Tag Archives: binge eating disorder

Eating disorders pictogram

EDAW myth busting! #4

This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week and this year I’m taking some time to bust some myths!

Eating disorders only occur in young people

A YouGov poll commissioned by Beat found that 60% of respondents thought eating disorders predominantly affected young people. It is true that eating disorders occur in adolescents and children as young as 6 years old but the largest group of sufferers is adults.

A myth like this perpetuates the idea that eating disorders are a fad or a phase and that young people will grow out of it. This is harmful for young people, as it risks them not getting the full support they need but it also put adults at risk of not getting any support.

An adult may suffer a relapse or they may experience an eating disorder for the first time; triggering events may be parenting, work capabilities, relationships difficulties or bereavement. Specific difficulties may include events that target identity or changes in bodily appearance such as:

  • Pregnancy
  • Children leaving home (empty nest)
  • Slowing metabolism leading to weight gain (middle-aged spread)
  • Menopause
  • Retirement
  • Age related appetite decrease (important to differentiate biological causes from mental and emotional appetite decrease)
  • Physical illness (relationship between physical and mental illness can be complicate)

Co-morbid mental illnesss such as depression or anxiety are common.

It’s important that an eating disorder is recognised in an older adult. The physical consequences, such as nutrient deficiency and malnutrition, are dangerous as their bodies cannot manage the physical strain as a younger body might be able to. Older people are more at risk of developing diabetes and osteoporosis, conditions which can be severely exacerbated by an eating disorder.

Eating disorders pictogram

EDAW myth busting! #3

This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week and this year I’m doing my bit to bust some myths!

Eating disorders are more prevalent in affluent societies

This may be based on the assumption that someone would only deny themselves food, binge or purge food if they had enough.

However research shows that eating disorders occur equally across all levels of income and education.

Hey, Newsflash! Eating disorders are nothing to do with eating or food! An eating disorder is a mental illness, a complex neurological disorder where memories of the past, feed into our emotions and thoughts and lead to behaviours in the present.

If someone is living on the poverty line, they may find themselves spending the little money they have on binge food, they are not making a logical decision, their actions are powered by emotion that feel uncontrollable.

If someone is more affluent, they may have plenty of food. Avoiding food and restricting for days isn’t being deliberately difficult. Their mind is fighting a civil war, trying to figure out which path to take – deciding what to eat when feels complex and all consuming.

Eating disorders are a serious mental disorder, not a lifestyle choice

The time when affluence makes a difference to an eating disorder sufferer is when seeking treatment. All too often I have heard people needing to find a private therapist because the NHS waiting list is simply too long. Private therapy is way beyond most people’s means. We should be proud of our National Health Service – treatment, free at the point of delivery, for all. But it’s letting a lot of people down because it’s under resourced.

When it comes to mental health services, the resources we need are not fancy machines or expensive drugs, we need trained doctors, nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, psychologists and psychotherapists. Quality time with these experts is in short supply. The average eating disorder sufferer takes over a year to seek help, waiting lists can then sometimes be a year to 18 months long. Of course, if you’re in crisis, you’ll (hopefully) get help sooner but no one should have to get to crisis point to get the help they deserve.

We know that early intervention is vital for a better chance of full recovery. While it’s fortunate that some people can afford private therapy. It saddens me that people from poorer backgrounds have no choice but to sit on the waiting list. It is not ok that people who have no choice but to wait for therapy are at risk of poorer outcomes.

Eating disorders pictogram

EDAW myth busting! #1

It is Eating Disorders Awareness Week! This year I’m busting some myths!

Eating disorders are a female problem

This is based on the assumption that eating disorders are all about vanity and since girls are subjected to pressure to look a certain way, they will succome to the perils of an eating disorder. There are 2 problems with this assumption:

  1. Eating disorders are rarely anything to do with vanity – the sufferer may be troubled by their looks but disgust and hatred tend to be the most promenant feelings
  2. Female bodies are under scrutiny but males suffer peer pressure too – musculature, stature, size, shape – males are “supposed” to look a certain way too.

However, there is a genetic component to developing an eating disorder. Having a predisposition does not mean you will definitely develop one but having this genetic predisposition means only a few environmental triggers need to be present for the eating disorder to emerge. Both males and females can have this genetic predisposition and environmental factors (peer pressure, stress, bereavement etc) may impact the individual at any time.

It’s become a cultural norm to discuss diet, weight loss and body shape. This is unhelpful for our mental health. Our relationship with food should be one of fuel and health – nourishing our bodies should be the norm. Whether we’re male or female it seems no one is immune to the pressure to sculpt our bodies into something they can’t do naturally. While females are pressured to be slim, males are pressured to have specific musculature.

Slim person looking in the mirror seeing a larger person reflected back

An eating disorder may be triggered by the pressure to change our body but it quickly turns into something more sinister. For some an eating disorder is a way to become invisible, a form of punishment and/or a way to cope with complex emotional distress. The sufferer of an eating disorder may not be able to see their true reflection in the mirror, they may see someone a lot bigger or a lot smaller than they really are – this is a form of body dismorphia and it’s a lot more complex than being a bit vain.

By perpetuating the myth that only females get eating disorders, males who become unwell will feel even more stigmatised and are less likely to seek help.

Just imagine you’re a young man who started exercising to build muscle but because you were under stress you became unwell and became gripped by an eating disorder, you body became smaller and you struggled to find a way out on your own. You realised you might have this “girls disease” – how much worse do you feel now? We need to ensure the word is out there that males suffer eating disorders too – mental illness does not discriminate, it is just that, an illness of the mind.