Talking about eating disorders

Eating Disorders Awareness Week is a week of activity and fundraising seeking to raise awareness, putting stories in the spotlight, and championing support no matter what. Let’s take this opportunity to educate ourselves and our customers about this often misunderstood range of conditions.

As many as an estimated 1.6 million people in the UK are directly affected by eating disorders. While the majority, 89%, is female and younger, these disorders affect men and older people and those from all backgrounds. Understanding and breaking down these stereotypes is one of the biggest challenges in tackling eating disorders.

Eating disorder profiles

The term ‘eating disorder’ covers a range of conditions, with anorexia and bulimia being most well known. However, binge eating, other specified feeding and eating disorder (OSFED), and other disordered eating are all conditions recognised under this umbrella. This means that signs and symptoms can be many and varied.

The other challenge when it comes to diagnosis is patient profile. As mentioned, while ‘key groups’ are children and adolescents, women at key life transitions, those with a family history, and competitive athletes, this range of disorders knows no specific demographic.

What to look for

Having understood that an eating disorder can start anywhere and affect anyone, here are some of the signs:

  • Severe weight loss
  • Fear of putting on weight
  • Being highly critical of body shape
  • Mood changes
  • Secretive behaviour
  • Skipping meals
  • Dry skin
  • Dizziness
  • Hair loss

It’s important to remember that your awareness might arise from customers themselves, or from conversations with those around them.

Furthermore, symptoms may align with more than one type of disorder or fit none specifically. With this in mind, we must be vigilant for any of these symptoms, rather than looking for a complete diagnosis, as they are all signs of a problem.

How pharmacists can help

Beat estimates that the average length of time between symptoms emerging and seeking help is 149 weeks; almost three years. With these kinds of barriers, it’s essential that we do all we can to understand and offer support as soon as possible.

Due to the long term nature of identifying a disorder, seeking help, treatment, and recovery, our role as pharmacists should be one of consistency. As a presence before, during and after development of a disorder, we’re uniquely placed to give advice and support alongside other medical professionals.

Given the likely delays in seeking and administering treatment, encouragement to speak to a GP as early as possible is key. Tips for handling this include raising concerns kindly, without judgment or shame, and being aware that the response may not be immediate or favourable. What is most important at any stage is to focus on providing information.

Useful resources

Beat

     Website: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk

     Phone: 0808 801 0677 (Mon to Fri, 12pm to 8pm; Sat and Sun, 4pm to 8pm)

     Email: help@beateatingdisorders.org.uk

Mind

     Website: https://www.mind.org.uk/

     Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)

     Email: info@mind.org.uk

Anorexia & Bulimia Care

     Website: http://www.anorexiabulimiacare.org.uk/

     Phone: 03000 11 12 13 (including a separate line for family and friends)

NHS