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Eating Disorders

What is an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders can affect people of any age, gender and ethnicity. An eating disorder is a serious and complex psychological illness. People may experience significant disturbances in their behaviour, thoughts and feelings towards food.

An eating disorder is an extremely difficult illness to live with. It is often used as a method of ‘coping’ with issues and stresses in life. People may become very preoccupied with food and body image, and the eating disorder often becomes the sufferer’s coping strategy for their underlying problems or issues.

What are the signs and symptoms of an Eating Disorder?

An individual suffering with an eating disorder may show some, but not necessarily all, of the signs and symptoms below:

Changes in behaviour

Psychological and Emotional Signs

Changes in body or health

However, it is important to note that eating disorders can take many different forms. It is critical not to dismiss a problem, just because an individual does not fit a ‘particular label’.


What are the effects of an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders can have a variety of negative effects, which often depend upon the severity, type and duration of the disorder. Some of these effects are listed below:

Physical Disability
Weakness associated with starvation/overeating or salt or hormonal imbalance may make you feel vulnerable and inadequate. You may see this as further evidence of ‘personal weakness’ and diet more. This starts a self-defeating vicious cycle.

Emotional Disturbances
Weight loss and focusing on controlling diets can lead to depression and irritability. You may try to deal with these ‘unacceptable’ aspects of yourself by increasing your disordered behaviours.

Effects on the Brain
The way your brain works is affected – concentration, attention, memory, learning and problem solving are affected. These effects may cloud your judgment and it may be difficult to have rational thoughts about your illness and other problems in general.

Effects on your Social Life
Your preoccupation with food limits your ability to socialise. You lose your interest in friendships and general activities. You lose your sense of humour. Friends may become bored and drift away. Unfortunately you will probably be tempted to deal with this by using your eating disorder.

Effect on your Digestive System
You may find that meals are highly distressing. Just the sight of certain foods may lead you into panic due to associating them with massive weight gain. Bloating or feeling full very quickly is partly due to a delay in emptying your stomach if you are restricting your diet. This is because the muscles from your abdominal wall will have been eaten away during starvation and therefore sags. Overeating and abuse of laxatives can overload your digestive system and make it inefficient and prone to problems

Hormones
You will experience a loss of sex hormones. Your desire for relationships vanishes – this can make your life very simple. However, this can lead to you feeling different to everyone else, a bit of a gooseberry. It may add to your feelings of something being ‘wrong’ with you.

Changes in Body Composition
With excessive weight loss you will lose bone, brain and muscle tissue. These losses are invisible to the naked eye but can be seen by special X-rays. It may be difficult to accept that you need to gain weight as your body still seems to be working. There are similar serious effects with excessive weight gain and weight fluctuations such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and cholesterol and other serious diseases

Effects on the Mind
Mood is lowered and you become depressed. The mind becomes preoccupied with food and there is often a strong urge to overeat. The ability and interest in forming and maintaining friendships is decreased and there is a feeling of being isolated from others. Concentration is poor and it is difficult to work to the best of your ability. Even minor problems seem huge and as if they can’t be solved.

Where can you get help?

First Steps is Derbyshire’s only eating disorder charity. They exist to raise awareness and give support to anyone whose lives are affected by any eating difficulty or disorder. This includes parents, families and carers.



First Steps offer a variety of support, which includes:

In addition to this, First Steps Derbyshire also raise awareness in schools via Self-esteem and Body Image workshops and offer tailored training packages to healthcare professionals and organisations.

For more information on First Steps Derbyshire please visit our website (opens in a new window) or email us on : [email protected]
Alternatively you can call us on 01332 367571

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