Column: Beating stigma during Eating Disorder Awareness Week

editorial image

Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2018 takes place next week.

Running from Monday, February 26 to Sunday, March 4, it asks the important question: “Why wait?”

On average, 149 weeks pass before those experiencing eating disorder symptoms seek help. That’s almost three years, 37 months or 1043 days.

We know the sooner someone gets the treatment they need, the more likely they are to make a full and fast recovery, so , as well as campaigning to improve the services available, we recognise we must raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder and encourage and empower people to take action now – no matter how long their symptoms have been present.

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that involve disordered eating behaviour – this might mean limiting the amount of food eaten, eating very large quantities of food at once, getting rid of food eaten through unhealthy means like purging, laxative misuse, fasting, or excessive exercise, or a combination of these behaviours.

It’s important to remember eating disorders are not all about food itself, but about feelings. The way the person interacts with food may make them feel more able to cope, or may make them feel in control.

Eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. It’s also common for people to be diagnosed with “other specified feeding or eating disorder” or OSFED. This is not a less serious type of eating disorder – it just means that the person’s eating disorder doesn’t exactly match the list of symptoms a specialist will check to diagnose them with anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder.

Eating disorders are complex – there is no one single reason why someone develops an eating disorder.

A whole range of different factors combine, including genetic, psychological, environmental, social and biological influences. A number of risk factors need to combine to increase the likelihood that any one person develops the condition.

Beat is the UK’s eating disorder charity and we began life in 1989 as the first national charity for people with eating disorders.

We are a champion, guide and friend to anyone affected by eating disorders, giving individuals experiencing an eating disorder and their loved ones a place where they feel listened to, supported and empowered.

It’s important to raise awareness about eating disorders and that is what Eating Disorders Awareness Week is all about.

This year will include the Sock It to Eating Disorders initiative.

This means digging out your brightest, boldest socks to us provide support and challenge the stigma attached to eating disorders.

By wearing your socks at your workplace, school, or university and donating to Beat, you play a vital role in ending pain and suffering.

Eating disorder sufferers face an average wait of three and a half years for specialist treatment. During that time, by far the longest gap came between symptoms first emerging and people recognising these as an eating disorder.

Almost as much time went by between this realisation and people taking the step to ask for help from their GP. By raising awareness of the early signs you can make a real difference.

Visit www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk for more information.