about eating disorders

About Eating Disorders: Do You Know The Symptoms?

Last week at a networking event I used my member spotlight to talk about Eating Disorders.  The response I received was overwhelmingly supportive. One attendee said that she had goose bumps listening to me speak.

about eating disorders

I speak from my heart, as someone who battled anorexia for over 20 years. As a result I am passionate about raising awareness of eating disorders.

It’s my belief that we need to keep improving our understanding about eating disorders.

The more we understand about these mental health conditions will help others. Both in terms of those who are suffering as well as their loved ones. By educating ourselves we make it easier to look out for others.

I feel very strongly that some professions need to have a greater awareness about eating disorders.  For example fitness instructors, as exercising to dangerous levels is symptomatic of an eating disorder, particularly anorexia.

But today I want to talk about a demographic not automatically associated with eating disorders, older women. There is still a misconception about eating disorders.  They are something that happens to adolescents or teenagers. They are a young person’s disease associated with puberty. Eating Disorders have no boundaries in terms of age, socio-economic group, race or gender.

About Eating Disorders And Older Women

It is difficult to assess how many women suffer from eating disorders from mid-life through to senior years. As, on average, people take up to 3 years to seek help.

A study in Australia in 2006 among women 60-70 years of age, 60% said they were dis-satisfied with their body. 4% met the criteria for an Eating Disorder diagnosis.

Women who are diagnosed with eating disorders as they get older, fall into one of three categories:

  1. Those who have secretly battled with eating issues for years, but have never been diagnosed or sought treatment.
  2. Women who were treated for an eating disorder as a young woman and the symptoms resurface
  3. Those who have not previously suffered from an eating disorder.

There can be many reasons why older women start to suffer or why an eating disorder resurfaces. I was 44 when my father died. He’d been my rock since a child and we had an incredibly close relationship. As I grieved I became conscious that I was slipping back into old patterns of behaviour. It took a lot of willpower to realize that wasn’t the solution.

Why Do Older Women Start To Suffer?

Let’s be clear eating disorders are not about food. They are about a loss of control in someone’s life. They manifest in the perception that by controlling food intake the sufferer regains control.

eating disorders are not about food

This was something that I took a long time to realize about myself. I thought for ages that it was about my desire to be the slimmest, the fittest and most desirable.

It was years after my recovery that I realized that I felt out of control in aspects of my life.   When I was 13 my mother was diagnosed with MS, then suffered a complete nervous breakdown. I felt out of control and unable to help her.

Catalysts for eating disorders are often several stress factors.  The stress leads to the sufferer feeling out of control:

  • Death of a parent
  • Parenting troubles
  • Divorce
  • Children leaving home
  • Menopause
  • Fear of aging
  • Financial difficulties
  • Career stagnation
  • Isolation and loneliness

Add to this Society’s perception of the desirable body shape.   How we admire and respect celebrities and public figures that look amazing despite their age. It’s a cocktail that has the ability to reap havoc.

So What Should I Look For?

Anyone who suffers from a compulsive or addictive disorder can be extremely good at disguising his or her behaviour. In my case, not even my husband knew the full extent of what I was doing to myself. He was not always aware of the extreme levels of exercise that I undertook.about eating disorders and exercise

For example, we were out with friends for the day and returned to their house for a late afternoon barbecue. I insisted on driving home to feed the cat before we started the barbecue. While I was there I put on my trainers and went for a run!

The ability to hide signs and symptoms is backed up by new statistics from a survey conducted by YouGov. The survey questioned UK adults’ knowledge when it comes to spotting the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder:

  • 34% were unable to name a correct sign or symptom
  • 23% listed physical signs only
  • 79% couldn’t list a psychological symptom

Signs and symptoms of eating disorders can be categorized into behavioural, psychological and physical signs.

There are several types of eating disorders and by nature of this the signs and symptoms will differ for each.

BEAT which is the leading UK charity on Eating Disorders has a detailed list by eating disorder type on its website.

 

BEAT Is Calling On The Government

Each year as part of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, BEAT focuses on an aspect of Eating disorders. The charity campaigns to raise greater awareness. This year the campaign is focused on early intervention and is called #whywait

On Tuesday 27th February, Parliament will be debating eating disorders and early intervention. The Charity is campaigning to get as many MPs as possible to attend.

Beat is asking you to contact your MP as your voice in Parliament to ask them to attend the debate.

By completing the form on Beat’s website, you will send an email to your MP asking them to attend.

The sooner someone gets the treatment they need, the more likely they are to make a full recovery.

Thanks for reading this post. If you feel brave enough to share your own experiences, then please feel free to comment below.

 

 

 

 

national eating disorders awareness week

Mum Planned The Best Birthday Present Ever

I was delighted to be invited on to Radio Veralum last week.  I was asked to come on the station to help promote awareness of eating disorders.  As this week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

I didn’t need asking twice.  You can listen to my interview here.

Why am I so keen to share my story?  To raise awareness of a mental health condition that is still taboo to many.

Around 725,000 people affected by eating disorders in the UK.  We need to stop sweeping the crumbs under the carpet.

Our Perceptions Of Eating Disordersnational eating disorders awareness week

Let’s be honest eating disorders are not pleasant.

Most people love food and eating.  Food represents nourishment.  Mealtimes are for many, a social occasion.

We don’t want to think about someone vomiting after eating because they feel guilty.

We would rather not consider laxative abuse.   Laxative abusers deceive others into believing they do not have a problem with food.

Eating disorders have a far wider reach than simply sufferers.  Loved ones and family feel totally frustrated and helpless when the can’t reach those affected. .

 

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

By making it more acceptable to talk about eating disorders, we break down social stigma.  We make it easier for others to come forward.   We’ve seen this with other taboo subjects, such as child abuse.

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is one platform to raise awareness.   But let’s not forget we need to keep the conversations alive for the other 51 weeks of the year.

Beat is the UK’s eating disorder charity.  One of their key messages is to push for early intervention.   Research shows that early intervention has a huge impact on full and sustained recovery rates.

What does early intervention mean?

  • Spotting the signs and symptoms of eating disorders.  This is not always easy as sufferers become adept at deception to avoid detection.
  • Once someone has summoned the courage to seek help that GPs take action. GPs need to recognise symptoms and takes an appropriate course of action.
  • Sufferers are referred on to the services able to offer immediate treatment.  This is a big ask with the pressures faced by the health service.

 

About Radio Veralum

Radio Veralum 92.6FM is a community radio station staffed entirely by volunteers for St Albans and surrounding areas in West Herts.

Radio Verulam aims to enable local people to become involved in radio broadcasting.  It connects with local community, charitable, social and voluntary organisations. The station serves listeners of all ages and backgrounds living in St Albans and the surrounding area. 

 

eating disorders

Eating Disorders: Just Grateful To Be Free

Eating Disorders and Size 0 Models* have hit the news again this week. This must mean we’re coming up to Fashion Week!

eating disorders fashion week

Tears Of Relief It’s No Longer My Life

Only this week I’ve read five articles about eating disorders. I’ve also pre-ordered former model Victoria Dauxerre’s autobiography Size Zero *2.   Tears welled up in my eyes as I read Victoria’s interview in the Times Magazine on Saturday.

‘ Weighed myself: 7.7 stone, I would stop eating until I got back down to 7.4 stone and to speed things up I would do all my travelling on foot.   I walked for miles on end, taking big strides to keep me warm and to lose my excess fat…’

I was shedding tears of relief that this nightmarish existence of eating disorders is no longer part of my life. Not that I was ever a fashion model (Ha!!) and I wasn’t being told to lose weight for the sake of my career but I was living with the hell that is anorexia.

eating disorders size 0

How Bad Is The Problem

Earlier this week I shared an article on Facebook about Amanda Prowse’s latest book Food Of Love*3 and her view that most middle aged women suffer from Eating Disorders or have a poor relationship with food.

The article elicited an interesting response from my followers. It showed that (thankfully) there are women who simply do not have or have not been exposed to eating disorders or a poor relationship with food.

A couple of weeks ago I gave a presentation and shared some of my story.   A Mum of 3 teenagers asked what advice could I give her to protect her children?

Her question got me thinking that perhaps there are people who do not have a clue what dealing with eating disorders is like. But the flip side is that would they recognize it if someone they loved developed an eating disorder?

I was de-cluttering over Christmas and came across some old diaries. I’d originally intended to just shred them, but had hung on to them for some reason.  I want to share a few extracts.

Why? If this helps raise even more awareness of eating disorders or gets one person who is suffering to seek help, then it’s been worthwhile.
eating disorders

When Annie Was My BF

August 12th 1981 – 8st 5lbs

Only 3 days until our wedding day now and I’m just below my target of 8st 7lbs – hurrah! But it’s my hen night tomorrow. We’re going to Cody’s for a meal, can’t eat during the day tomorrow. I’ll get out of the house so that Mum doesn’t notice.

October 20th 1982 – 7st 0lbs

Tried to shave my armpits this morning and couldn’t get the razor properly into my armpit as it’s now so concave… Mustn’t tell M as he’ll only worry.

May 21st 1983 – 7st 2lbs

Went shopping at Brent Cross today. Looking for a new pair of jeans. Only managed to find one pair that fitted – the rest were too big! I told M how fed up I was but secretly I felt really good.

July 3rd 1983 – 7st 4lbs

Feeling sick. We’re off to see the specialist again tomorrow at the Royal Free – dreading the consultation.

July 4th 1983 – 7st 4lbs

The Consultant wanted to admit me. Told me it was for my own good and I just burst into tears and pleaded with the doctor not to.  Mum and M, who had gone with me, took me outside.   When I’d calmed down I begged them not to let the doctors admit me. I promised I’d try harder to put on weight.

Eventually they agreed and persuaded the doctor to let me go home. I was allowed to on the grounds that I’d put on 3lbs before my next visit.

July 18th 1983 – 7st 7lbs

Done it – got the doctor off my back and can celebrate my 21st birthday tomorrow.

July 19th 1983 – 7st 7lbs

21 today! We had a great day at the East of England Show, but Mum, Dad and M were not impressed that I insisted on getting back for my 7pm aerobics class. But I just couldn’t miss it as I’d eaten more than usual for lunch.  They couldn’t say much as it was my birthday!

December 25th 1983 – 7st 8lbs

I was up at 6am so that I could sneak out to do a 6-mile run and be back before M woke up.  Christmas is such a struggle as I feel like everyone’s watching me and what I eat.  Really pleased with myself as I only had 4 peanuts and 3 Neapolitan chocolates apart from the ‘roast with the trimmings’ all day. Just hope that was enough to stop the scales rising tomorrow.

September 17th 1984 – don’t know and panicking

It’s the first day of our holiday in Zante.   Our first holiday abroad!

We headed into the town to look round and get breakfast. M got really angry when I struggled to find anything I felt was okay to eat. In the end I had a bowl of yoghurt.  Don’t know how I’m going to get through the next two weeks without weighing myself every morning.

My only salvation is that I’ve brought my trainers so I can still run every morning.

October 16th 1987 – 7st 10lbs

M was mad with me this morning when I got back from my run.  He’d been listening to the news – apparently I’d been running in a hurricane!   Okay so there’d been a fallen tree over the B656 and lots of water… It was pointless telling him that I’d had to go.  My day had been ruined when I got up and found I’d put on a pound.

eating disorders scales

Eating Disorders Were Part Of My Life

I look back on these entries now with mixed feelings. I’m angry that eating disorders ruled my world for so long. But equally my eating disorders shaped (no pun intended) me into the person I am today.

There was less information available in 1980s when my descent into anorexia took hold. It was long before the vast resources of the Internet were at our disposal.   So in a sense it was easier to hide. I could let it be my ‘normal’ and I was not challenged about it as much as I would have been with greater awareness.

We Must Keep Talking And Sharing

What is important though is that we don’t stop talking about eating disorders and thereby raising awareness.

Anyone can be affected by eating disorders. They are not confined to young women struggling with their identity and body image.

Eating disorders are a mental health condition. While there are symptoms relating to food, this often masks the underlying turmoil of sufferers.

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is February 27th – March 5th in the UK and B-eat, the UK’s leading charity has a lot of information and suggestions on how you can help support their vision to overcome Eating Disorders.

I will be on Radio Veralum just after 11am on 21st October. I will be sharing my story and adding my voice to those creating more awareness.

You too can help by sharing this post on social media and remember ‘Alone we can do so little together we can do so much’ – Helen Keller

 

Size 0 Models* Is Size 0 still an issue

Victoria Dauxerre’s autobiography Size Zero – My Life as a Disappearing Model *2

Amanda Prowse Food Of Love*3

eating disorders are not about food

725,000 Are Affected By An Eating Disorder

eating disorders are not about food

725,000 people suffer from an eating disorder in the UK according to a recent report by Price Waterhouse Coopers*.

Women are most likely to develop an eating disorder, although the study found 11% of sufferers were men.

Adolescence is often the time that an eating disorder surfaces. But they have been diagnosed in children as young as 6 and adults in their 70s.

There are three main categories of eating disorders Anorexia, Bulimia and Binge Eating.

10% of eating disorders are diagnosed as Anorexia.  Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.

You cannot tell if someone is suffering from an eating disorder by looking at them.

So Why Am I Sharing This?

I planned to publish this post during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, but something held me back. I battled with the ‘should I/shouldn’t I’ monster for a few days and before I knew it, I’d missed the window.

But last week I had an inspiring discussion with someone who had overcome eating disorders.  She had both bulimia and anorexia. It was that conversation that led me to kick the ‘shouldn’t I monster’ into oblivion. Awareness week may be over but this doesn’t mean we should forget or ignore eating disorders.

eating disorder monsters

My Eating Disorder

As a child I suffered from continual bouts of tonsillitis, which made eating painful. I was 6 when I had a tonsillectomy and then I discovered food!

My mother, ecstatic that she no longer had a fussy eater, overcompensated! The result – one overweight child!

But at the same time I was receiving mixed messages.

My mother was always on a diet and would live on crisp bread and lo fat cheese long before it became fashionable to do so!

While I do not blame my parents, it’s often said that children who develop an eating disorder have one parent they idolize that pushes them hard. Enter my Dad! He had the best intentions, but put me under enormous pressure.

Telling a family friend that I’d got 98% in a French test, she remarked you must be proud.

Dad’s response was Carol’s disappointed she didn’t get 100% – err no she wasn’t actually! Given that I was 11 at the time and still remember this as if it was yesterday …

eating disorder parent pressure

Leaving school at 16 at college I lost weight, gained shape and self-confidence. I started to feel good about the way I looked.   My confidence suffered a huge setback though when my boyfriend made a negative remark about my figure.

Years later I realized this was the ‘trigger’ that sent my teenage desire to look good into an obsession that spiraled out of control.

For 20 years I was an anorexic/functioning anorexic/recovering anorexic as I battled with my own self-esteem issues and the desire to have control.

At my lowest point I was almost hospitalized a couple of times. As other sufferers can testify, deception becomes an art form. So while the admission forms were being prepared I set about convincing the medical team that hospitalization was not necessary. Once the pressure was off I slid gracefully back into my pattern of self-destruct behaviours.

 

How did my eating disorder affect my life?

Putting aside the physical signs and symptoms, Anorexia is a mental health disorder.  It is much more than an eating disorder.

It’s complex and manifests itself in different ways. Let me share with you how anorexia gave me a the control over my life that I didn’t believe I had.

The scales governed my mood for the day. I would weigh myself every morning.eating disorder scales

If the needle had gone down it would be a good day, stayed the same it would be okay, gone up and disaster!

I would immediately be thinking of ways I could reduce my food intake, purge my body, fit in another exercise class to burn more calories.

I was addicted to routine. The idea of spontaneity filled me with horror.   The suggestion of going out for a meal without enough planning of how I could burn off the inevitable extra calories would bring me out in palpitations.

The closest I got to this was a barbecue with friends – we’d been out for a drink and they invited us back for an impromptu barbecue. I made the excuse that I had to go home and feed the cat.

On arriving home I put on my running gear and headed out for a run, so that I felt I could justify eating. I then showered, fed the cat and headed back to the party.

eating disorder barbecue

The more that people commented on my slender figure, the more this encouraged me. I was being admired, as I’d not been as a chubby teenager.

It certainly affected my career. I lacked self-confidence and didn’t push myself forward. It was easier to stay in jobs that I’d outgrown than to risk my fragile self esteem teetering on the edge of my comfort zone.

 

How Did I Overcome My Eating Disorder?

That’s a really good question!

It certainly wasn’t an epiphany and neither was it the result of therapy, a life event or wakeup call.

It was a step by step process. I came to terms with food and not purging my body whenever I felt I had overeaten, before I cut down to more moderate levels of exercise!

Running, swimming and step aerobics every day (yes, all three!) finally took its toll on my body! I ignored injuries and did not give my body a chance to recover.

At my worst I insisted on going running on icy pavements with my arm in plaster.

On another occasion I ended up in hospital under observation, having gone running while suffering from concussion.

eating disorder exercise addiction

My running shoes were packed and taken on almost every holiday. Although even I couldn’t figure out how to get a decent run in when we went skiing! But that meant I would only go to hotels with a decent sized pool so that I could finish a six-hour skiing day with a mile swim!

Finding out I couldn’t have children sent me on a guilt trip. It was never diagnosed if this was down to AN. However, I saw a positive side, as I’d never have deal with a post pregnancy tummy!

When my marriage ran into the rocks my immediate reaction was that the stress would mean I’d lose weight!   A lifeboat saved my marriage but had little effect on my body image.

But as for recovery? It was a gradual process of coming to terms with my body and starting to realize that I didn’t need to be a size 6 to be happy. Injury meant I had to find new ways to exercise and establish a more balanced lifestyle.

Who To Turn To?

If you have or believe you have an eating disorder, it is important to find someone to talk to. If you do not feel that you can talk to anyone you know then Beat* offers a helpline and lots of advice.

Eating disorders are tough not just on the sufferer but on loved ones too. Sufferers will say that it’s vital for their recovery to have the unconditional love and support of their family and those around them.

My own experience showed this to be the case. Looking back I wasn’t always fun to be around. Despite my behavior, I was lucky that my family was always ready to pick up the pieces.

If you suspect that a loved one, friend or colleague has an eating disorder getting advice on how to approach them is vital. Beat has some great support and information.

Remember that an eating disorder is complex but can be treated, once the sufferer is ready to acknowledge the problem.

Do you have any experiences to share about eating disorders?  If so I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

Please share this post on social media, together we can create more awareness and help others.

 

*PwC – The Costs of Eating Disorders – Feb 2015 – commissioned by Beat.

Beat is the UK’s leading charity supporting anyone affected by eating disorders or difficulties with food, weight and shape