Eating Disorders

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What is an Eating Disorder?

Whilst many of us have times when we eat ‘too much’ or ‘too little’ compared with our usual food intake, an Eating Disorder is a serious mental illness that involves disordered eating behaviour the symptoms of which range in both occurrence and severity. Whilst some might drastically limit the amount of food eaten, others may eat very large quantities of food at once and some might get rid of the food through unhealthy means (e.g. purging, laxative misuse, fasting, or excessive exercise). Eating disorders may also take the form of a combination of these behaviours. It is important to remember that eating disorders are rarely only about food but also about feelings. The way someone interacts with food may make them feel less anxious, better able to cope, or help them to feel in control.

What causes an Eating Disorder?

Eating Disorders are incredibly complex so it is no surprise that causes can be too. Often a whole range of factors combine that increase the likelihood that someone will develop a condition including genetic, psychological, environmental, social, and biological influences.

We don’t yet know everything about what exactly causes an Eating Disorder or what treatments will work for everyone; however, we do know there are effective treatments available and that early intervention is essential. The latest research shows that Eating Disorders are more biologically based than was previously thought.

What are the different types of Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders include:

  • Anorexia
  • Bulimia
  • Binge Eating Disorder

It is also common for people to be diagnosed with “Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder” (OSFED). This is not a less serious type of eating disorder – it just means that the person’s Eating Disorder doesn’t exactly match the list of symptoms that a specialist will check to diagnose them with Anorexia, Bulimia, or Binge Eating Disorder. We also increasingly see individuals in clinic who are in pursuit of a ‘perfect’ or ‘clean’ diet, this is called Orthorexia.

It is also possible for someone to move between diagnoses if their symptoms change – there is often overlap between different eating disorders. The aim behind diagnosis is to ensure that the person is getting the most appropriate treatment for their illness.

Do I need to get help with my Eating Disorder?

Eating Disorders can cause serious harm and may be fatal. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses. However, even though they are serious illnesses, Eating Disorders are treatable and it is possible to make a full recovery. Like any other illness, the sooner someone with an Eating Disorder is treated, the more likely their recovery. The most important first step is getting yourself, or the person you’re supporting, assessed and into treatment as quickly as possible.

Some people are under the impression that it is only those who are a low weight who need or deserve treatment, and this is not the case. People of all weights need to get help with their Eating Disorder. The earlier in the course of the illness someone can access treatment, the better their chance of full recovery. It doesn’t whether they are beginning to develop an Eating Disorder, have had one for some time, or are experiencing a relapse the quicker they get access to treatment the better their chances of recovery.

Different Types of Treatment

Treatments for Eating Disorders vary dependant on the type of Eating Disorder, but they all tend to focus on getting the symptoms under control before starting any therapy. Therapies may be individual, or family focused, and will depend on the age of the sufferer and their illness.

Everyone responds differently to treatment and can take different periods of time to recover. Some people can be affected by more than one type of Eating Disorder or may find their symptoms change as they recover. Someone with an Eating Disorder may also experience other mental or physical health issues at the same time as their Eating Disorder. Sometimes these can play a role in the Eating Disorder developing, or they may develop alongside, or because of, the Eating Disorder. Treatment for Eating Disorders should take into account other mental and physical health issues the person may have.

Some types of therapy you may expect to be offered for an Eating Disorder are:

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Anorexia or Bulimia (CBT-E and CBT-BN)
  • MANTRA (Maudsley Anorexia Nervosa Treatment for Adults)
  • Cognitive Remediation Therapy (CRT)
  • Family Based Treatment for Eating Disorders (FBT-ED)

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