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Lib Dem Senedd candidate speaks out about eating disorder

01 Mar 2021 3 minute read
Oliver Townsend, Liberal Democrat Senedd candidate

A Liberal Democrat Senedd candidate has spoken out about what it’s like to have an eating disorder.

Oliver Townsend, 33, who is standing for the party in the constituency of Islwyn, wrote about his experience on the South Wales East Liberal Democrats website in order to highlight Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

Townsend, who has a decade of experience working for charities in social care, homelessness and mental health, said he would eat so much that the was in “physical agony” and would then “refuse to eat for a day”.

The candidate is asking for people to donate to the eating disorder charity, Beat, instead for donations towards his campaign.

He said he is speaking out on the issue because if his story helps someone like him, it would be “worth it”.

Townsend said: “Discussions around eating disorders often have a feeling of danger to them. In fact, this will be the first time I have ever put in words this thing I have grappled with.

“I have talked about ‘unhealthy eating’, or ‘difficult relationship with food’, and for people who know what that means, that’s probably enough. Other than when I came out as gay, this is one of the hardest things to write.

“I wasn’t really familiar with what eating disorders were when I was younger. I remember I found food comforting, it was homely, and often helped me calm down.”

‘Changed massively’ 

He added: “And whilst it was worrying at times, when I ate a lot, it was never really anything other than a quirk. I ate a lot, but it wasn’t too much in the scheme of things. When I went to university, that changed massively.

“I was absolutely, hideously lonely. It was at a time when relationships around me were changing and I felt the world moving faster than I was. I spent most of my time in my tiny room in halls, and I turned to food for comfort.

“I didn’t throw up, and so I never considered that it was a disorder – the word bulimia felt like a massive thing, something that didn’t apply to me. Spoiler: it didn’t. But I skirted the edges.

“I would have days where I ate so much I felt like I was in physical agony, ordering takeaways in quantities that others would order for parties.

“Then I would refuse to eat for a day. I was out of control. My money was vanishing faster than I could spend it, and even the part-time job I had wasn’t really enough to keep that going.

“Why am I being so open today? I’m a candidate standing during a pandemic. Do people want a candidate who talks so openly about how they had a terrible time, some years ago? Perhaps of all things, I don’t mind. People will vote how they vote, but if me sharing parts of my story help someone else like me, it will be worth it.

“Normally, a political candidate might ask for donations to their campaign, or to their party. I’m going to break with tradition, and ask that if you want to do something today, please donate to Beat, the eating disorder charity.”

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