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Eating Disorders

Everyone has an eating pattern, but this can become disrupted when we experience times of stress or vulnerability.  That is the point when your eating behaviour may change from a short term change in your eating pattern to a long term eating disorder.  This may be difficult for you or your friends, peers and family to spot.  It may be seen as a reasonable adjustment to coping with emotions and difficult moments in your life.

An eating disorder is when someone is expressing distress or attempting to cope with difficult emotions through an unhealthy relationship with food.  People struggling with an eating disorder usually find it extremely difficult to express, process, and cope with their emotions.

1.6 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder and hospital admissions increased by 37% during the pandemic.

Eating disorders can affect people of any  age, race, sexuality, able bodied or disabled, social or economic background.  They may also have a genetic link related to hormone changes or a family history of anxiety or depression.

The sooner an eating disorder is identified, the quicker that treatment can be arranged to help someone recover and manage their relationship with food.


Types of eating disorder

There are several types of eating disorder and each has its unique signs and symptoms.

Anorexia

Anorexia is an eating disorder where you worry about your weight and body shape, you want to lose weight and eat less and less food.   Symptoms include:

  •  extreme fear of gaining weight
  •  excessive and compulsive exercising
  •  becoming obsessed with diets and calories
  •  believing you are fat when you are a healthy weight or underweight

Physical signs may include:

  • weakness in the muscles
  • difficulty sleeping and fatigue
  • irregular or stopped periods
  • growth of soft feathery hair (lanugo) on body

Bulimia

Bulimia is an eating disorder where you get into a cycle of overeating and then making yourself sick or using laxatives to try to get rid of the food. Symptoms include:

  • eating a large amount of food in a short amount of time or binging
  • experiencing feelings of guilt, shame or anxiety after eating
  • fixation with weight and body shape
  • being sick after eating
  • using diet pills or laxatives to control weight

Physical signs may include:

  • vomiting
  • stomach pain/problems
  • damage to teeth
  • irregular or stopped periods
  • enlarged salivary glands
  • electrolyte imbalance, such as sodium or potassium

Binge eating disorder

Binge eating disorder involves eating when you’re not hungry or when you can’t stop when you’ve had enough food. Some people describe it as an uncontrollable addiction to food.

Symptoms include:

  • eating quicker than usual
  • eating even when you’re full
  • eating when you’re not hungry
  • eating alone or in secret
  • history of dieting
  • feeling guilty, disgusted or upset after binging

Physical signs include:

  • tiredness
  • difficulty sleeping
  • weight gain
  • bloating
  • constipation
  • stomach pain or stomach ulcers
  • poor skin condition

Other specified feeding or eating disorders

Not everyone will fit the patterns that are described above and it is important to know that there are other lesser known disorders as well. These include:

  • Avoidant / Restrictive Food Intake Disorder or AFRID where individuals have developed  a problem with feeding or eating that causes them to avoid particular foods or consuming food altogether
  • Psychological disorder characterised by an appetite for non foods, such as dirt, stones, cigarette ash and chalk, known as PICA
  • Night Eating Syndrome which are recurrent episodes of night eating

Treatment

Talking therapies are used to help treat eating disorders with the aim to:

  • reduce physical and psychological risks, such as kidney damage, heart disease, weak bones, diabetes and depression
  • encourage healthy eating and understanding of nutrition
  • develop healthy ways of coping with thoughts and feelings behind the disorder, such as self soothing and improved self-esteem

Local help and Support

Eating Distress North East offer a confidential service for people experiencing difficulties around food, as well as for their families and professionals. They provide information, advice and signposting, as well as support groups, training and counselling.

Cumbria, Northumberland Tyne and Wear Trust (CNTW) run an eating disorders service for children and young people.

With thanks to Eating Distress North East for their support with this information.

Last updated: December 2, 2021