Eating Disorder Awareness Week (4): Now you know what to look for, what should you do?

In the last blog post, I tried to describe what it feels like to have an eating disorder, and set out the symptoms for the diffferent categories of the illness, not just anorexia. According to BEAT, 1.25 million peopole are living with an eating disorder, but that statistic may be an underestimation due to the number of people who are unaware of their illness or have not been diagnosed.

40% of people with an eating disorder suffer from bulimia, 10% from anorexia, and the remained 50% fall into the EDNOS category, which are no less severe.

11% of eating disorder suffers are male, an important statistic, especially since the number of males being treated with an eating disorder does not represent that fact.

If 6.4% of the population are thought to suffer from an eating disorder, there is a likelihood that you will know someone, or might even be one of those people, with an eating disorder. If you do know anyone, or you think you might be struggling, ASK FOR HELP. There is nothing to be ashamed from: this is a serious illness and can severely impact on your life. You deserve help, whoever you are.


Think you know someone who might be struggling?

The first thing to say is that that person is probably feeling incredibly condused and scared and anxious, maybe even guilty and ashamed by their eating disorder. If you want to try to talk about it with that person, or try to find them help, you need to be sensitive. You need to be careful, because you could cause a deepening of the illness.

An advert for a Canadian ED charity: it’s very true

Don’t go in guns blazing, and don’t pressurise them: they need to speak about it of their own accord. Pressuring them might only drive them away and deeper into the illness. Don’t pass judgment. Sometimes it is easy to think that they are not even trying to help themselves, or are being weak. That’s not true. They might be so lost to the illness that they cannot see that they are poorly. They may not want to change. For a long time, I didn’t, because the illness was all I knew.

Whatever you do, do not talk about appearance. That’s the sorest of subjects. Talk about how they are feeling, not about how they are looking.

Don’t ask how much or what they are eating. Ask about how they feel around food.

It’s a delicate situation, but that person might be yearning for someone to talk to them. Be the shoulder for them to lean on, the ear to listen to them. Offer help from the GP or the various charities out there (of more, see below).

Do you think you might have have an eating disorder?

If you do, you are not alone. If you do, there is nothing to be ashamed of: this is a severe mental illness which deserves as much medical attention as any physical illness. Don’t despair, although that might be the only thing you can think of doing right now. There is help available and recovery is possible. In this post I’m not going to talk about how to recover, what is important in recovery, but about those first steps to getting help. Sometimes, those first steps are the hardest.

Talk to someone: anyone. Whether it is your best friend, your Mum, your Dad, your neighbour. Sometimes, just talking about something, getting it out into the open air, outside from the echo chamber in your head, can make a massive difference and start a positive journey. Don’t worry about being judged, you won’t be. The most important thing is that you are making a start on fighting back against this illness.

Research. This might not be helpful for some people, as if may lead to unhelpful information, but when I was first diagnosed, I struggled to believe that I could possibly have an eating disorder. So researching about the illness helped me to realise that, actually, maybe I had a problem. Stick to safe and responsible sites like BEAT, the NHS or other health organisations. But remember, everyone’s eating disorder is unique, just as you are: there is no set pattern and just because you don’t fit into one category, doesn’t make you any less poorly.

Ask for help. Your GP can sometimes be a good place to start. They may be able to offer guidance about where to go to, they may be able to refer you to a specialist eating disorder service. But keep in mind, these services are restraied by cash and by regulations which they don’t always necessarily agree with. If you are not referred or if you don’t quite fit the criteria for treatment, that is not a reflection on you and your illness, but the restraints of the service.

There are some wonderful charities out there that offer support and guidance to help you to start your recovery. BEAT is the UK’s largest eating disorder charityand has a helpline and tons of information available. They will be able to help you make those first steps to recovery and support you along the way.

The National Centre for Eating Disorders also offers help and support.

There are also lots of local eating disorder charities available. I’m from Derbyshire, where there is a fantastic charity called First Steps which offers one to one support, befriending services, support groups and more.

And if you are a male and struggling to come to terms or to get help for an eating disorder, there is a charity set up specifically for men with eating disorders: Men Get Eating Disorders Too.

There is lots of help out there. You are not alone. And you deserve help. Ask for it. Why wait?

Good luck and stay strong. You can do this.

If you or someone you know may be suffering with an eating disorder, here are some links to find out more information about the illness and treatment. Please don’t think you’re not ‘ill enough’: if you need help, ask for it…

Recovery information from Beat, including helplines

NHS information about different types of disorders and how to find help

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