Have you ever been on a diet?
Recently, I was delivering an eating disorder training session and I asked this question to the group of counsellors in front of me. All but one raised their hands. I then asked how many have had negative thoughts about the size of their body – same response.
However, if my next question had been “how many of you have had an eating disorder”, you can bet that the response would not have been the same again.
Most of the population, both male and female, have at some point in their lives wanted to change the way they look and they way they eat, but not everyone goes on to develop a diagnosable eating disorder.
Diagnosis – tricky questions
Even for professional counsellors like me, or your local GP, questions like: what is an eating disorder, where do we draw the line between a difficult relationship with food and an eating disorder and when is it time to seek professional help, can be tricky to answer definitively.
First port of call for many professionals is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5). I’ll refer to this for diagnostic criteria, however, it’s not completely clear cut and is constantly being debated and revised. A more personal and understanding approach for those seeking help comes from the short screening tool that GPs now use to help with early detection of anorexia or bulimia nervosa. It consists of these 5 questions:
Do you ever make yourself sick because you feel uncomfortably full?
Do you worry you have lost control over how much you eat?
Have you recently lost more than 1 stone in a 3 month period?
Do you believe yourself to be fat when others say you are too thin?
Would you say food dominates your life?
Answering yes to 2 or more of these questions indicates the possible presence of an eating disorder. It is possible to answer no to all 5 and still be suffering, but the fact that conversations have taken place is always a good first step.
Screening tools and diagnosis aside, awareness and common sense are possibly the most important things when thinking about whether to get professional help. This goes for GPs and family and friends, as well as the person with an eating disorder themselves. It’s so important that as many people as possible recognise and understand the early signs – the one clear message that has resulted from the abundance of research on eating disorder treatment is that early intervention is more likely to result in full recovery.
B-eat, the UK’s leading eating disorder charity has launched a new campaign, called Tips as part of Eating Disorder Awareness Week. It’s all about making people aware of the psychological and behavioral changes that a person may go through as part of an eating disorder, well before any physical symptoms start to show. By rolling out the campaign through GP surgeries and hospitals, workplaces and schools, more and more people should become aware of the warning signs of this serious mental illness, and be able to help family or friends, or perhaps recognise something in themselves.
If you are engaging in behaviours related to your food and your body that are having a negative impact on your life and you’ve tried to change things yourself to no avail, then please don’t hesitate, now is the time to get help. Make an appointment with your GP sooner rather than later.