Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia – the road to recovery

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It’s Eating Disorders Awareness Week from 20-26 February 2012, a time to shed some light on the serious issues of eating disorders, to inform people about them and try to remove some of the stigma surrounding them.

Clearly, individuals make decisions about what and when they eat depending on a variety of factors such as the time of day, levels of hunger, nutritional considerations, personal preferences, etc. However, people whose eating routine is determined predominantly by an intense fear of becoming overweight are classed as suffering from eating disorders, and they risk seriously damaging their health as a result.

Eating disorders can take a variety of forms:

  • eating too much;
  • eating too little;
  • using harmful ways to get rid of calories (e.g. inducing vomiting or taking laxatives to encourage the emptying of the bowels).

There are three most common eating disorders:

  • Anorexia nervosa: This condition is characterised by an intense fear of gaining weight, which will make sufferers try to keep their weight as low as possible by denying themselves food. The condition is more common in men than women and usually develops during teenage years.
  • Bulimia: Bulimia is more common than anorexia nervosa and the vast majority of sufferers are women. The condition is characterised by consuming large amounts of food in a short time then deliberately being sick or using laxatives to empty the bowels.
  • Binge eating: Binge eating (episodes of uncontrollable eating) usually affects males and females equally and usually appears later in life (between the ages of 30 and 40). Due to the difficulty of precisely defining ‘binge eating’, it is not clear how widespread the condition is.

Signs of a potential eating disorder might include:

  • Regularly missing meals.
  • Being preoccupied with being overweight despite appearing to other to be in no need of losing weight.
  • Being unwilling to eat in public or only eating low-calorie foods.
  • Regularly going to the bathroom after eating meals.

The causes of eating disorders can be quite complex (e.g. depression and emotional distress, social pressures, the need to feel ‘in control’ of one aspect of one’s life) so it isn’t always easy for a sufferer to ascertain the reason for the problem. The treatment route should involve a professional counsellor or nutritionist who specialises in eating disorders who can give advice on other available options such as counselling, therapy, support groups, etc. Information on eating disorders and available treatments can be found on the NHS Choices website. For guidance on supporting an employee you fear may be suffering from an eating disorder, call the Health for Work Adviceline on 0800 0 77 88 44.

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