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Eating Disorders

UK Eating Disorder charity BEAT estimate that 1.25 million people in the UK live with an eating disorder, many in secret. Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that affect how sufferers affected think, feel, and behave, and can affect anyone, regardless of age, ethnicity or gender.

Despite their name, eating disorders are not necessarily about food. The behaviours that tend to be a feature of an eating disorder, such as restricting food intake, getting rid of food eaten through unhealthy means (like misusing laxatives or forcing vomiting), excessive exercising or calorie counting, are actually the practical manifestation of trying to cope with challenging emotions. When faced with difficult situations or feelings that threaten to overwhelm, those with an eating disorder find that controlling their relationship with food helps them feel more in control and able to cope.

There are eight types of eating disorder categories that professionals find useful to use when diagnosing to help those with eating disorders:

  • anorexia nervosa

  • bulimia nervosa

  • binge eating disorder

  • ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive food intake disorder)

  • OSFED (other specified feeding disorder)

  • pica

  • orthorexia

  • rumination disorder

Each of these disorders are serious mental health conditions and should be treated with compassion, empathy and the correct professional support should be in place. The causes of eating disorders are complex, but experts think it can be due to combination of factors, including biological (such as hormone levels or a family history of eating disorders), social (such as trauma, abuse, bullying or social pressure), or psychological (such as existing mental health conditions, being self-critical or a perfectionist, or feelings of low self-esteem and anxiety).

The impact of eating disorders on mental wellbeing can vary, but there tends to be a common thread of low self-esteem, anxiety, increased isolation and loneliness, shame and guilt, and feeling low or depressed. In severe cares, it can lead people to self-harm or feel suicidal.

Recovery from an eating disorder is not a straightforward path from A to Z. There will be many detours and reroutes. Talking and expressing how you feel throughout your recovery can help you feel less alone and empower you to keep going when you feel as though you want to give up. Writing a food plan in advance and sharing it with a trusted professional or friend or family member can also help. Writing down things that you find positive about yourself can help give you a boost when you’re feeling low, and learning something new can distract you from thinking about food or feeling overwhelmed.

Recovery looks different for everyone. Some may never have another eating disorder thought again. Others find that, although the thoughts are still there, they are less frequent and they can manage them through the coping mechanisms and techniques they’ve learned, thus lessening the impact on their daily life.

If you or someone you know is struggling with food, BEAT offers a variety of support and can be found here You can also seek help from your GP, and friends and family.

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