With eating disorders on the rise in both women and men, BHT Training set out to dispel some of the myths associated with these serious conditions. We sat down with Understanding Eating Disorders trainer Sam Thomas to ask some of those difficult questions.
1. What is meant by the term ‘eating disorder’?
By definition, eating disorders are coping mechanisms in which a sufferer uses food or eating as a way of dealing with difficult thoughts, emotions and experiences over a period of time.
They are serious psychological conditions that can affect the body physically and cause significant harm.
Eating disorders are serious conditions and have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.
2. What are the main causes of eating disorders?
Eating disorders are complex illnesses that are caused by a build-up of pressures and anxieties over time.
There is ongoing debate as to whether they are caused by a generic pre-disposition. However it is likely that social and psychological factors also play a role.
More research is needed to better understand the causes and interventions to treat eating disorders.
3. Can you tell if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them?
It’s a common myth that you can ‘tell’ whether someone has an eating disorder.
However, this is not the case. Bulimia sufferers may not lose or gain weight – usually, they are near a ‘normal’ weight. Binge eaters may not always be overweight or obese. Anorexia sufferers will only get to low weight over a period of weeks/months.
Eating disorders are often hidden.
4. Are eating disorders more prevalent in particular communities or groups?
Eating disorders are commonly assumed to be suffered by mostly suffered by young women.
In fact, eating disorders are indiscriminate and anyone can be affected, regardless of their gender, age, ethnicity, sexuality, religion or social class.
5. What percentage of men get an eating disorder?
It is believed that up to a quarter of sufferers are male but that may be an under-estimate due to men not feeling able to access support.
6. What traits should I look out for if I suspect someone I know may have an eating disorder?
The traits between all the eating disorders are varied but typical signs include social withdrawal, change of character, mood swings, deliberately isolating one-self, denial, ambivalence and obsessive and habitual behaviours, as well as perfectionism in anorexia sufferers.
The MGEDT website provides information on the main eating disorders including the signs and symptoms: http://mengetedstoo.co.uk/information/definitions-and-symptons
7. How can I best support a client, colleague or someone I know personally who has an eating disorder?
The first thing to do is just to be there.
If you can listen and be non-judgemental, they will learn to trust you and the support you are giving. By being there – it will give them the encouragement and support they need.
Find out as much as you can about what they are going through. The eating disorder isn’t necessarily the problem, rather the underlying factors that fuel it. Are there pressures in their life that are making them stressed or anxious? It is likely there are a multitude of issues contributing to it. By identifying these problems, it might make it a little easier for them to talk about their eating disorder, rather than tackling it head on.
Tell them about the Brighton and Hove Eating Disorders Peer Support Service (BHEDS Peer 2 Peer) who offer monthly meeting groups for men, women and carers: http://mengetedstoo.co.uk/services/bhedspeer2peer