It is a common misconception that eating disorders (EDs) are simply someone wanting to look a certain way. In reality, an eating disorder is a complex mental illness that seriously impacts lives: often robbing people of experiences and relationships while in the grip of the illness. Eating disorders are never a personal choice.In the UK, it is estimated that 1.25 million people have an eating disorder and Covid-19 has only compounded this figure, with a 15.3% rise in cases over the course of the pandemic. Long periods of isolation from the outside world, and increased time at home spent with social media, are thought to have contributed to this rise.Early support and treatment is shown to dramatically increase someone’s chance of making a full recovery from an eating disorder, and prevent serious long-term psychological and health consequences, such as depression and anxiety. But what are the behavioural signs of an ED to be on the lookout for, and how should people go about getting help and support?Recognising the signs of an eating disorderIt can often be difficult for someone to admit to themselves or their loved ones that they have concerns surrounding their eating habits. As frightening as it can be, it is crucial to recognise the characteristic risk behaviours of eating disorders, so people can receive support as early as possible.Eating disorder charity Beat, outlines the top six behaviours exhibited by someone with an eating disorder as:
- Lips – is the person obsessive about food?
- Flips – is their behaviour changing?
- Hips – do they have distorted beliefs about their body size?
- Kips – are they tired or struggling to concentrate?
- Nips – do they disappear to the toilet after meals?
- Skips – have they started exercising excessively?
These behaviours are not all-encompassing: some people suffering from an ED might exhibit all of the above symptoms, some none. But being aware of behaviours - particularly around body image and relationship with food - will make it easier to spot the signs earlier.
Five steps to a clinical diagnosis
Eating disorders are extremely distressing, and finding the courage to reach out to a doctor can be incredibly difficult. Feelings of shame and embarrassment - common in those with eating disorders - can cause people to delay seeking treatment and receiving support.Whether people are seeking help for themselves, or for someone they are concerned about, there are five steps to take to begin the journey towards a clinical diagnosis, medical support, and a more positive relationship with food.1.Book a doctor’s appointment
- For those worried that they, or someone they love, might have an eating disorder, the first step is to book a GP appointment - or encourage another to do so.
- It can be very hard for someone to admit they are struggling and to ask for help. Bringing a friend or loved one along to the GP appointment can help people feel supported and relaxed during their appointment.
3.Speak to a doctor
- A GP will ask simple questions about eating habits, mood, overall health and weight. Some people find it helpful to write down their thoughts prior to the appointment, ****so nothing is forgotten in the moment.
4.Get a referral
- The doctor may offer a referral to an eating disorder specialist, where treatments on offer may include talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). In some instances, medication may be offered to treat the symptoms.
5.Search online for local resources
- If a referral is not possible, eating disorders charity Beat has both adult and youth helplines, where people can talk in confidence to an advisor. Beat also offer a ‘Helpfinder’ tool to search for specialist care in the local area.
Using digital tools to support the path to recovery
The path to recovery from an eating disorder looks different for everyone. While some people may prefer to have regular appointments with a counsellor or therapist, others may find that a more personal approach - such as journaling their thoughts - works better for them.Services to aid recovery, alongside medical treatment, can help make the path to recovery a little smoother. Digital applications like Holly Health support people with problematic eating behaviours and eating disorders - empowering them to recognise the early warning signs, and helping them to create and sustain healthier habits to rebuild their relationships with food and body image. The personalised digital health coach helps people incorporate small habits into their everyday lives - around nutrition, activity and mindfulness for example - for lasting changes to their physical, mental and emotional health.
Eating disorders are extremely complex but, with the right support from both specialised healthcare professionals and digital health tools, people can and do get better.