As someone who spent a long time struggling with disordered eating – and still continues to grapple with it – I know first hand that eating disorders, diet culture, body image and our relationship with food is so much more complicated than a few statistics. However I also know that de-stigmatisation of mental health starts with awareness, and that de-stigmatising mental illness saves lives and has the power to change communities. So for eating disorder awareness week here’s a short overview I put together on eating disorder awareness. Follow this blog for more in depth posts to come on this topic:
Eating Disorder Misconceptions:
Not everyone with an eating disorder;
… is skinny
… is underweight
… goes to hospital
… knows they have one
… gets diagnosed
… is white
… is female
… has anorexia or bulimia
… is a teenager
… looks like they have one
… restricts or purges
… has body dysmorphia
Eating Disorder Facts:
⁃ Around 25% of those affected by an eating disorder are male
⁃ Only around 10% of people suffering with an eating disorder are anorexic
⁃ Eating disorders are not a choice or for attention – they are a mental illness
⁃ Research suggests that people that have a family member with an eating disorder are more likely to develop one
⁃ Black teenagers are 50% more likely to exhibit symptoms of bulimia than white teenagers
⁃ LGBTQ people are more likely to develop an eating disorder
⁃ Research suggests that up to 20% of autistic people exhibit traits of eating disorders, and while anorexia is the second least common eating disorder among non-autistic people it is the most common among autistic people
⁃ Approximately 1.25 million people in the U.K. have an eating disorder
⁃ Anorexia has the highest mentality rate of any psychiatric disorder
Types of Eating Disorders:
⁃ Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia (or anorexia nervosa) is a serious mental illness where people lose a lot of weight due to restricting how much they eat and drink. They may develop “rules” around what they feel they can and cannot eat, as well as things like when and where they’ll eat, and around exercise. Anorexia can affect anyone not matter their age, gender, ethnicity or background.
Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, more commonly known as ARFID, is a condition characterised by someone avoiding certain foods or types of food. They may restrict overall intake of intake of certain foods, and have foods that they deal as “safe”.
⁃ Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder (BED) is a serious mental illness where people eat very large quantities of food while feeling like they are not in control or what they are doing. Evidence suggests it is more common than other eating disorders, and is often misunderstood.
People with bulimia feel caught in a cycle of eating large quantities of food (called bingeing), and then trying to compensate for that overeating by purging in some way. That may be vomiting, taking laxatives or diuretics, fasting, or exercising excessively.
Anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder are diagnosed using a list of expected behavioural, psychological, and physical symptoms, however sometimes a person’s symptoms don’t exactly fit the expected criteria for any of these three specific eating disorders. In that case, they might be diagnosed with an “other specified feeding or eating disorder” (OSFED).
Things not to say to someone with an eating disorder (or literally anyone for that matter)
⁃ Are you really going to eat all that?
⁃ That’s a meal not a snack!
⁃ You’re just attention seeking
⁃ You’re weak
⁃ Just eat more/less
⁃ Get over it
⁃ But you’re eating well, how can you have an eating disorder?
⁃ I could never starve myself, I wish I was as devoted as you
⁃ Why don’t you just stop throwing up?
⁃ What diet are you on?
⁃ You should just go on a diet
⁃ Pointing out their weight gain, weight loss, anything about their body or anyone else’s body; try to compliment people through things unrelated to appearance
Eating Disorder help
⁃ Recovery is completely possible; the worst day in recovery is better than a single day being ill
⁃ No one with an eating disorder has anything to be ashamed of; there are so many loving and supporting people out there ready to help
⁃ Asking for help is not weak; it is brave
⁃ If you are a family member or friend supporting someone with an eating disorder you deserve to be supported as well
⁃ You deserve to have a healthy, sustainable and accepting relationship with your body and food
-You are not alone
Goeree, Sovinsky, & Iorio, 2011; Beateatingdisorders.co.uk; Autism.org.uk; Health.com