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Sunday, 3 October 2010

Do People Really Think That Eating Disorders Are Silly?

B-EAT suggest that many young people with eating disorders are failing to come for help because young people believe that eating disorders are silly. They also feel that there is a lot of stigma attached to having an eating disorder. Meanwhile Nigella Lawson has expressed horror about the number of young people going on diets. I have been asked by the British Psycholgical Society to comment.

Things have changed a lot since I started working with eating disorders in the late 1980s. Now many people know what eating disorders are because of publicity in the media, with both male and female celebrities coming clean about their difficulties with food. There is now a great deal of PSHE in schools about these subjects. Indeed, some people wear their mental health and eating issues as a badge of pride.

At the coal face however, we still have problems. There are problems with GP sensitivity, if not awareness and difficulties getting the right treatment fast. Nigella Lawson is right, almost 9 out of 10 young people diet at some point to lose weight but there is a thin dividing line between dieting and a chronic problem with food.

So it is really no wonder that some people who are very thin believe that they are really no different from all the other dieters around them. And my experience is that a lot of people do not regard eating disorders as silly; even people who know that they have anorexia do not always understand their illness so how, they suppose, can anyone else? It is thus human nature that what we cannot make sense of, we fear, scorn or dismiss as unimportant.

As far as denial is concerned, bulimia and binge eating are by far the majority of eating disorder cases and sufferers are well aware that they have problems which they long to overcome. The terms “bulimia" and "compulsive eating” are useful in legitimising their symptoms and offering hope for change. And in anorexia, fear and mistrust motivate the difficulty accepting that you may be in need of help.

All mental health problems carry stigma, and yes, especially eating disorders, which are still regarded as self- inflicted by the public at large. We can correct these misperceptions one person at a time with the right messages and education. I think we are doing a good job.


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