What are Eating Disorders
“Eating disorders are biologically based, serious mental illnesses and are fully treatable with a combination of nutritional, medical, and therapeutic support – the sooner someone gets the treatment they need, the better the chance of a good recovery. They are NOT choices, passing fads or phases”.
School Nursing Toolkit, SAPHNA 2022
Eating disorders are not all about food, they are largely about feelings. The person often uses food as a symbol to express how they are feeling, and it can help them assert a sense of control over their life. They are multifaceted and can be caused by several factors.
Genetic factors are not predictive but can contribute towards likelihood of getting an eating disorder. If you have a family member with an eating disorder you are 7-12 more likely to develop one yourself (Wade, 2004). Furthermore, conditions which are often comorbid with eating disorders have been shown to be heritable.
Things in our environment and societal norms/pressures affect the way we think, feel and respond to situations. The following have been shown to be associated with eating disorders;
- Pressure at school/work/family
- Criticism for your body shape or eating habits
- Difficult relationships
- Internalising the western beauty ideal of thinness, muscularity and leanness. The impact of this was demonstrated by the introduction of TV in Fiji where an increase in preoccupation of body image, change in ideal body image and increase in a number of eating disorders cases was observed. (Becker, 2004)
- Societal pressure to achieve and succeed
- Having a job or hobby where being thin is seen as ideal involvement in a sport or industry with an emphasis on a thin body shape and size (e.g. ballet dancer, gymnast, model, athlete)
Our thoughts, feelings and attitudes have been shown to be related to eating disorders where an individual is;
- Vulnerable to depression and anxiety
- Finds stress hard to manage
- Worries a lot about the future
- Is a perfectionist
- Needs to control their emotions
- Has obsessive or compulsive feelings
- Fears being labelled ‘fat’ or overweight
Incidence and Prevalence
Eating disorders have the highest morbidity and mortality rate of any psychiatric illness, this is due to the extreme physical impacts and risk of suicide. It affects approximately 1 in 200 people and a quarter of those are thought to be men. Eating disorders do not discriminate and affect people of all ages, racial/ethnic backgrounds, abilities, socioeconomic status, gender identities and sexual orientations.
As teachers there are many signs/triggers which it is helpful to be aware of;
If you notice any of the above or are at all concerned, seek help. Below are some Do’s and Don’ts;
What Not To Say:
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Berrettini, Wade. “The Genetics of Eating Disorders.” Psychiatry (Edgmont) 1.3 (2004): 18–25. Print.
Becker AE. Television, disordered eating, and young women in Fiji: negotiating body image and identity during rapid social change. Cult Med Psychiatry. 2004;28(4):533–59. doi: 10.1007/s11013-004-106
Personalised Eating Disorder Support We are a Nurse-led specialist eating disorder charity based in Peterborough, supporting individuals in the Peterborough and Cambridgeshire area. Our charity offers assessment and support with signposting and where appropriate to service users, families and loved ones and professionals. We offer our service users individual sessions which are tailored to meetRead More About PEDS