Recognising Eating Disorders
It can be difficult to spot mental health disorders as those struggling have often devised coping mechanisms and are able to hide a lot of what they may be feeling. This short guide aims to give you some perspective of what eating disorders might look like, how a person struggling with an eating disorder may feel and how to help them or yourself.
Eating disorders effect between 1.25 and 3.4 million people in the UK, 1 in 4 are male and 3 in 4 are female. It is important to remember that 85% of people struggling with an eating disorder are not underweight and that sufferers may appear healthy despite being unwell. It’s also important to realise that eating disorders are not a choice. The person suffering is not at any fault for developing an eating disorder. Eating disorders can stem from emotions like anxiety and stress as a way of coping and managing that emotion / experience.
Symptoms may include;
- Worrying about weight and body shape
- Avoiding socialising when food may be involved
- Eating very little food or too much food
- Making yourself ill after eating or taking laxatives
- Exercising too much
- Strict habits around food
- Feeling cold, tired or dizzy
- Problems with digestion
- Weight being very high or very low for your age and height
- For women and girls, not getting your period
The dangers and risks of eating disorders
Eating disorders have many consequences not only for our mental health, but also for our physical health. Consuming too few calories means the body has to break down its own tissue for fuel, predominantly muscles and the heart and this increases the risk of heart failure and lowers blood pressure.
Purging depletes the body of electrolytes and when the body’s electrolytes (e.g. sodium and chloride) are imbalanced it can lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure.
People with type 1 diabetes (born with the problem, caused by genetics) are more at risk of developing an eating disorder, it is not known exactly why, but it a may be due to the fact they have to monitor what they eat and changes in weight. In some cases, people may even misuse insulin to try and control their weight, which is very dangerous. Additionally, you can develop Type 2 diabetes as a side effect of being overweight or disordered eating habits. This can affect how eating disorders are treated and mental health advice should be sought out as quickly as possible.
These risks from eating disorders are scary and can sound intense, it is important to remember that there is help available in friends, family and support services. If you feel like yourself or someone you know is affected by an eating disorder, ask for help and open a healthy discussion about your thoughts and feelings.
How to help someone else
It’s important to try and include someone suffering with an eating disorder as much as possible, they may not want to go out much but by inviting them to do something, even if declined will still help that person feel valued and included. When you do see them, using phrases like; ‘I’m proud of you’ can help build self-esteem. If that person feels comfortable you could try and be open to a discussion about their feelings. Listen to what they have to say and avoid giving advice or criticising them. Just reassure them you will listen and help where/when you can.
How to help yourself
Eating disorders are challenging to overcome, so don’t be hard on yourself when you have a bad day. Developing an eating disorder is nobody’s fault, certainly not your own, additionally try not to blame your family. If your family is not supportive of you or your recovery, then talk to your counsellor or treatment provider to help you further. Remember that you are worth support and recovery, don’t place the needs of others above your own and take your time in recovery. Ask for help, in friends, family, support networks, even teachers you get on with and mental health professionals.
If you feel you may be struggling with an eating disorder, contacting your GP can be a good place to start. They may then refer you another service to suit your needs.
Dorset Mind offer ‘Restored’ a service to support people 16+ and experiencing Anorexia, Bulimia and Binge Eating Disorder as well as other specified feeding or disordered eating. Dorset Mind provide two pathways to assist you in your recovery. This includes 1-2-1 mentoring and our weekly peer support group. You can find out more at https://dorsetmind.uk/help-and-support/support-groups/restored-eating-disorders/
Thank you to our Young ambassador Courtney, for this informative blog.
To find out more about the topics mentioned in this article
You can visit the DMYH eating disorders page: https://dorsetmindyourhead.co.uk/information-and-advice/eating-disorders/
For more information on the side effect of eating disorders: