Eating disorders can’t be ignored

Like hundreds of girls around the country, Sophie developed her eating disorder, anorexia nervosa at a young age: “My anorexia developed when I was 15. A lot of people think that eating disorders just happen. They don’t. Mine developed over the period of a year. For about six months I suffered from bulimia, then gradually over the next six months I had full blown anorexia.”


Eating disorders affect 11% of the UK male population and 1.4 million women in the UK each year. Photo: Samantha Fisher

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that if left untreated can be extremely life threatening. According to Beat, an organization dedicated to beating eating disorders, there are two main types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. In their recent poll, Beat found that the results suggested that the average age for developing an eating disorder is falling and is now somewhere between the ages of 12 – 24.

There is no single cause for the development of an eating disorder. And whilst it doesn’t just happen, the trigger lies in the life of the individual: “It was about a year and a half before I finally got the help I needed. I was watching it tear my family apart. I thought my eating disorder was making me happy. The reality was something different. It developed after I was severely bullied at school.”

A common trait among those with eating disorders is the power to be in control: “It was so empowering to have such control. It finally felt like there was an aspect of my life that nobody else could touch. It was my secret, and at the time I was so proud of it,” recalls Sophie.

Eating disorders affect 11% of the UK male population and 1.4 million women in the UK each year, and Beat suggests that ignorance and discrimination are major factors concerning eating disorders.

Many believe that the media has a major influence over the development of eating disorders. Student Emma Rowett said: “The media portrays the size zero look as being glamorous and beautiful.  It’s not realistic for people to look like that and when people try, some take it to far and develop disorders.”

Eating disorder’s are more common than ever among both sexes, and whilst they are more predominant among females they are on the rise among men.

Chris Marshall, a student at the University of Lincoln, didn’t develop an eating disorder, but was close: “I started to eat less and less due the stress of my workload and personal problems. I never felt hungry, so I just didn’t eat, and when I did manage to eat some food it was a pitiful amount. I lost weight and became ill regularly. Luckily I snapped out of it.”

Phil Rice, team Co-ordinator for the NHS Eating Disorder Service in Grantham said: “ We work closely with those who have developed Anorexia Nervosa. We set up walk in clinics, visit GP surgeries and make it as comfortable as possible for people to come and see us.”

This branch of the NHS service works along side the university to ensure that if students are suffering with an eating disorder, there is help available for them.

“We work closely along side the university as we understand eating disorders are common among students. There is a gap in Lincoln for this sort of service, and we’re trying to create more services and set up support networks for patients in recovery.” Rice adds.

The recovery process of overcoming an eating disorder is long and requires determination. If the illness is detected in the early stages, there is a very good chance for the patient to make a full recovery. For some however it is a constant battle: “I know I will always be battling my disorder. I’m not sure you can ever fully recover.” Sophie told The Linc.

Rice also explained that helping someone who might have a problem should proceed with caution: “Eating disorders are often misunderstood. For those who are looking to approach someone who they think my have an eating disorder should do their homework on the condition and ask for advice. It’s a common misunderstanding to think that you should approach someone with an eating disorder at meal times. In reality that won’t help or make a difference.”

Eating disorder support, a UK based charity, offers special support for those who are helping someone close to them battle an eating disorder.

If you are suffering from an eating disorder and are to afraid to confide in someone you know there are drop in services available at the university, on the second Thursday of every month. There you can talk to counsellors in confidence and ask advice.

Familydoctor.org outlines how to spot eating disorders

What are the warning signs of an eating disorder?
• An unhealthy obsession with body weight
• Over exercising
• Avoiding meals
• Dry and flaky skin
• Dizziness/fainting regularly

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