Monday, February 4, 2013

Eating Disorder Awareness Week 11th - 17th February 2013

Eating Disorder Awareness Week‏  11th - 17th February 2013

An eating disorder is an abnormal attitude towards food that causes someone to change his or her eating habits and behaviour.   Between the 11thand 17th of February focus will be on eating disorders - that can destroy lives. 

It can start at any time, although it is commonest in younger people.  More recently though it has been starting to affect more people in the older age groups than has traditionally been seen.  It is characterised by a person focusing excessively on their weight and shape, leading them to make unhealthy choices about food with an often-catastrophic effect on their health and on those around them.

Eating disorders include a range of conditions that can affect someone physically, psychologically and socially. The most common eating disorders are: 

·       Anorexia Nervosa - when someone tries to keep their weight as low as they can, starving himself or herself or exercising excessively to achieve this.
·       Bulimia - this is when someone tries to control their weight by binge eating and then deliberately making themselves sick or using laxative medication to help empty their bowels before the food has been absorbed.
·       Binge eating - this is when someone feels compelled to continually overeat.

Although Eating disorders are often blamed on social pressure to be thin, with young people bombarded my images in the media that make them feel that they need to look a certain way, the causes are often a lot more complex.  There can be some biological influencing factors, combined with an experience that may ‘set off’ the disorder, while other factors may encourage the condition to continue. 

Some risk factors can make someone more likely to have an eating disorder.  They include:
·       Having a family member who has had an eating disorder, depression or substance abuse.
·       Being criticised for eating habits, body shape or weight can be a strong trigger, especially in young people.
·       Being overly concerned with being slim, particularly if combined with pressure to be slim either from society or for a job - for example models, athletes and ballet dancers.
·       Certain characteristics, like having an obsessive personality or an anxiety disorder, low self-esteem or being a perfectionist.
·       Particular experiences, such as sexual or emotional abuse or the death of someone special can trigger one of these conditions.
·       Difficult relationships either with family members, peers or friends
·       Stressful situations, for example when problems are encountered at work, school or university or at home.

It is often difficult to recognise that a loved one or friend has developed an eating disorder but some of the warning signs might be:
·       Someone missing meals
·       Complaining of being fat, even when they are normal weight or are even underweight.
·       If someone is weighing themselves and looking at themselves in the mirror all the time.
·       If when you offer a meal they always say that they have already eaten, or they will shortly be going out to eat somewhere else to avoid eating with you.
·       Cooking big or complicated meals for other people, while eating very little or none of the food themselves.
·       Only eating low-calorie foods such as lettuce or celery.
·       Feeling uncomfortable eating out or refusing to eat in public places, such as a restaurant.
·       The use of 'pro-anorexia' websites.

The NHS website has very useful information like this and much more on its site.  If someone in your family develops an eating disorder then it is likely that you will be in for a long and bumpy ride.   The sufferers become very clever in covering their tracks and in choosing loose clothing that will disguise the weight they have lost, in the case of anorexia or bulimia or even gained if they are a binge eater.  This is something that can rarely be tackled without outside help.  Look on the NHS website for help and guidance if you think someone you know might be affected by and eating disorder.

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Amanda Thomas
UK Health Radio