Somerset and Wessex Eating Disorders Association
"Supporting those affected by eating disorders"
Most people probably relate the term 'Eating Disorder' to the ABC disorders of Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Compulsive (or Binge) Eating (although Compulsive Eating is not fully recognised by the medical profession). It is, however, now widely accepted that these categories do not fully encompass the range of disordered eating behaviours, whilst at the same time an individual may experience symptoms of more than one eating disorder or perhaps move between them. Consequently a additional category, that of Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS), is also used.
Anorexia Nervosa (meaning literally, and rather inaccurately, 'nervous loss of appetite') is characterised by the sufferer's intense fear of, and issues around, body weight and their consequent avoidance of maintaining a normal body weight. This is primarily achieved by severely restricting calorific intake and may be aided with exercise and/or other weight loss practices such as laxatives, slimming pills etc. People struggling with Anorexia Nervosa tend to have very low body weights.
An intense fear of gaining weight is also a characteristic of Bulimia Nervosa (meaning 'nervous ox like hunger') but its main characteristics are periods of binge eating (frantic, out of control eating of large amounts of food) followed by panic driven purging (a desperate attempt to compensate for, or nullify, the effect of the binge). Purging often takes the form of self induced vomiting and/or laxative abuse but also includes a wide variety of 'techniques' such as exercise, periods of starvation etc. The body weights of people experiencing Bulimia Nervosa can vary greatly depending on the frequency of binges and the relative effects of the bingeing and purging
With Compulsive Eating (also referred to as Binge Eating) sufferers find themselves unable to control intense compulsions to binge eat in a manner very similar to Bulimia Nervosa. Compulsive Eating however lacks the purging stage of Bulimia and consequently people with Compulsive Eating tend to have higher body weights than those with Bulimia Nervosa. Many people with Compulsive Eating also describe fears around body weight and consequently can be highly distressed (and depressed) by their constant struggles with eating and weight gain.
Although many individuals and organisations consider Compulsive/Binge Eating as a distinct and distinct form of eating disorder it is not fully recognised by the medical profession as an eating disorder in its own right (although this may change) and is currently considered one of the spectrum of disorders falling within the category of Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified.
Although Eating Disorders are not "all about food", food is still a key component in all eating disorders and the role it plays in each disorder differs. However whether the disorder is Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Compulsive Eating or a mixture, the commonality is that eating disorders are 'coping mechanisms', expressions of psychological and emotional problems in which sufferers use food, albeit in different ways, in an attempt to cope with and manage their distress.
Estimates of the prevalence of eating disorders within the United Kingdom vary. The current estimate from the UK's National Eating Disorders Association suggests a figure of 90,000 individuals receiving treatment for either anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa at any given time in the United Kingdom and further estimates the total number of cases (diagnosed and undiagnosed) of anorexia and bulimia nervosa within the United Kingdom to be 1.5 million (EDA 2000).
Many current estimates do not include compulsive (or binge) eating in their totals as this eating disorder has only recently received recognition, consequently the numbers suffering from eating disorders in the UK are likely to be much higher.
The proportion of males with eating disorders is again hard to estimate but a common figure quoted suggests that around 10% of sufferers of eating disorders will be male.
Somerset & Wessex Eating Disorders Association estimates that around 5000 people in the county of Somerset will have a clinical eating disorder with a further 5000 having an eating disorder that has a significant impact on their life and health. This includes women of all ages, the majority being between 14 - 35 years of age. Around 10% of sufferers are male. Eating disorders impact on family and friends of sufferers so the estimated figure for need in Somerset could be in the region of 50,000.
Despite there being a great deal of written material, research papers and personal accounts as well as several sets of 'Diagnostic Criteria' relating to eating disorders available, views on eating disorders vary and researchers and experts have yet to agree on a definitive model (or, indeed, treatment approach). It is fair to say that, in the area of eating disorders, a clear understanding remains elusive and uncertainty still persists in many areas. In light of this, the process of coming to terms with and 'understanding' eating disorders for sufferers and their carers can be extremely confusing.
We have compiled and gathered together a selection of further information on eating disorders (accessible from the jump menu below). It is neither exhaustive nor authoritative and does not represent a model in itself. You may find part of it is a bit complex and scientific, perhaps some a little light hearted and some possibly a little scary (particularly if you are new to exploring eating disorders and the issues around them). In the end however it is provided in the belief that recovery is possible and with the intention of enabling people to start to explore, begin to understand and, hopefully, begin to think about recovery. Ultimately, we hope that perhaps you might find it encouraging.
The field of eating disorders is complex and there exist a variety of views, theories and opinions, eating disorders are by no means fully understood. Our intention here is to provide a range of views (academic, professional and, importantly, from the perspective of personal experience) and a starting point for those trying to begin to understand eating disorders and what it is they themselves and their loved ones (whether sufferers or carers) are going through. We hope you will find it useful.
© 2004 ~ 2013 Somerset and Wessex Eating Disorders Association