Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW), takes place this year from Monday, February 27 – Sunday, March 5. This is an annual campaign aimed at improving the public knowledge around the realities of eating disorders, and to give hope and support to those individuals and families affected.
Affecting almost 10% of the worldwide population. They are among the deadliest mental illnesses, coming second only to opioid overdose. It is estimated that one person every 52 minutes will die as a direct result of an eating disorder, and over 25% of sufferers will attempt suicide.
Watching what you eat and keeping fit is good for you, (like most things, in moderation). To want to eat healthily, and be in good physical shape, are good lifestyle goals. But when you focus obsessively on what, when, and how much you consume, or when you punish yourself with excessive and gruelling exercise regimes to counter your food intake, then you may have an eating disorder.
There are still a lot of myths and preconceptions around eating disorders, and in a survey conducted by YouGov, nearly 35% of adults in the UK had no idea what signs or symptoms to look out for, in someone who may be struggling with problems around food and body image.
Contrary to what many people think, you don’t have to be excessively thin to have an eating disorder. You may not even look as though anything is wrong. Less than 6% of people struggling are medically diagnosed as “underweight.” Weight loss can be an indicator of a food-related mental health disorder, but it is by no means the only one.
Another common preconception around eating disorders is that they only affect women and young girls – this is simply not true, almost 40% of those suffering with food, weight, or body image issues are men.
An eating disorder is a serious mental health condition that is marked by an obsession with food and/or body shape. Where food, and the control of what, when, and how, to eat is used to manage thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. They can affect the sufferer’s ability to function physically, psychologically, and socially.
Some individuals will take extreme measures, such as dangerous dieting practices, unnecessary and obsessive exercise regimes, and steroid abuse, to get what they believe to be the ideal body, which can have a serious impact on a person’s physical and emotional health.
Eating disorders can cause anxiety and depression, isolation and loneliness, guilt and shame, feelings of failure, obsessive thoughts, and preoccupations; with food, or the way a person perceives they look, and with being “found out”.
Anorexia nervosa – this is the self-starvation syndrome typified by extreme control over calorie intake, an intense fear of gaining weight, and often a distorted view of their own body image, size, and shape. The sufferer will typically lose 20% or more of their original body weight, leading to muscle wasting. They will use severe, often dangerous “dieting” methods such as skipping meals and limiting their food ingestion, making themselves vomit, taking laxatives, and punishing exercise regimes. Individuals with this illness usually have low self-esteem and intense feelings of shame and guilt but are in strong denial about having a problem.
Bulimia Nervosa – this is characterised by secret binging episodes involving eating large amounts of very high-calorie foods, often followed by ‘purging’, either by vomiting, or the swallowing of laxatives or diuretics, or by engaging in obsessive, excessive exercise to rid the body of the calories consumed. Sufferers also struggle with low self-esteem but generally are more aware that they have a problem.
Binge-eating disorder – (or BED) is typified by frequent, and compulsive out-of-control eating. Often large amounts, very quickly, and to the point of being uncomfortably full. Eating when not hungry. There are a lot of feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment about this excessive binging and these binges often take place secretly. People with this condition don’t purge.
Body dysmorphic disorder – (BDD) is the delusional belief that one’s body or appearance is severely flawed and the obsessive-compulsive drive to hide, change, or “fix” it.
Muscle Dysmorphia – (MD) often affecting young men; and sometimes called bigorexia or megarexia. This is the idea that one’s body is too small, or skinny and not muscular enough. Driving an individual to take drastic measures to bulk up, including the use of anabolic steroids.
Other specified feeding or eating disorder – (OSFED) previously known as Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) is when your symptoms don’t exactly match any of those above. This is still considered a serious, life-threatening illness which requires treatment.
Eating disorders often co-occur with other mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, self-harming, suicidal thoughts and attempts, borderline personality disorder (BPD), obsessive-compulsive (OCD) and substance use disorders (SUD).
If you are concerned that someone you love, may be struggling with an eating disorder, here are some potential signs to look out for.
• Preoccupation with weight and body shape.
• Eating very little.
• Repeatedly bingeing on large quantities of food (often very quickly).
• Applying very strict habits or routines around food.
• Induced vomiting or taking laxatives after food.
• Excessive exercise (too much and too frequently).
• Avoiding social situations that involve food.
• Becoming withdrawn, anxious, or depressed.
There are both physical and psychological symptoms associated with eating disorders.
Physical indicators can include –
• Feeling cold or tired all the time.
• Dizziness, racing heart, fainting, low blood pressure or pulse rate.
• High blood pressure.
• Dramatic weight loss.
• Digestive problems – acid reflux, bloating, constipation, or diarrhoea.
• Poor or disrupted sleep.
• Hair loss.
• Delayed puberty.
• Not menstruating (women and girls).
• Weakened immune system.
• Low energy and overall poor health.
Associated psychological symptoms –
• Isolation and loneliness.
• Guilt and shame.
• Feelings of failure.
• Obsessive thoughts and preoccupations.
• Compulsive behaviours.
• Suicidal thoughts.
Alongside the co-occurring mood and anxiety disorders, the abuse of drugs and alcohol is widespread amongst people that struggle with eating disorders.
No eating disorder is a lifestyle choice; what often starts as a way to make a person feel better about themselves, or as a means to take control of their life, turns into a life-threatening obsession. If you recognise any of these symptoms, in yourself or someone you love, you should seek medical advice immediately. The earlier treatment is sought, the higher the chance of success.
Here at our luxury rehabilitation centre, located on the stunning Spanish island of Ibiza, we have a highly qualified team, experienced in a range of therapies, for the treatment of eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive, anxiety, depressive and substance use disorders, in addition to alcohol, drug, and process addiction.
For further information about our rehab in Spain, including details on admissions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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