Exploring Eating Disorders

What are Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that are affected by people regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic background.

Disorder Eating behaviour is a way for a person to cope with difficult situations and emotions.  It may present in a number of different ways such as limiting food, overeating, “purging” (getting rid of food through unhealthy means such as deliberate vomiting, use of laxatives or excessive exercise)  Its important to understand that eating disorders are not all about food but about feelings and emotions.

Covid 19, particularly lockdowns, have driven up the number of eating disorders whilst also exacerbating the symptoms of those already diagnosed. This has particularly hit young people who’s mental health has generally seen a decline due to the impact of the global pandemic.

What causes Eating Disorders

A number of theories exist about what causes mental health problems but there is no single identifiable cause.  Rather poor mental health is believed to relate to a complex mix of individual and environmental risk factors that can increase and individuals risk of becoming ill.

There are a number of commonly held misconceptions about eating disorders such as them being all to do with weight or vanity. It is important that these myths are challenged.  Misinformation fuels stigma and discrimination which in turn prevents people from receiving timely help and support and recovering.  More information about myths can be found here.

How do you recognise them

There are a number of warning signs that someone could be experiencing an eating disorder.  Examples include

  • Physical Changes: Weight gain or loss
  • Behavioural changes: Avoiding mealtimes, preoccupation with food, exercising a lot, using the bathroom directly after eating.

We should also however be very aware that people experiencing an eating disorder may be very secretive and specific signs may be harder to spot.  Eating disorders are indicative of someone who is struggling so having ongoing supportive and non judgemental dialogue and being generally informed  about mental health could help to identify suffering early.

Read more about warning signs.

How do you treat them

Recovery from eating disorders improves with early intervention so encouraging professional help is important.  In the first instance this could be a GP or other specialist medical professional.  Charities such as BEAT are also a useful resource for information and practical support.

What next

Eating disorders can be cruel and relentless, for the person experiencing them and for the people who support them.  Treatment is likely to focus on the whole family and it is important to ensure that ongoing support includes everyone.

Professional support does not prevent us from taking positive action to improve our own mental health and whilst certain cautions need to be observed around how to manage activities like exercise and nutrition that are linked to good mental health, positive selfcare strategies are a huge part of recovery.

Further Research

Eating Disorder Awareness week is taking place this week, from 28th February with a focus on improving the amount of training doctors receive in recognizing and treating them (currently only 2 hours)   You can get involved in various ways by checking out the BEAT website.

Mental Health First Aid training can help individuals and organisation’s improve knowledge and understanding of  mental health which in turn can help to: Recognise signs and symptoms of declining mental health; recognize and support someone in crisis; prevent and existing problem get worse; raise awareness of mental health problems and reduce stigma and discrimination; promote better mental health and wellbeing.

Please contact us for more information about our courses.

Written by Tony Sigrist, Head of Mental Health Delivery at ABC Life Support