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  • Writer's pictureDr Victor Thompson

“Help, I think I may have an eating disorder”

  • Here you will learn more about what it is like to have an eating disorder (hint: you are not alone)

  • Learn about common or prevalent eating disorders are in the UK they are (they are really common)

  • Do a quick self-assessment

  • Find out where you can get help and support!

When eating becomes a problem – life with an eating disorder

In short, your life is dominated by food and eating.

Now here’s the longer description.

You are food obsessed. You fear food. Eating can make you feel guilty. Eating choices can lead you to feel in control – and out of control. To feel great. To feel rubbish. Your mood is highly linked to food. What you eat, impacts on your mood. How you feel impacts on what you eat.

You have food rules – what you can eat, cannot eat, should not eat, or eat if certain circumstances are true. These rules might be common ones, that other people share, although probably not to the same degree; or more personal rules that are particular to you. You assess and evaluate your food options, your choices, the potential or actual impacts that they will have. Your identity is strongly tied to your food rules and behaviour.

You likely restrict what you eat, eating less. You likely have foods that are banned, that are classed as bad. You try to resist pressures to eat certain things or more of foods than planned. These pressures can be external from other people or from advertising, or internal from your own wants, desires or appetite - if you restrict your food intake, or have certain 'banned' foods, then your mind and body's urges to EAT will be powerful.

When you break the rules, you feel bad, guilty, low. You become self-critical. You tighten the screw, redoubling your efforts, your will, the importance of following your rules.

Perhaps you choose to vomit or to use laxatives, in an effort to get rid of what you ate when you broke the rules. These are flawed strategies, as they don’t get rid of everything, and they bring their own set of health risks and problems.

Perhaps you increase your exercise load to compensate or even as a way to punish yourself. (How can self-punishment ever be a good strategy? Don’t get me started on this right now.)

As I’ve mentioned, your sense of self – or how you think of and value yourself – is tied-up with your food choices. The easily overlaps with and links with your body image, how you think you look, how ‘good’ you perceive our body to be. This can become easily distorted. Another obsession. Another part of the problem.

What does an eating disorder do to your functioning in life?

Well, aside from the likely fatigue, self-criticalness and more difficult moods, it takes you away from opportunities and experiences. It makes you dodge challenging social events when food will be present. In general, you are less engaged and present, as your mind is focused on food and eating – the recent, the current and the future. You are therefore distracted from social conversations, from engaging with family, friends and work. It limits your experiences, opportunities and development. It’s like you have an Eating Disorder Bully or Eating Disorder Jailer that limits your life.

Eating disorder statistics

  • The ratio of female to male is 3:1

  • An estimated 1.25 million people in the UK have a clinically diagnosable eating disorder

  • 6.4% of UK adults display signs of an eating disorder

Those are big numbers.

The prevalence of each eating disorder

When an eating disorder is diagnosed, here are the estimated rates given for each diagnosis:

  • Anorexia Nervosa 8% of cases

  • Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) 5%

  • Binge Eating Disorder (BED) 22%

  • Bulimia Nervosa 19%

  • Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (= Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS)) 47%

(Source: Hay, P., Girosi, F. & Mond, J. Prevalence and sociodemographic correlates of DSM-5 eating disorders in the Australian population. J Eat Disord 3, 19 (2015).

A quick free eating disorder self-assessment questionnaire

If you are concerned that you may have an eating disorder, then use this free 5 question screening tool used to identify whether a fuller psychological assessment of your relationship with food would be helpful. It’s conveniently called the ‘SCOFF’ questionnaire:

  1. Do you ever make yourself Sick because you feel uncomfortably full?

  2. Do you worry you have lost Control over how much you eat?

  3. Have you recently lost more than One stone in a three-month period?

  4. Do you believe yourself to be Fat when others say you are too thin?

  5. Would you say that Food dominates your life?

If you answered YES to 2 or more questions, then you would likely benefit from a fuller assessment of your relationship with food.

Where you can get help: Your 3 point action plan

  1. Get more informed. For information on Eating Disorders for children, students, adults, friends and family, check out the excellent BEAT website:

  2. Next, seriously consider seeing your GP, particularly if your body weight is low or you are experiencing physical symptoms or problems that could be related to your eating.

  3. Then seek-out, within your local NHS service or privately, a good psychologist with training and experience of working with patient who have an eating disorder.

If you want to find out how I can help, then get in touch here.

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