The recent Eating Disorders Awareness Week brought these conditions into the media spotlight, but sufferers try their hardest to keep their symptoms to themselves.
This often means they miss out on the support and treatment they desperately need.
When we talk about ‘eating disorders’ we usually mean anorexia nervosa, bulimia or binge eating. They can affect anyone, male or female, young or old, whatever their background or circumstances. Sadly, without help, the consequences can be devastating and potentially life-threatening.
In Southwark, between April last year and January this year, 56 patients had treatment for an eating disorder and a further 64 are still receiving treatment. But local GPs believe there are many more suffering in silence.
Eating disorders are often blamed on the social pressure to be thin, as young people in particular feel they should look a certain way. However, the causes are usually more complex. Getting medical help early can make all the difference, so it’s vital that we can spot the warning signs in our friends and family.
Someone with an eating disorder will have an abnormal attitude towards food that causes them to change their eating habits or behaviour. They may be obsessed with their weight or body shape. Alarm bells should ring if someone is frequently missing meals; complaining of being fat even though they are normal or underweight; repeatedly weighing themselves and looking at themselves in a mirror; and eating little or no food when they are with other people.
If you are worried about yourself or someone else, contact your GP or Beat (www.b-eat.co.uk) – a leading eating disorders charity. Information is also available on the NHS Choices website.