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 – regardless of age or gender – who feels 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.
If you are interested in becoming more aware of your relationship with food and eating, why not have a look at the 'My Relationship with Food and Eating Self-Questionnaire (see button below). It will help you to notice, and reflect upon, what your relationship with food and eating is like.
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 right 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.
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.
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 also 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 1-1.5 million people in the UK are affected by eating disorders, 10-25% of which are men/identify as male. It is very likely that the incidence of eating disorders and disordered eating is significantly higher than this estimate.
So, it seems that a significant number of people do experience eating disorders and disordered eating. 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 Eating Questionnaire section. This also contains a Eating Self-Questionnaire that you can complete, if you wish.