Eating Disorders At The Top Of Whitehall's Agenda For Health
Eating disorders are one of the most worrying and fastest growing health issues of our time. The government is so concerned that its National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines include recommendations for treating children as young as eight.
But why should we care? Because an eating disorders does not just affect one person, but families, friends, colleagues and an entire community. Eating disorders are a serious mental health problem and are responsible for more loss of life than any other type of psychological illness. Around five percent of anorexia nervosa cases are fatal.
People suffering from an eating disorder may not always appear to be ill. To the outside world they often come across as highly functioning and successful individuals. If concerns are raised by friends or family with regards to appearance/ loss of weight, these are brushed aside and 'temporary' stress is used as an excuse to mask the illness. However inside, s/he will be suffering in many ways. Having a food problem- and eating disorders are not just about food- slowly takes over an individuals life, preventing him/her for engaging in meaningful relationships and being themselves.
Eating disorders are the result of a combination of many factors, leading to an overwhelming feeling of being unable to cope. Food is used to help deal with painful feelings, emotions and pressures, or to relieve stress, without the person even realizing it. Other factors that can play a part in the development of an eating disorder include low self-esteem, family relationships, work or school pressures, the fall-out with friends or the loss of someone special, lack of confidence and sexual or emotional abuse.
There is often a long period of denial and a reluctance on the part of those affected to admit having a problem. Reasons for this include intense feelings of shame and guilt. Patients and their families may feel they are to 'blame' for the illness and hope that by ignoring reality, s/he will 'grow out of it'. But in common with other ailments, the longer an eating disorder remains untreated, the worse the long-term complications (including kidney failure, gastrointestinal and fertility problems) and the poorer the chance of making a full recovery.
Anyone who is concerned about themselves or someone close, should talk to a health professional in confidence.
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