Hidden eating disorders

15 May 2013

hidden-eating-disordersAccording to Beat, the UK's only nationwide organisation supporting people affected by eating disorders, there are an estimated 1.6 million people in the UK with eating disorders.

We reveal the hidden disorders and offer advice on how to eat for optimum health.

What are the most common types of eating disorder?

There are several types of eating disorder. According to Beat, the most well-known are anorexia, which accounts for 10 per cent of cases, bulimia nervosa around 40 per cent and binge eating disorder.

 Most of us envisage a young teenage girl when we think of eating disorders but anyone can develop an eating disorder. Research carried out by the NHS Information Centre found that up to 6.4 per cent of adults displayed signs of an eating disorder, a quarter of whom were male.

Reasons behind eating disorders

A Person with an eating disorder may focus excessively on their weight and shape, leading them to make unhealthy choices about food. Eating disorders usually begin when a person suffers some emotional trauma, this can also include low self-esteem, compulsive behaviour, media images.

There is never one single cause but rather a set of different causes, i.e. a person’s personality, past experiences, current events or pressures, anxiety and depression.  Focusing on food can be a way of disguising these problems, a form of control in their life, emotional support and in some circumstances a form of self-harm.

How can eating disorders affect our health?

Eating disorders can affect our health in many ways. As well as damaging emotional health, food disorders can have real and long lasting physical effects including tooth decay, flaky skin and tiredness. They can also upset the hormonal balance and stop mensuration (amenorrhoea) which can affect fertility later in life.

Eating disorders can also be life-threatening: “Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, from medical complications associated with the illness as well as suicide,” says Thorndyke.

Research from Beat found that 20 per cent of anorexia sufferers may die prematurely from their illness.

The signs of an eating disorder

It is not always easy to spot someone with an eating disorder but here are a few key pointers to look out for if you’re worried about someone:

  • Losing or putting on weight very quickly
  • Quiet, withdrawn, depressed
  • Wearing baggy clothes to hide their body
  • Constant or repetitive dieting and follower of eating plans (e.g. no dairy)
  • Avoiding eating with others
  • Eating very slowly and chopping food into small chunks
  • Obsessive weighing and measuring of themselves and the food they eat.

How to get into healthy eating habits

Follow these simple tips to help retrain your body and mind, and to get back into healthy eating habits.

  • Assess your emotional health

First you need to recognise that an eating disorder is often a sign of a deeper emotional issue.

If you have a disordered eating pattern you will have to deal with it on a practical level, too. Food (unlike other ‘addictions’ like alcohol) cannot be avoided – it's everywhere. You need to learn how to manage it to live a healthy and happier life.

  • Break bad habits

Breaking bad habits is vital. “A practical way I help sufferers is to get them to make small changes,” says Gregory Szanto, Principal at the Sussex Eating Disorders Clinic. “For example, if they don’t eat all day, they need to start by eating a small amount at regular intervals.”

  • Avoid skipping meals

Nutritionist and Lecturer Laurent Bannock says, “Consistency is vital if you want to create healthy habits. Avoid skipping meals and stop-starting on healthy eating regimes.” 

  • Eat breakfast

Many people with a disordered eating pattern miss out on breakfast. “Avoiding breakfast trains the metabolism to conserve energy and ultimately slows down the appetite,” Laurent Bannock adds.

  • Keep it simple

A basic guide for portion sizes that will help satisfy you and keep you in control of your eating includes a handful of whole grains/or carbs, a piece of fish or chicken you can fit into the palm of your hand and two to three handfuls of vegetables.

Eat five to 10 fruit and vegetable portions a day and drink plenty of water.

If you have any questions about the issues discussed in this article, why not submit a question to one of our experts?