We all have to do it – but whilst for some people, eating is a pleasure, for others the very thought of eating is a source of horror. An eating disorder is when you have an unhealthy attitude to food, which can take over your life and make you ill.
It may involve eating too much or too little, or becoming obsessed with your weight and body shape.
WHO DEVELOPS EATING DISORDERS?
Men and women of any age can get an eating disorder, but they most commonly affect young women aged 13 to 17 years old.
1.25m people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder.
TYPES OF EATING DISORDERS
The most common eating disorders are:
- anorexia nervosa – when you try to keep your weight as low as possible by not eating enough food, exercising too much, or both
- bulimia – when you sometimes lost control and eat a lot of food in a very short amount of time (binging) and are then deliberately sick, use laxatives, restrict what you eat, or do too much exercise to try and stop yourself gaining weight
- binge eating disorder (BED) – when you regularly lose control of your eating, eat large portions of food all at once until you feel uncomfortable full, and are then often upset or guilty
- other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED) – when your symptoms do not exactly match those of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, but it does not mean it’s a less serious illness
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
- does food dominate my life?
- do I worry that something bad will happen if I lose control of my eating?
- do I have episodes where I feel I have lost control of my eating, then feel disgusted with myself afterwards?
- have I lost more than a stone in the last three months?
- do people tell me I’m thin, even though I think I’m fat?
- do I hide myself away to eat large quantities, because I’m embarrassed to let anyone know what I’m eating?
- have I taken laxatives or made myself sick because I’m uncomfortably full?
SPOTTING AN EATING DISORDER IN LOVED ONES
It can often be very difficult to identify that a loved one or friend has developed an eating disorder. However, letting them know you’re worried about them and encouraging them to see a GP could be the first positive step for them in recovery.
Warning signs include:
- losing lots of weight
- making excuses not to eat in company
- wearing baggy clothes to hide their shape
- secret stashes of unhealthy food or laxatives
- becoming distressed if you try to talk to them about eating
- being very fussy about their food
- insisting on doing the food shopping, and spending long periods looking at the food nutritional labels
- being short-tempered or irritable
Remember, being supportive is key. People with eating disorders are often secretive and they’re likely to be sensitive if you broach the subject. Reassure them you’re ‘on their side’ – you could be their salvation.