Eating disorders are characterised by an abnormal attitude towards food that causes someone to change their eating habits and behaviour. A person with an eating disorder may focus excessively on their weight and shape, leading them to make unhealthy choices about food with damaging results to their health.
The most common eating disorders are:
- Anorexia nervosa – when someone tries to keep their weight as low as possible, for example by starving themselves or exercising excessively
- Bulimia – when someone tries to control their weight by binge eating and then deliberately being sick or using laxatives (medication to help empty their bowels)
- Binge eating – when someone feels compelled to overeat
Doctors typically use a questionnaire called SCOFF to help them diagnose eating disorders, the questions that are asked include:
Sick – Do you ever make yourself sick because you feel uncomfortably full?
Control – Do you worry that you have lost control when it comes to the amount you eat?
One stone – Have you recently lost more than one stone in a three-month period?
Fat – Do you think you are fat even though others say you are thin?
Food – Would you say that food dominates your life?
This is generally used as a guide however more thorough discussions would need to take place before a diagnosis was made. If you are worried about your relationship with food at all, seeking help early could help you from developing an eating disorder in the future.
If you suspect a friend or family member has an eating disorder, it can be difficult to know what to do. The best thing anyone can do in this situation is to offer support. Encourage them to seek professional help and offer to go with them for support if they are anxious. Being gentle in your approach will work better than confronting or accusing them in an aggressive manner.
It may be helpful to print out some useful information for them to read this may help them realise that they do have a problem and that it will only get worse without help. Reiterate how much you care and be there for them as much as possible.
While it may not feel like it at first, telling someone how you feel will help you feel better in the long run. The good news is that there are plenty of treatments out there that can help you recover from your eating disorder, and the first step is to seek professional help. If you don’t feel comfortable telling friends or family, visit your doctor or arrange to have counselling. Speaking to a counsellor will offer invaluable support as they guide you through your treatment.