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Eating Disorders

1st April 2023

Lots of people have different eating habits. You might eat loads one day, be less hungry another day, or go through phases of wanting to eat more or less healthily. But if you’re focusing on controlling what or how much you eat, or if you have urges to get rid of the food from your body, these can be signs you could have a problem.

What is an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders can be serious mental illnesses affecting people of all ages, genders, ethnicities and backgrounds. Having an eating disorder can look very different from person to person, but people with eating disorders can have an unhealthy relationship with food, their body and exercise, which is often a way of coping with difficult situations or feelings.

Signs and symptoms of an eating disorder

If any of the symptoms below are affecting your everyday life, it’s a good idea to talk to someone about how you’re feeling:

  • Limiting the amount of food eaten
  • Eating very large quantities of food
  • Getting rid of food eaten through unhealthy means eg. being sick, misusing laxatives, excessive exercise
  • Dramatic weight loss or gain
  • Being obsessive about body image
  • Eating in secret
  • Being self-conscious about eating in front of others

Types of eating disorders

If you’ve been struggling with eating and your relationship with food for some time and it is having an impact on your day-to-day life, you might be diagnosed with an eating disorder. There are :

Anorexia Nervosa – Anorexia Nervosa is when people try to control their weight by not eating enough food, exercising too much, or both. People with anorexia may do different things to get rid of food from their body.

Bulimia NervosaBulimia Nervosa is when someone loses control over how much they eat and then take drastic actions to control their weight and get rid of food (by making themselves sick).

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) Binge Eating Disorder is when someone eats large portions of food until they feel uncomfortably full. Often people with Binge Eating Disorder feel they are not in control and are unable to stop eating even when they’re not hungry.

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) – OSFED is when someone may have symptoms of an eating disorder, but they do not fit into the symptoms of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder. For example, someone may experience symptoms of anorexia, but their weight stays the same.

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (AFRID) Someone with AFRID will avoid eating certain food or food groups and may also limit how much they eat. AFRID isn’t connected to the way you think about or see your body, but it may be because you dislike the smell, texture or taste, have a past negative experience that makes you feel anxious about that food, or you have no real interest in food or just don’t feel hungry.

How can I help myself?

If you think you might have an eating disorder, it’s a good idea to talk to someone about how you’re feeling and ask for help as early as possible. With the right help and support, recovery is possible.

Speak to someone you trust

Speak to Speaking to someone about how you are feeling can be such a tough thing to do but it’s an important way of making sure you get the help you need. Remember – asking for help is NOT a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.

Think about 1-5 people you could contact if you’re struggling; that could be a friend, a family member, your teacher, a health professional or even your doctor.

Speak to your GP for advice

Sometimes learning to eat normally again can be hard work. Your doctor can help you get the help and support you need. They might be able to suggest ways to support you that can help you deal with your symptoms and address any issues that might be triggering your mental health.

Supporting someone with an eating disorder

If you’re worried a friend or family member is starting to show signs of having an eating disorder, there’s lots of ways you can be there to help them get the support they need.

  • Take time to listen – They might have difficulties things going on in their life, sometimes a listening ear can really help.
  • Encourage your friend to speak to their GP – Professional support is available.
  • If you’re worried, tell someone else – If you’re worried about a friend or family member, it’s ok to tell someone you trust like a family member of teacher. The sooner your friend gets help, the more likely they are to recover.
  • Look after yourself – Make sure you have someone to talk to about how you’re feeling as supporting someone who is doing through a tough time can be difficult and affect your own mental health and wellbeing.

Further Resources

BEAT Eating Disorders – a UK charity that offers a free helpline for people who suffer from an eating disorder. Beat also provides useful information and resources about disorder for those with an eating disorder, and for those supporting someone with an eating disorder.

Young Minds – a UK charity fighting for children and young people’s mental health. Young Minds provide useful information about eating disorders and how to get help.

Eva Musby – a selection of YouTube videos produced by Eva Musby in support of her book and Bitesize audios for the parents and carers of children and teenagers with anorexia and other eating disorders.

AFRID Awareness UK – a UK charity dedicated to raising awareness and furthering information about Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.

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