What is an eating disorder?
An eating disorder describes negative behaviour patterns that a person has taken on, which are not healthy or can lead to major health issues. A person suffering from an eating disorder is overly concerned about food intake and (sometimes) calories, as a result of feeling self-conscious of their weight and appearance. Although, some people might still be at a healthy weight, their live and health might be negatively impacted by their disorder.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists (2015) advises on a questionnaire that is used by health professionals to determine whether someone might have developed an eating disorder;
The ‘SCOFF’ questionnaire:
- do you make yourself Sick because you’re uncomfortably full?
- do you worry that you’ve lost Control over how much you eat?
- have you recently lost more than 6 kilograms (about One stone) in three months?
- do you believe you’re Fat when others say you’re thin?
- would you say that Food dominates your life?
A person who answers “yes” to two or more of these questions, may have an eating disorder.
There are three main eating disorders;
Anorexia Nervosa; a person limits the calorie intake by eating very limited amounts of food or even starves him or herself for long period of times. Some also use over-exercising as a means to burn calories.
10% of people in the UK suffering from an eating disorder are anorexic, of which 20% die from their condition.
Bulimia Nervosa; a person eats large portions and binges on food, but then forces oneself to vomit or uses laxative to make sure that the food eaten is eliminated as soon as possible from the person’s body.
40% of people in the UK suffering from an eating disorder are bulimic.
Binge eating disorder (BED); a person cannot resist the urge to binge and overeat, which can lead to becoming overweight and eventually obese. However, some people have binge periods, followed by strict periods of dieting to reduce the weight again.
50% of people in the UK suffering from an eating disorder have BED.
What are common signs and symptoms?
In general eating disorders can have severe negative effects on a person’s health, in form of psychological and physical symptoms, for example depression and even organ failure.
Their social live can be badly affected too, especially through isolation caused by the illness.
While Anorexia nervosa sufferers limit their food intake or starve themselves, which can lead to becoming emaciated, malnourished and dehydrated, along with many other health issues.
Bulimia nervosa suffers use forced vomiting to eliminate food from their body or use of laxatives, which can cause having a chronic sore throat, suffering from tooth decay and mouth sores from vomiting, as well as having noticeable puffy cheeks and swollen salivary glands.
Binge eating disorder suffers binge excessively, which can lead to a physical discomfort after overeating, headaches and tremors linked to blood sugars levels and constipation or diarrhoea.
In the United Kingdom there are many organisations who can give you advice on eating disorders, which can be found online. The following three are valuable resources, that might be able to help a sufferer, partner, family, and friends.
1. Beat eating disorder
Beat (2015) state “We are Beat, the UK’s leading charity supporting anyone affected by eating disorders or difficulties with food, weight and shape.”
Beat offers telephone and online based information and support for adults and children. On their website Beat offers message boards, a treatment finder, online support groups, peer support groups and regional projects.
Adult Helpline 0845 634 1414 & Youth Helpline 0845 634 7650
The NHS offers general information about eating disorders on their website, NHS Choices links as well as external links to other relevant websites, along with a local support group finder tool and online forums.
Adult Helpline 0845 634 1414 & Youth Helpline 0845 634 7650
The Samaritans offer a 24/7 confidential telephone support call, in addition to email, text, postal and personal support, depending on the circumstances and availability. The Samaritans website offers a branch finder for people who which to speak face-to-face.
Helpline 08457 90 90 90 [*Calls will cost 2p per minute plus your telephone company’s access charge.]
Text 07725 909090
What type of approaches can be taken to treat eating disorders?
The GP can make a referral to a behavioural therapist or psychiatrist.
A person with an eating disorder can take part in a local support group or join an online based support group, forum or Facebook group. Reputable websites offered by a charity or supporting organisation can also be used to access information and further support. Telephone hotlines, such as mentioned above can be used to access further information as well.
In general it important to listen more than asking questions, because sufferers might feel interrogated otherwise.
Being patient and showing acceptance for possible relapses is important as well.
Keeping daily, normal routines is another way to encourage progress, as over-excessive focus on the illness might have an adverse effect.
By seek information through research friends, family members and partners can gain further supportive material and advice.
A recovering anorexic should not be forced to eat or be watched when they do, as it can make them feel under pressure, alienated, and upset.
In order to avoid reinforcement of feelings of low self-esteem, comparisons to others should be avoided, especially those who are especially physically attractive or successful.
Feelings of inferiority and incapability can be part of the feelings experienced by an anorexic, therefore encouraging independence and initiative is a vital aspect during the recovery phase.
Positive encouragement and praise for the journey of recovery and achievements are also essential.
By showing a healthy relationship with food, family members, partners and friends can become role models, on how possible and joyful meals can be.
As bulimics often try to force vomit after meals, it might be helpful to start a habit of playing games at the table after everyone has finished, and starting non-food related, interesting conversations can be another way to encourage a sufferer to stay and enjoy themselves. After a meal outdoors, it might help to offer to accompany the bulimic to the toilet to distract the person from wanting to force vomit.
Encouraging a bulimic to take part in group exercises or other fun activities can be beneficial as the person learns a new and healthy way to maintain a healthy body.
BED (Binge eating disorder);
Implementing routine is an incredibly effective way of helping individuals recovering from BED, so getting used to eating three regular meals, plus two healthy snacks.
Encouraging a person with BED to take part in group activities, at weekends and in the evenings, will help to create distraction from wanting or needing to binge and allow the person to socialise and have fun.
Providing and stocking only healthy foods in the home, encourages a healthy lifestyle and during a relapse a sufferer will not be able to access unhealthy snacks at home.
Suggestions to starting a weight loss diet as a solution to BED is not advised, as food restrictions can trigger cravings and therefore relapses.
Please consult a GP or other healthcare professional if you believe that you or a member of your family might need advice and support.
All the Best,
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Beat (2015) Homepage Online at: http://www.b-eat.co.uk/ [Date accessed 6th June 2015]
NHS (2015) Eating disorders explained Online at: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/eatingdisorders/Pages/eating-disorders-explained.aspx [Date accessed 6th June 2015]
Royal College of Psychiatrists (2015) Problems & Disorders Online at: http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/problemsdisorders/anorexiaandbulimia.aspx [Date accessed 6th June 2015]
Samaritans (2015) Homepage Online at: http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help you?gclid=CMzxqOGygrsCFWkCwwodJXwAIA [Date accessed 6th June 2015]