1.25 million people in the UK are living with an eating disorder right now. Yet behind every one is a network of friends and family supporting them. This adds up to 5 million people struggling to cope with eating disorders.
Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses. Anyone, no matter what their age, gender, or background, can develop one. Some examples of eating disorders include bulimia, binge eating disorder, and anorexia. There’s no single cause and people might not have all symptoms for any one eating disorder. Many people are diagnosed with “other specified feeding or eating disorder” (OSFED), which means that their symptoms don’t exactly match what doctors check for to diagnose binge eating disorder, anorexia, or bulimia, but doesn’t mean that it’s not still very serious. It’s also possible for someone’s symptoms, and therefore their diagnosis, to change over time. For example, someone could have anorexia, but their symptoms could later change so that a diagnosis of bulimia would be more appropriate.
Eating disorders can be a way of coping with feelings or situations that are making the person unhappy, angry, depressed, stressed, or anxious. They are not the fault of the person suffering, and no one chooses to have an eating disorder.
Senior clinical psychologist of Pall Mall, Dr Ria said “it is important to pay attention to social media access especially in children and teenagers. Social media can easily give an impressionable audience unrealistic body expectations due to untrue images and marketing. “Eating disorders are becoming more common in todays society, there is more pressure on people of all ages than ever before.
“Effective treatment would be accessing immediate support via GP, specialist nurse, dietician, psychologist and psychiatrist in order to actively begin overcoming the disorder.
“These types of disorders can also often be associated to complex cognitive difficulties such as ADHD, ASD and other neuro conditions or addictions.”
Could you have an eating disorder?
If you haven’t had reason to know much about eating disorders previously, it may be that your understanding of them is based on the way they’re shown in the media, for example. This often portrays a particular type of story in terms of who gets eating disorders, what causes them, and what the symptoms are. This doesn’t necessarily reflect the full spectrum of eating disorders and people who can develop them.
Stereotypes about who gets eating disorders might make them even harder to spot among older people, men and boys, and ethnic and cultural minority groups. The real number of sufferers overall could be much higher than we think, but particularly among groups like these.
Your circumstances, feelings, and symptoms may be very different to what you’ve seen or read about, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have an eating disorder. The way eating disorders present themselves can be hugely varied from person to person. This means eating disorders can be difficult to identify, and often those suffering can appear healthy despite being unwell. If you think you might be having problems with your eating or feel that difficult feelings or situations are making you change your eating habits or feel differently about food, you could have an eating disorder or be developing one.
Worried about a loved one?
If you’re at all worried about a loved one, it’s always best to seek help as quickly as possible, as this gives the greatest chance of a full recovery.
If you’re concerned that a family member or friend might have an eating disorder, it can be difficult to raise the issue with them. You may worry you’ll say the wrong thing, that it’s none of your business, or that you’re insulting the person. Remember eating disorders are serious mental illnesses and are not the person’s fault.
Often people with eating disorders deny or don’t realise there’s a problem, but that doesn’t mean they’re not ill. Eating disorders thrive on secrecy, and countless people who are in recovery agree that breaking the silence is the right thing to do, even if they didn’t feel that way at the time. The sooner someone can get treatment, the greater their chance of a full and sustained recovery.
Here are some things you can do when talking to someone you’re worried about:
- Think about what you want to say and make sure you feel informed.
- Choose a place where you both feel safe and won’t be disturbed. If you’re one of several people who have felt concerned, don’t talk to the person together as they may feel you’re ambushing them. Decide who they are most likely to open up to.
- Choose a time when neither of you feels angry or upset. Avoid any time just before or after meals.
- Have some information with you that you can refer to if you’re able to. You could share it with them or leave it with them to look at by themselves.
- Try not to centre the conversation around food and/or weight. While it may be necessary to bring this up to explain why you’re worried, these may be things they’re particularly sensitive about. At their roots, eating disorders are about what the person is feeling rather than how they’re treating food.
- If they acknowledge that they need help, encourage them to seek it as quickly as possible. Offer to go with them to the GP if they would find that helpful.
- If they tell you there’s nothing wrong, even if they seem convincing, keep an eye on them and keep in mind that they may be ill even if they don’t realise it. Denial that there’s a problem is common – in the case of anorexia, it’s considered a symptom of the illness. You were worried for a reason, so trust your judgement.
Find out more about Dr. Ria and his services here.