By Gabbie Wright |
Since starting the FA Student Foodie two years ago we have received tons of great recipes from contributors, reviewed some of the best local businesses in and around Falmouth, and shared with you our readers some truly sensational student tips and tricks when it comes to food that’s healthy and budget-friendly. With food at the heart of this series, it is also our responsibility to raise awareness and support those within our community that might struggle to maintain positive relationships with food as young adults. In this article, we discuss some of the eating disorders that today affect 1.25 million people in the UK alone, how you can monitor your eating habits, and how to look after those around you that might be showing signs of struggling. We are not professionals, so if you need help seek expert advice using our links at the bottom of the article.
In light of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, 1st-7th March 2021, we want to help debunk some of the myths and misunderstandings that have long surrounded Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa, as well as other less widely acknowledged symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder and EDNOS (eating disorders not otherwise specified). Especially at this moment in time, there tends to be delays with NHS or university-based counselling referrals and treatment; the Coronavirus pandemic has no doubt drastically affected the mental health of the population, but for students trying to balance their studies with the stresses of a totally different lifestyle and being cut off from a sense of normality, it is vital to ensure young people are prioritising their own physical and mental health more than ever.
In the UK, 1 in 10 people will experience partial or full symptoms of an eating disorder. 40% of all cases of Anorexia are seen in the 15-19 age group, affecting females the most, and similarly incidents of Bulimia are highest within the 20-24 age group. This means that in many cases those battling with an eating disorder find themselves students at university; mental health is often neglected during this time of immense change and responsibility, and relationships with body image, sleep, and food can quickly begin to deteriorate without noticing. That mental health disorders like depression and anxiety, as well as post traumatic stress disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder, can co-occur and regularly develop alongside eating disorders is only more of a reason to give your diet and those around you the proper attention they require, and seek help as soon as you think you may need it.
Educating healthy attitudes toward nutrition and encouraging more body-positive discussions of image can help lower the risk of eating disorders being developed. It’s not always going to be possible to stop an individual acquiring an eating disorder, but knowing what to look out for in friends and family can ensure they are able to access the support and start the treatment needed as soon as possible to help them prompt a change in their behaviour and begin to make a recovery.
The journey for those suffering is not straightforward or easy, so before we discuss the specifics… Here are 10 general tips for helping anyone with an eating disorder:
- Educate yourself on eating disorders – this is a good start.
- Don’t talk about your own diet, whether you are on one or are thinking of starting one.
- Speak positively about yourself and your own body always but, if not, especially around them.
- Don’t comment (even if its a compliment) on their body at all, it can be incredibly triggering.
- Don’t force them to eat, give them enough space to eat peacefully and without judgement.
- Don’t use identifiers like Anorexic, Bulimic, etc. – they are not their eating disorder.
- Help with their food shop if they are anxious or putting it off.
- Go to therapy with them if they want.
- Keep cheering them on when they lose track of progress or relapse.
- Be the friend they need.
An eating disorder and serious mental health condition, anorexia nervosa effects men and women of any age. It’s a disease that manipulates your view of your body, and those suffering with anorexia will try to keep their weight as low as possible in an effort to better their distorted body image. In doing so, many victims will starve themselves to the point of hospitalisation.
Anorexia will drastically impact your overall health and body weight, with the most commonly observed signs of the disorder being the loss of a woman’s period, fainting and frequent spells of dizziness, as well as loss of hair and very thin, dry and pale skin.
Think someone is suffering? Symptoms will include:
- Compulsively monitoring or lying about weight, an overwhelming fear of putting on weight, dramatic weight loss
- Missing meals, eating very little or avoid eating foods seen as ‘fattening’
- Lying about what and when you’ve eaten
- Taking medication: to reduce hunger (appetite suppressants), or to prevent you putting on weight (laxatives and diuretics)
- Excessive exercise
- Self-induced sickness
- Strict rituals around eating
- Bloating, constipation, abdominal pain
- Cutting food into small pieces or eating very slowly to disguise how little is being eaten
- Distorted body image: believing you’re fat when you’re a healthy weight or underweight (unusual BMI referencing)
The causes of anorexia and how it can be treated:
- An overt concern with body image as being slim, thin, etc.
- Experienced previous criticism for eating habits, body shape or weight, BULLYING
- Family history of eating disorders, depression, or alcohol or drug addiction
- Anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem
- Obsessive personality, or perfectionist personality
- Sexual abuse
Treating anorexia usually involves mental health therapy through talking or counselling and supervised weight gain, but this will vary dependant on how severe the weight loss of an individual is and how early treatment is received. Treatment will also be different if you are under 18 years old. The aim of the treatment is to help individuals understand the causes of eating problems and feel more comfortable with food generally so they can learn to self-regulate positive eating habits. The fear of weight gain is crucially addressed through proactive and educational steps in understanding what your body needs to stay healthy; vitamin and mineral prescriptions might also be prescribed by a medical professional.
Bulimia nervosa is a cyclical eating disorder that incorporates episodes of binge eating followed by purging the body; this typically involves eating lots within a short period of time before either self-inducing sickness, extensively exercising, or taking medication to prevent weight gain.
The symptoms of bulimia are often difficult to determine in a person as the disorder will close them off and stimulate behaviours of secrecy and denial.
Common symptoms of bulimia to look out for are:
- Mood changes and personality difference: typically tense, anxious, and withdrawn
- Holding a very critical view of body weight and shape
- Eating very large amounts of food in a short time, often in an out-of-control way
- Use of laxatives
- Excessive exercise or ‘purging’
- Overarching fear of putting on weight
Recovering from Bulimia
Treatment for bulimia is largely centred on tracking meal cycles through a journal or self-help book with someone close to the victim, i.e. a parent or friend, as well as a medical professional. Cognitive behavioural therapy might also be offered, as in instances of anorexia and binge eating or when the victim is underage, in order to become more comfortable discussing eating habits and any mental health issues that might be triggering the disordered eating patterns of the individual.
What is binge eating?
Eating disorders don’t just relate to a limited calorie intake, and despite the thin physique and eating difficulties that have long been associated with them, eating disorders effect all types of people in many different ways and will too often go unnoticed because of ignorant assumptions and societally-ingrained diet culture. Binge eating, the most common eating disorder today, has become particularly accepted by the exacerbated social media standards of body image, and within university cultures as a lifestyle norm, but the reality is this disorder seriously impacts the mental and physical health of individuals when untreated by a professional.
It’s vitally important to distinguish between binge eating and occasional over-eating habits to be able to effectively tackle the disorder when present. Binge eating relates to the excessive consumption of food during episodes that are brought on by a loss of self control, and will leave an individual in serious emotional or physical distress. Over-eating periodically, however, tends to be typical for people throughout the Christmas holidays for example, or binge-eating when ordering a large takeaway with friends — This is a normal eating habit so long as your diet is otherwise balanced and well-maintained.
If you’re worried you or someone you know has a binge eating disorder, they are usually caused by:
- Low self esteem
- Feelings of loneliness or depression
- A poor relationship with meal times
- A history of dieting
- Genetics – It is possible to inherit genes that make you more susceptible to developing an eating disorder if you have a close family history of struggling with them.
You should look for these symptoms appearing together:
- Eating at a rapid pace
- Eating despite not being hungry or until uncomfortably full
- Eating alone in fear of judgement
- Feelings of depression, guilt, shame, disgust and embarrassment in relation to your physical appearance, and which are prominent after eating
If these symptoms persist together, or you are experiencing at least one episode of binge eating a week for a period of 12 weeks, seek the medical advice below. Sometimes, people who overeat for special occasions like a birthday will experience these symptoms, but that does not mean that they have binge eating disorder. A prolonged period of 12 weeks as above is crucial when exhibiting symptoms in order to accurately diagnose a binge eating disorder.
The long-term effects of an eating disorder
The more long-term health complications that arise from these eating disorders if left untreated include, but are not limited to, the adverse effects of malnutrition:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- Joint problems
- High blood pressure
- Fertility problems
- Gallbladder disease
- Sleep apnea
Unfortunately, the mortality rate for those suffering with an eating disorder remains incredibly high due to organ failure and suicide. If you or anyone you know is being affected by anything discussed, contact the available support systems and medical professionals using our links at the end of the article below.
Access the university’s wellbeing services here if you or anyone on campus is showing signs of disordered eating or poor mental health:
For immediate help in a crisis:
Emergency: 112 or 999
Non-emergency: 111, Option 2
24/7 Helpline: 116 123
For more information and to get involved with Eating Disorder Awareness Week, see betterhelp and the Beat Eating Disorders websites below:
All statistics are accessible via the NHS or Student Minds research database.