[Jennie Couling | Contributing Writer]
Monday 23rd February marks the beginning of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week started to raise awareness and funds and to campaign for better research and access to treatment.
On Friday 27th February the national eating disorder charity Beat are running their annual Sock It To Eating Disorders fundraiser, encouraging supporters to wear colourful, crazy and odd socks for the day and donate a £1 to Beat. To donate, text UAUA05 followed by your donation amount from £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10 to 70070 (for example to donate £1 text UAUA05 £1).
What is an eating disorder?
Those with eating disorders have an unhealthy relationship to food that dominates their life at detriment to their mental, and often physical, health.
The three most common types of eating disorder are: anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating disorder. There is also a fourth diagnosis of EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) for those whose symptoms do not fit into one category or do not meet the full criteria for a particular diagnosis. However, this does not mean their eating disorder is any less severe.
According to statistics collected by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence, it is suggested that 1.6 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder, of which around 11% are male. However, one survey suggests up to a quarter of those who displayed signs of an eating disorder were male (Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, 2007).
According to Beat, Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, from medical complications associated with the illness as well as suicide.
Research has found that 20% of anorexia sufferers will die prematurely from their illness. Bulimia is also associated with severe medical complications, and binge eating disorder sufferers often experience the medical complications associated with obesity.
Around 46% of anorexia nervosa patients fully recover, with a third improving, and 20% remaining chronically ill (Steinhausen, 2002). Similar research into bulimia suggests that around 45% of sufferers make a full recovery, 27% improve considerably, and 23% suffer chronically (Steinhausen & Weber, 2009). There is very little research into recovery rates of those who suffer from binge eating disorders.
Research carried out in Australia suggests that the average duration of anorexia nervosa is eight years, and of bulimia nervosa five years. The research also suggests that the earlier treatment is sought, the better the sufferer’s chance of recovery.
Myths about eating disorders
You can tell if someone has an eating disorder by looking at them – People who suffer from eating disorders are all shapes and sizes. Someone with anorexia may never appear emaciated. Equally those with disorders such as bulimia, binge eating, and EDNOS can be underweight, a normal weight, overweight or obese and often fluctuate in weight.
Eating Disorders are caused by Photoshopped images in the media- Lots of people are exposed to photoshopped pictures of models and not all of them develop eating disorders. Social ideas of beauty and weight can negatively impact a person’s body image and make them feel under pressure to look a particular way but they cannot cause an eating disorder. A person’s biology, genetics and psychology affect whether they are susceptible to an eating disorder.
Anorexia is the only life threatening eating disorder – research based on individuals seeking outpatient treatment shows mortality rates for bulimia and EDNOS are similar to, and higher, than those for anorexia. Bulimia had a 3.9% mortality rate and EDNOS had a 5.2% mortality rate while anorexia had a 4.0% rate. (Crow, S., et al. 2009)
Eating Disorders are a result of over controlling parents and dysfunctional families – Families affected by eating disorders are very diverse. Between 50-80% of a person’s risk for developing an eating disorder is due to genetic factors.
Purging is an effective way to lose weight – Purging does not result in ridding the body of ingested food. At least half of what is consumed during a binge typically remains in the body after self-induced vomiting. Laxatives do not prevent the body from absorbing calories either because they impact the large intestine and most calories are absorbed in the small intestine. Laxatives can provide an illusion of weight loss but this is due to loss of fluids and dehydration. Purging does not prevent weight gain. In fact, over time, the binge/purge cycle affects the body’s metabolic rate and can contribute to increased or accelerated weight gain. For these reasons, many people with bulimia are average or above-average weight.
Eating Disorders are a lifestyle choice / someone can choose to stop having an eating disorder – there are a number of contributing factors that make someone develop an eating disorder including genetics. Many use their eating habits as a way of coping with emotions or difficult life events. Recovery is extremely hard work and involves far more than sufferers deciding to not use behaviours. To recover, someone needs medical monitoring, nutritional rehabilitation as well as learning better ways to cope with stress and emotions.
How can you tell if someone has an eating disorder?
Trying to tell if someone has an eating disorder is tricky, as many try very hard to keep their illness a secret. Ultimately it’s down to the sufferer to get treatment and decide to recover, but if you’re worried about someone signs to look out for include:
A reluctance to eat in front of other people
Reluctance / refusal to eat food that doesn’t have nutrition labels or that they have not prepared themselves
Cutting out particular food groups
Rapid weight loss or gain
Cooking elaborate meals for others
Dry skin and hair
Only eating a small range of foods
Having mealtime rituals
Eating strange combinations of food
How to get help
The Student Wellbeing Counselling Centre has a drop in session every weekday during term time 1:30-2:30pm on first floor of the Hutton Hub on College Lane Campus (next to the Forum). It’s confidential and no appointment is needed however students are seen on a first come first served basis. Alternatively you can make an appointment by phoning 01707 284453, emailing Counselling.Centre@herts.ac.uk or filling out a form on StudyNet.
The Student Wellbeing Counselling Centre also has a range of self help resources and student support groups on their StudyNet page.
There are also several websites full of resources and support such as the UK’s leader eating disorder charity b-eat.co.uk. Alternatively, a good place to start is by making an appointment with your GP who will hopefully be able to refer you to other support.
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