28 Feb 2022

“This Eating Disorders Awareness Week we're campaigning for all UK medical schools and foundation programmes to introduce proper training on eating disorders. Your voice and support will help us to make this happen!” – Beat

What is an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are a mental illness which can affect people of all gender, ages, backgrounds and ethnicities. People with eating disorders use disordered eating behaviour as a way to cope with difficult situations or feelings. This behaviour can include limiting the amount of food eaten, eating very large quantities of food at once, getting rid of food eaten through unhealthy means (e.g. making themselves sick, misusing laxatives, fasting, or excessive exercise), or a combination of these.

The way the person treats food may make them feel able to cope, or may make them feel in control.

It is estimated that around 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder.

What causes eating disorders?

There is no single reason why someone develops an eating disorder. A whole range of different factors, including someone’s genetics, biology, psychology and surroundings, can combine to make it more likely any one person develops the condition.

According to Beat there is world-class research going on, much of it in the UK and involving work across the globe. The latest research is demonstrating that eating disorders have much more to do with biology than was previously thought.

Someone with an eating disorder may also experience other mental or physical health issues at the same time as their eating disorder. Sometimes these can play a role in the eating disorder developing, or they may develop alongside or because of the eating disorder.

Eating disorders can be a way of dealing with emotions or situations that are making the person unhappy, anxious, depressed, stressed, or angry. They are not the fault of the person suffering, and no one chooses to have an eating disorder.

Common signs of someone suffering with an eating disorder?

There are different symptoms for different individuals it is often a personal journey and some may not take the same time to recovery from the disorder or respond in the same way to the treatment provided.

Some individuals experience their symptoms changing as they go through the recovery process and often people might be affected by more than one eating disorder.

Warning signs to look out for include:

  • dramatic weight loss
  • lying about how much they've eaten, when they've eaten, or their weight
  • eating a lot of food very fast
  • going to the bathroom a lot after eating
  • exercising a lot
  • avoiding eating with others
  • cutting food into small pieces or eating very slowly
  • wearing loose or baggy clothes to hide their weight loss

Misconceptions of eating disorders?

Unfortunately, there are a number of misconceptions surrounding eating disorders.

Listed below are some of the main misconceptions:

  • Parents are to blame for a child’s eating disorder
  • Someone must be under weight to have an eating disorder
  • Eating disorders are a choice
  • Eating disorders only happen to young girls
  • People can’t recover from an eating disorder
  • Eating disorders are a type of failed diet
  • Eating disorders are for people who are seeking attention

These are all false myths about eating disorders. In reality there is often nothing a parent or carer could do to prevent the illness. The parents and carers need to get support to help them to care for their loved one who is suffering. To help to provide an environment and routine to aid recovery.

Although weight loss is common in anorexia nervosa there are a lot of people who suffer with eating disorders but maintain a ‘healthy’ weight or a perhaps ‘overweight’, There is so much more to an eating disorder than just weight. There are certain behaviours and thought which need to be assessed and dealt with in order to recover successfully.

An eating disorder is not a choice. It is a mental health disorder. There often isn’t a single cause. There may be an array of factors including biological, psychological, and sociocultural. They require specialist treatment to help deal with intern feelings associated with the illness such as shame.

Eating disorders can affect anyone. There has been extensive research which shows the illness doesn’t discriminate and can be an issue for people of all ages, sexual orientations, socioeconomic statues, ethnicities and weights.

There may be some evidence that illustrates that genes can contribute to the risk of developing an eating disorder. However, genes are only a small piece of a complex range of risk factors. With continued support recovery is possible.

Diets can be a way to trigger an eating disorder. However, the misconception that is it a ‘diet that has gone wrong’ is false. It is a serious mental health illness.

It is common for some people suffering with an eating disorder to have an an issue with their body image. However, this isn’t about someone being vain or wanting to appear a certain way. Eating disorders are not a phase, lifestyle choice, or someone seeking attention. Many people hide the fact that they are suffering with an eating disorder.

Ways to help?

So that healthcare professionals can choose the right treatment for someone, there are various different eating disorders that someone can be diagnosed with. It’s possible for someone to change between diagnoses if and when their symptoms change – it is common to have a lot of overlap between different eating disorders.

Treatment for eating disorders should take into consideration other health issues the person may have.

Recovery is possible at any time, but it’s important to try and seek help as early as you can.

If you or a loved one are concerned about someone who might be suffering with an eating disorder do not hesitate to contact our team who can answer any questions you may have and point you in the right direction for the treatment suitable for your needs.