Eating Disorders

Having an eating disorder is nothing to be ashamed off and affects approximately 1.25 million people in the UK with up to 25% of these being male. 

What are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that involve disordered eating behaviour. This could be in a number of different ways; limited the amount of food eaten, eating a large quantity of food at once, getting rid of food eaten through unhealthy means or a combination of these.

Eating disorders are not all about the food itself, but about feelings, so the way a person interacts with food may make them feel like they can cope better or make them feel in control.

What are the different types of eating disorders?

Anorexia

Anorexia (Or anorexia nervosa) is a serious mental illness where a person is of a low weight due to them limiting their energy intake significantly. It can affect any gender, age, or background. As well as restricting their food intake, they may also do lots of exercise to get rid of the food that they have eaten.

Some people with anorexia can experience cycles of binging (Eating large amount of food at once) and then purging (Making themselves sick or taking laxatives to get rid of what they have just eaten).

However, someone may not necessarily display all of the above symptoms to be diagnosed as anorexic. Some may remain at a weight considered as normal for their age and sex but they could be diagnosed with ‘Atypical Anorexia’ or another form of ‘Other specified feeding or eating disorder’ (OSFED). These are equally as serious and can develop either into or from anorexia.

Bulimia

Bulimia (Or bulimia nervosa) is a serious mental health illness that can affect anyone of any age, background or gender. People with bulimia are caught in a cycle of eating a large quantity of food (Bingeing) and then trying to compensate or back track by making themselves sick, taking laxatives or diuretics, fasting or exercising excessively (Purging).

It is normal for people, not with an eating disorder, to overindulge a little more than normal, and this should not be confused with a binge. However, most people with bulimia maintain a normal weight so it can be very difficult to spot. Also, they can be very reluctant to seek help because they may feel irritable, mood swings, guilt, shame, anxious or have low self-esteem after a binge.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder (BED) is a serious mental illness where people experience a loss of control and eat large quantities of food on a regular basis. This can affect any age, gender or background.  BED is when people eat large quantities of food over a short period of time (Not eating larger than normal portions or ‘overindulging’ for enjoyment). Some people with BED have described feeling disconnected from what they are doing during a binge or even struggling to remember what they’ve eaten afterwards.

Often (Though not always) BED can cause weight gain and can also lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. People may also have low self-esteem and lack of confidence, as well as depression and anxiety.

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED)

Anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder are diagnosed according to a list of expected behavioural, psychological and physical symproms. However, sometime people symptoms don’t exactly fit the expected symptoms for the three specific disorders. If this is the case, they may may be diagnosed with an ‘Other specified feeding or eating disorder’ (OSFED).

OSFED’s are every bit as serious as anorexia, bulimia or BED and they are deserving of treatment.

Some examples are:

  • Atypical anorexia – Someone has all the symptoms a doctor looks for to disagnose anorexia, except their weight remains within a ‘normal’ weight.
  • Bulimia nervosa (of low frequency and/or limited duration) – Someone has all of the symptoms of bulimia, except the binge/purge cycles don’t happen as often or over as long of a period of time as doctors would expect.
  • Binge eating disorder (of low frequency and/or limited duration) – someone has all of the symptoms of binge eating disorder, except the binges don’t happen as often or over as long a period of time as doctors would expect.
  • Purging disorder – someone purges, for example by being sick or using laxatives, to affect their weight or shape, but this isn’t as part of binge/purge cycles.
  • Night eating syndrome – someone repeatedly eats as night, either after waking up from sleep, or by eating a lot of food after their evening meal

Like any other eating disorder, OSFED is a very serious mental illness that is not only about the way the person treats food but about underlying thoughts and feelings. The eating disorder may be a way of coping with these thoughts, or a way or feeling in control.

Signs of OSFED:

Signs to look out for might include:

  • Preoccupation with and/or secretive behaviour around food
  • Self-consciousness when eating in front of others
  • Low confidence and self esteem
  • Poor body image
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Tiredness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Feelings of shame, guilt and anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating

Help and Treatment

It is usually very difficult for people with an eating disorder to get better on their own, so it’s important that you or the person you know finds professional help and support as soon as possible. The sooner someone is treated for an eating disorder, the better their chance of making a full recovery.

The first instance is to go to your GP and explain how you are feeling, they will be able to get the ball rolling for you. It is an incredibly brave thing to speak out and ask for support, but you could speak to friends, family members or someone at university/work and also charities such as BEAT are available 365 days a year via message boards, support groups online and a helpline.

If your GP suspects that you have an eating disorder, they should refer you immediately for further assessment or treatment by a specialist eating disorder service. However, if your GP does not refer you straight away, then please do not see this as a sign that you don’t deserve treatment. Keep trying! You can always ask to see a different GP if your first visit doesn’t go as you might hope!

Here at UCB, if you feel that you are struggling, we have a health and wellbeing team situated in Summer Row on the 7th floor. If you are unsure about where to go, feel free to email guild.welfare@ucb.ac.uk for more information about how UCB can help you.