What is an Eating Disorder?
An eating disorder isn’t just a dieting craze or something a person does for attention; it is a serious mental health problem and involves having a negative attitude towards food that affects your eating habits and behaviour. Eating disorders affect at least 1.6 million people in the UK (Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, 2007).
What is Anorexia?
Anorexia is an eating disorder which is complex, severe and life threatening. Having anorexia makes eating very distressing and can make you extremely anxious about maintaining or reducing your body weight through strict calorie control. There are two main types of anorexia.
- The Restricting type: eating food is avoided as much as possible and any calorie intake is restricted to an absolute minimum.
- The Binge / purging type: a small amount of food is eaten but this is purged afterwards through vomiting, laxative use or excessive exercise.
An Overview of Symptoms
- Deliberate weight loss: People with anorexia are terrified of gaining weight and usually lose weight by avoiding certain foods that are high in fat or calories. Some people may also make themselves sick, take laxatives or appetite suppressant drugs, or do lots of exercise to lose weight
- Secretive behaviour: People with anorexia may feel motivated by the illness to behave in a very secretive way about their weight loss. They may be fearful that those around them will notice they have lost weight and so engage in behaviours designed to hide this in various ways.
- Focusing on issues around food: People suffering from anorexia may seem to be very involved with food. They may cook for other people, read magazines on food or watch cookery channels whilst still not allowing themselves to eat.
“I hated eating and couldn’t stand the sensation of feeling full, I felt like when I looked in the mirror I could see it on me” Laura, 18 years old, in recovery
Step 1: Talk to someone you trust
This could be your best mate, parents, boyfriend, girlfriend or tutor. It might feel difficult, especially if you have kept things to yourself and avoided talking about your eating disorder before. Other people in your life may have noticed you are not well but may be waiting for you to approach them or hoping you will start the discussion..
Talking it over is important for lots of reasons:
- It can be a weight off your mind to say it out loud;
- You will need their support if you are struggling;
- Someone just being there can help you relax and feel less isolated;
- They can offer reassurance that things will get better;
- They can motivate you when you cannot motivate yourself; and
- They can help you find help or help you with practical things like booking appointments.
We really recommend talking to someone but if you feel you can’t talk to someone you know then try a national helpline, like Samaritans.
Step 2: Self-help
Self-help therapies are a range of techniques you can apply yourself to help cope with stress and feel in control. Self-help will not treat anorexia alone but may work alongside any other therapy you may be having; discuss this with your health professional if you see one.
Self-help could involve completing exercises that you read, watch, listen to or complete online, it could be using relaxation training or it could be attending a support group.
Have a look at our resources for anorexia.
Step 3: Find professional help and support
Anorexia is a serious illness and you don’t need to handle it alone - there’s a lot of understanding and available support out there.
See the section above on 'Getting help' to read more about your options.
NICE (National Institute of Health and Care Excellence) recommend that treatment should be mainly psychological and involve the following stages:
- You should be seen as an outpatient (usually at a clinic or in the community) and offered psychological treatment from a service that is skilled in assessing and treating eating disorders.
- If psychological treatment on an outpatient basis is not having an impact or you feel worse during this time then a more intensive therapy like family work or day inpatient care could be added.
- If you do require inpatient treatment (in a hospital) you should be admitted to a ward that can carry out careful physical monitoring, psychosocial interventions and if needed as a final option re-feeding.
- Family interventions that directly address the eating disorder should be offered to children and young people with anorexia. Family members, including brothers and sisters, should normally be included.
You could contact your GP for a referral to your local specialist eating disorder team, or to counselling or psychological therapy. For more information on services see our map of local help in Birmingham and Solihull.
Step 4: National Contacts
- Anorexia and Bulimia Care is a national charity working to support all those who struggle because of eating disorders. It is staffed mainly by recovered sufferers. You can call their Helpline: 0300 011 1213 – Option 1 for parents, option 2 for sufferers and option 3 for self-harm help or email them at Mail@anirexiabulimiacare.org.uk.
- B-eat is a charity that helps support young people with eating disorders. Their Youthline is open: Mon & Weds, 10:30am-7:30pm; Tues, Thurs & Fri, 10:30am-6:30pm. Helpline open from: Mon & Weds, 10:30am-7:30pm; Tues, Thurs & Fri, 10:30am-6:30pm. You can also email B-eat at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Caraline (Eating Disorders Couselling and Support Services) provides a confidential counselling and support service for people with eating disorders.
- International Eating Disorders Centre provides 120 day rehabilitation programmes to enable clients, over 16 years of age, to return to normal lives following an eating disorder.
- National Centre for Eating Disorders provides effective treatment solutions for all the eating disorders.
- Film or videoProvided by: B-eat charity and mediabox
Speak to parents and siblings about how anorexia and bulimia can impact on the whole family
- Fact sheetProvided by: Youthspace
Eating disorders: a youthspace booklet covering causes, symptoms, treatment and recovery in anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder
- Fact sheetProvided by: Rethink 2009
Rethink 2009 Detention under the Mental Health Act leaflet: what is the MHA, what happens and what are your rights?
- Research paperProvided by: The Future Vision Coalition
Written by the The Future Vision Coalition in 2009
- Research paperProvided by: Centre for Mental Health
The Mandate identifies five ‘priority areas’ for the Government ‘where it is expecting particular progress to be made’
- Self help toolProvided by: Youthspace
Changing your feelings about Depression Worksheet provided by Youthspace
- Fact sheetProvided by: www.legislation.gov.uk
- Fact sheetProvided by: NICE
Core interventions in the treatment and management of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and related eating disorders
- Research paperProvided by: Youthspace. Dr Charlotte Connor (Senior Research Fellow, Youthspace).
SchoolSpace has partnered with secondary schools in Birmingham to study the factors which precede the onset of eating disorders.
- Research paperProvided by: Youthspace. Presentation by Clare Barker (Research Fellow, Youthspace).
An overview of Anorexia and Bulimia, the factors affecting outcome and the evidence base for universal and targeteted interventions.
- Self help toolProvided by: Youthspace
Speaking to your doctor and getting support with your mental health is a vital part of getting better