What is an Eating Disorder?
There are millions of people all over the world suffering from eating disorders. However, it is a term that is still widely misunderstood with many people assuming that it is just a phase or someone who has taken their diet too far. Eating disorders are much more complicated than people might think, so in this blog, we will break down and look at what they are.
It is Not a Choice
An eating disorder is a recognised medical condition that comes under the umbrella of mental health or psychiatric illness. It does not just stem from someone choosing to eat less, or indeed eat more. Eating disorders tend to fall into the category of chronic (long-term) illness and the person suffering cannot just ‘snap out of it.’ The gender and age of the patient are indiscriminate as all ages and genders can be just as likely to suffer as anyone. It is something that can develop at any time and is often, but not always, born out of a triggering event. The cause of the eating order is the key to seeking help and getting better, so patients will be offered talking therapies to help them make sense of what has happened.
Four Recognised Disorders
If a patient presents to a doctor with issues surrounding eating they are potentially going to be diagnosed with one of the four recognised conditions. Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating and Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED).
Until recently people were most aware of Bulimia or Anorexia and they were considered to be the classic definition of eating disorders in the public mind. However, recent cases of binge eating have been highlighted in television documentaries, where people are shown eating themselves from obese to the grave. People are now more open to accepting that there are three conditions, but few are aware of the last one, which is the catch-all diagnosis for individuals who do not fit the clinical profile of any of the others. This does not mean in any way that these people are not suffering as much. All eating disorders are serious, and the medical community places no more importance on one of the diagnosis than the others – they are all considered serious issues that need professional help.
A classic symptom for all those with eating disorders is the desire to hide their behaviour from the world. For some, it is considered self-punishment and discipline that they, in their mind, deserve, whereas others just deny or dishes the behaviour as they either do not realise they have an issue or do not want help. It is important that eating disorders can be identified as the damage to the body is more than mental health care. Organs and body systems can be permanently damaged by behaviours associated with each condition, and if the patient is unable to access the correct help, can become seriously ill or even die as a result of this damage.
The good news is that recovery is entirely possible. So if you or someone you know seems to be showing some symptoms of issues with food, it is worth trying to advocate that they seek medical advice as soon as possible. Try to get them to understand that there is nothing to be ashamed of; it is a medical condition, not something they have done wrong.