A recent study carried out in the UK during Anti-Bullying week 2012 stated that 90% of respondents admitted to being bullied at some point during their lives; including more than 75% of individuals who suffer from an eating disorder. These individuals admitted that bullying played an important role in their disorder. The research also showed that those who suffered from an eating disorder such as Anorexia Nervosa, said: ‘anorexia became my friend – it gave me comfort and separated me from the scary world of socialising’.
What are eating disorders, what are the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder and what do you do if you suspect that a loved one is suffering from such a disorder?
Eating disorders are defined as an ‘abnormal attitude towards food that causes someone to change their eating habits and behaviour’
There are several types of eating disorders:
- Anorexia Nervosa – keeping weight as low as possible.
- Bulimia – controlling weight by binge eating and emptying one’s stomach and bowels by either induced vomiting or by taking laxatives.
- Binge eating – compelled to over-eat.
Statistics show us that eating disorders affect 1:2,000 men and 1:250 women at some point in their life. Both sexes can experience anorexia nervosa, which will usually develop around the ages of 16 to 17. Bulimia is around 5 times more common than anorexia nervosa with 90% of bulimics being female and occurring at around 18 or 19 years old. Binge eating usually affects both sexes later in life between the ages of 30 and 40, although it is not clear how widespread the condition is, due to the difficulty in defining binge eating.
Signs of an eating disorder
The following signs may help you identify whether a loved one has developed an eating disorder:
- Repeatedly missing meals.
- Complaining of being overweight even though they are actually of normal weight or even underweight.
- Repeatedly weighing themselves and looking at themselves in the mirror.
- Making repeated claims that they have already eaten or that they will be shortly going out and will eat somewhere else.
- Cooking big or complicated meals for other people but eating little or none of the food themselves.
- Only eating certain low calorie foods in your presence such as lettuce or celery.
- Feeling uncomfortable or refusing to eat in public places such as restaurants.
- The use of ‘pro-anorexia websites’.
Should you be concerned about a friend or a family member, it is often difficult to know what to do, as sufferers are often very secretive and defensive about their eating, their weight, and they are unlikely to admit to being unwell.
Eating disorders are often blamed on social pressures, such as young people feeling the need to resemble a stereotype, however, the NHS states that the root cause is usually more complex. There is some evidence that eating disorders can run in families. However, it is not clear to what extent the risk of developing anorexia or bulimia is carried in the genes.
It is believed that those with eating disorders may have a biological or influencing factor, which combined with a personal experience, such as the break-up of a relationship, or the death of someone very close, may provoke the disorder. Social and psychological factors have been identified, but these areas are complicated and are often agitated by the media. Individuals who are considered to have a high risk of having an eating disorder include those:
- With a family history of eating disorders, depression or substance abuse.
- Being criticised for their eating habits, body shape or weight.
- Being overly concerned with being slim.
- Who have an obsessive personality or an anxiety disorder.
- With low self esteem or seeking to be a perfectionist.
- In stressful situations e.g. problems at work or place of study.
- Those suffering severe emotional stress, such as being abused or grieving over the death of a loved one.
- Those having difficult relationships with family or friends
Other signs could include:
- Mentally keeping a balance of calories ingested and calories used.
- A deep-seated feeling of anxiety if too many calories are consumed.
- Self loathing, depression or panic if there has not been any weight loss despite their best efforts.
If an eating disorder is not treated, it can have a serious negative impact on a person’s life. It can disrupt relationships and if carried to an extreme, can have severe physiological effects, which may be fatal.
The psychological causes of an eating disorder can be a combination of the following:
- A distorted body image.
- Low self-esteem.
- Anxiety for self-control.
- An expression of deep emotions such as depression or trauma that can’t be put into words.
Treatment for eating disorders has a positive effect over a period of time, once the person concerned acknowledges he or she is suffering from an eating disorder and accepts the help and advice offered. Once treatment commences, this can involve:
- Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) – which aims at helping a person change how they think or act.
- Interpersonal psychotherapy – concentrates on relationship-based issues.
- Dietary counselling – helping a person maintain a proper healthy diet.
- Psychodynamic therapy – counselling a person about their personality and life experiences, by influencing their current thoughts, feelings, relationships and behaviour.
- Medication - anti-depressants such as Fluoxetine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, has been recommended for bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. They have not been found to be of use in anorexia nervosa.
For more information visit the Anorexia and Bulimia Care websites: http://www.anorexiabulimiacare.co.uk/ and Beat http://www.b-eat.co.uk/.