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Eating Disorder Awareness Week: Why better understanding is needed to help recovery

Belfast PT and nutritionist Alan Waterman asks what do we really know about Eating Disorders and can we recognise the signs and symptoms

By Alan Waterman

This year, the week of the 26th of February - 4th of March is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

But did you know that?

To me, it seems that eating disorders are still very misunderstood illnesses, and the severity of them not fully recognised.

I say this, because anorexia ruined my life for the best part of 4 years.

I sat at a bodyweight of under 8 stone, with some days spent unable to muster enough energy to get out of bed, completely obsessed with completing excessive amounts of exercise while consuming as little food as possible. Not the type of life a young adult should find themselves living.

I was lucky in my recovery, now 11 years on. Many people, however, are not so lucky.

What should concern us is that there is now a constantly growing number of people who are experiencing life with an eating disorder.

Within the past 6 years, the number of hospital admissions for people suffering from an ED has more than doubled. They are conditions which are becoming increasingly more prevalent, which affect both men and women of all ages (at least a quarter of all sufferers are male,) from all backgrounds and social standings.

The development of anorexia, bullimia, binge eating disorder, orthorexia and OSFED ("other specified feeding or eating disorder") is not thought to have any specific trigger- psychological, environmental and social influences can all play their role.

Statistics show, however, that more than one in three UK adults could not name any of the symptoms related to an ED, meaning that sufferers go, on average, 3 years before seeking any form of help. Earlier interventions could help prevent this, yet there is a distinct lack of understanding surrounding these illnesses, and undoubtedly a need for Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

Stereotypes continue to perpetuate false ideas and misconceptions regarding ED's, leading to them being glamorized, mocked, and even branded as "narcissistic", yet the reality of the illnesses are very different to what many perceive.

Recognising the signs and symptoms of an ED may be enough to lead to successfully seeking help, potentially preventing a lifetime of affliction from the condition...

What are some the main symptoms we should be on look out for?

  • Obsessive calorie counting
  • Missing of meals
  • Avoiding eating around other people
  • Irritability around food
  • Hiding of food
  • Hoarding of food
  • Excessive exercising
  • Social withdrawal
  • Eating meals slowly
  • Hiding bodyshape with baggy clothing
  • Strict dieting/avoidance of certain foods
  • Vomiting or misusing of laxatives
  • Excessive focus on bodyweight and distorted body image
  • Disappearing soon after eating (in order to purge)
  • Fear of weight gain

It's incredibly important that we should be able to read and recognize these signs and symptoms, as it can be the first step towards seeking out the help which is available out there.

The current lack of understanding of Eating Disorders means that we can fail to truly appreciate both the mental and physical effects they can have on someone. Eating disorders destroy lives- many will go on to suffer for years, decades, or even their whole lives. At its worst, it may even be the thing that kills them. When there are help services and professional support available, this shouldn't be the case, and it shouldn't be allowed to happen.

This is why we need Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Ask yourself- what do you really know about Eating Disorders?

Because it might be time to find out more.

Make sure to check out the Facebook page for more about my own personal backstory, and how I use that now as my inspiration for helping people to achieve optimal health and body confidence.

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