Celia Imrie health: Actress on her ‘ghastly experience’ – symptoms and how to get treated

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It was the brutality of a NHS nurse at Great Ormond Street hospital where Celia Imrie was taken back when she was 14 that acted as the wake up call the actress needed. At the time she was suffering from eating disorder- anorexia. Weighing a mere four stone she had to endure electroconvulsive therapy under psychiatrist William Sargant, to try and reverse the symptoms of the disorder.

The Calendar Girls actress was told she was “too big” to attend the Royal Ballet School which then sparked her complicated relationship with food.

Speaking on the Andy Jaye podcast she recalled a nurse telling her: “You do realise you are taking up the bed of a really sick child, don’t you?”

Imrie continued: “Now for me you see that was the best thing she could possibly have said because it was a real wake-up call… I’m not trying to dismiss it because it’s a very grim thing to go through but you have to understand, anybody that’s suffering from anorexia, that you got yourself there and you truly are the only person that can get yourself out of it.

“There are some people who are very badly ill. It’s one of those things that you can cure yourself but only you can. And I would urge anybody to understand that.”

Such words of praise are not attributed to Dr Sargant who she described in an interview with The Mail on Sunday’s You magazine as having the “face of a devil.”

Managing to eat regularly again in her early teens, she comments: “I’m very proud that I am able to live to tell the tale that all is well”.

However the grim experience has had lasting effects on the actress’s mental health.

“It goes on and on. I mean, I pretend it doesn’t but it sort of does. You just live with it.” Imrie admits.

“The sadness to me is if I see a girl in the street and it’s a very particular thinness – I would love to help them in some way.”

Types of eating disorder and treatments

According to statistics by the Priory Group, eating disorders including anorexia and bulimia have the highest mortality rate than any other mental health condition.

Between 1.25 and 3.4 million people are affected in some way with individuals aged between 16-40 most common.

The most common eating disorders include:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia
  • Binge eating disorder (BED)

All three include either eating too much or too little in order to cope with feelings concerning your weight and body shape or other situations that could cause anxiety.

Anorexia nervosa involves not eating enough food and exercising too much in order to control your weight. Bulimia is where an individual feels they are losing control over how much they eat so take drastic actions to avoid putting on weight and binge eating disorder sees individuals eat large portions of food until they feel uncomfortably full.

Over the course of the pandemic, eating disorder charity Beat have stated that many people have relapsed or developed an eating disorder.

During this time regular treatments and face to face doctor’s appointments have been cancelled, meaning those suffering with a disorder or those supporting someone who is, have had to adapt treatments.

They suggest meal planning and ensuring you eat three meals a day and three snacks per day in order to manage binge eating.

Beyond their relationship with food, it is crucial for individuals to communicate with others.

A lot of people feel scared or nervous admitting they might have a problem and it is crucial to listen and validate their feelings in order to help them recover.

Talking to a GP is also still important and individuals are encouraged to do this as soon as possible, even if this is a phone call appointment due to COVID-19 restrictions.

You can also call Beat’s adult helpline on 0808 801 0677 or youth helpline on 0808 801 0711.

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