Once upon a time, we had the kind of phone call a parent dreads: “Your daughter is in hospital – she is alive, but she is seriously ill.” We thought our girl was having a lovely holiday in America. What she was actually doing was throwing up her food 25 times a day, because she had developed bulimia. She had depleted her body of nutrients, especially potassium, so much, that she should have been dead. Without the quick action of her Christian nurse friend, she would have been. My husband travelled to get her, and we then fell headlong into the ghastly world of eating disorders, which is hell on earth for both sufferers and families.
We discovered that there are an estimated 4 million people like our daughter in the UK, with all sorts of eating disorders; and that few seemed to understand the issues. We also discovered that the NHS had limited funding, and rightly, had to prioritise a small percentage of sufferers – those who are seriously ill. Without our friend Jean, who had been through eating disorders with her daughters, I don’t know what we would have done.
When our church in Southampton asked us all, “What has God put on your heart to do for him?” Jean and I looked at each other and decided we had to do something about what we were experiencing. We wrote a community course that is open to all sufferers, their friends and family, with the focus on recovery. The Tastelife course is based on Christian values, but open to people of all faiths and none. It gives people the tools to understand what’s happening to them, and how to take tiny steps towards freedom. We have been so encouraged to hear that those who come really appreciate the support, compassion, stories of recovery and skills for life – and they make measurable progress.
Tastelife UK is now a registered charity and we are training volunteers to run the course around the country and online. The School of Health Sciences at the University of Brighton has accredited our material and training. Many of our volunteers are running courses with the support of their churches.
This Saturday 21 Nov we have our first online conference – the Gathering. Because we want to change the eating disorder narrative in the UK forever, we are opening this conference to anyone interested – whether you want to know more about eating disorders, are struggling yourself or want to help others. Sadly, eating disorders have soared during the pandemic and we all have a part to play.