For most people, eating is second nature. We eat to survive, we choose foods that appeal to us and we enjoy it as we eat. But for some people, eating can be a daunting task. Society is putting increased pressure on both men and women to be perfect- more and more people are striving for the ultimate body and often between friends it becomes a competition.
Away from the external pressures of society, some people place pressure on themselves. Often, an eating disorder begins as a way of exercising control over an area in one’s life. These thoughts then become obsessive and the person develops rituals and challenges throughout the day.
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It is important to recognise the symptoms of an eating disorder, below are the three most common issues.
Anorexia is the name given to a cluster of symptoms relating to severe, sometimes life threatening, weight loss. It is often related to distorted ideas about body weight and size. A person suffering from anorexia persists in thinking they are fat when in reality they are dangerously thin. It can be linked to a perfectionist attitude, with people suffering from anorexia often being high achievers. The most commonly affected by anorexia are young women in education aged between 15–25. Sufferers' menstrual periods often stop. Sufferers may also get circulation difficulties and feel cold all the time. Some sufferers enforce excessive exercise regimes on themselves while starving. The longer the condition continues, the more difficult it can be to tackle. In severe cases it can necessitate hospitalisation and can even prove fatal
Bullemia is a condition in which people develop a pattern of bingeing (eating excessively large amounts of food) and then ridding themselves of it by vomiting or purging themselves with laxatives. People with this illness may be of normal weight, so it may be hard for others to realise what is going on. There are severe health implications, which the person suffering from bulimia may not be aware, such as tooth decay, dehydration, chemical imbalances in the body, serious glandular disturbances, damage to kidneys, stomach and the oesophagus, and even fits and irregular heart beats.
Compulsive eating is when people cannot control their intake of food. An irresistible urge to binge may then be followed by feelings of shame or self-disgust, which usually then leads to a period of rigid dieting and weight loss. This creates a cycle of binging and dieting. Eating is often not in response to physical hunger but of feelings of need and comfort. The person is out of control when it comes to food and then imposes an impossible dieting regime to regain control and to punish themselves for what they see as their "shameful" and "disgusting" behaviour.
What can I do to help myself?
Recognising any problematic aspect of your personality is a difficult task at the best of times. To appreciate that you have a problem is the first step to overcoming it. If you recognise some signs of an eating disorder, you can either choose to deal with it alone, or sometimes it can help to talk to people. If you can confide in a friend or family member then do- it is much easier to overcome a problem with a supportive person beside you. If you do not feel as though you can approach someone you know, feel free to get in touch with the University Chaplaincy or Counselling Service. Listed below are some pointers to start off with.
- Try to eat a good balanced diet, that suits you and keeps you healthy. This does not mean a rigid routine, but a flexible and varied diet. Seeing a nutritionist to work out a programme of healthy eating is a way of doing something positive for yourself.
- Challenge any "distorted thinking" you may have about yourself, weight and eating. Recognise that your body is not the same as your identity.
- Try not to keep it a secret any longer. Talk with your friends and family if you can and try to be receptive if friends and family express concern about your eating or weight. If it is too difficult to talk to those who are close to you, it may be time to seek further help.
For more information, check out SupportED- an email support network for students in Aberdeen affected by eating disorders. They offer support for people who struggle with eating problems and will answer your queries and discuss any issues you might have. You can contact them via email on firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting their website www.support-ed.net.
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What Can I do to Help my Friend?
Suspecting a friend of having an easting disorder can be very difficult. It can feel as though you are prying into someone else’s private life and is often difficult to understand and come to terms with. Below are some pointers on how to approach somebody who you fear has an eating disorder.
- Remember that your friend is a person first and someone who has difficulties with food second. Continue with the normal activities you engage in together and do not allow issues of food to dominate the friendship.
- Tell them of your suspicions, how it makes you feel and be prepared for them to deny they have a problem.
- Be supportive and encourage them to seek professional help. However, if they choose not to seek help that is their responsibility, not yours.
- Do not nag about food, spy on your friend or get drawn into becoming some form of monitor or control.
- Be available to listen to your friend so they can talk about their feelings, but do not take on more than you can comfortably cope with. Everyone has limits – of knowledge, time, understanding – so offer the level of support that you can sustain and do not let this take over your life or interfere with your work.
- If you feel overwhelmed by your friend's problems, or are very concerned about them, you can contact a professional yourself to get some support and advice.
For more information, check out SupportED- an email support network for students in Aberdeen affected by eating disorders. They offer support for people who struggle with eating problems but also friends and family members. You can contact them via email on email@example.com or by visiting their website www.support-ed.net.
There are a number of good websites which can offer you guidance on how tackle this sensitive issue: