What is an eating disorder?
‘An eating disorder is when you have an unhealthy attitude to food, which can take over your life and make you ill’ (NHS)
Eating disorders can affect men and women of any age. It is important to know that there are treatments out there that can help people recover from an eating disorder.
The most common eating disorders are:
- Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
- Other specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OFSED)
OSFED is the most common eating disorder, followed by binge eating disorder and bulimia. Anorexia is the least common according to the NHS.
Let’s have a look at each one in more detail:
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder and serious mental health condition, where people keep their weight as low as possible by avoiding food, exercising excessively, or taking medication. They can become very ill as their body starves. Many also have a distorted body image, thinking they are fat even when underweight.
The signs and symptoms
If you find that you are avoiding food, missing meals, avoiding certain foods, such as fatty foods, eating very little or exercising to excess then you may be suffering from anorexia
- You may also have a poor body image, believing you are fat even when underweight or at a healthy weight. You may also be taking medication to reduce appetite or laxatives or diuretics to limit the amount of food your body retains
- If you are a woman, you may also notice an interruption of your menstrual cycle or not starting periods in younger women
- You may also have a low BMI or your weight could be lower than expected for your age and height
- Then there are the physical problems, such as being lightheaded, dizzy, loss of hair and dry skin
Bulimia is where a person will have periods of binge eating. They will eat excessively and then make themselves sick, use laxatives or excessive exercise. Men and women of any age can have bulimia but is most common in young women, starting typically in mid to late teens.
The signs and symptoms
- If you find that you are eating large quantities in a short period of time, which is out of control, this is a sign of binging
- You may also fear putting weight on and have a critical body image, weight, or shape. Another sign could be purging, this is where you vomit, use laxatives or participate in an extreme amount of exercise after a binge
- You may also notice mood changes such as tension and anxiety
- Due to bulimia you may notice tiredness, a sore throat, bloating, and a puffy face
Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
Binge eating disorder is where a person will eat large portions of food at once until feeling uncomfortably full, followed by upset and a feeling of guilt. Some people will buy special binge food, often hiding it from others.
Anyone can suffer from binge eating disorder, but it typically starts in late teens.
The signs and symptoms
Eating excessive amounts of food and not stopping when full
- Eating even though not hungry
- Some suffer from low mood, or a feeling of guilt or shame after binge eating.
- It is also common for people to eat alone or secretly, maybe storing up supplies
- Some put on weight, but this does not happen to everyone
Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED)
Atypical anorexia is one diagnosis that comes under OSFED, this is where all the symptoms are the same as anorexia, but weight remains in the normal weight range. Another is low frequency or limited duration bulimia nervosa, again this is the same as bulimia but happens over shorter periods.
Night eating syndrome is where someone eats excessively in the evening after their evening meal.
There is also low frequency or limited duration binge eating disorder, again this is the same as binge eating disorder, but doesn’t happen as often or part of a cycle.
The signs and symptoms are the same as for BED.
What drives an eating disorder?
People with eating disorders report that they are not able to control other parts of their lives so controlling what they eat helps them to feel in control.
It can also be driven by a history of eating disorders, addiction, and depression in the family.
Some feel bullied or criticised for their eating habits, shape or weight. Whilst social media pressure and comparing self to reality stars has also increased the amount of people being diagnosed. Gone are the days of ‘the camera never lies’, which has made people strive for perfection. Some perceive that they need to be slim for a particular job, their social circles or even for a partner.
If you are worried about yourself or someone else, make contact with your GP who can make a referral to an eating disorder specialist.
Vivup’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) is also available 24/7, 365 days a year. The 24-hour telephone helpline is responsive, confidential, and totally independent, acting as an invaluable support for employees in crisis who need advice and short-term low intensity support. In addition a range of downloadable self-help workbooks providing insight, advice and support across a range of topics including Eating Disorders are accessible through the Vivup EAP.