reverse of anorexia? ›

In muscle dysmorphia, which is sometimes called "bigorexia", "megarexia", or "reverse anorexia", the delusional or exaggerated belief is that one's own body is too small, too skinny, insufficiently muscular, or insufficiently lean, although in most cases, the individual's build is normal or even exceptionally large and ...

How did my anorexia start? ›

The exact causes of anorexia nervosa are unknown. However, the condition sometimes runs in families; young women with a parent or sibling with an eating disorder are likelier to develop one themselves. Then there are psychological, environmental, and social factors that may contribute to the development of anorexia.

What is the full name for anorexia? ›

Anorexia nervosa, also known as just anorexia, is an eating disorder. This disorder makes you obsess about your weight and food. If you have this problem, you may have a warped body image.

Can you have anorexia and not be thin? ›

There's a type of anorexia nervosa that's often not noticed because the patient doesn't look very thin. It's called atypical anorexia nervosa. The patient, usually a young woman, has all the symptoms of anorexia except that she's not underweight.

Can someone have anorexia and not know? ›

It may be difficult to notice signs and symptoms because what is considered a low body weight is different for each person, and some individuals may not appear extremely thin. Also, people with anorexia often disguise their thinness, eating habits or physical problems.

Which personality trait is most commonly associated with eating disorders? ›

Personality traits commonly associated with eating disorder (ED) are high perfectionism, impulsivity, harm avoidance, reward dependence, sensation seeking, neuroticism, and obsessive-compulsiveness in combination with low self-directedness, assertiveness, and cooperativeness [8-11].

Which eating disorder is the most severe? ›

Anorexia has the highest mortality of any psychiatric diagnosis other than opioid use disorder and can be a very serious condition. Body mass index or BMI, a measure of weight for height, is typically under 18.5 in an adult individual with anorexia nervosa.

Who is most likely to have an eating disorder? ›

Eating disorders can occur in individuals of any age from children to older adults. However, studies show a peak in the occurrence of eating disorders during adolescence and early adulthood. Therefore, teenage girls and young women have the highest risk factor for developing eating disorders based on age.

What thoughts do people with anorexia have? ›

Someone with anorexia often has an intense fear of gaining weight and may have a distorted view of their body, thinking they're fat even when they're underweight. People often think anorexia is about dieting, but it's more complicated than that.

Does the brain recover from anorexia? ›

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a disorder of undereating, and results in profound nutritional depletion. Weight loss and nutrient deficits affect every organ in the body. While most of these changes are largely reversible, the brain can suffer permanent damage if AN persists without treatment.

How does anorexia affect the hair? ›

When a person's body is malnourished through anorexia, the body's protein stores are depleted. When this occurs, the body prioritizes protein for essential functions, and away from hair growth, leading to stalled growth, and weak and brittle hair.

What are people with anorexia nervosa most afraid of? ›

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that causes a severe and strong fear of gaining weight. You may have a distorted view that you are fat even when you are dangerously thin. You may use extreme exercise, calorie and food limitations, or binging and purging to control your weight.

Is anorexia nervosa an irrational fear? ›

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a serious mental illness, characterized in part by intense and irrational beliefs about shape and weight, including fear of gaining weight.

How does anorexia affect thoughts? ›

Distorted Self Perceptions

Many people with eating disorders experience a distorted sense of self. For example, they are often unable to see themselves accurately in photographs and mirrors. They may also have a hard time evaluating how they think and feel at any given time.

Which personality trait is most strongly linked to anorexia nervosa? ›

People who suffer from anorexia nervosa tend to have high levels of harm avoidance, a personality trait characterized by worrying, pessimism, and shyness, and low levels of novelty seeking, which includes impulsivity and preferring new or novel things (Fassino et al., 2002).

What personality type is most likely to have anorexia? ›

Personality traits such as neuroticism (emotional stability), obsessiveness, and perfectionism play a large role in facilitating some eating disorders, particularly anorexia and bulimia.

Who is most likely to become anorexic? ›

Anorexia is more common among girls and women than boys and men. Anorexia is also more common among girls and younger women than older women. On average, girls develop anorexia at 16 or 17. Teen girls between 13 and 19 and young women in their early 20s are most at risk.

Are people with anorexia delusional? ›

anorexia nervosa (AN) may hold beliefs pertaining to food, body image, and appearance that are delusional in nature. The present study extended this research through qualitatively exploring beliefs held by AN patients and the consequences of holding such beliefs.

What is reverse anorexia? ›

In muscle dysmorphia, which is sometimes called "bigorexia", "megarexia", or "reverse anorexia", the delusional or exaggerated belief is that one's own body is too small, too skinny, insufficiently muscular, or insufficiently lean, although in most cases, the individual's build is normal or even exceptionally large and ...

Is anorexia a form of schizophrenia? ›

An eating disorder may develop as a secondary condition to schizophrenia. And in some cases, a person with anorexia will develop psychotic symptoms but doesn't necessarily have schizophrenia.

How does anorexia affect intelligence? ›

This review established that people with anorexia nervosa score 10.8 units and 5.9 units above the average intelligence quotient of the normative population on the National Adult Reading Test and Wechsler Intelligence Scales, respectively.

Does anorexia make you see yourself differently? ›

Individuals who struggle with eating disorders, particularly anorexia nervosa, can have challenges with the perception of their bodies when they look in the mirror or see pictures of their own images. They not only feel negatively about themselves but can also struggle to perceive their bodies accurately.

Will my brain recover from anorexia? ›

The good news is that these structural changes can be reversed. Research has shown that, on average, 43 percent of lost grey matter is regained after 4 months of weight restoration from AN, with most white matter restored during this time. Brain matter increases have also been found in people recovered from BN.

What motivates anorexics? ›

Anorexia is driven by an extreme desire for self-control, power, and sense of personal achievement - all of which are types of intrinsic motivation.

Which personality characteristic do individuals with anorexia often show? ›

Individuals with anorexia nervosa are known to have high levels of harm avoidance, a personality trait that is characterized by worry, pessimistic thinking, doubt, and shyness.

What is a common psychological cause of anorexia nervosa? ›

Peer pressure, preoccupation with slenderness and beauty, gaining autonomy, identity conflicts, and the slippery slope of weight loss are plausible social factors many experts believe contribute to anorexia nervosa.


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