Eating Disorders Explained

Eating disorders are real, complex and devastating conditions that have serious consequences for health, productivity and relationships. They are not a fad, phase or lifestyle choice. People struggling with an eating disorder need to seek professional help. The earlier a person with an eating disorder seeks treatment, the greater the chances of physical and emotional recovery.

Eating disorders can affect anyone at any age, no longer are they associated with just young people. In our experience, we have supported 17 years olds and 70 year olds. Eating disorders have now been classified as a mental health issue which means anyone can be affected at any time. We are seeing an increase in the number of men affected which also highlights that eating disorders can happen to both men and women. Sadly, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health issue.

Eating disorders can be triggered by stressful situations, traumas or even something quite small. When someone is feeling anxious, lonely, ashamed, or sad, they can turn to food as a comfort to help them cope with painful situation or feelings.

It’s important to understand that eating disorders go beyond anorexia and bulimia, we are now seeing more people who are experiencing a mixture of disorders whether that be under-eating or overeating. One thing to note, is that each individual will have their own personal experience of their disorder, essentially, with the right treatment plan and support, eating disorders can be beaten.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is a serious mental health illness. People affected often keep their body weight low through dieting, vomiting, laxative abuse or obsessively exercising. People affected by Anorexia Nervosa will often see themselves very differently from those around them. People affected often go to great lengths to hide their behaviour from family and friends.

Losing weight can make the person affected feel in control of their body and in some ways boost their confidence. Because they often perceive themselves to be overweight, losing weight to them can become an achievement.

Sadly, Anorexia Nervosa carries the highest mortality rate of all eating disorders. This is due to the medical complications that can arise from the illness and suicide also contributes to this statistic. The latest research has shown that 20% of people affected by Anorexia will die prematurely. It is therefore important to seek professional help as soon as possible.

How long does it last?

On average, Anorexia Nervosa can last for around 8 years. It can leave long lasting affects, not only to the mind but also the body. Recent statistics show that around 46% of anorexia patients fully recover, 33% improve and 20% remain chronically ill. (Stats from BEAT UK).

Some of the long term affects of Anorexia can be:

  • Kidney and liver damage. Kidneys and liver are the power house of the body so persistent starvation and purging carries high risk to the overall function of the body.
  • Delayed puberty and growth in children
  • Loss of bone density leading to Osteoporosis
  • Infertility

How to spot the signs?

There are a number of different signs that can cause concern for someone and their surrounding family and friends. It’s important to remember that each person is different, although there will be a similarity between cases. Someone affected by Anorexia Nervosa will be experiencing and fighting their own personal battle.

Below is a list of some of the common behavioural patterns:

  • Fear of gaining weight
  • Obsessively counting calories
  • Strict Dieting
  • Morphed perception of their body image
  • Excessive Exercising
  • Obsessive behaviour when it comes to food
  • Makes excuses about not eating and not wanting to eat in front of people
  • Obsessive behaviour
  • Socially withdrawn

*** It’s worth noting that people affected by Anorexia may also use diet pills, or appetite suppressants ***

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa, like Anorexia Nervosa is a serious mental health issue. People affected by Bulimia often feel that they have lost control of their eating habits. They will evaluate themselves by their body shape and weight and will be caught in a cycle of over-eating large quantities of food, referred to as binge eating. Once they have consumed the food, the tendency is for them to vomit, or use laxatives or diuretics, which is referred to as purging. Those affected by Bulimia believe that purging will prevent them from gaining weight.

Bulimia can often be hidden and generally, persons affected by Bulimia tend to be a healthy weight. However, it is the ritualistic and obsessive behaviours they carry out to achieve this that causes them harm. Bulimia can dominate daily life and lead to difficulties in relationships and social situations. It’s extremely common for people to swing from Anorexia Nervosa to Bulimia Nervosa.

As with Anorexia, people affected by Bulimia will often have low self esteem and confidence issues. The way they perceive themselves may be very different from how people around them see them.

How long can it last?

Bulimia often lasts for approximately 5 years, however, any eating disorder can be long lasting and have a huge debilitating affect on quality of life. Recent studies show that 45% of people affected will make a full recovery, 27% will improve considerably and 23% will suffer chronically. (Stats from Beat UK)

What are the long term affects of Bulimia?

How to spot the signs?

People affected by Bulimia will put their bodies through huge amounts of turmoil from overeating and purging.

Some of the long term affects of Bulimia can be.

  • Constipation
  • Gastric problems from the use of laxatives and diuretics
  • Irregular periods
  • Dental problems from excessive vomiting
  • Heart conditions related to the use of laxatives
  • Loss of tooth enamel from purging

How to spot the signs?

There are a number of different signs that can cause concern for someone and their surrounding family and friends. It’s important to remember that each person is different, although there will be a similarity between cases. Someone affected by Bulimia will be experiencing and fighting their own personal battle.

Below is a list of some of the common behavioural patterns.

  • Binge eating
  • Mood swings
  • Disappearing to the toilet after eating
  • Distorted perception of body shape and weight
  • Excessive exercising

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

Binge eating disorder (BED) is another serious mental health issue more commonly seen in adults. People affected by binge eating will be unable to control the amount of food they eat at any given time. Binge eating occurs when a person eats large amounts of food in a short amount of time. Unlike Bulimia, people who binge eat will not vomit. They tend to gain weight and can be regarded as obese although, this in itself is not an eating disorder.

Binge eating like all eating disorders is linked to low self-esteem and emotional issues. The urge to turn to food for comfort can cause excessive eating until uncomfortably full.

Binge eating affects both men and women equally. Often, eating will be done in secret so family and friends may be unaware. This is generally because people affected are usually ashamed of their eating habits and feel huge amounts of guilt after overeating so will do it on their own in private. BEDs is likely to be diagnosed when a person binges at least once per week over a period of three months or more.

How long does it last?

It’s difficult to know as BED’s falls under the category of EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified). However, the sooner someone recognises that they are affected by BEDS and seeks treatment, the sooner they will be supported through recovery.

What are the long term affects of BEDs?

Because BEDS involves consuming large amounts of food in short periods of time, the main concern is the affect it can have on the bodily systems.

Some of the long term affects can be;

  • High Cholesterol
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Heart Disease

How to spot the signs?

As this disorder is kept hidden and weight gain can be associated to obesity it can be difficult to spot.

Some of the common behavioural patterns will be;

  • Significant weight gain
  • Purchasing ‘special’ binge eating foods
  • Eating excessive amounts of food, even if just eaten
  • Hiding Food
  • Secret eating - possibly during the night when everyone else is sleeping

Emotional Overeating

Emotional overeating occurs when someone turns to food for comfort when they’re feeling anxious or depressed. It is generally a response to negative emotions. This behaviour is a way for that person to cope in these types of situations. However, the emotions a person will experience after overeating will generally make them feel worse.

Emotional overeating will often lead to weight gain, which leaves the person affected with a very low perception of how they think and feel about themselves.