This is a question i get asked by some of my clients at the beginning of their recovery journey and others that come to me are fully aware they are in the grips of this awful illness.
I am very passionate about eating disorders and helping people overcome these awful illnesses. Having suffered with my own difficulties in my late teens and early twenties and even to this day, still struggling with the long term damage my ED did to my body, I want to raise awareness around this topic. When I was struggling all those years ago, I had no idea what an eating disorder was, that I had one or what damage I was doing to my body so I want to share with you some brief information about eating disorders and some of the characteristics in hopes this will help others.
If you or someone you love has an eating disorder or has a difficult relationship with food or body, help is out there. Don't suffer with this alone, therapy can help give you the support and tools to change this.
Beat Eating disorder charity suggests that 1.25 million people have an eating disorder in the UK but I think it's much, much higher as many clients that have come to me have not reported to anyone they are struggling, they feel too much shame and in some cases have even hidden it from their closest family members.
Anorexia Nervosa: Anorexia should be considered as a serious mental illness that needs fast and specialist treatment. People suffering from anorexia may restrict the amount of food and drink they consume; they may have very strict rules around what and how much they eat and may become very low in weight. They may also use exercise a lot as a way of keeping their weight low. Not everyone suffering with anorexia is under weight.
Someone with anorexia, who restricts what they eat may also find that they have episodes where they binge, eating large quantities of food but then may also use vomiting or laxatives to ‘rid themselves’ of calories they may feel they have consumed. Vomiting and laxative abuse are very damaging to someone’s physical health.
Weight and shape may also be a big factor for someone suffering with anorexia, they may have a very different image of themselves compared to how others see them, thinking they are bigger than they are.
Anorexia is a mental illness which can lead to very server physical illness, as restriction of food and drink, starvation and malnourishment takes its toll physically on the body e.g., reduction in muscle strength, reduce bone strength and density. Girls or women may experience changes with their menstrual cycle, feeling tired and poor concentration levels and irational thinking. This illness puts incredible strain on the heart and cardiovasular system and this can lead to death. These are just a few of the ways anorexia will impact someone.
Anorexia has the highest death rate of all mental illness due to cardiac issues or sudden death. Anorexia should not be ignored or left untreated.
Bulimia Nervosa: As with any eating disorder, it is a serious mental illness. People suffering with bulimia may feel they are stuck in a cycle of binging on large quantities of food and then resorting to vomiting, using laxatives, restricting to compensate for the binge. This is known as the binge and purge cycle and can dominate daily life leading to difficulties at school, work, in relationships and other social situations.
Binging can become a way to cope with emotions e.g., stress, anger, depression.
The episode of binging can cause great distress and lead to a purge. People suffering with bulimia are also likely to be very sensitive to weight and shape and see themselves bigger than they are or how others see them.
Everyone ‘overindulges’ with food from time to time, this does not mean it is binging or that we have an eating disorder. Generally, someone suffering with bulimia does not feel in control of how much and how fast they eat, they may even be aware that they are not enjoying what they are eating but not feel able to stop.
Bulimia can cause very serious damage to a person’s physical health, such as kidney damage, permanent damage to teeth, increased risk of heart problems and damage to vocal cords and throat. Recovery is possible with specialist treatment.
Binge Eating Disorder: Binge eating disorder (BED) is a serious mental illness. Someone suffering with BED may find that they eat large quantities of food, sometimes in secret, feel out of control of what or how fast they are eating. They may want to stop but feel they can’t but unlike bulimia, someone with BED will not feel the need to purge (vomit, laxative use, over exercise). A binge episode can be very distressing. Someone suffering with BED may have strong feelings of shame, disgust, embarrassment or guilt.
A binge may be spontaneous or may even be planned and may be that the person buys special ‘binge food’ and people may go to very extreme lengths to get food e.g., eating food that isn’t theirs, food that has been thrown in the bin.
As with other eating disorders, food can become a way of managing difficult feelings and emotions, difficult life events or stress.
People suffering with binge eating disorder are at risk of weight gain or becoming obese. Obesity increases the risk of physical health problems e.g., high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke and high cholesterol. Recovery is possible with specialist treatment.
OSFED: What is OSFED? Many people may not fit neatly into the other specified eating disorders mentioned above so OSFED is “other specified feeding or eating disorders”
According to BEAT eating disorder charity, OSFED accounts for the highest percentage of all eating disorders. It should be considered a serious mental illness and taken just as seriously as any of the eating disorders mentioned above.
What comes under the OSFED banner?
Bulimia Nervosa: (not as frequent or for a short duration) This would be if someone has all the symptoms of bulimia, but the binge and purge cycles are not as regular.
Atypical Anorexia: This is where someone displays all the symptoms of anorexia but is not considered underweight.
Night Eating Syndrome: This is where someone might regularly eat large quantities of food at night after their evening meal maybe or they are waking up in the night to eat large quantities of food.
Purging Disorder: This might be where someone is using vomiting or laxatives to try and control their weight and shape but without the binging.
Binge Eating Disorder: (Not as frequent or for a short duration) This would be the same as someone who had all the symptoms of binge eating disorder but not binging as often.
All eating disorders should be considered as serious, and treatment should be sought as early as possible.
Can therapy help recovery from an eating disorder?
Absolutely YES! You can recover from an eating disorder but it is important to seek specialist support as soon as possible.
Therapy will help you understand your eating disorder and how it developed. I then help you to develop skills and a life that feels meaningful and fulfilling outside of your eating disorder.
I understand that reaching out for support or telling someone you have an eating disorder may feel really difficult, but you deserve to live the life you want, one step, one day at a time.