I think I have an eating disorder - what can I do?
If you think that you have an eating disorder, remember that you are not alone. At Life Works, we have treated many people who have challenges with food and eating. We can help you to understand how you are feeling and why, and support you as you take the first steps towards your recovery.
Read on to find out what you should do if you think you have an eating disorder.
Research the symptoms of eating disorders
Eating disorders are complex and should be treated with the same level of care as any other illness. There are a number of different eating disorders and each has its own set of characteristics.
Some of the more common eating disorders include:
- Anorexia nervosa – Anorexia causes a person to deliberately lose a lot of weight. When someone has the eating disorder, they will often believe that they are overweight when they aren’t and will typically have an intense fear of gaining weight. When dealing with anorexia, a person will tend to have strict rules and rituals around food. They may also miss meals, avoid food and lie about the amount that they have eaten. People with anorexia also use methods to avoid gaining weight, such as excessively exercising or taking laxatives
- Bulimia nervosa – People who suffer with bulimia will typically eat an excessive amount of food in a short period of time. This is usually followed by ‘purging’ which can be vomiting, using laxatives or doing an excessive level of exercise. When someone has bulimia, they tend to be incredibly self-critical about their own body. They may also binge and purge as a way to manage their stress or anxiety
- Binge eating disorder (BED) – This is also known as compulsive eating disorder and involves a person eating excessive amounts of food over a short period of time, regardless of whether or not they are hungry. Typically, there will be no purging afterwards and a person with BED may binge in response to stressful or difficult situations
- Other specified feeding or eating disorders (OFSED) – Another name for this is eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS). This is when a person’s relationship with food and their body image is disordered, but they don’t meet the exact criteria of other eating disorders. OFSED is just as serious as any other eating disorder and it is recommended that a person with the condition also accesses therapeutic support in order to recover
If you don’t recognise any of the symptoms that we have mentioned but are worried about your relationship with food and your body, and think you have an eating disorder; do not worry. Eating disorders present differently in everyone, and here at Life Works, we will provide you with support and treatment that is tailored to your personal experience.
Reach out to someone you trust
Once you have recognised that you need support, the best thing to do is reach out to a friend or a member of your family that you trust.
We understand that this is a difficult step to take, but try not to worry about speaking to someone who is close to you. Anyone who cares about you will appreciate you opening up and will want to help. Just like with any mental health condition, things will start to feel easier once you’ve shared what you are going through. Suffering alone will only make things worse.
You may wonder how to choose the right person to speak to. Is there someone you have confided in before or is there someone who seems particularly sympathetic? Do you know anyone who has experienced their own mental health challenges? Perhaps there is someone who has been recommended to you as a reliable source of support.
To help you prepare for the conversation, here are a few pointers:
- Write down what you are going to say first as this may help you to feel more prepared
- If you don’t feel confident enough to talk in person, speak on the phone, write an email or send a text message
- Try to convey the thoughts and emotions you have been experiencing, and talk about how they have been affecting your relationship with food
- You may want to share how long this has been happening to you
- As a next step, let the person know how you would like them to support you
Online support groups can also be helpful. Talking to others who feel the same and who have been through similar journeys will ensure that you don’t feel quite so alone. It can also be encouraging to speak to people who have already recovered, showing you what is entirely possible for yourself. Just be careful that the site is genuine, as there are some pro-eating disorder spaces disguised as support groups.
Be gentle and understanding with yourself
Eating disorders aren’t a choice. Treat yourself like you would a friend, with patience, compassion and without judgement. Like many others, your relationship with food and your body is most likely a response to something overwhelming that has happened to you, so you mustn’t blame yourself for struggling. Everyone processes stress or trauma differently, with varying abilities to cope.
The hopelessness you may feel won’t last forever, and just like many others, you can overcome your eating disorder. Have faith that you can turn things around, and that there are others who can assist you in getting there. You have already taken a crucial step by admitting that you have an issue that you would like to address and seek help for.
We are all human, and any kind of mental health setback takes commitment, perseverance and a certain amount of inner strength to recover from. Know that there might be times where you feel tempted to slip into old habits, but having people there for you will ensure that your recovery plan is fully supported.
Seek professional support
If you think you have an eating disorder, the most crucial next step for you to take is to seek professional support. It is always better to break damaging habits as soon as possible, so that you can embark on a more positive path with people who understand your challenges and who can help you to move past them.
Make an appointment with your GP to discuss what you are going through. They will be fully understanding of your experience, having spoken with many others who have endured similar battles. They can help in the process of diagnosing and will also be able to refer you for a course of appropriate treatment, to improve your overall health and help you to stay recovered.
You can also come directly to Life Works. We specialise in providing people with the personalised, compassionate eating disorder treatment that they need to achieve a full and long-lasting recovery. Like many others who have benefitted from this programme, you will be given the therapeutic support that you need to address your current relationship with food. You will also have the opportunity to learn skills to help you sustain your recovery in the long-term. We treat eating disorders with the same urgency and level of care as any other mental health condition.
The longer an eating disorder is untreated, the more damage it can do to your body and mental health. You deserve to recover from your eating disorder, restoring your health and protecting your future happiness. Life Works can help you to enjoy a healthier relationship with both food and yourself.
This blog was reviewed by David Waller, (MA Oxon, Postgraduate Certificate in Addiction Psychology and Counselling, Postgraduate Diploma in Addiction Psychology and Counselling with Distinction, Registered member of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and member of the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals (FDAP)), Eating Disorder Programme Lead at Life Works.