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Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust supports staff during Men’s Health Week

This week, Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (EPUT) is supporting Men's Health Week, which is designed to give all boys and men access to information, services and treatment they need to live healthier, longer and more fulfilling lives.

Throughout the week, male colleagues at EPUT have been encouraged to take their Man MOT, and the Trust has put together self-care tips and advice that staff can access at any time. There has also been a Men’s Mental Health Awareness webinar, and a male service user who accessed EPUT’s Eating Disorders Service shared his experience.

Eating disorders account for around 9% of the total number of people with mental health conditions in the UK (Beat 2022). The 2019 Health Survey for England found that 16% of adults aged over 16 screened positive for a possible eating disorder with 11% of those affected being male, according to The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) .

EPUT’s Eating Disorders Service is a specialist service designed to assess and treat moderate to severe eating disorders. It primarily helps people who are suffering with Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa and variations of these eating disorders.

The team offers intensive day treatment services and specialist assessment, evidence based psychological therapies and therapy groups. It also offers Eating Disorders Intensive Community Treatment and FREED (First Response Early intervention in Eating Disorders), a pathway which ensures those 18-25 with a first presentation of an eating disorder which has been present for less than three years, will be contacted within 48 hours of referral, assessed within two weeks and will have started treatment within four weeks.

To mark Men’s Health Week, service user Matthew opened up about his experience of accessing EPUT’s Eating Disorders Service, and talked openly about his condition and hopes for the future.

Matthew’s story:

I’ve always been an active and sporty person throughout my entire life, incorporating an exceptionally clean and healthy diet, but when the COVID pandemic took hold in 2020, I began to use additional fitness as a strategy to fill my time.

I had previously been working five days a week in central London, with a stable job, family, and friends, but this meant I was commuting over two hours a day to and from the office.

Suddenly, I had two additional hours during my day, which I felt I needed to fill. I found that exercising and doing online HIIT workouts or, when the gym was open, visiting twice a day, all too easy. At the time, I thought this was fantastic as I was fitter than ever and certainly fitter than most of my friendship group.

However, when the world began opening up again, I began to receive frequent comments such as ‘you’ve lost weight’ and ‘you look thin’. Despite this, I continued to visit the gym twice a day with a return to the office environment looking and remaining unlikely. In my head, I was thinking ‘how can going to the gym be unhealthy?’ This soon changed when I noticed my performance in the gym deteriorating gradually.

What I didn’t appreciate at the time was that I was prioritising cardiovascular exercise as opposed to any form of weight and strength training. This was without increasing my food and body fuel intake, and continuing to maintain my ‘clean’ diet. Over a two-year period, I began to lose noticeable weight, and it was primarily in the build up to my wedding in December 2021 when my wife to be began questioning whether I ‘needed’ to visit the gym on certain days, that I knew there was a niggling feeling in my brain.

During the Christmas 2021 period, I got married, but I still couldn’t shake that niggling feeling, even on our wedding day and the days preceding and following the event. My desperation to go to the gym at 6am every day continued to take hold and, unless I satisfied that urge, I was physically and mentally unable to go for the meals out that followed later in the day.

Having not weighed myself in over five years, I bit the bullet whilst away after the wedding and spent the rest of the evening crying. As a 30-year-old male, I weighed less than I ever had, and I knew my weight was dangerously low. Something had to change and not just my approach to exercise.

The following morning, I phoned my GP and was immediately offered an appointment and accepted for treatment with the Eating Disorders Service.

This process is by no means complete for me and in fact, I am only six months in, but I am already appreciating that there is no such thing as a ‘healthy and clean’ diet. All food is fuel, particularly when you are exceptionally active and sporty.

Gradually, over the last few months I have begun to realise that I need to eat a balanced diet, including fats, sugars and all of the foods that are continually drummed into your brain by society as being ‘unhealthy’. It’s all about balancing your food groups and exercise levels.

The services provided by the Eating Disorders clinic have given me a platform to understand this, starting with the Beginning Change group, which allowed me to explore my thoughts around food and why my diet and over-exercise was so controlling. This enabled me to view food with a different mind-set and allow myself a ‘treat’ now and then, to relax my strict rules, and to begin my road to recovery and building a healthy weight.

I have recently started the Maudsley Model of Anorexia Nervosa Treatment in Adults (MANTRA) therapy group, exploring my thinking styles, including why I view my safe space as the gym or by coping with my difficulties by eating ‘healthily’. The course will no doubt challenge me and I am under no illusions that this will not be the case, but even from the first month of sessions, I have made progress in my mind-set and most importantly, now have a stable and improving weight.

This will be a long process with ups and downs along the way, but without the support of the Eating Disorder team to this point, and the programmes in place to help me, I would not have made the changes I have recently achieved.

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