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Eating Disorder Awareness Week - It's Time to Talk

BlogStudentsTips and Advice

Raising awareness is an integral part of igniting change. Knowing about eating disorders, and the methods available for treatment and prevention is a key part of building a healthy culture around food and our mental health.

The Reality of Eating Disorders

1.25 million people in the UK suffer from an eating disorder.

This includes binge eating disorder, bulimia, or Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified  (Orthorexia or obsessive healthiness come into this category)  25% of these are male.

Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and Bulimia and Binge Eating Disorder have a wide breadth of associated medical complications. Some of the many physical examples include, but are by no means limited to, dizziness, gum disease and malnutrition.

young lady on their own sat at the end of a jetty surrounded my water looking sad

It isn’t just about not eating

Eating disorders are complex and diverse. There is a range of triggers, cognitive patterns, and presentations for them between individuals. Some people will eat too much, some people will cycle between starving, binging, and purging and others may exhibit typical eating behaviors, but have irrational thoughts and distorted views about themselves and food. It is a mental illness, not a diet or lifestyle.

Disorder eating is distinct from an eating disorder, often with a shorter duration or intensity, but is still cause for concern. Habits can quickly escalate, and long-term health problems still arise - such as vitamin deficiencies, depression, and poor self-esteem.

Support your friends

Eating disorders are notoriously inconspicuous, but this doesn’t mean they’re imperceptible. It isn’t just about if someone has lost or gained weight, although this can be an indicator. Does your friend avoid being at events where food is present, make excuses to avoid eating certain foods or being in public during meals? Have you noticed they hide food, or feel guilty after eating? Perhaps they eat large quantities in one sitting (Binge Eating), and then castigate themselves with intense exercise (Bulimia).

The person you care about is more complex than just a desire to be thinner or eating habits. Eating disorders are a mental illness.

Ultimately, asking if they’re comfortable with themselves, or if they find themselves worrying about food is one of the first steps to being able to help them.

It can be very hard to know what to say to someone who is suffering with an eating disorder but it is also so important to reach out to them. If you know or suspect someone who is suffering with some kind of eating disorder then you can check out this page on the BEAT website to find out the kind of things you could say to that someone to offer your support. 

two friends sat together in a mountain scene

Support services

 In the UK, going to the GP is the first step to getting professional support. This can lead to attending local support groups, therapies, tracking physical health, and kickstart a supported and personalised recovery journey.

 BEAT is a brilliant UK charity dedicated to supporting individuals with eating disorders, their friends, their families, and improving awareness and education around EDs. With recovery information tailored to a range of demographics and needs, helplines and training services, they provide comprehensive and wide-reaching support for the prevention and recovery of eating disorders.

 Unfortunately, BEAT do not receive any government support for the work they do, so rely purely on donations to run their services.

Support yourself

Look after yourself and identify when your habits might be edging into disordered eating. The Scoff Questionnaire is a widely used measure to screen for possible eating disorders:

Do you ever make yourself sick because you feel uncomfortably full?

Do you worry you have lost control over how much you eat?

Have you recently lost more than one stone in a three month period?

Do you believe yourself to be fat when others say you are too thin?

Would you say that food dominates your life?

Two or more positive answers typically indicates someone is likely to be suffering from an eating disorder - if this is the case for you, take a look at the BEAT website and check-in with a GP.

And support me!

Let's get a little personal. I’m writing this as someone who currently considers themselves ‘recovered’. This doesn’t mean I will always be mentally well, but the last year I’ve done what used to be unimaginable I’ve lived my life without food being the focus of my mind. From attending therapy every week, being weighed by my doctors constantly, having my meals planned and days revolving around what and when I eat, I can now be a typical person with friends and family and have goals which I can achieve. Instead of a hospital band on my wrist, I have a watch that measures the time I spend with friends and hours I spend awake making memories - not the hours I spend fasting or counting down to my next pre-decided snack. Recovery was filled with challenges and was terrifying. You can’t escape an eating disorder without proving your faulty thoughts wrong and living beyond the limits of your anxiety. So, my final challenge, to really mark being mentally well, is jumping out of a plane. Solo.

The weekend after Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I will be solo skydiving for the first time. This means pushing myself off the edge of a little glider plane at 13000ft (3962m), free-falling for close to a minute, before pulling my parachute cord and steering myself to the safe drop zone!

This is terrifying.

 But so too was the idea of eating an unmeasured cup of porridge or slice of bread once was.

 So, please help me support BEAT by sponsoring me on my JustGiving page before March 15th.

sky diving

Did you find this blog useful? Why not read 5 Ways You Can Boost Your Mental Health at University or 5 Ways to Switch Off the Mind and Take a Break

Sarah is a  Neuroscience with Cognitive Science student.  Outside of uni she liks to balance part time work with fundraising for Mind and Beat, as well as more fun things like painting and dancing.

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