Today marks the start of Eating Disorder Awareness Week. This campaign was set up by BEAT, the UK’s eating disorder charity. They aim to put a stop to eating disorders and help people with recovery.

Discussing eating disorders can be difficult. The messaging around them can be confusing and emotionally challenging.

However, the more understanding and awareness there is, there’s more chance for people to access the support services they need.

Our Clinical Lead, Doctor Sophie Edwards, has put together a guide to help people understand the difference between an eating disorder and disordered eating. Along with ways to reduce the risk of creating harmful eating habits, and the best places to get support if you’re concerned.

Defining Eating Disorders

You might have heard of an ‘eating disorder’ and ‘disordered eating’ before but might be unsure of what they actually mean. You are not alone, it can be difficult to know the difference. Here are how the two are defined:

Eating Disorder: This is when someone’s behaviour around eating meets specific criteria. They can be formally diagnosed by a qualified healthcare professional.

Examples: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

Disordered Eating: Someone may have ‘disordered eating’ if their eating patterns do not meet the criteria for an eating disorder. This is due to less severity or frequency. However, the patterns are still causing the person problems.

Examples: Irregular, chaotic eating patterns e.g. restricting then bingeing, compulsive eating, emotional eating, night eating and secret eating.

It is important to address this, as disordered eating can lead to an eating disorder over time. For further information about eating disorders, you can read the NHS overview.

Reducing Risk

If you’re worried that your eating may be disordered, then we advise you talk to your GP.

There are ways to reduce the risk of disordered eating. These include:

Eating regularly

Don’t skip meals in an attempt to lose weight as you are more likely to binge later on.

Don’t cut out certain food groups (Unless you have been specifically told to by a healthcare provider.)

There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods. Remember, you are allowed to enjoyed food and should never feel guilty about eating.

Listen to your body

If you are hungry, eat! Being too restrictive can lead to us feeling deprived and increase our chances of overeating. Learn to read your body’s full and hunger signals.

Getting Support

Another thing that can be confusing about eating disorders is understanding who is at risk of developing them. Most of the time, if eating disorders are reported on the news, or appear in TV shows or films, we often see a young, white, female who is severely underweight.

However, this doesn’t show the full picture. Eating disorders can impact people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. This confusion can act as a barrier for people getting the right support.

Certain people such as men, those from Black or other ethnic minorities, and those who have higher BMIs, are not represented when it comes to conversations about eating disorders. There is even evidence to say that doctors and other healthcare professionals are less likely to diagnose or suspect eating disorders in these groups, which means people are less likely to get the support that they need.

Weight Loss

Around one-third of people suffering with BED will have a high BMI. These people are sometimes sent to weight management programmes, rather than eating disorder services. If you have an eating disorder or disordered eating, trying to lose weight is often not a good idea. It’s important for people to get help in a way that is most beneficial to them.

How We Can Help

At MoreLife we are dedicated to trying to make sure people who are at risk are identified and given the right support. For example, in some of our services, we now provide a binge eating support programme to those who may be at risk of BED that they complete before, or instead of, our regular programme. We want to help people make changes that work for them. You can find out more about our services here.

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