February 20, 2020 4.23 pm This story is over 45 months old

Dr Stephen Linacre: Understanding eating disorders

The latest column from the Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

At least 1.25 million people are experiencing an eating disorder at any time; however it is important to remember that the impact of eating disorders is also felt wider by family, friends and loved ones.

This eating disorder awareness week takes place from March 2, 2020 and encourages people to recognise the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder and access help as soon as possible.

Contrary to how eating disorders are often portrayed in the media there are several different types which can affect anyone of any gender, age, or background. They often develop as a way of coping with difficult emotions and therefore support services concentrate on both physical and mental wellbeing.

There are many variations of eating disorders, and below is an overview of the three main types. If you are worried about someone please visit the national charity for eating disorders website BEAT or speak to a GP.

Anorexia Nervosa is where a person restricts food intake, or engages in compensatory behaviours such as over exercising, vomiting or using laxatives to lose weight. Often people are diagnosed where their body mass index falls below 17.5, which is significantly outside the healthy range of 20 to 25. They have an obsession with food, their weight and shape and will exhibit signs of low self-esteem. They perceive themselves as fat, are likely to weigh themselves regularly, or constantly seek reassurance.

Bulimia Nervosa can be harder to identify, as those suffering often remain within or above a healthy weight range. There is commonly an obsession with food, weight and shape, but in contrast to anorexia, destructive cycles of binge eating and purging follow, including self-induced vomiting or excessive laxative use. There are often also subtle physical health problems that can indicate bulimia such as extreme tiredness, poor teeth condition, sore throat and a chemical imbalance of nutrients such as potassium.

Finally, Binge Eating Disorder involves regular binges of food, without the compensatory behaviours exhibited by those with Bulimia and Anorexia. People may be overweight and often feel disgusted with themselves. They think about food regularly and can plan binges in ritualised ways. Often people tell us when they are binging that they feel disconnected with themselves and find it very distressing afterwards.

Many people who have problems with their eating may not fit the above diagnoses, but what is common throughout is that everyone will experience self-critical thoughts about their actions and tend to experience feelings of guilt.

Where someone doesn’t fit in to any of the above they are said to have Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED). This often makes up a large percentage of people with an eating disorder and is just as serious, needing access to support quickly.

Here at Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust we work to support people with varied eating disorders. You can find more information on our website www.lpft.nhs.uk/eatingdisorders. We offer one-to-one support with experienced clinicians and also have a number of clinicians who have had lived experience and have fully recovered.

If you feel you would benefit from a referral to our adult eating disorder service please visit your GP initially to discuss your concerns. Steps2change, our talking therapy services can also provide support. The team accepts self-referrals through their website.

As part of eating disorder awareness week the team are hosting a drop-in information event at the University of Lincoln, Thursday, March 5, 12-2:30pm, in the Minerva building atrium. If you have any concerns about your own eating habits, or those of a loved one, we encourage you to come along to find out more and hear stories about people’s own experiences and recovery.

Dr Stephen Linacre is a Clinical Psychologist with the adult eating disorder service at the Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.