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Mental Health Monday: Eating Disorders Awareness Week

2 March 2020

Eating Disorders Awareness Week runs between 2nd - 8th March and as such, we wanted to play our part in helping to break the stigma around a much stereotyped facet of mental illness.

It has been estimated that around 1.25 million people are living with an eating disorder in the United Kingdom right now, with the most prevalent being:

* Bulimia Nervosa

* Anorexia Nervosa

* Binge eating disorder

* Other specified feeding and eating disorder (OSFED)

In reality, this probably only represents the tip of the iceberg with many more continuing to suffer in silence.

Changing your eating habits every now and again is normal - but if food proves to be taking over your life then there could be a problem.

Eating disorders are incredibly complex mental illnesses, which often are accompanied by other psychological issues which can sometimes prove to be the root cause.

Diagnosing an eating disorder involves assessing numerous variables, such as your eating patterns, height, weight, blood and BMI. 

Yet there are other factors which can also be prevalent which cannot be determined by tests alone.

The accepted narrative amongst today's society is that you must be either underweight or overweight to have an eating disorder. Not only is this view shared by much of the population, it can be furthered by some healthcare professionals who fail to listen carefully to sufferers who are in need of help - primarily because they don't fit into the assumed stereotype.

This is a myth of course - anyone, regardless of age, gender or weight can be affected by eating disorders.

There are a vast array of symptoms relating to eating disorders, but if one is developing then you may:

* restrict the amount of food that you eat

* eat more than you need or feel out of control when you eat

* eat a lot in secret

* feel very anxious about eating or digesting food

* do things to get rid of what you eat (purging)

* be scared of eating in public

* feel repulsed at your eating habits

* check, test and weigh your body excessively and base your self-worth on this.

Despite all of this, it is commonly accepted that eating disorders are rarely just about food.

Indeed, eating disorders can prove to be the manifestations of deep and painful feelings which you find hard to express - even to yourself.

Focusing on food can prove to be a temporary relief for some and a way of diluting some of the negative feelings which can be engrained over a long period of time.

The development of eating disorders and the feelings that these invoke can have a marked impact on your ability to complete everyday life.

They can affect you in many ways, including:

* finding it difficult to concentrate and feeling tired a lot

* becoming obsessed with food and in some cases, exercise

* feeling depressed and anxious

* feeling distant from family and friends

* avoiding social engagements and isolating yourself

* finding that your appearance has changed

* finding that you become increasingly bullied or teased in relation to your changing eating habits

* developing physical health problems - ranging from mild to life-threatening in severity

* finding that your enjoyment of life has disappeared

It is therefore clear how eating disorders can easily form a symbiotic relationship with other mental health illnesses such as anxiety, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder and self harm.

In most cases, it is impossible to determine one single variable which causes eating disorders - with most professionals being of the mindset that they take hold as a result of a combination of environmental and biological factors.

These include:

* perfectionism - rarely being satisfied with your achievements.

* competitiveness.

* being very critical of yourself.

* obsessive or compulsive behaviour

* a lack of confidence in expressing yourself

* difficult life experiences e.g. the death of a loved one, puberty, working out your sexuality or a life event which elicits much upheaval to your normal comfort zone

* family issues - largely stemming from your upbringing

* social pressures - particularly those forwarded by the media in terms of notions about how we should all look which can give rise to feelings of inadequacy

* other underlying mental health problems.

* a lack of serotonin which affects your mood and appetite

* being more sensitive to the hormones that control hunger and fullness which could result in over-eating or binge eating.

It can be incredibly hard to understand why an eating disorder has manifested itself at an individual level and this can be a harrowing experience for the sufferer in itself.

What is absolutely critical for anyone who is suffering in silence to realise is that they are many, many people who are experiencing exactly the same types of thoughts and feelings as they are.

We are taught from an early age that we are unique, which of course we are - but when it comes to mental illness, it is our similarities that undoubtedly unites us.

It is only the stigma which prevents so many of us recognising just that.

Although reaching out can be scary for anyone who suffers from an eating disorder, it is something which is both needed and deserved.

Nobody should fight this battle alone - especially in light of the fact that there are so many treatments available that are both effective and easily-accessible.

These include:

* talking to your doctor

* online self-help programmes

* talking treatments

* medication

* admission to a clinic

* non-invasive brain stimulation techniques

Recovery is not easy - it involves an incredible leap of faith at the start, the defiance to carry on when things get tough and also the understanding of close family and friends in order to form an unbreakable support mechanism.

But above all, it requires time. There is no point thinking that eating disorders will disappear instantly, as quite simply they won't.

Silkmen Media Manager, Bob Trafford stated: "Eating disorders are incredibly painful and disruptive illnesses which firmly fall under the umbrella of mental health.

"They function in making sufferers question everything about themselves and because they don't know the answers anymore, this gives rise to isolationism.

"The thing about eating disorders from my perspective is that they creep up on you and by the time that you recognise them they have already developed to varying degrees of severity.

"Everyone's experiences are different of course, I developed a variety of eating disorders back in 2012 when I was really fit and running marathons. I had to be better than the last race and got to the stage where my relationship with food literally dominated my life.

"At the time I also had other mental illness prevalent in my life and although I could not see it back then, I can now see how all of my symptoms overlapped to create someone who really was in dire need of help on so many levels.

"Luckily I got that. Through medication, cognitive behaviour therapy and the support of a select number of people, things did begin to get better fairly quickly.

"I would never say that I am completely cured, because you never know where life will take you. But what I will say is that through reaching out, things really did improve fairly quickly and I now feel confident that if I start to suffer again then I will seek help in a far more timely manner.

"I have never really spoke much about this before, although most people know about my battles with anxiety and depression. Doing so is cathartic to a degree, but far more important is that by doing so I hope I bring a human perspective to something which is inherently brushed under the carpet by society as a whole."

It will take one almighty effort and an enormous amount of bravery for suffers to conquer some of their most deeply-engrained fears - but you know what, it will be so worth it.

For more detailed information, please see the below links -

About Eating Problems

Types of Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders Are Not A Lifestyle Choice

BEAT


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