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Eating Disorder Awareness Week

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Eating Disorder Awareness Week

As with many of the campaigns we share, we enter Eating Disorder Awareness Week with personal lived experience.

Not so long ago, I celebrated my first year recovered from an eating disorder (ED) and look forward to my second year and lifetime of living a free from the shackles of the ED that had been with me from 11 to 30 years of age. It is with the lived experience of anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and orthorexia that I write with passion in the personal and professional to share the objectives of the annual Eating Disorder Awareness Week campaign.

First, let’s bust some myths

Myth: You can tell if someone has an eating disorder by looking at them1.

Busted: In many forms of my life, I had a larger body but was suffering intensely with anorexia, or a mid-size body and suffered greatly with bulimia. Very few people become underweight from anorexia and recovery is based on reaching a genetic/natural setpoint.

– Myth: Eating disorders are all about the food3.

Busted: The eating element is a symptom of underlying issues, such as stress or trauma.

– Myth: Only girls get eating disorders2.

Busted: A harmful myth, with any gender at risk of experiencing an eating disorder.

– Myth: An eating disorder is just not eating / eating too much3.

Busted: Another harmful myth that reduces the many warning signs of an eating disorder, such as avoidance of social situations, extreme exercise routines and more (see Orthorexia) .

– Myth: Eating disorders only affect young people and they can grow out of it1.

Busted: More and more, research is showing that eating disorders can affect all ages, and I know from personal experience the growth and intensity of the eating disorder as I aged.

– Myth: You cannot recover from an eating disorder1.

Busted: The flip side of the previous myth is that recovery is not possible and may be believed by those living with an eating disorder. I’m very proud to share that I know from first-hand experience that recovery is possible.

The myths continue, which is why each year the Eating Disorder Awareness Week focuses on sharing more information on a specific eating disorder or element of an eating disorder. This year, the focus is on…

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

ARFID is rarely captures in the media, compared to anorexia or bulimia, and is therefore often unknown to the wider public or greatly misunderstood. But as with every eating disorder, ARFID can have debilitating affects on someone’s mental and physical health.

Someone with ARFID may be very sensitive to tastes, textures, smells and appearances of foods or food groups, which lead to distressing experiences with food and eating. This can lead to avoiding foods or restricting intake, and in turn withdrawing from social situations and general day-to-day living.

Someone with ARFID may display ‘pickiness’, eating less food than necessary, find it difficult to recognise hunger, or is easily full, repeatedly eats the same meals, or needs to eat in a specific manner. This list is not exhaustive, with more signs detailed on the BEAT website4.

ARFID is commonly associated with neurodiversity and other disorders, such as sensory-processing disorder. This means that in some cases it can be difficult to identify the eating disorder, or that the incorrect eating disorder is treated instead of the undiagnosed autism or ADHD.

Accessing support

First and foremost, if you believe you may be experiencing ARFID or a different eating disorder, you are not alone and help is available. Early intervention is so very important. Speak to a loved one and seek professional help from your GP.

BEAT offer services and tools to help get you started, including:

Routes to accessing help now

Tips on preparing to visit the doctor

Accessing online support groups

Accessing support is not limited to the person suffering. I know how hard it was for my husband of 14 years to share a life with an eating disorder. Family and friends can also reach out for support through BEAT and I we highly recommend the e-learning courses to gain a compassionate understanding of the experience of your loved one, and tips on how to prioritise your own self-care whilst offering support.

Sources:

1. BEAT (no date, a) Prevalence in the UK. Available at: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/about-beat/policy-work/policy-and-best-practice-reports/prevalence-in-the-uk/ (Accessed 30 January 2024)

2. BEAT (no date, b) Eating Disorder Myths. Available at: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/get-information-and-support/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorder-myths/ (Accessed 30 January 2024)

3. BEAT (no date, c) Types of Eating Disorders. Available at: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/get-information-and-support/about-eating-disorders/types/ (Accessed 30 January 2024)

4. BEAT (no date, d) ARFID. Available at: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/get-information-and-support/about-eating-disorders/types/arfid/ (Accessed 30 January 2024)

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