Eating disorders iare a complex subject that not everyone knows about unless by first hand experience. Professionals on the front line are key in supporting people living with eating disorders of any walk of life. Getting the help they need early on is imperative for long-term recovery.
In this blog post I answer the seven most common questions asked to me to dispel some if the common misconceptions and stereotypical assumptions...
1.What is meant by the term 'eating disorder'? By definition eating disorders are coping mechanisms in which a sufferer uses food or eating as a way of dealing with difficult, thoughts, emotions and experiences over a period of time. They are serious psychological conditions that can affect the body physically and cause significant harm.
2. What are the main causes of eating disorders? Eating disorders are complex illnesses that are caused by a combination and culmination of factors built up over time, opposed to a singular factor alone. Some of the contributing factors (but not exhaustive) can include issues around identity, peer pressure, low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy and loss.
There is ongoing debate to whether they are caused by a generic pre-disposition. However it is likely that social and psychological factors also play a role. More in-depth research is needed to better understand the causes and interventions to treat eating disorders.
3. Can you tell if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them? It's a common myth that you can 'tell' whether someone has an eating disorder and is not the case. Bulimia sufferers may not lose or gain weight and usually near normal weight. Binge eaters may not always be overweight or obese. Anorexia sufferers will only get to low weight over a period of weeks/months.
4. Are eating disorders more prevalent in particular communities or groups? Eating disorders are commonly assumed to be suffered by mostly suffered by young women. In fact, eating disorders are indiscriminate and anyone can be affected regardless of their gender, age, ethnicity, sexuality, religion or social class.
5. What percentage of men get an eating disorder? It is believed that up to a quarter of sufferers are male but may be an under-estimate due to men not feeling able to access support.
6. What traits should I look out for if I suspect someone I know may have an eating disorder? The traits between all the eating disorders are varied but typical signs include social withdrawal, change of character, mood swings, deliberately isolating one-self, denial, ambivalence, obsessive and habitual behaviours and perfectionism (or idealism) in anorexia sufferers.
7. How can I best support a client, colleague or someone I know personally who has an eating disorder? The first thing to do is just be there. If you can listen and be non-judgmental he will learn to trust you and the support you are giving. By being there - it will give them the encouragement and support they need.
Find out as much as you can about what they are going through. The eating disorder isn't necessarily the problem, rather the underlying factors that are fueling it. Are there pressures in his life that is making him stressed or anxious? It is likely there are a multitude of issues contributing to it. By identifying these problems it might make it a little easier for him to talk about his eating disorder rather than tackling it head on.
ED-UCATE is a new pamphlet designed by MGEDT for GPs and health professionals as part of a set of informational and educational resources.