Why don’t you just stop?: living with Australia’s most common eating disorder

27 Feb, 2022

Research lead Dr Jane Miskovic-Wheatley and PhD researcher Sarah Barakat speak with The Guardian about binge eating disorder (BED) and InsideOut's nationwide survey on the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on people with eating disorder symptoms.

“Binge eating is often unrecognised because we can’t say how people may look,” says Dr Jane Miskovic-Wheatley, the research stream lead at the InsideOut Institute at the University of Sydney.

A survey by the InsideOut Institute released last month revealed an escalation in eating disorder symptoms during the first major Covid wave in Australia and a widespread failure to access treatment.

66% of respondents reported an increase in binge eating compared with before the pandemic. Other disordered eating behaviours increased starkly too, with 74% of participants reporting increased food restriction.

“The biggest element of the pandemic that had a negative impact on people with lived experience of eating disorders was a change in daily routine,” says Miskovic-Wheatley, who led the study. That included not being able to engage with their family and friends, maintain a balanced lifestyle and access medical care.

During the past two years, psychotherapists have been inundated with requests from past and new patients. Waiting times for an appointment have protracted up to 12 months. “Such long lists can be quite off-putting for many people,” says psychologist and PhD student at the InsideOut Institute Sarah Barakat.

Barakat says there are three main barriers people with BED face in accessing treatment.

The most significant is cost. From November 2019, people with eating disorders can access up to 40 psychological sessions with a mental health provider and up to 20 sessions with a dietitian every calendar year with a referral from their GP.