Eating Disorders; Are they what we thought?
National Eating Disorders Awareness week has arrived and this year it is themed “Come as you are” which is about opening up the eating disorders conversation and raising our awareness away from the stereotypical image of an eating disorder sufferer.
Eating disorders aren’t all about low body weight, I was surprised when I learned that the majority of people with eating disorders aren’t underweight; which is an assumption many of us have (thanks to the media).
Eating disorders can carry a stigma which acts as a barrier to people getting help, so raising awareness is really important because it reduces the shame that fuels the stigma.
This seems like the ideal time to discuss popular misconceptions and give some tips for helping someone who is struggling with an eating disorder.
Here are some of the most common misconceptions and why they aren’t true…
Did you know?
➦Eating disorders are a mental illness with a physical impact, not a lifestyle choice.
➦Anorexia nervosa is the most fatal but the least common eating disorder.
➦Eating disorders in people aged between 45 and 65 are continually increasing.
➦70 million people worldwide have an eating disorder
➦Eating disorders last between 5 and 8 years on average.
How can friends and family help?
- Avoid body focus; Avoid commenting on their weight and appearance, even if it’s complimentary. People with eating disorders can have a disproportionate idea of how important their appearance is in how valuable they are as a person. Instead, show them you value who they are inside.
- See beyond the food issue; Try to understand that the eating disorder could represent emotional distress being expressed in the person’s actions and behaviour. The food and the relationship with their body might be being used as an emotional language to communicate distress when the person feels unable to express what is happening for them inside.
- No blame or shame; Avoid accusing or making them feel ashamed about their eating disorder behaviours. This is an illness and not something anyone would choose to endure.
Specialised counselling can form a vital part of eating disorder treatment and can support recovery. CBT-e is an approach designed around eating disorders and is widely used. However, in younger sufferers, family therapy is also recommended. Speaking to a counsellor can also help those caring for a person with an eating disorder because it can have a significant impact on the sufferers family and relationships.
If you would like to learn more about eating disorders, for yourself or concern for someone, here are some websites which are a good starting point;