Every year in February there is a National Eating Disorders Awareness Week in the UK.
Sadly, eating disorders are on the rise, and so is disordered eating and unhealthy relationships with food.
Most of us will know about bulimia and anorexia and how dangerous they can be, however, may not be so familiar with binge eating disorder
Although our current culture is highly obsessed with food and weight, and disordered patterns of eating are very common, clinical eating disorders are less so. 20 million women and 10 million men will struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their lives.
A 2007 study found that 0.9% of women and 0.3% of men had anorexia [link] during their life, 1.5% of women and 0.5% of men had bulimia during their life, and 3.5% of women and 2.0% of men had binge eating disorder during their life.
The consequences of eating disorders can be life-threatening, and many individuals find that stigma against mental illness (and eating disorders in particular) can obstruct a timely diagnosis and adequate treatment.
I am not an eating disorders specialist, however, I do work with people to help them to understand and change their relationship to food.
Food is fuel, it is energy, vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to function and be healthy.
For many people though it is so much more. It is comfort and support. It is their go-to response or a way of self-medicating when times are difficult or celebrating when times are great. For others it is a way of passing time, alleviating boredom.
For many, food fulfils a human psychological and emotional need. 'certainty' and 'variety', 'love', 'comfort' and 'connection'. When providing food, it can fulfil the 'significance' and 'contribution' needs.
None of these has anything to do with fulfilling physiological hunger.
Do you ‘turn to food’ for reasons other than hunger?
As with many things in life, it is about balance. It is about eating the foods that we need, in the amount that we need to be fit and healthy.
Balance is not restriction or hunger and not being able to eat with friends and family. Balance means we should enjoy food and eating well, should be part of our lifestyle, not something we focus on for 4, 8, 12 weeks.
I often hear from people that when life gets busy, food and diet is one of the first things to be impacted. However, when life gets busy, often food is one of the main things still in our control, yet the most common reaction is to turn to quick and easy processed foods, takeaways or high-calorie/low volume foods.
This can result in the vitamins and minerals we absorb being significantly reduced, add in stress which can also lower the immune system, and before you know it you are not just busy and stressed you are also ill.
When life gets busy food is one of the things that is still in our control. We still must eat. We still have to decide what to eat. Healthy food is more available than ever before. Even petrol stations stock fruit, nuts, protein bars, packaged healthy meals, and the internet is full of recipes that take less than 15 minutes to prepare.
The choice is yours to make.
You can choose to use life as a reason to eat foods you may associate with making you feel emotionally better, or you can choose to eat foods that you know will make you feel physically better.
If you have a busy week ahead then make sure you have some meals in the freezer. Batch cook a big pot of curry or chilli at the weekend or every time you do cook make a little extra to put a portion in the freezer for a day when there isn’t time to cook fresh.
When you shop in the supermarket. Think about the week ahead and what you will have time to cook or what foods you can buy to eat on the go.
You can choose to give your body what it needs.
If you have concerns about your relationship with food, then you can complete an online screening tool for an indication or you should contact your G.P. to seek advice and support.
Either way, seek help and advice. You do not need to continue this alone.
First published Feb 2018
Revised and republished May 2021