This week marks Eating Disorder Awareness Week.
According to the UK’s leading eating disorder charity, Beat, eating disorders affect between 1.25 and 3.4 million people in the UK. An eating disorder is considered a mental health condition where a person uses food as a coping mechanism to help deal with feelings and other situations. Eating disorders can affect anybody at any time but typically are most common in teenagers between 13 and 17. Unhealthy eating behaviours may include eating too much or too little or worrying about weight or body shape.
Types of Eating Disorders
The most well-known eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. It is important to raise awareness of eating disorders because people can be diagnosed with an “other specified feeding or eating disorder”. This is not a less serious condition It just means that someone does not match the list of symptoms for doctors to give another diagnosis. This means that people can slip through the net when they need help most. At Learn with Unite, we run a CPD course that is geared towards improving awareness of eating disorders. To find out more, click here.
Effects on the Body
All eating disorders can take a long-term toll on one’s health if untreated or undiagnosed. People who have anorexia try to keep their weight as low as possible by not eating enough food or exercising too much. This can make them very ill because they start to starve. They often have a distorted image of their bodies, thinking they are fat even when they are underweight. Some people with anorexia may also make themselves sick. Dizzy spells and faintness, abdominal pains, muscle weakness, poor circulation and constantly being cold are also tell-tale signs.
If one has bulimia, they go through periods of binge eating and then make themselves sick, use laxatives, or do excessive exercise to try to stop themselves from gaining weight. Long-term effects could include permanent damage to teeth, throat, intestines, or stomach. Someone could be at increased risk of heart and kidney problems.
Eating disorders can be caused by a range of factors. In some cases, it can be traced to a lack of confidence or low self-esteem. Someone can be subjected to bullying for their weight or physical appearance. As a result, someone might put too much pressure on themselves to look different or be slimmer. Maybe someone has seen an advert on the TV or an article online and in turn, this can create unrealistic expectations of one’s physique. For younger people at school, peer pressure could have an impact by feeling the need to fit in.
Social media messaging is a particularly relevant trigger today. Cyberbullying could also make someone vulnerable to eating disorders. Competitive situations could trigger an eating disorder, for instance, somebody could start to lose weight together with friends and to outdo each other, could start skipping meals, and not recognise the signs of an eating disorder. Other health conditions such as depression or OCD can also contribute to eating disorders. It is important to realise that even if someone has some of these signs they may not have an eating disorder.
Management and Recovery
Recovery from an eating disorder can differ from person to person. Severe cases can be fatal or could require hospital treatment or therapy from a specialist facility. It can be a slow process. Often, recovery can wax and wane. It is important if someone has an eating disorder that they have someone they can confide in and feel supported. If someone has an eating disorder, it is vital to know triggers so they can avoid difficult situations. Encourage a person to open up, even if it’s writing down thoughts rather than verbally expressing them. Perhaps most importantly a person should avoid comparing themselves to others.
If you suspect that you or someone you may know is showing signs of an eating disorder, take early action.
Help and Support
Improve your knowledge of eating disorders by taking our CPD course, Understanding Eating Disorders, click here.