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Eating disorders do not discriminate

This blog has been produced by Priory Group’s Arthur House team. Arthur House is an innovative eating disorder service based in Wimbledon, which provides an alternative to traditional hospital treatment.

Eating disorders are commonly associated with adolescents. Yet, this widely accepted stereotype does not match the reality, and is a dangerous assumption that shouldn’t diminish the seriousness of the illness.

The cliché of eating disorders being something that only affects the younger generation has led to many people ignoring signs and symptoms of eating disorders, due to the commonplace presumptions around who can and cannot be affected by the illness. If you think that you may have an eating disorder, or are worried that someone close to you is exhibiting the signs and symptoms, it is important to seek support as soon as possible. Eating disorders are serious illnesses, and getting access to treatment as early as possible can give a person the best chance of making a full recovery.

What is an eating disorder?

A person with an eating disorder will have an unhealthy relationship with food. They may eat too much or too little, and become focused on their weight and body shape.

There are a number of different eating disorders and these include:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Binge eating disorder (BED)
  • Other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED)

In a 2015 study to determine the prevalence of eating disorders, anorexia nervosa was found to affect around 0.4% of the population, bulimia nervosa 1.1%, BED 1.5% (1.1–2.0) and OSFED 3.2%.

When a person has OSFED, they are likely to have symptoms that don’t fit with a diagnosis for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or BED. With OSFED, a person’s difficulties are no less genuine; their eating disorder still requires specialist treatment to help them deal with their psychological and physical issues.

Common myths related to eating disorders

Some of the common myths about eating disorders include the following:

  • A person with an eating disorder must be underweight – a person doesn’t necessarily have to be underweight to be struggling with an eating disorder
  • Eating disorders can only affect women – eating disorders can affect any gender. Beat has shown that 25% of those affected by eating disorders are male. NHS Digital data analysed by the Guardian has also found that the number of adult men being admitted to hospital with an eating disorder has risen by 70% over the past six years
  • Eating disorders are caused by the media – eating disorders can happen for many reasons. Our blog on the causes of eating disorders outlines the factors that can lead to the development of the illness
  • Eating disorders only affect young people – while eating disorders are commonly diagnosed in young people, they can happen at any stage in life. In the NHS’s 2007 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, 6.4% of adults displayed signs of an eating disorder

Eating disorders can happen to anyone at any age. Typically, they start as an unhealthy coping strategy, which the person uses to try and manage overwhelming emotions and difficult situations. Regardless of age, gender or ethnic diversity, the symptoms and behaviours associated with eating disorders remain similar. It can have an equally devastating impact on any person’s quality of life.

Support and treatment is available for all

Some people with the illness don’t reach out for support. They worry about how others will react, or don’t believe that they should have an eating disorder, as they don’t fit the stereotype.

It is important that anyone who is suffering from an eating disorder - or believes that they may have the illness - understands that they deserve to be listened to, and deserve to make a full recovery. When someone is worried about their unhealthy relationship with food, it is crucial that they speak out and get access to the many avenues of support that are available:

Seeking help for eating disorders can be a frightening prospect. But, it is important to remember that support is available to all ages, genders and ethnic diversities. Speaking out is a crucial first step that needs to be taken to help a person begin their journey to a full recovery.  

Reviewed by Rebecca Jennings (MSc ANutr), Dietician at Priory Arthur House  

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