Anorexia is a mental health issue

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BBC Newsnight interview about Anorexia

Our Eating Disorders Lead Therapist, Dr Joanna Silver, was invited to the show BBC Newsnight to talk about Eating Disorders and their effects, along with two women who have recovered from Anorexia Nervosa.

What are Eating Disorders?

Dr Joanna Silver defined anorexia as a mental illness, and she explained: ‘Anorexia is a mental health issue, but it includes serious physical effects. Anorexia is a way of expressing or avoiding feelings.’

What are the types of Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders can manifest in different ways. Below are some common eating disorders; this list is not exhaustive – many people have a difficult relationship with food that may not fit the criteria for a specific eating disorder.  Common to most eating disorders is the pattern of using food to manage difficult thoughts and feelings.

  • Anorexia Nervosa:  This is a condition where a person keeps their body weight extremely low, usually by restricting their food intake and/or exercising excessively.  People with anorexia nervosa have an intense fear of becoming fat.
  • Bulimia Nervosa:  This is a condition where a person will binge on large amounts of food.  People with bulimia nervosa will often attempt to remove the calories from food by purging in the form of vomiting or taking laxatives.
  • Binge Eating Disorder:  This is a condition where a person will eat large amounts of food in a short time-frame.

Who are affected by Eating Disorders?

More than 725,000 people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder according to a b-eat commissioned report in 2015. Anorexia Nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.

Around 1 in 250 women and 1 in 2,000 men will experience anorexia nervosa at some point in their lives. On average, the condition first develops at around the age of 16 to 17.

Bulimia nervosa is around two to three times more common than anorexia nervosa, and 90% of people with the condition are female. On average, the condition first appears around the age of 18 or 19.

Binge eating is estimated to affect around 5% of the adult population. The mental illness affects males and females equally and usually develops between the ages of 30 and 40.

What are the signs of Eating Disorders?

It is common for someone with an eating disorder to be secretive and defensive about their eating and their weight, and they may deny being unwell.  Some signs of eating disorders may include:

  • Controlling food intake
  • Only eating certain low-calorie foods such as lettuce or celery
  • Feeling uncomfortable or refusing to eat in public places
  • Complaining of being fat, even at a normal weight or when underweight
  • Obsessive weighing and mirror checking

You can watch the full Newsnight show here (Eating Disorders subject from 26’ minutes).

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