Image: Unsplash – Jairo Alzate
[Maxine Walker-Harris | Contributing Writer]
This week was National eating disorders awareness week and the UK’s leading charity, Beat, who supports those affected by an eating disorder, has used this week to tackle the stigma that surrounds this issue.
Charities like Beat are working hard to increase public knowledge of a mental health issue that is sadly a huge problem in the UK. A report commissioned by Beat in 2015 estimates that more than 725,000 people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder. One of the events that took place during awareness week was on Friday 26th where Beat led the campaign Sock It to Eating Disorders; people were encouraged to wear their silly socks to school, work, university or just out and about to raise funds for the charity.
Eating disorders are complex and cover a range of unhealthy relationships with food not just the more well known disorders anorexia and bulimia. There is also binge eating disorder as well as body dysmorphic disorder which affects mainly men and is a reverse of the anorexia with someone becoming fixated on becoming more muscular and lean and believe their bodies to be too small.
Anyone can develop an eating disorder, regardless of age, background or gender and they can leave you with severe long term health issues as well as being potentially life threatening. Contributing factors are known to be psychological, genetic, cultural and environmental though it has never been pinpointed what the main cause actually is.
Typically, those viewed to have an eating disorder are seen to be skinny and malnourished. This isn’t always the case, sure it might be the case for some of the extreme anorexics, who make up around 7 per cent of those with eating disorders, but in actual fact, eating disorders are hardly ever noticeable to the casual observer. People with eating disorders can be overweight, normal weight and underweight and it rarely is about food or the quiet desperation to be thin.
I battled for ten years with it and it’s not something that ever truly goes away. It’s not what people actually perceive; it’s not about losing weight; eating disorders are about control, control of something when everything else seems out of control, such as stressful or overly emotional situations. Although in the short-term eating disorders can relieve the stress and anxiety; in the long term eating disorders actually cause them as well as major health issues such as long-term heart problems. What people neglect to realise is, it is not a choice that someone has over their minds; having an eating disorder is an illness.
Sometimes the need to starve or even purge is just too strong and cannot be coped with alone. There are still things that need to be changed about how this country copes with these issues; someone’s first instinct will be to go to the GP, but unfortunately GPs are not trained in eating disorders. That is what charities such as Beat are there to help with; they are the people to call for advice when you realise you or someone you know has a problem. No-one should suffer in silence and awareness weeks like this one are being publicised so we are more informed on subjects that are becoming more prevalent in the UK.
So if you or you suspect someone you know to be suffering from an eating disorder, don’t feel you are suffering alone, there are plenty of people there to help and provide advice on how to cope.