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Here we help you understand what eating disorders are, how they are treated and how our therapists and psychologists can help.

What is an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses that affect an individual’s eating, self-image and general well-being.

They can take several forms, including anorexia, bulimia and typical eating disorders. Here we want to give you an overall understanding of eating disorders, the different forms of therapy and the support available.

In the UK, 12.% percent of teenagers between the ages of 17 and 19 have an eating disorder.

If you or someone you know is experiencing the symptoms of an eating disorder, it is important to seek professional help.

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What is anorexia?

Anorexia, or anorexia nervosa, is perhaps the best known form of eating disorder, as it is a condition often associated with extreme weight loss and a distorted body image. Anorexia has several subcategories and can range from mild to severe cases. As people with anorexia often strive for an unrealistically low body weight, it can lead to serious health consequences, including death.

Bulimia: another facet of eating disorders

Bulimia differs from anorexia in several ways, although the two are often confused. While anorexia focuses on self-starvation, bulimia involves a cycle of binge eating followed by various methods of ‘getting rid’ of the calories, usually through vomiting or excessive exercise.

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Signs and symptoms

An eating disorder can take many different psychological forms, but some symptoms are clear signals. If you recognise any of the symptoms below, it could be an indication that something is not right.

  • Drastic weight loss or gain
  • Obsession with food and calories
  • Social isolation
  • Physical symptoms such as hair loss or lanugo (fine body hair)

Differences and similarities between anorexia and bulimia

Anorexia and bulimia can both have serious physical and psychological consequences. However, each case requires its own specific treatment approach. A qualified healthcare provider needs to diagnose it with care.

Treatment and support: the road to recovery

There are various forms of therapy for the treatment of eating disorders. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective, as well as various medical treatments and the help of specialist dieticians. Therefore, it is important that each individual receives a tailored treatment plan that addresses their unique needs.

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Relatives and support

Living with a person that has an eating disorder can be challenging. Therapists recommend support groups and other resources for family members. The support can be very helpful for family members as it provides both more knowledge about what eating disorders can be about and a new perspective on the illness. It can also be a great help for family members to have contact with a therapist or psychologist, both for counselling support to deal with their own feelings and to increase their knowledge.

How we make the difficult easier

Eating disorders are complex diseases that require individualised care and treatment. Whether it is anorexia, bulimia or other forms, it is important to seek professional help as soon as possible. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, don’t hesitate to take the first step towards recovery by booking a session with one of our specialised therapists.

12 common questions about eating disorders

What is an eating disorder?

An eating disorder is a complex mental illness that affects a person’s eating behaviour, self-image and physical health. Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder often have a profound impact on daily life.

What causes eating disorders?

There is no single cause of eating disorders; it is often a combination of genetic, psychological and environmental factors. Therefore, things like stress, societal pressure and past trauma can also play a role.

How are eating disorders diagnosed?

Diagnosis of eating disorders is often done through psychological evaluations and medical tests. These help to rule out other underlying medical conditions and assess the psychological profile.

Are anorexia and bulimia the same thing?

Anorexia and bulimia are different types of eating disorders. Anorexia is characterised by an extreme fear of weight gain and a distorted body image, and bulimia involves episodes of binge eating followed by methods to prevent weight gain, such as vomiting or excessive exercise.

How common are eating disorders?

Eating disorders affect millions of people worldwide but it is difficult to give an exact figure as many cases go undiagnosed. However, they are more common in women than men. Young people can also be affected.

How are eating disorders treated?

Treatment for eating disorders can include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), medication, and nutritional therapy. A multidisciplinary team of psychologists, dieticians, and doctors are often involved in the treatment process.

Can eating disorders lead to other health problems?

Yes, eating disorders can lead to a range of physical complications, including heart problems, kidney failure and osteoporosis. They can also have a negative impact on mental health, such as increased risk of depression and anxiety.

What can you do if you suspect someone has an eating disorder?

If you suspect that someone has an eating disorder, it is important to handle the situation carefully. Encourage the person to seek professional help and avoid giving unsolicited advice about food or weight.

What are the first symptoms of an eating disorder?

The first symptoms can vary but often include an obsession with food, weight and body image. Other warning signs may include dramatic changes in eating, avoidance of meals and isolation from friends and family.

How can eating disorders affect mental health?

Eating disorders can lead to a range of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. The psychological strain can be significant and often requires specialised treatment.

Are there support groups for eating disorders?

Yes, there are various support groups and organisations that focus on helping people with eating disorders. These can be very helpful for both sufferers and their families.

What to do in an emergency?

In an acute mental health emergency, call 111 or visit 111.nhs.uk immediately.

Eating disorder treatment step-by-step

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, don’t hesitate to take the first step towards recovery. To give you an idea of what treatment might look like, we have listed the different steps that might be involved below:

  1. Initial consultation
    First meeting with a doctor or specialist to identify symptoms and discuss medical history.
  2. Diagnostic evaluation
    Comprehensive medical and psychological evaluation to establish a diagnosis.
  3. Treatment plan
    Development of an individualised treatment plan with a team of health care providers, including doctors, psychologists, and dieticians.
  4. Psychotherapy
    Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), family therapy, or other forms of psychotherapy can be effective and are usually included in the treatment.
  5. Medical follow-up
    Regular doctor’s visits to monitor health status and possible medical complications.
  6. Nutritional therapy
    Working with a registered dietician to develop a healthy meal plan.
  7. Self-help and support groups
    Opportunity to participate in support groups or self-help programmes.
  8. Monitoring and evaluation
    Ongoing evaluations to adjust the treatment plan as needed.
  9. Long-term monitoring
    Continued follow-up and possible adjustment of treatment strategies to ensure long-term well-being.
  10. Lifestyle changes
    Encouragement to adopt a long-term sustainable and balanced lifestyle to avoid relapse.
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Written by dominic

Dominic is a Cape Town-based copywriter and editor with a background in psychology.