Eating Disorders Awareness Week - 27th February to 5th March 2017
Eating disorders affect over 725,000 men and women in the UK and claim more lives than any other mental illness.
A shocking one in five of those most seriously affected die prematurely, either from the physical consequences of their disorder or suicide.
That’s why Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which runs from 27th February to 5th March, is so vital. It’s essential we are all aware of the dangers of eating disorders and realise that we are all susceptible to them. That means we need to know the facts – not just the stereotypes.
Challenging the Stereotype: Who Suffers from Eating Disorders?
The stereotype is a teenage girl obsessed with becoming thinner, either starving herself or alternately binge eating and vomiting. However, in reality there are several different eating disorders and while young women are more prone to them, they can affect people of any age, gender or ethnicity.
What Causes Eating Disorders?
Often a combination of genetic, psychological, environmental, social and biological factors seems responsible, although the latest research indicates biology has a bigger influence than previously believed. Identified ‘risk factors’ are:
Suffering sexual or emotional abuse
Experiencing criticism for weight, looks, body shape or eating habits
Periods of intense stress (at home, school or work etc.)
Family history of addiction, depression or eating disorders
Preoccupation with body shape
External pressure to be thin from society or for a career/hobby, e.g. dancing, sports, modelling
Underlying traits/mental health issues such as anxiety, low self-esteem, perfectionism or an obsessive personality
Types of Eating Disorder
Anorexia sufferers are preoccupied with keeping their weight as low as possible by excessive exercise and/or starving themselves. Around 1 in 250 women and 1 in 2,000 men will experience anorexia nervosa at some point. Although people usually develop the condition at around 16 or 17, it can occur as early as 7 years old. In younger children, it’s more prevalent in boys.
Bulimia sufferers alternate between binge eating and then purging (emptying their stomach by inducing vomiting or emptying their bowels by using laxatives). Bulimia is around two to three times more common than anorexia nervosa, and 90% of sufferers are female. It usually develops at around 18 or 19.
Binge eating disorder (BED)
BED sufferers feel compelled to eat large amounts of food very rapidly. It affects both sexes equally and usually develops between the ages of 30 and 40. Because it's difficult to define binge eating, it's hard to assess sufferer numbers, but it's estimated at around 5% of adults.
Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS)
Some people, particularly younger sufferers, may have some, but not all, of the symptoms of a specific eating disorder and will be given an EDNOS diagnosis.
Diagnosing Eating Disorders
Doctors and healthcare professionals use internationally agreed criteria to diagnose eating disorders, normally using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or International Classification of Diseases (ICD). They will ask patients about their weight, self-image and relationship with food.
But how do you know when someone needs to be referred for diagnosis?
Often, people with an eating disorder will be in denial or try to hide their symptoms, but watch for them:
Skipping meals or claiming they’ve already eaten, or plan to eat when they’re out
Only eating tiny or very low-calorie meals
Believing they’re fat when they’re a healthy weight or underweight
Repeatedly weighing themselves or studying themselves in the mirror
Cooking large meals for others yet eating little themselves
Refusing to eat in public or becoming stressed when they do
Using ‘pro-anorexia’ websites
If you suspect you or someone else you know may be developing eating disorder, it’s important to get professional help immediately.
Treatment of Eating Disorders
Rapid treatment increases the chance of a full recovery and minimises the impact on the patient’s body, life, relationships, job or education. However, finding the right treatment can take some time. They may be suffering from more than one eating disorder, and symptoms may change while they’re recovering. A desire to overcome the condition and the support of those around them are vital.
Their physical health will be monitored while the underlying causes of their disorder are treated. This may involve:
Using self-help manuals and books, possibly under the guidance of a healthcare professional
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), aiming to change their thinking and in turn, their behaviour
Interpersonal psychotherapy: a talking therapy that focuses on relationship issues
Psychodynamic therapy or cognitive analytic therapy (CAT), focusing on how their personality and life experiences influence their thoughts, relationships and behaviour
Family therapy, focusing on how the eating disorder has affected them and their family
Medication: often, antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are used to treat bulimia or binge eating
For more information & support:
For over-18s or those concerned about someone under 18: 0345 634 1414 firstname.lastname@example.org
For under-18s: Youth Helpline 0345 634 7650 email@example.com
Source: Berkshire Break Jan 2017