Signs of eating disorders

 In Mental Health, NHS Guidelines, Pharmacy Information

This week is Eating Disorder Awareness Week and it aims to fight the myths and stigmas attached to eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, binge eating disorder and other specified feeding and eating disorders.

Eating disorders can leave the sufferer malnourished and lead to a dangerous weight. Therefore, it is extremely important that you can spot signs of an eating disorder in a loved one, and get them help as soon as possible, to get their life back on track.

To have the best chances of spotting the signs, it’s important to have an understanding of the causes/ risk factors behind eating disorders.

The NHS have suggested the following are risk factors for getting an eating disorder:

  • having a family history of eating disorders, depression or substance misuse
  • being criticised for their eating habits, body shape or weight
  • being overly concerned with being slim, particularly if combined with pressure to be slim from society or for a job – for example, ballet dancers, models or athletes
  • certain underlying characteristics – for example, having an obsessive personality, an anxiety disorder, low self-esteem or being a perfectionist
  • particular experiences, such as sexual or emotional abuse or the death of someone special
  • difficult relationships with family members or friends
  • stressful situations – for example, problems at work, school or university

These are the main risk factors for someone developing an eating disorder and if a loved one checks the box for one or more of these risk factors then it is worth keeping an eye on them. With these risk factors in mind, the NHS also offer advice on the signs someone actually has an eating disorder:

  • missing meals
  • complaining of being fat, even though they have a normal weight or are underweight
  • repeatedly weighing themselves and looking at themselves in the mirror
  • making repeated claims that they’ve already eaten, or they’ll shortly be going out to eat somewhere else and avoiding eating at home
  • cooking big or complicated meals for other people, but eating little or none of the food themselves
  • only eating certain low-calorie foods in your presence, such as lettuce or celery
  • feeling uncomfortable or refusing to eat in public places, such as at a restaurant
  • the use of “pro-anorexia” websites

It can be extremely difficult to determine whether someone has an eating disorder or not, as they can be extremely secretive about it, but these risk factors and behavioural traits can help you identify people with an eating disorder. When you see these, it is important to try and ascertain whether they have a problem and try and get them help as early as possible.

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