This week is Eating Disorder Awareness Week in the UK. Eating disorders are mental illnesses that can be easily misunderstood and are often not talked about enough. Therefore, it’s important that we use this week to shed some light and knowledge on this subject.
Knowledge is often the key to understanding and getting the help and support needed. Let’s remove stigma and misconceptions and start encouraging more open conversations about eating disorders.
up to 1.25 million people are living with an eating disorder right now
According to the website beateatingdisorders.org.uk up to 1.25 million people are living with an eating disorder right now. If you include family and friends who are affected by this, they are estimating around 5 million people.
It’s important to remember that people often want to help but have no idea how. This can cause feelings of being lost and helpless at times. Sometimes that is okay though, and the simple act of showing that you are there to love and support them might be exactly what they need.
But what does it really mean to have an eating disorder?
An eating disorder is defined as something that is causing clinically significant distress and impairment of bodily function. They can be recognised by symptoms such as: under-eating, over-eating, purging, over training, obsessive counting of calories or obsessive behaviour towards the body.
This narrow definition is being used in “folk psychology” and can cause misconceptions when you forget to focus on the individual
These symptoms are what most people think about when they hear the term eating disorder, and they’re also where the problems seem to come from. This narrow definition is being used in “folk psychology” and can cause misconceptions when you forget to focus on the individual.
Fortunately, there are experts in the field who are spreading their knowledge about eating disorders. I spoke to Clinical Officer at First Steps in Derby and registered health nurse, Amy Hudson, and she shared some important facts to help clarify some of what is being misunderstood.
Q. What are the biggest misconceptions about eating disorders?
A. One misconception is that people with an eating disorder are attention seeking, this is not the case. Eating disorders are a serious mental, and often very secretive, illnesses. Another misconception is that eating disorders are a female illness, this is not true. Eating disorders can affect people of any gender, age and ethnicity. Furthermore, often the first thing people think of when eating disorders are mentioned is anorexia. However, this is not the only eating disorder there is. You can also find Binge Eating Disorder, Bulimia Nervosa and Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED).
Q. What is your best advice for people who feel lost and are struggling with food, self-image, negative self-talk and/or other symptoms relating to this?
A. Although it can be really hard to reach out for help, the sooner you get help, the easier it is to get better. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, you are not alone in the way that you feel. Often people are unsure if they are ‘ill enough’ or can feel like they ‘don’t deserve’ help, but if you feel like you are struggling then you definitely do deserve help and it’s always worth seeking out help. Even if you change your mind, you will always have options. Speak with your GP if you feel able to and they can direct you to local services. If you are at the University of Nottingham you can access support with First Steps Eating Disorders and can self-refer on the website, you do not need a diagnosis to access this support.
Q. What’s your best advice for people who think their friend might be struggling?
A. If you recognise that a friend is struggling, try to broach the topic with them sensitively, maybe letting them know that you have noticed that they’re not acting themselves and asking if they are okay? Try not to be judgemental and be there to listen to them, often people with an eating disorder can be reluctant to receive help and may not think that they need help. If they are willing to get help you could offer to go to their GP or First Steps appointment with them if they are worried about going on their own. If you are really concerned about a friends safety and have tried speaking with them but they do not acknowledge that they are unwell, it may be that you need to speak with one of their family members or a support team at your university to see if they can offer more support.
So, let’s sum up what we’ve learned so far: eating disorders should be taken seriously, and you should never think you are “not sick enough” to get help. It’s also important to remember that it is not only girls who can have eating disorders, that it is often bound to a lot of secrecy and can also be expressed in a variety of different ways – not only anorexia.
Be open, be supportive
Talking about worries can help to make it easier to explain what is going on, and to support understanding from both ends. However, there should never be any judgement in these conversations. Be open, be supportive. If you’re struggling, give your loved ones a chance, maybe they can help more than you think.
Let’s talk. Let’s be open. Show love and support, not judgement.
For more information, please visit: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/
Beat Studentline: 0808 801 0811
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