Eating disorders awareness week is 27th February to 5th March 2017 and focusses on the need for prompt treatments and the vital roles of GPs, friends and family in recover. Recovery is possible if the thoughts and feelings surrounding the eating disorder can be identified and addressed.
What is an eating disorder?
According to the dictionary, it is "a psychological condition resulting in abnormal or disturbed eating habits"; the most common of these being anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and food phobia. Many people go through stages in their lives when their diet is not the best, crash dieting or when they rely on food for comfort, but eating disorders become an issue of real concern when they start to affect the long term health and wellbeing of an individual. Eating disorders affect both men and women of all ages and ethnic groups and have the highest mortality rate of any mental health condition worldwide.
This is characterised by an obsessive fear of gaining weight and desire to control weight, coupled with an unrealistic perception of body image. Therefore sufferers continue to limit food intake even when they are dangerously ill and this condition can result in not only long term health conditions, such as brain damage, organ failure, bone loss, heart conditions and infertility, but also in death. If left untreated, this condition is likely to become worse, not better.
Sufferers are compelled to binge eat and then compensate for their calorie intake in extreme ways, such as vomiting, taking laxatives or excessive exercise. This is usually done in cycles and in secret, so can be more difficult to recognise, but also has long term health effects such as gastrointestinal problems, dehydration, heart conditions, malnutrition and tooth rot. The sufferer sometimes does not appear to change weight or size, increasing the difficulty of diagnosis, but suffers from guilt and shame at not being able to control their behaviour.
Binge eating disorder
Sufferers lose control of their eating habits and consume excessive amounts of food, often unhealthy foods, but do not take compensatory action so experience rapid weight gain and the health problems associated with it, as well as guilt and shame.
A sufferer will develop a fear of certain foods or groups of foods and be unable to consume it. This can result in malnutrition and associated health problems.
What causes eating disorders?
Eating disorders are complex and there are a number of biological, psychological and environmental causes:
Irregular homelife or childhood trauma/abuse
Negative body image and low self esteem
Extreme stress during life transition
Medical history of anxiety disorders or severe depression
Signs of an eating disorder (some or all may be experienced)]
Obsessive dieting despite being slim or underweight
Dramatic weight fluctuations
Obsession with fat, calories or ingredients of food
Ritualistic eating patterns; such as not eating in front of others, hiding food, secret eating, cutting food into tiny pieces, disposing of food secretly or for spurious reasons, cooking for others but refusing to eat, cutting out whole essential food groups
Avoidance of social situations, especially those involving food
Dressing to hide body shape
Hatred of the body shape or certain features, resulting in extreme anger or frustration
Depression, lethargy, dizziness or fainting
Unexplained stopping of menstual bleeding
Admiration for others because of their skinniness or other extreme body shape
Refusal to eat because of fear of vomiting or choking
Scars of teeth marks on fingers or hands combined with bad breath from vomiting
Treatment of eating disorders
Because of the complexity of causes of eating disorders, it is essential that specialist professional help is sought. See your GP as soon as possible and be honest about your feelings and symptoms. Help may include:
Medical intervention and monitoring - including hospitalisation depending on the severity of the condition
Nuturition - including a stabilising meal plan
Therapy - to allow the sufferer to address psychological issues surrounding potential causes and the resulting feelings about their body and their approach to health.
Medication - to address anxiety or depression
Support - It is essential that the sufferer has a good support network around them to monitor their eating habits, mood, attendance of appointments and commitment to medication, but also to reassure them of their ability to gain control of their condition and reinforce feelings of self-worth.
How to help - 3 simple rules!
1 - Listen - ask how they are feeling, check they are OK, don't make them feel guilty, reassure them they are in control. Be there.
2 - Learn - find out about eating disorders and their particular condition and how to support their treatment plan,
3 - Stop the body talk - avoid talking about size, shape, beauty and weight. Focus on health and strength of mind as well as normal life.
For more information about how to support someone with an eating disorder, see
If you are suffering from an eating disorder, contact your GP for specialist support services.
If you are struggling to support someone with an eating disorder, counselling could help. Contact CCC to make an appointment.