Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that are characterised by disordered eating which often includes inadequate or excessive food intake. Eating disorders often reflect a range of emotional difficulties including low self-esteem, issues of control, a disordered perspective about weight and shape, difficulty in managing mood and interpersonal difficulties.
There are three main types of eating disorders – anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. However, there are also other variables.
What is anorexia nervosa? What is bulimia nervosa? What is the difference between anorexia and bulimia?
Anorexia nervosa is when food is restricted so severely that the person’s body weight and as a result their health is of concern. It is a very serious illness that requires specialist assessment and intervention. Bulimia nervosa is when people find it difficult to manage their emotions and so binge-eat to cope. They then carry out a range of behaviours to try and get rid of the food they have consumed. In binge eating disorder, people binge eat regularly causing distress.
1.6 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder.
11% of the 1.6 million are male.
14-25 year olds are most affected by an eating disorder.
Research suggests that the earlier treatment is sought, the better the sufferer’s chance of recovery.
There are many. Some include:
- Extreme weight loss
- Severely restricted eating
- In females, periods stopping
- A variety of medical problems such as low iron, changes to liver enzymes
- Tiredness, lethargy, fatigue
- Fainting, lightheaded
- Skin changes – dry, spots
- Hair falling, breaking
- Muscle wastage
- Feeling very cold all the time
- Difficulty sleeping
What are the symptoms of eating disorders/anorexia/bulimia? How do you know if you have an eating disorder? Am I anorexic?
Everyone is different and so the signs and symptoms, as well as the reasons for an eating disorder, will vary. In general:
Sudden and rapid weight loss
Frequent weight changes
Constant thoughts about weight and shape
Distorted body image
Constant repeated dieting with or without binge eating
A range of behaviours aimed to get rid of the food
Intense focus on body shape and weight
A range of repeating checking behaviours
A range of emotions including:
Extreme bouts of anger
Finding social eating difficult
There are many causes, often no one cause but a mix. Most common are issues of low self-esteem, social pressure, family breakdown, emotional issues, a perfectionist personality, or experiences that have made the person feel out of control.
School programme on how to build positive self-worth, body confidence, reducing the impact of social pressure – to be more accepting of body size, avoiding dieting, parent education, discouraging perfectionism, helping healthcare professionals to identify problems early, establishing services that offer early intervention, helping teachers to identify and signposting to services.
What are the side effects of anorexia? What are the effects of anorexia on your health? What are the physical effects of anorexia?
Anorexia has enormous negative physical impact. This includes thinning of bones, abnormal blood counts which affects body functioning, brittle nails, an effect on the regular working of the heart, low blood pressure, stomach problems. In addition, it affects concentration and learning. It also affects friendships and relationships.
Encourage the person with anorexia to speak out and ask for help – the earlier the better. The first person to see is your GP who can carry out a physical assessment to make sure you are safe and refer you to suitable services.
If you are worried about a friend or family member, don’t criticise or lecture. Express your concerns and offer to go with them to ask for help. Expect the person to deny the problem, remain calm and gently reiterate your view when appropriate.
There are many types of support. These include outpatient services, which offer a combination of dietetic, activity and psychological help, day hospital treatment to supervise eating and in patient care. There are also community eating disorder teams who can offer advice on a range of different types of eating disorders.
Treatment will vary depending on the person, the type of eating disorder and how long the disorder has been there for. It will also depend on your physical state. Generally, for anorexia, there is a mix of nutritional and psychological treatments. For bulimia and binge eating disorder there are specific forms of cognitive behaviour therapy and occasionally medication.
It seems that eating disorders are more common today and may be due to a number of reasons. The first is the promotion of a body shape that is thin. In addition, people exercise less and eat higher calorific food. More is known about eating disorders and this might prompt more people to ask for help or to be diagnosed with an eating disorder.