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Glasgow and West Scotland Eating Disorders Service
your voice counts : recovery exists
We receive lots of enquiries from people asking if they have an eating disorder or if their eating and food behaviours, thoughts, feelings and experiences warrant them accessing services or receiving help and support.
One of the best things about Talking EDs is that we never ever discriminate on whether someone has a ‘full-blown’ eating disorder; has been formally diagnosed; or meets certain ‘criteria’.
We welcome anyone – men and women – who feel that their relationship with food and eating is affecting their life. As far as we are concerned, if your relationship with food and eating is affecting your life in some way – socially, emotionally, psychologically, physically, occupationally etc., then you deserve help and support with such difficulties.
We know that most people with eating disorders/ disordered eating are not underweight or don't always display the full plethora of eating disorder 'symptoms' Having worked with 1000s of people over the years, we understand that one's eating disorder changes over time. In fact, some people display various 'types' of eating disorder all at one time.
For us, it's not about sticking a label or name onto something or someone. If you have a difficult relationship with food and eating, regardless of what that is or how often that may be, you deserve help, support and understanding that is empathic, non-judgemental and encouraging.
Eating disorders come in all forms and most people who experience such difficulties don't meet all of the 'diagnostic criteria', are deemed ‘ok’ and thus do not receive treatment. This can be dangerous: a ‘controllable’ range of behaviours can very easily turn into a serious illness with devastating consequences.
MYTHS ABOUT EATING DISORDERS
It is important to remember these are myths and stereotypes associated with eating disorders and do not accurately represent what eating disorders are or the experience of an eating disorder.
FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF EATING DISORDERS
Eating disorders are not a ‘diet’. They are a mental health illness that can impact upon all areas of life and have negative, distressing and often life-threatening consequences.
Eating disorders are characterised by having a difficult, negative or dysfunctional relationship with food and eating. This changes thoughts and feelings about food, and, consequently, the person's behaviours and habits surrounding food and eating.
Neither are eating disorders about beauty, appearance or looking a certain way. In fact, they often have little to do with food, but lots to do with gaining control and finding a way of coping with life. Thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories and experiences are all controlled through one’s relationship with food. Control or non-control of eating and food provides a way of also coping with often painful, difficult or distressful thoughts, emotions, experiences or memories: by blocking them out, denying them, or dealing with them via one’s relationship with food and eating.
For those with eating disorders, life seems easier to manage through the control or non-control of food. Eating disorders can often develop in response to what is going on inside of us. We can use food, eating, weight and exercise as a way of dealing with these powerful feelings and emotions.
Eating disorders may be caused by a combination of social, psychological, biological, interpersonal, genetic and environmental factors (see left box).
Eating disorders can affect anyone and can become life-threatening if not treated appropriately. It is difficult to determine how many people actually experience persistent and debilitating food and eating difficulties.
We will never know the exact extent of this problem for various reasons. This is also partly due to the secretive nature of eating disorders and the high level of denial often involved, especially during the early stages of the illness.
There is a serious lack of data informing us of how many people in the UK, and Scotland specifically, experience eating disorders and problems with food and eating. There are two main reasons for this.
Firstly, as highlighted above, the secretive nature of eating disorders means that many individuals are reluctant to seek help and support. Many do not even acknowledge that they have a problem at all. Therefore, there is a whole population of people out there who are, in secret, experiencing significant eating and food problems and who we do not know about because they are, basically, struggling in silence.
Secondly, it is difficult to determine how many people do actually experience such difficulties because most of the data is based on hospital episode statistics.
This only alerts us to the number of people being treated in an NHS hospital on an inpatient basis. As much as 50% of treatment for eating disorders is provided by private clinics, hospitals and therapists. There are many individuals who are seriously ill but who are not in contact with any medical, therapeutic or treatment services.
The most comprehensive data in the UK is reported by NICE (2004). However, again, the data only highlights the number of people receiving inpatient hospital treatment for an eating disorder and the data is rather out-of-date. While this only focuses on a small percentage of eating disorder cases, it is widely suggested that approximately up to 1 million people in the UK are affected by eating disorders, 10-25% of which are men. It is very likely that the incidence of eating disorders and disordered eating is significnatly higher than this estimate.
So it seems that a significant number of people do experience eating disorders. These statistics should not be taken lightly given that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health illness. With this data, eating disorders are clearly a cause for concern.
For more information about types of eating disorders please see the Do I Have a Problem with Food? section. This also contains a Self-Questionnaire that you can complete, if you wish.
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