What is an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses – they are not a lifestyle choice or a “phase”. They can cause significant harm, but they can be treated, and at Orri we know that with the right treatment recovery is possible. 

There is no one single cause of an eating disorder, rather, a combination of social, genetic and psychological factors that can contribute. Many professionals consider them to be a maladaptive coping mechanism: disordered thoughts and actions that lead to compulsions that overtake daily life. 

Negative life experiences – for instance, a traumatic experience – can play a role in the development of an eating disorder. The trauma may lead to overwhelming feelings of anxiety and stress, and the eating disorder serves a purpose to reduce those levels of anxiety and stress in the short-term, as the individual channels their energy into a preoccupation with food and eating. 

“An instinct that something is not quite right is usually a good indicator of there being a problem.” – Kerrie Jones, Clinical Director

What we know: 

  • Eating disorders are most common in individuals between the ages of 14-25 years old 
  • Sufferers are commonly high achievers, and often very high-functioning in their illness 
  • According to a study (Fairburn & Harrison 2003), 80-85% of people with eating disorders are not underweight 

General symptoms: 

  • Isolating yourself from others 
  • Preoccupation with food and eating 
  • Low confidence, low self-esteem and anxiety – particularly when eating in front of others 
  • Fear of gaining weight or pursuit of thinness and excessive focus on body weight 
  • Distorted perception of body shape or weight 
  • Inability to eat intuitively or reluctance to respond to hunger cues 
  • Other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder 

It’s important to remember that eating disorders manifest in different ways. They are unique to the individual and anyone can develop one. This means that there is no right or wrong way to have “a problem” and you may not “tick all the boxes” of a diagnosis. That said, they are typically characterised by eating habits that disrupt a person’s mental, physical and emotional health. 

Because of this diversity, Orri’s approach to treating eating disorders is entirely dependent upon the needs of the individual. Our stepped approach provides people with the right amount of support at different points in their journey and allows for a smooth transition back to into everyday life.

Don’t suffer alone – reach out for support 

The term “early intervention” means getting help and support as soon as possible, when you need it. The sooner you get help, the better your chances are of full and sustained recovery. Research tells us that people should be treated within the first three years of their illness, yet it takes on average almost three years for people to recognise their symptoms and seek help. 

Overtime, people with eating disorders experience changes to their brain, body and behaviour. In early stages, these changes are more easily reversed. Yet after three years, eating disorder symptoms tend to become “hard-wired” in the brain making it harder to make changes. 

Despite how it presents, eating disorders are not all about food. Rather, food is a symptom of other complex and often deep-rooted issues. Eating disorders are used by the sufferer to block out or control overwhelming emotions, and food is the indicator or a reflection of someone’s emotional experience of their life.

Eating disorders disrupt a person’s thoughts and mood to the point they are often unable to function in key areas of life, including school, work, personal relationships and social environments. At Orri, we treat individuals suffering with co-occurring conditions such as anxiety, OCD and depression, so they can reconnect with the day-to-day joys of life and relationships. 

The isolation and secrecy that often comes with eating disorders can keep a person trapped within their illness, making it harder for people outside to identify the problem until it gets to a point of crisis. Nevertheless, eating disorders don’t just impact the sufferer – they are a family illness, meaning that they affect family and loved ones too. 

We are aware that all too often family members can feel alienated when information about their loved one is withheld. Orri advocates support for the whole family, meaning that no one is left alone in their experience of an eating disorder.  

Concerned you have an eating disorder? Answer the S.C.O.F.F questionnaire  

S.C.O.F.F a screening questionnaire used by GPs to identify eating disorders without having to ask invasive or triggering questions. Though not diagnostic, a score of 2 or more positive answers means you should seek support from a professional. 

  • Do you ever make yourself Sick because you feel uncomfortably full? 
  • Do you worry you have lost Control over how much you eat? 
  • Have you recently lost more than One stone in a three-month period? 
  • Do you believe yourself to be Fat when others say you are too thin? 
  • Would you say that Food dominates your life? 

Want to learn more about eating disorders? Talk to us, we’re here.

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