With Eating Disorder Awareness Week around the corner, this article is aimed at helping you to learn a bit more about eating disorders. The major, and most well known, eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder but there are others such as orthorexia and pica. If you are wondering why do we need an awareness week for eating disorders? Let me start by telling you a bit about it.
Eating disorders aren’t just about a person’s difficult relationship with food, but also with their emotions. On average, people in the U.K. don’t seek help until experiencing eating disorder symptoms for almost three years. In a survey conducted by YouGov, it was found that one in three adults in the U.K. could not name any signs or symptoms of eating disorders. The chances for recovery increases the earlier an eating disorder is detected. Plus, there are so many misunderstandings and myths around eating disorders that need to be fought off. The more observant we are about people around us, the more help we can provide to those who need it.
Common warning signs of an eating disorder to look out for in yourself or in other people are:
• Noticeable fluctuations in weight, both increase and decrease of weight
• Excessive exercising- such as panicking about missing even a single day of exercise or work out even if they aren’t feeling up to it
• Abnormal laboratory findings like low hormone and thyroid levels, anaemia, low blood cell counts etc.
• Having eating rituals like arranging/playing with food or cutting food into very tiny morsels
• Low energy and tiredness
• Irregular menstruation cycles in women and decreased libido in men
• Frequent trips to the bathroom during or after meals
• Changes in clothes style e.g. starting to wear baggy clothes
• Dizziness or fainting from malnutrition
• Dry skin, hair and brittle nails due to dehydration
• Dental problems like tooth erosion, cavities, discolouration etc.
• Feeling cold most of the time even in warm weather, as people with little body fat can have difficulty maintaining their body temperature as the fat in the body helps us withstand cold
• Fine body hair due to deprivation of nutrition in the body
• Sunken or swollen cheeks (as a result of swollen salivary glands due to purging)
Psychological, Emotional & Behavioural:
• Poor body image: Negative or obsessive thoughts about body size or shape and negative self-talk about their eating habits. For example: ‘I am so fat.’ or ‘I have no self-control’
• Fear of eating in public: People with eating disorders might feel very conscious eating in public because they feel that others are watching and judging them. They might often avoid meals with other people
• Preoccupation with nutritional content which might mean fixation on only eating foods that are ‘’healthy’’ or cutting out entire food groups.
• Using food as a source of comfort or as a form of self- punishment. For example: Refusing to eat or eating a lot due to stress.
• Mood fluctuations: anger, anxiety, withdrawal, loss of interest, irritability, depression etc.
• Secrecy and withdrawal from the world, including lying about eating
Now let’s debunk some of the common myths people believe about eating disorders:
1. Eating disorders are a choice
Eating disorders are complex psychological illnesses which are extremely distressing for the individual and their loved ones. Specialist treatment is required for recovery.
2. Everyone suffering from an eating disorders is underweight
Disorders like anorexia may result in an individual being underweight, but people with eating disorders can be overweight or have a healthy weight.
3. Eating disorders only happen to women
Research has shown that eating disorders can affect people of all genders, ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic statuses.
If you are worried about yourself or someone who might be showing signs of having an eating disorder, you can visit beateatingdisorders.org.uk or call their Studentline on 08088010811
Let’s talk more about eating disorders. Let’s talk more about mental health. Let’s make it an everyday conversation. Let’s end the stigma and ensure that people can get the right help they need.