Eating disorders are a range of psychological conditions that are characterised by abnormal eating habits. The most common include: anorexia nervosa – where someone attempts to keep their weight as low as possible; bulimia – when someone experiences episodes of binge eating before then making themselves sick or uses laxatives in order to control their weight; and binge eating disorder (BED) – when someone feels compelled to eat large amounts of foods in a short amount of time.

What causes an eating disorder?

Primarily, eating disorders are blamed on society’s ideas of what the “ideal” body image is. This is reinforced through social media and TV shows which suggest that being slim is what is acceptable and desirable; the biggest age group affected by anorexia nervosa is those aged 16-17.  A report by B-eat in 2015 concludes that 1 in 250 women and 1 in 2,000 men will experience this form of eating disorder at some point in their lives.

Bulimia is the most common of eating disorders with 90% of those affected being female and aged 18 or 19, whilst binge eating affects both males and females ages 30 to 40 and is estimated to affect 5% of the adult population (b-eat).

Eating disorders can also be caused by a multitude of factors including genetic, biological and environmental elements.

The biggest contributors to an eating disorder would include:

  • Family history of eating disorders, depression or substance misuse
  • Stress
  • Criticisms on body weight, shape or eating habits
  • Bad relationships with family/friend
  • Sexual or emotional abuse
  • Over concern with being slim, especially if this is reinforced by job type
  • Obsessive personality, anxiety, low self-esteem or perfectionist personality traits
  • Loss of a loved one

Symptoms of an eating disorder

Symptoms vary depending on the form of eating disorder someone has, however, we’ve listed the most common below:

  • Skipping meals – making excuses not to eat
  • Adopting a restrictive vegetarian diet
  • Excessive focus on healthy eating
  • Making own meals – not eating with family
  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Persistent complaining about being overweight
  • Frequent checking in the mirror for physical flaws
  • Repeatedly eating large amount of junk food
  • Use of dietary supplements such as laxatives and herbal produce
  • Excessive exercise
  • Calluses on the knuckles from induced vomiting
  • Problems with loss of tooth enamel – vomiting
  • Leaving during meals the use to toilet
  • Eating much more food in a meal or snack than is normal
  • Expressing depression, disgust, shame or guilt about eating habits
  • Eating in secret
  • Repeatedly weighing oneself
  • Making false claims to have already eaten
  • Cooking big meals for everyone but eating little
  • Only eating low – calorie foods in presence of people
  • Refusal to eat or uncomfortable eating out
  • Unable to recognise the severity of rapid weight loss etc.
  • Low self-esteem relating to body image

Managing an eating disorder

The first step to managing an illness is acceptance. Recognising the detrimental effect it could be having on your life and being ready to open up to someone is the next step. It can be embarrassing and even scary thinking about opening up about your condition, however confiding in a trusted family member, friend, co-worker or even a professional such as a counsellor, doctor or nutritionist can make you feel like a weight has been lifted. You’ll be reminded that you’re not alone and they’ll be able to support you through the recovery process.

From here you’ll be able to create a long-term recovery plan which could involve counselling as well as a complete lifestyle change in terms of activities you do and how much of what food you eat. We’ve also listed some other steps you can take on your road to recovery:

  • Come up with one thing you love about your body and repeat this day and night to yourself
  • Read self-help manuals and books about your eating disorder, understand it and look into others who have gone through the same experiences
  • Speak to someone who has also suffered from your eating disorder, but now recovered, they might be able to give you some insightful advice
  • Book a group therapy session to tell your story and clear your mind in a non-judgemental atmosphere
  • Seek further dietary counselling and psychotherapy to help you overcome your previous thoughts
  • Write down three things you like about yourself every day

The road to recovery can be a long and daunting one, but having a good set of friends and family around you who support and love you will help you to overcome your illness.

For more information on eating disorders and what treatments are available click here

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