Eating Disorders Awareness Week
What is an eating disorder?
Eating disorders is a blanket term for a range of conditions that can affect a person physically, psychologically and socially. In the UK, over 725,000 men and women are affected by eating disorders. They are serious mental illnesses which include anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder (BED).
Even though eating disorders are serious, they are treatable conditions and a full recovery is possible. And importantly, the faster a person receives the treatment they need, the more likely they are to make a full recovery.
Who can develop an eating disorder?
Anyone can develop an eating disorder irrespective of their age, gender or cultural background. The most likely demographic to develop an eating disorder is young women aged between 12 and 20. However older women, men of all ages and even children as young as seven can develop anorexia. Within the younger age group, boys make up the greater proportion of sufferers.
Eating disorders claim more lives than any other mental illness. One in five of those who suffer from the most serious forms of an eating disorder will die prematurely from either the physical consequences or suicide.
Tackling the stigma
Eating disorders are very complex; there’s no single cause for them and not all symptoms will apply to everyone. You may feel as if you have a mixture of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder, or even alternate between them.
If you think you have some symptoms, or have concerns that you may be at risk of developing a disorder, it is crucial to speak to someone about it. Bottling up your concerns won’t help.
One of the primary reasons people don’t speak out about an eating disorder is fear of the stigma related to the illness. If they speak out, will they get taken seriously? Or will people think it’s just a phase, or accuse them of being vain? Whether the eating disorder is new, if you’ve been struggling with it for a while, or if you’ve recently relapsed, you deserve support. After all, an eating disorder is a very real illness, and should always be treated as such.
Are you concerned about someone else?
Caring for someone with an eating disorder can be extremely tough. It is not unusual for family members or friends to experience conflicting feelings of helplessness, despair, worry, sympathy, anger, or even sometimes resentment towards the individual affected.
An eating disorder doesn’t just affect the individual but also their friends, family, work colleagues and others surrounding them. Eating disorders are lonely and isolating illnesses, but you can play a vital role in identifying an eating disorder in an individual.
Although someone with an eating disorder will almost certainly require professional help, families and friends can provide priceless and fundamental support during the recovery process.
If you’re concerned that a family member, friend or colleague might have an eating disorder, speak to support service Beat for advice and support.
Andy Wilkins is CEO of Plutus Health