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An eating disorder is a disordered or damaged eating pattern, or relationship with food. It can be defined as being when a person eats or refuses to eat in accordance with a psychological need rather than a physical one. According to the b-eat website, which is an excellent resource for those needing help with eating disorders: "Food becomes a problem when it is used to help you to cope with painful situations or feelings, or to relieve stress perhaps without you even realising it. If this is how you deal with emotions and feelings and you are unhappy about it, then you should try to talk to someone you trust."
Eating problems can also be known as eating distress. They can be broadly categorised into three types: restricting, purging and overeating; though these are by no means definitive. Many people have some of the symptoms of two or three different types of disorder, or do not fall into a particular category.
However there are other disorders including compulsive overeating and EDNOS (eating disorder, not otherwise specified) and more information about all of these can be found on the b-eat website.
A diet is not the same thing as an eating disorder. The difference can be difficult to identify and is generally a psychological difference. Some pointers for differentiating between the two can be found on the Something Fishy website. This is a very useful website for those looking for information or help with recovery.
Anyone can develop an eating disorder, of any age or gender. Stereotypically and often statistically the most vulnerable group are young women, but an eating disorder can show up in middle age or later life, and eating disorders in men are becoming increasingly well known. They are also a big problem in modelling and sport.
There are all kinds of reasons why eating disorders develop. They may be associated with emotional distress or trauma, they may be related to self image issues, or they may not be related to any identifiable issue. Often an individual may not know themselves why they are struggling with their eating.
Eating disorders are extremely difficult to deal with, and are almost impossible to recover from alone. It is best to have as much support as possible. If you are concerned about your eating, you should see your GP (some ideas for doing this are located in the links section below), speak to an adult you trust, speak to your parents, your siblings, your friends, or anyone who you feel may be able to listen to you. There are several online communities which offer support for eating disorders, including the NSHN forum, and several other communities which can be found via the Something Fishy website. These are good because they are anonymous, which can make it easier, but they in no way replace the real life support given by a doctor, friend or therapist.
An eating disorder is nothing to be ashamed of. It is not your fault and is a very valid reason to ask for help. You need and deserve help to overcome your eating difficulties. Remember that an eating disorder can very easily get out of hand and become dangerous to your physical health, even life-threatening. If this happens, you will very likely be hospitalised, which can be an unpleasant and difficult experience under such circumstances. It is completely understandable to find it difficult to ask for help, but it is also far better if you are able to get help before it gets to this stage. There are lots of different types of help available, including different types of therapy and sometimes medication. These options all work in different ways for different people so it is worth trying a few things if you don't feel that the first thing offered is for you. More information about the different types of therapy is here on the Something Fishy site.
More information about the risks associated with eating disorders can be found on The Site.
If you are concerned about the eating patterns of a friend or relative, you should try to talk to them about it. Do not push or pressurise them to eat, as this can make things more difficult for them. You should make it clear that you are concerned for them. Research the condition and try asking them what you can do to help them. Offer to go with them to speak to someone, or to help them work out what they need to say. Try to distract them, and do things together to take their minds off eating. Reassure them and let them know that you are there.
Many people with eating disorders believe wrongly that they are fat or ugly. Sometimes contradicting this belief can help them, though sometimes it will make it worse. You can only try, and don't blame yourself if you don't get it right every time. It is not your responsibility to 'save' someone and you can only do so much. If you can, try to get them appropriate help, and try to convince them that they deserve that help.
There is a lot of information available online to do with eating disorders. However, a lot of information is on what are known as 'pro-ana' (pro anorexia) websites, which are neither healthy nor helpful to look at. Please take care and try to have someone with you.
Northern Initiative on Women and Eating's Eating Distress Service: http://www.niwe.org.uk
Something Fishy: http://www.something-fishy.com
mamaVISION: http://mamavision.com/ This is a blog written by an ED surviver and ex-model. It can be triggering.
The Depression Alliance: http://www.depressionalliance.org/docs/help/working_with_your_gp.html
The Depression Place: http://www.depressionplace.com/depression_help.html
The Samaritans: http://www.samaritans.org/your_emotional_health/feeling_low.aspx
The Samaritans: http://www.samaritans.org
National Self Harm Network: http://www.nshn.co.uk/forum/index.php
Recover Your Life: http://www.recoveryourlife.com