This Eating Disorder awareness week from the 1st to 7th of March, we have for you some of the essential information you should know about these conditions. While these are known as ‘eating’ disorders, they are about much more than just food.
Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that often require medical and psychological care and expertise to find a way through and recover.
Eating disorders comprise a range of psychological conditions that can cause a person to develop unhealthy eating habits.
What are eating disorders?
Eating disorders comprise a range of psychological conditions that can cause a person to develop unhealthy eating habits. These can cause a variety of symptoms and can emerge from an unhealthy obsession with one’s food, body weight, or appearance.
While eating disorders can affect any gender or age group, they are most often reported in adolescents and young women.
What causes an eating disorder?
There can be lots of causes of eating disorders, including:
– Genetics: Studies have shown that some eating disorder tendencies can be genetic or hereditary.
– Personality: in particular, neuroticism, perfectionism, and impulsivity are three traits often linked to a higher chance of developing an eating disorder.
– Social pressures: This can include the social pressure to be thin, any cultural preference for thinness, and exposure to different kinds of media that promote these ideals.
– Other mental health issues: Some studies show that issues with depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns can increase the likelihood of an eating disorder developing.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Having an eating disorder can be expressed in many different ways and with a variety of symptoms. The most common of these include:
– Spending a lot of time worrying about food
– Severe restriction of your food intake
– Going on food binges (i.e., overeating)
– Purging behaviours like vomiting or over-exercising
– Avoiding socialising if food is involved
– Having very strict routines or habits around food
– Changes in mood
You can also notice things like:
– Feeling cold, tired, or dizzy
– Problems or upsets with your digestion
– Visible weight gain or loss
– For women, not getting a menstrual period
We’ll go into more details about the signs and symptoms of specific conditions in this next section.
What are the most common disorders?
This is likely the most well-known eating disorder, and it generally develops during adolescence or young adulthood. More women than men are affected. Those with this condition tend to view themselves as overweight even if they are severely underweight and will monitor all their intake and restrict or avoid certain foods.
– Becoming considerably underweight compared to others of similar age and height
– Highly restrictive eating patterns
– The intense fear of gaining weight
– Relentlessly pursuing thinness and being unwilling to maintain a healthy weight
– Strong impact of body weight and image on self-esteem
– Having a distorted body image, including denial of being underweight
Anorexia sufferers often also have difficulty eating in public or demonstrate a strong desire to control their environment. Over time, this condition can be very damaging to the body, and individuals may experience thinning of their bones, infertility, brittle hair and nails, and more. In severe cases, the condition can result in heart, brain, or other organ failures.
Similarly to anorexia, this condition often develops in adolescence. Bulimia sufferers frequently eat a large amount of food, known as binge eating, during which the person usually feels they can’t stop or control their intake. This continues until they are painfully full. There is then a purging of the food to compensate for the calories consumed, which can include vomiting, fasting, laxatives, diuretics, and excessive exercise.
– Binge eating episodes with a lack of control
– Recurring purging behaviours to prevent weight gain
– Strong impact of body weight and image on self-esteem
– Fear of gaining weight despite having a normal weight
Bulimia can cause inflammation and soreness in the throat, swollen salivary glands, worn tooth enamel and decay of teeth, acid reflux, gut irritation, dehydration, and hormonal disturbances. It can, in severe cases, impact electrolytes in the body and cause a stroke or heart attack.
What is the treatment?
If you or someone you know seems to have signs or symptoms of an eating disorder, be sure to see a GP as soon as possible. They will check your eating habits and overall health. They can then refer you to specialists. It takes time to recover from an eating disorder, and this is an individual process. Treatment often includes talking therapy as well as a regular health check. Developing healthier habits starts with an assessment, and a multitude of health services can help provide support on the journey to recovery, including our specialists here at Inspired Health.
Where else can you go for support right now?
If you’re unsure or need initial support, call the Beat Eating Disorders charity on 0808 801 0677. Their helplines are open 365 days a year from 9am to 8pm during the week, and 4pm till 8pm on weekends and bank holidays. If you follow this link to their website, you can also find their one-to-one webchat service and email support addresses.
Their support staff is trained to help explore feelings around eating disorders, provide information, and explore help options, including NHS treatment, private therapy, support from other charitable organisations, peer support, or self-help.
Eating disorders are serious conditions and often involve the whole family to help the individual find a way through. Seek out support if you are concerned about your own or the health of someone you love.