Brighton Station Health Centre
Brighton Station Health Centre

Time to talk about eating disorders

February 23 2017

The number of people with eating disorders is growing, and, according to UK eating disorder charity BEAT, fifteen percent of their calls last year were from women over 40 years of age.

Dr Marjorie Gillespie, Director of Primary Care at Care UK which, wants eating disorder sufferers to be inspired by Eating Disorder Week (February 27-March 5) and take the decision to speak to their GP about their problem and not suffer in silence:

“Eating disorders are a serious mental illness and have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness claiming precious, promising lives every year. Families get overwhelmed, desperate and broken by the challenge of beating an eating disorder. We also know that they are treatable conditions and that full recovery is possible if intervention is early enough. That is why I would urge people to go and see their doctor and discuss their concerns.”

As detailed in a recently commissioned BEAT study, causes of eating disorders are usually a combination of influencing factors with typical factors including genetic influences, the impact of puberty, stress, life events and the growing influence of social media driven pressures.

Eating disorders are typically seen as illnesses that affect girls and young women. But in fact, eating disorders do not discriminate, affecting people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. They include the forms; anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, emotional overeating, eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS), and disordered eating/eating problems.

Recent research led by Dr. Nadia Micali of the Department of Psychiatry at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York and University College London, marks the first time that prevalence of eating disorders among women in their 40s and 50s has been investigated. Her research showed that by mid-life, a significant proportion of women will experience an eating disorder of some form and few of those women will access any healthcare intervention.

Tom Quinn, from the eating disorders charity BEAT, highlighted the problem as well, saying: “Stereotypically, the world sees people with eating disorders as young. When we reinforce stereotypes we also add to the stigma of these serious mental health illnesses and this stigma can prevent individuals coming forward to seek help – a dangerous path to take when the chance of full and fast recovery is vastly improved when treatment is found quickly.”

Marjorie Gillespie continued: “If you know anyone who you feel has an eating disorder, do try and communicate with them, though without being judgmental or argumentative. Try to explain that you have noticed the changes in their behaviour, that you are concerned and want to help. Be honest about your own feelings and encourage the person you are helping to be honest about theirs.

“If the problem is denied, don’t feel too disheartened. You have opened a door. Leave resources around and be patient - they will open up when they are ready. And when they do speak, reassure them that you are here to support them in getting professional support. Sometimes it’s helpful to offer to attend appointments if they’re worried or find them difficult. Communicating with anyone and not just someone with an eating disorder means being a good listener and trying to understand what they may be struggling to say.”