When you have an eating disorder you will be focussed on your weight and body shape, which in your eyes is unattractive or overweight. Due to the way you see yourself, you change your eating habits, which will affect your physical appearance and state of mind.
Eating disorders can be quite complex and have a variety of different symptoms and signs. When you suffer from an eating disorder, you may also suffer from depression and may experience other mental health difficulties e.g. self–harm.
If you find that your thoughts are revolved around food, the way you look and it’s impacting the way you view and eat food, you could be at risk of developing an eating disorder. Doctors use a system called SCOFF to help them diagnose a person with an eating disorder. These are the questions they ask:
• Sick – Do you force yourself to be sick because you feel uncomfortably full?
• Control – Do you feel you’re not in control when it comes to eating?
• One stone – Have you lost more than one stone in a three-month period?
• Fat – Do you believe you’re fat despite other people telling you, you’re thin?
• Food – Would you say that food is the main factor in your life?
The above is considered a guide. However, through more in-depth discussions the doctor can make a diagnosis. If you are concerned about food, seeking help early on can prevent any future disorders from developing.
There are not any set causes for eating disorders. There are many theories on what can cause an eating disorder but it is rare that one specific thing will be the cause, it is usually a variety of factors that play a part. There are some risk factors that can make someone more likely to develop an eating disorder, which are detailed below:
• A family history of eating disorders, substance abuse or depression
• Being criticized for your weight and or body shape
• Pressure to be slim for a job (e.g. model, ballet dancers)
• Having a certain personality trait – e.g. being a perfectionist, having OCD
• Having experienced trauma or loss
• Having an unstable relationship with family and or friends
• Have experienced or are experiencing a stressful time
There are several different types of eating disorders, each with different signs and symptoms.
– Anorexia Nervosa. This disorder causes the individual to starve themselves, skip meals and or exercise excessively to lose weight
– Bulimia Nervosa. This disorder causes the individual to binge on food and purge, which is either done by forcing themselves to be sick or via laxatives
– Binge eating. This disorder causes the person to overeat as a way to
cope with difficult emotions
There are other eating disorders, which are known as ‘Eating disorder not otherwise specified’ (EDNOS). A person who has EDNOS may not have all the signs and symptoms of a person who ‘typically’ fits into the above, but they do still have a distorted view about food.
There can be several warning signs that someone you know has an eating disorder, including:
• Skipping meals
• Complaining about being overweight when the person is of ‘normal’ weight or underweight
• Weighing themselves constantly
• Cooking large meals for everyone and very minimal food for themselves
• Eating only low-calorie foods
• They feel uncomfortable eating in public
• After a large meal they go to the bathroom
If you feel that a friend or family member is suffering from an eating disorder – the best thing you can do is to offer support. Encourage the person to seek professional treatment for their eating disorder and offer to attend the sessions with them as they may feel quite nervous.
Remember – being supportive in your approach will work much better than being confrontational and accusatory. It may help the person to be provided with some information on their disorder; this may help them to realise what’s going for them, that they have a problem and that it will only get worse without professional help.
Let the person know you care about them and offer as much support as you can.
If your eating disorder is left untreated it can have damaging effects physically and mentally and in some cases, be fatal.
You may believe that talking to someone is not going to help, however talking through your feelings and what’s happened can help you resolve any issues you have, help with the eating disorder and make you feel better in the long run.
There are plenty of treatment options for eating disorders, which is good news. Eating disorder treatment can be very beneficial in treating the underlying issues, within a safe environment, insight provided by an experienced counsellor or psychotherapist.