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EATING DISORDERS

An eating disorder is when someone has an unhealthy attitude towards food which can take over their everyday life and make them very poorly.

 

Food plays an important part in all our lives and we all spending time thinking about what we have eaten, or what we are going to eat. When someone has an eating disorder, they will often eat too much or too little and become obsessed with their body weight and appearance. 

 

Many people believe if someone has an eating problem they will noticeably appear under or overweight - this is not true! Anyone regardless of their weight, age or gender can be seriously affected by an eating disorder. 

There are several types of eating disorders.

  • Anxious nervosa - when someone tries to keep their body weight as low as possible by not eating enough good, exercising too much, or both. 

  • Bulimia nervosa - when someone tries to control their body weight by binge eating and then deliberately being sick or using laxatives (to help empty their bowel) 

  • Binge eating disorder - when someone regularly loses control of their eating, eats large portions of food all at once until they feel uncomfortably full, and are then often upset or guilty.

  • Other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED) - when someone is given a diagnosis of OSFED, it means they have an eating disorder, but they don't meet all the criteria for a diagnosis of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder. 

Eating disorders are very complex and the specific causes of eating disorders are still unknown. Someone is more likely to develop an eating disorder if:

  • They have been criticised for their eating habits, body shape or weight.

  • A family member has a history of eating disorders, depression or a drug addiction.

  • They are involved in a career which promotes being thin and weight loss, such as modelling.

  • They have anxiety, low self-esteem, an obsessive personality, or they are a perfectionist.

  • They have been sexually abused or suffered severe trauma in childhood.

Signs and symptoms of Eating Disorders

 

It can be very difficult to identify when someone you know has developed an eating disorder, signs and symptoms may include:

  • Dramatic weight loss

  • Lying about how much and when they have eaten

  • Eating a lot of food very fast

  • Going to the bathroom a lot after eating

  • Feelings of anxiety about eating or digesting food

  • Obsessively exercising and sticking to a rigid diet

  • Cutting food into small pieces and eating very slowly

  • Avoiding eating with others or eating in secret

  • Checking bodyweight and comparing to others

  • Developing physical health problems

Treatments available for Eating Disorders

It is very difficult for someone to talk about their eating problems, especially with somebody they are not familiar with. However, the sooner they are treated for their condition, the better chance they have of making a full recovery. 

The first step should be scheduling an appointment with their GP for an initial health assessment. If the person feels anxious about going alone, they could take a friend or family member along to their appointment for support. The GP will ask a series of questions about their eating habits, check their body weight and height and look at the psychological factors of their illness. The GP should then make a referral for the person to see an eating disorder specialist, or a team of specialists for treatment.

Once referred, a healthcare specialist will make a formal assessment and decide on the most appropriate treatment plan for the individual. It is quite common for eating disorders to be diagnosed alongside other conditions, such as anxiety or substance misuse. The specialist will find out if they need any other support and include this within their treatment plan.

 

The treatment options for eating disorders are very complex and will vary depending on the specific eating disorder the person is diagnosed with. Generally, treatments can include the following.

  • Talking treats such as CBT

  • Regular physical health checks

  • Guided self-help programmes

  • Peer support groups

  • Dietary advice and guidance

  • Medication for related mental health problems

Aiding another with Eating Disorders

 

  • If you believe someone may have an eating problem, choose an appropriate time and place to speak to them where you will both feel comfortable and won't be disturbed by others. 

  • Avoid approaching the person before, during or after meal times as this could make them feel uncomfortable and they may not want to talk about their situation.

  • When the timing is right, tell the person why you are worried in an open and honest manner and ask how they are feeling.

  • Do not centre the conversation around food or body weight as this could make them feel worse.

  • Show empathy and listen non-judgementally.

  • Allow the person plenty of time to discuss how they are feeling.

  • You will need to explain to the person that you think their symptoms indicate a need to seek professional help.

  • Be aware that the person may react both positively or negatively to your approach. Of course we hope they react positively, but a negative reaction is common and you should not be angry or upset if you're comments are dismissed - you'll be there when they feel ready.

  • Reassure the person that with the right support, they should feel better soon. This individual should be proud of any positive steps already taken, such as acknowledging they have a problem.

  • Assist and signpost to professional support such as their GP, if it is appropriate. Ask them if they have a trusted family member or friend who can assist and support them.